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Crusoes of Sunday Island


The Ship

as the weeks passed, the Bells were brought face to face with fresh shortages. Mrs. Bell's carefully hoarded supply of soap was almost finished. She had made a brave attempt to produce a substitute from mutton-bird oil and ashes, but since she lacked caustic soda the attempt was a dismal failure. For some time past the lamp that had lit the kitchen had swung useless and empty over the table. Only two or three packets of candles remained—not nearly enough to see them through until the return of the Norval.

One afternoon Mary and Tom, both very keen collectors of all kinds of oddments from bush and seashore, came home from a scramble in the forest with a tin full of nuts about the size of a walnut.

"Are they good to eat, Father?" asked Mary.

Tom Bell inspected a nut, cracked it open. "Why, bless my soul, they're candlenuts. Look here, Fred! What do you think of these? Now you'll have all the lights you want."

"Those things!" Once again his wife felt the old sense of bewilderment. "What can you do with them? You can't burn a nut!"

"Can't you? Just you wait and see!"

Bell walked over to a nikau palm, cut a leaf, stripped off a length of the stiff fibrous spine. Cracking two or three nuts, he threaded the kernels down the fibre and set light to one end. The wick burned with a bright little light and remained burning for half an hour. As it burned out each kernel set light to the next.

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"A few dozen of those, and we'll have the hut as bright as a lighthouse!" he declared. "Take a basket, Mary, and you and Tom see if you can find some more."

The children raced off happily. What with the sugar tree, the copper plaque, the rat-catchings, and now the candlenuts, life on this emprisoning island was brightening.

Unfortunately the supply of nuts soon gave out. They stripped the tree they had found, but although they searched diligently day after day, could find no more.

"All right! We'll have to make some pot-lights." Tom Bell, as ever, hated to give in.

The children brought him a treasured hoard of small empty tins, which he half-filled with clay. A loop of wire was pushed down into the clay, with a wisp of cotton rag threaded through for a wick. The tin was then filled with mutton-bird oil, and the lighting problem was solved. The illumination could perhaps have been more accurately gauged by lighted-match-power than by candle-power, but it was at least a light. Half a dozen of the little pots glimmering from odd corners of the room gave it a cheerful, even if rather a glow-wormy, appearance.

Taking heart from these discoveries, Mrs. Bell began to get ideas. A certain Swiss Family Robinson touch was beginning to creep into their barren lives.

"You know, Tom, I think this hut would look all the better if we had some nice goat rugs on the floor," she remarked one morning. "There's a big pile of them down in the tool-shed. I'd like to cure some. Didn't you say there was an alum cave somewhere up there in the crater?"

"Tons of it!" exclaimed Hettie. "Oh father, please can Bess and I go up and get some for mother?"

"Anything to get out of digging that garden," grumbled their father irritably. Then, seeing their disappointment, he relented. "Oh all right. Ask your mother!"

"Can they go up by themselves?"

"They ought to know the way by now! Yes, they'll be page 63 all right. Take a couple of sacks and see you don't get into mischief." He strode out.

"Nothing to get into," muttered young Hettie. "I wish there were!"

"Any more of that, miss, and you stay at home!" admonished their mother, who kept a strict hand on all her children. No rough speaking or answering back was tolerated by either parent. Immediate obedience and respect were exacted and given.

"Yes mother - I mean no, mother," apologised Hettie meekly.

"That's a good girl. Now go and get your sacks and something to gather the alum up with, while I put you up some lunch."

"Thank you, mother. We'll bring you back heaps and heaps. Goodbye."

A dutiful kiss, a backward look and a wave, and they were off up the track. They reached the cave after a breathless climb, and found the floor piled with mounds of the crumbly white stuff. They scraped it industriously into their sacks, had a swim in the crater lake and returned happily at sunset with enough alum to cure every goatskin in the Bay.

A little later each room in the hut had pure white, glove-soft rugs on the floor. There were no black goats on the island, and few with even fawn markings. The hut began to look very cosy and homelike indeed.

"How long now, mother?" asked Tom Bell one evening as his wife finished writing up her diary. She turned back the pages. "Let me see—McKenzie said three months. This is February 26th—he ought to be here about the middle of March. It won't be long now, Tom."

