Crusoes of Sunday Island
CHAPTER TWELVE — The Green Island Kingdom
The Green Island Kingdom
With trading ships now calling regularly at Sunday Island, and Tom Bell making occasional visits to New Zealand, the South Seas "grape-vine" began to pass along word of this modern Crusoe of the Kermadecs. The story of his colonizing venture, and particularly of his gardens, attracted the attention of Sir George Grey, a former Governor of New Zealand. On retiring from politics, he had bought the beautiful little island of Kawau, a few hours' sea trip from Auckland. Here he indulged to fullest extent the scholarly interests and hobbies which had already won him fame as an ardent collector of the fauna and flora of the Pacific, and established his reputation as an authority on Polynesian ethnology.
In his spacious Kawau home, still known as the Mansion House, he entertained on vice-regal scale not only a host of personal friends, but every overseas visitor of note, reigning as benevolent patriarch over the numerous members of his household as well as over his retinue of servants. He established gardens and plantations that contained a unique collection of exotic shrubs, trees and flowers from South Africa, India, Australia, Japan and every island of the Pacific with which he could establish contact. Nourished by rich soil and sheltered by acres of New Zealand forest, they flourished in the genial sub-tropical climate until Kawau Island was transformed into a Paradise-without-tears, kindlier far than Tom Bell's hostile island Eden, beautiful but bewitched, ever seeking to destroy him.page 143
It was inevitable that two such ardent garden lovers should become acquainted. Soon they were exchanging plants and seeds with mutual enthusiasm. Sir George's mind ran on practical as well as aesthetic lines. One of his first gifts to the Bells was a couple of pure bred Plymouth Rock hens and a rooster, also several turkeys. The young Bells named the fowls Sir George Grey, Lady Grey and Miss Grey. They bore their honours well, raised numerous progeny, and provided the Bells with table poultry and eggs in abundance. The turkeys proved less adaptable. Some of them "went bush" (escaped and went wild) and gradually died out.
Another gift from Sir George, prized equally by husband and wife, was a packet of seed from a special strain of Havana tobacco. It grew well, and provided them with a good substitute when other supplies gave out. When the plants were fully grown, the leaves were picked, rolled in strips and hung from the kitchen ceiling to dry. Mrs. Bell never became a heavy smoker, but often enjoyed a pipe with her husband in the evening, when the day's work was done.
Even more acceptable to her than the tobacco was a gift of tea plants, sent by Sir George together with a number of coffee plants, also two varieties of fine Smyrna figs. These last were planted in a sheltered corner of the Terraces and forgotten.
Greatly to Mrs. Bell's disappointment, the tea plants died, but the coffee plants flourished. Her husband brought from New Zealand a small coffee mill, and the Bells were soon grinding their own beans. The mother, however, still gazed wistfully at her teapot, frequently empty. When an occasional pound of tea came her way, she was delighted, but could never persuade her daughters to share her joy very willingly.
"I'd love a cup of tea," she would sometimes confide to one or other of the girls. The reply was always the same.
"All right, mother. Have one."page 144"I don't like drinking by myself. If I make one, will you——?"
"Oh all right," the girls would laugh good-naturedly, "put the kettle on!"
One New Year's Day, Bess wandered across the Terraces, worried because it was her mother's birthday and she had no present to give her. Suddenly she thought of the figs, planted a couple of summers previously. "I wonder how they're getting on?" she said to herself. "I don't believe anybody's ever looked at them since Dad put them in. They ought to have grown quite big by now. I'll go and have a look."
To her delight, she found they had not only grown quite big, but that one was loaded with ripe figs bursting with sweetness. Once again, Sunday Island soil and climate had produced a near-miracle. When weighed later, some of the figs were found to be almost half a pound in weight.
Gathering a handful of nikau leaves, Bess sat down beneath the tree and plaited a neat fruit basket, which she lined with ferns. Then she filled it with the choicest of the figs and took it home, with a well-satisfied "Happy Birthday, Mother!" Frederica Bell was delighted. It was the only gift she received and made the day's double celebration one she long remembered.
