Crusoe Life in the Channel Isles
Illustrated by Drawings Prepared from Author's Own Sketches
E. R. SUFFLING
Author of "History and Legends of the Broad District," "How to Organize a Cruise on the Broads," "Afloat in a Gipsy Van," etc.
London Jarrold & Sons, 10 & 11, Warwick Lane, E.C. [All Rights Reserved] 1898
As the writer does not pretend to possess what is termed literary style, he would ask the indulgence of the reader in any little slip of the pen which may occur in these pages, as it is not every Crusoe who can command the facile quill, the pure style, or the lively imagination of a Daniel Defoe, to narrate his adventures.
It must be borne in mind that the island of Juan Fernandez possessed many natural features, and a far greater area than Jethou can boast of, and therefore more scope for the development of incidents and descriptive embellishment.
Doubtless many of the adventures here placed before the public will appear puny beside the exploits of the original Crusoe; but it must be taken into consideration that the author does not, like Defoe's hero, revel in the impossible. At the same time it may be noted that the adventures detailed are of a sufficiently exciting kind as to be above any suspicion of dulness.
Juan Fernandez lies about four hundred miles from the nearest land, and it is therefore very difficult to imagine from whence the savages came who were about to convert Friday into a fricassee. The Friday of our story, y'clept Monday, came to Jethou in a natural if in an exciting manner, and it will be found that everything else in the narrative, if not an exact account of what really did happen, is at least feasible. It is in fact a practicable narrative, served up in a plain, ungarnished form, except that to make it more palatable to the general reader a little love-story has been introduced towards the conclusion, which, it is hoped, sustains the interest right to the last, and makes the volume end as all good books should, by allowing the principal actors to "live happily ever after."
E. R. SUFFLING (HARRY NILFORD).
Blomfield Lodge, Portsdown Road, London, W.
CHAPTER I. PAGE
My birth and home—My pretty cousin—Accident to the "Kittywich"—Journey to Guernsey—Pleading to become a Crusoe—My wish granted—Outfit secured—Sail to Jethou 9
I take possession of the Island—Landing stores—A grand carousal—Farewell—Alone 24
First thoughts and impressions—A tour of the Island and description 32
Farming operations—I make a plough and a cart—A donkey hunt—Dumb helpers—My live stock 44
Canoeing—Fish of the place—The ormer and limpet—A curious fishing adventure—Queer captures from the sea—Rock fish—Construct a fish pond and water-mill 55
"Flapp," the gull—Surgical operation—The gull who refused to die—Taxidermy extraordinary—Feathered friends—Snakes 69
I build a curious "box-boat"—An unpleasant night at sea—My Sunday service—The poem, "Alexander Selkirk"—Its applicability to my lot 79
A trip to St. Sampson's harbour—A horrid porcine murder—A voyage round Sark—Nearly capsized—Trip round Guernsey—The pepper-box—Curiosity of tourists 93
Harvest operations—Explore La Creux Derrible, and nearly lose my life—Crusoe on crutches—An extraordinary discovery—Kill a grampus—Oil on troubled waters—Make an overflow pump 112
A storm and a wreck—The castaway—Dead—A night of horror—The boathouse destroyed—A burial at sea 126
Climate in Winter—Vision of my father—A warning voice—Supernatural manifestations—The falling rock—My life saved by my dog 139
A fairy pool—Wonders of the deep—Portrait of a poet—The cave of Fauconnaire—A letter from home and my answer to it 148
Another terrible storm—Loss of the "Yellow Boy"—A ketch wrecked—I rescue a man from the sea, badly injured—He recovers 159
Work and song—Sunday service—Build a larger boat, the "Anglo-Franc"—Collecting wreckage—Commence a jetty—Our cookery—Blasting operations—The opening banquet 172
Trawling for fish and dredging for curios—Some remarkable finds—A ghastly resurrection—The mysterious paper—The hieroglyphic—A dangerous fall—Hors de combat—Attempts to unravel the paper 181
Yarns: The cabbages which hung their heads—The raft of spruce—Voyage of the "Dewdrop"—A lucky family—A deep, deep draught—The maire's cat 193
The Will again—Searching for a clue to the paper—Barbe Rouge's Will—A probable clue—Hopes and doubts—Perplexed—A memorable trawl by moonlight—A real clue at last—The place of the skull found 207
Digging for the treasure—A noonday rest—The ghastly tenant of the treasure house—We find the treasure—An account of what we discovered 217
Preparing to leave—A letter home—We lengthen and enlarge the "Anglo-Franc"—Re-christen her "Happy Return"—Love at first sight—Victualling and stowing cargo—Pretty Jeannette—The long voyage—Incidents en route—Vegetarians, and their diet—Yarmouth reached—Fresh-water navigation—My native heath 231
I surprise the old folks at home—All well—Is Priscilla false—We meet—The missing letters—A snake in the grass—Dreams of vengeance 250
The "Happy Return" inspected—More of my father's ghost—Unpacking the treasure—Seek an interview with Walter Johnson—Two letters 257
M. Oudin arrives—The Wedding Day—Division of the spoil—Alec returns to Jethou—Wedding gifts—The end 265
A few words about the Channel Isles 271
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
THE ISLAND OF JETHOU Frontispiece 1
THE OLD HOME AT BARTON 10
MAP OF THE ISLAND OF JETHOU 35
PLAN OF HOMESTEAD 43
MY PLOUGH 47
AN ANTEDILUVIAN CHARIOT 48
"I WAS SWAMPED IN A MOMENT" 61
THE "YELLOW BOY," PLANS, ETC. 81
A PORCINE MURDER 99
ROCKS AT SOUTH END OF SARK 101
THE MAIN PATH OF THE ISLAND 113
LA CREUX DERRIBLE 119
TOO LATE! 131
A GHOSTLY VISITANT 141
"ALONG THE RUGGED CLIFF PATH" 161
RESCUE OF ALEC DUCAS 167
THE PUZZLING DOCUMENT 186, 209
A TERRIBLE FALL 187
THE TENANT OF THE TREASURE HOUSE 223
LENGTHENING THE "ANGLO-FRANC" 235
Crusoe Life in the Channel Isles.
MY BIRTH AND HOME—MY PRETTY COUSIN—ACCIDENT TO THE "KITTYWICH"—JOURNEY TO GUERNSEY—PLEADING TO BECOME A CRUSOE—MY WISH GRANTED—OUTFIT SECURED—SAIL TO JETHOU.
That Crusoe of Crusoes, Alexander Selkirk, as I am aware, commences his entertaining history with his birth and parentage, and as I am also a Crusoe, although a very minor adventurer, I may as well follow the precedent and declare my nativity.
I was born at the little village of Barton in Norfolk, at the time the guns at Balaclava were mowing down our red coats and tars, where my father had a small house facing the Broad. It was a comfortable old two-storied building, with a thatched roof, through which a couple of dormer windows peered out, like two eyes, over the beautiful green lawn which sloped to the reed-fringed water. My father was in very comfortable circumstances, as he was owner of six large fishing vessels hailing from the port of Great Yarmouth, some ten or twelve miles distant as the crow flies.
Being born, as it were, on the water (for a distance of a hundred yards matters but little), I was naturally from my birth a young water dog, although they tell me that for some months after I made my bow to the world, milk also played a prominent part in my career.
As I grew into boyhood, of course I had my rowing punt and my rod, and thus gained my first taste for a solitary life, as it frequently happened that I would be away from sunrise to sunset on some little expedition to one or other of the neighbouring Broads. By and bye came the time when I arrived at that rare age for enjoyment, fourteen years. This birthday, the fourteenth, was a red-letter day in my life, as I received two presents, which were in my eyes very valuable ones; my uncle presented me with a beautiful little light gun, and my father handed me over his small sailing boat. Now I was a man! I felt it, and I knew it, and so did my schoolmates, for there was not one of them, who at some time or other, had not felt the effects of my prowess in a striking manner. Still, the drubbings I gave were not always to my credit, for I was a very big and strong lad for my age, and my self-imposed tasks of long rowing trips and other athletic exercises, naturally made me powerful in the arms and chest. Of my brain power I shall say little, as my mind was ever bent on sporting topics when it should have been diving into English history or vulgar fractions. Some new device in fishing gear was always of more consequence to me than any inquiry as to the name of the executioner who gave Charles the I. "chops for breakfast," as we youngsters used to say, when we irreverently spoke of the decollation of his Majesty.
Still, somehow I stumbled through my schooling till I was sixteen, when I was sent off to my father's office on the Quay at Yarmouth to take charge of the books, which were an everlasting humdrum record of herrings and the various trawl fish which came in so frequently in our vessels.
