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Chapter 5 – S. V.

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Meanwhile, the "Pilgrim" had continued her course, making for the east
as much as possible. This lamentable continuance of calms did not cease
to trouble Captain Hull – not that he was uneasy about two or three
weeks’ delay in a passage from New Zealand to Valparaiso, but because
of the extra fatigue which this delay might bring to his lady passenger.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Weldon did not complain, and philosophically took her
misfortune in patience.

That same day, February 2d, toward evening, the wreck was lost sight of.

Captain Hull was troubled, in the first place, to accommodate Tom and
his companions as conveniently as possible. The crew’s quarters on the
"Pilgrim," built on the deck in the form of a "roufle," would be too
small to hold them. An arrangement was then made to lodge them under
the forecastle. Besides, these honest men, accustomed to rude labors,
could not be hard to please, and with fine weather, warm and
salubrious, this sleeping-place ought to suffice for the whole passage.

The life on board, shaken for a moment from its monotony by this
incident, then went on as usual.

Tom, Austin, Bat, Acteon, and Hercules would indeed wish to make
themselves useful. But with these constant winds, the sails once set,
there was nothing more to do. Meanwhile, when there was a veering
about, the old black and his companions hastened to give a hand to the
crew, and it must be confessed that when the colossal Hercules hauled
some rope, they were aware of it. This vigorous negro, six feet high,
brought in a tackle all by himself.

It was joy for little Jack to look at this giant. He was not afraid of
him, and when Hercules hoisted him up in his arms, as if he were only a
cork baby, there were cries of joy to go on.

"Lift me very high," said little Jack.

"There, Master Jack!" replied Hercules.

"Am I very heavy?"

"I do not even feel you."

"Well, higher still! To the end of your arm!" And Hercules, holding the
child’s two little feet in his large hand, walked him about like a
gymnast in a circus. Jack saw himself, tall, taller, which amused him
very much. He even tried to make himself heavy – which the colossus did
not perceive at all.

Dick Sand and Hercules, they were two friends for little Jack. He was
not slow in making himself a third – that was Dingo.

It has been said that Dingo was not a sociable dog. Doubtless that held
good, because the society of the "Waldeck" did not suit it. On board
the "Pilgrim" it was quite another thing. Jack probably knew how to
touch the fine animal’s heart. The latter soon took pleasure in playing
with the little boy, whom this play pleased. It was soon discovered
that Dingo was one of those dogs who have a particular taste for
children. Besides, Jack did it no harm. His greatest pleasure was to
transform Dingo into a swift steed, and it is safe to affirm that a
horse of this kind is much superior to a pasteboard quadruped, even
when it has wheels to its feet. So Jack galloped bare-back on the dog,
which let him do it willingly, and, in truth, Jack was no heavier to it
than the half of a jockey to a race-horse.

But what a break each day in the stock of sugar in the store-room!

Dingo soon became a favorite with the whole crew. Alone, Negoro
continued to avoid any encounter with the animal, whose antipathy was
always as strong as it was inexplicable.

Meanwhile, little Jack had not neglected Dick Sand, his friend of old,
for Dingo. All the time that was unclaimed by his duties on board, the
novice passed with the little boy.

Mrs. Weldon, it is needless to say, always regarded this intimacy with
the most complete satisfaction.

One day, February 6th, she spoke of Dick to Captain Hull, and the
captain praised the young novice in the highest terms.

"That boy," he said to Mrs. Weldon, "will be a good seaman some day,
I’ll guarantee. He has truly a passion for the sea, and by this passion
he makes up for the theoretical parts of the calling which he has not
yet learned. What he already knows is astonishing, when we think of
the short time he has had to learn."

"It must be added," replied Mrs. Weldon, "that he is also an excellent
person, a true boy, very superior to his age, and who has never merited
any blame since we have known him."

"Yes, he is a good young man," continued the captain, "justly loved and
appreciated by all."

"This cruise finished," said Mrs. Weldon, "I know that my husband’s
intention is to have him follow a course of navigation, so that, he may
afterwards obtain a captain’s commission."

"And Mr. Weldon is right," replied Captain Hull. "Dick Sand will one
day do honor to the American marine."

"This poor orphan commenced life sadly," observed Mrs. Weldon. "He has
been in a hard school!"