Among other gifts from the Kawau orchards were cuttings of gold and purple grapes. "The old chap didn't tell me the names," remarked Bell as he planted them, "but he said they were something very special, and he knows what he's talking about." Evidently he did. The grapes, trained across a wire fence, grew with quite astonishing rapidity, and turned out to be superb varieties, one producing bunches of fruit a foot in length, packed tightly with purple-bloomed grapes the size of damson plums.
Mrs. Bell, not to be outdone, took possession of a bundle of strawberry runners, and following an idea of page 145 her own, planted them on a pyramid of rich soil with a calabash of water filtering through the top. Bessie's comment and nostalgic sigh many years later, testified to the success of the method. "I've never seen their equal for size and flavour. I don't think the Garden of Eden itself could have beaten them!"
Bell also brought from New Zealand flower seeds and plants of all varieties, including some of the best standard and climbing roses of the day. Several of the most beautiful of these he planted on the little cliff-top grave.
From Niue and other islands, the traders and kanakas brought pomegranates, mandevillea, and rare varieties of hibiscus. One of these bore a particularly beautiful flower, deep crimson lake in colour, to which the Bells gave the unromantic name of "Shoeblack." When crumpled in the hand and rubbed on leather, the petals produced a rich black polish. As every member of the family invariably went barefooted, however, the flower was prized more for its beauty than its utility, this being confined to an occasional shine-up of footwear brought from Samoa. Frederica Bell would pick up a small pair of shoes or boots with scratched heels and scuffed toes, long since outgrown, with the firm intention of throwing them away. After looking at them for a moment, she would hesitate, and with a mother's sigh, polish them up once more and replace them quickly in their box.
Another hibiscus that grew plentifully in the Sunday Island forests was a tree variety which bore handsome yellow flowers. This tree, reaching a height of fifteen feet, not only added to the beauty of the forest glades, but in true Swiss Family Robinson tradition, provided the Bells with an indispensable household necessity, a plentiful supply of coarse and fine string. It was very easily made. A cut was made near the base of the tree and the bark pulled upward in long strips. These were soaked in water for a few days, until the bark fell away, leaving a tough, lacy inner fibre. This was hung in the sun to dry, and then page 146 shredded into wide or narrow strips as required for light or heavy use in the making of fishing lines and nets, the sewing up of woolsacks, tying up of plants, for plaiting of tether ropes—for so many and varied purposes, indeed, that it is hard to imagine how the Bells would have fared without their handsome hibiscus.
Among the novel uses to which the twine was put was that of tying together the feet of mutton birds during the process of smoking. More spectacular was its use on a later occasion, which served as a herculean test of strength between Hettie and Bess, grown to a pair of sturdy young Amazons.
They had gone out mutton-birding on the crater cliffs, where the birds hatched out in thousands. Each carried a sack, which, when filled, would have ranked as a good day's catch, and also as a fairly heavy load.
"Let's see how many we can carry," suggested Hettie when the sacks were full. It was truly a day of massed slaughter for the boobies! By the dozen, by the score, the young birds were gathered in, strung together by the neck on hibiscus ropes, and festooned round the girls' shoulders and waists, round their bodies, round their necks, until they looked like walking pillars of dead birds.
"Can't go fast with this load!" declared Bess, pausing for breath at the top of a cliff. "Let's count them when we get home."
One hundred and thirty for Hettie, including those in the sack, one hundred and ten for Bess. Each bird averaging a pound and a half in weight, a load of nearly two hundred pounds for Hettie, one hundred and sixty-five for Bess.
"That beats hollow your seventy-six of sugar from Denham Bay!" exclaimed Hettie triumphantly. "I don't suppose either of us will ever do better."
"You can try if you want to. This'll do me!" By tacit consent the record was allowed to stand.page 147
A glimpse of the daily routine of life for the Bells in the middle years of the 'eighties gives an authentic picture of the working out of the desert island idyll in one family's experience. It should be salutary for any lotus-eaters of the present day, dreaming of "getting away from it all" on some glamorous South Pacific isle. Although so far removed from civilization, the ordinary routine of family life and its duties had to be met and carried out the hard way. Mention has often been made of the fact that Thomas Bell was the first Sunday Island settler to achieve success in his pioneering. The reasons were incontestable; it was as much thanks to his wife and daughters as to his own determination.
