"Work! and at what? walking about with a rifle on my shoulder; airing myself, as I am doing now under your gallery, in the midst of flowers, on the banks of a river: or opening my mouth for quails to jump down my throat ready roasted—would you call that work?"
"Look there, Willis—what do you see?"
"Well, suppose, by way of a beginning, I were to introduce you to a fine live bear, with claws and tusks to match, ready to spring on you, having as much right to your skin as you have to his—now, were I to say to you, I want that animal's skin, to make a soft couch similar to the one you see yonder, would you call that work?"
"Certainly, Mr. Becker."
"Very good, then; it is in the midst of such labors that we pass our lives. Before we fell comfortably asleep on feather beds, those formidable bones which you see in our museum were flying in the air; the cup which I now hold in my hand was a portion of the clay on which you sit; the canoe with which you ran away the other day was a live seal; the hats that we wear, were running about the fields in the form of angola rabbits. So with everything you see about you; for fifteen years, excepting the Sabbath, which is our day of rest and recreation as well as prayer, we have never relapsed from labor, and you are at liberty to adopt a similar course, if you feel so disposed."
"No want of variety," said Jack; "if you do not like the saw-pit, you can have the tannery."
"Neither are very much in my line," replied Willis.
"What then do you say to pottery?"
"I have broken a good deal in my day."
"Yes, but there is a difference between breaking it and making it."
"What appears most needful," remarked Fritz, "is, three or four acres of fresh land, to double our agricultural produce."
"Is land dear in these parts?" inquired Mrs. Wolston, smiling.
"It is not to be had for nothing, madam; there is the trouble of selecting it."
"And the labor of rendering it productive," added Ernest.
"But how do you manage for a lawyer to convey it?"
"I was advising Ernest to adopt that profession," said Mrs. Becker; "wills and contracts would be in harmony with his studious temperament."
"At present, the question before us," said Becker, "is the allotment of quarters; in the meantime, Mr. and Mrs. Wolston, with the young ladies, will continue to occupy our room."
"No, no," said Wolston "that would be downright expropriation."
"In that case the matter comes within the sphere of our lawyer, and I therefore request his advice."
To this Ernest replied, by slowly examining his pockets; after this operation was deliberately performed, he said, in a nisi prius tone, "That he had forgotten his spectacles, and consequently that it was impossible for him to look into the case in the way its importance demanded, otherwise he was quite of the same opinion as his learned brother—his father, he meant."
"And what if we refuse?" said Mrs. Wolston.
"If you refuse, Mrs. Wolston, there is only one other course to adopt."
"And what is that, Master Frank?"
"Why, simply this," and rising, he cried out lustily, "John, call Mrs. Wolston's carriage."
"Ah, to such an argument as that, there can be no reply; so I see you must be permitted to do what you like with us."
"Very good," continued Becker; "then there is one point decided: my wife and I will occupy the children's apartment."
"And the children," said Jack, "will occupy the open air. For my own part, I have no objection: that is a bedroom exactly to my taste."
"Spacious," remarked Ernest.
"Well-aired," suggested Fritz.
"Hangings of blue, inlaid with stars of gold," observed Frank.
"Any thing else?" inquired Becker.
"No, father, I believe the extent of accommodation does not go beyond that."
"Therefore I have decided upon something less vast, but more comfortable for you; you will go every night to our villa of Falcon's Nest."
"On horseback, if you like and under the direction of Willis, whom I name commander-in-chief of the cavalry."
"Of the cavalry!" cried the sailor; "what! a pilot on horseback?"
"Do not be uneasy, Willis," replied Jack, "we have no horses."
"Ah, well, that alters the case."
"But then we have zebras and ostriches."
"Ostriches! worse and worse."
"Say not so, good Willis; when once you have tried Lightfoot or Flyaway, you would never wish to travel otherwise: they run so fast that the wind is fairly distanced, and scarcely give us time to breathe—it is delightful."
"Thank you, but I would rather try and get the canoe to travel on land."
"Ah, Willis," said Fritz, "that would be an achievement that would do you infinite credit—if you only succeed."
"Will you allow me to make a request, Mrs. Becker?"
"Listen to Willis," said Jack, "he has an idea."
"The request I have to urge is, that you will permit me to encamp on Shark's Island, and there establish a lighthouse for the guidance of the Nelson, in case she should return."
"What! the commander-in-chief of cavalry on an island?"
"No, not of the cavalry, but of the fleet; it is only necessary for Mr. Becker to change my position into that of an admiral, which will not give him much extra trouble."
"I shall do so with pleasure, Willis."
"In that case, since I am an admiral, the first thing I shall do, is to pardon myself for the faults I committed whilst I was a pilot."
"Capital!" said Ernest, "that puts me in mind of Louis XII., who, on ascending the throne, said that it was not for the King of France to revenge the wrongs of the Duke of Orleans."
"What, then, is to become of the boys? I intended to make you their compass—on land, of course."
"The boys," cried the latter, "are willing to enlist as seamen, and accompany the admiral on his cruise."
"You will spin yarns for us, Willis, will you not?"
"Well, my lads, if you want a sleeping dose, I will undertake to do that."
"But there are objections to this arrangement," Mrs. Becker hastily added.
"What are they, mother?"
"In the first place, a storm might arise some fine night—one of those dreadful hurricanes that continue several days, like the one that terrified us so much lately—and then all communication would be cut off between us."
"You could always see one another."
"How so, Willis?"
"From a distance—with the telescope."
"Then," continued Mrs. Becker, "you would be a prey to famine, for though the telescope, good Master Willis, might enable you to see our dinner—from a distance—I doubt whether that would prevent you dying of starvation."
"We might easily guard against that, by taking over a sufficient quantity of provisions with us every night, and bringing them back next morning."
"But could you carry over my kisses, Willis, and distribute them amongst my children every morning and evening, like rations of rice?"
"If the arrangement will really make you uneasy, Mrs. Becker, I give it up," said Willis, polishing with his arm the surface of his oil-skin sou'-wester.
"Not at all, Willis. It is for me to give up my objections. Besides, I observe Miss Sophia staring at me with her great eyes; she will never forgive me for tormenting her sweetheart."
"Ah! since I have been staring at you, I have only now to eat you up like the wolf in Little Red Ridinghood," and in a moment her slender arms were clasped round Mrs. Becker's neck.
"Good," said Becker, "there is another point settled—temporarily."
"In Europe," observed Wolston, "there is nothing so durable as the temporary."
"In Europe, yes, but not here. To-morrow morning we shall select a tree near Falcon's Nest, and in eight days you shall be permanently housed in an aerial tenement close to ours, so that we may chat to each other from our respective balconies."
"That will be a castle in the air a little more real than those I have built in Spain."
"Then you have been in Spain, papa?"
"Every one has been less or more in the Spain I refer to. Sophy—it is the land of dreams."
"And of castanets," remarked Jack.
"Then my sweetheart will be alone on his island, like an exile?"
"No, Miss Sophia, we are incapable of such ingratitude. After enjoying the hospitality of Willis in Shark's Island, he will surely deign to accept ours at Falcon's Nest; so, whether here or there, he shall always have four devoted followers to keep him company."
The Pilot shook Fritz by the hand, at the same time nearly dislocating his arm.
"I wonder why God, who is so good, has not made houses grow of themselves, like pumpkins and melons?" said Ernest.
"Rather a lazy idea that," said his father; "our great Parent has clearly designed that we should do something for ourselves; he has given us the acorn whence we may obtain the oak."
"Nevertheless, there are uninhabited countries which are gorged with vegetation—the territory we are in, for example."
"True; but still no plant has ever sprung up anywhere without a seed has been planted, either by the will of God or by the hands of man. With regard, however, to the distribution of vegetation in a natural state, that depends more upon the soil and climate than anything else; wherever there is a fertile soil and moist air, there seeds will find their way."
"The seeds of a great many plants are furnished with downy filaments, which act as wings; these are taken up by the wind and carried immense distances; others are inclosed in an elastic shell, from which, when ripe, they are ejected with considerable force."
"The propagation of plants that have wings or elastic shells may, in that way, be accounted for; but there are some seeds that fall, by their own weight, exactly at the foot of the vegetable kingdom that produces them."
"It is often these that make the longest voyages."
"By what conveyance, then?"
"Well, my son, for a philosopher, I cannot say that your knowledge is very profound; seeds that have no wings borrow them."
"Not from the ant, I presume?"
"No, not exactly; but from the quail, the woodcock, the swallow, and a thousand others, that are apparently more generous than the poor ant, to which AEsop has given a reputation for avarice that it will have some trouble to shake off. The birds swallow the seeds, many of which are covered with a hard, horny skin, that often resists digestion; these are carried by the inhabitants of the air across rivers, seas, and lakes, and are deposited by them in the neighborhood of their nests—it may be on the top of a mountain, or in the crevice of a rock."
"True, I never thought of that."
"There are a great many philosophers who know more about the motions of stars than these humbler operations of Nature."
"You are caught there," said Jack.
"There are philosophers, too, who can do nothing but ridicule the knowledge of others."
