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- The Little Savage - 10/51 -


myself on the guano, to show them that I had a house over my head as well as they had; but I built it farther up to the edge of the cliff, above the guano plain, so that I need not have any communication with those who I knew would come for eggs and birds for their daily sustenance.

"Before the night of the following day set in, the cabin was quite finished.

"The weather became warmer every day, and I found it very fatiguing to have to climb the ravine two or three times a day to procure a drink of water, for I had nothing to hold water in, and I thought that it would be better that I should take up my quarters in the ravine, and build myself a wigwam among the brushwood close to the water, instead of having to make so many journeys for so necessary an article. I knew that I could carry eggs in my hat and pocket-handkerchief sufficient for two or three days at one trip; so I determined that I would do so; and the next morning I went up the ravine, loaded with eggs, to take up my residence there. In a day or two I had built my hut of boughs, and made it very comfortable. I returned for a fresh supply of eggs on the third day, with a basket I had constructed out of young boughs, and which enabled me to carry a whole week's sustenance. Then I felt quite satisfied, and made up my mind that I would live as a hermit during my sojourn on the island, however long it might be; for I preferred anything to obeying the orders of one whom I detested as I did your father.

"It soon was evident, however, how well they had done in selecting your father as their leader. They had fancied that the birds would remain on the island, and that thus they would always be able to procure a supply. Your father, who had lived so long in Chili, knew better, and that in a few weeks they would quit their nesting place. He pointed this out to them, showing them what a mercy it was that they had been cast away just at this time, and how necessary it was to make a provision for the year. But this they could not imagine that it was possible to do without salt to cure the birds with; but he knew how beef was preserved without salt on the continent, and showed them how to dry the birds in the sun. While therefore I was up in the ravine, they were busy collecting and drying them in large quantities, and before the time of the birds leaving they had laid up a sufficient supply. It was he also that invented the fishing lines out of the sinews of the legs of the birds, and your mother who knotted them together. At first, they caught fish with some hooks made of nails, but your father showed them the way to take them without a hook, as you have learnt from me, and which he had been shown by some of the Indians on the continent. Owing to your father, they were well prepared when the birds flew away with their young ones, while I was destitute. Previous to the flight, I had fared but badly, for the eggs contained the young birds half formed, and latterly so completely formed that I could not eat them, and as I had no fire and did not understand drying them, I had no alternative but eating the young birds raw, which was anything but pleasant. I consoled myself, however, with the idea that your father and mother and the rest were faring just as badly as myself, and I looked forward to the time when the birds would begin to lay eggs again, when I resolved to hoard up a much larger supply while they were fresh. But my schemes were all put an end to, for in two days, after a great deal of noise and flying about in circles, all the birds, young and old, took wing, and left me without any means of future subsistence.

"This was a horrid discovery, and I was put to my wits' ends. I wandered over the guano place, and, after the third day of their departure, was glad to pick up even a dead bird with which to appease my hunger. At the same time, I wondered how my former companions got on, for I considered that they must be as badly off as I was. I watched them from behind the rocks, but I could perceive no signs of uneasiness. There was your mother sitting quietly on the level by the cabin, and your father or the captain talking with her. I perceived, however, that two of the party were employed fishing off the rocks, and I wondered where they got their fishing-lines, and at last I concluded that it was by catching fish that they supported themselves. This, however, did not help me--I was starving, and starvation will bring down the pride of any man. On the fifth day, I walked down to the rocks, to where one of the seamen was fishing, and having greeted him, I told him that I was starving, and asked for something to eat.

"'I cannot help you,' replied he; 'I have no power to give anything away; it is more than I dare do. You must apply to Mr Henniker, who is the governor now. What a foolish fellow you were to mutiny, as you did; see what it has brought you to.'

"'Why,' replied I, 'if it were not for fishing, you would not be better off than I am.'

"'Oh yes we should be; but we have to thank him for that--without him, I grant, we should not have been. We have plenty of provisions, although we fish to help them out.'

