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- The Little Savage - 20/51 -


astonished how tame the little animal had become already. He remained very quietly with me after he had been fed, nestling close to my side, as if I had been his mother, and even making a half attempt to follow me when I left him.

My birds appeared very dull and stupid, and I observed also that they were very dirty, and always rushed to the kid when it was full of water, trying to get into it. This made me think that they required bathing in salt water, and I took one down to the bathing-pool, with a long line to its leg, and put it in. The manner in which the poor creature floundered, and dipped and washed itself, for several minutes, proved my supposition correct; so, after allowing it half an hour for its recreation, I took it back, and went down with the others until they had all indulged in the luxury of a bath; and from that time, as I took them down almost every day, it was astonishing how much brighter and sleeker their plumage became.

I remained a week in the cabin, taming my seal, which now was quite fond of me; and one night, as I was going to bed, he crawled into my bed-place, and from that time he was my bed-fellow. At the end of a week I went over to the other side of the island, and contrived to carry up the two skins to the summit. It was a hard day's work. The day afterwards I conveyed them to the cabin, and, as they were quite dry, I put them into my bed-place to lie down upon, as I did not like the smell of the birds' feathers, although I had so long been accustomed to them.

And now, what with my seal, my birds, and my garden, and the occupation they gave me, the time passed quickly away, until, by my reckoning, it was nearly the period for the birds to come again. I observed, as the time drew near, that my birds were uneasy. They had paired, as I mentioned before, and when their plumage was complete, it was evident that they had paired male and female, as I had supposed. They had not been tethered for a long while, and appeared to me now very much inclined to fly, especially the male birds. At first I thought that I would cut all their wings, as I was fearful that they would join the other birds on their arrival, but observing that they were so fond of their mates, I resolved to cut the wing of the females only, as I did not think that the male birds would leave them. I did so, and took my chance; for since I had the seal for a companion, I did not care so much for the birds as before. At last the birds came, and took possession of the guano-ground as usual, and I went for fresh eggs; at the same time I found that my females were scratching, as if they would make their nests, and a few days afterwards they began to lay. I then thought that as soon as they had young ones they would wish to go away, so I took the eggs that were laid, to prevent them, but I found that as fast as I took away the eggs they laid more, and this they did for nearly two months, supplying me with fresh eggs long after the wild birds had hatched, and left the island. The male birds, at the time that the females first laid their eggs, tried their wings in short flights in circles, and then flew away out to sea. I thought that they were gone, but I was deceived, for they returned in about a quarter of an hour, each with a fish in its beak, which they laid down before their mates. I was much pleased at this, and I resolved that in future they should supply their own food, which they did; and not their own food only, but enough for the seal and me also when the weather was fine, but when it was rough, they could not obtain any, and then I was obliged to feed them. The way I obtained from them the extra supply of fish was, that when they first went out, I seized, on their return, the fish which they brought, and as often as I did this they would go for more, until the females were fed.

But I had one difficulty to contend with, which was, that at the time the birds could not obtain fish, which was when the weather was rough, I could not either, as they would not take the bait. After some cogitation, I decided that I would divide a portion of the bathing-pool farthest from the shore, by a wall of loose rock which the water could flow through, but which the fish could not get out of, and that I would catch fish in the fine weather to feed the seal and the birds when the weather was rough and bad. As soon as I had finished curing my stock of provisions and got it safely housed in the cabin, I set to work to make this wall, which did not take me a very long while, as the water was not more than two feet deep, and the pool about ten yards across. As soon as it was finished, I went out every day, when it was fine, and caught as many fish as I thought I might require, and put them into this portion of the bathing-pool. I found the plan answer well, as the fish lived, but I had great difficulty in getting them out when I wanted them, for they would not take the bait.

As my birds were no longer a trouble to me, but rather, on the contrary, a profit, I devoted my whole time to my seal. I required a name for him, and reading in the book of Natural History that a certain lion was called Nero, I thought it a very good name for a seal, and bestowed it on him accordingly, although what Nero meant I had no idea of. The animal was now so tame that he would cry if ever I left him, and would follow me as far as he could down the rocks, but there was one part of the path leading to the bathing-pool which was too difficult for him, and there he would remain crying till I came back. I had more than once taken him down to the bathing-pool to wash him, and he was much pleased when I did. I now resolved that I would clear the path of the rocks, that he might be able to follow me down the whole way, for he had grown so much that I found him too heavy to carry. It occupied me a week before I could roll away and remove the smaller rocks, and knock off others with the axe, but I finished it at last, and was pleased to find that the animal followed me right down and plunged into the water. He had not been down since I had made the wall of rock to keep the fish in, and as soon as he was in, he dived and came out with one of the fish, which he brought to land. "So now," thought I, "I shall know how to get the fish when I want them--I shall bring you down, Nero." I may as well here observe that Nero very soon obeyed orders as faithfully as a dog. I had a little switch, and when he did wrong, I would give him a slight tap on the nose. He would shake his head, show his teeth, and growl, and then come fondly to me. As he used to follow me every day down to the pool, I had to break him off going after the fish when I did not want them taken, and this I accomplished. No one who had not witnessed it, could imagine the affection and docility of this animal, and the love I had for him. He was my companion and playmate during the day, and my bedfellow at night. We were inseparable.

