The Swiss Family Robinson, Chapter 17
My wife and Franz, though somewhat startled by the unexpected absence of Fritz, were delighted to see us return safely, and listened with eager interest to our adventures. My wife shuddered, and scarcely suppressed an involuntary scream as she heard of our desperate encounter with the lion and his mate. Jack's danger and providential escape, too, made her tremble; and so pale did he still look, that she could scarcely believe he was uninjured.
Tears came into Franz's eyes when he heard of the sad death of poor old Juno; and he inquired most tenderly whether her remains had been brought back, that they might be interred near the house which had been her home for so many years.
Next day he saw her buried carefully; and Ernest, at his request, produced an epitaph, which was inscribed upon a slab of stone above her grave.
'A servant true lies here:
'A faithful friend,
'To all most dear;
'Who met her end
'Fighting right bravely in her master's cause.
The flesh of the wild boar and the truffles were handed over to my wife, who received them with delight, promising us therefrom many a savoury dish. She would fain have had the boar's head too; but my word was pledged to Ernest that it should adorn his museum, and, though my lips watered to taste it baked in Hottentot fashion, I would not break my promise. This splendid head, therefore, together with the lions' skins, we carried to the tannery on Whale Island, where they were cleaned and dressed.
Five days passed, but Fritz still remained absent. I could not conceal my anxiety, and at length determined to follow him. All were delighted at the proposal, and even my wife, when she heard that we were to sail in the pinnace, agreed to accompany us.
The boat was stored, and on a bright morning, with a favourable breeze, we five, with the dogs, stepped aboard, and ran for Cape Minster.
Our beautiful little yacht bounded over the water gaily, and the bright sunshine and delicious sea-breeze put us all in the highest spirits. The entrance of the archway was in sight, and thither I was directing the boat's course.
Suddenly, right ahead, I saw a dark and shadowy mass just below the surface of the water. 'A sunken rock,' I thought to myself, 'and yet it is strange that I never before noticed it.'
I put down the helm in a moment, but a catastrophe seemed inevitable. We surged ahead! A slight shock, and all was over! The danger was passed!
I glanced astern, to look again at the dangerous spot; but the rock was gone, and, where but a moment before I had distinctly seen its great green shadow, I could now see nothing.
Before we had recovered from our amazement, a shout from Jack surprised me.
'There is another,' he exclaimed, 'to starboard, father!' Sure enough, there lay, apparently, another sunken rock.
'The rock is moving!' shouted Franz; and a great black body emerged from the sea, while from the upper extremity rushed a column of water, which, with a mighty noise, rose upwards, and then fell like rain all around. The mystery was explained; for, as the great beast emerged yet further from the water, I recognized, from its enormous size and great length of head, the cachalot whale.
The monster was apparently enraged at the way we had scratched his back; for, retreating to a short distance, he evidently meditated a rush upon us.
Fearful stories occurred to me of the savage temper of this whale, how he has been known to destroy boat after boat, and even to sink great ships, and with a feeling of desperation I sprang to one of the guns. Jack leaped to the other, and almost simultaneously we fired. Both shots apparently took effect; for the whale, after lashing the water violently for a few seconds, plunged beneath its surface, and disappeared.
We kept a sharp look-out for him, for I was unwilling to lose such a valuable prize and, reloading, stood towards the shore, in which direction he was apparently making. Presently we again sighted him in shallow water, lashing fearfully with his tail, and dyeing the waves around him with blood. Approaching the infuriated animal as nearly as I dared, we again fired.
The struggles of the whale seemed for a few moments to become even yet more frantic, and then, with a quiver from head to tail, he lay motionless—dead!
The boys were about to raise a cry of victory, but checked the shout upon their very lips; for darting behind a rock they espied a canoe paddled by a tall and muscular savage, who now stood up in his skiff and appeared to be examining us attentively. Seeing that we were standing towards him, the swarthy native seized his paddle and again darted behind a rock. An awful thought now took possession of me. There must be a tribe of blacks lurking on these shores, and Fritz must have fallen into their hands.
We, however, I determined, should not be easily taken; and our guns were loaded and run out.
Presently a dusky face appeared, peeping at us from a lofty rock: it vanished, and we saw another peeping at us from lower down.
Then again the skiff put out as though to make a further reconnoitre. All, even Jack, looked anxious, and glanced at me for orders.