Between whiles I had plenty of spare time, and whenever a few hours were allowed me, I could not keep out of my boat, so that if the sea happened to be fairly calm, I was sure to be found bobbing about on it, and was as well known by the fishermen along the coast ten miles north and south of Yarmouth, as I was by the folks in my own village. When the sea was rough I turned my attention to Breydon Water, or the Bure, or other of the rivers flowing into it, so that at an early age I could command my little boat as easily as one manages a horse in driving. On Saturdays, when the wind and weather were at all favourable, I used frequently to hurry away from business as early as possible, and sail home along the Bure and Ant, a distance of about twenty miles, rather more than less, and became so accustomed to the route that I knew every tree and post, aye, and almost every reed and bulrush on the river's bank on my homeward way.
Sometimes night would close in rather quickly upon me, but as I only had two turnings to look out for, Thurne Mouth and Ant Mouth, I seldom made a mistake, however dark it might be, especially when the venerable old ruined gateway of St. Benet's Abbey was once passed.
Almost always these trips were solitary ones, if I except the companionship of my retriever "Begum," who was a present from my cousin on his return from India. Begum, he informed me, was a ruler in India, but whether male or female I never discovered.
My dog was a gentleman, but to this day it has remained a matter of conjecture with me, as to whether we inadvertantly gave him a lady's name, or no. Anyway, "Begum" sounded well; he was a ruler, and being black coincided with our school rulers, which were always black with ink. Unfortunately, everyone persisted (possibly to annoy me if they could), in calling him By Gum! strongly accentuating the second word, and till the poor old dog died, the name stuck to him like a postage stamp to a letter.
In my holiday trips I had a companion, my cousin Priscilla, who was, if the term be permissible; as great a water dog as myself. I am not going to attempt a description of her, but I must let the reader know that she was bigger, stronger, and a vast deal prettier than any girl within a radius of many miles of our village; not that I wish to disparage the looks or figures of our Norfolk girls, for they can hold their own with the rest of England, as Bad King Harry knew when he wooed and won Norfolk's Queen, Mistress Anne Boleyn of Blickling.
'Cilla, as I called my cousin for brevity, could row, sail a boat, skate, and shoot; yes, she was a very fair shot, and never a winter passed but she gave a good account of duck, teal, mallard, pewit, and geese, as the result of her prowess.
But I will say no more of pretty cousin 'Cilla at present, as this narrative is to be a record of what more nearly concerns myself, so I must not "mardle," as we say in Norfolk, but proceed with my story.
I was twenty-one and some months more, for the rejoicings consequent upon the event had become matter of past history, when my father one day received intelligence of one of his fishing vessels having been towed in a disabled state into the harbour of St. Peter Port, Guernsey. She was so badly damaged that his presence was imperative, to decide as to her ultimate fate.
She had been to a Spanish port for cork and hemp, as the fishing season was not a very good one, and on her return voyage had run upon an island called Jethou, during a dense fog, luckily in a calm sea, or she would never have come off whole again. Nothing ever does when it once plays at ramming these granite islands. Like the Syrens, who lured or tried to lure Ulysses, these islands are very fair to behold; but woe to the ship that comes into contact with them, for they rarely escape from their deadly embrace.
The very next day (my father having allowed me to accompany him) we started for Plymouth, a long journey, via London, at which city, being my first visit to the metropolis, I could fain have broken our journey, but our business being urgent we steamed away to Plymouth by the night train. After a substantial meal next morning we sallied out to find the first vessel sailing to Guernsey, and were lucky in discovering one called the "Fawn," which was preparing to sail the same day. Although only a cargo ketch the skipper bargained to take us, and about two p.m. we unmoored and were soon off. Our passage was a quick one, a strong N.W. wind bowling us over to St. Peter Port in time for early breakfast next morning.
It is needless for me to go through the whole story of the running ashore of our smack, as beyond the important fact that it was her mishap which caused me ever to visit the Channel Islands, she has little else to do with my narrative.
She was damaged very seriously amidships, but my father, who had a happy knack of turning almost everything to a good account, unless irredeemably hopeless, was struck with a capital idea in this instance. Instead of selling her as a worthless hulk, he had her cut in two, the damaged timbers removed, a new length of keel laid down, and had her lengthened about ten feet; after which operation she was as sound as ever, and as my father had prophesied, no one recognized her again for the same vessel.
While we were waiting for the "Kittywitch" (for that was her name) to be run off the slips, we had plenty of time to look about us; in fact, we spent nearly seven weeks among these lovely islands.
We explored Guernsey and Sark thoroughly, also Herm as far as we were allowed, that island being more of a proprietary place than the others. We also spent about ten days in Jersey, which is quite a large place in comparison with the other islands. But of all the islands, I think Sark carries off the palm, not that it has beauties of its own, or is grander or more prolific, but it is an epitome of all the other islands; in fact it contains in a small space every salient feature of the Channel Isles; the people, the granite cliffs, the bays, the caves, the hills, the woods, the shady lanes, the sandy beaches, are all there, and the surrounding sea is not a tone the less blue in its intensity, nor the air a whit less balmy than that with which the other islands are favoured.
Now it happened, while we were staying at St. Peter Port, awaiting the re-launching of our vessel, that we made friends with the proprietor of the island of Jethou, upon which the "Kittywich" struck, and although it was a good three miles from St. Peter's harbour, yet we made occasional trips to the islet when the wind was fair and the sea smooth. With this little island of Jethou I was charmed, and fancied I could make it my Paradise, if only I could be allowed to live there for a twelvemonth, a la Robinson Crusoe.
At this idea my father, who was a thoroughly business-like, matter-of-fact man, set up his eyes and called me a name not at all polite; but as he was my parent, and viewed life through older optics than mine, I daresay he was right in the main, when he called me, to put it mildly, a "stupid fool." But although he pooh-poohed the idea, and bade me dismiss it from my mind, I could not help the thought entering my brain, and I wished something might possibly happen by which I might be left alone on the island, to try, at all events, what Crusoe life was really like.
Sure enough something did happen which ultimately gave me the opportunity of carrying out my idea in its entirety. M. Oudin, the proprietor of the island, had two events to chronicle in one day, events which quite altered his after life, and took him at an hour's notice from his Jethou home to Gardner's Hotel, Guernsey.
A letter arrived at St. Peter Port for him, from Paris, which, according to custom, was placed in the guernsey breast of a fisherman, who sailed with it straightway to M. Oudin. The latter gentleman having adjusted his glasses, after instructing his man to give the messenger spirituous refreshment (which is so very cheap in these islands), proceeded to scan the contents of the letter. It was from a lawyer in Paris, informing him of the decease of his brother, a leather merchant, who, dying wifeless and childless, had bequeathed him both his business and fortune. This intelligence of both joy and sorrow so bewildered and unstrung the nerves of M. Oudin that, in accordance with his custom, he took a dram—in fact the circumstances were so very warrantable that he took two—and probably even more; or else they were like Mynheer Van Dunk's, "deep, deep draughts." Anyway, upon giving the fisherman orders to sail him back to Guernsey, and attempting to follow him with his serving man, they somehow found themselves at the bottom of the gulch which led down to the shore (upon which the boat was careened), so much mixed as to arms and legs, that an observer would have wondered what curious animal he was gazing upon. Two of them scrambled to their feet, and as well as they could, shook themselves together; but the third, M. Oudin, had unfortunately broken his right thigh-bone completely in two. Then the maudlin men, despite his groans, placed him awkwardly in the boat, and hoisted sail for Guernsey.
As luck would have it, my father and I were standing upon the deck of the now nearly finished "Kittywich," when the boat came in, and M. Oudin having communicated to my father the nature of his hurt, my dad immediately gave orders for him to be taken to Gardner's Hotel, where we were staying, and hurrying for a doctor soon joined him there. The leg was set, and I spent the greater part of each day by the side of M. Oudin's bed, chatting and reading to him, and attending to his wants. During our conversation I happened to mention what a great treat I should consider it to be allowed to live on his island for a few months. Presently we went more fully into the "whys and wherefores" of the case, so that I quite began to imagine it might all come to pass as I wished, but the arrival of my father in the midst of our very pleasant conversation quite put a damper on the scheme.
"Bah! he would hear nothing of it; it was a mad fool's idea. No, no, think no more of such rubbish, my boy. Crusoe is all very well to read, but it's a poor look out to have to live Crusoe."
M. Oudin, seeing how my mind was bent upon the scheme, gave my father a day or two to simmer down, and then took him in hand quietly and practically.
"Now look here, Nilford," said M. Oudin, motioning my respected father to draw his chair nearer to the bed-side, "as you know, I must for the present, at all events, leave Jethou, for by my brother's death my presence is necessary in Paris. By his decease I become possessed of a fortune of upwards of 700,000 francs and a large business to boot. Now a business employing upwards of forty men will require my constant supervision, and it is therefore very unlikely that I shall ever return to Jethou, except perhaps for a very brief holiday.
