The Swiss Family Robinson (Kingston)/Chapter 2
A morning consultation—Breakfast—Away on an expedition—Over the stream and through the grass—An unexpected reinforcement—Search in vain for our comrades—Rest by a stream—Fritz finds a “round bird's nest”—Natural history of a cocoa-nut—Calabash trees—The use of gourds—How to make a bottle—A lovely but lonely scene—Sugar-canes—Monkeys of use—Cocoa-nut milk turned to champagne—Turk kills an unfortunate mother monkey—Carry the orphan home—Display our treasures—A sumptuous supper—Ernest's penguin—Champagne turned to vinegar—A fight with jackals—A curious sentinel—A visit to the wreck—We rig our craft—Stow a cargo—Sleep on board—Floats for our herd—We embark—Encounter a shark—Land—Relate our adventures.
We should have been badly off without the shelter of our tent, for the night proved as cold as the day had been hot, but we managed to sleep comfortably, every one being thoroughly fatigued by the labours of the day. The voice of our vigilant cock, which as he loudly saluted the rising moon, was the last sound I heard at night, roused me at daybreak, and I then awoke my wife, that in the quiet interval while yet our children slept, we might take counsel together on our situation and prospects. It was plain to both of us that in the first place, we should ascertain if possible the fate of our late companions, and then examine into the nature and resources of the country on which we were stranded.
We therefore came to the resolution that, as soon as we had breakfasted, Fritz and I should start on an expedition with these objects in view, while my wife remained near our landing-place with the three younger boys.
“Rouse up, rouse up, my boys,” cried I, awakening the children cheerfully. “Come and help your mother to get breakfast ready.”
“As to that,” said she, smiling, “we can but set on the pot, and boil some more soup!”
“Why! you forget Jack's fine lobster!” replied I. “What has become of it, Jack?”
“It has been safe in this hole in the rock all night, father. You see, I thought as the dogs seem to like good things, they might take a fancy to that as well as to the agouti.”
“A very sensible precaution,” remarked I; “I believe even my heedless Jack will learn wisdom in time. It is well the lobster is so large, for we shall want to take part with us on our excursion to-day.”
At the mention of an excursion, the four children were wild with delight, and, capering around me, clapped their hands for joy.
“Steady there, steady!” said I, “you cannot expect all to go. Such an expedition as this would be too dangerous and fatiguing for you younger ones. Fritz and I will go alone this time, with one of the dogs, leaving the other to defend you.”
We then armed ourselves, each taking a gun and a game-bag; Fritz in addition sticking a pair of pistols in his belt, and I a small hatchet in mine; breakfast being over, we stowed away the remainder of the lobster and some biscuits, with a flask of water, and were ready for a start.
“Stop!” I exclaimed, “we have still left something very important undone.”
“Surely not,” said Fritz.
“Yes,” said I, “we have not yet joined in morning prayer. We are only too ready, amid the cares and pleasures of this life, to forget the God to whom we owe all things.” Then having commended ourselves to his protecting care, I took leave of my wife and children, and bidding them not wander far from the boat and tent, we parted not without some anxiety on either side, for we knew not what might assail us in this unknown region.
We now found that the banks of the stream were on both sides so rocky that we could get down to the water by only one narrow passage, and there was no corresponding path on the other side. I was glad to see this, however, for I now knew that my wife and children were on a comparatively inaccessible spot, the other side of the tent being protected by steep and precipitous cliffs. Fritz and I pursued our way up the stream until we reached a point where the waters fell from a considerable height in a cascade, and where several large rocks lay half covered by the water; by means of these we succeeded in crossing the stream in safety. We thus had the sea on our left, and a long line of rocky heights, here and there adorned with clumps of trees, stretching away inland to the right. We had forced our way scarcely fifty yards through the long rank grass, which was here partly withered by the sun and much tangled, when we heard behind us a rustling, and on looking round saw the grass waving to and fro, as if some animal were passing through it. Fritz instantly turned and brought his gun to his shoulder, ready to fire the moment the beast should appear. I was much pleased with my son's coolness and presence of mind, for it showed me that I might thoroughly rely upon him on any future occasion when real danger might occur; this time, however, no savage beast rushed out, but our trusty dog Turk, whom, in our anxiety at parting, we had forgotten, and who had been sent after us doubtless by my thoughtful wife.
From this little incident, however, we saw how dangerous was our position, and how difficult escape would be should any fierce beast steal upon us unawares: we therefore hastened to make our way to the open sea-shore. Here the scene which presented itself was indeed delightful. A background of hills, the green waving grass, the pleasant groups of trees stretching here and there to the very water's edge, formed a lovely prospect. On the smooth sand we searched carefully for any trace of our hapless companions, but not the mark of a footstep could we find.
“Shall I fire a shot or two?” said Fritz; “that would bring our companions, if they are within hearing.”
“It would indeed,” I replied, “or any savages that may be here. No, no; let us search diligently, but as quietly as possible.”
“But why, father, should we trouble ourselves about them at all? They left us to shift for ourselves, and I for one don't care to set eyes on them again.”