"Caught you there," retaliated Ernest.
"It was in this way that a bird of the Moluccas has restored the clove tree to the islands of this archipelago, in spite of the Dutch, who destroyed them everywhere, in order that they might enjoy the monopoly of the trade."
"Still, I must fall back upon my original idea; by sowing a brick, we ought to reap a wall."
"And if a wall, a house," suggested another of the young men.
"Or if a turret, a castle," proposed a third.
"Or a hall to produce a palace," remarked the fourth.
"There are four wishes worthy of the four heads that produced them! What do you think of those four great boys, Mrs. Wolston?"
"Well, madam, as they are wishing, at any rate they may as well wish that chinchillas and marmots wore their fur in the form of boas and muffs, that turkeys produced perigord pies, and that the fish were drawn out of the sea ready roasted or boiled."
"Or that the sheep walked about in the form of nicely grilled chops," suggested Becker.
"And you, young ladies, what would you wish?"
Mary, who was now beyond the age of dolls, and was fast approaching the period of young womanhood, felt that it was a duty incumbent upon her to be more reserved than her sister, and rarely took part in the conversation, unless she was directly addressed, ceased plying her needle, and replied, smiling,
"I wish I could make some potent elixir in the same way as gooseberry wine, that would restore sick people to health, then I would give a few drops to my father, and make him strong and well, as he used to be."
"Thank you for the intention, my dear child."
"And you, Miss Sophia? It is your turn."
"I wish that all the little children were collected together, and that every papa and mamma could pick out their own from amongst them."
Here Willis took out his pocket-handkerchief and appeared to be blowing his nose, it being an idea of his that a sailor ought not to be caught with a tear in his eye.
"Now then, Willis, we must have a wish from you."
"I wish three things: that there had not been a hurricane lately, that canoes could be converted into three masters, and that Miss Sophia may be Queen of England."
"Granted," cried Jack.
And laying hold of a wreath of violets that the young girl had been braiding, he solemnly placed it on her head.
"You will make her too vain," said Mrs. Wolston.
"Ah mamma, do not scold," and gracefully taking the crown from her own fair curls, she placed it on the silvery locks of her mother; "I abdicate in your favor, and, sweetheart, I thank you for placing our dynasty on the throne. Mary, you are a princess."
"Yes," she replied, "and here is my sceptre," holding up her spindle.
"Well answered, my daughter, that is a woman's best sceptre, and her kingdom is her house."
"Our conversation," said Becker, "is like those small threads of water which, flowing humbly from the hollow of a rock, swell into brooks, then become rivers, and, finally, lose themselves in the ocean."
"It was Ernest that led us on."
"Well, it is time now to get back to your starting-point again. God has said that we shall earn our bread by the sweat of our brow, and consequently that our enjoyments should be the result of our own industry; that is the reason that venison is given to us in the form of the swift stag, and palaces in the form of clay; man is endowed with reason, and may, by labor, convert all these blessings to his use."
"Your notion," said Mr. Wolston, "of drawing the fish out of the sea ready cooked, puts me in mind of an incident of college life which, with your permission, I will relate."
"Oh yes, papa, a story!"
"There was at Cambridge, when I was there, a young man, who, instead of study and sleep, spent his days and nights in pistol practice and playing on the French horn, much to the annoyance of an elderly maiden lady, who occupied the apartments that were immediately under his own."
"These are inconveniences that need not be dreaded here."
"Our police are too strict."
"And our young men too well-bred," added Mrs. Wolston.
"Not only that," continued Mr. Wolston, "this young student, who never thought of study, had a huge, shaggy Newfoundland dog, and the old lady possessed a chubby little pug, which she was intensely fond of; now, when these two brutes happened to meet on the stairs, the large one, by some accident or other, invariably sent the little one rolling head over heels to the bottom; and, much to the horror of the old lady, her favorite, that commenced its journey down stairs with four legs, had sometimes to make its way up again with three."
"I always understood that dogs were generous animals, and would not take advantage of an animal weaker than themselves; our dogs would not have acted so."
"Well, perhaps the dog was not quite so much to blame in these affairs as its master; besides, in making advances to its little friend, it might not have calculated its own force."
"Yes, and perhaps might have been sorry afterwards for the mischief it had done."
"Very likely; still the point was never clearly explained, and, whether or no, the elderly lady could not put up with this sort of thing any longer; she complained so often and so vigorously, that her troublesome neighbor was served in due form with a notice to quit. The young scapegrace was determined to be revenged in some way on the party who was the cause of his being so summarily ejected from his quarters. Now, right under his window there was a globe belonging to the old lady, well filled with good-sized gold fish. His eye by chance having fallen upon this, and spying at the same time his fishing-rod in a corner, the coincidence of vision was fatal to the gold-fish; they were very soon hooked up, rolled in flour, fried, and gently let down again one by one into the globe."
"I should like to have seen the old lady when she first became aware of this transformation!"
"Well, one of the fish had escaped, and was floating about, evidently lamenting the fate of its finny companions."
"It was very cruel," observed Mary.
"Elderly ladies who have no family and live alone are very apt to bestow upon animals the love and affection that is inherent in us all."
"Which is very much to be deprecated."
"Why so, Master Frank?"
"Are there not always plenty of poor and helpless human beings upon whom to bestow their love? are there not orphans and homeless creatures whom they might adopt?"
"There are; but it requires wealth for such benevolences, and the goddess Fortune is very capricious; whilst one must be very poor indeed that cannot spare a few crumbs of bread once a day. Besides, admitting that this mania is blamable when carried to excess, still it must be respected, for it behoves us to reverence age even in its foibles."
Frank, whose nature was so very susceptible, that a single grain of good seed soon ripened into a complete virtue, bent his head in token of acquiescence.
"Now the old lady loved these gold-fish as the apples of her eyes, and her astonishment and grief, in beholding the state they were in, was indescribable."
"And yet it was a loss that might have been easily repaired."
"Ah, you think so, Jack, do you? If you were to lose Knips, would the first monkey that came in your way replace him in your affections?"
"That is a very different thing—I brought Knips up."
"No; it is precisely the same thing. She had the fish when they were very small, had seen them grow, spoke to them, gave each of them a name, and believed them to be endowed with a supernatural intelligence."
"Therefore, I contend the student was a savage."
"Not he, my friend, he was one of the best-hearted fellows in the world: hasty, ardent, inconsiderate, he resisted commands and threats, but yielded readily to a tear or a prayer. As soon as he saw the sorrowful look of the old woman, he regretted what he had done, and undertook to restore the inhabitants of the globe to life."
"With what sort of magic wand did he propose to do that?"
"All the inhabitants of the house had collected round the old lady and her globe, endeavoring to console her, and at the same time trying to account for the phenomenon; some ascribed the transformation to lightning, others went so far as to suggest witchcraft. Our scapegrace now joined the throng, took the globe in his hands, gravely examined his victims, and declared, with the utmost coolness that they were not dead. 'Not dead, sir! are you sure?' 'Confident, madam; it is only a lethargy, a kind of coma or temporary transformation, that will be gradually shaken off; I have seen many cases of the same kind, and, if proper care be taken as to air, repose, and diet, particularly as regards the latter, your fish will be quite well again to-morrow.'"
"Did she believe that?"
"One readily believes what one wishes to be true; besides, in twenty-four hours, all doubt on the subject would be at an end; added to which, the young man was ostensibly a student of medicine, and had the credit in the house of having cured the washerwoman's canary of a sore throat."
"Well, how did he manage about the fish?"
"Very simply; he went and bought some exactly the same size that were not in a lethargy; he then, at the risk of breaking his neck or being taken for a burglar, scaled the balcony, and substituted them for the defunct. Next morning, when he called to inquire after his patients, he found the old lady quite joyful."
"Had she no doubts as to their identity?"
"Well, one was a little paler and another was a trifle thinner, but she was easily persuaded that this difference might arise from their convalescence. The young man immediately became a great favorite; and the old lady would rather have shared her own apartments with him, than allow him to quit the house; he consequently remained."
"What, then, became of the pistols and the French horn?" inquired Jack.
"From that time on there sprung up a close friendship between the two; he was induced by her to convert his weapons of war into pharmacopoeas. Always, when she made some nice compound of jelly and cream, he had a share of it; he, on his side, scarcely ever passed her door without softening his tread; and both himself and his dog managed, eventually, to acquire the favor of the old lady's pug."
"He appears to have been one of those medical gentlemen WHO profess to cure every conceivable disease by one kind of medicine."
"And who generally contrive to remove both the disease and the patient at the same time."
"You mistake the individual altogether; he is now one of the most esteemed physicians in London, remarkable alike for his skill and benevolence. It is even strongly suspected by his friends that he is not a little indebted for his present eminent position to his first patients—the canary and the gold-fish."
