The Swiss Family Robinson, Chapter 07
The first thing to be done on the following day was to return to the Calabash Wood, to fetch the sledge with the dishes, bowls and baskets we had made.
Fritz alone accompanied me. I desired the other boys to remain with their mother, intending to explore beyond the chain of rocky hills, and thinking a large party undesirable on the occasion.
Passing through the wood of evergreen oaks, we observed our sow feasting on the acorns, evidently not a whit the worse for the fright we had given her the previous day—in fact, she appeared more friendly disposed towards us than usual, possibly considering us as her deliverers from the jaws of the savage dogs.
Many birds tenanted this grove, and were undisturbed by our movements, until Fritz fired and shot a beautiful blue jay, and a couple of parakeets, one a brilliant scarlet, the other green and gold. Fritz was in the act of reloading his gun, when an unaccountable noise struck our ears, and put us instantly on the alert, because it appeared like the dull thumping sound of a muffled drum, and reminded us of the possible presence of savages.
With the greatest caution we drew nearer the sound, concealing ourselves among the low bushes and thick grass and creepers, until we reached an open glade; where, standing on an old prostrate log, was a beautiful bird, about the size of a cock, of a rich chestnut brown colour, finely mottled with dark brown and grey. On the shoulders were curious tufts of velvety black feathers, glossed with green. He was ruffling his wings, erecting his tail and neck feathers, strutting and wheeling about in a most strange and stately fashion.
After manoeuvring for some time in this manner, greatly to the edification of a party of birds resembling him but without any ruff, who, assembled round the stump, were enjoying his performances, he spread out his tail like a fan, stiffened his wings, and began to strike with them in short, rapid beats, faster and faster, until a rumbling sound like very distant thunder was produced, and the whirring wings enveloped him as in a cloud.
This was the drumming noise which had alarmed us, increased, as I imagine, by the wing strokes falling at times on the decayed and hollow stump on which the curious pantomime was acted.
I was watching it with the utmost interest, when a shot from behind me was fired, and in a moment the play was at an end; my over-hasty son had changed the pretty comedy into a sad and needless tragedy. The enthusiastic drummer fell dead from his perch, and the crowd of admiring companions fled in dismay.
The cruel interruption of a scene so rare and remarkable annoyed me extremely, and I blamed Fritz for firing without my leave. I felt sure the bird was the ruffed grouse, and a very fine specimen.
We placed it on the ass, which was patiently awaiting our return, and went on our way.
The sledge was quite safe where we had left it; it was early in the day, and I resolved to explore, as I had intended, the line of cliff and rocky hills, which, at more or less distance from the seashore, extended the whole length of coast known or visible to us.
I desired to discover an opening, if any existed, by which to penetrate the interior of the country, or to ascertain positively that we were walled in and isolated on this portion of the coast. Leaving Calabash Wood behind us, we advanced over ground covered with manioc, potatoes and many plants unknown to us; pleasant streamlets watered the fruitful soil, and the view on all sides was open and agreeable.
Some bushes attracted my notice, loaded with small white berries, of peculiar appearance like wax, and very sticky when plucked. I recognized in this a plant called by botanists Myrica cerifera, and with much pleasure explained to Fritz that, by melting and straining these berries, we might easily succeed in making candles, and afford very great satisfaction to his mother, who did not at all approve of having to lay her work aside and retire to rest the moment the sun set.
The greenish wax to be obtained would be more brittle than bees' wax, but it would burn very fairly, and diffuse an agreeable perfume. Having the ass with us, we lost no time in gathering berries enough to fill one of the large canvas bags he carried, and we then continued our route.
Very soon we met with another natural curiosity, the curious appearance of which surprised us much. This was the abode, under one roof, of a whole colony of birds, about the size of yellowhammers, but of plain brown plumage. The nests were built in a mass round the stem and among the branches of a tree standing alone, and a kind of roof formed of grass, straws and fibres covered them all, and sheltered the community from rain and the heat of the sun.
There were numbers of openings into the irregular sides of the group of dwellings, the nests resembling different apartments in a house common to all; twigs and small branches emerged here and there from the walls, and served as perches for the young birds, and resting-places and posts of observation for all. The general appearance of the establishment reminded us of a huge bath-sponge.
The feathered inhabitants swarmed in and out by thousands, and we saw among them many beautiful little parrots, who seemed in many instances to contest possession of the nest with the lawful owners.
Fritz, being an expert climber and exceedingly anxious to examine the nests more closely, ascended the tree, hoping to obtain one or two young birds, if any were hatched. He put his hand into several holes, which were empty; but at last his intended theft and robbery met with repulse and chastisement he little expected; for, reaching far back into a nest, his finger was seized and sharply bitten by a very strong beak, so that with a cry he withdrew his hand, and shook it vigorously to lessen the pain.