The days of the week followed a set pattern in which all took a share of the work. The entire family would be astir soon after sunrise. The three girls, Hettie, Bess and Mary, took turns at cooking and housework, week and week about. While Mrs. Bell tended her latest baby-there seemed always to be a teething infant on hand-the girls would share the work of milking the goats and preparing breakfast, no light task for such a family, now ten in number, and later reaching twelve.
The meal, cooked in a big camp-oven and in heavy iron pots over an open fire in the outside kitchen, was a hearty one. There was usually a piece of goat-meat, pork or mutton, fish, eggs, fried taro and honey, and the family's favourite morning dish of hominy. This was a speciality prepared from a pure-white variety of maize given to Bell by an American sailor. The girls ground it in a small handmill to a fine meal which was cooked with milk, sweetened with honey, and eaten as porridge.
There was always plenty of butter made from thick white goat-milk cream, but the children hardly knew the taste of jam, although there was an abundance of fruit from the Bell orchards. Instead of jam, they ate honey of exceptionally fine flavour. The Sunday Island bees worked a non-stop routine, for the heavily-nectared page 148 flowers they liked best, nikau and pohutukawa, bloomed practically all the year round. The honeycomb hung down in solid, pale golden masses; one nikau palm alone yielded a crop of no less than eighty pounds. There was hardly any comb; the honey was crystallized nectar, and could be drawn out in long amber-gold strips.
The laborious carrying of water from the Dripping Well and Nightbell Gully spring was now a thing of the past. During one of the California's calls at.Denham Bay, a large, square iron tank and a quantity of roofing iron had been rowed from the Bay to North Beach by a party of sailors, accompanied by two of the younger Bell boys. Parkins Christian, who had walked across the island earlier, stood on the beach with the Bells to direct landing operations, as a heavy swell was running. Everything went well until the whaleboat neared the shore. Suddenly a wall of water piled up astern, while the boat-steerer's eyes were fixed tenaciously on the crest of a breaker just ahead. Christian shouted loudly, waved his arms in an urgent attempt to attract the man's attention, but he took no notice. The stern wave crashed down on the boat and capsized it in a swirl of water that swept occupants and cargo alike into the breakers. The children sank, came to the surface. Next moment Christian, a dapper figure in white uniform, was out in the surf. Grabbing first one boy, then the other, by the scruff of the neck, he ran them ashore.
To Tom Bell's chagrin and bitter disappointment, the heavy tank and roofing iron were too deeply embedded in the sand to be recovered. The family had to wait many months before the lost tank could be replaced.
One of Tom Bell's first jobs after building his home at Low Flat had been the hollowing out of an immense kauri log which had been swept across the ocean from a North Auckland beach. He set to work on it in Maori fashion with axe and adze. It took him months to hollow it out; when it was deep enough he dragged it up to Low Flat page 149 and set it beneath an inverted covering of thatch, so that the rain would run freely into the log. But to his disappointment, the water always had a bitter, woody taste that made it unfit to drink. Eventually he turned it into a sheep dip, and used it as such for several years.
The establishment of sheep on the island added a great deal of extra work, hard and heavy, to the girls' already crowded days. Not only did they give a hand in dipping the sheep, in which Mrs. Bell also was called upon to help, but in shearing. A shearing shed was built in Denham Bay and a row of pens, floored thickly with nikau branches, at North Beach.
Bell then decided to add to his daughters' already formidable list of manly accomplishments by teaching them to shear. They proved such apt pupils that by the end of their first shearing, they beat their father. His best tally for a day was twenty rams, admittedly more difficult to shear than ewes, but Hettie's record that same day stood at thirty-three, and Bessie's at thirty. The girls took shearing in their stride. It was all part of the day's work. They neither grumbled nor looked for thanks.
But when the ship arrived for the wool, they received heart-warming encouragement from a remark their father had made to the skipper, which the latter lost no time in passing on.
"By Jove, your dad's proud of you two girls all right!"
"First we've heard of it!" retorted Hettie.