"Doubtless, Mrs. Weldon; but the lessons have not been lost on him. He
has learned that he must make his own way in this world, and he is in a
fair way to do it."

"Yes, the way of duty!"

"Look at him now, Mrs. Weldon," continued Captain Hull. "He is at the
helm, his eye fixed on the point of the foresail. No distraction on the
part of this young novice, as well as no lurch to the ship. Dick Sand
has already the confidence of an old steersman. A good beginning for a
seaman. Our craft, Mrs. Weldon, is one of those in which it is
necessary to begin very young. He who has not been a cabin-boy will
never arrive at being a perfect seaman, at least in the merchant
marine. Everything must be learned, and, consequently, everything must
be at the same time instinctive and rational with the sailor – the
resolution to grasp, as well as the skill to execute."

"Meanwhile, Captain Hull," replied Mrs. Weldon, "good officers are not
lacking in the navy."

"No," replied Captain Hull; "but, in my opinion, the best have almost
all begun their career as children, and, without speaking of Nelson and
a few others, the worst are not those who began by being cabin-boys."

At that moment they saw Cousin Benedict springing up from the rear
companion-way. As usual he was absorbed, and as little conscious of
this world as the Prophet Elias will be when he returns to the earth.

Cousin Benedict began to walk about on the deck like an uneasy spirit,
examining closely the interstices of the netting, rummaging under the
hen-cages, putting his hand between the seams of the deck, there, where
the pitch had scaled off.

"Ah! Cousin Benedict," asked Mrs. Weldon, "do you keep well?"

"Yes – Cousin Weldon – I am well, certainly – but I am in a hurry to get
on land."

"What are you looking for under that bench, Mr. Benedict?" asked
Captain Hull.

"Insects, sir," returned Cousin Benedict. "What do you expect me to
look for, if not insects?"

"Insects! Faith, I must agree with you; but it is not at sea that you
will enrich your collection."

"And why not, sir? It is not impossible to find on board some specimen
of – – "

"Cousin Benedict," said Mrs. Weldon, "do you then slander Captain Hull?
His ship is so well kept, that you will return empty-handed from your
hunt."

Captain Hull began to laugh.

"Mrs. Weldon exaggerates," replied he. "However, Mr. Benedict, I
believe you will lose your time rummaging in our cabins."

"Ah! I know it well," cried Cousin Benedict, shrugging his shoulders.
"I have had a good search – – "

"But, in the ‘Pilgrim’s’ hold," continued Captain Hull, "perhaps you
will find some cockroaches – subjects of little interest, however."

"Of little interest, those nocturnal orthopters which have incurred the
maledictions of Virgil and Horace!" retorted Cousin Benedict, standing
up straight. "Of little interest, those near relations of the
‘periplaneta orientalis’ and of the American kakerlac, which
inhabit – – "

"Which infest!" said Captain Hull.

"Which reign on board!" retorted Cousin Benedict, fiercely.

"Amiable sovereignty!"

"Ah! you are not an entomologist, sir?"

Never at my own expense."

"Now, Cousin Benedict," said Mrs. Weldon, smiling, "do not wish us to
be devoured for love of science."

"I wish, nothing, Cousin Weldon," replied, the fiery entomologist,
"except to be able to add to my collection some rare subject which
might do it honor."

"Are you not satisfied, then, with the conquests that you have made in
New Zealand?"

"Yes, truly, Cousin Weldon. I have been rather fortunate in conquering
one of those new staphylins which till now had only been found some
hundreds of miles further, in New Caledonia."

At that moment Dingo, who was playing with Jack, approached Cousin
Benedict, gamboling.

"Go away! go away!" said the latter, pushing off the animal.

"To love cockroaches and detest dogs!" cried Captain Hull. "Oh! Mr.
Benedict!"

"A good dog, notwithstanding," said little Jack, taking Dingo’s great
head in his small hands.

"Yes. I do not say no," replied Cousin Benedict. "But what do you want?
This devil of an animal has not realized the hopes I conceived on
meeting it."

"Ah! my goodness!" cried Mrs. Weldon, "did you, then, hope to be able
to classify it in the order of the dipters or the hymenopters?"