“You are wrong, my boy,” said I. “In the first place, we should not return evil for evil; then, again, they might be of great assistance to us in building a house of some sort; and lastly, you must remember that they took nothing with them from the vessel, and may be perishing of hunger.”
Thus talking, we pushed on until we came to a pleasant grove which stretched down to the water's edge; here we halted to rest, seating ourselves under a large tree, by a rivulet which murmured and splashed along its pebbly bed into the great ocean before us. A thousand gaily-plumaged birds flew twittering above us, and Fritz and I gazed up at them.
My son suddenly started up.
“A monkey,” he exclaimed; “I am nearly sure I saw a monkey.”
As he spoke he sprang round to the other side of the tree, and in doing so stumbled over a round substance, which he handed to me, remarking, as he did so, that it was a round bird's nest, of which he had often heard.
“You may have done so,” said I, laughing, “but you need not necessarily conclude that every round hairy thing is a bird's nest; this, for instance, is not one, but a cocoa-nut.”
We split open the nut, but, to our disgust, found the kernel dry and uneatable.
“Hullo,” cried Fritz, “I always thought a cocoa-nut was full of delicious sweet liquid, like almond milk.”
“So it is,” I replied, “when young and fresh, but as it ripens the milk becomes congealed, and in course of time is solidified into a kernel. This kernel then dries as you see here, but when the nut falls on favourable soil, the germ within the kernel swells until it bursts through the shell, and, taking root, springs up a new tree.”
“I do not understand,” said Fritz, “how the little germ manages to get through this great thick shell, which is not like an almond or hazel nut-shell, that is divided down the middle already.”
“Nature provides for all things,” I answered, taking up the pieces. “Look here, do you see these three round holes near the stalk; it is through them that the germ obtains egress. Now let us find a good nut if we can.”
As cocoa-nuts must be over-ripe before they fall naturally from the tree, it was not without difficulty that we obtained one in which the kernel was not dried up. When we succeeded, however, we were so refreshed by the fruit that we could defer the repast we called our dinner until later in the day, and so spare our stock of provisions.Continuing our way through a thicket, and which was so densely overgrown with lianas that we had to clear a passage with our hatchets, we again emerged on the seashore beyond, and found an open view, the forest sweeping inland, while on the space before us stood at intervals single trees of remarkable appearance.
These at once attracted Fritz's observant eye, and he pointed to them, exclaiming,
“Oh, what absurd-looking trees, father! See what strange bumps there are on the trunks.”
We approached to examine them, and I recognised them as calabash trees, the fruit of which grows in this curious way on the stems, and is a species of gourd, from the hard rind of which bowls, spoons, and bottles can be made. “The savages,” I remarked, “are said to form these things most ingeniously, using them to contain liquids: indeed, they actually cook food in them.”
“Oh, but that is impossible,” returned Fritz. “I am quite sure this rind would be burnt through directly it was set on the fire.”
“I did not say it was set on the fire at all. When the gourd has been divided in two, and the shell or rind emptied of its contents, it is filled with water, into which the fish, or whatever is to be cooked, is put; red-hot stones are added until the water boils; the food becomes fit to eat, and the gourd-rind remains uninjured.”
“That is a very clever plan: very simple too. I daresay I should have hit on it, if I had tried,” said Fritz.
“The friends of Columbus thought it very easy to make an egg stand upon its end when he had shown them how to do it. But now suppose we prepare some of these calabashes, that they may be ready for use when we take them home.”
Fritz instantly took up one of the gourds, and tried to split it equally with his knife, but in vain: the blade slipped, and the calabash was cut jaggedly. “What a nuisance!” said Fritz, flinging it down, “the thing is spoiled; and yet it seemed so simple to divide it properly.”
“Stay,” said I; “you are too impatient, those pieces are not useless. Do you try to fashion from them a spoon or two while I provide a dish.”
I then took from my pocket a piece of string, which I tied tightly round a gourd, as near one end of it as I could; then tapping the string with the back of my knife, it penetrated the outer shell. When this was accomplished, I tied the string yet tighter; and drawing the ends with all my might, the gourd fell, divided exactly as I wished.
“That is clever!” cried Fritz. “What in the world put that plan into your head?”
“It is a plan,” I replied, “which the negroes adopt, as I have learned from reading books of travel.”
“Well, it certainly makes a capital soup-tureen, and a soup-plate too,” said Fritz, examining the gourd. “But supposing you had wanted to make a bottle, how would you have set to work?”
“It would be an easier operation than this, if possible. All that is necessary, is to cut a round hole at one end, then to scoop out the interior, and to drop in several shot or stones; when these are shaken, any remaining portions of the fruit are detached, and the gourd is thoroughly cleaned, and the bottle completed.”
“That would not make a very convenient bottle though, father; it would be more like a barrel.”
“True, my boy; if you want a more shapely vessel, you must take it in hand when it is younger. To give it a neck, for instance, you must tie a bandage round the young gourd while it is still on the tree, and then all will swell but that part which you have checked.”