"Now, during my enforced sojourn in this town, your son has shewn me every attention and kindness, and with your permission I will give him the whole of my interest in Jethou as a reward for his attention to me during my recovery. The island is Crown property, which I rent for a nominal sum, and as to the furniture, fixtures, and live stock they shall be his (by your permission) to do as he likes with."
My father made a wry face at this, while I, who sat speechless, could feel my heart bounding against my ribs for very joy. Alas! my father negatived the whole thing. "It was not to be thought of; it could not be carried out by a youngster like me; I should perhaps die without assistance reaching me; I might starve," and a score more obstacles were mentioned. By and bye, however, with my earnest persuasion, backed up by M. Oudin's quiet but forcible manner, my dad melted so far as to ask for a couple of days for consideration.
Oh! those two days, would they never pass? Yes, they rolled by at last, and once more we were seated in M. Oudin's room.
"Well, Nilford, what is your decision? I trust it is a favourable one for the lad, for I am sure he would thoroughly enjoy the life; but if not, why in case he grew 'mammy sick,' he could return home. But the lad is of the right metal, and I'll warrant would see twelve months out without getting weary of the life. Come now, Nilford, give me your hand, and boy let go."
By the way, my name is Harry Nilford, which I do not think I have mentioned before.
Then came a long verbal tug of war between these two good men, in which I could discern that my father's refusal was solely based upon his love for me and his apprehension for my safety. The tug of words, like a tug of war at an athletic meeting, was a long one, first one gained an advantage only to lose it to his opponent directly after; then the opponent would get in a strong verbal tug, and nearly draw his man over the line; but at length my father, with great reluctance, conceded a point, a great point in fact, one which virtually settled the contest.
"M. Oudin," said my parent, "I'll consent on one condition, which is, that I may be allowed to draw up an agreement as to the boy's tenancy of the island, and if Harry agrees to abide by it, well and good."
"Very well, father," I quickly put in, "here are writing implements; draw up your Code and I will soon tell you my decision."
This was said with great emphasis on the "my," and delivered with an air of—"see what a decided person I am."
In an hour my father had drawn up the following document:—
TERMS OF AGREEMENT FOR MY SON'S RESIDENCE UPON JETHOU FOR 12 MONTHS.
My son Harry wishes to live the life of a Crusoe or Hermit, on the Island of Jethou for twelve months, and to this I agree only on his signifying his willingness to abide by the terms stated in this agreement.
1. He shall allow no one to land on the island.
2. Shall not himself land upon any of the surrounding islands (rocks which are uninhabited excepted).
3. Shall not speak to a living soul during the course of his self-exilement.
4. Shall obtain no stores nor goods of any kind from any other island, nor from any passing vessel.
5. Shall hold no communication with anyone, in any way:—
(a) Either ashore or afloat.
(b) Except in case of sickness, accident, detrimental to limb or life, or
(c) In other case of dire necessity.
Should my son choose to abide by the above regulations, I will agree to his holding the island for a period of one year.
Signed, THOMAS J. NILFORD.
"There!" said my father, laying down his pen, "that is my ultimatum, my son; and mark me, I will agree to nothing else."
This was said in a manner which shewed plainly that he considered he had drawn up a code so stringent that he did not deem it at all likely I should accept his plan; but to his great chagrin, and I may almost say his consternation, I reached out my hand, after reading the document, and taking the goose quill, wrote under the last clause,
That being done, my father could not go back upon his word, and accordingly the whole thing was settled.
M. Oudin was pleased, and I was supremely delighted, but my good old father was quite dejected, and frankly avowed that it was like sentencing me to twelve months' imprisonment. So it was, but what a delightful imprisonment I anticipated it would be!
However, in a day or two he came round, and as he could not well alter the turn circumstances had taken, he endeavoured to ameliorate them. He made me write down a list of what I thought I should require, and to this list he added a long supplement; and after mature consultation with M. Oudin, another list was added as addendum; in fact, the articles were so numerous that they filled four huge packing cases.
These cases were zinc-lined to keep the goods dry, as some of them were perishable, and no one can tell with what pride I gazed at these boxes, and thought of the glorious life I was about to lead. No thought of any accident, or other drawback, even entered my head; in fact, as I sat on the top of a case, swinging my legs and counting the hours which had to pass before the day arrived when I was to take possession of my island home, I was most consummately happy, being naturally ignorant of what was to befall me.
At length came the day for launching the "Kittywich," at which I assisted to my utmost; for I knew that any hitch with her meant further detention in Guernsey for me. All went well, and as she slid off the stocks (like a duck entering the water) without a splash or jar of any kind, a ringing cheer went up, and then I knew that I should soon bid farewell to picturesque St. Peter Port, one of the finest harbour towns of Great Britain.
A few more days and the "Kittywich" had received her cargo for home, and with it a new name, for in consideration of her additional carrying capacity, we rechristened her the "Cormorant." Then came the day on which the Blue Peter was seen at her masthead, but what was even better in my eyes, was my own outfit packed in the four huge cases which stood so prominently on her hatchway amidships.
M. Oudin hobbled down to the harbour to see us off, and in doing so handed me a long heavy case as a parting gift, with instructions not to open it for a week, by which time he hoped to be far away in Paris.
We unmoored, left the harbour, and in an hour were laying at anchor off the north end of Jethou.
I TAKE POSSESSION OF THE ISLAND—LANDING STORES—A GRAND CAROUSAL—FAREWELL—ALONE.
The 2nd March, 187—, was a bright mild day, with but little wind and a quiet sea: just the day for landing my stores. The goods I had selected, and those added by my father and M. Oudin, were of a very miscellaneous kind, and included provisions, farm and garden seeds (and a few implements), a canoe, a gun, clothing, fishing gear, oil and coal, cooking apparatus, and a score other things. As I knew the island was devoid of animals except rabbits, I asked for, and obtained some live stock—in fact, quite a farmyard. There were a goat, a dog, a cat, six pigeons, two pigs, six fowls, and last, though by no means least, a young donkey.
The large cases of goods were landed in a boat, not without a slight mishap, however, as one of them, in being lowered over the bulwarks, was carelessly unhitched by the men in the boat and tumbled overboard; it fell in three fathoms of water, but the water was so translucent that it was clearly discernible on the bottom.
This took quite an hour to get up, as it was an awkward thing to grapple, but there were plenty of hands willing to help in landing the goods, as several of the Guernsey men had come over to have a parting spree.
The pigs and donkey were pushed overboard and quickly reached the shore; the former, in spite of popular belief, proving themselves excellent swimmers when once they struck out shorewards, especially as the distance was short. On landing they went up over the island, and for the time disappeared among the rocks and wild bushes.
By dusk the cry was, "All ashore," as everything had been landed, and the "Cormorant" brought to a safe mooring under the lee of the rocky island of Crevicon.
Altogether there were nearly twenty of us, that is, my father and self, the skipper and crew of the "Kitty," and several of the workmen who had been employed in altering and repairing the vessel; also the master shipwright, in whose charge the vessel had been.
First came a grand spread in the principal room of the house, the provisions for which had been brought over from St. Peter Port. It was a great success, and after the improvised table had been cleared away (boxes, surmounted by planks covered with a sail, formed the table) the fun commenced. Joke followed joke, and song followed song. Then came toasts and sentiments, which were of quite an international character, as songs and sentiments in English, French, and Spanish were continuously fired off, most of them being of a seafaring character.
The skipper of the "Cormorant" led off with a regular old North Sea song, called, "The Dark-eyed Sailor." It is probably known by nearly every seaman in the North Sea Fishery, and is a great favourite at all carousals. It commences:
"It's of a comely young maiden fair, Who walked on the quay to take the air, She met a young sailor on the way, So I paid attention, so I paid attention to what they did say."
This song, sung by a Norfolk man, always seems to me a great curiosity, as the last line is lengthened out and twisted about in a most grotesque manner, apparently to suit the whim or fancy of the singer, for no two of them seem to conjure vocally with it in the same way. Everyone present is supposed to join in the last line as a kind of chorus, and not only join in, but "give it lungs," as they say. Some of them pay such attention to these points, that they appear in danger of lockjaw, or the starting of a blood-vessel, so heartily do they sing.
Then came a French song, with a chorus something about "Houp, houp, houp a tra-la-la-la!" the singer standing on the top of an empty barrel to warble, and as he set the fashion, so every succeeding singer followed suit, and mounted the "pulpit," as they dubbed the cask.
