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plant to their collection, and occasionally giving them some
information as to the state of the surrounding country.

"Father," said he, "I chased this quail into our corn-field; the grain
is lying on the ground as if it had been passed over by a roller, but
I am happy to say that it is neither broken nor uprooted."

"Now, Jack, do you see how gallantly the wind behaves, prostrating the
strong and sparing the weak? If you had been charged with the safety
of the grain, no doubt you would have placed it in the tops of the
highest trees."

"Very likely; and, until taught by experience, everybody else would
have done precisely the same thing."

"True; therefore in this, as in all other things, we should admire the
wisdom of Providence, and mistrust our own."

"Whoever would have thought of trusting the staff of human life to
such slender support as stalks of straw?"

"If grain had been produced by forests, these, when destroyed by war,
burned down by imprudence, uprooted by hurricanes, or washed away by
inundations, we should have required ages to replace."

"Very true."

"The fruits of trees are, besides, more liable to rot than those of
grain; the latter have their flowers in the form of spikes, often
bearded with prickly fibres, which not only protect them from
marauders, but likewise serve as little roofs to shelter them from the
rain; and besides, as Fritz has just told us, owing to the pliancy of
their stalks, strengthened at intervals by hard knots and the
spear-shaped form of their leaves, these plants escape the fury of the
winds."

"That," said Willis, "is like a wretched cock-boat, which often
contrives to get out of a scrape when all the others are swamped."

"Therefore," continued Becker, "their weakness is of more service to
them than the strength of the noblest trees, and they are spread and
multiplied by the same tempests that devastate the forests. Added to
this, the species to which this class of plants belong - the
grasses - are remarkably varied in their characteristics, and better
suited than any other for universal propagation."

"Which was remarked by Homer," observed Ernest "who usually
distinguishes a country by its peculiar fruit, but speaks of the
earth generally as _zeidoros_, or grain-bearing."

"There, Willis," exclaimed Jack, "is another great admiral for you."

"An admiral, Jack?"

"It was he who led the combined fleets of Agamemnon, Diomedes, and
others, to the city of Troy."

"Not in our time, I suppose?"

"How old are you, Willis?"

"Forty-seven."

"In that case it was before you entered the navy."

"I know that there is a Troy in the United States, but I did not know
it was a sea-port."

"There is another in France, Willis; but the Troy I mean is, or rather
was, in Asia Minor, capital of Lesser Phrygia, sometimes called Ilion,
its citadel bearing the name of Pergamos."

"Never heard of it," said Willis.

"To return to grain," continued Becker, laughing. "Nature has rendered
it capable of growing in all climates, from the line to the pole.
There is a variety for the humid soils of hot countries, as the rice
of Asia; immense quantities of which are produced in the basin of the
Ganges. There is another variety for marshy and cold climates - as a
kind of oat that grows wild on the banks of the North American lakes,
and of which the natives gather abundant harvests."

"God has amply provided for us all," said Frank.

"Other varieties grow best in hot, dry soils, as the millet in Africa,
and maize or Indian corn in Brazil. In Europe, wheat is cultivated
universally, but prefers rich lands, whilst rye takes more readily to
a sandy soil; buckwheat is most luxuriant where most exposed to rain;
oats prefer humid soils, and barley comes to perfection on rocky,
exposed lands, growing well on the cold, bleak plains of the north.
And, observe, that the grasses suffice for all the wants of man."

"Yes," observed Ernest, "with the straw are fed his sheep, his cows,
his oxen, and his horses; with the seeds, he prepares his food and
his drinks. In the north, grain is converted into excellent beer and
ale, and spirits are extracted from it as strong as brandy."

"The Chinese obtain from rice a liquor that they prefer to the finest
wines of Spain."

"That is because they have not yet tasted our Rockhouse malaga."

"Then of roasted oats, perfumed with vanilla, an excellent jelly may
be made."

"Ah! we must get mamma to try that - it will delight the young ladies."

"And, no doubt, you will profit by the occasion to partake thereof
yourself, Master Jack."

"Certainly; but I would not, for all that, seek to gratify my own
appetite under pretence of paying a compliment to our friends."

"I know an animal," said Willis, "that, for general usefulness, beats
grain all to pieces."

"Good! let us hear what it is, Willis."

