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- Journeys Through Bookland V3 - 30/69 -
cuckoo, who led us ever so far out of our course by cuckooing and making faces at us, and then hopping away. Franz declared it must be an enchanted princess, and so I thought I would rid it of its spell; but Fritz stopped me shooting it, and said it was a 'Honey Indicator,' and that it was leading us probably to a bees' byke, so we spared its life, and presently, sure enough, it stopped close by a bees' nest in a hollow tree. This was capital, we thought, and, as we were in a great hurry to taste the honey, I threw in a lot of lighted lucifer matches, but somehow it did not kill the bees at all, but only made them awfully angry, and they flew out in a body and stung me all over. I rushed to Storm and sprang on his back, but, though I galloped away for bare life, it was an age before I got rid of the little wretches, and now my face is in a perfect fever. I think I will get mother to bathe it for me;" and off rushed the noisy boy, leaving Fritz and me to see to the fawns and examine the rabbits. With these latter I determined to do as Fritz proposed, namely, to colonize Whale Island. I was all the more willing to do this because I had been considering the advisability of establishing on that island a fortress to which we might retreat in any extreme danger, and where we should be very thankful, in case of such a retreat, to possess means of obtaining a constant supply of animal food.
I ministered to the wants of the antelopes, and just then the mother summoned us to dinner.
The principal dish in this meal consisted of bears' paws--most savory smelling delicacies, so tempting that their close resemblance to human hands, and even the roguish "Fee-fo-fum" from Jack, did not prevent a single member of the family from enjoying them most heartily.
Supper over, we lit our watch fire, retired to our tent, and slept soundly.
We had been working very diligently; the bears' meat was smoked, the fat melted down and stored, and a large supply of bamboos collected. But I wished to make yet another excursion, and at early dawn I aroused the boys.
Fritz mounted the mule, I rode Lightfoot, Jack and Franz took their usual steeds, and, with the two dogs, we galloped off--first to visit the euphorbia to collect the gum, and then to discover whether an ostrich which we had found previously had deserted her eggs in the sand. Ernest watched us depart without the slightest look or sigh of regret, and returned to the tent to assist his mother and study his books.
Our steeds carried us down the Green Valley at a rapid rate, and we followed the direction we had pursued on our former expedition. We soon reached Turtle Marsh, and then filling our water flasks, we arrived at the rising ground.
As Jack and Franz wanted to gallop, I allowed them to press forward, while Fritz and I visited the euphorbia trees. A quantity of the red gum had exuded from the incisions I had made, and as this had coagulated in the sun, I rolled it into little balls and stored it in a bamboo jar I had brought with me for the purpose.
As we rode after the boys, who were some way ahead, Fritz remarked:
"Did you not tell me that the juice of that tree was poisonous, father; why have you collected such a quantity?"
"I did indeed say so," I replied; "it is a most deadly poison. The inhabitants of the Cape of Good Hope use it to poison the springs where wild animals assemble to quench their thirst; and they thus slaughter an immense number of the creatures for the sake of their hides. I intend, however, to use it to destroy the apes should they again commit depredations, and also in preparing the skins of animals to protect them from the attacks of insects."
The two boys were still at some distance from us, when suddenly four magnificent ostriches rose from the sand where they had been sitting.
Jack and Franz perceived them, and, with a great shout, drove them toward us. In front ran a splendid male bird, his feathers of shining black, and his great tail plume waving. Three females of an ashen gray color followed him. They approached us with incredible swiftness, and were within gunshot before they perceived us. Fritz had had the forethought to bind up the beak of his eagle so that, should he bring down an ostrich, he might be unable to injure it.
He now threw up the falcon, which, towering upward, swooped down upon the head of the foremost bird, and so confused and alarmed him, that he could not defend himself nor continue his flight. So greatly was his speed checked that Jack overtook him, and hurling his lasso, enfolded his wings and legs in its deadly coils and brought him to the ground. The other ostriches were almost out of sight, so leaving them to their own devices, we leaped from our steeds and attempted to approach the captured bird. He struggled fearfully, and kicked with such violence, right and left, that I almost despaired of getting him home alive.
It occurred to me, however, that if we could cover his eyes, his fury might be subdued. I instantly acted upon this idea, and flung over his head my coat and hunting bag, which effectually shut out the light.