"You bet he is!" insisted the captain. "Know what he said to me only this morning? Tve got the best pair of helpers in the world. They do anything and everything I do myself and never make a fuss about it.' Now, miss, what 'ya think of that, eh?"
"Too good to be true!" laughed Bess. But the girls' faces lit with pleasure. The unexpected words of praise put fresh heart into them for many a day to come. By this time, Hettie had grown into a sturdily built girl, not tall, but exceptionally powerful like her father, and also page 150 extremely swift-footed. Bess, rapidly shooting up to the six-foot-one she was eventually to attain, was graceful and long-legged as an antelope, but inclined to outgrow her strength. She was almost as fleet-footed as her sister, and kept up with her in running down the wild goats they still hunted as part of the day's work, without any help now from either their father or the dogs.
"But what do you do when you've cornered them?" enquired Mrs. Brightman during a visit. "You don't shoot them, do you?"
"No. Father won't trust us with a gun," was Hettie's rather resentful reply. "We have to kill them with a hunting knife. It's quite easy," she added, shrugging away Mrs. Brightman's exclamation of horror. "You just catch them by the hind leg, twist it round a tree so they can't move, and plunge the knife in deep behind the shoulder. Father showed us how. They die without a struggle. Then we skin the body and hang it on the branch of a tree."
"How simply ghastly!" shuddered the other woman. "I don't know how you girls can do it!"
"Oh well, we just have to," was Bess's reply. "You soon get used to it. It would be worse if we had to cut their throats."
There was one job they did not get used to, and cordially detested, the backbreaking work of digging ridges for the replanting of kumara beds, which covered a full acre of ground. The father would mark off three wide swathes, and standing spade in hand, would shout in company-sergeant-major bellow, "Now then! Ready? One, two, dig, dig, d-i-g!"
The girls would set to work on their ridges as at the crack of a whip, with their father straightening his back now and then to harass his perspiring helpers with another shout, "Gome on! Who's going to be first to finish? d-i-g!"
The girls hated it.
While Hettie and Bess were following these quite un-girlish pursuits, Mrs. Bell's and Mary's days were filled page 151 with many lighter but equally important housekeeping routine jobs. Apart from these there were two or three special activities, one of the most pleasant of which was the preparation of honey mead, a delicious and stimulating drink they all thoroughly enjoyed. After washing the comb in lukewarm water, Mrs. Bell would strain it into buckets, and pour the liquid honey into a wooden keg laid on its side with the bung-hole left open. Yeast would be stirred in, and the stuff left to work until masses of froth came bubbling out of the hole. More and more syrup would be added until fermentation ceased, after which the keg was plugged, and the mead left for a couple of weeks. It would then be drawn off by tap, until all too soon the keg was emptied.
Another favourite drink prepared by Mrs. Bell was the honey-sweetened juice of a particularly fine variety of Cook Island lime with sweet, thick pith which the Bells ate as a sweetmeat. From another kind of citrus fruit Mrs. Bell made candied citron peel which was sent to Auckland and sold.
Most delicious of all the home-made sweetmeats was one in the form of crystallized bananas, unknown to New Zealand, although packets of dried bananas, withered-brown in colour, sickly-sweet and poor in flavour, sometimes appeared in fruiterers' shops. Very different were the Sunday Island bananas. Among the dozen varieties grown by Tom Bell was one of special sweetness and distinctive flavour. Peeled and split in halves, the fruit was laid on wire trays and placed on the roof of a shed to get the full heat of the sun. The halves were turned every day, and at the end of a couple of weeks were covered with a thick layer of delicious sugar-crystals.
The bananas, wrapped by the girls in palm-leaves and tied with hibiscus twine in one-pound bundles, were packed in baskets of plaited nikau, and given to favoured friends when whalers and other ships called. One very page 152 special friend, Captain Fairchild, who first visited the island in 1887, sometimes carried back to New Zealand a hundred-pound load of crystallized bananas for distribution among his friends, together with baskets of the choicest island oranges, an occasional spray of tropic-bird feathers, and on one visit, a talking parakeet presented to him by Hettie. With their green plumage and red fronts, those tiny birds made a charming picture as they darted about in the ngaio groves on Meyer Island, where they bred in large numbers. They were easily caught; one of the children's favourite pastimes was to sit quietly among the bushes and wait until a bird flew to its nest, usually a hole in a bank or rotten log.This hole was cut a little larger, and the children would then thrust in a hand and arm, and bring out the young birds. There were generally three or four; the two with the biggest heads, which made the best talkers, would be kept and the rest returned to the nest.