Old Roscoe, our wooden-legged mate (the right leg of flesh having been lost in my father's service), gave a funny jaw-breaking Scotch song, with a chorus which no one could repeat, so when the chorus came he sang it alone, while we contented ourselves with howling "Rule Britannia"—at least all those who knew it, while the others who did not, laughed and smoked.
Then a Spaniard (who was a shipwright) sang one of his national songs to an accompaniment of thumb-snapping (to imitate castanets), at which he was very expert. He had a fine baritone voice, and his song was full of fire, being a famous bull-fighting ditty, in which El Toro came in for a dashing chorus.
By and bye the fun became still faster and more furious, till old Ross, of the timber-toe, took exception and would insist on order being kept. Ross always constituted himself Master of the Ceremonies when anything festive was on foot, and our men, as a matter of course, left everything in his hands; but the men of St. Peter Port knew him not, and would have no authority from him, and as a kind of good-natured revenge for his interference, some of them played a practical joke upon him; but they did not know their man, for no sooner had the joke been carried into effect (gunpowder in his pipe) than Ross seized his stick and knocked two of his tormentors down, the rest quickly fleeing out of doors. His wooden leg greatly handicapped him, but he at length got one of the men in a corner, who, on finding there was no means of escape, struck out right and left at Ross's somewhat prominent nose, causing the claret to flow like the cataract of Lodore. Now his Scotch blood was up, and he certainly would have done his assailant an injury, as he was a very powerful man, had not some of his comrades rescued him. But this did not appease his fury, for he went at them all with a glass bottle in one hand and a heavy stick in the other; but luckily his career was cut short by a man who ran behind him, and with a well-directed blow with an iron rod broke his leg clean in two just below the knee—the wooden one, of course. Down came the hero, who in his rage tore up the earth around him to fling at the circle of grinning faces. By this time my father and the skipper came upon the scene, and after a time cooled down the gallant Scot, and persuaded him to "gang awa" to bed, which he did, going in state, borne at the four corners by four of his shipmates.
This incident put a stop to the singing, but commenced fun in another way. Some of the fellows cut up the remains of Ross's leg and stick and set them on fire, the barrel which had done duty for a rostrum being also broken up and added; other wooden articles were quickly flung on, till at length quite a large bonfire was formed, round which these excited men danced hand-in-hand like children round a Maypole. Their manners, however, were hardly childlike, for they jumped, and yelled, and sang with the ruddy firelight glowing on their countenances, till they looked like a lot of demons performing some diabolical incantation. All around was the dark night, and rocks, and trees, which gave a most weird aspect to the scene when viewed from a short distance.
And thus they were enjoying their pandemonium when my father, the skipper, and I left them in the "wee sma' hours" and retired to rest.
How long they kept it up I know not, but when I awoke and dressed at daylight all was quiet. At six all hands were called, and a sorry sight they presented. Ross had mounted a jury-leg, while among the other men no less than three black eyes appeared, beside bruised cheeks, and red swollen noses. However, all were friendly again, and agreed that they had hardly ever before spent such a jolly night. Such was a sailor's idea of a jolly time or "high old spree!"
Breakfast over, my goods were hauled from the beach and placed in the different rooms and sheds according to their kind, while by noon the "Cormorant," with her Blue Peter flying, was ready for a start northward to dear old England. The Guernseaise had departed amid give and take cheering directly after breakfast, so that only the crew of the vessel remained. My father bade me an affectionate farewell on the deck of the vessel, but at the last embrace I felt too full of emotion to speak, for a lump was in my throat, and a tear started from my father's eye and rolled down his bronzed cheek, so that I knew that he, too, was greatly moved at losing me for such a long period. A firm grip of the hand told without words how we, father and son, loved each other, and to hide my emotion I tumbled over the bulwarks into the dingy, and was pulled ashore by a couple of hands, amid the hearty cheers of the men who stood on deck. They gave me a salute of twelve guns (fired from two revolvers).
I stood on the rocky shore and waved a tablecloth tied to a boat-hook till the vessel was hull down on the horizon, and then turned my face to my island home, not feeling nearly so happy as I had anticipated a month before. Alone! I felt as if the whole world had departed from me, and that I was the sole survivor of the human race.
FIRST THOUGHTS AND IMPRESSIONS—A TOUR OF THE ISLAND AND DESCRIPTION.
As I walked up the rocky path leading to the house, I must confess I felt anything but sprightly. I felt that Crusoe life, after all, was not all caviare. I was very depressed, and must admit a few tears, as the whole force of what I had undertaken presented itself vividly to my mind. What if I met with an accident? What if I were taken ill? Suppose someone put in at night and cut my throat for the sake of plunder? Who would help me? Who would know of my position? Might I not die any one of a hundred deaths without the fact being known for weeks, perhaps months? What did this idiotic idea of mine amount to after all? Where was the pleasure? Would it not be better to be home in dear old Barton with my skiff and pretty Priscilla?
Such were some of my thoughts, but my depression I cannot so readily sprinkle on paper, and will not try to describe it. Let it suffice that I was depressed, and deeply too.
I felt thirsty, so wandered to the house and sat down and poured myself out a bottle of Bass, and as I drank it, became aware of the presence of my dog, who placed his muzzle in my hand and looked into my face with positively tears in his dear old eyes. Why, after all, I was not alone. No, here was a friend indeed (teste Byron), who would be ever by my side in weal and woe. "Poor dog, are you hungry then?" Yes he was, and by the bye, why should I not try something? We ate; and in half an hour—such is the changeableness of the human mind—I was as happy as a sand-boy (whatever that may be), as I wandered by the sunny shore.
I would make a tour of inspection of my estate; and, reader, if you will kindly accompany me, I will show you the different sights of my little island.
Jethou, I must premise, is about half a mile long by a quarter wide. It rises steeply from the sea all round, except at the North end, where the slope is somewhat gentle. It is a dome-shaped mass, rising at the summit to a height of nearly three hundred feet. It may serve to give a good idea of its form if I liken it to a huge dish cover (a Britannia metal one, if you will, for it is crown property), as it is very symmetrical when viewed from a distance. It is, in fact, a huge bosom-like hill, around which three paths are cut; the first varying from fifty to a hundred feet above the sea, the second averages one hundred and fifty feet above high water, and another runs round perhaps fifty feet higher still. These paths at certain points are connected by other paths, so that one may readily get from one elevation to another, except where the island is unusually steep, when zig-zag paths have to be negotiated. In one part seven or eight zig-zags have to be walked to rise to an elevation of about sixty or seventy feet, so steep is the south end of the island. At the north-west rises a curious pyramidal mass of granite, about one hundred and twenty feet above high water, called Crevicon, which may be reached on foot at low tide or even quarter flood; but after the tide once gets above the boulders it comes in like a mill race, rising at times during certain winds as much as seven feet within the hour; so that one may be cut off from the main island in a very few minutes, as it would be madness to try and cross during a heavy sea, whatever excellent swimming powers one might possess, as the rush of the tide would sweep one away like a straw.
Strange to say, there is another of these vast piles of granite, but of greater altitude and bulk, at the south end of the island, with just such a race of water running between it and the mainland after the tide turns. It is called La Fauconnaire, or the Falconry, and approaches two hundred feet in height, and very difficult of ascent. Each of these rock-islands is surmounted by a stone beacon in form of a miniature lighthouse tower (without the lantern story), about fifteen feet high. These beacons serve seamen as landmarks, from which to take bearings, and to warn them of the danger of a too near approach to this dreadful coast—or rather coasts—for all these islands are terrible places in rough weather.
Now I will ask the reader to accompany me on a brief tour round the island. Starting from the house, past the pigeon-tower, we pass under some large walnut trees so thickly planted as to make the part very shady, even on a bright day, and on dull days quite gloomy. We take the middle path, which is about four feet wide, and flanked on each side by braken and boulders. Indeed, nearly half the island consists of brakes and granite blocks. I will mention the various items of interest as we pass along, if the reader will supply his own imaginings of whirling seagulls, frisking rabbits, sea breezes, bellowing surge as it bumps and breaks against the granite sides of the island, flowers and bloom, singing birds and sweet-smelling shrubs, etc. These things a mere pen, however facile and graceful, cannot adequately describe without the help of the reader's brain; so I will ask him to imagine the above for himself, but I must warn him not to take cold with his lively imagination, as occasionally the March winds are very keen here, and in the present age of hypnotism, and thought-reading, and like gymnastics of the brain, it is very easy to make the imagination play pranks of an undesirable nature.
Now to resume our walk. Taking the middle path we quickly ascend to a height of nearly two hundred feet above the boiling surge dashing against the impregnable rocks below, and get a splendid view of Guernsey, a good three miles distant, stretching far away to the north, where it lies so low that it seems to melt gradually away into the sea. Presently we come to some huge rocks which lie so much in our path that the footway has to wind round them. They are huge masses of granite so poised that apparently a good push would send them rolling into the sea below, but their very size makes them secure, as some of the larger ones must certainly weigh forty or fifty tons, and the wind would have to blow a hurricane indeed which would dislodge them.