"Won't I have a few things to say to the——"

"Now, don't start that all over again for goodness sake. I keep on telling you, he might not have known anything about the stuff being bad."page 64"The rascal knew enough to get hold of my good money and clear out before we had a chance of finding out."

"Now look, Tom! You've done nothing but grumble about the stuff the whole time we've been on the island. You take my advice, and don't start making a fuss the moment McKenzie shows up. If you want to have it out with him, wait until he's put our goods ashore. What would you do if he got the huff and took the whole lot round to North Beach and landed them there just for spite?"

The appalling thought struck her husband completely dumb. He blew out the pot-light and got into bed without another word.

As the time for the return of the Norval approached, the children took turns with their mother at keeping watch up at the lookout. Day after day the vigil continued. The days lengthened into a week, one week into two. At last March had gone and they were into April. And still no sign of the ship. Each morning hope sprang to life and died at night.

Summer passed imperceptibly into autumn without a glimpse of ship or sail. They had been deserted as well as cheated. Tom Bell, never a talker, became more silent and morose than ever.

Bravely his wife maintained her faith in God, reading her evening chapter in her usual steady voice, and Bell did his best to keep some of his unhappiness out of his own voice as he led his family in the Lord's Prayer.

The children continued to sing their evening hymn as heartily as ever. After all, their mother had told them that God looked after everybody, even if they sometimes had to wait and keep on praying before He stretched out His Hand. They believed her implicitly. The strength and comfort of this early teaching was to come to the aid of

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Black and white photograph of Tui Lake on Sunday Island.

Tui Lake, the most beautiful spot on Sunday Island
[Photograph by N.Z. National Publicity Studios]

page break
Black and white photograph of stores being unloaded at Denham Bay, Sunday Island.

Landing stores at the foot of the cliffs in Denham Bay. The sea was very rarely as smooth as this; more often the beach is swept by heavy and dangerous surf
[Photograph by N.Z. National Publicity Studios]

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one of the girls in time of distress in a very strange manner later on.

The fuss and clamour of bird life in Denham Bay ceased as the mutton birds and gulls set out on their long migration to summer lands in Siberia and Northern Japan. The bay became silent, save for the everlasting booming of the waves and surge of wind in the trees.

Desperate anxiety for his wife and children had at last replaced Bell's feelings of revenge and hate. Had McKenzie turned up with even a few of his stores, he would probably have accepted them without recrimination or reproach.

Many a long day was to pass before he learned that all the time they had been keeping watch, McKenzie was far away, sailing a barque to San Francisco after the sale of the Norval to a New Zealand shipping firm. After having a good time in Auckland he had apparently put to sea again without a word to anybody that he had left a family marooned on an island far out in the Pacific.

Late in May, when the Bells had been on Sunday Island about six months, winter came with furious sou'-westerlies that roared through the mountains and drove the breakers on the beach with a force that made the hut tremble.

Then the rains set in. The island's rainfall was not heavy-it rarely exceeded fifty-five inches a year—but this winter it seemed to come all at once. Avalanches crashed down the cliffs, uprooting trees, sweeping rocks and tons of debris down the mountain side behind the Bells' hut. Unusually high tides and heavy winds presently gave way to a spell of erratic weather in which torrential rain was followed by sunny skies and deceptively calm seas.

It was on one of these strangely bright winter mornings that Bell said to his daughters "We'll have to go up to page 66 the crater and get a goat today. The track ought to be dry enough now."

Once again near-starvation threatened. There were no berries on the trees, the seas had long been too rough and the tides too high for fishing. The supply of taro root was almost exhausted.

As they stood for a moment in the warm sunshine, Bell said to his wife "Cheer up, Fred! Take the children out somewhere while it's bright and sunny. You never know how these freak mornings are going to finish up. There'll be plenty to cook when we get home, so keep the fire going."