It was now the usual hour for retiring to rest. After the evening prayer, which Mary and Sophia said alternately aloud, Willis and the four brothers prepared to start for Shark's Island, to pass their first night in the store-room and cattle-shed that had been erected there. Of course they could not expect to be so comfortable in such quarters as at Rockhouse or Falcon's Nest; but then novelty is to young people what ease is to the aged. Black bread appears delicious to those who habitually eat white; and we ourselves have seen high-bred ladies delighted when they found themselves compelled to dine in a wretched hovel of the Tyrol—true, they were certain of a luxurious supper at Inspruck. So grief breaks the monotony of joy, just as a rock gives repose to level plain.
Whilst the pinnace was gradually leaving the shore, loaded with mattresses and other movables adapted for a temporary encampment, Jack signalled a parting adieu to Sophia, and, putting his fingers to his lips, seemed to enjoin silence.
"All right, Master Jack," cried she.
"What is all this signalling about?" inquired Mrs. Wolston.
"A secret," said the young girl, leaping with joy; "I have a secret!"
"And with a young man? that is very naughty, miss."
"Oh, mamma, you will know it to-morrow."
"What if I wanted to know it to-night?"
"Then, mamma, if you insisted—that is—absolutely—"
"No, no, child, I shall wait till to-morrow; keep it till then—if you can."
"Sophia dear," said Mary to her sister, when their two heads, enveloped in snowy caps with an embroidered fringe, were reclining together on the same pillow, "you know I have always shared my bon-bons with you."
"In that case, make me a partner in your secret."
"Will you promise not to speak of it?"
"Yes, I promise."
"To no one?"
"To no one."
"Not even to the paroquette Fritz gave you?"
"No, not even to my paroquette."
"Well, it is very likely I shall speak about it in my dreams—you listen and find it out."
Like those delicate flowers that shrink when they are touched, each then turned to her own side; but it would have cost both too much not to have fallen asleep as usual, with their arms round each other's necks;—consequently this tiff soon blew over, and, after a prolonged chat, their lips finally joined in the concluding "Good-night."
THE QUEEN'S DOLL—ROCKHOUSE TO FALCON'S NEST—THE WIND—GLASSES—ADMIRAL HOMER—THE THREE FROGS—OAT JELLY—ESQUIMAUX ASTRONOMY—AN UNKNOWN.
Next morning, Sophia came running in with a sealed letter in her hand, which she opened and read as follows:—
"HEAD QUARTERS, SAFETY BAY, DAYBREAK.
"The Admiral commanding the Fleet stationed in Safety Bay to her Most gracious Majesty Sophia, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland.
"May it please your Majesty,
"The crews of your Majesty's yachts, the Elizabeth and the Morse, are quite entire and in perfect health. The enemy having kept at a respectful distance, we have not had as yet an opportunity of proving our courage and devotion. Mr. Midshipman Jack fell asleep on the carriage of a four-pounder, like Marshal Turenne before his first battle; but, in all other respects, the conduct of the officers has been most exemplary, and merits the utmost commendation.
"It is the admiral's intention to push out a reconnaissance towards the east, in the direction of Pearl Bay, which he has not yet explored. If, however, your Majesty should regard this expedition as likely to interfere with the good understanding that subsists between that government and your own, it will be only necessary to fire a gun, in which case we shall return to port. Under other circumstances, the squadron will proceed with the enterprise, and endeavor to obtain a collar for your Majesty's doll."
"For my doll!" exclaimed Sophia angrily; "when did Jack find out that I had a doll?"
"Is that, then, your secret?" inquired her mother.
"Yes, mamma, Master Jack took a pigeon with him for the express purpose of playing me this trick."
"And what is worse, included yourself in the conspiracy. Dreadful!"
"Is it not—to speak of a young person of thirteen's doll?"
"Say nearer fourteen, my dear."
"Therefore, to punish your confederates, I shall fire a gun, and put a stop to their excursion," said Becker, turning to one of the six-pounders that flanked Rockhouse in the direction of the river.
"Clemency being one of the dearest rights of the royal prerogative," replied Sophia, "I shall pardon them, and I pray you not; to throw any obstacle in the way of their expedition."
"Very good, your Majesty; but there are state reasons which should be allowed to overrule the impulses of your heart; those gentlemen have forgotten that we were to go and lay the first stone, or rather to cut, to-day, the first branch of your aerial residence at Falcon's Nest."
Admiral Willis and his officers having obeyed the preconcerted signal, the whole party started on their land enterprise. One of the young men was harnessed to a sledge, containing saws, hatchets, a bamboo ladder that had formerly done duty as a staircase to the Nest, and everything else requisite for the contemplated project.
Jack had already started when Sophia called him back, and he hastily obeyed the summons.
"What are your Majesty's commands?"
"Oh, nothing particular, only should you meet my doll in company with your go-cart, be pleased to pay my respects to them." Saying this, she made a low curtsy, and turned her back upon him.
"Your Majesty's behests shall be obeyed," said Jack, and he ran off to rejoin the caravan.
The sad ravages of the tempest presented themselves as they proceeded; tall chestnuts lay stretched on the ground, and seemed, by their appearance, to have struggled hard with the storm.
"After all," inquired Frank, "what is the wind?"
"Wind is nothing more than air rushing in masses from one point to another."
"And what causes this commotion in the elements?"
"The equilibrium of the atmosphere is disturbed by a variety of actions;—the diurnal motion of the sun, whose rays penetrate the air at various points; absorption and radiation, which varies according to the nature of the soil and the hour of the day; the inequality of the solar heat, according to seasons and latitude; the formation and condensation of vapor, that absorbs caloric in its formation, and disengages it when being resolved into liquid."
"I never thought," remarked Willis, "that there were so many mysteries in a sou'-easter. Does it blow? is it on the starboard or larboard? was all, in fact, that I cared about knowing."
"In a word, the various circumstances that change the actual density of the air, making it more rarefied at one point than another, produce currents, the force and direction of which depend upon the relative position of hot and cold atmospheric beds. Again, the winds acquire the temperature and characteristics of the regions they traverse."
"That," observed Frank, "is like human beings; you may generally judge, by the language and manners of a man, the places that he is accustomed to frequent."
"There are hot and cold winds, wet and dry; then there are the trade winds."
"Ah, yes," cried Willis, "these are the winds to talk of, especially when sailing with them—that is, from east to west; but when your course is different, they are rather awkward affairs to get ahead of. The way to catch them is to sail from Peru to the Philippines."
"Or from Mexico to China."
"Yes, either will do; then there is no necessity for tacking, you have only to rig your sails and smoke your pipe, or go to sleep; you may, in that way, run four thousand leagues in three months."
"Stiff sailing that, Willis."
"Yes, Master Ernest, but it does not come up to your yarn about the stars, you recollect, ever so many millions of miles in a second!"
"The trade winds, I was going to observe," continued Becker, "that blow from the west coast of Africa, carry with them a stifling heat."
"That might be expected," remarked Frank, "since they pass over the hot sands of the desert."
"Well, can you tell me why the same wind is cooler on the east coast of America?"
"Because it has been refreshed on crossing the ocean that separates the two continents?"
"By taking a glass of grog on the way," suggested Willis.
"Yes; and so in Europe the north wind is cold because it carries, or rather consists of, air from the polar regions; and the same effect is produced by the south wind in the other hemisphere."
"It is for a like reason," suggested Ernest, "that the south wind in Europe, and particularly the south-west wind, is humid, and generally brings rain, because it is charged with vapor from the Atlantic Ocean."
"How is it, father, that the almanac makers can predict changes in the weather?"
"The almanac makers can only foresee one thing with absolute certainty, and that is, that there are always fools to believe what they say. A few meteorological phenomena may be predicted with tolerable accuracy; but these are few in number, and range within very narrow limits."
"Their predictions, nevertheless, sometimes turn out correct."
"Yes, when they predict by chance a hard frost on a particular day in January, it is just possible the prediction may be verified; out of a multitude of such prognostications a few may be successful, but the greater part of them fail. Their few successes, however, have the effect with weak minds of inspiring confidence, in defiance of the failures which they do not take the trouble to observe."
"At what rate does the wind travel?"
"The speed of the wind is very variable; when it is scarcely felt, the velocity does not exceed a foot a second; but it is far otherwise in the cases of hurricanes and tornados, that sweep away trees and houses.
"And sink his Majesty's ships," observed Willis.
"In those cases the wind sometimes reaches the velocity of forty-five yards in a second, or about forty leagues in an hour."
"Therefore," remarked Jack, "the wind is a blessing that could very well be dispensed with."
"Your conclusions, Jack, do not always do credit to your understanding. The wind re-establishes the equilibrium of the temperature, and purifies the air by dispersing in the mass exhalations that would be pernicious if they remained in one spot; it clears away miasma, it dissipates the smoke of towns, it waters some countries by driving clouds to them, it condenses vapor on the frozen summits of mountains, and converts it into rivers that cover the land with fruitfulness."
"It likewise fills the sails of ships and creates pilots," observed Willis.
"And brings about shipwrecks," remarked Jack.
"It conveys the pollen of flowers, and, as I had occasion to state the other day, sows the seeds of Nature's fields and forests. It is likewise made available by man in some classes of manufactures—mills, for example."
"And it causes the simoon," persisted Jack, "that lifts the sand of the desert and overwhelms entire caravans; how can you justify such ravages?"