No sooner had I done this than his struggles ceased, and we were able to approach. We first secured round his body a broad strip of sealskin, on each side of which I fastened a stout piece of cord, that I might be able to lead him easily. Then fastening another cord in a loop round his legs that he might he prevented from breaking into a gallop, we released him from the coils of the lasso.
"Do you know," said I to the boys, "how the natives of India secure a newly captured elephant?"
"Oh, yes!" said Fritz; "they fasten him between two tame elephants. We'll do that to this fine fellow, and tame him double quick."
"The only difficulty will be," remarked Jack, "that we have no tame ostriches. However, I daresay Storm and Grumble will have no objection to perform their part, and it will puzzle even this great monster to run away with them."
So we at once began operations. Storm and Grumble were led up on either side of the recumbent ostrich, and the cords secured to their girths. Jack and Franz, each armed with a stout whip, mounted their respective steeds, the wrappers were removed from the bird's eyes, and we stood by to watch what would next occur.
For some moments after the return of his sight he lay perfectly still, then he rose with a bound, and, not aware of the cords which hampered him, attempted to dash forward. The thongs were stout, and he was brought to his knees. A fruitless struggle ensued, and at length, seeming to accommodate himself to circumstances, he set off at a sharp trot, his guards making the air reecho with their merry shouts. These cries stimulated the ostrich to yet further exertions, but he was at length brought to a stand by the determined refusal of his four-footed companions to continue such a race across loose sand.
The boys having enjoyed the long run, I told them to walk with the prisoner slowly home, while Fritz and I returned to examine the ostrich's nest. The eggs were quite warm, and I was certain that the mother had quite recently left the nest; leaving about half, I packed the rest of the eggs in a large bag I had brought for the purpose, and slung it carefully on the saddle before me. We soon caught up our advance guard, and without other notable incident reached our tent.
Astonishment and dismay were depicted on the face of the mother as we approached.
"My dear husband," she exclaimed, "do you think our provisions so abundant that you must scour the deserts to find some great beast to assist us to devour them? You must discover an iron mine next, for iron is what ostriches chiefly live on, is it not? Oh! I do wish you would be content with the menagerie you have already collected, instead of bringing in a specimen of every beast you come across. And this is such a useless monster!"
"Useless! mother," exclaimed Jack; "you would not say so had you seen him run; why, he will be the fleetest courser in our stables. I am going to make a saddle and bridle for him, and in future he shall be my only steed. Then as for his appetite, father declares it is most delicate; he only wants a little fruit and grass, and a few stones and tenpenny nails to help his digestion."
The way in which Jack assumed the proprietorship of our new prize seemed to strike his brothers as rather cool, and there was instantly a cry raised on the subject.
"Very well," said Jack, "let us each take possession of the part of the ostrich we captured. Your bird, Fritz, seized the head, so you may keep that; father shall have the body, I'll have the legs, and Franz a couple of feathers from the tail."
"Come, come," said I, "I think that Jack has a very good right to the ostrich, seeing that he brought it to the ground; and if he succeeds in taming it and converting it into a saddle horse it shall be his. From this time, therefore, he is responsible for its training."
The day was now too far advanced to allow us to think of setting out for Rockburg, so we fastened up the ostrich between two trees, and devoted the remainder of the evening to making preparations for our departure.
At early dawn our picturesque caravan was moving homeward. The ostrich continued so refractory that we were obliged to make him again march between Storm and Grumble, and as these gallant steeds were thus employed, the cow was harnessed to the cart, laden with our treasures. Room was left in the cart for the mother, Jack and Franz mounted Storm and Grumble, I rode Lightfoot, and Fritz brought up the rear on Swift.
At the mouth of the Gap we called a halt, and replaced the cord the boys had strung with ostrich feathers by a stout palisade of bamboos. I also took the opportunity of collecting a store of pipe clay, as I intended during the winter months, which were close at hand, to try my hand at china making.
When we reached the sugar-cane grove, we again stopped to collect the peccary hams we had left to be smoked; and my wife begged me to gather some seeds of an aromatic plant which grew in the neighborhood, and which had the scent of vanilla. I obtained a good supply, and we moved forward toward Woodlands, where we intended to rest for the night, after our long and fatiguing march.
Our tent was pitched, and on our beds of cotton we slept soundly.
Next morning early we examined our farmyard, which appeared in a most prosperous and flourishing condition. The sight of all these domestic animals made us long even more than ever for our home at Rockburg, and
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