"It is the seal of the Esquimaux; they live upon its flesh, and they
drink its blood."

"I scarcely think," said Jack, "that I should often feel thirsty under
such circumstances."

"The skin furnishes them with clothes, tents, and boats."

"Of which our canoe and life-preservers are a fair sample," said
Fritz.

"The fat furnishes them with fire and candle, the muscles with thread
and rope, the gut with windows and curtains, the bones with arrow
heads and harness; in short, with everything they require."

"True, Willis, in so far as regards their degree of civilization,
which is not very great, when we consider that they bury their sick
whilst alive, because they are afraid of corpses; that they believe
the sun, moon, and stars to be dead Esquimaux, who have been
translated from earth to heaven."

Whilst chatting in this way, the party had imperceptibly arrived at
Falcon's Nest, wherein they had not set foot for a fortnight
previously.

Fritz went up first, and before the others had ascended, came running
down again as fast as his legs would carry him.

"Father," he cried, in an accent of alarm, "there is a fresh litter of
leaves up stairs, which has been recently slept upon, and I miss a
knife that I left the last time we were here!"




CHAPTER VII.

THE SEARCH FOR THE UNKNOWN - THREE FLEETS ON DRY LAND - THE
INDISCRETIONS OF A SUGAR CANE - LARBOARD AND STARBOARD - THE SUPPOSED
SENSIBILITY OF PLANTS - THE FLY-TRAP - VENDETTA - ROOT AND GERM - MINE AND
COUNTERMINE - THE POLYPI - OVIPAROUS AND VIVIPAROUS - A QUID PRO QUO.


"Have any of you been at Falcon's Nest lately?" inquired Becker, when
he had verified the truth of Fritz's intelligence.

"None of us," unanimously replied all the boys.

"You will understand that the question I put to you is, under the
circumstances in which we are placed, one of the greatest moment. If,
therefore, there is any unseemly joking, any trick, or secret project
in contemplation, with which this affair is connected, do not conceal
it any longer."

All the boys again reiterated their innocence of the matter in
question.

Becker then called to mind the mysterious disappearance of Willis,
and, although they were too short in duration to admit of his having
been at Falcon's Nest, still he deemed it advisable to put the
question to him individually.

Willis declared that the present was the first time he had been in the
vicinity of the Nest, and his word was known to be sacred.

"There can be no mistake then," said Becker; "the traces are
self-evident. This is altogether a circumstance calculated to give us
serious uneasiness. Nevertheless, we must view the matter calmly, and
consider what steps we should take to unravel the mystery."

"Let us instantly beat up the island," suggested Fritz.

"It appears to me," remarked Willis, "that the _Nelson_ has been
wrecked after all, and that one of the men has escaped."

"That," replied Ernest, "is very unlikely. All the crew knew that the
island was inhabited, and consequently, had any one of them been
thrown on shore, he would have come at once to Rockhouse, and not
stopped here."

"As regards the Captain or Lieutenant Dunsley," said Willis, "who were
on shore, and could easily find their way, what you say is quite true;
but the men were kept on board; and if we suppose that a sailor had
been thrown on the opposite coast, he would not be able to determine
his position in fifteen days."

"Much less could he expect to find a villa in a fig-tree."

"To say nothing of the light that has been kept burning recently on
Shark's Island, nor of the buildings with which the land is strewn,
nor the fields and plantations that are to be met with in all
directions. For, although a swallow alone is sufficient to convey the
seeds of a forest from one continent to another, still it requires the
hand of man to arrange the trees in rows and furnish them with props."

"Perhaps we may have crossed each other on the way; and the stranger,
after passing the night here, has steered, by some circuitous route,
in the direction of Safety Bay."

"May it not have been a large monkey," suggested Jack, "who has
resolved to play us a trick for having massacred its companions at
Waldeck?"

"Monkeys," replied Ernest, "do not generally open doors, and, seeing
no bed prepared for them, go down stairs and collect material for a
mattress. You may just as well fancy that the monkey, in this case,
came to pass the night at Falcon's Nest with a cigar in its mouth."

"Then he must have been dreadfully annoyed to find neither slippers
nor a night-cap."

