The Little Savage

Фредерик Марриет
The Little Savage

THIS IS FAIRY GOLD, BOY; AND 'T WILL PROVE SO.

SHAKESPEARE

INTRODUCTION

There is a reference, in The Life and Letters of Captain Marryat by his daughter Florence Marryat, to "The Little Savage, only two chapters of the second volume of which were written by himself."

This sentence may be variously interpreted, but most probably implies that Marryat wrote all Part I (of the first edition) and two chapters of Part II, that is—as far as the end of Chapter xxiv. The remaining pages may be the work of his son Frank S. Marryat, who edited the first edition, supplying a brief preface to Part II:—

"I cannot publish this last work of my late father without some prefatory remarks, as, in justice to the public, as well as to himself, I should state, that his lamented decease prevented his concluding the second volume."

"The present volume has been for some time at press, but the long-protracted illness of the author delayed its publication."

The Little Savage opens well. The picture of a lad, who was born on a desert island—though of English parents—and really deserves to be called a savage, growing up with no other companionship than that of his father's murderer, is boldly conceived and executed with some power. The man Jackson is a thoroughly human ruffian, who naturally detests the boy he has so terribly injured, and bullies him brutally. Under this treatment Frank's animal passions are inevitably aroused, and when the lightning had struck his tyrant blind, he turns upon him with a quiet savagery that is narrated with admirable detachment.

This original situation arrests the reader's attention and secures his interest in Frank Henniker's development towards civilisation and virtue. His experience of absolute solitude after Jackson's death serves to bring out his sympathies with animals and flowers; while, on the arrival of Mrs Reichardt, he proves himself a loyal comrade under kind treatment.

It is much to be regretted that Marryat did not live to finish his work.

R. B. J.

The Little Savage originally appeared in 1848-49. Marryat, who was born in 1792, died at Langham, Norfolk, August 9, 1848.

The following is the list of his published works:—

Suggestions for the Abolition of the Present System of Impressment in the Naval Service, 1822; The Naval Officer, or Scenes and Adventures in the Life of Frank Mildmay, 1829; The King's Own, 1830; Newton Forster (from the Metropolitan Magazine), 1832; Jacob Faithful (from the Metropolitan Magazine), 1834; Peter Simple, 1834; The Pacha of Many Tales, 1835; Midshipman Easy (from the Metropolitan Magazine), 1836; Japhet in Search of a Father (from the Metropolitan Magazine), 1836; The Pirate and The Three Cutters, 1836; A Code of Signals for the Use of Vessels employed in the Merchant Service, 1837; Snarleyyow, or The Dog Fiend, 1837; A Diary in America, with Remarks on its Institutions, 1839; The Phantom Ship, 1839; Poor Jack, 1840; Olla Podrida (articles from the Metropolitan Magazine), 1840; Joseph Rushbrook, or The Poacher, 1841; Masterman Ready, or The Wreck of the Pacific, 1841; Percival Keene, 1842; Narrative of the Travels and Adventures of Monsieur Violet in California, Sonora, and Western Texas, 1843; The Settlers in Canada, 1844; The Mission, or Scenes in Africa, 1845; The Privateer's Man, 1846; The Children of the New Forest, 1847; The Little Savage (posthumous), 1848-49; Valerie (posthumous), 1849; Life and Letters, Florence Marryat, 1872.

Chapter I

I am about to write a very curious history, as the reader will agree with me when he has read this book. We have more than one narrative of people being cast away upon desolate islands, and being left to their own resources, and no works are perhaps read with more interest; but I believe I am the first instance of a boy being left alone upon an uninhabited island. Such was, however, the case; and now I shall tell my own story.