Recovering from the surprise, he again and more resolutely seized the unkind bird, and, despite its shrieks and screams, drew it from its retreat, crammed it into his pocket, buttoned up his coat and slid quickly to the ground, pursued by numbers of the captive's relations, who darted from the other holes and flew round the robber, screeching and pecking at him in a rage.
Fritz's prize was not one of the real owners of the nests, which were those of the sociable grosbeak, but a very pretty, small, green parrot, with which he was greatly pleased, and which he at once determined to tame and teach to speak; for the present, it was carefully remanded to prison in his pocket.
This curious colony of birds afforded us matter of conversation as we went on our way; their cheerful sociable habits, and the instinct which prompted them to unite in labour for the common good, appearing most wonderful to us.
'Examples of the kind, however,' said I, 'are numerous, in various classes of animals. Beavers, for instance, build and live together in a very remarkable way. Among insects, bees, wasps, and ants are well known as social architects; in like manner, the coral insect works wonders beneath the ocean waves, by force of perseverance and united effort.'
'I have often watched ants at work,' said Fritz; 'it is most amusing to see how they carry on the various works and duties of their commonwealth.'
'Have you ever noticed how much trouble they take with the eggs?' inquired I, to see how far he understood the process; 'carrying them about in the warmth of the sun until they are hatched?'
'Ah! That is rather the chrysalis of the antworm, or larva, which is produced from an egg. I know they are called ants' eggs, but strictly speaking, that is incorrect.'
'You are perfectly right, my boy. Well, if you have taken so much interest in watching the little ants of your native country, how delighted and astonished you would be to see the wonders performed by the vast tribes of large ants in foreign lands.
'Some of these build heaps or nests, four or six feet high and proportionately broad, which are so strong and firm that they defy equally sunshine and rain. They are, within, divided into regular streets, galleries, vaults, and nurseries. So firmly are these mounds built, that with interior alterations, a deserted one might be used for a baking-oven.
'The ant, although respected since the days of King Solomon as a model of industry, is not in itself an attractive insect.
'It exudes a sticky moisture, its smell is unpleasant, and it destroys and devours whatever eatable comes in its way. Although in our own country it does little harm, the large ants of foreign lands are most destructive and troublesome; it being very difficult to check their depredations. Fortunately they have enemies by whose exertions their numbers are kept down; birds, other insects, and even four-footed beasts prey upon them.
'Chief among the latter is the ant-eater, or tamanoir, of South America, a large creature six or seven feet in length, covered with long coarse hair, drooping like a heavy plume over the hind quarters. The head is wonderfully elongated and very narrow; it is destitute of teeth, and the tongue resembles somewhat a large great red earth-worm. It has immensely strong curved claws, with which it tears and breaks down and scratches to pieces the hard walls of the ant-heaps; then, protruding its sticky tongue, it coils and twists it about among the terrified millions disturbed by its attack; they adhere to this horrible invader, and are drawn irresistibly backward into the hungry, toothless jaws awaiting them.
'The little ant-eater is not more than about twenty-one inches in length, has a shorter and more natural looking head, and fine silky fur. It usually lives in trees.'
I was pleased to find my memory served me so well on this subject, as it interested my boy amazingly; and occupied us for a considerable time while we traveled onward.
Arriving presently at a grove of tall trees, with very strong, broad, thick leaves, we paused to examine them; they bore a round fig-like fruit, full of little seeds and of a sour harsh taste.
Fritz saw some gummy resin exuding from cracks in the bark, and it reminded him of the boyish delight afforded by collecting gum from cherry-trees at home, so that he must needs stop to scrape off as much as he could. He rejoined me presently, attempting to soften what he had collected in his hands; but finding it would not work like gum, he was about to fling it away, when he suddenly found that he could stretch it, and that it sprang back to its original size.
'Oh father, only look! This gum is quite elastic! Can it possibly be india-rubber?'
'What!' cried I, 'Let me see it! A valuable discovery that would be, indeed; and I do believe you are perfectly right!'
'Why would it be so very valuable, father?' inquired Fritz. 'I have only seen it used for rubbing out pencil marks.'
'India-rubber,' I replied, 'or, more properly, caoutchouc, is a milky resinous juice which flows from certain trees in considerable quantities when the stem is purposely tapped.
'These trees are indigenous to the South American countries of Brazil, Guiana, and Cayenne. The natives, who first obtained it, used it to form bottles by smearing earthen flasks with repeated coatings of the gum when just fresh from the trees, and when hardened and sufficiently thick, they broke the mold, shook out the fragments, and hung the bottles in the smoke, when they became firmer, and of a dark color.