Off they went, the beauty of the morning and prospect of a good meal later on putting them in better heart than for many a day. It was heavy work breaking a way through the storm-debris, but Bell had been right about the capture of a goat. By midday the girls and Patsy had rounded one up. Its killing had been a grim and bloody business, for the supply of ammunition had run out, and now it was death by the knife. The girls shuddered and turned away, but in the unnatural stoicism which had inured them to the sheer inevitability of hardship, they were beginning to accept it as part of the strange pattern of their lives.

Presently, climbing from the crater flats, they made their way to one of their favourite lookouts that gave a wide-sweeping panorama of island and ocean. Bess was the first to break through the screening curtain of nikau branches. Her sudden shout caused several small birds to take wing in panic."

"A ship! Oh father—Hettie—look! A ship!"

A ship it was. Not a mirage, not the all-too-familiar cloud on the rim of the ocean, but a ship under sail, the long-awaited, long-prayed-for ship! Still nothing more than a tiny toy of a ship, but one that moved slowly and steadily in from the horizon and became more distinct.

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"Down you go!" cried Bell. "They won't see it yet awhile from the bay. Get a bonfire going, and I'll be down with the goat as quickly as I can."

Already the girls were almost out of earshot. Slipping, sliding over the rocks, swinging down by vine and branch, they were still on the cliffs when a column of smoke billowed up into the sky.

Mrs. Bell and the children were down on the beach, flinging sticks and branches on the fire. "We saw her from the lookout!" exclaimed the mother. "Oh pray God it's the Norval!"

"Here she comes, here she comes!" shouted the children. "It's the Norval. Hurry up, father. Hurry up!"

They joined hands and danced in wild excitement round the fire, with yells of delight, when presently the ship changed course and stood to the shore.

"Is it the Norval!" Mrs. Bell asked her husband anxiously as soon as he joined them. Shading his eyes and narrowing his seaward gaze, Bell shook his head.

"No! Square rig. Yankee whaler, I think."

"It's a ship! That's the main thing. Whoever they are surely they'll be able to spare us some food. Do you think they'll come ashore this afternoon?"

Bell did not reply for a moment. He was watching the smoke from the bonfire. Instead of rising up into clear skies, it was blowing this way and that, driven by fitful gusts of wind. Heavy cloud formations, coppery-purple and ominously black, were banking up against a yellow glare that was spreading across the sky.

"Very doubtful," he answered at last. "I don't like the look of the sky at all. There's dirty weather blowing up. Looks as though we're in for another hurricane."

Very soon the surf was breaking in white lines far out from the shore. The sinister yellow haze had veiled the sun. But still the ship came on. To the intense relief and delight of the watchers she presently dropped anchor out in the bay and lowered a boat. Tossing and plunging, it page 68 ploughed through the heavy seas now surging down on the beach.

"She'll never make it!" Tom Bell was tense with apprehension.

Suddenly there came a loud shout from the boat-steerer.

A leaden grey wall of water towered up behind the whaleboat, and flung her stern high in the air. For a moment she swung broadside on in imminent danger of swamping or capsizing. The sailors rowed frantically to manoeuvre her out of the trough of the racing wave. In a few seconds it was all over. She had turned, straightened up and then went plunging back to the whaler.

With heavy hearts the Bells watched and waited as daylight faded. They stood there silently on the beach until the stranger's anchor was lifted and her sails unfurled. Hopelessly, desperately, they stood and watched, until at last she turned and made for the open sea.

When morning broke black and bitter, the Kermadecs' dangerous shores lay far astern, as the hard-pressed ship ran before the storm.

Once again, bad weather made goat-hunting impossible. Even the daily vigil at the lookout ceased. No ship was likely to venture near the dangerous currents and rocks of the Kermadecs in such weather.

At the end of a week, Mrs. Bell looked forlornly at the only food remaining, a couple of marrows which by some miracle had survived the onslaught of the rats. In that moment of depression she probably wished that Sunday Island had gone to the bottom of the sea at the time of its eruption.

Listlessly the girls shouldered their packs one fine morning after the gale had died down. Despite the return of good weather they had little heart for scaling the rain-sodden cliffs. But food the family must have.

"You go on. I'll follow presently. I want to mend this bit of thatch," called Bell from the roof of the hut.

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But the girls got no farther than the first few yards up the cliff. For there within full view was the whaler, rounding Hutchinson's Bluff under easy sail, heading straight into Denham Bay.