My first recollections are, that I was in company with a man upon this island, and that we walked often along the sea-shore. It was rocky and difficult to climb in many parts, and the man used to drag or pull me over the dangerous places. He was very unkind to me, which may appear strange, as I was the only companion that he had; but he was of a morose and gloomy disposition. He would sit down squatted in the corner of our cabin, and sometimes not speak for hours—or he would remain the whole day looking out at the sea, as if watching for something, but what I never could tell; for if I spoke, he would not reply; and if near to him, I was sure to receive a cuff or a heavy blow. I should imagine that I was about five years old at the time that I first recollect clearly what passed. I may have been younger. I may as well here state what I gathered from him at different times, relative to our being left upon this desolate spot. It was with difficulty that I did so; for, generally speaking, he would throw a stone at me if I asked questions, that is, if I repeatedly asked them after he had refused to answer. It was on one occasion, when he was lying sick, that I gained the information, and that only by refusing to attend him or bring him food and water. He would be very angry, and say, that when he got well again, he would make me smart for it; but I cared not, for I was then getting strong, whilst he was getting weaker every day, and I had no love for him, for he had never shown any to me, but always treated me with great severity.

He told me, that about twelve years before (not that I knew what he meant by a year, for I had never heard the term used by him), an English ship (I did not know what a ship was) had been swamped near the island, in a heavy gale, and that seven men and one woman had been saved, and all the other people lost. That the ship had been broken into pieces, and that they had saved nothing—that they had picked up among the rocks pieces of the wood with which it had been made, and had built the cabin in which we lived. That one had died after another, and had been buried (what death or burial meant, I had no idea at the time), and that I had been born on the island; (How was I born? thought I)—that most of them had died before I was two years old; and that then, he and my mother were the only two left besides me. My mother had died a few months afterwards. I was obliged to ask him many questions to understand all this; indeed, I did not understand it till long afterwards, although I had an idea of what he would say. Had I been left with any other person, I should, of course, by conversation, have learnt much; but he never would converse, still less explain. He called me, Boy, and I called him, Master. His inveterate silence was the occasion of my language being composed of very few words; for, except to order me to do this or that, to procure what was required, he never would converse. He did however mutter to himself, and talk in his sleep, and I used to lie awake and listen, that I might gain information; not at first, but when I grew older. He used to cry out in his sleep constantly.—"A judgment, a judgment on me for my sins, my heavy sins—God be merciful!" But what judgment, or what sin was, or what was God, I did not then know, although I mused on words repeated so often.

I will now describe the island, and the way in which we lived. The island was very small, perhaps not three miles round; it was of rock, and there was no beach nor landing place, the sea washing its sides with deep water. It was, as I afterwards discovered, one of the group of islands to which the Peruvians despatch vessels every year to collect the guano, or refuse of the sea birds which resort to the islands; but the one on which we were was small, and detached some distance from the others, on which the guano was found in great profusion; so that hitherto it had been neglected, and no vessel had ever come near it. Indeed, the other islands were not to be seen from it except on a very clear day, when they appeared like a cloud or mist on the horizon. The shores of the island were, moreover, so precipitous, that there was no landing place, and the eternal wash of the ocean would have made it almost impossible for a vessel to have taken off a cargo. Such was the island upon which I found myself in company with this man. Our cabin was built of ship-plank and timber, under the shelter of a cliff, about fifty yards from the water; there was a flat of about thirty yards square in front of it, and from the cliff there trickled down a rill of water, which fell into a hole dug out to collect it, and then found its way over the flat to the rocks beneath. The cabin itself was large, and capable of holding many more people than had ever lived in it; but it was not too large, as we had to secure in it our provisions for many months. There were several bed-places level with the floor, which were rendered soft enough to lie on, by being filled with the feathers of birds. Furniture there was none, except two or three old axes, blunted with long use, a tin pannikin, a mess kid and some rude vessels to hold water, cut out of wood. On the summit of the island there was a forest of underwood, and the bushes extended some distance down the ravines which led from the summit to the shore. One of my most arduous tasks was to climb these ravines and collect wood, but fortunately a fire was not often required. The climate was warm all the year round, and there seldom was a fall of rain; when it did fall, it was generally expended on the summit of the island, and did not reach us. At a certain period of the year, the birds came to the island in numberless quantities to breed, and their chief resort was some tolerably level ground—indeed, in many places, it was quite level with the accumulation of guano—which ground was divided from the spot where our cabin was built by a deep ravine. On this spot, which might perhaps contain about twenty acres or more, the sea birds would sit upon their eggs, not four inches apart from each other, and the whole surface of this twenty acres would be completely covered with them. There they would remain from the time of the laying of the eggs, until the young ones were able to leave the nests and fly away with them. At the season when the birds were on the island, all was gaiety, bustle, and noise, but after their departure it was quiet and solitude. I used to long for their arrival, and was delighted with the animation which gladdened the island, the male birds diving in every direction after fish, wheeling and soaring in the air, and uttering loud cries, which were responded to by their mates on the nests.