It was at the latter portion of the second year of my solitude that a circumstance occurred, that I must now relate. Nero had gone down to the pool with me, and I was standing fishing off the rocks, when he came out of the pool and plunged into the sea, playing all sorts of gambols, and whistling with delight. I did not think anything about it. He plunged and disappeared for a few minutes, and then would come up again close to where my line was, but he disturbed the fish and I could not catch any. To drive him farther off, I pelted him with pieces of rock, one of which hit him very hard, and he dived down. After a time I pulled up my line, and whistling to him to return, although I did not see him, I went away to the cabin, fully expecting that he would soon follow me, for now he could walk (after his fashion) from the cabin to the pool as he pleased. This was early in the morning, and I busied myself with my garden, which was now in great luxuriance, for I had dressed it with guano; but observing about noon that he had not returned, I became uneasy, and went down to the pool to look for him. He was not there, and I looked on the sea, but could not perceive him anywhere. I called and whistled, but it was of no use, and I grew very much alarmed at the idea that my treasure had deserted me. "It could not be because I threw the pieces of rock at him," thought I; "he would not leave me for that." I remained for two or three hours, watching for him, but it was all in vain; there was no seal--no Nero,--my heart sank at the idea of the animal having deserted me, and for the first time in my life, as far as I can recollect, I burst into a flood of tears. For the first time in my life, I may say, I felt truly miserable--my whole heart and affections were set upon this animal, the companion and friend of my solitude, and I felt as if existence were a burden without him. After a while, I retraced my steps to the cabin, but I was miserable, more so than I can express. I could not rest quiet. Two hours before sunset, I went down again to the rocks, and called till I was hoarse. It was all in vain; night closed in, and again I returned to the cabin, and threw myself down in my bed-place in utter despair.

"I thought he loved me," said I to myself, "loved me as I loved him; I would not have left him in that way." And my tears burst out anew at the idea that I never should see my poor Nero again.

The reader may think that my grief was inordinate and unwarrantable, but let him put himself in my position--a lad of sixteen, alone on a desolate island, with only one companion--true, he was an animal, and could not speak, but he was affectionate; he replied to all my caresses; he was my only companion and friend, the only object that I loved or cared about. He was intelligent, and I thought loved me as much as I loved him, and now he had deserted me, and I had nothing else that I cared about or that cared for me. My tears flowed for more than an hour, till at last I was wearied and fell asleep.

Chapter XVIII

It was early in the morning, and yet dark, when I felt something touch me. I started up--a low cry of pleasure told me at once that it was Nero, who was by my side. Yes, it was Nero, who had come back, having climbed up again the steep path to the cabin, to return to his master. Need I say that I was overjoyed, that I hugged him as if he had been a human being, that I wept over him, and that in a few minutes afterwards we were asleep together in the same bed-place. Such was the fact, and never was there in my after life, so great a transition from grief to joy.

"Oh! now, if you had left me,"--said I to him, the next morning, when I got up; "you naughty seal, to frighten me and make me so unhappy as you did!" Nero appeared quite as happy as I was at our reunion, and was more affectionate than ever.

I must now pass over many months in very few words, just stating to the reader what my position was at the end of three years, during which I was alone upon the island. I had now arrived at the age of near seventeen, and was tall and strong for my years. I had left off wearing my dress of the skins of birds, having substituted one of the seaman's shirts, which I had found in the chest. This, however, was the whole of my costume, and although, had it been longer it would have been more correct, still, as I had no other companion but Nero, it was not necessary to be so very particular, as if I had been in society. During these three years, I think I had read the Bible and Prayer-book, and my Natural History book, at least five or six times quite through, and possessing a retentive memory, could almost repeat them by heart; but still I read the Bible as a sealed book, for I did not understand it, having had no one to instruct me, nor any grace bestowed upon me. I read for amusement, and nothing more.

My garden was now in a most flourishing condition, the climbing plants had overrun the cabin, so as to completely cover the whole of the roof and every portion of it, and they hung in festoons on each


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