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   Chapter 6 HUNTING VEGETABLES AND PLANTS

The Wonder Island Boys: Exploring the Island By Roger Thompson Finlay Characters: 18276

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


One night, while engaged in the usual evening discussion, many topics were mentioned, things connected with the day's adventures talked over, and plans for the following day considered.

As usual, George was the persistent questioner, but Harry was the one to utilize the meaning, and generally the first to take advantage in a practical way of the information thus obtained.

We have stated heretofore that George was the theorist and Harry the practical one. George delighted to delve down into mysteries; but Harry utilized the knowledge in constructing and building articles. Both, therefore, had useful accomplishments. To learn and to do are the great things in life.

During the day the boys had turned out a nice sample of bread, and George, as usual, began the questioning:

"Professor, you said the other day, that fermentation caused a change in the dough, and that it was due to heat. I am curious to know why heat should cause it to ferment?"

"Heat develops bacteria, a tiny germ, which grows so rapidly in a short time, that millions are produced. These living organisms cause gases to form, and they continue to breed and grow and multiply so long as they have anything to feed on."

"And we eat all that stuff and call it good?"

"Yes; and why not? Every part of your body contains the little creatures, and they really keep you alive, and preserve your health, as well as prevent diseases."

"Why so?"

"Most germs are of the harmless type, and it is because of the vast numbers of the harmless ones that the few poisonous or disease germs are killed. Water has millions of them in every cubic inch. Professor Dewar, a great English chemist, calls them nature's policemen. If a typhoid fever germ, for example, should be introduced among so many germs, as is the case every day, a fight at once takes place, and where a person is finally attacked with the fever, it is because the germs escaped the policemen who were on duty."

"That sounds like a romance."

"Yes; the life history of those germs is really a wonderful thing, and books have been written about them. They exist in tribes, as it were; some of them can live only where oxygen is present, and some live on nitrogen only; others on carbon. But that is not all. Man has learned to use them, so they will work just as surely as our yaks work for us under our direction."

"How interesting! In what way do we use them?"

"In what is called the septic system of treating sewage. You know that sewage from the kitchen contains all kinds of meat and vegetables, and the more it has fermented the stronger becomes the odor and the greater are the number of bacteria in the sewage. The sewage in the liquid state is first placed in a reservoir, and at a certain temperature the germs grow very rapidly, and, of course, eat up the vegetable and animal matter until it is nearly all consumed. Then it is run off into another reservoir which has another tribe of germs in it, those that live on carbon, and which are not harmful to man, and when these two tribes meet war is declared, and they fight to the death. The harmless germs are victorious in every battle, and when the sewage is discharged into a stream, or used for irrigating purposes, few, if any, of the harmful germs remain."

"So in using germs the object is to cultivate one kind to kill another kind?"

"Not always; chemists have found out that man and animals absorb oxygen and expel nitrogen, in order to live; and that plants take in and live on nitrogen, and give out oxygen. They further learned that certain germs make nitrogen, just the same as we found that certain germs made carbonic gas in the dough; so that the United States Department of Agriculture, through its chemical division, concluded to set the germs to work, and the department will now send a box containing millions of the tiny creatures to any farmer who applies for them."

"When they get them, how do they set them to work?"

"The germs are thrown into a tub of water, and the seed, like corn, is put into the water and allowed to remain for a certain length of time. When the seed is taken out, more or less of the germs remains on each kernel, and when it is put into the ground the germs keep on working, making nitrogen which the growing plant absorbs. It is wonderful to see the effect in a field where one row has these germ-infected seeds, and the other rows are not so treated."

It was now May, and the weather was slightly cooler, but there was neither snow nor frost. North of the equator it was growing warmer, because the winter had passed. Here the summer had gone, and winter was coming on. From every indication they were not in a cold climate.

"Why do you think we shall not have any snow?" was Harry's inquiry.

"I notice too many trees, as well as shrubs and flowers, which could not live if we had frosts or freezing weather. Many of the trees about here do not shed their leaves, and the kind of animals which we now know exist here are sufficient evidence that we need not fear cold weather."

For more than a week the boys and the Professor put in their time prospecting in the hills and in carting various ores and mineralogical samples to their workshop.

The pelts which were on hand needed curing and besides there were also four yak pelts which had to be tanned, as shoe leather was badly needed. The hide originally dehaired was long ago ready for tanning, as well as the later ones.

"What shall we use for the tanning process?"

"The bark of certain trees must be procured, so if you can find either oak, hemlock, birch or beech trees, we can probably make a tanning compound which will serve our purpose."

"In what way will the bark of those trees tan the leather?"

"All the barks named contain what is called tannic acid. Other elements also are used, such as gallic acid, alum, sulphate of iron, and copper, salt, and other agents."

"What are the chemicals for?"

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Fig. 13. Tanning Vat.