Here is one weighing perhaps three or four hundredweight which I will try and push over. I tug, and push, and presently it nods, and nods, and rolls over and over, till gathering impetus down the steep side of the island, it crashes with irresistible force through the furze, and heather, and shrubs, clearing a path as it goes till it reaches the granite rocks, upon which it crashes and bounds, breaking off great splinters, till finally with a boom it buries itself in the foam, never more to be seen by mortal eyes.
Following the path we come to some curious terraces, one above the other, which form a hanging garden facing due south. Now covered with turf, it was many years ago a famous potato garden. This spot is known as the Cotils.
Almost opposite this end of the island and at a short distance, rises the huge pyramidal mass of granite called La Fauconnaire (The Falconry). It is nearly two hundred feet high, and surmounted, as already mentioned, by a white stone beacon, which from Jethou looks the shape and size of a loaf of white sugar; but a scramble to the top of the rocks for those who have nerve to climb the steep sides of La Fauconnaire, will show that the sugar loaf is fifteen feet high. La Fauconnaire is, I believe, unclimbable except at one place, at least for those who are not experienced cragsmen or Alpine experts. At low water a causeway of rocks joins it to the mainland, but at half-tide even it is impassable, except in a boat on a calm day. On a windy day such a strong tide rushes through the strait that a boat would be swept away in the attempt to cross, although the distance is only four or five hundred feet. The narrowness of the channel makes the rush greater.
Still keeping the middle path we come to an awful yawning chasm in the earth, called La Creux Terrible. Its sides are so sheer that one shudders to approach its crumbling brink for fear a slip should mean a step into eternity. No man could fall here and live to tell the sensation. Standing near the brink one can just discern the bottom, and hear the sea surging and rolling along the floor as the tide gradually rises. The chasm is funnel-shaped, and about two hundred feet deep by about one hundred feet across. The bottom is connected with the beach by a cavern, which may be entered at low tide, and the view taken from below upward; but woe to the individual caught in this cave, for he would have but a poor chance for his life if the tide once hemmed him in.
Leaving this dreadful place, which I never approached but twice in the dark, we shortly come to a very noticeable rock rising from the sea; it is called Le Rocher Rouge, but as the apex takes the form of a gigantic arm-chair, I have taken the liberty (as I have done with many other places and things) of rechristening it Trone de Neptune (Neptune's Throne), and it has so fixed itself in my mind, that I have often during a stormy night wondered if he might not be sitting there ruling the elements, but never had the temerity to go and see. I may here tell the reader that although not naturally superstitious, I have a way of peopling my island with beings during the solitary walks I take in the day, that at night I almost fancy these spirit-forms hover round me—perhaps watching me. It may be that I have mistaken the flight of a sea-gull or night-bird for something superhuman, but on several occasions I have been warned of approaching danger by something outside myself; not tangible to the touch, nor definable to the eye, but still noticeable to the ear and to the mind. Put it down a bird, as your opinion, reader, and enjoy that opinion, and let me enjoy my warning watchers, whether fowl or spirit. Perhaps during my narrative I may have more to say of my "hovering ones."
From the island, at the point opposite Neptune's Throne, a good view of Sark is obtained; on one day it will be seen standing clearly above the sea, with Brechou or Merchant's Island clearly discernible, and La Coupee (the isthmus which holds the two parts of the island together) plainly in view in the sunlight; while on another day but a misty view of it may be obtained; on yet another day it will be quite invisible, although the distance is only about six miles.
Resuming our path, Herm is close on our right, the swift channel, La Percee, running between us and it, and as it lies in the sun looks a very beautiful picture, especially as the prettiest end, the south, is presented to our view. A little further we turn up the hill and come to a grove of rather stunted trees, standing like a double row of soldiers up to their knees in braken. It is a lovely spot, as the pretty fern-like brakes grow in great luxuriance beneath the spreading arms of the walnut and other trees. These brakes grow so tall and thick that it is quite difficult to force a passage through them, except where I have cut a narrow path leading to a clearing, across which, on hot days, I frequently swing my hammock, so as to obtain the full benefit of the cool sea breeze as I sway beneath the welcome shadow of the biggest walnut.
Beyond the grove, at the summit of the island, is my arable land, my farm, lying in a fence of wire-netting, without which I should not be able to preserve a blade of anything eatable from the hordes of rabbits which make the island a perfect warren.
We descend again to the pathway with care, as the island's side is so steep here that a trip over a stone or root might result in fatal consequences.
As we approach the north-east corner of the island we find the pathway gradually descending, till we are not more than twenty or thirty feet above sea level, and notice that a spur of land hooks out into the sea, forming quite a little bay, very rugged, and very rocky, but still very convenient as a haven in light weather. Here I keep my crab and lobster pots, as it is easily accessible from the house. I call it Baie de Homard (Lobster Bay).
Keeping along the shore, to the north end of the island, we arrive at a two-storied stone building which stands on the beach. This is my store-house (for fishing gear, etc.) and workshop, and is situated only a short distance from the house—perhaps three hundred yards. In the days of the old privateers this house played an important part, for it was fitted as a blacksmith's and carpenter's shop, and was probably a very handy place for slight repairs to be carried out at very short notice.
Leaving the Store, a beautiful velvety path, broad enough for a cart road, leads up a slight ascent skirting the beach to the house and cottage, which I naturally call by a word very dear to me in my solitude—home.
I will ask the reader to glance at the accompanying plan to aid him in getting a clearer idea of this homestead than my pen, unaided by pictorial effort, would convey.
A, then, is a comfortable and picturesque four-roomed cottage. B is the stable for my noble steed, Edward. C is the store-house, with loft over for straw, etc., for said noble quadruped. In the store I keep my utensils and implements for farm work, potatoes, flour, coals, and other heavy goods. D, sheltered garden for winter crops; F, the vegetable and fruit garden, in the midst of which stands an immense and very prolific mulberry tree; it spreads its branches fifty-four feet from north to south, and fifty-one feet from east to west. The garden contains fruit trees of all kinds. E, the Seignieurie or Government House—my palace—or, in plain words, a solid stone-built four-roomed house that might stand a siege. The front windows look out over the lawn, G, to the sea beyond, and those at the back command the well-walled-in fruit garden, F. H is devoted to shrubs and medicinal herbs. J is the flower-garden with a summer-house in the corner. K, the well of excellent water. L, flight of stone steps to the lower path leading round the island. M, pigeon-tower and fowl-house amidst walnut trees. N, Plantation and forest trees. O, watch house, once used as a strong room or prison. P, an old iron gun (mounted on a stone platform, which would probably fall to pieces at the first discharge) for summoning aid in case of sickness or distress. Q, road to fishing-store and boathouse. R, path up the hill to the piggery.
I think the reader may, from the foregoing, form some idea of the island and homestead, as I have taken him all round the former, and pointed out, although very briefly, the various portions of the latter. I have wasted no time nor ink in so doing, as he like myself, will doubtless find more pleasure in the narrative which commences in the succeeding chapter. A fair idea of the island is necessary, so as clearly to understand some of the incidents which are placed before the reader, and I trust I have said sufficient to enable him to follow me in what I have to tell of my sojourn on the pretty, though solitary island of Jethou.
A glance at the accompanying map will give a good idea of the various places in Jethou mentioned in this story.
FARMING OPERATIONS—I MAKE A PLOUGH AND A CART—A DONKEY HUNT—DUMB HELPERS—MY LIVE STOCK.
My first few days were spent pleasantly enough, but as soon as the sun had set my spirits would droop, and I felt anything but jolly, but like Mark Tapley, I firmly made up my mind to be happy under all circumstances.
I had a deal of unpacking to do, and determined, as my stay was to be a lengthy one, "to find a place for everything, and keep everything in its place." My initial motto was a good one, and I worked for quite a week scheming and contriving all kinds of receptacles and appliances for my heterogeneous goods and chattels.
My goat and donkey I turned loose, and as for my pigs, I had not seen them since I landed; but I trusted that they were not like the evil-tempered swine of the Bible, who cast themselves headlong into the sea, for if that were the case they could commence their suicide at any moment by rolling down any of the steep sides of the island into the sea. I trusted that my pigs were sweet-tempered beasts, and of a non-suicidal variety, and so they afterwards proved, and toothsome into the bargain.