As I spoke, I filled the gourds with sand, and left them to dry; marking the spot that we might return for them on our way back.
For three hours or more we pushed forward, keeping a sharp look-out on either side for any trace of our companions, till we reached a bold promontory, stretching some way into the sea, from whose rocky summit I knew that we should obtain a good and comprehensive view of the surrounding country. With little difficulty we reached the top, but the most careful survey of the beautiful landscape failed to show us the slightest sign or trace of human beings. Before us stretched a wide and lovely bay, fringed with yellow sands, either side extending into the distance, and almost lost to view in two shadowy promontories; inclosed by these two arms lay a sheet of rippling water, which reflected in its depths the glorious sun above. The scene inland was no less beautiful; and yet Fritz and I both felt a shade of loneliness stealing over us as we gazed on its utter solitude.
“Cheer up, Fritz, my boy,” said I, presently. “Remember that we chose a settler's life long ago, before we left our own dear country; we certainly did not expect to be so entirely alone—but what matters a few people more or less? With God's help, let us endeavour to live here contentedly, thankful that we were not cast upon some bare and inhospitable island. But come, the heat here is getting unbearable; let us find some shady place before we are completely broiled away.”
We descended the hill and made for a clump of palm-trees, which we saw at a little distance. To reach this, we had to pass through a dense thicket of reeds, no pleasant or easy task; for, besides the difficulty of forcing our way through, I feared at every step that we might tread on some venomous snake. Sending Turk in advance, I cut one of the reeds, thinking it would be a more useful weapon against a reptile than my gun. I had carried it but a little way, when I noticed a thick juice exuding from one end. I tasted it, and to my delight, found it sweet and pleasant. I at once knew that I was standing amongst sugar-canes. Wishing Fritz to make the same discovery, I advised him to cut a cane for his defence; he did so, and as he beat the ground before him, the reed split, and his hand was covered with the juice. He carefully touched the cane with the tip of his tongue, then, finding the juice sweet, he did so again with less hesitation; and a moment afterwards sprang back to me, exclaiming,—
“Oh, father, sugar-canes, sugar-canes! Taste it. Oh, how delicious, how delightful! do let us take a lot home to mother,” he continued, sucking eagerly at the cane!
“Gently there,” said I, “take breath a moment, moderation in all things, remember. Cut some to take home if you like, only don't take more than you can conveniently carry.”
In spite of my warning, my son cut a dozen or more of the largest canes, and stripping them of their leaves, carried them under his arm. We then pushed through the cane-brake, and reached the clump of palms for which we had been making; as we entered it, a troop of monkeys, who had been disporting themselves on the ground, sprang up, chattering and grimacing, and before we could clearly distinguish them, were at the very top of the trees.
Fritz was so provoked by their impertinent gestures that he raised his gun, and would have shot one of the poor beasts.
“Stay,” cried I, “never take the life of any animal needlessly. A live monkey up in that tree is of more use to us than a dozen dead ones at our feet, as I will show you.”
Saying this, I gathered a handful of small stones, and threw them up towards the apes. The stones did not go near them, but influenced by their instinctive mania for imitation, they instantly seized all the cocoa-nuts within their reach, and sent a perfect hail of them down upon us.
Fritz was delighted with my stratagem, and rushing forward picked up some of the finest of the nuts. We drank the milk they contained, drawing it through the holes which I pierced, and then, splitting the nuts open with the hatchet, ate the cream which lined their shells. After this delicious meal, we thoroughly despised the lobster we had been carrying, and threw it to Turk, who ate it gratefully; but far from being satisfied, the poor beast began to gnaw the ends of the sugar-canes, and to beg for cocoa-nut. I slung a couple of the nuts over my shoulder, fastening them together by their stalks, and Fritz having resumed his burden, we began our homeward march.
I soon discovered that Fritz found the weight of his canes considerably more than he expected: he shifted them from shoulder to shoulder, then for a while carried them under his arm, and finally stopped short with a sigh. “I had no idea,” he said, “that a few reeds would be so heavy.”
“Never mind, my boy,” I said, “patience and courage! Do you not remember the story of Æsop and his bread-basket, how heavy he found it when he started, and how light at the end of his journey. Let us each take a fresh staff, and then fasten the bundle crosswise with your gun.”
We did so, and once more stepped forward; Fritz presently noticed that I from time to time sucked the end of my cane.
“Oh, come,” said he, “that's a capital plan of yours, father, I'll do that too.”
So saying, he began to suck most vigorously, but not a drop of the juice could he extract. “How is this?” he asked. “How do you get the juice out, father?”
“Think a little,” I replied, “you are quite as capable as I am of finding out the way, even if you do not know the real reason of your failure.”
“Oh, of course,” said he, “it is like trying to suck marrow from a marrow bone, without making a hole at the other end.”
“Quite right,” I said, “you form a vacuum in your mouth and the end of your tube, and expect the air to force down the liquid from the other end which it cannot possible enter.”