'Hoist a white flag,' said I, 'and hand me the speaking-trumpet.' I seized the instrument and uttered such peaceable words in the Malay language as I could recall: neither the flag nor my words seemed to produce any effect, and the savage was about to return to the shore.
Jack hereupon lost patience, and in his turn took up the trumpet.
'Come here, you black son of a gun,' he exclaimed. 'Come on board and make friends, or we'll blow you and your—'
'Stop! Stop! You foolish boy,' I said. 'You will but alarm the man, with your wild words and gestures.'
'No! But see,' he cried, 'he is paddling towards us!'
And sure enough the canoe was rapidly approaching.
Presently a cry from Franz alarmed me. 'Look! Look!' he shrieked. 'The villain is in Fritz's cajack. I can see the walrus' head.'
Ernest alone remained unmoved. He took the speaking-trumpet: 'Fritz, ahoy!' he shouted. 'Welcome, old fellow!'
The words were scarcely out of his mouth when I, too, recognized the well-known face, beneath its dusky disguise.
In another minute the brave boy was on board, and in spite of his blackened face was kissed and welcomed heartily. He was now assailed with a storm of questions from all sides: Where had he been? What had kept him so long, and why had he turned blackamoor?
'The last question,' replied he, with a smile, 'is the only one I will now answer; the others shall be explained when I give a full account of my adventures. Hearing guns fired, my mind was instantly filled with ideas of Malay pirates, for I never dreamed that you could be here in the yacht, so I disguised myself as you now see me, and came forth to reconnoitre. When you addressed me in Malay you only added to my terror, for it left not a doubt in my mind that you were pirates.'
Having in our turn described to him our adventure with the cachalot whale, I asked him if he knew of a suitable spot for the anchorage of the yacht.
'Certainly,' he replied, casting towards me a glance full of meaning. 'I can lead you to an island where there is splendid anchorage, and which is itself well worth seeing, for it contains all sorts of strange things.' And after removing the stains from his skin, he again sprang into his canoe and piloted us to a picturesque little island in the bay.
Now that there could be no doubt as to the success of Fritz's expedition, I no longer hesitated to give to my wife an account of his project, and to prepare her mind for the surprise which awaited her. She was greatly startled, as I expected, and seemed almost overcome with emotion at the idea of seeing a human being, and that being one of her own sex.
'But why,' she asked, 'did you not tell me of this at first? Why wait until the last moment with such joyful news?'
'I was unwilling,' I replied, 'to raise hopes which might never be realized; but now, thank Heaven, he has succeeded, and there is no need for concealment.'
The boys could not at all understand the evident air of mystery and suppressed excitement which neither their mother, Fritz, nor I could entirely conceal. They cast glances of the greatest curiosity towards the island, and as soon as the sails were furled and the anchor dropped, they sprang eagerly ashore. In a body we followed Fritz, maintaining perfect silence.
Presently we emerged from the thicket through which we were passing, and saw before us a hut of sheltering boughs, at the entrance of which burned a cheerful fire.
Into this leafy bower Fritz dived, leaving his brothers without, mute with astonishment. In another moment he emerged, leading by the hand a slight, handsome youth, by his dress apparently a young English naval officer. The pair advanced to meet us; and Fritz, with a countenance radiant with joy, briefly introduced his companion as Edward Montrose.
'And,' he continued, looking at his mother and me, 'will you not welcome him as a friend and a brother to our family circle?'
'That will we, indeed!' I exclaimed, advancing and holding out my hands to the fair young stranger. 'Our wild life may have roughened our looks and manners, but it has not hardened our hearts, I trust.'
The mother, too, embraced the seeming youth most heartily. The lads, and even the dogs, were not behind-hand in testifying their gratification at the appearance of their new friend—the former delighted at the idea of a fresh companion, and the latter won by her sweet voice and appearance.
From the expressions made use of by Fritz I perceived that the girl wished her sex to remain unrevealed to the rest of the party until my wife could obtain for her a costume more suited to her real character.
The young men then ran down to the yacht to bring up what was necessary for supper, as well as to make preparations for a camp in which we might spend the night. This done, my wife hastened to set before us a substantial meal, while the boys, anxious to make their new acquaintance feel at home amongst them, were doing their best to amuse her. She herself, after the first feeling of strangeness had worn off, entered fully into all their fun; and by the time they sat down to supper was laughing and chatting as gaily as any one of the rest. She admired the various dishes, tasted our mead and, without alluding once to her previous life, kept up a lively conversation.