"I do not intend to plead the cause of either hurricanes or simoons; but I contend that, if the wind sometimes terrifies us by disasters, we have, on the other hand, to be grateful for the infinite good it does. In it, as in all other phenomena of the elements, the evils are rare and special, whilst the good is universal and constant."
Fritz, as usual, with the dogs and his rifle charged, acted as pioneer for the caravan, now and then bringing down a bird, sometimes adding a plant to their collection, and occasionally giving them some information as to the state of the surrounding country.
"Father," said he, "I chased this quail into our corn-field; the grain is lying on the ground as if it had been passed over by a roller, but I am happy to say that it is neither broken nor uprooted."
"Now, Jack, do you see how gallantly the wind behaves, prostrating the strong and sparing the weak? If you had been charged with the safety of the grain, no doubt you would have placed it in the tops of the highest trees."
"Very likely; and, until taught by experience, everybody else would have done precisely the same thing."
"True; therefore in this, as in all other things, we should admire the wisdom of Providence, and mistrust our own."
"Whoever would have thought of trusting the staff of human life to such slender support as stalks of straw?"
"If grain had been produced by forests, these, when destroyed by war, burned down by imprudence, uprooted by hurricanes, or washed away by inundations, we should have required ages to replace."
"The fruits of trees are, besides, more liable to rot than those of grain; the latter have their flowers in the form of spikes, often bearded with prickly fibres, which not only protect them from marauders, but likewise serve as little roofs to shelter them from the rain; and besides, as Fritz has just told us, owing to the pliancy of their stalks, strengthened at intervals by hard knots and the spear-shaped form of their leaves, these plants escape the fury of the winds."
"That," said Willis, "is like a wretched cock-boat, which often contrives to get out of a scrape when all the others are swamped."
"Therefore," continued Becker, "their weakness is of more service to them than the strength of the noblest trees, and they are spread and multiplied by the same tempests that devastate the forests. Added to this, the species to which this class of plants belong—the grasses—are remarkably varied in their characteristics, and better suited than any other for universal propagation."
"Which was remarked by Homer," observed Ernest "who usually distinguishes a country by its peculiar fruit, but speaks of the earth generally as zeidoros, or grain-bearing."
"There, Willis," exclaimed Jack, "is another great admiral for you."
"An admiral, Jack?"
"It was he who led the combined fleets of Agamemnon, Diomedes, and others, to the city of Troy."
"Not in our time, I suppose?"
"How old are you, Willis?"
"In that case it was before you entered the navy."
"I know that there is a Troy in the United States, but I did not know it was a sea-port."
"There is another in France, Willis; but the Troy I mean is, or rather was, in Asia Minor, capital of Lesser Phrygia, sometimes called Ilion, its citadel bearing the name of Pergamos."
"Never heard of it," said Willis.
"To return to grain," continued Becker, laughing. "Nature has rendered it capable of growing in all climates, from the line to the pole. There is a variety for the humid soils of hot countries, as the rice of Asia; immense quantities of which are produced in the basin of the Ganges. There is another variety for marshy and cold climates—as a kind of oat that grows wild on the banks of the North American lakes, and of which the natives gather abundant harvests."
"God has amply provided for us all," said Frank.
"Other varieties grow best in hot, dry soils, as the millet in Africa, and maize or Indian corn in Brazil. In Europe, wheat is cultivated universally, but prefers rich lands, whilst rye takes more readily to a sandy soil; buckwheat is most luxuriant where most exposed to rain; oats prefer humid soils, and barley comes to perfection on rocky, exposed lands, growing well on the cold, bleak plains of the north. And, observe, that the grasses suffice for all the wants of man."
"Yes," observed Ernest, "with the straw are fed his sheep, his cows, his oxen, and his horses; with the seeds, he prepares his food and his drinks. In the north, grain is converted into excellent beer and ale, and spirits are extracted from it as strong as brandy."
"The Chinese obtain from rice a liquor that they prefer to the finest wines of Spain."
"That is because they have not yet tasted our Rockhouse malaga."
"Then of roasted oats, perfumed with vanilla, an excellent jelly may be made."
"Ah! we must get mamma to try that—it will delight the young ladies."
"And, no doubt, you will profit by the occasion to partake thereof yourself, Master Jack."
"Certainly; but I would not, for all that, seek to gratify my own appetite under pretence of paying a compliment to our friends."
"I know an animal," said Willis, "that, for general usefulness, beats grain all to pieces."
"Good! let us hear what it is, Willis."
"It is the seal of the Esquimaux; they live upon its flesh, and they drink its blood."
"I scarcely think," said Jack, "that I should often feel thirsty under such circumstances."
"The skin furnishes them with clothes, tents, and boats."
"Of which our canoe and life-preservers are a fair sample," said Fritz.
"The fat furnishes them with fire and candle, the muscles with thread and rope, the gut with windows and curtains, the bones with arrow heads and harness; in short, with everything they require."
"True, Willis, in so far as regards their degree of civilization, which is not very great, when we consider that they bury their sick whilst alive, because they are afraid of corpses; that they believe the sun, moon, and stars to be dead Esquimaux, who have been translated from earth to heaven."
Whilst chatting in this way, the party had imperceptibly arrived at Falcon's Nest, wherein they had not set foot for a fortnight previously.
Fritz went up first, and before the others had ascended, came running down again as fast as his legs would carry him.
"Father," he cried, in an accent of alarm, "there is a fresh litter of leaves up stairs, which has been recently slept upon, and I miss a knife that I left the last time we were here!"
THE SEARCH FOR THE UNKNOWN—THREE FLEETS ON DRY LAND—THE INDISCRETIONS OF A SUGAR CANE—LARBOARD AND STARBOARD—THE SUPPOSED SENSIBILITY OF PLANTS—THE FLY-TRAP—VENDETTA—ROOT AND GERM—MINE AND COUNTERMINE—THE POLYPI—OVIPAROUS AND VIVIPAROUS—A QUID PRO QUO.
"Have any of you been at Falcon's Nest lately?" inquired Becker, when he had verified the truth of Fritz's intelligence.
"None of us," unanimously replied all the boys.
"You will understand that the question I put to you is, under the circumstances in which we are placed, one of the greatest moment. If, therefore, there is any unseemly joking, any trick, or secret project in contemplation, with which this affair is connected, do not conceal it any longer."
All the boys again reiterated their innocence of the matter in question.
Becker then called to mind the mysterious disappearance of Willis, and, although they were too short in duration to admit of his having been at Falcon's Nest, still he deemed it advisable to put the question to him individually.
Willis declared that the present was the first time he had been in the vicinity of the Nest, and his word was known to be sacred.
"There can be no mistake then," said Becker; "the traces are self-evident. This is altogether a circumstance calculated to give us serious uneasiness. Nevertheless, we must view the matter calmly, and consider what steps we should take to unravel the mystery."
"Let us instantly beat up the island," suggested Fritz.
"It appears to me," remarked Willis, "that the Nelson has been wrecked after all, and that one of the men has escaped."
"That," replied Ernest, "is very unlikely. All the crew knew that the island was inhabited, and consequently, had any one of them been thrown on shore, he would have come at once to Rockhouse, and not stopped here."
"As regards the Captain or Lieutenant Dunsley," said Willis, "who were on shore, and could easily find their way, what you say is quite true; but the men were kept on board; and if we suppose that a sailor had been thrown on the opposite coast, he would not be able to determine his position in fifteen days."
"Much less could he expect to find a villa in a fig-tree."
"To say nothing of the light that has been kept burning recently on Shark's Island, nor of the buildings with which the land is strewn, nor the fields and plantations that are to be met with in all directions. For, although a swallow alone is sufficient to convey the seeds of a forest from one continent to another, still it requires the hand of man to arrange the trees in rows and furnish them with props."
"Perhaps we may have crossed each other on the way; and the stranger, after passing the night here, has steered, by some circuitous route, in the direction of Safety Bay."
"May it not have been a large monkey," suggested Jack, "who has resolved to play us a trick for having massacred its companions at Waldeck?"
"Monkeys," replied Ernest, "do not generally open doors, and, seeing no bed prepared for them, go down stairs and collect material for a mattress. You may just as well fancy that the monkey, in this case, came to pass the night at Falcon's Nest with a cigar in its mouth."
"Then he must have been dreadfully annoyed to find neither slippers nor a night-cap."
"There is, unquestionably, a wide field of supposition open for us," said Becker; "but that need not prevent us taking active measures to arrive at the truth. Our first duty is to care for the safety of the ladies; Mr. Wolston is still ailing and feeble, so that, if a stranger were suddenly to appear amongst them, they might be terribly alarmed."
"There are six of us here," remarked Willis, "the cream of our sea and land forces; we could divide ourselves into three squadrons, one of which might sail for Rockhouse."
"Just so; let Fritz and Frank start for Rockhouse."
"And what shall we say to the ladies, father?" inquired the latter; "it does not seem to me necessary to alarm our mother, Mrs. Wolston, and the young ladies, until something more certain is ascertained."
