The last bed of rock, before we reached the cave which Jack had pierced, was so soft, and easy to work, that we had little difficulty in proportioning and opening the place for our door; I hoped that, being now exposed to the heat of the sun, it would soon become as hard as the original surface. The door was that we had used for the staircase at Falcon’s Nest; for as we only intended to make a temporary residence of our old tree, there was no necessity for solid fittings; and, besides, I intended to close the entrance of the tree by a door of bark, more effectually to conceal it, in case natives should visit us. I then laid out the extent of the grotto at pleasure, for we had ample space. We began by dividing it into two parts; that on the right of the entrance was to be our dwelling; on the left were, first, our kitchen, then the workshop and the stables; behind these were the store-rooms and the cellar. In order to give light and air to our apartments, it was necessary to insert in the rock the windows we had brought from the ship; and this cost us many days of labour.
The right-hand portion was subdivided into three rooms: the first our own bedroom; the middle, the common sitting-room, and beyond the boys’ room. As we had only three windows, we appropriated one to each bedroom, and the third to the kitchen, contenting ourselves, at present, with a grating in the dining-room. I constructed a sort of chimney in the kitchen, formed of four boards, and conducted the smoke thus, through a hole made in the face of the rock. We made our work-room spacious enough for us to carry on all our manufactures, and it served also for our cart-house. Finally, all the partition-walls were put up, communicating by doors, and completing our commodious habitation. These various labours, the removal of our effects, and arranging them again, all the confusion of a change when it was necessary to be at once workmen and directors, took us a great part of summer; but the recollection of the vexations we should escape in the rainy season gave us energy.
We passed nearly all our time at Tent House, the centre of our operations; and, besides the gardens and plantations which surrounded it, we found many advantages which we profited by. Large turtles often came to deposit their eggs in the sand, a pleasant treat for us; but we raised our desires to the possession of the turtles themselves, living, to eat when we chose. As soon as we saw one on the shore, one of my sons ran to cut off its retreat. We then hastened to assist, turned the creature on its back, passed a long cord through its shell, and tied it firmly to a post close to the water. We then placed it on its legs, when of course it made for the water, but could only ramble the length of its cord; it seemed, however, very content, and we had it in readiness when we wanted it. The lobsters, crabs, muscles, and every sort of fish which abounded on the coast, plentifully supplied our table.
At this time I greatly improved my sledge, by placing it on two small wheels belonging to the guns of the ship, making it a light and commodious carriage, and so low, that we could easily place heavy weights on it. Satisfied with our labours, we returned very happy to Falcon’s Nest, to spend our Sunday, and to thank God heartily for all the blessings he had given us.
We went on with our labours but slowly, as many employments diverted us from the great work. We began to plan a boat to replace our tub raft. I wished to try to make one of bark, as these nations do, and I proposed to make an expedition in search of a tree for our purpose. All those in our own neighbourhood were too precious to destroy; some for their fruits, others for their shade. We resolved to search at a distance for trees fit for our purpose, taking in our road a survey of our plantations and fields. Our garden at Tent House produced abundantly continual successions of vegetables in that virgin soil, and in a climate which recognized no change of season. The peas, beans, lentils, and lettuces were flourishing, and only required water, and our channels from the river brought this plentifully to us. We had delicious cucumbers and melons; the maize was already a foot high, the sugar-canes were prospering, and the pine-apples on the high ground promised us a rich treat.
We hoped our distant plantations were going on as well, and all set out one fine morning to Falcon’s Nest, to examine the state of things there. We found my wife’s corn-fields were luxuriant in appearance, and for the most part ready for cutting. There were barley, wheat, oats, beans, millet, and lentils. We cut such of these as were ready, sufficient to give us seeds for another year. The richest crop was the maize, which suited the soil. But there were a quantity of gatherers more eager to taste these new productions than we were; these were birds of every kind, from the bustard to the quail, and from the various establishments they had formed round, it might be presumed they would not leave much for us.
After our first shock at the sight of these robbers, we used some measures to lessen the number of them. Fritz unhooded his eagle, and pointed out the dispersing bustards. The well-trained bird immediately soared, and pounced on a superb bustard, and laid it at the feet of its master. The jackal, too, who was a capital pointer, brought to his master about a dozen little fat quails, which furnished us with an excellent repast; to which my wife added a liquor of her own invention, made of the green maize crushed in water, and mingled with the juice of the sugar-cane; a most agreeable beverage, white as milk, sweet and refreshing.
We found the bustard, which the eagle had struck down, but slightly wounded; we washed his hurts with a balsam made of wine, butter, and water, and tied him by the leg in the poultry-yard, as a companion to our tame bustard.
We passed the remainder of the day at Falcon’s Nest, putting our summer abode into order, and threshing out our grain, to save the precious seed for another year. The Turkey wheat was laid by in sheaves, till we should have time to thresh and winnow it; and then I told Fritz that it would be necessary to put the hand-mill in order, that we had brought from the wreck. Fritz thought we could build a mill ourselves on the river; but this bold scheme was, at present, impracticable.
The next day we set out on an excursion in the neighbourhood. My wife wished to establish colonies of our animals at some distance from Falcon’s Nest, at a convenient spot, where they would be secure, and might find subsistence. She selected from her poultry-yard twelve young fowls; I took four young pigs, two couple of sheep, and two goats. These animals were placed in the cart, in which we had previously placed our provisions of every kind, and the tools and utensils we might need, not forgetting the rope ladder and the portable tent; we then harnessed the buffalo, the cow, and the ass, and departed on our tour.
Fritz rode before on Lightfoot, to reconnoitre the ground, that we might not plunge into any difficulties; as, this time, we went in a new direction, exactly in the midst between the rocks and the shore, that we might get acquainted with the whole of the country that stretched to Cape Disappointment. We had the usual difficulty, at first, in getting through the high grass, and the underwood embarrassed our road, till we were compelled to use the axe frequently. I made some trifling discoveries that were useful, while engaged in this labour; amongst others, some roots of trees curved like saddles, and yokes for beasts of draught. I cut away several of these, and placed them on the cart. When we had nearly passed the wood, we were struck with the singular appearance of a little thicket of low bushes, apparently covered with snow. Francis clapped his hands with joy, and begged to get out of the cart that he might make some snowballs. Fritz galloped forward, and returned, bringing me a branch loaded with this beautiful white down, which, to my great joy, I recognized to be cotton. It was a discovery of inestimable value to us, and my wife began immediately to enumerate all the advantages we should derive from it, when I should have constructed for her the machines for spinning and weaving the cotton. We soon gathered as much as filled three bags, intending afterwards to collect the seeds of this marvellous plant, to sow in the neighbourhood of Tent House.
After crossing the plain of the cotton-trees, we reached the summit of a hill, from which the eye rested on a terrestrial paradise. Trees of every sort covered the sides of the hill, and a murmuring stream crossed the plain, adding to its beauty and fertility. The wood we had just crossed formed a shelter against the north winds, and the rich pasture offered food for our cattle. We decided at once that this should be the site of our farm.
We erected our tent, made a fireplace, and set about cooking our dinner. While this was going on, Fritz and I sought a convenient spot for our structure; and we met with a group of beautiful trees, at such a distance one from another, as to form natural pillars for our dwelling; we carried all our tools here; but as the day was far advanced, we delayed commencing our work till next day. We returned to the tent, and found my wife and her boys picking cotton, with which they made some very comfortable beds, and we slept peacefully under our canvass roof.