Another job which kept the children busy was the gathering of a variety of fungus known as Jew's Ear, which grew in unlimited quantities on almost every fallen log, but particularly thickly on decayed castor-oil trees. The fungus, growing from saucer-size down to tiny thimble-cups, consisted of two gelatinous surfaces, one silken-smooth and brown, the other with a texture like finest grey velvet. The Bells gathered the fungus by the sackful and spread it out to dry. When thoroughly dried, it was packed and shipped to New Zealand and San Francisco, where in Chinese communities, and particularly in San Francisco's old-time Chinatown, it commanded high prices, and was bought in large quantities by restaurant keepers for use in the preparation of soups and other Chinese dishes.
The days of candlenuts and pot-lights were past, as was the boiling down of ti-ioot syrup, too laborious, and taking up too much time for Mrs. Bell's liking, now her family had increased. Instead, she took over as a routine job page 153 the making of candles in moulds her husband brought from Auckland. The candles were made of tallow melted down from goat-fat, and gave a good, clear light. They provided practically the only artificial light used by the Bells during their years at North Beach, supplies of kerosene being too uncertain for common use.
A more exhausting but sometimes necessary job, was the making of salt from seawater when supplies of table salt gave out. It was hard, heavy work, and was undertaken only under stress of emergency in over-long periods between the visits of ships. Heavy iron drums were filled with sea-water carried up from the beach to Low Flat, and hung on a thick iron bar to boil over a hot fire. On evaporation, the salt was scraped off the bottom and sides, the drums re-filled, and the salt spread out to dry on sheets. The process had to be repeated many times before even a pound of salt was obtained. Sometimes a small additional supply was procured by natural evaporation in a wide, flat hole on top of a rock on the beach, often filled with spray at high tide.
The seawater salt, however, was a poor substitute for table salt. It contained magnesium chloride and a number of other salts, eliminated in manufactured salt, which gave it a bitter taste and had made it unsuitable for preserving mutton birds in the lean and hungry days at Denham Bay.
The children never found their days at Low Flat too long. Sometimes they were sent down to the beach for buckets of shrimps, baby squid, and strings of jellyfish which were boiled and used for fowl-feed, a diet that produced outsize eggs without a trace of fish-flavour. When not fungus-gathering, they went shell-gathering or limpet-hunting, often spending whole bright days on the beach. When Roy was a little older, he gathered giant limpets, large as saucers, from the surf-swept rocks at low page 154 tide, scoured them with sand, and washed them with gum-water to make them shine. Then he inverted the lower shell and used it as a support to which he glued the upper half, forming a neat holder for his mother's hairpins and toilet oddments, and for his father's pipe-dottle, which nevertheless was still tapped into the fire.
Having no boats, drums, tin soldiers, bats, balls nor any other toys, the younger boys created their own amusements. One of Roy's favourites was dressing up as a Red Indian brave. With bow and arrows slung on his shoulder, hand-carved scalping knife in belt, he stalked beach and caves in wait for the intruding paleface. At other times he was a pirate, hung about with cutlasses and pistols which he cut with his pocket-knife from pieces of driftwood. His young brother William, not to be outdone, trotted after him with various small weapons strung round him, proclaiming himself to be King of the Islands. The nickname stuck, and for the rest of his life he was known to his family and friends as "King" Bell. With the other children, he sometimes wandered over to the baby brother's grave on the cliff; later on, as a young boy, he managed to get some cement with which he tried to make a small obelisk as a memorial. Unfortunately the cement ran out, and the "memorial" took the form of an oblong block which every visitor mistook for a small chimney.