"Your idea is good, my son, and I thank you for bringing it forward; it is one of those that arise from the heart rather than the head."
"We have, only to find a pretext for their sudden return," observed Ernest.
"Very well," said Jack, "they have only to say it is too hot to work."
"Just as if it were not quite as hot for us as for them. Your excuse, Jack, is not particularly artistic."
"Might they not as well say they had forgotten a tool or a pocket handkerchief?"
"Or, better still, that they had forgotten to shut the door when they left, and came back to repair the omission."
"We shall say," replied Fritz, "that, finding there were twelve strong arms here to do what my father accomplished fifteen years ago by himself—for the assistance of us boys could not then be reckoned—we were ashamed of ourselves, and had returned to Rockhouse to make ourselves useful in repairing the damage to the gallery caused by the tempest."
"Well, that excuse has, at least, the merit of being reasonable; and let it be so. Fritz and Frank will return to Rockhouse; Ernest and myself will continue the work in hand, and receive the friend or enemy which God has sent us, should he return to resume his quarters; Willis and Jack will investigate the neighborhood."
"By land or water, Willis?" inquired Jack.
"By land, Master Jack, for this cruise. I shall abandon the helm to you, for I know nothing of the shoals here-abouts."
"If," continued Becker, "though highly improbable, any thing important should have happened, or should happen at Rockhouse, you will fire a cannon, and we will be with you immediately. Willis and Jack will discharge a rifle if threatened with danger; and we shall do the same on our side, if we require assistance."
"It is a pity," remarked Jack, "that we had not two or three four-pounders amongst the provisions."
"I scarcely regard this matter as altogether a subject for joking," continued Becker, "and sincerely hope that all our precautions may prove useless. Take each of you a rifle and proceed with caution; above all, do not go far apart from each other; do not fire without taking good aim, and only in case of self-defence or absolute necessity; for this time it does not appear to be a question of bears and hyenas, but, as far as we are able to judge, one of our own species."
Two of the squadrons then hauled off in different directions, carefully examining the ground as they went, beating up the thickets, and endeavoring to obtain some further trace of the stranger, in order to confirm those at Falcon's Nest.
The squadron of observation, in the meanwhile set diligently to work. A tree having been selected at about fifteen paces from that already existing, it was necessary, as on the former occasion, to discharge an arrow carrying the end of a line, and in such a way that the cord might fall across some of the strongest branches; this done, the bamboo ladder was drawn up from the opposite side and held fast until Ernest had ascended and fastened it with nails to the top of the tree.
Ernest then commenced lopping off the branches to the right and left, so as to form a space in the centre for their contemplated dwelling; whilst Becker himself below was making an entrance into the trunk, taking care to avoid an accident that formerly happened, by assuring himself that a colony of bees had not already taken possession of the ground. The gigantic fig-trees at Falcon's Nest being for the most part hollow, and supported in a great measure by the bark—like the willows in Europe when they reach a certain stage of their growth—it was easy to erect a staircase in the interior; still this was a work of time, and Becker had resolved in the meantime to give up the habitation already constructed to Wolston and his family, at least until such time as an entrance was attached to the new one that did not require any extraordinary amount of gymnastics.
A portion of the day had been occupied in these operations, when Willis and Jack returned to the camp.
"We have seen no one," said the Pilot.
"But," said Jack, "we are on the track of Fritz's knife."
"Be good enough to explain yourself."
"Well, father, at the entrance to the cocoa-nut tree wood we stumbled upon two sugar canes completely divested of their juice."
"Which proves—" said Ernest; but his remark was cut short by Jack, who continued—
"Not a bit of it; a philosopher would have passed these two worthless sugar canes just as a place-hunter passes an overthrown minister, that is, as unworthy of notice."
"And what did you do?"
"Well, I, the headless, the thoughtless, the stupid—for these are the epithets I am usually favored with—I took them up, scrutinized them carefully, and discovered—"
"That they were sugar canes."
"In the first instance, yes."
"Very clever, that!"
"And then that they had not been torn up—they had been cut."
"Is that all?"
"Yes, most wise and learned brother, that is all; and I leave you to draw the inferences."
"I may add," observed the sailor, "that, as we were steering for the plantation, myself on the starboard and Jack on the larboard—"
"On the what?"
"Master Jack on the left and myself on the right."
"That I pitched right over these canes without ever noticing them."
"Which is not much to be wondered at; Willis has been so long at sea that he has no confidence in the solidity of the land; during our cruise, he kept a look-out after the wind, expecting, I suppose, that it would perform some of the wonderful things you spoke of this morning."
"After all," observed Becker, "this is another link in the chain of evidence, and I congratulate Jack on his sagacity in tracing it."
"But the affair is as much a mystery as ever."
"True; and the solution may probably be awaiting us at Rockhouse."
The united squadrons then started on their homeward voyage, Jack thrusting his nose into every bush, and carefully scanning all the stray objects that seemed to be out of their normal position.
"If these plants and bushes had tongues," said Jack, "they could probably give us the information we require."
"Do you think," inquired Ernest, "that plants and bushes are utterly without sensation?"
"Faith, I can't say," replied Jack; "perhaps they can speak if they liked—probably they have an idiom of their own. You, that know all languages, and a great many more besides, possibly can converse with them."
"I should like to know," said Becker, "why you two gentlemen are always snarling at each other; it is neither amusing nor amiable."
"Ernest is continually showing me up, father, and it is but fair that I should be allowed to retort now and then. But to return to plants, Ernest; you say they have nerves?"
"If they have," said Willis, "they do not seem to possess the bottle of salts that most nervous ladies usually have."
"No," replied Ernest, "they have no nerves, properly so called; but there are plants, and I may add many plants, which, by their qualities—I may almost say by their intelligence—seem to be placed much higher in the scale of creation than they really are. The sensitive plant, for example, shrinks when it is touched; tulips open their petals when the weather is fine, and shut them again at sunset or when it rains; wild barley, when placed on a table, often moves by itself, especially when it has been first warmed by the hand; the heliotrope always turns the face of its flowers to the sun."
"A still more singular instance of this kind was recently discovered in Carolina," remarked Becker; "it is called the fly-trap. Its round leaves secrete a sugary fluid, and are covered with a number of ridges which are extremely irritable: whenever a fly touches the surface the leaf immediately folds inwards, contracts, and continues this process till its victim is either pierced with its spines or stifled by the pressure."
"It is probably a Corsican plant," observed Jack, "whose ancestors have had a misunderstanding with the brotherhood of flies, and have left the Vendetta as a legacy to their descendants."
"There is nothing in Nature," continued Ernest, "so obstinate as a plant. Let us take one, for example, at its birth, that is, to-day, at the age when animals modify or acquire their instincts, and you will find that your own will must yield to that of the plant."
"If you mean to say that the plant will refuse to play on the flute or learn to dance, were I to wish it to do so, I am entirely of your opinion."
"No, but suppose you were to plant it upside down, with the plantule above and the radicle below; do you think it would grow that way?"
"Plantule and radicle are ambitious words, my dear brother; recollect that you are speaking to simple mortals."
"Well, I mean root uppermost."
"Right; I prefer that, don't you, Willis?"
"Yes, Master Jack."
"At first the radicle or root would begin by growing upwards, and the plantule or germ would descend."
"That is quite in accordance with my revolutionary idiosyncracies."
"You accused me just now of using ambitious words."
"Well, I understand a revolution to mean, placing those above who should be below."
"Nature then," continued Ernest, "very soon begins to assert her rights; the bud gradually twists itself round and ascends, whilst the root obeys a similar impulse and descends—is not this a proof of discernment?"
"I see nothing more in it than a proof of the wonderful mechanism God has allotted to the plant, and is analogous to the movements of a watch, the hands of which point out the hours, minutes, and seconds of time, and are yet not endowed with intelligence."
"Very good, Jack," said Becker.
"Suppose," continued Ernest, "that the ground in the neighborhood of your plant was of two very opposite qualities, that on the right, for example, damp, rich, and spongy; that on the left, dry, poor, and rocky; you would find that the roots, after growing for a time up or down, as the case might be, will very soon change their route, and take their course towards the rich and humid soil."
"And quite right too," said Willis; "they prefer to go where they will be best fed."
"If, then, these roots stretched out to points where they would withdraw the nourishment from other plants in the neighborhood—how could you prevent it?"
"By digging a ditch between them and the plants they threaten to impoverish."
"And do you suppose that would be sufficient?"
"Yes, unless the plant you refer to was an engineer."
"Therein lies the difficulty. Plants are engineers; they would send their roots along the bottom of the ditch, or they would creep under it—at all events, the roots would find their way to the coveted soil in spite of you; if you dug a mine, they would countermine it, and obtain supplies from the opposite territory, and revenge themselves there for the scurvy treatment to which they had been subjected. What could you do then?"
"In that case, I should admit myself defeated."
"If," continued Ernest, "we present a sponge saturated with water to the naked roots of a plant, they will slowly, but steadily, direct themselves towards it; and, turn the sponge whichever way you will, they will take the same direction."