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"The tannic acid or the chemicals act on the skins, or, rather on the gelatin, glutin and albumen in the skins, and thus harden the texture and preserve it. Where tannin is not used and only the chemicals are employed, it is called 'tawing' the leather, instead of 'tanning.'"

"Well, we can get the bark; I know where there are several oak trees, and also a number of beech trees."

"Then gather the bark by all means, and by the way, if you can find gall nuts we could use them to advantage."

"We don't know what they are."

"Then, if you can get some sumac, we can use that."

"Yes, I know; the kind with the long, red leaves."

"That is what I mean."

"Do the gall nuts have tannic acid?"

"Yes; but principally gallic acid, but gallic acid will also tan the skins so as to make leather. The principal use of the gall nut is for making ink."

"What kind of tree does the gall nut grow on?"

"On any kind of tree or bush."

"That is rather odd."

"It is not the fruit of any tree, but is produced by the gall fly, which punctures almost any kind of tree or shrub. In this puncture the insect lays its eggs, and the tree in trying to treat the wound covers up the egg, and the sap, flowing from the tree, forms a sort of nut which finally hardens and produces a most bitter substance deposited by the fly. The nut is about the size of a marble, and must be gathered before the larva is hatched out. It is the most valuable nut in the world."

The necessary bark for the tanning process was ready within the next two days, and a tank prepared in which the hides were laid spread out, with the bark between them and covered with water.

"In our conversations, Professor, you have the habit in describing plants, and especially the leaves to call them by certain names. It would help us if we knew just what you meant by the different names you give them."

"That is a wise suggestion, because it has been said that the basis of knowledge, or of true science, is correct definitions.[1] What is meant by that is this: We should both have an understanding of the term used to describe a thing. In our talks I have tried to avoid the use of what is called technical terms, but it is difficult to describe some things without using such terms, and I have for some time thought of making a list of the things we are talking about, and defining them, so you can at any time go there and look up the definition."

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Fig. 14. Serrate. Fig. 15. Bi-serrate.

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"If you would make drawings of the different kinds of leaves and give their names we could hang them up and could look at them any time."

"The leaf is the proper part to commence on, because it is the most important thing of every plant, or tree, or shrub."

"What, more important than the fruit or the flower, or the nut that grows on the tree?"

"That is just what I mean. When you smell the rich red flower of the rose, or look at the pure white petals of the lily, or the sweet-smelling blossoms of the orange or the jasmine, you are simply seeing or smelling leaves. The fruit itself, whether in the form of an

apple, or a berry or a nut, is simply a form of leaf, a perfected form of the plant, or bush, or tree. Originally all these fruits, flowers and nuts were but leaves in an undeveloped state."

"I never heard of such a thing before."

"It is a subject treated of in botanical knowledge which is called Morphology, and the object is to show that every fruit and flower was developed, in accordance with a well-known law, from the particular shape or form of the leaf. We can go into that branch of the subject later on. What we now want is to know something about the shape of the leaf, so we can have a starting point. There are two particular things about leaves; one has reference to the shape of the leaf, and the other to the way in which the edges are formed. To simplify the explanation, the drawings which I make pertain only to the edges. That will be sufficient for one time.

"Look at Fig. 14. The edges are like the teeth of a saw. This is called the serrate leaf. The rose and the common nettle have such leaves.

"Fig. 15 shows a leaf with a saw tooth edge wherein the teeth themselves have a lot of little saw teeth, as in the nettle-leaved bell-flower, and this is called bi-serrate.

"Fig. 16 has very large, sharp teeth, not pointing in any particular direction, like the oak leaf. This is called the dentate, or tooth.

"Fig. 17 has rounded projections instead of angular teeth, and is called crenate. Ground ivy and horseradish have such leaves.

"When we make drawings of the shapes of the leaves that will take us along another step, and thus enable us to find out just what kind of tree or plant we are talking about."

* * *

Fig. 16. Dentate. Fig. 17. Crenate.

* * *

The following day Harry proposed a trip over to the cave which George had discovered at the time he found the big air pocket that shot water and spray out into the ocean.

"I am interested," he said, "in seeing the air pocket George spoke about, and we might as well take our vacation to-day."

"As the distance is not great we need not bother about taking our luncheon along." And off they started, with the Professor bringing up the rear.

The course was first to Observation Hill, where they had erected a new and a larger pole than the one which had so mysteriously disappeared two months before. On every such visit it was the duty of the one who made the trip to scan the horizon in every direction.

It must not be inferred that because the boys were engaged in work which was all-absorbing that they had no thoughts of home, and had given up all hopes of a final rescue. If they could only let the people at home know they were alive and happy-that is, in learning the secrets of nature and in the exciting exploring trips, they would be satisfied.