Fritz was speedily perfect in the accomplishment of sucking sugar-cane, discovering by experience the necessity for a fresh cut at each joint or knot in the cane, through which the juice could not flow; he talked of the pleasure of initiating his brothers in the art, and of how Ernest would enjoy the cocoa-nut milk, with which he had filled his flask.
“My dear boy,” said I, “you need not have added that to your load; the chances are it is vinegar by the time we get home. In the heat bf the sun, it will ferment soon after being drawn from the nut.”
“Vinegar! Oh, that would be a horrid bore! I must look directly, and see how it is getting on,” cried Fritz, hastily swinging the flask from his shoulder, and tugging out the cork. With a loud “pop” the contents came forth, foaming like champagne.
“There now!” said I, laughing as he tasted this new luxury, “you will have to exercise moderation again, friend Fritz! I daresay it is delicious, but it will go to your head, if you venture deep into your flask.”
“My dear father, you cannot think how good it is! Do take some. Vinegar, indeed! This is like excellent wine.”
We were both invigorated by this unexpected draught, and went on so merrily after it, that the distance to the place where we had left our gourd dishes seemed less than we expected. We found them quite dry, and very light and easy to carry.
Just as we had passed through the grove in which we breakfasted, Turk suddenly darted away from us, and sprang furiously among a troup of monkeys, which were gambolling playfully on the turf at a little distance from the trees. They were taken by surprise completely, and the dog, now really ravenous from hunger, had seized, and was fiercely tearing one to pieces before we could approach the spot.
His luckless victim was the mother of a tiny little monkey, which being on her back when the dog flew at her, had hindered her flight; the little creature attempted to hide among the grass, and in trembling fear watched the tragic fate of its mother. On perceiving Turk's bloodthirsty design, Fritz had eagerly rushed to the rescue, flinging away all he was carrying, and losing his hat in his haste. All to no purpose as far as the poor mother ape was concerned, and a laughable scene ensued, for no sooner did the young monkey catch sight of him, than at one bound it was on his shoulders, and, holding fast by his thick curly hair, it firmly kept its seat in spite of all he could do to dislodge it. He screamed and plunged about as he endeavoured to shake or pull the creature off; but all in vain, it only clung the closer to his neck, making the most absurd grimaces.
I laughed so much at this ridiculous scene, that I could scarcely assist my terrified boy out of his awkward predicament.
At last, by coaxing the monkey, offering it a bit of biscuit, and gradually disentangling its small sinewy paws from the curls it grasped so tightly, I managed to relieve poor Fritz, who then looked with interest at the baby ape, no bigger than a kitten, as it lay in my arms.
“What a jolly little fellow it is!” exclaimed he, “do let me try to rear it, father. I daresay cocoa-nut milk would do until we can bring the cow and the goats from the wreck. If he lives he might be useful to us. I believe monkeys instinctively know what fruits are wholesome and what are poisonous.”
“Well,” said I, “let the little orphan be yours. You bravely and kindly exerted yourself to save the mother's life, now you must train her child carefully, for unless you do so its natural instinct will prove mischievous instead of useful to us.”
Turk was meanwhile devouring with great satisfaction the little animal's unfortunate mother. I could not grudge it him, and continued hunger might have made him dangerous to ourselves. We did not think it necessary to wait until he had dined, so we prepared to resume our march.
The tiny ape seated itself in the coolest way imaginable on Fritz's shoulder, I helped to carry his canes, and we were on some distance before Turk overtook us, looking uncommonly well pleased, and licking his chops as though recalling the memory of his feast.He took no notice of the monkey, but it was very uneasy at sight of him, and scrambled down into Fritz's arms, which was so inconvenient to him that he devised a plan to relieve himself of his burden. Calling Turk, and seriously enjoining obedience, he seated the monkey on his back, securing it there with a cord, and then putting a second string round the dog's neck that he might lead him, he put a loop of the knot into the comical rider's hand, saying gravely, “Having slain the parent, Mr. Turk, you will please to carry the son.”
At first this arrangement mightily displeased them both, but by and by they yielded to it quietly; the monkey especially amused us by riding along with the air of a person perfectly at his ease.
“We look just like a couple of mountebanks on their way to a fair with animals to exhibit,” said I. “What an outcry the children will make when we appear!”
My son enquired to what species of the monkey tribe I thought his protégé belonged, which led to a good deal of talk on the subject, and conversation beguiling the way, we found ourselves ere long on the rocky margin of the stream and close to the rest of our party.
Juno was the first to be aware of our approach, and gave notice of it by loud barking, to which Turk replied with such hearty goodwill, that his little rider, terrified at the noise his steed was making, slipped from under the cord and fled to his refuge on Fritz's shoulder, where he regained his composure and settled himself comfortably.
Turk, who by this time knew where he was, finding himself free, dashed forward to rejoin his friend, and announce our coming.
One after another our dear ones came running to the opposite bank, testifying in various ways their delight at our return, and hastening up on their side of the river, as we on ours, to the ford at which we had crossed in the morning. We were quickly on the other side, and, full of joy and affection, our happy party was once more united.
The boys suddenly perceiving the little animal which was clinging close to their brother, in alarm at the tumult of voices, shouted in ecstasy.