"It has been concluded," remarked Becker, "from these incontestable facts, that plants are not devoid of sensibility; and, in fact, when we behold them lying down at sunset as if dead, and come to life again next morning, we are forced to recognise a degree of irritability in the vegetable organs which very closely resemble those of the animal economy."
"In future," said Jack, "I shall take care not to tread upon a weed, lost, being hurt, it should scream."
"On the other hand, they have not been found to possess any other sign of this supposed sensibility. All their other functions seem perfectly mechanical."
"Ah then, father," exclaimed Jack, "you are a believer in my system!"
"We make them grow and destroy them, without observing anything analogous to the sensation we feel in rearing, wounding, or killing an animal."
"But the fly-trap, father, what of that?"
"It is no exception. The fly-trap seizes any small body that touches it, as well as an insect, and with the same tenacity; hence, we may readily conclude that these actions, so apparently spontaneous, are in reality nothing more than remarkable developments of the laws of irritability peculiar to plants."
"It does not, then, spring from a family feud, as Jack supposed?" remarked Willis.
"Besides," continued Becker, "if plants really existed, possessing what is understood by the term sensation, they would be animals."
"For a like reason, animals without sensation would be plants."
"Evidently. Moreover, the transition from vegetable to animal life is almost imperceptible, so much so, that polypi, such as corals and sponges, were for a long time supposed to be marine plants."
"And what are they?" inquired Willis.
"Insects that live in communities that form a multitude of contiguous cells; some of these are begun at the bottom of the sea and accumulated perpendicularly, one layer being continually deposited over another till the surface is reached."
"Then the coral reefs, that render navigation so perilous in unknown seas, are the work of insects?"
"Exactly so, Willis."
"Might they not as well consist of multitudes of insects piled heaps upon heaps?"
"It is in a great measure as you say, Willis."
"Not I—I do not say it—quite the contrary."
"Well, Willis, you are at liberty to believe it or not, as you think proper."
"I hope so; we shall, therefore, put the polypi with Ernest's stars and Jack's admirals."
"So be it, Willis; but to resume the subject. There is a remarkable analogy in many respects between the lower orders of animals and plants, the bulb is to the latter what the egg is to the former. The germ does not pierce the bulb till it attains a certain organization, and it remains attached by fibres to the parent substance, from which, for a time, it receives nourishment."
"Not unlike the young of animals," remarked Willis.
"When the germ has shot out roots and a leaf or two, it then, but not till then, relinquishes the parent bulb. The plant then grows by an extension and multiplication of its parts, and this extension is accompanied by an increasing induration of the fibres. The same phenomena are observed as regards animals."
"Curious!" said Willis.
"Animals, however, are sometimes oviparous."
"Oviparous?" inquired Willis.
"Yes, that is, they lay eggs; others are viviparous, producing their young alive. A few are multiplied like plants by cuttings, as in the case of the polypi."
"Bother the polypi," said Willis, laughing, "since we have to thank them for destroying some of his Majesty's ships."
"Then again," continued Becker, "both plants and animals are subject to disease, decay, and death."
"But, father, if the analogies are remarkable, the differences are not less marked."
"Well, Ernest, I shall leave you to point them out."
"Without reckoning the faculty of feeling, that cannot be denied to the one nor granted to the other, the most striking of these distinctions consists in the circumstance that animals can change place, whilst this faculty is absolutely refused to plants."
"If we except those," remarked Jack, "that insist upon travelling to the succulent parts of the earth, and are as indefatigable in digging tunnels as the renowned Brunel."
"Then plants are obliged to accept the nourishment that their fixed position furnishes to them; whilst animals, on the contrary, by means of their external organs, can range far and near in search of the aliments most congenial to their appetites."
"Which is often very capricious," remarked Willis.
"Then, considered with regard to magnitude, the two kingdoms present remarkable distinctions; the interval between a whale and a mite is greater than between the moss and the oak."
"Ho!" cried Jack, "there is Miss Sophia coming to meet us, Willis."
"Perhaps they have news at the grotto."
"Well," inquired the child, "have you seen them?"
"Good," thought Becker, "our chatterers have not been able to hold their tongues; I am surprised at that as regards Frank."
"We expected to have found them at Rockhouse."
"To have found whom?"
"The sailors from the wreck."
"I sincerely hope that the Nelson has not been wrecked."
"In that case, whom do you refer to yourself, Miss Sophia?"
"To your go-cart and my doll, Master Jack."
HABITANT OF THE MOON, ANTHROPOPHAGIAN OR HOBGOBLIN?—THE LACEDEMONIAN STEW OF MADAME DACIER—UTILE DULCI—TETE-A-TETE BETWEEN WILLIS AND HIS PIPE—TOBACCO VERSUS BIRCH—IS IT FOR EATING?—MOSQUITOES—THE ALARM—TOBY—THE NOCTURNAL EXPEDITION—WE'VE GOT HIM.
Some days passed without anything having occurred to ruffle the tranquil existence of the island families. Every morning the elite of the sea and land forces continued to divide themselves into three squadrons of observation; one of which remained at Rockhouse on some pretext or other, whilst the other two were occupied in exploring the country, or in carrying on the works at Falcon's Nest.
The mysterious stranger, whether shipwrecked seaman, savage, or hobgoblin, who kept all the bearded inhabitants of Rockhouse on the alert, had reappeared in his old quarters, where another litter of leaves had been miraculously strewn exactly in the same place the former had occupied.
Beyond this, however, and sundry gashes here and there—of which Fritz's knife was clearly guilty, but which could not have been perpetrated without an accomplice—nothing had transpired to enable them to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion as to who or what this personage could be.
Though the hypothesis was highly improbable, still Willis persisted in his theory of the shipwreck; he only doubted whether the individual on shore was a marine or the cabin-boy, an officer or a foremast man, and, if the latter, whether it was Bill, Tom, Bob, or Ned.
Ernest rather inclined to think that the invisible stranger was an inhabitant of the moon, who, in consequence of a false step, had tumbled from his own to our planet.
The warlike Fritz was impatient and irritated. He would over and over again have preferred an immediate solution of the affair, even were it bathed in blood, rather than be kept any longer in suspense.
Frank, on the contrary, took a metaphysical view of the case; and, believing that Providence had not entirely dispensed with miracles in dealing with the things of this world, came to the conclusion that it was no earthly visitor they had to deal with; and he even went so far as to hint that prayer was a more efficacious means of solving the mystery than the methods his brothers were pursuing.
Jack, coinciding in some degree with Ernest, shifted his view from an ape to an anthropophagian, and blamed the latter for not coming earlier; when he and his brothers were younger, and consequently more tender, they would have made a better meal, and been more easily digested.
As to what opinion Becker himself entertained, with regard to the occurrence at Falcon's Nest that kept his sons in a feverish state of anxiety, and had awakened all the fears of the Pilot for the safety of his friends on board the Nelson, nothing could be clearly ascertained; in so far as this matter was concerned he kept his own counsel; and, to use an expression of Madame de Sevigne, "had thrown his tongue to the dogs."
The close of the day had, as usual, collected all the members of the family round the domestic hearth; and it may be stated here that Mrs. Wolston, Mary, and Mrs. Becker alternately undertook the preparations of the viands for the diurnal consumption of the community. By this means, uniformity, that palls the appetite, was entirely banished from their dishes. One day they would have the cooked, or rather half-cooked, British joints of Mrs. Wolston and her daughter, varied occasionally, to the great delight of Willis, with a tureen of hotch-potch or cocky-leekie. The next there would be a display of the cosmopolite and somewhat picturesque cookery of Mrs. Becker; there was her famous peccary pie, with ravansara sauce, followed by her delicious preserved mango and seaweed jelly. Nor did she hesitate to draw upon the raw material of the colony now and then for a new hash or soup, taking care, however, to keep in view the maxim that prudence is the mother of safety—an adage that was rather roughly handled by the renowned French linguist, Madame Dacier, who, on one occasion nearly poisoned her husband with a Lacedemonian stew, the receipt for which she had found in Xenophon.
Luckily Becker's wife did not know Greek, consequently he ran no risk of being entertained with a classic dinner; but he was often reminded by his thoughtful partner of Meg Dod's celebrated receipt: before you cook your hare, first—catch it.
Sophia desired earnestly to have a share in the culinary government; but having shown on her first trial, too decided a leaning towards puddings and pancakes, her second essay was put off till she became more thoroughly penetrated with the value of the eternal precept utile dulci, which signifies that, before dessert it is requisite to have something substantial.
As soon as they had finished their afternoon meal, Willis departed on one of his customary mysterious excursions; and Jack, who, like the birds that no sooner hop upon one branch than they leap upon another, had also disappeared. It was not long, however, before he made his appearance again; he came running in almost out of breath, and cried at the top of his voice,
"I have discovered him!"
"Whom?" exclaimed half a dozen voices.
"The inhabitant of the moon?" inquired Ernest.
"I know," said Sophia playfully, "your go-cart and my doll."
"No, I have discovered Willis' secret."
"If you have been watching him, it is very wrong."