"No," replied Cousin Benedict, seriously. "But is it not true that this
Dingo, though it be of the New Zealand race, was picked up on the
western coast of Africa?"

"Nothing is more true," replied Mrs. Weldon, "and Tom had often heard
the captain of the ‘Waldeck’ say so."

"Well, I had thought – I had hoped – that this dog would have brought
away some specimens of hemipteras peculiar to the African fauna."

"Merciful heavens!" cried Mrs. Weldon.

"And that perhaps," added Cousin Benedict, "some penetrating or
irritating flea – of a new species – – "

"Do you understand, Dingo?" said Captain Hull. "Do you understand, my
dog? You have failed in all your duties!"

"But I have examined it well," added the entomologist, with an accent
of deep regret. "I have not been able to find a single insect."

"Which you would have immediately and mercilessly put to death, I
hope!" cried Captain Hull.

"Sir," replied Cousin Benedict, dryly, "learn that Sir John Franklin
made a scruple of killing the smallest insect, be it a mosquito, whose
attacks are otherwise formidable as those of a flea; and meanwhile you
will not hesitate to allow, that Sir John Franklin was a seaman who was
as good as the next."

"Surely," said Captain Hull, bowing.

"And one day, after being frightfully devoured by a dipter, he blew and
sent it away, saying to it, without even using thou or thee: ‘Go!
the world is large enough for you and for me!’"

"Ah!" ejaculated Captain Hull.

"Yes, sir."

"Well, Mr. Benedict," retorted Captain Hull, "another had said that
long before Sir John Franklin."

"Another?"

"Yes; and that other was Uncle Toby."

"An entomologist?" asked Cousin Benedict, quickly.

"No! Sterne’s Uncle Toby, and that worthy uncle pronounced precisely
the same words, while setting free a mosquito that annoyed him, but
which he thought himself at liberty to thee and thou: ‘Go, poor
devil,’ he said to it, ‘the world is large enough to contain us, thee
and me!’"

"An honest man, that Uncle Toby!" replied Cousin Benedict. "Is he dead?"

"I believe so, indeed," retorted Captain Hull, gravely, "as he has
never existed!"

And each began to laugh, looking at Cousin Benedict.

Thus, then, in these conversations, and many others, which invariably
bore on some point of entomological science, whenever Cousin Benedict
took part, passed away long hours of this navigation against contrary
winds. The sea always fine, but winds which obliged the schooner to
tack often. The "Pilgrim" made very little headway toward the east – the
breeze was so feeble; and they longed to reach those parts where the
prevailing winds would be more favorable.

It must be stated here that Cousin Benedict had endeavored to initiate
the young novice into the mysteries of entomology. But Dick Sand had
shown himself rather refractory to these advances. For want of better
company the savant had fallen back on the negroes, who comprehended
nothing about it. Tom, Acteon, Bat, and Austin had even finished by
deserting the class, and the professor found himself reduced to
Hercules alone, who seemed to him to have some natural disposition to
distinguish a parasite from a thysanuran.

So the gigantic black lived in the world of coleopteras, carnivorous
insects, hunters, gunners, ditchers, cicindelles, carabes, sylphides,
moles, cockchafers, horn-beetles, tenebrions, mites, lady-birds,
studying all Cousin Benedict’s collection, not but the latter trembled
on seeing his frail specimens in Hercules’ great hands, which were hard
and strong as a vise. But the colossal pupil listened so quietly to the
professor’s lessons that it was worth risking something to give them.

While Cousin Benedict worked in that manner, Mrs. Weldon did not leave
little Jack entirely unoccupied; She taught him to read and to write.
As to arithmetic, it was his friend Dick Sand who inculcated the first
elements.

At the age of five, one is still only a little child, and is perhaps
better instructed by practical games than by theoretical lessons
necessarily a little arduous.

Jack learned to read, not in a primer, but by means of movable letters,
printed in red on cubes of wood. He amused himself by arranging the
blocks so as to form words. Sometimes Mrs. Weldon took these cubes and
composed a word; then she disarranged them, and it was for Jack to
replace them in the order required.

The little boy liked this manner of learning to read very much. Each
day he passed some hours, sometimes in the cabin, sometimes on the
deck, in arranging and disarranging the letters of his alphabet.

Now, one day this led to an incident so extraordinary, so unexpected,
that it is necessary to relate with some detail.