"There is, unquestionably, a wide field of supposition open for us,"
said Becker; "but that need not prevent us taking active measures to
arrive at the truth. Our first duty is to care for the safety of the
ladies; Mr. Wolston is still ailing and feeble, so that, if a stranger
were suddenly to appear amongst them, they might be terribly
alarmed."

"There are six of us here," remarked Willis, "the cream of our sea and
land forces; we could divide ourselves into three squadrons, one of
which might sail for Rockhouse."

"Just so; let Fritz and Frank start for Rockhouse."

"And what shall we say to the ladies, father?" inquired the latter;
"it does not seem to me necessary to alarm our mother, Mrs. Wolston,
and the young ladies, until something more certain is ascertained."

"Your idea is good, my son, and I thank you for bringing it forward;
it is one of those that arise from the heart rather than the head."

"We have, only to find a pretext for their sudden return," observed
Ernest.

"Very well," said Jack, "they have only to say it is too hot to work."

"Just as if it were not quite as hot for us as for them. Your excuse,
Jack, is not particularly artistic."

"Might they not as well say they had forgotten a tool or a pocket
handkerchief?"

"Or, better still, that they had forgotten to shut the door when they
left, and came back to repair the omission."

"We shall say," replied Fritz, "that, finding there were twelve strong
arms here to do what my father accomplished fifteen years ago by
himself - for the assistance of us boys could not then be reckoned - we
were ashamed of ourselves, and had returned to Rockhouse to make
ourselves useful in repairing the damage to the gallery caused by the
tempest."

"Well, that excuse has, at least, the merit of being reasonable; and
let it be so. Fritz and Frank will return to Rockhouse; Ernest and
myself will continue the work in hand, and receive the friend or enemy
which God has sent us, should he return to resume his quarters; Willis
and Jack will investigate the neighborhood."

"By land or water, Willis?" inquired Jack.

"By land, Master Jack, for this cruise. I shall abandon the helm to
you, for I know nothing of the shoals here-abouts."

"If," continued Becker, "though highly improbable, any thing important
should have happened, or should happen at Rockhouse, you will fire a
cannon, and we will be with you immediately. Willis and Jack will
discharge a rifle if threatened with danger; and we shall do the same
on our side, if we require assistance."

"It is a pity," remarked Jack, "that we had not two or three
four-pounders amongst the provisions."

"I scarcely regard this matter as altogether a subject for joking,"
continued Becker, "and sincerely hope that all our precautions may
prove useless. Take each of you a rifle and proceed with caution;
above all, do not go far apart from each other; do not fire without
taking good aim, and only in case of self-defence or absolute
necessity; for this time it does not appear to be a question of bears
and hyenas, but, as far as we are able to judge, one of our own
species."

Two of the squadrons then hauled off in different directions,
carefully examining the ground as they went, beating up the thickets,
and endeavoring to obtain some further trace of the stranger, in order
to confirm those at Falcon's Nest.

The squadron of observation, in the meanwhile set diligently to work.
A tree having been selected at about fifteen paces from that already
existing, it was necessary, as on the former occasion, to discharge an
arrow carrying the end of a line, and in such a way that the cord
might fall across some of the strongest branches; this done, the
bamboo ladder was drawn up from the opposite side and held fast until
Ernest had ascended and fastened it with nails to the top of the tree.

Ernest then commenced lopping off the branches to the right and left,
so as to form a space in the centre for their contemplated dwelling;
whilst Becker himself below was making an entrance into the trunk,
taking care to avoid an accident that formerly happened, by assuring
himself that a colony of bees had not already taken possession of the
ground. The gigantic fig-trees at Falcon's Nest being for the most
part hollow, and supported in a great measure by the bark - like the
willows in Europe when they reach a certain stage of their growth - it
was easy to erect a staircase in the interior; still this was a work
of time, and Becker had resolved in the meantime to give up the
habitation already constructed to Wolston and his family, at least
until such time as an entrance was attached to the new one that did
not require any extraordinary amount of gymnastics.

[Illustration]

A portion of the day had been occupied in these operations, when
Willis and Jack returned to the camp.

"We have seen no one," said the Pilot.

"But," said Jack, "we are on the track of Fritz's knife."

"Be good enough to explain yourself."

"Well, father, at the entrance to the cocoa-nut tree wood we stumbled
upon two sugar canes completely divested of their juice."