"No, father; seeing some thin columns of smoke rising out of a thicket, I thought a bush was on fire; but on going nearer, I saw that it was only a tobacco-pipe."
"Was the pipe alone, brother?"
"No, not exactly, it was in Willis' mouth; and there he sat, so completely immersed in ideas and smoke, that he neither heard nor saw me."
"That he does not smoke here," remarked Becker, "I can easily understand; but why conceal it?"
"Ah," replied Mrs. Wolston, "you do not know Willis yet;—beneath that rough exterior there are feelings that would grace a coronet: he is, no doubt, afraid of leading your sons into the habit."
"That is very thoughtful and considerate on his part."
"He was always smoking on board ship, and it must have been a great sacrifice for him to leave it off to the extent he has done lately."
"Then we shall not allow him to punish himself any longer; and as for the danger of contagion from his smoking here, that evil may perhaps be avoided."
"Do not be afraid, father; it will not be necessary to establish either a quarantine or a lazaretto on our account."
"Besides, any of the boys," said Mrs. Becker, "that acquire the habit, will, by so doing, voluntarily banish themselves from my levees."
"It is an extraordinary habit that, smoking," observed Mrs. Wolston.
"Yes," said Becker; "and what makes the habit more singular is, that it holds out no allurements to seduce its votaries. Generally, the path to vice, or to a bad habit, is strewn with roses that hide their thorns, but such is not the case with smoking; in order to acquire this habit, a variety of disagreeable difficulties have to be overcome, and a considerable amount of disgust and sickness must be borne before the stomach is tutored to withstand the nauseous fumes."
"In point of fact," observed Wolston, "if, instead of being made part and parcel of the appliances of a fashionable man, cigars and meershaums were classed in the pharmacopoeia with emetics and cataplasms, there is not a human being but would bemoan his fate if compelled to undergo a dose."
"Just so," added Becker; "the great and sole attraction of tobacco to young people consists in its being to them a forbidden thing; the apple of Eve is of all time—it hangs from every tree, and takes myriads of shapes. If I had the honor of being principal of a college I should no more think of forbidding the pupils to use tobacco than I should think of commanding them not to use the birch for purposes of self-chastisement."
"Perhaps you would be quite right."
"Instead of lecturing them on the pernicious effects of tobacco, I should hang up a pipe of punishment in the class-room, and oblige offending pupils to inhale a fixed number of whiffs proportionate to the gravity of their delinquency."
"An excellent idea," observed Wolston; "for it is often only necessary to show some things in a different light in order to give them a new aspect and value. This puts me in mind of an illustration in point; these two girls, when children, were the parties concerned, and I will relate the circumstance to you."
"In that case," said Mary, "I shall go and feed the fowls."
"And I," said Sophia, "must go and water the flowers."
"Oh, then," cried Jack laughing, "it is another doll story, is it?"
"No, Master Jack, it is not a doll story; and, besides, we girls were no bigger at the time than that."
On saying this Sophia placed her two hands about a foot and a half from the floor and then the two girls vanished.
"When Mary was about six years old," began Wolston, "a slight rash threatened to develope itself, and the doctor ordered a small blister to be applied to one of her arms. Now, there was likely to be some difficulty about getting her to submit quietly to this operation, so, after an instant's reflection, I called both her and her sister, and told them that the most diligent of the two should have a vesicatory put on her arm at night. 'Oh,' cried both the girls quite delighted, 'it will be me, papa, I shall be so good. Mamma, mamma—such a treat—papa has promised us a vesicatory for to-night!'"
"That was simplicity itself," said Mrs. Becker, laughing till the tears came into her eyes.
"The day passed, the one endeavoring to excel the other in the quantity of leaves they turned over; and, from time to time, I heard the one asking the other in a low voice, 'Have you ever seen a vesicatory? What is it made of? Is it for eating? And each in turn regarded her arms, to judge in advance the effect of the marvellous ornament."
"I should like much to have seen them."
"Night came, and I declared gravely that the eldest was fairly entitled to the prize. The latter jumped about with joy, and Sophia began to cry. 'Don't cry,' said Mary, 'if you are good, papa will, perhaps, give you one to-morrow, too,' Then the joyful patient, turning to me, said, 'On which arm, papa?' and I told her that the ceremony of placing it on must take place when she was in bed. To bed accordingly she went, the ornament was applied, she looked at it, was pleased with it, thanked me for it, and fell asleep as happy as a queen. But, alas! like that of many queens, the felicity did not last long; before morning, I heard her saying to her sister, in a doleful tone, 'Soffy, will you have my vesicatory?' 'Oh, yes, just lend it to me for a tiny moment.' At this I hurried to the spot, and, as you may readily suppose, opposed the transfer."
"Yes; she was quite heart-broken, and said, sobbing, 'It is always Mary that gets everything, nobody ever gives anything to me.'"
Next day, Willis laid hold of his sou'-wester, and was starting off on his customary pilgrimage, when Becker stopped him.
"Willis," said he, "have you any objections to state what the engagements are, that require you to leave us at pretty much the same hour every day?"
"I merely go for a walk, Mr. Becker."
"You see I require to take a turn just after dinner for the sake of my health."
"A habit that you contracted on board ship; eh, Willis?"
"On board ship; yes Mr. Becker, that is to say—"
"Just so," observed Mrs. Wolston; "and by the way, Willis, I regret that you do not smoke now; they say there is plenty of tobacco on the island."
"Smoke!" cried Willis, raising his ears like a war-horse at the sound of the trumpet, "why so, Mrs. Wolston?"
"Because we are dreadfully tormented with those horrid mosquitoes, and you might help us to get rid of them. You smoked at sea, did you not?"
"Yes, madam; but then my constitution—"
"Bah!" said Wolston, "I thought you were as strong as a horse, Willis."
"Well, I have no cause to complain neither; but then they say tobacco would kill even a horse."
"Of course, Willis, your health is a most necessary consideration."
"Still for all that, if the mosquitoes really do annoy Mrs. Wolston, I should have no objection to take a whiff now and then."
"You must not put yourself about though, on our account, Willis."
"About; no, it would not put me about."
"Very good; then it only remains to be seen whether there is a pipe in the colony."
"Ah," said Willis, feeling his pockets, "yes, exactly—here is one."
"Curious how things do turn up, isn't it, Willis?" said Becker; "but the mosquitoes would not be frightened away by the smoke, if applied at long intervals, so you will have to repeat the dose at least two or three times every day, always supposing it does not affect your constitution."
"Sailors, you see," replied Willis, "are like chimneys, they always smoke when you want them, and sometimes a great deal more than you want them," And on turning round, he beheld Sophia holding a light, and a good-sized case of Maryland, which had been preserved from the wreck.
Ever after that time the mosquitoes had a most persevering enemy in Willis; and, notwithstanding his health, his daily walks entirely ceased.
For some time the Pilot and the four young men passed the night in a tent erected about midway between Rockhouse and the Jackal River. The apparent reason for this modification of their plans was the greater facility it afforded for their all meeting at daybreak, breakfasting together, and setting out for Falcon's Nest before the temperature reached ninety degrees in the shade, which junction could not be so easily effected with one party encamped at Rockhouse and the other bivouacked on Shark's Island, with an arm of the sea between them.
The real motive, however, was that all might be within hail of each other, and prepared for every emergency, in the event of the stranger appearing in a more palpable shape, and assuming a hostile attitude. We say the stranger, because, judging from the indications, there was only one—still that did not prove that there might not be several.
One night, as Fritz was lying with one eye open, he observed Mary's little black terrier suddenly prick up the fragments of its ears, and begin sniffing at the edge of the tent. This shaggy little cur was called Toby; it had accompanied the Wolstons on their voyage, and was Mary's exclusive property; but Fritz had found the way to the animal's heart as usual through its stomach, and Mary was in no way jealous of his attentions to her favorite, but rather the reverse.
Fritz, feeling convinced by the actions of the dog, which was of the true Scotch breed, that something extraordinary was passing outside the tent, seized his rifle, hastened out, and was just in time to distinguish a human figure on the opposite bank of the Jackal River, which, on seeing him, took to its heels and disappeared in the forest.
He was soon joined by the Pilot and his brothers; the dogs leaped about them, and the alarm became general throughout the encampment. Fritz re-established order, enjoined silence, and said,
"I am determined this time to follow the affair up; who will accompany me?"
"I will!" said all the four voices at once.
"Scouting parties ought not to be numerous," said Fritz; "I will, therefore, take Willis, in case this mystification has anything to do with the Nelson."
"And me," said Jack, "to serve as a dessert, in case the individual should turn out to be an anthropophagian."
"Be it so; but no more. Frank and Ernest will remain to tranquilize our parents, in case we should not return before they are up."
"And if so, what shall we say?"
"Tell them the truth. We shall proceed direct to Falcon's Nest; and if the stranger—confiding in our habit of sleeping during the night—be there as usual, we shall do ourselves the honor of helping him to get up."
"Providing he does not nightly change his quarters like Oliver Cromwell—not so much to avoid enemies, as to calm his uneasy conscience."