The mere fact of meeting with any human being after so many years of isolation was in itself sufficient to raise the boys to the greatest state of excitement; but that this being should be one so handsome; so gay, so perfectly charming, seemed completely to have fumed their heads; and when I gave the sign for the breaking-up of the feast, and their new friend was about to be led to the night-quarters which had been prepared for her on board the yacht, the health of Edward Montrose was proposed, and drunk in fragrant mead, amidst the cheers and acclamations of all hands.
When she was gone, and silence had been restored, Jack exclaimed:
'Now, then, Fritz, if you please, just tell me where you came across this jolly fellow. Did you take your mysterious voyage in search of him, or did you meet him by chance? Out with your adventures, while we sit comfortably round the fire.'
So saying, Jack cast more wood upon the blazing pile, and throwing himself down in his usual careless fashion, prepared to listen attentively.
Fritz, after a few moments' hesitation, began: 'Perhaps you remember,' said he, 'how, when I returned from my expedition in the cajack the other day, I struck down an albatross. None but my father at the time knew, however, what became of the wounded bird, or even thought more about it. Yet it was that albatross who brought me notice of the shipwrecked stranger; and he, too, I determined should carry back a message, to cheer and encourage the sender.
'I first, as you know, prepared my cajack to carry two persons; and then, with a heart full of hope and trust, left you and the yacht, and, with Pounce seated before me, made for the open sea. For several hours I paddled steadily on, till, the wind freshening, I thought it advisable to keep in nearer shore; that, should a regular storm arise, I might find some sheltered bay in which to weather it.
'It was well I did so; for, scarcely had I reached a quiet cove which promised to afford me the protection I desired, than the sea appeared one mass of foam: great surging waves arose; and even in the comparative calm of the bay I felt that I was in some danger.
'I passed the night in my cajack; and next morning, after a frugal meal of pemmican, and a draught of water from my flask, once more ventured forth. The wind had subsided, the sea was tolerably smooth; and, keeping my eyes busily employed in seeking in every direction to detect, if possible, the slightest trace of smoke, or other sign of human life, I paddled on till noon.
'The aspect of the coast now began to change: the shores were sandy, while further inland lay dense forests, from whose gloomy depths I could ever and anon hear the fierce roar of beasts of prey, the yell of apes, the fiendish laugh of the hyaena, or the despairing death cry of a hapless deer. Seldom have I experienced a greater feeling of solitude than whilst listening to these strange sounds, and knowing that I in this frail canoe was the only human being near. Giving myself up to contemplation, I rested my paddle, and allowed my cajack to drift slowly on.
'As I neared the shore, I noticed a large number of strange-looking birds, who would sometimes flutter round me, and then dart back again to the border of the forest, where they were feeding on what appeared to be the pepper-plant; they seized the berries in their great ponderous beaks, threw them up into the air and then dexterously caught them in their fall. Their beaks were really something extraordinary: they looked as though they must give their owners a perpetual headache, from their immense weight. The only thing that relieved the extreme ugliness of these great appendages was their gorgeous colour, which was only rivalled by the gay hue of the plumage.
'I wish now that I had brought home a specimen; but, at the time, I was so much amused by watching the grotesque antics of the birds, that I did not think of obtaining one. When I left the spot, I settled in my own mind that they were toucans: was I right, Ernest?'
The 'Professor', unwilling to interrupt the narrative, merely gave an oracular nod, and Fritz continued:
'For some hours after this I paddled quickly on, sometimes passing the mouth of a stream, sometimes that of a broad river. Had I been merely on an exploring expedition, I should have been tempted, doubtless, to cruise a little way up one of these pathways into the forest; but now such an idea did not enter my head. On, on, on, I felt I must go, until I should reach the goal of my voyage.
'The shades of night at length drew on and, finding a sheltered cove, I moored my cajack, and stepped on shore. You may imagine how pleasant it was to stretch my legs, after sitting for so long in the cramped position which my cajack enforces.
It would not do, however, to sleep on shore; so after preparing and enjoying my supper, I returned on board, and there spent the night.
'Next morning Pounce and I again landed for breakfast. I lit my fire, and hung before it a plump young parrot to roast. As I was so doing, I heard a slight rustle amongst the long grass behind me. I glanced round, and there, with glaring eyes, and his great tail swaying to and fro, I saw an immense tiger.