The boathouse received my canoe, fishing gear, carpenter's tools, and gunpowder, for I was afraid to keep the latter near the house, as I had a large quantity, nearly half a hundredweight. I had this large quantity for several reasons, the principal being that I wished to shoot a large collection of sea fowl, and still have plenty for the big cannon which was to summon aid from Herm or Guernsey, should it be required. My good father had made arrangements for me to signal as follows:
If I fired a single gun, the coastguard from Herm would put off to my aid; if two guns were fired, help was to be considered very urgent, and either the coastguard or one of the peasants of Herm would put over, if the weather were calm enough to allow of a boat being launched. If I fired minute guns, either by night or day, they would be reported to the harbour master of St. Peter Port, who had my father's instructions to send out a doctor immediately. Thus I felt comparatively easy in my mind as to help in case of great need, either by accident or sickness. My gunpowder was therefore kept in the lower floor of the boathouse, as I thought it the safest place. I took only a pound at a time to the house for shooting purposes.
Having got everything stowed away to my satisfaction, my next step was to look over the island and see how I could employ my time in cultivating the soil. Near the top I found a large patch of arable land fenced in with wire netting, but it was greatly overgrown, having apparently been some time out of cultivation. I stepped it out in as correct yards as I could command by striding, and to my dismay found there were just two acres, which discovery somewhat nonplussed me for a time; for to dig over two acres with a spade was no light task, and I took time to reflect and see if I could not concoct some easier means of turning the soil than by digging.
Down I sat upon a stone and lighted my pipe—the solitary man's comforter—and with my gun across my knees ready for a stray shot, I made out my plan of campaign, after much cogitation. Why not make a plough? Nothing is made of nothing! What had I to turn into a plough? Then the idea of a real Saxon plough came into my head, and there the idea took tangible form, as I saw close by me a tree which would answer my purpose. Down went my gun, and away I trotted down the rocky path to the house, and quickly returned with an axe. I was quite out of breath when I regained the tree, having made as much haste as if the tree were provided with means of locomotion, or as if I had to cut down the tree in a given time; but that is just my way, I am much too impulsive.
A few strokes laid the tree low, and I soon had it trimmed ready for my purpose. My next care was to make a pair of wheels, and this took me much longer. I had noticed during one of my walks a large tree that had been felled for some purpose, but never used, and to it I repaired with a saw and worked away for several hours, cutting two slices from the fairly symmetrical bole, about four inches wide. These gave me a pair of solid wheels about twenty inches in diameter, which were large enough for my purpose. These I attached to a short axle and bolted to the tree which I felled, and by horizontally thrusting an iron rod, two feet long, through the nose of my plough, about eighteen inches from the end, I had my implement complete. The iron rod was to keep the pointed end of my oak tree from burying itself too deeply in the ground. It was not a beautiful object, but its usefulness condoned its ugliness.
I placed my handiwork aside for a season, and the next two days made myself a curious sideless cart, which I could not help thinking bore a great resemblance to a ladder on wheels. Two more sections from the big tree formed the wheels, while a square piece of quartering thrust through formed an axletree. The shafts and body of my vehicle were two thick ash saplings twelve feet long, joined together with barrel staves two and a half feet long, with the convex sides downward; then fore and aft of the wheels I erected a species of gibbet to prevent my load from shifting, which having done, my antediluvian chariot was complete.
Having provided my implements I now proceeded to till my land. I took a whole back-aching day to pluck all the large weeds and stones off my farm, and retired weary at night to dream of my flourishing crops of the future.
Up with the lark next morning, I set out to find my noble long-eared steed, Edward; but although I roamed about for an hour and a half I could not discover him anywhere, so breakfasted and searched again, but to no purpose. I gave him up as having been drowned whilst browsing on the toothsome but truculent thistle or gorse. I looked at my plough and cart in dismay, saying, "Man proposes, and an ass disposes." But shortly after this dismal reflection, judge of my joy when I heard his musical voice lifted up in sweet song, and borne to my enraptured ears on the balmy noontide breeze. Laugh not, reader, for the poor brute's voice was sweeter to me in my loneliness than that of the greatest operatic singer who ever trilled her wondrous notes.
Even after hearing the ass's braying I was a long time before I came upon him quite down upon the stony shore, with not a blade of grass nor even a thistle for him to nibble at. How he got there is to me a problem to this day; but how I laboured to get him up again will ever remain in my mind, for it makes me feel sore all over to think of it.
Where I found him was at the south end of the island, facing rocky Fauconnaire. How I wandered up and down seeking a place for him to regain the lower path of the island. But all in vain. No place could I find; and all the afternoon I worked like a Titan, getting him up to the pathway again. Poor fellow! he was very docile, and I had thoughts of trying to carry him up; but although I got under him and lifted him, I could not climb with him, so at last had recourse to a block and fall, and after bruising and battering the poor creature somewhat, I got him to a safe ledge of rock, from whence by pushing, and tugging, and lifting, I got him up, foot after foot, till the perspiration streamed down my face. The real Robinson Crusoe never had anything half so difficult as this to contend with, and yet here was I at the outset working harder than a galley slave! I envied Robinson Crusoe number one, and went at my donkey again, till towards evening I got him to the lower path, and after a rest rode him home in triumph, lecturing him severely all the way "not to be such an ass again."
Next day I was not up with the lark—in fact it was past nine before I opened my eyes, so much had the previous day's exertions tired me. I felt tired and stiff all over, but my morning tub and breakfast quickly restored me nearly to par.
Edward was now domiciled in the stable, so putting on his collar and a pair of home-made traces I harnessed him, with the help of various contrivances of cord and staples, to my mediaeval cart, and bumped (for my cart was springless) down to the beach to gather seaweed. All day long we worked, "Eddy" and I, taking load after load to the top of the island; and the next day too was occupied in carting up seaweed or "vraic," as the natives call it, except that we also took up two or three loads of withered bracken, leaves, and other rubbish, which I burned and spread over the land.
After the ash and seaweed were spread I ploughed it in after a fashion, streaking long shallow trenches with my pointed wooden plough, till I had gone over the whole of the land. I looked at the tumbled ground with no great satisfaction, for as much of the manure-seaweed was upon the surface as under, so I turned to and ploughed crossways, which gave it a little better appearance. Then I allowed it a week to rest, taking my spade in the meantime and breaking the lumps and digging in the straying "vraic." At length I had my land in tolerable order, although the seaweed refused to rot as quickly as I desired. I reckoned, however, that it would rot in time, and thus nourish the seed I put in, and so it did.
I will not weary the readers with too much of my farming cares, but have written a little about it to show what obstacles a Crusoe has to overcome, and how hard he has to work to gain his ends. He has no one to pat his back when he is triumphant, nor anyone to sympathise with him over a failure. He is his own critic and censor. Suffice it to say that in due course I had patches of barley, clover, lucerne, mangold, carrots, etc., sown, and when once the seeds were in I had plenty of leisure for other pursuits.
Although early spring, the weather was very mild to what I had been used to on the Norfolk coast; in fact the temperature was as warm in April as it is in the East of England at the end of May.
The garden by the house also had my care, for I planted enough edibles in it to have maintained a large family, instead of a solitary being like myself. Still, I counted my animals as my family, and got to love them all, even to the little pigs. I named them all. There was my dog "Begum," the donkey "Eddy," the goat "Unicorn," which I contracted to "Corny." This name was derived from the fact that she had broken off one horn close to her head. The pigs being twins were "Romulus" and "Remus," and, like the first Romans of that name, had frequent family quarrels, which were, however, soon ended, the brothers rolling over each other in delight in their pig stye.
"Corny" gave me about a pint to a pint and a half of milk a day, which I found quite sufficient for my wants, as I only used it for breakfast and tea, water forming my invariable drink for dinner. Breakfast and tea-supper I usually took with some show of punctuality, but my dinner was eaten in all sorts of places—on the Crevicon, in my canoe, on the beach, or in the grove—in fact, just where I happened to be when I felt hungry and had my wallet with me.
"Begum" always took his meals with me, except when I was on the sea, when the poor fellow would follow my canoe round the island, and watch till I came back again. Then his joy knew no bounds. He would go fairly mad with delight, and I must confess I used to look for my comrade as fondly as if he were a brother awaiting my landing. He would carry quite a big load for me up the rocky cliff path, and esteem it quite a pleasure; but when I had anything extra heavy to take up I made him fetch "Eddy" to my aid. Strange as it may seem, this was a very simple proceeding, for I taught him in a couple of days, thus:
On the stable door I fastened a piece of wood to act as a fall-latch, which worked so easily that "Begum" could lift it with his nose and allow the door to swing open. Then "Eddy" would march out, and wherever I happened to be, would trot to me at the sound of my voice. Indeed, at length he used to follow "Begum," directly he was released, to any part of the island. Therefore, if I required "Eddy's" services when I was quite at the south end of the island, I had only to send "Begum" to fetch him, and away they would come together. This proceeding had only one drawback, and that was, that "Eddy" would always help himself to a mouthful of anything in the way of green food, which happened to be growing within his reach, if he had to come near my little farm. I verily believe that "Begum" used to take his friend past my crops on purpose, although it was by no means the easiest way to get to the Cotils, where my potato crop grew, and where I often used to go to get a shot at the sea fowl on the Fauconnaire. As the crops were principally for his own winter maintenance, I could not grudge him a bite of his food in advance.