"Well, we shall be no worse than before; we shall have tried to restore our wonted quietude, and, if we fail, we can say, like Francis I. at Pavia, 'All is lost except our honor.'"
Some minutes after this conversation, three shadows might have been seen stealing through the glades in the direction of Falcon's Nest. Nothing was to be heard but the rustling of the leaves—the deafened beating of the sea upon the rocks—and, to use the words of Lamartine, "those unknown tongues that night and the wind whisper in the air." The trees were mirrored in the rays of the moon, and the ground, at intervals, seemed strewn with monstrous giants; their hearts beat, not with fear, but with that feverish impatience that anticipates decisive results.
When they arrived at the foot of the tree on which the aerial dwelling was situated, Fritz opened the door, and resolutely, but stealthily, ascended.
Willis and Jack followed him with military precision.
They reached the top of the staircase, and held the latch of the door that opened into the apartment.
A train of mice, in the strictest incognito, could not have performed these operations with a greater amount of secretiveness. On opening the door they stood and listened.
Not a sound. Jack fired off a pistol, and the fraudulent occupier of the room instantly started up on his feet. Fritz rushed forward, and clasped him tightly round the body.
"Ho, ho, comrade," said he, "this time you do not get off so easily!"
THE CHIMPANZEE—IMPERFECT NEGRO, OR PERFECT APE—THE HARMONIES OF NATURE—A HANDFUL OF PAWS—A STONE SKIN—SEVENTEEN THOUSAND SPECTACLES ON ONE NOSE—ANIMALCULAE—PELION ON OSSA—PTOLEMY—COPERNICUS TO GALILEO—METAPHYSICS AND COSMOGONIES—ISAIAH—A LIVE TIGER.
"The chimpanze or chimpanzee," says Buffon, the French naturalist, "is much more sagacious than the ourang outang, with which it has been inaccurately confounded; it likewise bears a more marked resemblance to the human being; the height is the same, and it has the same aspect, members, and strength; it always walks on two feet, with the head erect, has no tail, has calves to its legs, hair on its head, a beard on its chin, a face that Grimaldi would have envied, hands and nails like those of men, whose manners and habits it is susceptible of acquiring."
Buffon knew an individual of the species that sat demurely at table, taking his place with the other guests; like them he would spread out his napkin, and stick one corner of it into his button-hole just as they did, and he was exceedingly dexterous in the use of his knife, fork, and spoon. Spectators were not a little surprised to see him go to a bed made for him, tie up his head in a pocket-handkerchief, place it sideways on a pillow, tuck himself carefully in the bed-clothes, pretend to be sick, stretch out his pulse to be felt, and affect to undergo the process of being bled.
The naturalist adds that he is very easily taught, and may be made a useful domestic servant, at least as regards the humbler operations of the kitchen; he promptly obeys signs and the voice, whilst other species of apes only obey the stick; he will rinse glasses, serve at table, turn the spit, grind coffee, or carry water. Add to his virtues as a domestic, that he is not much addicted to chattering about the family affairs, has no followers, and is very accommodating in the matter of wages.
It was neither more nor less than a chimpanzee that Fritz had caught in the dark at Falcon's Nest.
"Now then, old fellow," said he, "you will help us to clear up this mysterious affair."
The caged stranger made no reply to this observation; Willis and Jack then questioned him, the one in English and the other in French.
Still no reply.
He did not submit, however, to be interrogated quietly; on the contrary, his struggles to get away were most vigorous, so much so that Fritz adopted the precaution of binding him.
"If it had been one of our sailors," said Willis, "he would have recognized my voice long ago."
"Who are you?" asked one.
"Where do you come from?" inquired another.
"Do not attempt to escape," said a third.
"We mean you no harm; on the contrary, we are friends, disposed to do you good if we can."
"If all his brothers and sisters are as talkative as himself," remarked Jack, "they must be a very amusing sort of people."
"He can walk at all events," said Fritz giving him a smart push.
The chimpanzee fell flat on the floor.
"It appears, sir, that you are determined to have your own way, we must therefore wait till daylight."
An hour passed in polyglot expostulations with the stranger on the score of his obstinacy, but all to no purpose; to use a popular expression, he was as dumb as the Doges. He deigned, however, to empty at a single draught a calabash of Malaga that Willis gave him, but there his condescension stopped.
The Pilot, who now encountered mosquitoes in all directions, made preparations for smoking; the light he struck, however, instead of clearing up the mystery, only perplexed them more and more; there lay their new companion, stretched on the ground, staring at them with a ludicrous grin.
If, on the one hand, it occurred to them this man was an animal, on the other the animal was a man, and Buffon did not happen to be there at the time to assign him officially a place in the former kingdom.
The next difficulty that presented itself was, how they were to get him along; when they broke in the onagra, they ran a prong through his ear; in reducing the buffalo to subjection, they did not feel the slightest compunction in thrusting a pin through the cartilage of his nose; then, in order to give elasticity to the legs of the ostrich, they yoked him to two or three other animals, and, willing or unwilling, he was compelled ultimately to yield obedience to the lords of creation. But whether the creature before them was a lower order of negro or a higher order of ape, there was too great a resemblance between the captured and the capturers to admit of any of these methods of impulsion being adopted. It was, therefore, stretched on a plank, like a nabob in his palanquin, that the chimpanzee made his first appearance at Rockhouse.
When the cavalcade arrived there, all the family, with the exception of Ernest and Frank, were still asleep. The first thing they did was to clothe the creature they had captured in a sailor's pantaloons and jacket, with which he seemed rather pleased, and the result of this operation was, that he began to assume a less ferocious aspect, and behave more respectfully towards his captors. All the family had sat down to breakfast, when Fritz and Jack, taking him by the hands, led him gravely into the gallery. A cord was attached to his legs, allowing him to walk, but was so arranged that he could not run.
On his appearance the young girls fled at once; and, more accustomed to drawing-rooms than the rude realities of savage life, Mrs. Wolston's first impulse was to do the same.
"Goodness gracious!" she cried with an air of alarm, "what horror is that?"
"That, madam, is precisely what we have been anxious for the last two or three hours to find out," replied Fritz.
"Does the creature speak?"
"Up till now, madam," replied Willis, "he has only opened his mouth to swallow my calabash of Malaga; beyond that, he has kept as close as a purser's locker."
When the first shock had passed, and the company had regained their self-possession, Jack related, with his customary originality, the incidents of the nocturnal expedition, of which Fritz was the originator, leader, and hero. The ladies then, for the first time, were made acquainted with the doubts, fears, perplexities, and battues, which, out of gallantry, they had hitherto been kept in ignorance of. Becker then, having carefully investigated the creature, pronounced it to be (as we already know) a full-grown specimen of a kind of ape, called by the Africans "the wild man of the woods," and by naturalists the jocko or chimpanzee.
"It is naturally very savage," added Becker; "but this individual seems already to have received some degree of education."
As a proof of this, the chimpanzee seated himself amongst them very much at his ease; he scanned the faces surrounding him with an air of curiosity, and seemed to search for a particular countenance that it annoyed him not to find. Some fruit and nuts that were given him put him in excellent humor.
"He has, without doubt, been on board some ship, wrecked on the coast," said Wolston, "for I recollect having read that his kindred are only found in Western Africa and the adjacent islands; do you not recognize him, Willis, to belong to the Nelson, like the plank of the other day?"
"So much the better."
"We do not ship such cattle on board his Majesty's ships," added the Pilot.
The girls, ashamed of their fear, now came peeping in at the door, and, seeing that nobody had been devoured, took refuge by the side of their mother.
"Look here, father," said Ernest, feeling the creature's crania, after having facetiously begged pardon for the liberty, "its head is precisely like our own; that is very humiliating."
"Yes, my son, but his tongue and other organs are also exactly like ours, yet he cannot utter a word. His head is of the same form and proportion, but he does not for all that possess human intelligence. Is this not a very striking proof that mere matter, though perfectly organized, neither produces words nor thought; and that it requires a special manifestation of the Divine will to call these attributes into existence?"
"True; but, father, some writers say that apes have been observed to profit by fires lighted in the forest, and have gone and warmed themselves when the travellers left."
"That, my son, is instinct, nothing more; the operation of keeping up a fire, by throwing a few branches upon it, is exceedingly simple, but their instinct has never been known to rise to that amount of intelligence."
"You recollect, father, that heathcock we saw some years ago displaying his glossy plumage to the dazzled hens; is that not a well-marked proof of coquetry? and is not this coquetry an indication of something more than mere instinct?"
"You will permit me to believe, my son, at least till the contrary has been proved, that these actions to which you refer have nothing at all to do with coquetry. Those brilliant colors are designed for a purpose other than that which you suppose; they serve as signals to keep the community together, or, in other words, they are a common centre round which the hens may revolve."
"The transition from apes to heathcocks," remarked Jack, "appears to me somewhat abrupt."
"Not so abrupt as you think, Master Jack," said Wolston; "those who take the trouble to study Nature, observe an admirable gradation and easy progression from a simple to a complex organization. There is no race or species that is not connected by a perceptible link with that which precedes and that which follows."