'In another moment his spring would have been made. I should have been no more, and our young guest would have been doomed to, God only knows how many, more years of frightful solitude!
'My gun was lying by my side. Before I could have stooped to pick it up, the monster would have seized me.
'Pounce saw and comprehended my danger: the heroic bird darted upon my enemy, and so blinded him with his flapping wings, and the fierce blows of his beak, that his spring was checked, and I had time to recover my self-possession. I seized my gun and fired; and the brute, pierced to the heart, gave one spring, and then rolled over at my feet.
'My enemy was dead; but beside him—alas!—lay poor Pounce, crushed and lifeless. One blow of the great beast's paw had struck him down, never to rise again!' Fritz's voice shook as he came to this point; and, after remaining silent for a moment or two, he continued, hurriedly:
'With a sad and desolate feeling at my heart, I buried the faithful bird where he had met his death; and then, unable longer to continue near the spot, I returned to my cajack, and leaving the great tiger lying where he fell, paddled hastily away.
'My thoughts were gloomy. I felt as though, now that my companion was gone, I could no longer continue the voyage. The albatross, I thought, may have flown for hundreds of miles before it reached me. This stranger may be on different shores from these entirely; every stroke of my paddle may be carrying me further from the blazing signal: who knows?
'This feeling of discouragement was not, however, to be of long duration; for in a moment more a sight presented itself, which banished all my doubts and fears, and raised me to the highest pitch of excitement.
'A high point of land lay before me. I rounded it, and beyond found a calm and pleasant bay, from whose curved and thickly wooded shores ran out a reef of rocks. From the point of this reef rose a column of smoke, steadily and clearly curling upwards in the calm air. I could scarcely believe my senses, but stopped gazing at it, as though I were in a dream; then, with throbbing pulse and giddy brain, I seized my paddle, and strained every nerve to reach it.
'A few strokes seemed to carry me across the bay, and, securing my canoe, I leaped upon the rock, on which the beacon was blazing, but not a sign of a human being could I see. I was about to shout, for as the fire had evidently been recently piled up, I knew the stranger could not be far off; but, before I could do so, I saw a slight figure passing along the chain of rocks towards the spot on which I stood. You may all imagine my sensations.
'I advanced a few paces; and then mastering my emotion as best I could, I said, in English:
"Welcome, fair stranger! God, in His mercy, has heard your call, and has sent me to your aid!"
'Miss Montrose came quickly forward—'
'Who? What?' shouted the boys, interrupting the narrative. 'Who came forward?' and amid a general hubbub, Ernest, rising and advancing to his brother, said in his quiet way:
'I did not like to make any remark till you actually let out the secret, Fritz, but we need no longer pretend not to see through the disguise of Edward Montrose.'
Fritz, though much disconcerted by the discovery of the secret, recovered his self-possession; and, after bearing with perfect equanimity the jokes with which his brothers assailed him, joined in three cheers for their new sister, and when the confusion and laughter which ensued had subsided, continued his story.
'Miss Montrose grasped my hands warmly, and guessing from my pronunciation, I am afraid, that I was not in the habit of speaking English every day of my life, said in French:
'"Long, long, have I waited since the bird returned with your message. Thank God, you have come at last!"
'Then, with tears of joy and gratitude, she led me to the shore, where she had built a hut and a safe sleeping-place, like Falconhurst on a small scale, among the branches of a tree. I was delighted with all she showed me, for indeed her hut and its fittings evinced no ordinary skill and ingenuity. Round the walls hung bows, arrows, lances and bird-snares; while on her work-table, in boxes and cases, carved skilfully with a knife, were fish-hooks of mother-of-pearl, needles made from fishbones, and bodkins from the beaks of birds, fishing-lines of all sorts, and knives and other tools.
These latter she told me were, with a chest of wearing apparel, almost the only things washed ashore after the wreck, when three years ago she was cast alone upon this desolate coast. I marvelled more and more at the wonderful way in which this girl had surmounted obstacles, the quarter of which would completely have appalled the generality of her sex.
The hut itself was a marvel of skill; stout posts had been driven into the ground, with cross pieces of bamboo, to form a framework; the walls had then been woven with reeds, the roof thatched with palm-leaves, and the whole plastered smoothly with clay, an open space being left in the centre of the roof for a chimney to carry off the smoke of the fire.