"The ship! It's coming back. Mother—father—the ship!"

Dropping his nikau branch, Tom Bell fetched the ground in one leap. Mrs. Bell paused only long enough to snatch the baby from the kitchen floor. They rushed to the beach.

The whaleboat came in smoothly on a breaker. The sailors jumped smartly ashore and pulled her up the beach. A long, lean man with blue eyes and steady gaze came forward.

"Silas Wilkins, first mate, Canton, Yankee whaler," he introduced himself briskly, shaking hands with Tom Bell and bowing politely to his wife. "You castaways? Shipwrecked?"

"No. Bell family from New Zealand. Settlers!" replied Bell with equal brevity.

"Settlers! Holy smoke! I thought Sunday had seen the last of the settlers. We reckon she's the hoodoo island of the Pacific. She either kills people or drives them nuts! How long you bin here?"

"Nearly eight months."

"Eight months!" Wilkins's keen eyes darted from one to the other in bewilderment, noting Tom Bell's tall, gaunt frame and unkempt whiskers, Mrs. Bell's neat, matronly figure, her face lit with the first smile it had worn for many days; the girls in their tidy denim frocks, the little boys, the baby in his mother's arms. These people were obviously neither dead nor nuts!

"Eight months!" he repeated at last. "Well, if that doesn't lick creation! What you bin living on?" He stared up at the cliffs and frowning peaks.

"Goat-meat, mostly, and taro root. And goat's milk. But we're nearly down to starvation point. The rats have page 70 cleaned us out. Nothing left but a couple of marrows," Bell told him.

"Well, folks, you're going to have a square feed today all right! Get that stuff up the beach," he directed the sailors, who had been unloading boxes, cases and tins from the whaleboat. "Where d'ye live, Mr. Bell?"

"Hut's up here under the cliff."

They walked up the beach, everyone talking at once, Wilkins holding Mary's and Tom's hands in a friendly clasp.

"We sure reckoned you were genu-ine castaways when we saw these little tikes hopping round that fire you lit on the beach. We would n'a come anywhere near if we hadn't seen that big smoke. We always give the Ker-madecs a wide berth, take it from me! They're a deathtrap in a storm."

"Where are you heading for? Or are you on your way back from somewhere?"

"We're from New Bedford. Been sperm whaling down south of New Zealand. We're on our way north now. Whaling grounds are about cleaned up in the South Seas."

They reached the hut and the stores were carried in. "We guessed you'd be wanting just about everything.

I've brought you——" He ticked off a list. "Coupla

sacks flour, potatoes, ship's biscuits, pork, molasses, tin of cookies for the children, two sides o' bacon, and some tins of cawfee. Sorry, ma'am, but we haven't any tea. Now, is there anything else you'd have liked?"

But Mrs. Bell was so overwhelmed that she could hardly control her voice. Then she pulled herself together. "Salt!" she said weakly. "So I can put down some mutton birds next season." Then, noticing a tell-tale smudge on Harry's hastily dabbed face, she added urgently, "and soap!"

"And a bit of baccy if you can spare it. And some matches," added her husband. "I haven't had a smoke for weeks."page 71"Gee-that's tough! We'll sure find you some. And what about some oil, Mr. Bell? I see you've got a dandy lamp up there."

"She's empty all right. We've been using candle-nuts and making pot-lights out of mutton bird oil."

"My, that's the genu-ine castaway stuff! The real Swiss Family Robinson touch all right! It's lucky for you I managed to get back. I sure thought we'd seen the last of you when we left the Bay. Now, girls and boys," he turned to the children, "Here's something the cook made specially for you." He opened a box and took out a plum cake, full of currants and raisins, with "hundreds and thousands" on the top.

The cake was cut and a generous slice given to each child, tongue-tied for once with delight. They rushed outside to eat it, quickly regaining power of speech, and chattering like a flock of birds on a seed-patch.