Many a time when I have landed from my boat very tired, after a long cruise or fishing expedition, I have always found "Begum" waiting for me, ready to fetch "Eddy," at my word, to help to beach the boat and carry my gear up the cliff. This used to be of such frequent occurrence that upon the end of the boat's painter I worked a kind of collar for "Eddy" to pull upon in comfort. This collar I made of old sacking sewed over with sennet, and I must say it was quite a success, for he would hold his head out as naturally to receive the collar as a beggar would hold out his hat for the reception of an alms.
The pigeons I brought with me and placed in the cote or tower soon departed or died; possibly they were killed by hawks or other birds, but that I never could discover. Anyway, the tower was not long tenantless, for a pair of owls took up their abode there, and soon had a family of six fluffy little fellows. Instead of destroying these birds as many persons do in England, I allowed them to haunt the tower, in return for which they kept the mice down, and I could not find that they did me any kind of damage. I got quite to like their "to-whitting" and "to-wooing" more than the monotonous "cooing" of the pigeons which never did sound like music to my ears.
My six hens and a cockerel were located in the watch-house, from whence they had the run of a large piece of wild ground overhanging the cliff. Eggs I had in abundance, and even to spare, and before I left the island had over thirty fowls. Beside the fowls' eggs I could, in the spring, gather the eggs of the wild fowl inhabiting the islands by the score.
Enough of animals and birds; let us open another chapter on another topic.
CANOEING—FISH OF THE PLACE—THE ORMER AND LIMPET—A CURIOUS FISHING ADVENTURE—QUEER CAPTURES FROM THE SEA—ROCK FISH—CONSTRUCT A FISH-POND AND WATER-MILL.
When the warm days and calm seas of May came I turned my thoughts to the sea, of which I am passionately fond, and of which one never seemed to tire, as one does of tame river water. Unfortunately my only vessel was a canoe about fourteen feet long by three feet beam, and for sea work, such as one gets round the shores of these islands, quite unfitted; but there it was, and I had simply Hobson's choice—that or none.
On a calm sea, with a tide running only one way, such as one gets on the English coast, the canoe was all very well and fairly safe; but here, through the Percee, as the channel is called between Herm and Jethou, the tide at times runs with great speed, and meeting with the resistance of the Ferriers and other huge rocks, whirls, and turns, and foams in all directions, so that a frail craft like a canoe would be a death-trap to anyone foolhardy enough to venture out in it. That being the case, I could only follow my canoeing hobby when the sea was calm, but even then did not venture far from land.
I had several narrow escapes from upsetting, and at last, whilst lying sleeplessly in bed (where, by-the-bye, most of my thinking and scheming is done), the idea of making alterations in my canoe came under my consideration, and before I went to sleep that night I had made up my mind to improve her stability in several ways. I would make her fore and aft compartments air-tight, so that if she turned turtle she would act as a life preserver, and moreover, why not add an outrigger, such as the natives of the Pacific have to theirs, making them almost impossible to upset?
The second day saw my plans an accomplished fact. I put in bulkheads fore and aft, and pitched the canoe inside and out, making her heavier, but thoroughly water-tight—the end compartments being even air-tight. I raised the combing of the well to six inches in height, put on a deeper keel, shortened my mast, and added an outrigger. What more could I do? The outrigger I made of a bundle of bamboos lashed firmly together, like the pictures one sees of the old Roman Fascines, or Rods of Authority, and this I fastened about five feet from the side by means of a couple of stout ash saplings. I found these improvements so admirable, that I was not afraid in light winds (having gained a knowledge of the tides and currents) of venturing anywhere either around Jethou or Herm.
Immense quantities of fish are found all round Jethou, the principal being lobsters, crabs, crayfish, spider crabs, plaice, John Dorey, soles, ormers, pollock, bass, gurnard, skate, cod, long-nose, rock fish, turbot, brill, whiting, and conger.
Several of the fish I had never seen before, as they are rarely if ever caught off the Norfolk coast; thus John Dorey, spiders, ormers, rock fish, and pollock were all new to me, and gave me great enjoyment in their capture, beside which I was greatly taken with the flavour of both the Dorey and pollock, scores of which I caught in the Percee.
The ormer, rarely seen in England, is, I believe, sometimes called the Sea Ear. It is somewhat the shape and size of a half cocoa nut (divided lengthwise). The outside of the shell is of a rough texture, and of a dull red colour, while the inside is beautifully coloured with an iridescent mother o' pearl coating. (Why do we never hear anything of the father o' pearl?) The ormer adheres to the rocks like the limpet tribe, but is seldom seen above low water-mark, like the limpet, who loves to be exposed to the sun and air twice a day.
The flesh of the ormer, when grilled, is something like a veal cutlet cooked in a fishy frying-pan, and I cannot say I was greatly enraptured with the uncommon univalve.
My first meeting with the ormer was by accident. I was having an al fresco lunch of bread and raw limpets which I was detaching from the rocks, eating them with a seasoning of vinegar and pepper which I had brought with me when, being close down to the water among some outlying rocks (as it was a very low neap tide), I saw something just under the surface of a pool, of a dull red colour, which I perceived to be a shell-fish of some kind. Stooping down, with a rapid blow of my knife I detached it, and ere it sank into the unknown depths of the pool, plunged in my left hand and secured it. It was an ormer—at least, so I supposed, and on this supposition took it home and compared it with a book on shells I had, and being satisfied with my researches, cooked and ate the mollusc, although in some doubt. Next day, feeling much as the first man who ever swallowed an oyster did—alive and hearty—I went at dead low tide and gathered some more and ate also, but finally came to the conclusion that one good sole was worth a sack of ormers. Still, there is no accounting for taste. Some of the islanders are very fond of ormers; but what is one man's meat is another's "poisson."
Although at neap tide on many occasions I gathered many more, it was more for the beauty of the shells than the flavour of the fish inside them.
For one with artistic tastes and love of colour like myself, the interior of an ormer shell is a veritable fairy grotto. One discovery I made regarding them and that is, that they form a dainty dish for the huge conger eels which abound among the rocks, and about this bait I must presently tell a little more.
The granite rocks below high water-mark are simply spotted all over with myriads of limpets, some of them of enormous size. Many of the shells in my collection are over three inches across, and the fish when cooked make two ample mouthfuls. My manner of dressing them was to place them in a tub of sea water for a night, and then to lay them on a gridiron, point downward, over a bright fire, and grill them. When cooked they would drop out of their shells when turned upside down over a plate containing vinegar and pepper, and I considered them very nice. A friend of mine who has tasted them in Cornwall says they would make any well-bred dog sick. Thus, I say again, tastes vary!
I must allow, however, that the leathery limpet is as far behind the delicious sole or turbot in flavour, as a turnip is inferior to an apple; but still a change is desirable, and for the matter of change I think I had a turn at everything eatable on the island or in the sea surrounding it, and still live to tell the tale.
Well, now, let me tell an adventure that befell me while conger fishing off the Crevichon one calm evening just after dark. First let me point out a device I had to adopt because my canoe had not sufficient space to hold or carry all the fish I sometimes caught. I had to have recourse to a floating fish carrier, and this I contrived out of an old dry goods box, which I bored full of holes, so as to allow a current of water to flow through and keep my fish alive. To give floating power to this fish-pound, I fastened large bungs all round the outside, and to each of the four corners I attached an inflated bladder, so that I could easily store in it from thirty to forty pounds of fish, as it must be observed, that whilst in the water the fish will swim, and thus add but little weight to their floating prison. This box I attached to the outrigger by a stout lanyard, and fended it off with the paddle, if the eddy brought it in too close proximity to my craft.