'While moist, the savages were in the habit of drawing rude figures and lines on the resin by way of adornment; these marks you may have observed, for the bottles obtained from the natives by the Spaniards and Portuguese have for years been brought to Europe, and cut into portions to be sold for use in drawing. Caoutchouc can be put to many uses, and I am delighted to have it here, as we shall, I hope, be able to make it into different forms; first and foremost, I shall try to manufacture boots and shoes.'
Soon after making this discovery, we reached the cocoanut wood, and saw the bay extending before us, and the great promontory we called Cape Disappointment, which hitherto had always bounded our excursions. In passing through the wood, I remarked a smaller sort of palm, which, among its grand companions, I had not previously noticed. One of these had been broken by the wind, and I saw that the pith had a peculiar mealy appearance, and I felt convinced that this was the world-renowned sago-palm.
In the pith I saw some fat worms or maggots, and suddenly recollected that I had heard of them before as feeding on the sago, and that in the West Indies they are eaten as a delicacy.
I felt inclined to try what they tasted like; so at once kindling a fire, and placing some half dozen, sprinkled with salt, on a little wooden spit, I set them to roast.
Very soon rich fat began to drop from them, and they smelt so temptingly good, that all repugnance to the idea of eating worms vanished; and, putting one like a pat of butter on a baked potato, I boldly swallowed it, and liked it so much, that several others followed in the same way. Fritz also summoned courage to partake of this novel food; which was a savoury addition to our dinner of baked potatoes.
Being once more ready to start, we found so dense a thicket in the direct route, that we turned aside without attempting to penetrate it, and made our way towards the sugar-brake near Cape Disappointment. This we could not pass without cutting a handsome bundle of sugar-canes, and the donkey carried that, in addition to the bag of wax berries.
In time we reached the sledge in Calabash Wood: the ass was unloaded, everything placed on the sledge, and our patient beast began calmly and readily to drag the burden he had hitherto borne on his back.
No further adventure befell us, and we arrived in the evening at Falconhurst, where our welcome was as warm as usual—all we had to tell, listened to with the greatest interest, all we had to show, most eagerly examined, the pretty green parakeet enchanting the boys most particularly.
An excellent supper was ready for us, and with thankful hearts we enjoyed it together; then, ascending to our tree-castle, and drawing up the ladder after us, we betook ourselves to the repose well earned and greatly needed after this fatiguing day.
The idea of candle-making seemed to have taken the fancy of all the boys; and next morning they woke, one after the other, with the word candle on their lips. When they were thoroughly roused they continued to talk candles; all breakfast-time, candles were the subject of conversation; and after breakfast they would hear of nothing else but setting to work at once and making candles.
'So be it,' said I, 'let us become chandlers.' I spoke confidently, but, to tell the truth, I had in my own mind certain misgivings as to the result of our experiment. In the first place, I knew that we lacked a very important ingredient—animal fat, which is necessary to make candles burn for any length of time with brilliancy. Besides this, I rather doubted how far my memory would recall the various operations necessary in the manufacture.
Of all this, however, I said nothing; and the boys, under my direction, were soon at work. We first picked off the berries and threw them into a large shallow iron vessel placed on the fire. The green sweet-scented wax was rapidly melted, rising to the surface of the juice yielded by the berries. This we skimmed off and placed in a separate pot by the fire, ready for use, repeating the operation several times, until we had collected sufficient liquid wax for our purpose. I then took the wicks my wife had prepared, and dipped them one after the other into the wax, handing them as I did so to Fritz, who hung them up on a bush to dry.
The coating they thus obtained, was not very thick; but, by repeating the operation several times, they at length assumed very fair proportions, and became real sturdy candles. Our wax being at an end, we hung these in a cool shady place to harden; and that same night we sat up like civilized beings three whole hours after sunset, and Falconhurst was for the first time brilliantly illuminated.
We were all delighted with the success of our experiment. 'You are indeed clever,' said my wife, 'I only wish that with your ingenuity you would show me how to make butter. Day after day, I have the annoyance of seeing a large supply of good cream go bad under my very eyes, simply because I have no use to which to put it. Invent a plan, please do.'
'I think that perhaps I can help you,' I replied after a little consideration, 'not that I can claim the honour of the invention of my plan, that is due to the Hottentots. I will see what I can do. Jack, bring me one of our gourd bottles.'
I took the gourd, one of those I had previously prepared, with a small hole at one end and well hollowed-out and cleaned; this I partially filled with cream and then corked up the hole tightly.
