CHAPTER XIII

SAVAGES CONTINUED – THE MAST FITTED

'THIS is very stupid,' said Bevis, throwing himself back at full length on the grass, and crossing his arms over his face to shield his eyes from the sun.

'They ought not to tell us such stupid things,' said Mark. 'We might rub all day.'

'I know,' said Bevis, sitting up again. 'It's a drill; it's done with a drill. Give me my bow – there, don't you know how Jonas made the hole in Tom's gun?'

Jonas the blacksmith, a clever fellow in his way, drilled out a broken nipple in the bird's keeper's muzzle-loading gun, working the drill with a bow. Bevis and Mark, always on the watch everywhere, saw him do it.

They cut a notch or hole in the hard surface of the thicker bough, and shaped another piece of wood to a dull point to fit in it. Bevis took this, placed it against the string of his bow, and twisted the string round it. Then he put the point of the stick in the hole; Mark held the bough firm on the ground, but immediately be began to work the bow backwards and forwards, rotating the drill alternate ways, he found that the other end against which he pressed with his chest would quickly fray a hole in his jacket. They had to stop and cut another piece of wood with a hole to take the top of the drill, and Bevis now pressed on this with his left hand (finding that it did not need the weight of his chest), and worked the bow with his right.

The drill revolved swiftly, it was really very near the savages' fire-drill; but the expected flame did not come. The wood was not dry enough, or the point of friction was not accurately adjusted; the wood became quite hot, but did not ignite. You may have rhe exact machinery and yet not be able to use it, the possession of the tools does not make the smith. There is an indefinite something in the touch of the master's hand which is wanting.

Bevis flung down the bow without a word, heaving a deep sigh of rage.

'Flint and steel,' said Mark presently.

'Hum!'

'There's a flint in the gateway,' continued Mark. 'I saw it just now; and you can knock it against the end of your knife.'

'You stupe; there's no tinder.'

'No more there is.'

'I hate it – it's horrid,' said Bevis. 'What's the use of trying to do things when everything can't be done?'

He sat on his heels as he knelt, and looked round scowling. There was the water – no fire to be obtained from thence; there was the broad field – no fire there; there was the sun overhead.

'Go home directly, and get a burning-glass – unscrew the telescope.'

'Is it proper?' said Mark, not much liking the journey.

'It's not matches,' said Bevis sententiously.

Mark knew it was of no use, he had to go, and he went, taking off his jacket before he started, as he meant to run a good part of the way. It was not really far, but as his mind was at the hollow all the while the time seemed twice as long. After he had gone Bevis soon found that the sunshine was too warm to sit in, though while they had been so busy and working their hardest they had never noticed it. Directly the current of occupation was interrupted the sun became unbearable. Bevis went to the shadow of the sycamores, taking the skinned bird with him, lest a wandering beast of prey - some weasel or jackal - should pounce on it.

He thought Mark was a very long time gone; he got up and walked round the huge trunk of the sycamore, and looked up into it to see if any immense boa-constrictor was coiled among its great limbs. He thought they would some day build a hut up there on a platform of poles. Far out over the water he saw the Unknown Island, and remembered that when they sailed there in the ship there was no knowing what monsters or what enchantments they might encounter. So he walked out from the trees into the field to look for some moly to take with them, and resist Circe.

The bird's-foot lotus he knew was not it. There was one blue spot of veronica still, and another tiny blue flower which he did not know, besides the white honeysuckle clover at which the grey bees were busy, and would scarce stir from under his footsteps. He found three button mushrooms, and put them in his pocket. Wandering on among the buttercup stalks and bunches of grass, like a butterfly drawn hither and thither by every speck of colour, he came to a little white flower on a slender stem a few inches high, which he gathered for moly. Putting the precious flower – good against sorcery – in his breast-pocket for safety, he rose from his knees, and saw Mark coming by the sycamores.

Mark was hot and tired with running, yet he had snatched time enough to bring four cherries for Bevis. He had the burning-glass – a lens unscrewed from the telescope, and sitting on the grass they focused the sun's rays on a piece of paper. The lens was powerful and the summer sun bright, so that in a few seconds there was a tiny black speck, then the faintest whiff of bluish smoke, then a leap of flame, and soon another, till the paper burned, and their fire was lit. As the little hut blazed up they put some more boughs on, and the dead leaves attached to them sent up a thin column of smoke.

'The savages will see that,' said Mark, 'and come swarming down from the hills.'