"Now, let's hear your story," said the mate, turning to Tom Bell. The telling and the talking lasted a good half-hour. At last, as their visitor turned to go, Bell gave voice to the thought at the back of his mind. "We don't know how to say 'thank you' for your kindness," he said slowly, "but there's something we've got to tell you. I don't want to say it, God knows, but I must. We can't go on. Life here is too hard. We've given it a good go, but we're just about done. I never thought it would be like this when we came—first rotten stores, McKenzie never coming back, and now the infernal rats. Sunday Island's beaten us, just as it did all the others before us." He paused for a moment, then found strength to say it. "My wife and I have decided we'll have to give in. Can you take us off?" The officer looked from husband to wife with understanding compassion. He saw the entreaty fighting with distress in their faces, sensed the bitterness of defeat in Bell's voice. These people were not quitters. They had not accepted defeat easily. "Well, folk, I can see you've had one hell of a time-beg page 72 pardon, ma'am—and I reckon you're just about the pluckiest family I've ever met. If you really want to go, I'm sure there's nothing the captain would sooner have done than take you off and drop you in Fiji or some civilized port, but as I said, we're working our way up north, and we're hard pressed for time before the whaling season ends. And even if we could have taken you, there's not an island anywhere up the way we're going that isn't dead off the shipping routes. You'd be even worse off any place we could drop you than you are here."

Mrs. Bell sighed. "Well, Mr. Wilkins, if you can't, you can't. We can only thank the captain for coming back. We really thought we'd never see your ship again."

"Believe you me, Mrs. Bell, we all felt we just had to come back, or we'd never have gotten the sight of those kids dancing round that big fire out of our minds. It was really them that brought us back." He paused a moment and fumbled in a pocket book. "I've got a bunch of my own back there at home. I thought I had a photograph of them with me, but I haven't." Pride and regret tinged his voice. Then he said briskly, "Well, guess we'll have to be getting a move on. You'll be able to manage all right now until another ship blows in?"

"Aye, we'll manage!" There was an unmistakable ring of relief as well as gratitude in Bell's voice. "With all this tucker, we'll be set for the winter, and to blazes with the rats! What can I give you for it? I've got plenty of cash from the sale of the hotel."

"I'm sure Captain Sherman wouldn't want to take a dollar. We were sure you were castaways, and it's just too bad if we can't give a shipwrecked family a hand-out." His eyes twinkled. "What we will do is to report you to any ship we see and ask them to come and look you up if they're round the Kermadecs. Now we'll go back and get those things you want."

The whaleboat made a quick trip back to the Canton and returned with the extra stores. Soon the wonderful page 73 day was over. With the flush of sunset on her sails, the whaler swept out into the darkly blue ocean. Once again the family stood on the beach and watched, but this time there was only happiness and relief in their voices as they chattered and laughed on their way back to the hut.

The Bells dined that evening. Really dined, on food they had not tasted for months. It was their happiest meal since they had come to Sunday Island. It was not only the good food that lifted the spirits of Tom Bell and his wife. It was the fact that once again they had looked on the faces of their fellow-men, had heard voices other than their own giving news of a world to which they had become lost. Best of all they had experienced great kindness and an understanding sympathy which went a long way towards taking the sting out of a grievous hurt.

"Did y' hear what he said about McKenzie, Mother?" Bell's voice held a note of immense satisfaction as he spoke to his wife in the privacy of their room that night. "He said if ever he came across the skunk in San Francisco, he'd have him skull-dragged and keel-hauled from Barbary Coast to Golden Gate! It was him that said it, not me!" He chuckled wickedly.

Mrs. Bell blew out the light so that he should not see her smile.

"Shame on you, Tom Bell!" she said.

She was very tired. It had been an exciting day. A thought suddenly crossed her mind as she was drifting off to sleep.

"I wonder how many he's got? I wish I'd asked him. He was such a nice man," she murmured drowsily.

"Eh? How many what? Who?" demanded her husband.

"Children. Mr. Wilkins of course!"

"You women! Haven't you got enough of your own? Go to sleep!"

Tom Bell turned on his side and went to sleep with deep relief and satisfaction in his heart.

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The King of the Kermadecs had not been forced to abdicate after all.