 

But it was also our harvest time; we seldom touched the old birds, as they were not in flesh, but as soon as the young ones were within a few days of leaving the nests, we were then busy enough. In spite of the screaming and the flapping of their wings in our faces, and the darting their beaks at our eyes, of the old birds, as we robbed them of their progeny, we collected hundreds every day, and bore as heavy a load as we could carry across the ravine to the platform in front of our cabin, where we busied ourselves in skinning them, splitting them, and hanging them out to dry in the sun. The air of the island was so pure that no putrefaction ever took place, and during the last fortnight of the birds coming on the island, we had collected a sufficiency for our support until their return on the following year. As soon as they were quite dry they were packed up in a corner of the cabin for use.

These birds were, it may be said, the only produce of the island, with the exception of fish, and the eggs taken at the time of their first making their nests. Fish were to be taken in large quantities. It was sufficient to put a line over the rocks, and it had hardly time to go down a fathom before anything at the end of it was seized. Indeed, our means of taking them were as simple as their voracity was great. Our lines were composed of the sinews of the legs of the man-of-war birds, as I afterwards heard them named; and, as these were only about a foot long, it required a great many of them knotted together to make a line. At the end of the line was a bait fixed over a strong fish-bone, which was fastened to the line by the middle; a half-hitch of the line round one end kept the bone on a parallel with the line until the bait was seized, when the line being taughtened, the half-hitch slipped off and the bone remained crossways in the gullet of the fish, which was drawn up by it. Simple as this contrivance was, it answered as well as the best hook, of which I had never seen one at that time. The fish were so strong and large, that, when I was young, the man would not allow me to attempt to catch them, lest they should pull me into the water; but, as I grew bigger, I could master them. Such was our food from one year's end to the other; we had no variety, except when occasionally we broiled the dried birds or the fish upon the embers, instead of eating them dried by the sun. Our raiment, such as it was, we were also indebted to the feathered tribe for. The birds were skinned with the feathers on, and their skins sewn together with sinews, and a fish-bone by way of a needle. These garments were not very durable, but the climate was so fine that we did not suffer from the cold at any season of the year. I used to make myself a new dress every year when the birds came; but by the time that they returned, I had little left of my last year's suit, the fragments of which might be found among the rocky and steep parts of the ravine where we used to collect firing.

Living such a life, with so few wants, and those periodically and easily supplied, hardly varied from one year's end to another, it may easily be imagined that I had but few ideas. I might have had more, if my companion had not been of such a taciturn and morose habit; as it was, I looked at the wide ocean, and the sky, and the sun, moon, and stars, wondering, puzzled, afraid to ask questions, and ending all by sleeping away a large portion of my existence. We had no tools except the old ones, which were useless—no employment of any kind. There was a book, and I asked what it was for and what it was, but I got no answer. It remained upon the shelf, for if I looked at it I was ordered away, and at last I regarded it with a sort of fear, as if it were a kind of incomprehensible animal. The day was passed in idleness and almost silence; perhaps not a dozen sentences were exchanged in the twenty-four hours. My companion always the same, brooding over something which appeared ever to occupy his thoughts, and angry if roused up from his reverie.