'Here, boys,' said I, 'you can continue the operation while I turn carpenter and make a cart to take the place of our sledge.' I gave them their directions, and then set about my own work.
They fixed four posts in the ground, and to them fastened a square piece of sailcloth by four cords attached to the corners. In this cradle they placed the gourd of cream, and each taking a side, rolled it backwards and forwards continuously for half an hour.
'Now,' I cried, looking up from my work, 'open the gourd and take the contents to your mother, with my compliments.'
They did so; and my good wife's eyes were delighted with the sight of a large lump of capital fresh butter.
With my son's assistance the cart was in time completed; a clumsy vehicle it was, but strong enough for any purpose to which we might put it, and, as it proved, of immense use to us in collecting the harvest.
We then turned our attention to our fruit trees, which we had planted in a plot ready for transplanting. The walnut, cherry, and chestnut trees we arranged in parallel rows so as to form a shady avenue from Falconhurst to Family-bridge; and between them we laid down a tolerable road, that we might have no difficulty in reaching Tentholm, be the weather bad as it might.
We planted the vines round the arched roots of our great mangrove, and the rest of the trees in suitable spots; some near Falconhurst, and others away over Jackal river, to adorn Tentholm. Tentholm had been the subject of serious thoughts to me for some time past, and I now turned all my attention thither. It was not my ambition to make it beautiful, but to form of it a safe place of refuge in a case of emergency.
My first care, therefore, was to plant a thick prickly hedge, capable of protecting us from any wild animal, and forming a tolerable obstacle to the attack of even savages, should they appear. Not satisfied with this, however, we fortified the bridge, and on a couple of hillocks mounted two guns which we brought from the wreck, and with whose angry mouths we might bark defiance at any enemy, man or beast.
Six weeks slipped away while we were thus busily occupied, six weeks of hard yet pleasant labour. We greeted each Sunday and its accompanying rest most gratefully, and on that day always especially thanked God for our continued health and safety.
I soon saw that this hard work was developing in the boys remarkable strength, and this I encouraged by making them practise running, leaping, climbing, and swimming; I also saw, however, that it was having a less satisfactory effect upon their clothes, which, though a short time before remarkably neat, were now, in spite of mending and patching, most untidy and disreputable.
I determined, therefore, to pay another visit to the wreck, to replenish our wardrobe and to see how much longer the vessel was likely to hold together. Three of the boys and I went off in the pinnace. The old ship seemed in much the same condition as when we had left her, a few more planks had gone, but that was all.
'Come, boys,' cried I, 'not an article of the slightest value must be left on board; rummage her out to the very bottom of her hold.'
They took me at my word: sailors' chests, bales of cloth and linen, a couple of small guns, ball and shot, tables, benches, window shutters, bolts and locks, barrels of pitch, all were soon in a heap on the deck. We loaded the pinnace and went on shore.
We soon returned with our tub-boat in tow, and after a few more trips nothing was left on board.
'One more trip,' said I to my wife, before we started again, 'and there will be the end of the brave ship which carried us from Switzerland. I have left two barrels of gunpowder on board, and mean to blow her up.'
Before we lighted the fuse, I discovered a large copper cauldron which I thought I might save. I made fast to it a couple of empty casks, that when the ship went up it might float. The barrels were placed, the train lighted, and we returned on shore.
The supper was laid outside the tent, at a spot from whence we might obtain a good view of the wreck. Darkness came on. Suddenly a vivid pillar of fire rose from the black waters, a sullen roar boomed across the sea, and we knew that our good old ship was no more.
We had planned the destruction of the vessel, we knew that it was for the best; and yet that night we went to bed with a feeling of sadness in our hearts, as though we had lost a dear old friend.
Next morning all our sadness was dispelled, and it was with pleasure that we saw the shore lined with a rich store of planks and beams, the remnants of the wreck. I soon found, too, the copper cauldron which was successfully floated by the casks; this I got on shore, and hauling it up among the rocks, stored under it the powder casks we had landed the day before.
Collecting all these valuables gave us some little trouble, and while we were thus engaged my wife brought us good news. She had discovered that two ducks and a goose had each reared a large family among the reeds by the river; and they presently appeared waddling past us, apparently vastly well-pleased with their performance. We greeted them joyfully.
'Hurrah!' cried Ernest. 'We'll be able to afford duck and green peas some day soon, and imagine we're once more civilized mortals.'
The sight of these birds reminded me of our family at Falconhurst, and I announced my intention of paying them a visit.
Everyone was delighted, and everyone would come with me. As we approached Falconhurst I noticed that several young trees in our avenue were considerably bent by the wind, and this resolved me to make an expedition next day to cut bamboos for their support.