Reprieved from near starvation, the Bells were able to take a brighter view of life. Their spirits rose as good food brought better health to all. The hunting trips continued, but not with the same sharp urgency, nor with the same bitter disappointment when the scramble up and down the mountains brought no reward. The days were now much shorter; they had to return home earlier. Superb bushman as their father was, he would not risk finding the way through heavy bush and up and down treacherous ridges in the early darkness of a winter's night.

So he and the girls set to work with renewed zest on their gardens. Before winter set in, Bell had made a sowing of grass seed on the flats near the hut, and the green shoots were now pushing through bravely despite the rats. Some of his kumaras and beans had also triumphed over the pest, and taro and yams were holding their own.

With the oil lamp once more burning brightly, evenings in the hut became pleasant and cosy, with logs blazing in the wide fireplace, blue and green flames spurting and snapping as the children piled on strands of dried seaweed and pieces of salt-encrusted driftwood. Out in the dark the surf still thundered and the night wind came crying round the hut. But inside there was warmth and comfort.

Sitting on goat-rugs at their mother's feet, the children listened night after night to her stories and poetry recitations, and clamoured for their father's tunes on the violin before they went to bed. Every evening one or other of them would exclaim, "'The Rat-Catcher's Daughter,' mother! Please!"

They never tired of it, no matter how often repeated.

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It was an old London ditty, in the imperishable "Villikens and his Dina" tradition, that Mrs. Bell had picked up in her childhood days in the great city. She had forgotten a good deal of it; the lines no longer scanned, and sometimes the rhymes came in the wrong places. But the children cared not a jot. They knew all the breaks, repeated the fascinating poem line by line with their mother, and were always delighted when she pretended to break down and they could prompt her in chorus, as she told how

Not long since, down Westminster way
Lived a rat-catcher and his pretty little daughter.
He caught rats
And she caught sprats All round about that quarter.
{Serious lapse of memory here)
She went once more to buy some sprats
And tumbled into the water! Right down deep to the bottom she splashed
And died in the mud, Did that rat-catcher's poor little daughter.
When Lilywhite Sands he heard the news, His eyes poured down with water.
Said he, "In love I'll constant prove
To me poor little drown-ed daughter!"
So he cut his throat with a bar of soap And stabbed his donkey arter, And that was the end of Lilywhite Sands, His donkey and his darter!

Then Tom Bell would draw his bow lovingly across the strings of his violin, bring forth the familiar tuning squeaks and broken chords, sonorous bass G, D, treble A and fine-drawn E, scraping them one by one, twisting the pegs, in an introduction that fascinated and delighted the children. With a tuneful flourish he would break into a Highland fling that set the youngsters' bare heels beating time on the mud floor with loud whoops as music and measure skirled faster and faster.

Then something sweet and nostalgic, all the sentimental songs of that day. "Sweet Belle Mahone," "Far Away," "Annie Laurie." Bell knew them all. His memory was remarkable. Playing without music, he could go through a repertoire that would have covered an entire concert recital or dance programme. Next to his violin, his most treasured possession was a great pile of music collected through the years, which he now kept stowed away in a box in the bedroom. Although he did not use it, he would not have parted with a single sheet.

Spring came at last in a flurry of wind and rain, with the rats seemingly increased in numbers and still virulent as a Pharaoh's curse. Bell began to lose heart again. The hopelessness of the unending battle took all pleasure from his gardening. Why bother to dig and plant, where one had so little chance of reaping?

"I'm sick of it," he declared to his wife one day. "Not a solitary maize cob forming, not a bean nor sign of those kumaras I planted out months ago. When the grass begins to seed the brutes will get that too. I'm going over to the North Side to see if it looks any better over there. If it does, we'll move over."

He went a couple of days later, and returned with a look in his eye that Frederica Bell had come to know only too well. But this time she welcomed it.

"Far and away better! I wish to heaven we had landed there when we first came. I had a good look round and hardly saw a rat."

"What's it like? Any flat ground?"

"About two hundred acres on the terraces back from North Beach. Grand for sheep when I've got it grassed. We'll move over, Fred, as soon as the days get longer and the weather's more settled."

A sudden thought struck his wife. "What if the Canton comes back, or any other ships call in here for us?"