It was on the morning of February 9th, Jack, half-lying on the deck,
was amusing himself forming a word which old Tom was to put together
again, after the letters had been mixed. Tom, with his hand over his
eyes so as not to cheat, as he agreed, would see nothing, and did see
nothing of the work of the little boy.

Of these different letters, about fifty in number, some were large,
others small. Besides, some of these cubes carried a figure, which
taught the child to form numbers as well as to form words.

These cubes were arranged on the deck, and little Jack was taking
sometimes one, sometimes another, to make a word – a truly great labor.

Now, for same moments, Dingo was moving round the young child, when
suddenly it stopped. Its eyes became fixed, its right paw was raised,
its tail wagged convulsively. Then, suddenly throwing itself on one of
the cubes, it seized it in its mouth and laid it on the deck a few
steps from Jack.

This cube bore a large letter – the letter S.

"Dingo, well Dingo!" cried the little boy, who at first was afraid that
his S was swallowed by the dog.

But Dingo had returned, and, beginning the same performance again, it
seized another cube, and went to lay it near the first.

This second cube was a large V.

This time Jack gave a cry.

At this cry, Mrs. Weldon, Captain Hull, and the young novice, who were
walking on the deck, assembled. Little Jack then told them what had
just passed.

Dingo knew its letters; Dingo knew how to read! That was very certain,
that! Jack had seen it!

Dick Sand wanted to go and take the two cubes, to restore them to his
friend Jack, but Dingo showed him its teeth.

However, the novice succeeded in gaining possession of the two cubes,
and he replaced them in the set.

Dingo advanced again, seized again the same two letters, and carried
them to a distance. This time its two paws lay on them; it seemed
decided to guard them at all hazards. As to the other letters of the
alphabet, it did not seem as if it had any knowledge of them.

"That is a curious thing," said Mrs. Weldon.

"It is, in fact, very singular," replied Captain Hull, who was looking
attentively at the two letters.

"S. V.," said Mrs. Weldon.

"S. V.," repeated Captain Hull. "But those are precisely the letters
which are on Dingo’s collar!"

Then, all at once, turning to the old black: "Tom," he asked, "have you
not told me that this dog only belonged to the captain of the ‘Waldeck’
for a short time?"

"In fact, sir," replied Tom, "Dingo was only on board two years at the
most."

"And have you not added that the captain of the ‘Waldeck’ had picked up
this dog on the western coast of Africa?"

"Yes, sir, in the neighborhood of the mouth of the Congo. I have often
heard the captain say so."

"So," asked Captain Hull, "it has never been known to whom this dog had
belonged, nor whence it came?"

"Never, sir. A dog found is worse than a child! That has no papers,
and, more, it cannot explain."

Captain Hull was silent, and reflected.

"Do those two letters, then, awake some remembrance?" Mrs. Weldon asked
Captain Hull, after leaving him to his reflections for some moments.

"Yes, Mrs. Weldon, a remembrance, or rather a coincidence at least
singular."

What?"

"Those two letters might well have a meaning, and fix for us the fate
of an intrepid traveler."

"What do you mean?" demanded Mrs. Weldon.

"Here is what I mean, Mrs. Weldon. In 1871 – consequently two years
ago – a French traveler set out, under the auspices of the Paris
Geographical Society, with the intention of crossing Africa from the
west to the east. His point of departure was precisely the mouth of the
Congo. His point of arrival would be as near as possible to Cape
Deldago, at the mouths of the Rovuma, whose course he would descend.
Now, this French traveler was named Samuel Vernon."

"Samuel Vernon!" repeated Mrs. Weldon.

"Yes, Mrs. Weldon; and those two names begin precisely by those two
letters which Dingo has chosen among all the others, and which are
engraved on its collar."

"Exactly," replied Mrs. Weldon. "And that traveler – – "

"That traveler set out," replied Captain Hull, "and has not been heard
of since his departure."

"Never?" said the novice.

"Never," repeated Captain Hull.

"What do you conclude from it?" asked Mrs. Weldon.

"That, evidently, Samuel Vernon has not been able to reach the eastern
coast of Africa, whether he may have been made prisoner by the natives,
whether death may have struck him on the way."

"And then this dog?"