As Fritz was the only one besides myself who had visited Cape Disappointment and the surrounding country, my wife and the younger boys begged hard to be allowed to accompany me. I consented; and next morning we started, bringing with us the cart, drawn by the cow and ass, and laden with everything necessary for an expedition of several days—a tent, provisions, a large supply of ammunition, and all sorts of implements and utensils; for I intended to make a great collection of fruits and the produce of different trees.
It was a lovely morning, and passing gaily through the plantations of potatoes, manioc and cassavas, we came to the nests of the sociable grosbeak, the sight of which charmed the children immensely.
We reached the wax trees, and there I called a halt, for I wished to gather a sack or two of the berries that we might renew our stock of candles. The berries were soon plucked; and I stored them away amongst the bushes, marking the spot that we might find them on our return.
'Now for the caoutchouc tree,' said I, 'now for waterproof boots and leggings to keep your feet dry, Ernest.' To the caoutchouc tree we directed our steps, and were soon busily engaged in stabbing the bark and placing vessels beneath to catch the sap.
We again moved forward; and, crossing the palm wood, entered upon a delightful plain bounded on one side by an extensive field of waving sugar-cane, on the other by a thicket of bamboos and lovely palms, while in front stretched the shining sea, calm and noiseless.
'How beautiful!' exclaimed Jack. 'Let us pitch our tent here and stay here always instead of living at Falconhurst. It would be jolly.'
'Very likely,' replied I, 'and so would be the attacks of wild beasts; imagine a great tiger lying in wait in the thicket yonder, and pouncing out on us at night. No, no, thank you, I much prefer our nest in the tree, or our impregnable position at Tentholm. We must make this our headquarters for the present, however; for, though perhaps dangerous, it is the most convenient spot we shall find. Call a halt and pitch the tent.'
Our beasts were quickly unyoked, the tent arranged, a large fire lit, supper prepared, and we dispersed in various directions, some to cut bamboos, and some to collect sugar-cane. We then returned; and, as supper was still not quite ready and the boys were hungry, they decided to obtain some cocoanuts. This time, however, no assistance was to be had from either monkeys or land-crabs, and they gazed up with longing eyes at the fruit above them.
'We can climb,' said Fritz, 'up with you, boys.' Jack and he each rushed at one of the smooth slippery trunks; right vigorously they struggled upwards, but to no purpose; before they had accomplished one quarter of the distance they found themselves slipping rapidly to the ground.
'Here, you young athletes,' cried I, 'I foresaw this difficulty, and have provided for it.' So saying I held up buskins of shark's skin which I had previously prepared, and which I now bound on to their legs. Thus equipped they again attempted the ascent, and with a loop of rope passed round their body and the trunk of the tree, quickly reached the summit.
My wife joined me, and together we watched the boys as they ascended tree after tree, throwing down the best fruit from each. They then returned, and jestingly begged Ernest to produce the result of his labour. The professor had been lying on the grass gazing at the palms; but, on this sarcastic remark, he sprang to his feet. 'Willingly,' he exclaimed, and seizing a pair of buskins he quickly donned them.
'Give me a cocoanut shell,' said he. I gave him one, and he put it in his pocket. He ran to a tree, and, with an agility which surprised us all, quickly reached the top.
No sooner had he done so than Fritz and Jack burst into a roar of laughter. He had swarmed a tree which bore no nuts. Ernest apparently heard them; for, as it seemed in a fit of anger, he drew his knife and severed the leafy crest, which fell to the ground. I glanced up at him, surprised at such a display of temper. But a bright smile greeted me, and in a merry tone he shouted:
'Jack, pick that palm-cabbage up and take it to father; that is only half my contribution, and it is worth all your nuts put together.'
He spoke truly: the cabbage-palm is rare, and the tuft of leaves at its summit is greatly prized by the South Americans for its great delicacy and highly nutritive qualities.
'Bravo!' I cried. 'You have retrieved your character; come down and receive the thanks of the company, what are you waiting up there for?'
'I am coming presently,' he replied, 'with the second half of my contribution; I hope it will be as fully appreciated as the first.' In a short time he slipped down the tree, and, advancing to his mother, presented her with the nutshell he had taken up with him.
'Here,' he said, 'is a wine which the greatest connoisseur would prize. Taste it, mother.'
The shell was filled with a clear rosy liquor, bright and sparkling.
My wife tasted it. 'Excellent, excellent,' she exclaimed. 'Your very good health, my dear boy!'
We drank the rosy wine in turn, and Ernest received hearty thanks from all.