“A monkey! a monkey! oh how splendid! where did Fritz find him? What may we give him to eat? Oh what a bundle of sticks! Look at those curious great nuts father has got!”
We could neither check this confused torrent of questions, nor get in a word in answer to them.
At length when the excitement subsided a little, I was able to say a few words with a chance of being listened to. “I am truly thankful to see you all safe and well, and, thank God, our expedition has been very satisfactory, except that we have entirely failed to discover any trace of our shipmates.”
“If it be the will of God,” said my wife, “to leave us alone on this solitary place, let us be content; and rejoice that we are all together in safety.”
“Now we want to hear all your adventures, and let us relieve you of your burdens,” added she, taking my game-bag.
Jack shouldered my gun, Ernest took the cocoa-nuts, and little Franz carried the gourds, Fritz distributed the sugar-canes amongst his brothers, and handing Ernest his gun replaced the monkey on Turk's back. Ernest soon found the burden with which Fritz had laden him too heavy to his taste. His mother perceiving this, offered to relieve him of part of the load. He gave up willingly the cocoa-nuts, but no sooner had he done so than his elder brother exclaimed—
“Hullo, Ernest, you surely do not know what you are parting with; did you really intend to hand over those good cocoa-nuts without so much as tasting them?”
“What? ho! are they really cocoa-nuts?” cried Ernest. “Do let me take them again, mother; do let me look at them.” “No, thank you,” replied my wife with a smile. “I have no wish to see you again overburdened.” “Oh but I have only to throw away these sticks, which are of no use, and then I can easily carry them.”
“Worse and worse,” said Fritz; “I have a particular regard for those heavy useless sticks. Did you ever hear of sugarcanes?”
The words were scarcely out of his mouth when Ernest began to suck vigorously at the end of the cane with no better result, however, than Fritz had obtained as we were on the march.
“Here,” said Fritz, “let me show you the trick of it,” and he speedily set all the youngsters to work extracting the luscious juice.
My wife, as a prudent housekeeper, was no less delighted than the children with this discovery; the sight of the dishes also pleased her greatly, for she longed to see us eat once more like civilized beings. We went into the kitchen and there found preparations for a truly sumptuous meal. Two forked sticks were planted in the ground on either side of the fire, on these rested a rod from which hung several tempting looking fish, opposite them hung a goose from a similar contrivance, slowly roasting while the gravy dropped into a large shell placed beneath it. In the centre sat the great pot from which issued the smell of a most delicious soup. To crown this splendid array, stood an open hogshead full of Dutch cheeses. All this was very pleasant to two hungry travellers, but I was about to beg my wife to spare the poultry until our stock should have increased, when she, perceiving my thought, quickly relieved my anxiety. “This is not one of our geese,” she said, “but a wild bird Ernest killed.”
“Yes,” said Ernest, “it is a Penguin, I think; it let me get quite close, so that I knocked it on the head with a stick. Here are its head and feet which I preserved to show you; the bill is, you see, narrow and curved downwards, and the feet are webbed. It had funny little bits of useless wings, and its eyes looked so solemnly and sedately at me, that I was almost ashamed to kill it. Do you not think it must have been a Penguin?”
“I have little doubt on the matter, my boy,” and I was about to make a few remarks on the habits of this bird, when my wife interrupted me and begged us to come to dinner and continue our natural history conversation at some future time. We then sat down before the appetising meal prepared for us, our gourds coming for the first time into use, and having done it full justice, produced the cocoa-nuts by way of dessert. “Here is better food for your little friend,” said I to Fritz, who had been vainly endeavouring to persuade the monkey to taste dainty morsels of the food we had been eating; “the poor little animal has been accustomed to nothing but its mother's milk; fetch me a saw, one of you.”
I then, after extracting the milk of the nuts from their natural holes, carefully cut the shells in half, thus providing several more useful basins. The monkey was perfectly satisfied with the milk, and eagerly sucked the corner of a handkerchief dipped in it. Fritz now suddenly recollected his delicious wine, and producing his flask, begged his mother to taste it. “Try it first yourself,” said I; Fritz did so, and I instantly saw by his countenance that the liquor had passed through the first stage of fermentation and had become vinegar.
“Never mind, my boy,” said my prudent wife, when she learned the cause of his wry faces, “we have wine already but no vinegar; I am really pleased at the transformation.”
The sun was now rapidly sinking behind the horizon, and the poultry retiring for the night warned us that we must follow their example. Having offered up our prayers, we lay down on our beds, the monkey crouched down between Jack and Fritz, and we were all soon fast asleep.
We did not, however, long enjoy this repose; a loud barking from our dogs, who were on guard outside the tent, awakened us, and the fluttering and cackling of our poultry warned us that a foe was approaching. Fritz and I sprang up, and seizing our guns rushed out. There we found a desperate combat going on; our gallant dogs, surrounded by a dozen or more large jackals, were fighting bravely, four of their opponents lay dead, but the others were in no way deterred by the fate of their comrades. Fritz and I, however, sent bullets through the heads of a couple more, and the rest galloped off. Turk and Juno did not intend that they should escape so cheaply, and pursuing them, they caught, killed, and devoured another of the animals, regardless of their near relationship. Fritz wished to save one of the jackals that he might be able to show it to his brothers in the morning; dragging therefore the one that he had shot near the tent, he concealed it, and we once more returned to our beds.