'We ought to have made the fire in a hole,' said Bevis, 'and put turf on it.'

'What ever shall we do?' said Mark. 'They'll be here in a minute.'

'Fetish,' said Bevis. 'I know, cut that stick sharp at the end, tie a handful of grass on it - be quick - and run down towards the elms and stick it up. Then they'll think we're doing fetish, and won't come any nearer.'

'First-rate,' said Mark, and off he went with the stick, and thrust it into the sward with a wisp of grass tied to the top. Bevis piled on the branches, and when he came back there was a large fire. Then the difficulty was how to cook the bird? If they put it on the ashes, it would burn and be spoiled; if they hung it up, they could not make it twist round and round, and they had no iron pot to boil it; or earthenware pot to drop red-hot stones in, and so heat the water without destroying the vessel. The only thing they could do was to stick it on a stick, and hold it to the fire till it was roasted, one side at a time.

'The harpoon will do,' said Bevis. 'Spit him on it.'

'No,' said Mark; 'the bone will burn and get spoiled – spit him on your arrow.'

'The nail will burn out and spoil my arrow, and I've lost one in the elms. Go and cut a long stick.'

'You ought to go and do it,' said Mark; 'I've done everything this morning.'

'So you have; I'll go,' said Bevis, and away he went to the nut-tree hedge. He soon brought back a straight hazel-rod to which he cut a point, the bird was spitted, and they held it by turns at the fire, sitting on the sward.

It was very warm in the round, bowl-like hollow, the fire at the bottom and the sun overhead, but they were too busy to heed it. Mark crept on hands and knees up the side of the hollow while Bevis was cooking, and cautiously peered over the edge to see if any savages were near. There was none in sight; the fetish kept them at a distance.

'We must remember to take the burning-glass with us when we go on our voyage,' said Bevis.

'Perhaps the sun won't shine.'

'No. Mind you tell me we will take some matches too; and if the sun shines use the glass, and if he doesn't, strike a match.'

'We shall want a camp-fire when we go to war,' said Mark.

'Of course we shall.'

'Everybody keeps on about the war,' said Mark. 'They're always at me.'

'I found these buttons,' said Bevis; 'I had forgotten them.'

He put the little mushrooms, stems upwards, on some embers which had fallen from the main fire. The branches as they burned became white directly, coated over with a film of ash, so that except just in the centre they did not look red, though glowing with heat under the white layer. Even the flames were but just visible in the brilliant sunshine, and were paler in colour than those of the hearth. Now and then the thin column of grey smoke, rising straight up out of the hollow, was puffed aside at its summit by the light air wandering over the field. As the butterflies came over the edge of the hollow into the heated atmosphere, they fluttered up high to escape it.

'I'm sure it's done,' said Mark, drawing the stick away from the fire. The bird was brown and burnt in one place, so they determined to eat it and not spoil it by over-roasting. When Bevis began to carve it with his pocket-knife he found one leg quite raw, the wings were burnt, but there was a part of the breast and the other leg fairly well cooked. These they ate, little pieces at a time, slowly, and in silence, for it was proper to like it. But they did not pick the bones clean.

'No salt,' said Mark, putting down the piece he had in his hand.

'No bread,' said Bevis, flinging the leg away.

'We don't do it right somehow,' said Mark. 'It takes such a long time to learn to be savages.'

'Years,' said Bevis, picking a mushroom from the embers. It burnt his fingers and he had to wait till it was cooler. The mushrooms were better, their cups held some of the juice as they cooked, retaining the sweet flavour. They were so small, they were but a bite each.

'I am thirsty,' said Mark. Bevis was the same, so they went down towards the water. Mark began to run down the slope, when Bevis suddenly remembered.

'Stop,' he cried; 'you can't drink there.'

'Why not?'

'Why of course it's the New Sea. We must go round to the Nile; it's fresh water there.'

So they ran through the firs to the Nile, and lapped from the brook. On the way home a little boy stepped out from the trees on the bank where it was high, and he could look down at them.

'I say!' – he had been waiting for them – 'say!'

'Well!' growled Mark.

'Bevis,' said the boy. Bevis looked up, he could not demean himself to answer such a mite. The boy looked round to see that he was sure of his retreat through the trees to the gap in the hedge he could crawl through, but they would find it difficult. Besides, they would have to run up the bank, which was thick with brambles. He got his courage together and shouted in his shrill little voice.

'I say, Ted says he shan't play if you don't have war soon.'