It was getting late, and while we were enjoying our supper before our tent, our donkey, who had been quietly browsing near us, suddenly set up a loud bray, and, without the least apparent cause, pricked up his ears, threw up his heels, and galloped off into the thicket of bamboos. We followed for a short distance, and I sent the dogs in chase, but they returned without our friend, and, as it was late, we were obliged to abandon the chase.
I was annoyed by this incident, and even alarmed; for not only had we lost the ass, but I knew not what had occasioned his sudden flight. I knew not whether he was aware, by instinct, of the approach of some fierce wild beast. I said nothing of this to my family, but, making up an unusually large fire, I bade them sleep with their weapons by their sides, and we all lay down.
A bright morning awoke us early, and I rose and looked out, thinking that perhaps our poor donkey might have been attracted by the light of the fires, and have returned. Alas, not a sign of him was to be seen. As we could not afford to lose so valuable a beast, I determined to leave no attempt untried to regain him.
We hurriedly breakfasted, and, as I required the dogs to assist me in the search, I left my elder sons to protect their mother, and bade Jack get ready for a day's march. This arrangement delighted him, and we quickly set out.
For an hour or more we trudged onwards, directed by the print of the ass's hoofs. Sometimes we lost the track for a while, and then again discovered it as we reached softer soil. Finally this guide failed us altogether, for the donkey seemed to have joined in with a herd of some larger animals, with whose hoof-prints his had mingled.
I now almost turned back in despair, but Jack urged me to continue the search. 'For,' said he, 'if we once get upon a hill we shall see such a large herd as this must be at almost any distance. Do let us go on, father.'
I consented, and we again pushed forwards, through bushes, and over torrents, sometimes cutting our way with an axe, and sometimes plunging knee-deep through a swamp. We at length reached the border of a wide plain, and on it, in the distance, I could see a herd of animals, browsing on the rich grass. It struck me that it might be the very herd to which our good donkey had joined himself; and, wishing to ascertain whether this was so, I resolved to make a detour through a bamboo marsh, and get as near as possible to the animals without disturbing them.
The bamboos were huge, many of them over thirty feet in height; and, as we made our way through them, I remembered an account of the giant cane of South America, which is greatly prized by the Indians on account of its extreme usefulness; the reeds themselves make masts for their canoes, while each joint will form a cask or box.
I was delighted, for I had little doubt that the bamboos we were among were of the same species. I explained this to Jack, and as we discussed the possibility of cutting one down and carrying a portion of it home, we reached the border of the marsh, and emerged upon the plain.
There we suddenly found ourselves face to face with the herd which we sought—a herd of buffaloes. They looked up, and stared at us inquisitively, but without moving. Jack would have fired, but I checked him. 'Back to the thicket,' I said, 'and keep back the dogs!'
We began to retreat, but before we were again under cover, the dogs joined us; and, in spite of our shouts and efforts to restrain them, they dashed forwards, and seized a buffalo calf.
This was a signal to the whole herd to attack us. They bellowed loudly, pawed the ground, and tore it up with their horns, and then dashed madly towards us. We had not time to step behind a rock before the leader was upon us. So close was he that my gun was useless. I drew a pistol and fired. He fell dead at my feet.
His fall checked the advance of the rest. They halted, snuffed the air, turned tail and galloped off across the plain. They were gone, but the dogs still held gallantly to the calf. They dragged and tussled with him, but with their utmost efforts could not bring him to the ground.
How to assist them without shooting the poor beast, I knew not; and this I was unwilling to do, for I hoped that, if we could but capture him alive, we might in time manage to tame him, and use him as a beast of burden. Jack's clever little head, however, suddenly devised a plan for their aid, and with his usual promptitude he at once put it into execution.
He unwound the lasso, which was coiled round his body, and, as the young bull flung up his heels, he cast it and caught him by his hind legs. The noose drew tight, and in a twinkling the beast was upon the ground. We fastened the other end of the cord round a stout bamboo, called off the dogs, and the animal was at our mercy.
'Now we have got him,' said Jack, as he looked at the poor beast, lying panting on the ground, 'what are we to do with him?'
'I will show you,' said I; 'help me to fasten his forelegs together, and you shall see the next operation.'
The bull, thus secured, could not move; and while Jack held his head I drew my knife and pierced the cartilage of his nose, and when the blood flowed less freely, passed a stout cord through the hole. I felt some repugnance at thus paining the animal, but it was a case of necessity, and I could not hesitate. We united the ends of the cord, freed the animal, set him upon his legs, and subdued and overawed, he followed us without resistance.
I now turned my attention to the dead buffalo, but as I could not then skin it, I contented myself with cutting off the most delicate parts, its tongue, and a couple of steaks, and, packing them in salt in my wallet, abandoned the rest to the dogs. They fell upon it greedily, and we retired under the shade to enjoy a meal after our hard work.