They had no time to think of these things when they were at work, but in the night their thoughts often wandered back again to their homes and friends. Could they be blamed for that homesick feeling which came over them?

"Now lead the way, George; we want to see some more of your mysteries. Isn't it fortunate that the tide is out? It will give us a good chance to investigate."

The path which George had taken was farther to the right, but as he was in a hurry to get down as quickly as possible he followed a course, which was much steeper, with Harry and the Professor close on his heels.

When the bottom was reached there was no sign of a pocket, or a cave, or anything of that kind. George was very much annoyed. He could not be mistaken in the position, as it was directly to the right of Observation Hill, and not three hundred feet from the spot where Harry had landed on his first trip to the island.

"It seems to me, George, we are too low down. At high tide this place is all covered with water. It must he higher up in the cliff sides."

Harry scrambled up again part way, and shortly afterwards cried out: "I have found something here; come up at once."

He was distant not more than twenty feet above them, but so rugged were the cliffs that the opening was entirely hidden from below.

* * *

Fig. 18. Cave Entrance.

* * *

"This is an example of the corrosive effects of the sea, and of the elements in the water and in the rock. As these rocks are limestone formations, we may be able to see some beautiful decorations within, if the cave is of any extent."

"It is awful dark in there. I wish we hadn't forgotten the candles," he said, as he glanced at the Professor, who seemed to be quite absorbed in examining the rocks.

"Don't you think we had better go in?"

"I should like to do so, but we haven't any candles."

"I thought you came here for the purpose of examining the cave?"

"So we did."

"And came without making any preparations for it?" As he said this he drew out one of the small candles which they had been making and using for their evening work and recreation.

George and Harry were both very much ashamed of their carelessness. The Professor, on the other hand, did not make another remark on the subject. No doubt the silent rebuke was a lesson they would retain much better than if it should be more forcibly presented.

The boys, be it said to their credit, never resented any word or action on the part of the Professor. They had only love and veneration for him; and the Professor, by his constant attitude toward them, showed that even these careless actions or any other examples of thoughtlessness on the part of the boys, were part of the training that would teach lessons of value.

Below the mouth of the cave were little streams of water which looked like springs, and the Professor was of the opinion that the floor or interior of the cave must be lower than the entrance.

"Why do you think so?" was the inquiry.

"The springs below seem to indicate that when the high tide fills the cave, the bottom of the cave leaks enough to let out the water. The height of the mouth from the normal level of the water is much above the usual high tide level of the water, and it is only when there is an abnormally high tide, as on the day that George saw it, when the cave could be filled with water."

"Who will go in first?" said George. "I have no objection to taking the lead; so here goes."

George moved forward cautiously, holding the candle, and Harry followed with another. The opening was fully ten feet high, and at least that much in width, but irregularly formed. They went in straight for twenty feet or more, when George announced that he had reached a wall. The Professor, who was in the rear, called out: "Look to the right, there is a turn here."

Such was the case, but the broken up character of the sides and floor prevented them from readily grasping the formation. After making a jog the cave again turned into the cliff, practically on a line with the opening section or mouth of the cave. It was dark at first, but now, for some peculiar reason, it grew lighter as they advanced, and finally George stopped.

"What makes that peculiar light?"

"It is not a light; it is merely white walls and ceilings."

"What causes it?"

"Carbonate of lime, or chalk, which is caused by lime water coming from above and trickling down through to openings or crevices, and leaving the deposits there. It is not an uncommon thing in caves, and I foreshadowed it in the cave when I stated that the rocks were of limestone formation. You will remember we made lime from this kind of rock."

A loud splash and a groan-like noise put further conversation at an end. "What was that?" asked George, as he retreated. In doing so he tripped, and, in falling, the light he carried was extinguished as it flew from his hand.

Clearly there was water ahead. "Let us go forward, a little closer," said the Professor. "You might get your guns ready, in case of necessity."

Within thirty feet of them was the edge of water, and the light threw a beam beyond for a hundred feet or more.

"It seems as though we have reached the end of our explorations here." As they looked, the water was agitated, and it was plain that some aquatic animal was within the cave.

To return was the only thing to do, and as they went back the sides of the cavern were examined, and the Professor took a number of samples, as he said: "Don't lose the candle until we get where we can see daylight. Although we are not more than two hundred feet from the mouth of the cave, the remarkable bend or jog near the mouth of the cave makes it as dark as though we were in a thousand feet."

"What sort of animal do you suppose that was?"

"Possibly a sea lion, or a seal."

After the open air was reached the Professor said: "I do not see how this cave would account for the phenomena that George saw the other day."

"Why not?"

"The cave is too deep. It is not a true air pocket, and--"

"What is this? Here is another one, still larger, and lower down. Here, hold the candle." Harry was down in an instant.

"Probably this is what George saw."

True enough; it was an air pocket which extended in about fifty feet, and had no passageway beyond.

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