Soundly and peacefully we slept until cock-crow next morning, when my wife and I awoke, and began to discuss the business of the day.
“It seems absolutely necessary, my dear wife,” I began, “to return at once to the wreck while it is yet calm, that we may save the poor animals left there, and bring on shore many articles of infinite value to us, which, if we do not now recover, we may finally lose entirely. On the other hand, I feel that there is an immense deal to be done on shore, and that I ought not to leave you in such an insecure shelter as this tent.”
“Return to the wreck by all means,” replied my wife, cheerfully. “Patience, order, and perseverance will help us through all our work, and I agree with you that a visit to the wreck is without doubt our first duty. Come, let us wake the children, and set to work without delay.”
They were soon roused, and Fritz overcoming his drowsiness before the others, ran out for his jackal; it was cold and stiff from the night air, and he placed it on its legs before the tent, in a most life-like attitude, and stood by to watch the effect upon the family. The dogs were the first to perceive their enemy, and growling, seemed inclined to dispose of the animal as they had disposed of its brethren in the night, but Fritz called them off. The noise the dogs made, however, had the effect of bringing out the younger children, and many were the exclamations they made at the sight of the strange animal.
“A yellow dog!” cried Franz.
“A wolf!” exclaimed Jack.
“It is a striped fox,” said Ernest.
“Hullo,” said Fritz. “The greatest men may make mistakes. Our Professor does not know a jackal when he sees one.”
“But really,” continued Ernest, examining the animal, “I think it is a fox.”
“Very well, very well,” retorted Fritz, “no doubt you know better than your father! He thinks it is a jackal.”
“Come boys,” said I, “no more of this quarrelling; you are none of you very far wrong, for the jackal partakes of the nature of all three, dog, wolf and fox.”
The monkey had come out on Jack's shoulder, but no sooner did it catch sight of the jackal, than it fled precipitately back into the tent, and hid itself in a heap of moss until nothing was visible but the tip of its little nose. Jack soothed and comforted the frightened little animal, and I then summoned them all to prayers, soon after which we began our breakfast. So severely had we dealt with our supper the previous night, that we had little to eat but the biscuits, which were so dry and hard, that, hungry as we were, we could not swallow much. Fritz and I took some cheese to help them down, while my wife and younger sons soaked theirs in water. Ernest roamed down to the shore, and looked about for shell-fish. Presently he returned with a few whelks. “Ah,” said he, “if we had but some butter.” “My good boy,” I replied, “your perpetual IF, IF, quite annoys me; why do you not sit down and eat cheese like the rest of us?” “Not while I can get butter,” he said; “see here, father,” and he pointed to a large cask, “that barrel contains butter of some sort or another, for it is oozing out at the end.”
“Really, Ernest,” I said, “we are indebted to you. I will open the cask.” So saying, I took a knife and carefully cut a small hole, so that I could extract the butter without exposing the mass of it to the effects of the air and heat. Filling a cocoa-nut shell, we once more sat down, and toasting our biscuits before the fire, spread them with the good Dutch butter. We found this vastly better than the dry biscuit, and while we were thus employed, I noticed that the two dogs were lying unusually quiet by my side. I at first attributed this drowsiness to their large meal during the night, but I soon discovered that it arose from a different cause; the faithful animals had not escaped unhurt from their late combat, but had received several deep and painful wounds, especially about the neck. The dogs began to lick each other on the places which they could not reach with their own tongues, and my wife carefully dressed the wounds with butter from which she had extracted the salt by washing.
A sudden thought now struck Ernest, and he wisely remarked, that if we were to make spiked collars for the dogs, they would in future escape such dangerous wounds. “Oh yes,” exclaimed Jack; “and I will make them, may I not, father?”
“Try by all means, my little fellow,” said I, “and persuade your mother to assist you; and now, Fritz,” I continued, “we must be starting, for you and I are to make a trip to the wreck.” I begged the party who were to remain on shore to keep together as much as possible, and having arranged a set of signals with my wife, that we might exchange communications, asked a blessing on our enterprise. I erected a signal-post, and while Fritz was making preparations for our departure, hoisted a strip of sailcloth as a flag; this flag was to remain hoisted so long as all was well on shore, but should our return be desired, three shots were to be fired and the flag lowered.