The dogs, however, were not to have undisputed possession of the carcase; vultures, crows and other birds of prey, with that marvellous instinct which always leads them to a dead body, quickly filled the air, and, with discordant cries, swooped down upon the buffalo. An amusing contest ensued; the dogs again and again drove off the intruders, and they, as often, returned reinforced by others who swarmed to the spot. Jack, with his usual impetuosity, wished to send a shot in amongst the robber band, but I prevented him, for I knew that the bird or two he might kill would be of no use to us, while his shot would not drive away the rest, even had we wished it.
Both we and the dogs were at length satisfied, and as it was getting late, I determined to give up for the present the search for the ass, and to return to our camp.
We again made our way through the bamboos, but before we left the thicket, I cut down one of the smallest of the reeds, the largest of whose joints would form capital little barrels, while those near the tapering top would serve as moulds for our next batch of candles.
The buffalo, with a dog on either side and the rope through his nose, was following us passively, and we presently induced him to submit to a package of our goods laid upon his back. We pushed rapidly forward, Jack eager to display our latest acquisition.
As we repassed the rocky bed of a stream we had crossed in the morning, Juno dashed ahead, and was about to rush into a cleft between the rocks, when the appearance of a large jackal suddenly checked her further progress. Both dogs instantly flew at the animal, and though she fought desperately, quickly overpowered and throttled her. From the way the beast had shown fight, I concluded that her young must be close by, probably within the very cleft Juno was about to enter.
Directly Jack heard this, he wished to creep in and bring out the young jackals. I hesitated to allow him to do so, for I thought it possible that the male jackal might be still lying in wait within the cave. We peered into the darkness, and after a while, Jack declared he could discern the little yellow jackals, and that he was quite sure the old one was not there.
He then crept in, followed closely by the dogs, and presently emerged bearing in his arms a handsome cub of a beautiful golden yellow and about the size of a small cat. He was the only one of the brood he had managed to save, for Turk and Juno, without pity for their youth or beauty, had worried all the rest. I did not much regret this, however, for I firmly believe that, had he saved them, Jack would have insisted upon bringing up the whole litter. As it was I considered that one jackal was, with our young bull, quite sufficient an addition to our livestock.
During the halt we had made, I had fastened the buffalo to a small tree, and as I now was again about to move on, I recognized it as the dwarf-palm, whose long sharp leaves form an excellent barrier if it is planted as a hedge. I determined to return and get some young plants to strengthen our hedge at Tentholm. It was late before we reached our camp, where we found our family anxiously awaiting our return.
The sight of the new animals delighted the children immensely, and in their opinion amply compensated for the loss of our poor donkey. Jack had to answer a host of questions concerning their capture, and to give a minute account of the affray with the buffaloes. This he did, with graphic power certainly, but with so much boasting and self-glorification, that I was obliged to check him, and give a plain and unvarnished account of the affair.
Supper-time arrived, and as we sat at that meal, for which Jack and I were heartily thankful, my wife and her party proceeded to give an account of their day's work.
Ernest had discovered a sago-palm, and had, after much labour, contrived to fell it. Franz and his mother had collected dry wood, of which a huge heap now stood before the tent sufficient to keep up a fire all the rest of the time we should stay on the spot.
Fritz had gone off shooting and had secured a good bag. While they had been thus variously employed, a troop of apes had visited the tent, and when they returned, they found the place ransacked and turned upside down. The provisions were eaten and gnawed, the potatoes thrown about, the milk drunk and spilt, every box had been peeped into, every pot and pan had been divested of its lid, the palisade round the hut had been partly destroyed, nothing had been left untouched.
Industriously had the boys worked to repair the damage, and when we returned not a sign was to be seen of the disorder. No one would have guessed what had occurred from the delicious supper we were eating.
After matters had been again arranged, Fritz had gone down to the shore and, amongst the rocks at Cape Disappointment, had discovered a young eaglet which Ernest declared to be a Malabar or Indian eagle; he was much pleased with his discovery, and I recommended him to bring the bird up and try to train it to hunt as a falcon.
'Look here though, boys,' said I, 'you are now collecting a good many pets, and I am not going to have your mother troubled with the care of them all; each must look after his own, and if I find one neglected, whether beast or bird, I set it at liberty. Mark that and remember it!'
My wife looked greatly relieved at this announcement, and the boys promised to obey my directions. Before we retired for the night I prepared the buffalo-meat I had brought; I lit a large fire of green wood, and in the smoke of this thoroughly dried both the tongue and steaks. We then properly secured all the animals, Jack took his little pet in his arms, and we lay down and were soon fast asleep.