Chapter II

The reader must understand that the foregoing remarks are to be considered as referring to my position and amount of knowledge when I was seven or eight years old. My master, as I called him, was a short square-built man, about sixty years of age, as I afterwards estimated from recollection and comparison. His hair fell down his back in thick clusters and was still of a dark color, and his beard was full two feet long and very bushy; indeed, he was covered with hair, wherever his person was exposed. He was, I should say, very powerful had he had occasion to exert his strength, but with the exception of the time at which we collected the birds, and occasionally going up the ravine to bring down faggots of wood, he seldom moved out of the cabin unless it was to bathe. There was a pool of salt water of about twenty yards square, near the sea, but separated from it by a low ridge of rocks, over which the waves only beat when the sea was rough and the wind on that side of the island. Every morning almost we went down to bathe in that pool, as it was secure from the sharks, which were very numerous. I could swim like a fish as early as I can recollect, but whether I was taught, or learnt myself, I cannot tell. Thus was my life passed away; my duties were trifling; I had little or nothing to employ myself about, for I had no means of employment. I seldom heard the human voice, and became as taciturn as my companion. My amusements were equally confined—looking down into the depths of the ocean, as I lay over the rocky wall which girded the major portion of the island, and watching the motions of the finny tribes below, wondering at the stars during the night season, eating, and sleeping. Thus did I pass away an existence without pleasure and without pain. As for what my thoughts were I can hardly say, my knowledge and my ideas were too confined for me to have any food for thought. I was little better than a beast of the field, that lies down on the pasture after he is filled. There was one great source of interest however, which was, to listen to the sleeping talk of my companion, and I always looked forward to the time when the night fell and we repaired to our beds. I would lie awake for hours, listening to his ejaculations and murmured speech, trying in vain to find out some meaning in what he would say—but I gained little; he talked of "that woman"—appearing to be constantly with other men, and muttering about something he had hidden away. One night, when the moon was shining bright, he sat up in his bed, which, as I have before said, was on the floor of the cabin, and throwing aside the feathers upon which he had been lying, scratched the mould away below them and lifted up a piece of board. After a minute he replaced everything, and lay down again. He evidently was sleeping during the whole time. Here, at last, was something to feed my thoughts with. I had heard him say in his sleep that he had hidden something—this must be the hiding place. What was it? Perhaps I ought here to observe that my feelings towards this man were those of positive dislike, if not hatred; I never had received one kind word or deed from him, that I could recollect. Harsh and unfeeling towards me, evidently looking upon me with ill-will, and only suffering me because I saved him some trouble, and perhaps because he wished to have a living thing for his companion,—his feelings towards me were reciprocated by mine towards him. What age I was at the time my mother died, I know not, but I had some faint recollection of one who treated me with kindness and caresses, and these recollections became more forcible in my dreams, when I saw a figure very different from that of my companion (a female figure) hanging over me or leading me by the hand. How I used to try to continue those dreams, by closing my eyes again after I had woke up! And yet I knew not that they had been brought about by the dim recollection of my infancy; I knew not that the figure that appeared to me was the shadow of my mother; but I loved the dreams because I was treated kindly in them.

But a change took place by the hand of Providence. One day, after we had just laid in our yearly provision of sea birds, I was busy arranging the skins of the old birds, on the flat rock, for my annual garment, which was joined together something like a sack, with holes for the head and arms to pass through; when, as I looked to seaward, I saw a large white object on the water.

"Look, master," said I, pointing towards it.

"A ship, a ship!" cried my companion.

"Oh," thought I, "that is a ship; I recollect that he said they came here in a ship." I kept my eyes on her, and she rounded to.

"Is she alive?" inquired I.

"You're a fool," said the man; "come and help me to pile up this wood that we may make a signal to her. Go and fetch some water and throw on it, that there may be plenty of smoke. Thank God, I may leave this cursed hole at last!"

I hardly understood him, but I went for the water and brought it in the mess kid.

"I want more wood yet," said he. "Her head is this way, and she will come nearer."

"Then she is alive," said I.

"Away, fool!" said he, giving me a cuff on the head; "get some more water and throw on the wood."

He then went into the cabin to strike a light, which he obtained by a piece of iron and flint, with some fine dry moss for tinder. While he was so employed, my eyes were fixed on the vessel, wondering what it could be. It moved through the water, turned this way and that. "It must be alive," thought I; "is it a fish or a bird?" As I watched the vessel, the sun was going down and there was not more than an hour's daylight. The wind was very light and variable, which accounted for the vessel so often altering her course. My companion came out with his hands full of smoking tinder, and putting it under the wood, was busy blowing it into a flame. The wood was soon set fire to, and the smoke ascended several feet into the air.

"They'll see that," said he.

"What then, it has eyes? it must be alive. Does it mind the wind?" inquired I, having no answer to my first remark, "for look there, the little clouds are coming up fast," and I pointed to the horizon, where some small clouds were rising up and which were, as I knew from experience and constantly watching the sky, a sign of a short but violent gale, or tornado, of which we usually had one, if not two, at this season of the year.