'As we entered, a cormorant, with a cry of anger, flew from under the table towards me, and was about to attack me fiercely. Miss Montrose called it off, and she then told me she had captured and tamed the bird soon after first landing, and since that time had contrived to train it to assist her in every conceivable way: it now not only was a pleasant companion, but brought her food of every description, fish, flesh and fowl, for whether it dived into the waters, according to its natural habit, struck down birds upon the wing, or seized rabbits and other small animals upon the land, it laid all its booty at her feet.
'Before darkness closed in, all the curiosities and ingenious contrivances of the place had been displayed the kitchen-stove, cooking utensils, skin bottles, shell plates and spoons, the fishing raft, and numberless other things—and then, sitting down with my fair hostess to a most appetizing meal, she gave me a short account of her life:
'Jenny* Montrose was the daughter of a British officer who had served for many years in India, where she herself was born. At the early age of three years she lost her mother.
* Some translations give her name as Emily.
'After the death of his wife, all the Colonel's love and care was centred upon his only child; under his eye she was instructed in all the accomplishments suited to her sex; and from him she imbibed an ardent love of field sports. By the time she was seventeen she was as much at home upon her horse in the field as in her father's drawing-room.
'Colonel Montrose now received orders to return home with his regiment and as, for certain reasons, he did not wish her to accompany him in the ship with the troops, he obtained a passage for her on board a vessel which was about to sail at the same time.
'The separation was extremely painful to both the old soldier and his daughter, but there was no alternative. They parted, and Miss Montrose sailed in the Dorcas for England. A week after she had left Calcutta, a storm arose and drove the vessel far out of her course; more bad weather ensued; and at length, leaks having been sprung in all directions, the crew were obliged to take to the boats.
Jenny obtained a place in one of the largest of these. After enduring the perils of the sea for many days, land was sighted; and, the other boats having disappeared, an attempt was made to land. The boat was capsized, and Miss Montrose alone reached the shore. For a long time she lay upon the sand almost inanimate; but, reviving sufficiently to move, she at length obtained some shellfish, and by degrees recovered her strength.
From that time forth until I appeared she never set eyes upon a human being. To attract any passing vessel, and obtain assistance, however, she kept a beacon continually blazing at the end of the reef; and, with the same purpose in view, attached missives to the feet of any birds she could take alive in her snares. The albatross, she told me, she had kept for some time and partially tamed; but, as it was in the habit of making long excursions on its own account, she conceived the idea of sending it also with a message, that, should it by chance be seen and taken alive, it might return with an answer.
'Our supper was over; and, at length, both wearied out with the anxieties and excitement of the day, we retired to rest, she to her leafy bower, and I to sleep in the hut below.
'Next morning, having packed her belongings in the cajack, we both went on board; and bidding adieu to her well-known bay she took her seat before me, and I made for home.
'We should have reached Rockburg this evening had not an accident occurred to our skiff and compelled us to put in at this island. The boat was scarcely repaired when I heard your first shots. I instantly disguised myself; and, never doubting that Malay pirates were near, came forth to reconnoitre. Glad, indeed, I was to find my fears ungrounded.'
All had listened attentively to Fritz's story, but now a dreadful yawn from Franz, followed by others from Jack, Ernest and Fritz, and a great desire on my own part to follow their example, warned me that it was time to dismiss the party for the night. Fritz retired to his cajack, the boys and I to the deck of the yacht, and the remainder of the night passed quietly away.
Next morning as we assembled for breakfast I took the opportunity of begging Miss Montrose no longer to attempt to continue her disguise, but to allow us to address her in her real character.
Jenny smiled; for she had noticed, as the young men met her when she came from the cabin, a great alteration in their manner, and had at once seen that her secret was guessed.
'After all,' she said, 'I need not be ashamed of this attire; it has been my only costume for the last three years, and in any other I should have been unable to manage all the work which during that time has been necessary.'
Our pleasant meal over, I prepared to start for home, but Fritz reminded me of the cachalot, and although he confessed he should not care to repeat the operation of cutting up a whale, he thought it would be a pity to lose such a chance of obtaining a supply of spermaceti.
I fully agreed with him; and embarking, we quickly reached the sandbank on which the monster lay. No sooner did we come near than the dogs leaped ashore, and before we could follow, rushed round to the other side of the great beast; snarling, growling and howling ensued, and when we reached the spot we found a terrific combat going on. A troop of wolves were disputing fiercely with the dogs their right to the prey.