"Which proves - " said Ernest; but his remark was cut short by Jack,
who continued -

"Not a bit of it; a philosopher would have passed these two worthless
sugar canes just as a place-hunter passes an overthrown minister, that
is, as unworthy of notice."

"And what did you do?"

"Well, I, the headless, the thoughtless, the stupid - for these are the
epithets I am usually favored with - I took them up, scrutinized them
carefully, and discovered - "

"That they were sugar canes."

"In the first instance, yes."

"Very clever, that!"

"And then that they had not been torn up - _they had been cut_."

"Is that all?"

"Yes, most wise and learned brother, that is all; and I leave you to
draw the inferences."

"I may add," observed the sailor, "that, as we were steering for the
plantation, myself on the starboard and Jack on the larboard - "

"On the what?"

"Master Jack on the left and myself on the right."

"That I pitched right over these canes without ever noticing them."

"Which is not much to be wondered at; Willis has been so long at sea
that he has no confidence in the solidity of the land; during our
cruise, he kept a look-out after the wind, expecting, I suppose, that
it would perform some of the wonderful things you spoke of this
morning."

"After all," observed Becker, "this is another link in the chain of
evidence, and I congratulate Jack on his sagacity in tracing it."

"But the affair is as much a mystery as ever."

"True; and the solution may probably be awaiting us at Rockhouse."

The united squadrons then started on their homeward voyage, Jack
thrusting his nose into every bush, and carefully scanning all the
stray objects that seemed to be out of their normal position.

"If these plants and bushes had tongues," said Jack, "they could
probably give us the information we require."

"Do you think," inquired Ernest, "that plants and bushes are utterly
without sensation?"

"Faith, I can't say," replied Jack; "perhaps they can speak if they
liked - probably they have an idiom of their own. You, that know all
languages, and a great many more besides, possibly can converse with
them."

"I should like to know," said Becker, "why you two gentlemen are
always snarling at each other; it is neither amusing nor amiable."

"Ernest is continually showing me up, father, and it is but fair that
I should be allowed to retort now and then. But to return to plants,
Ernest; you say they have nerves?"

"If they have," said Willis, "they do not seem to possess the bottle
of salts that most nervous ladies usually have."

"No," replied Ernest, "they have no nerves, properly so called; but
there are plants, and I may add many plants, which, by their
qualities - I may almost say by their intelligence - seem to be placed
much higher in the scale of creation than they really are. The
sensitive plant, for example, shrinks when it is touched; tulips open
their petals when the weather is fine, and shut them again at sunset
or when it rains; wild barley, when placed on a table, often moves by
itself, especially when it has been first warmed by the hand; the
heliotrope always turns the face of its flowers to the sun."

"A still more singular instance of this kind was recently discovered
in Carolina," remarked Becker; "it is called the _fly-trap_. Its round
leaves secrete a sugary fluid, and are covered with a number of ridges
which are extremely irritable: whenever a fly touches the surface the
leaf immediately folds inwards, contracts, and continues this process
till its victim is either pierced with its spines or stifled by the
pressure."

"It is probably a Corsican plant," observed Jack, "whose ancestors
have had a misunderstanding with the brotherhood of flies, and have
left the _Vendetta_ as a legacy to their descendants."

"There is nothing in Nature," continued Ernest, "so obstinate as a
plant. Let us take one, for example, at its birth, that is, to-day, at
the age when animals modify or acquire their instincts, and you will
find that your own will must yield to that of the plant."

"If you mean to say that the plant will refuse to play on the flute or
learn to dance, were I to wish it to do so, I am entirely of your
opinion."

"No, but suppose you were to plant it upside down, with the plantule
above and the radicle below; do you think it would grow that way?"

"Plantule and radicle are ambitious words, my dear brother; recollect
that you are speaking to simple mortals."

"Well, I mean root uppermost."

"Right; I prefer that, don't you, Willis?"

"Yes, Master Jack."

"At first the radicle or root would begin by growing upwards, and the
plantule or germ would descend."

"That is quite in accordance with my revolutionary idiosyncracies."

"You accused me just now of using ambitious words."

"Well, I understand a revolution to mean, placing those above who
should be below."

"Nature then," continued Ernest, "very soon begins to assert her
rights; the bud gradually twists itself round and ascends, whilst the
root obeys a similar impulse and descends - is not this a proof of
discernment?"