"This puzzled me amazingly, but there was no help for it. I could starve no longer, so up I went to the level where your father was standing with the captain, and in a swaggering sort of tone, said that I had come back, and wanted to join my comrades. The captain looked at me, and referred me to your father, who said that he would consult with the rest when they came to dinner, as without their permission he could do nothing, and then they both turned away. In the meantime I was ravenous with hunger, and was made more so by perceiving that two large fish were slowly baking on the embers of the fire, and that your mother was watching them; however, there was no help for it, and I sat down at some little distance, anxiously waiting for the return of the rest of the party, when my fate would be decided. My pride was now brought down so low that I could have submitted to any terms which might have been dictated. In about two hours they were all assembled to dinner, and I remained envying every morsel that they ate, until the repast was finished; when after some consultation, I was ordered to approach--which I did--and your father addressed me: 'Jackson, you deserted us when you might have been very useful, and when our labour was severe; now that we have worked hard, and made ourselves tolerably comfortable, you request to join us, and partake with us of the fruits of our labour and foresight. You have provided nothing, we have--the consequence is that we are in comparative plenty, while you are starving. Now I have taken the opinion of my companions, and they are all agreed, that as you have not assisted when you are wanted, should we now allow you to join us, you will have to work more than the others to make up an equivalent. It is therefore proposed that you shall join us on one condition, which is, that during the year till the birds again visit the island, it will be your task to go up to the ravine every day, and procure the firewood which is required. If you choose to accept these terms, you are permitted to join, always supposing that to all the other rules and regulations which we have laid down for our guidance, you will be subject as well as we are. These are our terms, and you may decide as you think proper.' I hardly need say, that I gladly accepted them, and was still more glad when the remnants of the dinner were placed before me; I was nearly choked, I devoured with such haste until my appetite was appeased.

"When this was done, I thought over the conditions which I had accepted, and my blood boiled at the idea that I was to be in a manner the slave to the rest, as I should have to work hard every day. I forgot that it was but justice, and that I was only earning my share of the years' provisions, which I had not assisted to collect. My heart was still more bitter against your father, and I vowed vengeance if ever I had an opportunity, but there was no help for it. Every day I went up with a piece of cord and an axe, cut a large faggot of wood, and brought it down to the cabin. It was hard work, and occupied me from breakfast to dinner-time, and I had no time to lose if I wanted to be back for dinner. The captain always examined the faggot, and ascertained that I had brought down a sufficient supply for the day's consumption."

Chapter IX

"A year passed away, during which I was thus employed. At last, the birds made their appearance, and after we had laid up our annual provision, I was freed from my task, and had only to share the labour with others. It was now a great source of speculation how long we were likely to remain on the island; every day did we anxiously look out for a vessel, but we could see none, or if seen, they were too far off from the island to permit us to make signals to them. At last we began to give up all hope, and, as hope was abandoned, a settled gloom was perceptible on most of our faces. I believe that others would have now mutinied as well as myself, if they had known what to mutiny about. Your father and mother were the life and soul of the party, inventing amusements, or narrating a touching story in the evenings, so as to beguile the weary time; great respect was paid to your mother, which she certainly deserved; I seldom approached her; she had taken a decided dislike to me, arising, I presume, from my behaviour towards her husband, for now that I was again on a footing with the others, I was as insolent to him as I dared to be, without incurring the penalty attached to insubordination, and I opposed him as much as I could in every proposal that he brought forward--but your father kept his temper, although I lost mine but too often. The first incident which occurred of any consequence, was the loss of two of the men, who had, with your father's permission, taken a week's provisions, with the intention of making a tour round the island, and ascertaining whether any valuable information could be brought back; they were the carpenter and one of the seamen. It appears that during their return, as they were crossing the highest ridge, they, feeling very thirsty, and not finding water, attempted to refresh themselves by eating some berries which they found on a plant. These berries proved to be strong poison, and they returned very ill--after languishing a few days, they both died.

"This was an event which roused us up, and broke the monotony of our life; but it was one which was not very agreeable to dwell upon, and yet, at the same time, I felt rather pleasure than annoyance at it--I felt that I was of more consequence, and many other thoughts entered my mind which I shall not now dwell upon. We buried them in the guano, under the first high rock, where, indeed, the others were all subsequently buried. Three more months passed away, when the other seaman was missing. After a search, his trousers were found at the edge of the rock. He had evidently been bathing in the sea, for the day on which he was missed, the water was as smooth as glass. Whether he had seen something floating, which he wished to bring to land, or whether he had ventured for his own amusement, for he was an excellent swimmer, could never be ascertained--any more than whether he had sunk with the cramp, or had been taken down by a shark. He never appeared again, and his real fate is a mystery to this day, and must ever remain so. Thus were we reduced to four men--your father, the captain, the mate, and me. But you must be tired--I will stop now, and tell you the remainder some other time."

Although I was not tired, yet, as Jackson appeared to be so, I made no objection to his proposal, and we both went to sleep.


The Little Savage - 10/51

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