All was now ready, and warning my wife that we might find it necessary to remain all night on the vessel, we tenderly bade adieu and embarked. Except our guns and ammunition we were taking nothing, that we might leave as much space as possible for the stowage of a large cargo. Fritz, however, had resolved to bring his little monkey, that he might obtain milk for it as soon as possible. We had not got far from the shore, when I perceived that a current from the river set in directly for the vessel, and though my nautical knowledge was not great, I succeeded in steering the boat into the favourable stream, which carried us nearly three-fourths of our passage with little or no trouble to ourselves; then, by dint of hard pulling, we accomplished the whole distance, and, entering through the breach, gladly made fast our boat and stepped on board. Our first care was to see to the animals, who greeted us with joy—lowing, bellowing, and bleating as we approached; not that the poor beasts were hungry, for they were all still well supplied with food, but they were apparently pleased by the mere sight of human beings. Fritz then placed his monkey by one of the goats, and the little animal immediately sucked the milk with evident relish, chattering and grinning all the while; the monkey provided for, we refreshed ourselves with some wine and biscuits. “Now,” said I, “we have plenty to do; where shall we begin?”
“Let us fix a mast and sail to our boat,” answered Fritz; “for the current which brought us out will not take us back; whereas the fresh breeze we met would help us immensely had we but a sail.”
“Capital thought,” I replied; “let us set to work at once.”
I chose a stout spar to serve as a mast, and having made a hole in a plank nailed across one of the tubs, we, with the help of a rope and a couple of blocks, stepped it and secured it with stays. We then discovered a lug-sail, which had belonged to one of the ship's boats; this we hoisted; and our craft was ready to sail. Fritz begged me to decorate the mast-head with a red streamer, to give our vessel a more finished appearance. Smiling at this childish but natural vanity, I complied with his request. I then contrived a rudder, that I might be able to steer the boat; for though I knew that an oar would serve the purpose, it was cumbrous and inconvenient. While I was thus employed, Fritz examined the shore with his glass, and soon announced that the flag was flying and all was well.
So much time had now slipped away, that we found we could not return that night, as I had wished. We signalled our intention of remaining on board, and then spent the rest of our time in taking out the stones we had placed in the boat for ballast, and stowed in their place heavy articles, of value to us. The ship had sailed for the purpose of supplying a young colony, she had therefore on board every conceivable article we could desire in our present situation, our only difficulty indeed was to make a wise selection. A large quantity of powder and shot we first secured, and as Fritz considered that we could not have too many weapons, we added three excellent guns, and a whole armful of swords, daggers, and knives. We remembered that knives and forks were necessary, we therefore laid in a large stock of them, and kitchen utensils of all sorts. Exploring the captain's cabin, we discovered a service of silver plate and a cellaret of good old wine; we then went over the stores, and supplied ourselves with potted meats, portable soups, Westphalian hams, sausages, a bag of maize and wheat, and a quantity of other seeds and vegetables. I then added a barrel of sulphur for matches, and as much cordage as I could find. All this—with nails, tools, and agricultural implements—completed our cargo, and sank our boat so low, that I should have been obliged to lighten her had not the sea been calm.
Night drew on, and a large fire, lighted by those on shore, showed us that all was well. We replied by hoisting four ship's lanterns, and two shots announced us that our signal was perceived; then, with a heart-felt prayer for the safety of our dear ones on shore, we retired to our boat, and Fritz at all events was soon sound asleep. For a while I could not sleep, the thought of my wife and children—alone and unprotected, save by the great dogs—disturbed my rest.
The night at length passed away. At day-break Fritz and I arose, and went on deck. I brought the telescope to bear upon the shore, and with pleasure saw the flag still waving in the morning breeze; while I kept the glass directed to the land, I saw the door of the tent open, and my wife appear and look steadfastly towards us.
I at once hoisted a white flag, and in reply, the flag on shore was thrice dipped. Oh, what a weight seemed lifted from my heart as I saw the signal!
“Fritz,” I said, “I am not now in such haste to get back, and begin to feel compassion for all these poor beasts. I wish we could devise some means for getting them on shore.”
“We might make a raft,” suggested Fritz, “and take off one or two at a time.”
“True,” I replied; “it is easy enough to say, ‘make a raft,’ but to do it is quite another thing.”
“Well,” said Fritz, “I can think of nothing else, unless indeed we make them such swimming belts as you made for the children.”
“Really, my boy, that idea is worth having. I am not joking, indeed,” I continued, as I saw him smile; “we may get every one of the animals ashore in that way.”
So saying, I caught a fine sheep, and proceeded to put our plan into execution. I first fastened a broad piece of linen round its belly, and to this attached some corks and empty tins; then, with Fritz's help, I flung the animal into the sea—it sank, but a moment afterwards rose and floated famously.
“Hurrah!” exclaimed Fritz, “we will treat them all like that.” We then rapidly caught the other animals, and provided them one after the other with a similar contrivance. The cow and ass gave us more trouble than did the others, for, for them we required something more buoyant than the mere cork; we at last found some empty casks and fastened two to each animal by thongs passed under its belly. This done the whole herd were ready to start, and we brought the ass to one of the ports to be the first to be launched. After some manœuvring we got him in a convenient position, and then a sudden heave sent him plunging into the sea. He sank, and then, buoyed up by the casks, emerged head and back from the water. The cow, sheep, and goats followed him one after the other, and then the sow alone remained. She seemed, however, determined not to leave the ship; she kicked, struggled, and squealed so violently, that I really thought we should be obliged to abandon her; at length, after much trouble, we succeeded in seeding her out of the port after the others, and when once in the water, such was the old lady's energy that she quickly distanced them, and was the first to reach the shore.