"I see nothing more in it than a proof of the wonderful mechanism God
has allotted to the plant, and is analogous to the movements of a
watch, the hands of which point out the hours, minutes, and seconds of
time, and are yet not endowed with intelligence."

"Very good, Jack," said Becker.

"Suppose," continued Ernest, "that the ground in the neighborhood of
your plant was of two very opposite qualities, that on the right, for
example, damp, rich, and spongy; that on the left, dry, poor, and
rocky; you would find that the roots, after growing for a time up or
down, as the case might be, will very soon change their route, and
take their course towards the rich and humid soil."

"And quite right too," said Willis; "they prefer to go where they will
be best fed."

"If, then, these roots stretched out to points where they would
withdraw the nourishment from other plants in the neighborhood - how
could you prevent it?"

"By digging a ditch between them and the plants they threaten to
impoverish."

"And do you suppose that would be sufficient?"

"Yes, unless the plant you refer to was an engineer."

"Therein lies the difficulty. Plants are engineers; they would send
their roots along the bottom of the ditch, or they would creep under
it - at all events, the roots would find their way to the coveted soil
in spite of you; if you dug a mine, they would countermine it, and
obtain supplies from the opposite territory, and revenge themselves
there for the scurvy treatment to which they had been subjected. What
could you do then?"

"In that case, I should admit myself defeated."

"If," continued Ernest, "we present a sponge saturated with water to
the naked roots of a plant, they will slowly, but steadily, direct
themselves towards it; and, turn the sponge whichever way you will,
they will take the same direction."

"It has been concluded," remarked Becker, "from these incontestable
facts, that plants are not devoid of sensibility; and, in fact, when
we behold them lying down at sunset as if dead, and come to life again
next morning, we are forced to recognise a degree of irritability in
the vegetable organs which very closely resemble those of the animal
economy."

"In future," said Jack, "I shall take care not to tread upon a weed,
lost, being hurt, it should scream."

"On the other hand, they have not been found to possess any other sign
of this supposed sensibility. All their other functions seem perfectly
mechanical."

"Ah then, father," exclaimed Jack, "you are a believer in my system!"

"We make them grow and destroy them, without observing anything
analogous to the sensation we feel in rearing, wounding, or killing an
animal."

"But the fly-trap, father, what of that?"

"It is no exception. The fly-trap seizes any small body that touches
it, as well as an insect, and with the same tenacity; hence, we may
readily conclude that these actions, so apparently spontaneous, are in
reality nothing more than remarkable developments of the laws of
irritability peculiar to plants."

"It does not, then, spring from a family feud, as Jack supposed?"
remarked Willis.

"Besides," continued Becker, "if plants really existed, possessing
what is understood by the term sensation, they would be animals."

"For a like reason, animals without sensation would be plants."

"Evidently. Moreover, the transition from vegetable to animal life is
almost imperceptible, so much so, that polypi, such as corals and
sponges, were for a long time supposed to be marine plants."

"And what are they?" inquired Willis.

"Insects that live in communities that form a multitude of contiguous
cells; some of these are begun at the bottom of the sea and
accumulated perpendicularly, one layer being continually deposited
over another till the surface is reached."

"Then the coral reefs, that render navigation so perilous in unknown
seas, are the work of insects?"

"Exactly so, Willis."

"Might they not as well consist of multitudes of insects piled heaps
upon heaps?"

"It is in a great measure as you say, Willis."

"Not I - I do not say it - quite the contrary."

"Well, Willis, you are at liberty to believe it or not, as you think
proper."

"I hope so; we shall, therefore, put the polypi with Ernest's stars
and Jack's admirals."

"So be it, Willis; but to resume the subject. There is a remarkable
analogy in many respects between the lower orders of animals and
plants, the bulb is to the latter what the egg is to the former. The
germ does not pierce the bulb till it attains a certain organization,
and it remains attached by fibres to the parent substance, from which,
for a time, it receives nourishment."

"Not unlike the young of animals," remarked Willis.

"When the germ has shot out roots and a leaf or two, it then, but not
till then, relinquishes the parent bulb. The plant then grows by an
extension and multiplication of its parts, and this extension is
accompanied by an increasing induration of the fibres. The same



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