Our appearance, however, quickly settled the matter; two of the brutes already lay dead, and those that now escaped our guns, galloped off. Amongst the pack were a few jackals, and no sooner did Coco catch sight of these, his relations, than, suddenly attracted by his instinct, he left his master's side, and in spite of our shouts and cries, joined them and disappeared into the forest.
As it would have been useless and dangerous to attempt to follow the deserter into the woods, we left him alone, trusting that he would return before we again embarked. Fritz then climbed up the mountain of flesh, and with his hatchet quickly laid open the huge skull; Jack and Franz joined him—Ernest having remained on the island, where we had left my wife and Jenny—and with buckets assisted him to bail out the spermaceti.
The few vessels we possessed were soon full, and having stored them in the yacht, we once more embarked and arrived at the little island shortly before the dinner-hour.
A capital meal had been prepared for us and, when we had made ourselves presentable, we sat down to it, and related our adventures. The account of Coco's desertion was received with exclamations of surprise and sorrow. 'Yet,' said Jenny, after a time, 'I do not think you should despair of his recovery, for animals in their native state seldom care to allow those that have been once domesticated to consort with them.
'My poor albatross even, though he was never thoroughly tamed, and certainly did finally desert me, yet used to return at intervals; and I am pretty sure that were you, Jack, to search the wood early tomorrow morning, you would find your pet only too willing to come back to civilized life; or, if you like, I will go myself and find him, for I should immensely like to have a paddle in the cajack all by myself.'
Jack was delighted at the former suggestion, and though he would not listen for a moment to Jenny's request to be allowed to go alone, he agreed, if she cared for the fun of an early cruise, to accompany her in the canoe next morning, and to return to the yacht in time to start for Rockburg.
At sunrise they were off, armed with 'bait' in the shape of meat and biscuit, and a muzzle and chain which Jack had manufactured in the evening to punish the runagate for his offences, should they catch him. Arrived at the sandbank, they landed; and, after entering the forest and shouting 'Coco, Coco!' till the woods rang again, they presently espied the truant, slouching disconsolately towards them, looking very miserable and heartily ashamed of himself.
With torn ears, and coat ruffled and dirty, he sneaked up. There was no need to use the bait to entice him; and when the poor beast thus came, unhappy and begging forgiveness, Jack had not the heart to degrade him further with the muzzle and chain. He had evidently attempted to join his wild brethren, and by them had been scouted, worried, and hustled, as no true jackal; and, as Jenny had foretold, was now only too glad to return to bondage and to comfort.
Poor Coco had recovered his spirits slightly by the time the yacht was reached; and, after a hearty meal, again took his place amongst the dogs, whom I had little doubt he would never again desert.
All was now bustle and activity; and breakfast over, we went aboard the yacht. Fritz and Jack stepped into the canoe; and we soon left Fair Isle and Pearl Bay far behind.
The morning was delightful. The sea, excepting for the slight ripple raised by the gentle breeze wafting us homewards, was perfectly calm. Slowly and contentedly we glided on through the wonders of the splendid archway, threaded our passage amongst the rocks and shoals, and passed out to the open sea. So slowly did we make our way, that the occupants of the cajack announced that they could not wait for us when they had once piloted us out from amongst the shoals and reefs, and plied their paddles to such good purpose that they were soon out of sight.
Nautilus Bay and Cape Pug-Nose were in due time passed, however, and Shark Island hove in sight. With great astonishment Jenny gazed at our watch-tower, with its guard-house, the fierce-looking guns, and the waving flag upon the heights. We landed, that she might visit the fortification; then we displayed all our arrangements with great pride. When they and the herd of lovely gazelles had been sufficiently admired, we again embarked, and steered towards
Safety Bay. On reaching the entrance, a grand salute of twelve shots welcomed us and our fair guest to Rockburg. Not pleased with the even number, however, Ernest insisted upon replying with thirteen guns, an odd number being, he declared, absolutely necessary for form's sake.
As we neared the quay, Fritz and Jack stood ready to receive us, and with true politeness handed their mother and Jenny ashore.
They turned and led the way to the house through the gardens, orchards and shrubberies which lay on the rising ground that sloped gently upwards to our dwelling.
Jenny's surprise was changed to wonder as she neared the villa itself—its broad, shady balcony, its fountains sparkling in the sun, the dove-cots, the pigeons wheeling above, and the bright, fresh creepers twined round the columns, delighted her. She could scarcely believe that she was still far from any civilized nation, and that she was amongst a family wrecked like herself upon a lonely coast.