Mark picked up a dead branch and hurled it at the mite; the mite dodged it, and it broke against a tree, then he ran for his life, but they did not follow. Bevis said nothing till they reached the blue summer-house at home and sat down. Then he yawned.

'War is a bother,' he said, putting his hands in his pockets, and leaning back in an attitude of weary despair at having to do something. If the rest would not have played, he would have egged them on with furious energy till they did. As they were eager he did not care.

'Oh, well!' said Mark, nodding his head up and down as he spoke, as much as to indicate that he did not care personally; but still, 'Oh, well! all I know is, if you don't go to war Ted will have one all to himself, and have a battle with somebody else. I believe he sent Charlie.' Charlie was the mite.

'Did he say he would have a war all to himself?' said Bevis, sitting upright.

'I don't know,' said Mark, nodding his head. 'They say lots of things.'

'What do they say?'

'Oh, heaps; perhaps you don't know how to make war, and perhaps '

'I'll have the biggest war,' said Bevis, getting up, 'that was ever known, and Ted's quite stupid. Mind, he doesn't have any more cherries, that's certain. I hate him – awfully! Let's make the swords.'

'All right,' said Mark, jumping up, delighted that the war was going to begin. He was as eager as the others, only he did not dare say so. Most of the afternoon they were cutting sticks for swords, and measuring them so as to have all the same length.

Next morning the governor went with them to bathe, as he wanted to see how they were getting on with their swimming. They had the punt, and the governor stopped it about twenty yards from the shore, to which they had to swim. Bevis dived first, and with some blowing and spluttering and splashing managed to get to where he could bottom with his feet. He could have gone farther than that, but it was a new feeling to know that he was out of his depth, and it made him swim too fast and splash. Mark having seen that Bevis could do it, and knowing he could swim as far as Bevis could, did it much better.

The governor was satisfied and said they could now have the blue boat, but on two conditions, first, that they still kept their promise not to go out of their depth, and secondly, that they were to try and see every day how far they could swim along the shore. He guessed they had rather neglected their swimming; having learnt the art itself they had not tried to improve themselves. He said he should come with them once or twice a week, and see them dive from the punt so as to get used to deep water.

If they would practise along the shore in their depth till they could swim from the rocky point to the rails, about seventy yards, he would give them each a present, and they could then go out of their depth. He was obliged to be careful about the depth till they could swim a good way, because he could not be always with them, and fresh water is not so buoyant as the sea, so that young swimmers soon tire.

The same day they carried the mast up, and fitted it in the hole in the thwart. The mast was a little too large, but that was soon remedied. The bowsprit was lashed to the ring to which the painter was fastened, and at its inner end to the seat and mast. Next the gaff was tried, and drew up and down fairly well through the curtain-ring. But one thing they had overlooked – the sheets, or ropes for the jib, must work through something, and they had not provided any staples. Besides this there was the rudder to be fitted with a tiller instead of the ropes. Somehow they did not like ropes; it did not look like a ship. This instinct was right, for ropes are not of much use when sailing; you have no power on the rudder as with a tiller.


THE MAST FITTED

After fitting the mast and bowsprit they unshipped them, and carried them home for safety till the sails were ready. Bevis wanted Mark to go and ask Frances to be quick, but Mark was afraid to return just yet, as Frances would now know from Jack that he had forgotten the letter. Every now and then bundles of sticks for swords, and longer ones for spears and darts, and rods for arrows, were brought in by the soldiery. All these were taken upstairs into the bench-room, or armoury, because they did not like their things looked at or touched, and there was a lock and key to that room. Bevis always kept the key in his pocket now.

They could not fit a head to the oyster barrel for the fresh water on the voyage, but found a large round tin canister with a tight lid, such as contain cornflour, and which would go inside the oyster barrel. The tin canister would hold water, and could be put in the barrel, so as to look proper. More sticks kept coming, and knobbed clubs, till the armoury was crowded with the shafts of weapons. Now that Bevis had consented to go to war, all the rest were eager to serve him, so that he easily got a messenger to take a note (as Mark was afraid to go) to Frances to be quick with the stitching.

In the evening Bevis tore another broad folio page or fly-leaf from one of the big books in the parlour, and took it out into the summer house, where they kept an old chair – the back gone – which did very well for a table. Cutting his pencil, Bevis took his hat off and threw it on the seat which ran round inside; then kneeling down, as the table was so low, he proceeded to draw his map of the coming campaign.