"They'll know where we've gone; they'll come round to the other side all right."page 77For many weeks they had kept diligent watch for another ship. But evidently the Canton had failed to sight and notify any other craft. Day by day the watchers returned to the hut in disappointment. The old sense of loneliness and complete separation from the outside world deepened once more.

But for the whaler's providential visit and the stock of food still remaining, it would have seemed as though the world had perished, and they themselves been set as sole survivors on this desert island in an untracked waste of waters.

In August and September the first of the migrant birds began to appear in Denham Bay. They provided much diversion and amusement for the young Bells, completely cut off from all the ordinary interests and contacts of childhood. But this deprivation had its compensations. From their father they gained a wealth of nature lore derived from his years of close association with the Maoris, a highly intelligent race. In the course of many centuries they had learned from nature secrets as yet undiscovered by the white man and had passed many of them on to their pakeha friend.

Much of the plant and bird-life of Sunday Island was almost identical with that of New Zealand, the main difference being that the island vegetation was usually more luxuriant and richly sub-tropical as a result of the milder climate and more fertile soil.

Although there were no bell-birds, another native New Zealand song-bird, the tui, a handsome, glossy black fellow with white-tufted throat, filled the forest with the strange creakings and gurglings that served on Sunday Island for a song. Kingfishers, larks, blackbirds and one or two other domestic land birds were also numerous, but there were many which were strangers to the Bell children. Among these were the long-tailed cuckoo,page 78golden plover, silky white tern and the rare and lovely amokura, or red-tailed Tropic Bird. The migrant seabirds included vast numbers of wideawake tern and mutton birds, or petrels, which arrived in early spring for the breeding season.

From the beach the children watched them come in scores of thousands. The birds usually made their appearance at sunset in small, dark clouds far out over the horizon. Flying with great speed in massed formation they spread over Denham Bay in such numbers as literally to darken the sky, and landed in a confusion and commotion of feathered fuss and piercing cries.

Noisiest and most casual home-builders of the island's birds, the wideawakes wasted no time in building nests. They simply dropped their solitary eggs, about the size of a duck-egg, wherever they chanced to settle, until it was impossible to walk in certain areas without treading on them.

All the time the hen-birds were sitting, flocks of males did sentry duty night after night, flying over the Bells' hut with monotonous screaming cries of "wideawake! wideawake!" which very often actually did keep the family wide awake the whole night long.

Their eggs, and those of the mutton bird, were a welcome addition to the family menus, now growing restricted as the Canton stores dwindled. With almost every foot of ground littered with eggs, it was difficult to tell which were newly-laid, so the children laid pieces of wood in circles round patches of cleared ground to ensure a fresh supply each morning.

When the eggs hatched, the antics of the baby birds provided the young Bells with endless amusement. As soon as anyone approached the nesting ground, the entire colony of chicks would take alarm and scuttle off in frantic haste to hide their heads in the nearest patch of grass, with their downy tail-ends sticking up ludicrously in the air. If they had just been given a meal, the excite-page 79ment would prove too much for them. In singular affinity with human young they would have to stop and disgorge their breakfast, usually a small sprat. The watchful mother bird, hovering overhead, would promptly swoop down straight as a dart, snatch up the fish and fly off with it held securely in her beak, to make good the interrupted breakfast when the excitement had died down.

Throughout the spring the mutton birds kept coming in their thousands. There were two kinds of bird, the New Zealand burrower, and the sand-nesters. The former was far more careful and secretive in the matter of nest building than the other bird. Its method was to burrow a hole deep down in the sandy ground, or to scoop out a hollow in the roots of a tree, and line it neatly with its own feathers. As for the sand-nesting mutton birds, though they certainly were not such completely casual home builders as the wideawakes, which made no attempt to build a nest of any kind, their slap-dash method was merely to scrape together a small pile of grass and leaves wherever there happened to be a vacant scrap of ground. The eggs made good eating and were greatly relished by the Bells.

All these matters of bird and forest life became very important in the lives of the children and held their interest throughout their stay on Sunday Island.

Although they had not yet learned to read, Hettie and Bess were learning lessons first hand from the book of nature at an age when most little girls were learning to trim dolls' bonnets and threading bead necklaces. The reading and writing could well wait.

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