My amazement, however, fully equalled that of my little daughter when beneath the shade of the verandah I saw a table laid out with a delicious luncheon. All our china, silver and glass had been called into requisition, and was arranged upon the spotless damask cloth.
Wine sparkled in the decanters, splendid pineapples, oranges, guavas, apples and pears, resting on cool green leaves, lay heaped in pyramids upon the porcelain dishes. A haunch of venison, cold fowl, ham, and tongues occupied the ends and sides of the table, while in the centre rose a vase of gay flowers, surrounded by bowls of milk and great jugs of mead. It was, indeed, a perfect feast, and the heartiness of the welcome brought tears of joy into the lovely eyes of the fair girl in whose honour it had been devised.
All were soon ready to sit down; and Jenny, looking prettier than ever in the dress for which she had exchanged her sailor's suit, took the place of honour between my wife and me. Ernest and Franz also seated themselves; but nothing would induce Fritz and Jack to follow their example. They considered themselves our entertainers, and waited upon us most attentively, carving the joints, filling our glasses, and changing the plates; for, as Jack declared to Miss Montrose, the servants had all run away in our absence, and for the next day or two, perhaps, we should be obliged to wait upon ourselves.
When the banquet was over, and the waiters had satisfied their appetites, they joined their brothers, and with them displayed all the wonders of Rockburg to their new sister. To the house, cave, stables, gardens, fields and boat-houses, to one after the other did they lead her.
Not a corner would they have left unnoticed, had not my wife, fearing they would tire the poor girl out, come to the rescue, and led her back to the house.
On the following day, after an early breakfast, we started, while it was yet cool, for Falconhurst; and as I knew that repairs and arrangements for the coming winter would be necessary and would detain us for several days, we took with us a supply of tools, as well as baskets of provisions and other things essential to our comfort.
The whole of our stud, excepting the ostrich, were in their paddocks, near the tree; but Jack, saying that his mother and Jenny really must not walk the whole way, to the great amusement of the latter, leaped on Hurry, and fled away in front of us. Before we had accomplished one quarter of the distance, we heard the thundering tread of many feet galloping down the avenue, and presently espied our motley troop of steeds being driven furiously towards us.
Storm, Lightfoot, Swift, Grumble, Stentor, Arrow and Dart were there, with Jack, on his fleet two-legged courser, at their heels. At his saddle-bow hung a cluster of saddles and bridles, the bits all jangling and clanking, adding to the din and confusion, and urging on the excited animals, who thoroughly entered into the fun, and with tails in the air, ears back, and heels ever and anon thrown playfully out, seemed about to overwhelm us.
We stepped aside to shelter ourselves behind the trees from the furious onset; but a shout from Fritz brought the whole herd to a sudden halt, and Jack spurred towards us.
'Which of the cattle shall we saddle for you, Jenny?' he shouted. 'They're all as gentle as lambs, and as active as cats. Every one has been ridden by mother; and knows what a side-saddle means, so you can't go wrong.'
To his great delight, Jenny quickly showed her appreciation of the merits of the steeds by picking out Dart, the fleetest and most spirited in the whole stud.
The ostrich was then relieved of his unusual burden, the animals were speedily equipped, and Lightfoot bearing the baskets and hampers, the whole party mounted and trotted forwards. Jenny was delighted with her palfrey, and henceforward he was reserved for her special use.
The work at Falconhurst, as I had expected, occupied us for some time and it was a week before we could again return to Rockburg.
Yet the time passed pleasantly; for though the young men were busy from morning to night, the presence of their new companion, her lively spirits and gay conversation, kept them in constant good humour.
When the repairs were all finished we remained yet a day or two longer, that we might make excursions in various directions to bring in poultry from Woodlands, stores of acorns for the pigs, and grass, willows and canes, to be manufactured during the winter into mats, baskets, hurdles and hen-coops.
Many a shower wetted us through during these days, and we had scarcely time to hurry back to Rockburg and house our cattle and possessions before the annual deluge began.
Never before had this dreary season seemed so short and pleasant; with Jenny amongst us the usual feeling of weariness and discontent never appeared; the English language was quickly acquired by all hands, Fritz, in particular, speaking it so well that Jenny declared she could scarcely believe he was not an Englishman. She herself already spoke French, and therefore easily learned our native language and spoke it fluently before we were released from our captivity.