Tom, now in his early 'teens, had forsaken childish amusements. He worked in the garden with his father, and with his sisters took part in the kumara-digging contests. He and Bess laid out a small garden, in which they planted oddments from their father's garden, bringing from the bush young plants and tree-seedlings to make it look like a well-established plot. They presently planted melons, cucumbers, herbs, and tomatoes. One of the most successful of the latter was a perennial variety, the first grown on the island, which fruited all the year round.page 155
Tom's main interests, however, were fishing and boatbuilding. He alone, of all the young careerists of the Self Educator days, kept to his original ambition-to build boats in the crater cave. He had now made up his mind to be a sailor, and boatbuilding seemed to be a good preliminary step. He built a long bench in the cave, where he fashioned small model craft, and sailed them on the lake. One of his most notable efforts was the production of a boat of unique design, broad as it was long, which his brothers teasingly named Fat Lucy after a stout lass who had visited the island and shown an obvious liking for young Tom. Of more practical value than Fat Lucy was a catamaran of flax stalks and raupo reeds laid to a depth of a foot on a base of corkwood logs, light and safe as a raft could be. On this, he and the other boys paddled round the lake with their father, cutting bundles of raupo for the building of new huts on Low Flat, and later on for a new home on the Terraces. Despite this earnest and enthusiastic preparation for his future career, however, Tom did not become a sailor. He eventually returned to New Zealand, settled down, and married.
The long day's work and play ended, Tom Bell and the girls returned from their sheep-tending, goat-hunting, fishing, digging, planting-and-gathering, mutton-birding in season, wood-chopping and other diversions, and joined the family at dinner in the big detached living room. Everyone was hungry, and the evening meal was always substantial, with plenty of meat and vegetables, fruit, taro bread and honey, followed by coffee ground from their own home-grown beans, and tin mugs of goat milk for the children.
As his family increased, Tom Bell had enlarged his tables and made new stools and beds for his children. The beds were the primitive kind in common use in pioneering days, a rough wooden frame with sacks stretched across to hold mattress and pillow of seabirds' feathers, procurable in unlimited quantities in the mutton bird season.page 156
Rough and ready shake-downs might be all right for gipsying, but they quite definitely did not fit in with Frederica Bell's ideas of comfortable home life. Good white sheets and pillowcases, stitched up on the little Swiftsure from material obtained from the whalers, were used on all the beds. The softest of goatskin rugs and a blanket or two made snug coverings.
The hours before bedtime were always the happiest of the day. Despite the mildness of the climate, the nights were generally cool, and there was a fire in the living room on all save the hottest summer evenings. Tom Bell and his wife sat on their stools with bare toes stretched to the warmth, smoking their clay pipes in pleasant relaxation. Burning twigs were used in place of matches, always in short supply. They were one of the few household necessities that Mrs. Bell had never attempted to make. For outside lighting, Bell and the girls used tightly-twisted, long-burning flares of dry nikau leaf, or else resorted to the primitive stick-rubbing or flint-and-steel methods of the pioneers.
Sitting on goat-skin floor rugs in the dancing firelight, the children would listen happily while father or mother read aloud from a plentiful supply of books and magazines. The days of the Self Educator and the Lily had passed. Mrs. Bell and Mary had early given up their Spanish and shorthand lessons. The children amused themselves, while listening to the reading, by plaiting innumerable baskets and kits for household use, also hats for every member of the family and for occasional visitors. At other times they played draughts, dominoes, and card games. Good whist players themselves, the parents taught the older children to play, and they quickly picked up the finer points of the game. Sometimes there were evenings of music, when Hettie and Harry, both of whom had learned to play the violin, joined with their father in a programme of favourite tunes.
Happiest of all were the calm, moonlight evenings page 157 when Tom Bell would take his violin and wander outside by himself. Standing beneath the nikau palms to protect the strings of his beloved instrument from the heavy dew-fall, he would spend an hour playing, one after another, haunting old-time melodies.
Seventy years later, Bessie was to recall those magical evenings of moonlight and music, with the murmur of the surf beyond the notes of the violin, as the most precious of all her Sunday Island memories.