"Yes; confound it," replied my companion, grinding his teeth, "it will blow her off! That's my luck."

In the meantime, the smoke ascended in the air and the vessel approached nearer and nearer, until she was within, I suppose, two miles of the island, and then it fell quite calm. My companion threw more water on to increase the smoke, and the vessel now hauling up her courses, I perceived that there were people on board, and while I was arranging my ideas as to what the vessel might be, my companion cried out—"They see us, they see us! there's hope now. Confound it, I've been here long enough. Hurrah for old England!" and he commenced dancing and capering about like a madman. At last he said,

"Look out and see if she sends a boat, while I go into the cabin."

"What's a boat?" said I.

"Out, you fool! tell me if you see anything,"

"Yes, I do see something," replied I. "Look at the squall coming along the water, it will be here very soon; and see how thick the clouds are getting up: we shall have as much wind and rain as we had the time before last, when the birds came."

"Confound it," replied he, "I wish they'd lower a boat, at all events;" and so saying, he went into the cabin, and I perceived that he was busy at his bed-place.

 

My eyes were still fixed upon the squall, as I watched it advancing at a furious speed on the surface of the water; at first it was a deep black line on the horizon, but as it approached the vessel, it changed to white; the surface of the water was still smooth. The clouds were not more than ten degrees above the horizon, although they were thick and opaque—but at this season of the year, these tornadoes, as I may call them, visited us; sometimes we had one, sometimes more, and it was only when these gusts came on that we had any rain below. On board of the vessel—I speak now from my after knowledge—they did not appear to be aware of the danger; the sails were all set and flapping against the masts. At last, I perceived a small object close to the vessel; this I presumed was the boat which my companion looked for. It was like a young vessel close to the old one, but I said nothing; as I was watching and wondering what effect the rising wind would have upon her, for the observations of my companion had made me feel that it was important. After a time, I perceived that the white sails were disappearing, and that the forms of men were very busy, and moving on board, and the boat went back to the side of the vessel. The fact is, they had not perceived the squall until it was too late, for in another moment almost, I saw that the vessel bowed down to the fury of the gale, and after that, the mist was so great that I couldn't see her any more.

"Is she sending a boat, boy?" cried my companion.

"I can't see her," replied I; "for she is hidden by the wind."

As I said this, the tornado reached to where we stood, and threw me off my legs to the entrance of the cabin; and with the wind came down a torrent of rain, which drenched us, and the clouds covered the whole of the firmament, which became dark; the lightning darted in every direction, with peals of thunder which were deafening. I crawled into the cabin, into which the rain beat in great fury and flowed out again in a small river.

My companion sat near me, lowering and silent. For two hours the tornado lasted without interruption; the sun had set, and the darkness was opaque. It was impossible to move against the force of the wind and the deluge of water which descended. Speak, we did not, but shut our eyes against the lightning, and held our fingers to our ears to deaden the noise of the thunder, which burst upon us in the most awful manner. My companion groaned at intervals, whether from fear, I know not; I had no fear, for I did not know the danger, or that there was a God to judge the earth.

Gradually the fury of the gale abated, the rain was only heavy at intervals, and we could now hear the beating of the waves, as they dashed against the rocks beneath us. The sky also cleared up a little, and we could dimly discern the white foam of the breakers. I crawled out of the cabin, and stood upon the platform in front, straining my eyes to see the vessel. A flash of lightning, for a second, revealed her to me; she was dismasted, rolling in the awful breakers, which bore her down upon the high rocks, not a quarter of a mile from her.

"There it is," exclaimed I, as the disappearance of the lightning left me in darkness, more opaque than ever.

"She's done for," growled my companion, who, I was not till then aware, stood by my side. "No hopes this time, confound it!" Then he continued for some time to curse and swear awfully, as I afterwards discovered, for I did not then know what was cursing and swearing.

"There she is again," said I, as another flash of lightning revealed the position of the vessel.

"Yes, and she won't be there long; in five minutes she'll be dashed to atoms, and every soul perish."

"What are souls?" inquired I.

My companion gave me no reply.

"I will go down to the rocks," said I, "and see what goes on."

"Go," said he, "and share their fate."

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