"This dog would have belonged to him; and, more fortunate than its
master, if my hypothesis is true, it would have been able to return to
the Congo coast, because it was there, at the time when these events
must have taken place, that it was picked up by the captain of the
‘Waldeck.’"

"But," observed Mrs. Weldon, "do you know if this French traveler was
accompanied on his departure by a dog? Is it not a mere supposition on
your part?"

"It is only a supposition, indeed, Mrs. Weldon," replied Captain Hull.
"But what is certain is, that Dingo knows these two letters S and V,
which are precisely the initials of the two names of the French
traveler. Now, under what circumstances this animal would learn to
distinguish them is what I cannot explain; but, I repeat it, it very
certainly knows them; and look, it pushes them with its paw, and seems
to invite us to read them with it."

In fact, they could not misunderstand Dingo’s intention.

"Then was Samuel Vernon alone when he left the sea-coast of the Congo?"
ask Dick Sand.

"That I know not," replied Captain Hull. "However, it is probable that
he would take a native escort."

At that moment Negoro, leaving his post, showed himself on the deck. At
first no one remarked his presence, and could not observe the singular
look he cast on the dog when he perceived the two letters over which
the animal seem to mount guard. But Dingo, having perceived the
master-cook, began to show signs of the most extreme fury.

Negoro returned immediately to the crew’s quarters, not without a
menacing gesture at the dog’s skill having escaped him.

"There is some mystery there," murmured Captain Hull, who had lost none
of this little scene.

"But, sir," said the novice, "is it not very astonishing that a dog
should know the letters of the alphabet?"

"No!" cried little Jack. "Mama has often told me the story of a dog
which knew how to read and write, and even play dominoes, like a real
schoolmaster!"

"My dear child," replied Mrs. Weldon, smiling, "that dog, whose name
was Munito, was not a savant, as you suppose. If I may believe what has
been told me about it, Munito would not have been able to distinguish
the letters which served to compose the words. But its master, a clever
American, having remarked what fine hearing Munito had, applied himself
to cultivating that sense, and to draw from it some very curious
effects."

"How did he set to work, Mrs. Weldon?" asked Dick Sand, whom the
history interested almost as much as little Jack.

"In this way, my friend." When Munito was ‘to appear’ before the
public, letters similar to these were displayed on a table. On that
table the poodle walked about, waiting till a word was proposed,
whether in a loud voice or in a low voice. Only, one essential
condition was that its master should know the word."

"And, in the absence of its master – " said the novice.

"The dog could have done nothing," replied Mrs. Weldon, "and here is
the reason. The letters spread out on the table, Munito walked about
through this alphabet. When it arrived before the letter which it
should choose to form the word required, it stopped; but if it stopped
it was because it heard the noise – imperceptible to all others – of a
toothpick that the American snapped in his pocket. That noise was the
signal for Munito to take the letter and arrange it in suitable order."

"And that was all the secret?" cried Dick Sand.

"That was the whole secret," replied Mrs. Weldon. "It is very simple,
like all that is done in the matter of prestidigitation. In case of the
American’s absence, Munito would be no longer Munito. I am, then,
astonished, his master not being there – if, indeed, the traveler,
Samuel Vernon, has ever been its master – that Dingo could have
recognized those two letters."

"In fact," replied Captain Hull, "it is very astonishing. But, take
notice, there are only two letters in question here, two particular
letters, and not a word chosen by chance. After all, that dog which
rang at the door of a convent to take possession of the plate intended
for the poor passers-by, that other which commissioned at the same time
with one of its kind, to turn the spit for two days each, and which
refused to fill that office when its turn had not come, those two dogs,
I say, advanced farther than Dingo into that domain of intelligence
reserved for man. Besides, we are in the presence of an inscrutable
fact. Of all the letters of that alphabet, Dingo has only chosen these
two: S and V. The others it does not even seem to know. Therefore we
must conclude that, for a reason which escapes us, its attention has
been especially drawn to those two letters."

"Ah! Captain Hull," replied the young novice, "if Dingo could speak!
Perhaps he would tell us what those two letters signify, and why it has
kept a tooth ready for our head cook."

"And what a tooth!" replied Captain Hull, as Dingo, opening its mouth,
showed its formidable fangs.

 

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