We had fastened to the horns or neck of each animal a cord with a float attached to the end, and now embarking, we gathered up these floats, set sail, and steered for shore, drawing our herd after us.
Delighted with the successful accomplishment of our task, we got out some biscuits and enjoyed a midday meal; then, while Fritz amused himself with his monkey, I took up my glass and tried to make out how our dear ones on shore were employing themselves. As I was thus engaged, a sudden shout from Fritz surprised me. I glanced up; there stood Fritz with his gun to his shoulder, pointing it at a huge shark; the monster was making for one of the finest sheep; he turned on his side to seize his prey; as the white of his belly appeared, Fritz fired. The shot took effect, and our enemy disappeared, leaving a trace of blood on the calm water.
“Well done, my boy,” I cried, “you will become a crack shot one of these days; but I trust you will not often have such dangerous game to shoot.” Fritz's eyes sparkled at his success and my praise, and reloading his gun, carefully watched the water. But the shark did not again appear, and borne onwards by the breeze, we quickly neared the shore. Steering the boat to a convenient landing place, I cast off the ropes which secured the animals, and let them get ashore as best they might.
There was no sign of my wife or children when we stepped on land, but a few moments afterwards they appeared, and with a shout of joy ran towards us. We were thankful to be once more united, and after asking and replying to a few preliminary questions, proceeded to release our herd from their swimming belts, which, though so useful in the water, were exceedingly inconvenient on shore. My wife was astonished at the apparatus.“How clever you are,” said she.
“I am not the inventor,” I replied, “the honour is due to Fritz. He not only thought of this plan for bringing off the animals, but saved one at least of them from a most fearful death.” And I then told them how bravely he had encountered the shark.
My wife was delighted with her son's success, but declared that she would dread our trips to the vessel more than ever, knowing that such savage fish inhabited the waters.
Fritz, Ernest, and I began the work of unloading our craft, while Jack, seeing that the poor donkey was still encumbered with his swimming belt, tried to free him from it. But the donkey would not stand quiet, and the child's fingers were not strong enough to loosen the cordage; finally, therefore, he scrambled upon the animal's back, and urging him on with hand and foot, trotted towards us.
“Come, my boy,” I said, “no one must be idle here, even for a moment; you will have riding practice enough hereafter; dismount and come and help us.”
Jack was soon on his feet. “But I have not been idle all day,” he said; “look here!” and he pointed to a belt round his waist. It was a broad belt of yellow hair in which he had stuck a couple of pistols and a knife. “And see,” he added, “what I have made for the dogs. Here, Juno, Turk,” the dogs came bounding up at his call, and I saw that they were each supplied with a collar of the same skin, in which were fastened nails, which bristled round their necks in a most formidable manner.
“Capital, capital! my boy,” said I, “but where did you get your materials, and who helped you?”
“Except in cutting the skin,” said my wife, “he had no assistance, and as for the materials, Fritz's jackal supplied us with the skin, and the needles and thread came out of my wonderful bag. You little think how many useful things may be had from that same bag; it is woman's duty and nature, you know, to see after trifles.”
Fritz evidently did not approve of the use to which his jackal's hide had been devoted, and holding his nose, begged his little brother to keep at a distance; “really, Jack,” he said, “you should have cured the hide before you used it, the smell is disgusting, don't come near me.”
“It's not the hide that smells at all,” retorted Jack; “it is your nasty jackal itself that you left in the sun.”
“Now, boys," said I, “no quarrelling here; do you, Jack, help your brother to drag the carcase to the sea, and if your belt smells after that you must take it off and dry it better.”
The jackal was dragged off, and we then finished our work of unloading our boat. When this was accomplished we started for our tent, and finding there no preparation for supper, I said, “Fritz, let us have a Westphalian ham.”
“Ernest,” said my wife, smiling, “let us see if we cannot conjure up some eggs.”
Fritz got out a splendid ham and carried it to his mother triumphantly, while Ernest set before me a dozen white balls with parchment-like coverings.
“Turtles' eggs!” said I. “Well done, Ernest, where did you get them?”
“That,” replied my wife, “shall be told in due course when we relate our adventures; now we will see what they will do towards making a supper for you; with these and your ham I do not think we shall starve.”
Leaving my wife to prepare supper, we returned to the shore, and brought up what of the cargo we had left there; then, having collected our herd of animals, we returned to the tent.
The meal which awaited us was as unlike the first supper we had there enjoyed as possible. My wife had improvised a table of a board laid on two casks, on this was spread a white damask tablecloth, on which were placed knives, forks, spoons, and plates for each person. A tureen of good soup first appeared, followed by a capital omelette, then slices of the ham; and finally some Dutch cheese, butter, and biscuits, with a bottle of the captain's canary wine, completed the repast.
While we thus regaled ourselves, I related to my wife our adventures, and then begged she would remember her promise and tell me all that had happened in my absence.