No matter how long, nor how hard, the day had been, the evenings always closed with the family Bible reading, singing and prayers. Strangely enough, Christmas Day was never observed. December twenty-fifth was noted in Frederica Bell's diary only as another working day. But Sundays were always set apart as days of rest. No unnecessary work was done. The children laid aside their everyday clothes and put on their "Sunday best," the girls their neat holland or simple cotton frocks, the boys their tidy little home-made suits, in honour of the name given their island nearly a hundred years before.
Thus the weeks and months drifted into the past, while all unsuspected by the Bells, these halcyon days were drawing swiftly to their close.
With all his unceasing toil, Tom Bell's achievements still failed to keep pace with his dreams and ambitions for the establishment of a kingdom with boundaries wide enough to provide a goodly heritage not only for his own large family, but for their children's children. He envisaged tracts of forest cleared, hillsides grassed, sheep in pastures protected from drought and storm. Under the urge of dreams like these, and with the help of Bess, he began the clearance of another fifty acres of forest on the Terraces. They camped there in a nikau hut to save the rough walk to and from Low Flat, until one night a violent thunderstorm broke over the mountains. Thunder, lightning and a tropical deluge turned the hours into page 158 one long nightmare, and sent a mixed herd of goats, pigs and bleating sheep stampeding into the hut to share the Bells' protection from the storm. Next morning, an oddly-assorted little company of two- and four-legged companions in misfortune straggled out into the fickle sunshine, the animals to their grazing, father and daughter home to change their bedraggled clothing.
When the clearing was finished and the ground planted with hardy buffalo grass and hand-set poa pratensis, Bell decided he had had enough of Low Flat, exposed as it was to wind and storm. He would build a new home on the Terraces, where there was more shelter from the heavy sea winds and more room for gardens. He selected a site on the cliffs of Fleetwood Bluff, backed by forest-clad mountain slopes which broke the force of the westerly gales that swept across the island in winter.
The Low Flat huts were pulled down, the flooring timber, iron, and other building material from the big living room carried to the new site. Before long, a bungalow-type house with open verandah, large detached kitchen, and a new group of huts, provided the family with a new and comfortable home.
But there was still one thing lacking. How to procure it was at once a problem and a nagging headache to Tom Bell and his wife.
One day some months after their move to the Terraces he walked slowly up Queen St., Auckland's principal thoroughfare, his forehead lined with perplexity as he thought again and again of his wife's parting words.
"You'll just have to do something about it. The children can't be allowed to grow up perfect ignoramuses. Tom will be fourteen in a few weeks, and neither he nor Mary can read or write. Mary knows her ABC and that's about all. I can't spare the time to take on teaching, and Hettie and Bess don't know enough themselves. See what you can do in Auckland, and mind you bring somebody back with you!"page 159All very well to give orders, thought Tom Bell, but dammit, what was a man to do? What inducement could he possibly offer any educated person to maroon himself on a lonely island in order to teach a bunch of kids their ABC? A salary was out of the question; any money he made always went back into improving the place.
And suddenly, there before him, leaning dejectedly against a street lamp-post, was the answer to his problem.
"Good lord-Avent!" he cried. "You remember me? Tom Bell?"
"Tom—Tom, old man," was all the other could say as their hands clasped strongly. "I've thought of you so often. Where've you been all these years?"
"Come up to my hotel, and I'll tell you. How's your sight now?"
"Better, thank God, and thanks to you too, Tom."
And so Tom Bell took back to his hotel the man he had befriended years before, an old ex-sergeant who had suffered injuries to his eyes during the Maori War, but later on had been appointed schoolmaster of the little Maori school in Ohiwa, where Tom Bell was hotel-keeper. When failing sight had compelled him to give up his position, Bell had kept him at his hotel until an operation had partly restored Avent's sight. After that, they had drifted out of each other's lives.
"Come to the island with me, John, and knock the three 'Rs' into my youngsters. We'll be glad to have you," said Tom Bell heartily.
They went back together. Frederica Bell's welcome was as warm as that of her husband. Avent, a cultured man, did his best by the children. He remained on Sunday Island for some years, but after injuring his head in a bad fall on the rocks he was compelled to return to Auckland, where he died not long afterwards.page 160