Well, to my fish story. I had been anchored for about two hours near Rocher Rouge fishing for conger, of which I had caught three small ones, beside several rock fish and whiting, when I thought I would try another kind of bait, so I armed my hook with a small ormer, which being of a gristly texture, held on the barb well. Over the side went the gear, attached to a strong line of thick water-cord, and although it was down a considerable time no warning tug gave hope of sport to follow, so I busied myself with the other two lines I had down, with a fair amount of success. At length getting tired of taking nothing on my big line, I thought I would coil it up and examine the bait, but when I had got the line straight up and down it refused to leave the bottom, tug as I would. I pulled till my canoe danced and bobbed about in an alarming manner, in fact, till the coaming was in danger of going under the gently heaving sea, but to no purpose; it would not budge, so tripping anchor I paid out line and paddled fifty yards, thinking that if my hook had fouled a rock I might by a side pull clear it. I hauled in gently, and to my surprise found the line come in with a curious vibrating motion, in little jerks, till it got straight up and down again, and then I had a hard pull to get it from the bottom; but still I did get it up little by little, and was now positive that it was a fish of some kind, and of great weight. Foot after foot of line came in very spasmodically, and with great reluctance, till at last a great, ugly, slimy head, with yellow-green eyes, came above the surface, and so large did it appear, that it quite took me aback. In my surprise I let go several coils of the line before I knew what I was about. The head was enormous and ex pede Hercules. I knew the body must be of gigantic proportions too. That I had hooked one of Neptune's fiends seemed certain, and I was some time before I hauled up again to see really what I had captured. In came the line again, foot by foot, with great difficulty, till at length up came the terrible head again. But this time I was prepared, and setting my teeth, held on. It was a huge conger, such as I had never seen before, and which came very near being the last I might gaze upon, for suddenly it brought its tail up over the outrigger, and before I could counterbalance my craft, seemed to swamp the canoe by its dead weight and the power of its fins. I was in the water in a second, but never loosened my hold of the line. Letting go the loose coils I struck out for Rocher Rouge, only some fifty yards away, and, landing at the foot of the great granite throne, commenced to haul in my line. To my joy the canoe, which still floated with its coamings out of water, although the well was full, followed my line. I afterwards ascertained that in falling overboard I had dropped between the canoe and outrigger, and had thus drawn the line through the intervening space after me. To this fact I owed the recovery of my craft, which would otherwise have floated away, as I should have been afraid to follow it, although an excellent swimmer, as the currents are here so strong that I should probably never have got back again.
The canoe came slowly in till it was within reach, when I seized it, and with a mighty effort dragged it ashore undamaged. The lines I also drew in and coiled tidily away, leaving the long one till the last, which, to my great surprise, when I hauled in, still had the monstrous eel in tow. I quite thought he had freed himself when he swamped me, but such was evidently not the case. Having a firm footing I hauled in my line with more confidence, and at length got my lord close to the rocks, and in the clear water could see his huge length and thickness. He was a terrible fellow, and if he had got my legs in his embrace might have easily drowned me; but I did not give him a chance to use either his tail or teeth, but getting his head close to the rocks I took a turn of the line round a projecting crag, and proceeded to slaughter the monster with my only weapon, the paddle. He took a lot of assassinating, but gave up the ghost at last, after I had nearly pounded his head to a jelly.
Old "Begum," I must mention, witnessed my sudden departure from my canoe, and the dear old fellow arrived at Rocher Rouge at the same moment that I landed, so that we faced each other dripping wet in a most comical manner. I sent "Begum" to fetch "Eddy," and in the meantime emptied the canoe and put all straight, so that when the two animals appeared on the cliff, standing out in bold relief against the clear sky, I was in my canoe and on the way to the Cotills. They followed me till I landed, and came and stood by me like two old comrades. I had dragged the conger after me through the sea with a cord through his gills, and this cord I attached to "Eddy," who dragged him home in triumph, while I sat on his back, a la conqueror, as I rode into my domain, tired and wet, and as hungry as the proverbial hunter.
A cheerful blaze of wood soon caused the kettle to boil, and over my tea-supper I congratulated myself over my lucky adventure, for to lose neither fish, canoe, nor self, was indeed a large slice of luck.
Next day I improvised a pair of scales with the help of a half hundredweight and a seven-pound weight which I possessed, and found to my surprise that the monster weighed one hundred and three pounds. This was not only the largest eel I ever caught, but the largest I ever saw. In Guernsey market the heaviest conger I saw was one of sixty-seven pounds—a baby in comparison to mine!
The weights I used in weighing the monster were stones adjusted to the proper iron weights, which I used as standards, and then by selecting various sized stones obtained after great toil a whole set, from one pound up to ten pounds, and thus could weigh anything.
I had many other fishing adventures, but I think the above was about the most exciting. I had many good takes of whiting and pollock, but was not so fortunate among the soles, and plaice, and such-like ground game, as my net was a very ramshackle affair of my own construction.
I had also some remarkable miscellaneous captures at different times. Once in the winter I had laid a long line for codling, and brought up, firmly hooked, a very nice red tablecloth, beautifully worked round the edge by some skilled hand in an Oriental pattern. I used it on gala days as a flag, and I dare say passers by in the various vessels wondered to what nationality it belonged, as the centre was ornamented with a golden elephant with very curly tusks worked in white beads. Another day I fished up a copper oil can, such as engineers use to oil machinery with; and yet another time a bag of gravel which had apparently once formed part of a yacht's ballast.
When I found time heavy on my hands I would often take my canoe about fifty yards south of La Fauconnaire, and with two or three lines fish for rock fish, and never, on a single occasion, returned empty-handed. The worst part of this performance was digging the bait of lugworms on the little beach of Crevichon. It was terribly hard work lifting the rocks and boulders aside to find a place to dig, and then it was harder work in digging the nasty worms from the granite grit in which they resided, dwelt, or had their horrid being. Probably these hairy, oozy creatures have their joys and pleasures, and their woes, just as every other of God's creatures, but of what their happiness consists who can tell? Anyway they are good for bait, and so have use if not beauty to commend them.
Crabs and lobsters I could trap at any time by putting down "pots" anywhere round the island; but after a few weeks I got quite tired of them for the table, but would occasionally put down a couple of "pots" to see what of a curious nature I could catch. The crayfish, spider-crabs, and hermit crabs, gave me infinite amusement, as they are so different in their manners and customs to the ordinary crabs, and are very bellicose, going for each other tooth and nail, or rather legs and claws, in a most terrible manner. The way these little crustaceans maimed each other put me in mind of the scene in Scott's "Fair Maid of Perth," where the rival clans hew each others' limbs off with double-handed swords, so that a truce has to be called for the purpose of clearing the battle-ground of human debris. The crabs have the advantage over the human species, insomuch that they can reproduce a lost limb.
Finding I could catch a large quantity of fish of all kinds, especially rock fish, which, being new to me, I greatly admired, I set about constructing a fish pond near the house.
These rock fish are a curiosity in the way of fish. They run from about six inches to two feet in length; weigh from a few ounces to a dozen pounds, and no two that I have ever caught are alike, either in colour or disposition of spots. They are spotty and speckly all over. Some have copper-coloured spots, some yellow, some brown, some green, some red, and some an assortment of colours, so that one never knows what colour is coming up next. Persons who are fond, when playing cards, of betting upon the colour of the trump to be turned up—black or red—would find the pastime of "backing their colour" infinitely varied, if they tried to guess the colour of the fish which would next appear.
My first fish pond, ten feet by five feet, was a failure, as it was leaky; but not to be beaten I commenced another and much larger one, sixteen feet by ten feet. I selected a site close above high water-mark, and commenced digging, and in fact worked a whole day at it, intending to line it with a mixture of sand and lime, of which I had several tubs for making mortar for repairing the brickwork of my homestead; but that very evening I discovered a natural fish pond, or rather a pool, that could be turned into one by a little outlay of labour.
A cleft between two large rocks, separating them by about six feet, allowed the sea at high tide to flow into a pool at the foot of an amphitheatre of rocks, which gave a basin of water, at high tide, about twenty feet across. Here was a grand, natural fish pool, and I soon turned it into a comfortable home for my finny captures.
First at low tide I cleared the bottom of this pool, and made it deeper. Then, having previously made a huge batch of mortar, I set to work and built a wall of rock across the cleft, until I had raised it six feet high, taking great care to make it perfectly water-tight. This I strengthened by laboriously placing blocks of stone on each side, so as to prevent the sea from toppling my mortar-built wall over. As a pond it was a perfect success, except in one particular, and that was that the water in time would evaporate, or become stale; so I put my wits together and constructed a curious kind of mill pump, which worked with four wooden buckets upon an endless rope. It was jerky, but effective; that is it was effective at high water, when the tide came up to my sea-wall. At this time the mill, being placed right for the wind, would commence to work, and the buckets to ascend and descend, and each shoot its gallon of water into the pond, till sometimes it was full to the brim, and even running over. Thus I could change the water at will. I was simply delighted, and fished from morning till night to stock my pool, and in a fortnight had specimens of all kinds, colours, and sizes. Eels, soles, whiting, dorey, pollock, long-nose, crabs, lobsters were all there, but to my mind the big blubber-lipped rock fish were the peacocks of my pool.