At daybreak we were on foot, and began to prepare for a return to Falconhurst.
'You are not going to despise my sago, I hope,' said Ernest, 'you have no idea what a trouble it was to cut it down, and I have been thinking too that if we could but split the tree, we might make a couple of long useful troughs which might, I think, be made to carry water from Jackal River to Tentholm. Is my plan worth consideration?'
'Indeed it is,' I replied, 'and at all events we must not abandon such a valuable prize as a sago-palm. I would put off our departure for a day, rather than leave it behind.'
We went to the palm, and with the tools we had with us attempted to split the trunk. We first sawed off the upper end, and then with an axe and saw managed to insert a wedge. This accomplished, our task was less difficult, for with a heavy mallet we forced the wedge in further and further, until at length the trunk was split in twain. From one half of the trunk we then removed the pith, disengaging it, with difficulty, from the tough wood fibres; at each end, however, I left a portion of the pith untouched, thus forming a trough in which to work the sago.
'Now, boys,' said I, when we had removed the pith from the other half of the trunk, 'off with your coats and turn up your shirt-sleeves; I am going to teach you to knead.'
They were all delighted, and even little Franz begged to be allowed to help. Ernest brought a couple of pitchers of water, and throwing it in amongst the pith, we set to work right heartily. As the dough was formed and properly kneaded, I handed it to my wife who spread it out on a cloth in the sun to dry. This new occupation kept us busy until the evening, and when it was at length completed we loaded the cart with the sago, a store of cocoanuts and our other possessions, that we might be ready to start early on the following morning.
As the sun rose above the horizon, we packed up our tent and set forth, a goodly caravan. I thought it unfair to the cow to make her drag such a load as we now had alone, and determined if possible to make the young buffalo take the place of our lost donkey; after some persuasion he consented, and soon put his strength to the work and brought the cart along famously. As we had the trough slung under the cart we had to choose the clearest possible route, avoiding anything like a thicket; we, therefore, could not pass directly by the candleberry and caoutchouc trees, and I sent Ernest and Jack aside to visit the store we had made on our outward journey.
They had not long been gone when I was alarmed by a most terrible noise accompanied by the furious barking of the dog and shouts from Jack and Ernest. Thinking that the boys had been attacked by some wild beast, I ran to their assistance.
A most ludicrous scene awaited me when I reached the spot. They were dancing and shouting round and round a grassy glade, and I as nearly as possible followed their example, for in the centre, surrounded by a promising litter, lay our old sow, whose squeals, previously so alarming, were now subsiding into comfortable grunts of recognition.
I did not join my boys in their triumphal dance, but I was nevertheless very much pleased at the sight of the flourishing family, and immediately returned to the cart to obtain biscuits and potatoes for the benefit of the happy mother. Jack and Ernest meanwhile pushed further on, and brought back the sack of candleberries and the caoutchouc, and as we could not then take the sow with us, we left her alone with her family and proceeded to Falconhurst.
The animals were delighted to see us back again, and received us with manifestations of joy, but looked askance at the new pets.
The eagle especially came in for shy glances, and promised to be no favourite. Fritz, however, determined that his pet should at present do no harm, secured him by the leg to a root of the fig-tree and uncovered his eyes. In a moment the aspect of the bird was changed; with his sight returned all his savage instincts, he flapped his wings, raised his head, darted to the full length of his chain, and before anyone could prevent him seized the unfortunate parrot which stood near, and tore it to pieces. Fritz's anger rose at the sight, and he was about to put an end to the savage bird.
'Stop,' said Ernest, 'don't kill the poor creature, he is but following his natural instincts; give him to me, and I will tame him.'
Fritz hesitated. 'No, no,' he said, 'I don't want really to kill the bird, but I can't give him up; tell me how to tame him, and you shall have Master Knips.'
'Very well,' replied Ernest, 'I will tell you my plan, and, if it succeeds, I will accept Knips as a mark of your gratitude. Take a pipe and tobacco, and send the smoke all round his head, so that he must inhale it; by degrees he will become stupefied, and his savage nature from that moment subdued.'
Fritz was rather inclined to ridicule the plan, but knowing that Ernest generally had a good reason for anything of the sort that he proposed, he consented to make the attempt. He soon seated himself beneath the bird, who still struggled furiously, and puffed cloud after cloud upwards, and as each cloud circled round the eagle's head he became quieter and quieter, until he sat quite still, gazing stupidly at the young smoker.
'Capital!' cried Fritz, as he hooded the bird, 'capital, Ernest; Knips is yours.'