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The Wonder Island Boys: Exploring the Island By Roger Thompson Finlay Characters: 18764

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

They returned to their home with conflicting emotions. It had been an eventful day. They had a glimpse of the outside world, and an experience below the surface of the earth. Both were unsatisfying. They could explain the one far away on the sea; but the other, close at hand, was a mystery.

"How do you account for the water being so far away from the mouth of the cave?" was George's inquiry after the evening meal.

"Haven't you noticed that we have had no rain for the past five weeks?"

Such was, indeed, the case. The boys had not been observant, like the Professor.

"Evidently the water is supplied from rains, and the floor of the cave permits more or less of the water to leak through, so that, in time, if we had no rains, the cave would be entirely free of water."

"But how about the animal in there; if it is a water animal, how did it get in; and if the water ever dries up, how can it live there?"

"There may not be any subterranean connection directly with the sea, and the animal has been trapped there; or it may be able to reach the sea in the cave at any time, by some underground channel."

"How far do you think the cave goes in?"

"That is one of the impossible things to say. It may extend for miles. Like yourselves, I am curious to know all about it, as soon as we can make further investigations. In the meantime, don't forget about the flag."

"I had forgotten that. I am willing to start on it in the morning. How large should it be made?"

"We should make it a regulation flag, by all means."

"Let me see; how many stripes must we have?" said Harry.

"I know; thirteen."

"Yes; and they must be red and white."

"That is correct," responded the Professor; "but do you remember how many of each?"

The boys were silent.

"The top and the bottom stripes are red, and the intervening ones white. What do these stripes represent?"

"The original States."

"I see you have a pretty good recollection. I remember a class of over forty boys, on one occasion, which had only three boys who recalled that. Then we must have a field of another color, up in the corner."

"That is the blue field, with stars on it."

"Yes; but how many stars?"

"A star for each State."

"And how many States are there now?"

There was no response to this. How many boys or men, even, can tell offhand the number at the present time?

"There were 48 before we sailed. How many, if any, were added since I do not know."

The next day the boys were anxious to set to work on the flag. There was plenty of the ramie cloth at hand, but it was quite yellow. George noticed this, and said: "It seems to me we shall have to be content with making the flag red, yellow and blue, that is, if we can get the red and the blue."

"No," was the Professor's rejoinder; "we must make it red, white and blue."

"But how can we make the ramie cloth white?"

"By bleaching it."

That was a new idea; to make white cloth.

"How can we do it?"

"Wet it and put it in the sun. If we want to hurry it up we can use some chloride of lime."

"But where is the chloride of lime?"

"Do you remember that black ore we have in the laboratory, which is called manganese? If we put some of the sulphuric acid on that a gas will be formed, called chlorine, one of the most powerful bleaching compounds known. We can use it in that form, or subject some of our lime to the gases, and in that case make chloride of lime."

The decision was to make the flag sixteen feet long and nine feet nine inches wide, so that each stripe would be nine inches wide. The blue field would be five feet wide and seven feet long.

This was certainly a task, and the boys were directed to prepare four strips of red and three strips of white, each nine feet long, and also three strips of white and three strips of red sixteen feet long. Four of the short strips and three of the long strips were then laid aside to be dyed red. The other strips were put out to bleach.

When all this was prepared George was troubled about the colors.

"Professor, I do not see what we can use to make the blue and red colors."

"I think we are fortunate in having one of the varieties of the madder plant all about here."

"Is that a good dye plant?"

"It is a plant that is more extensively used for dyeing than any other in the world. For many years, until the products from petroleum began to come in, it was the only source for the red colors, because of its permanence. The dye is so powerful that it will turn the bones of animals red, if they are fed on it, and it also colors the claws and beaks of birds."

"Have you seen any of it here?"

"There is plenty of it growing here. You cannot mistake it. It is the plant with the elongated, smooth-edged leaf, which grows on the main stem, from which the small, thin stems branch out that carry the little red flowers."

"I know what you mean; let me get some of them at once." And George was off after the plant.

Meanwhile Harry was busily at work cutting out the double set of stars required for the blue field.

Several days before this George had prepared the roots of the chicory plant, as will be remembered, and it had been dried, and was ready to be ground up. At the noon meal he served the first cup of "coffee," to the delight of Harry, who was completely taken by surprise, and afforded much amusement for George and the Professor.

"It seems to be rather strong," was Harry's only comment, "and even if it isn't real coffee, it is good enough, I assure you."

"Wouldn't it be injurious to take too much of it?"

* * *

Fig. 33. Betel Nut.

* * *

"Exactly with this as with everything else. It is not the use, but the abuse, that causes trouble. Of course, chicory does not have the soothing and hunger-staying qualities of the real coffee, but the bitter principle in the root is a tonic, and the extract is used as a medicine for that purpose. The leaves of the endive, of which we are using the roots, make a most delicious salad."

"Don't many people use this as a kind of an intoxicant?"

"If used to excess it has an exhilarating influence, on account of its tonic properties."

"I have often thought it was wonderful," said Harry, "that people all over the world have some kind of a weed or plant that they use to stimulate themselves with."

"There seems to be a universal instinct in man to select the strong and bitter principles for that purpose. The aborigines of Central America used rolled tobacco leaves ages before Columbus was born; and the coca leaf, chewed by the lowest orders of the Peruvians, was for ages, and is now, their main source of strength and comfort. So opium, hemp and the betel-nut have been used by eastern Asiatics from the remotest antiquity; and the same is true of the pepper plants of the South Sea Islands and the Indian Archipelago; also of the thorn apples used among the natives of the Andes, and on the slopes of the Himalayas. In northern Europe the ledum and the hop have been so used, and in Siberia the narcotic fungus has been eaten from time immemorial."

At that moment Baby appeared on the scene, his hands and one side of his head dyed a beautiful red, presenting a ludicrous appearance. The first glance at him was one of astonishment; but realizing that he had been testing George's newly made dye, all burst out in laughter at the amusing sight.

"You really look like a red angel," was George's greeting, and Baby seemed to relish the joke. From that time forward Baby's name was "Red Angel," but it took him some time to learn what the new title was. It took him much longer to acquire it than it did to learn what honey meant.

"Red Angel is certainly a very smart little chap," said the Professor, with a laugh, "because he was really doing what is done in the dyeing art and in chemistry every day, furnishing a test sample."

"Test sample; what is that?"

"In the art of dyeing it is the custom, before commencing to dye goods, to make a test sample, and all goods dyed must come up to the standard set by that sample. That is called the 'test sample.'"

"But how do the chemists use it?"

"In the analyses of chemicals one of the processes is by what is called the color metric test-that is, the test by color. The chemist makes a solution with a known quantity of the element in it which is of full strength and purity, and is therefore of a well-defined color. Now, if any substance is to be analyzed, the same reagent is used in the tested sample as was used to make the well-known sample. The color of the unknown sample is then compared with the known sample, and the quantity determined by the difference of color in the two."

"What do you mean by reagent?"

"A substance used to effect a chemical change in another substance. For instance, what is called Nessler's Reagent is a substance which, if put into water, will detect one part of ammonia in twenty million parts of water, and give a perceptible reddish-yellow tinge."

"Well, Red Angel has certainly made a good test sample for us; isn't that a good color?"

The blue color was still wanting when the other parts were ready, and the Professor came to the laboratory with a sample of bitter-sweet, the common hedge plant of North America. The boys both recognized the plant and were surprised to learn that it c

ontained a dye suitable for their purpose.

"We can use this or take some of the copper ore, that is, the blue vitriol part of the ore, and by putting it in a lime-water solution a beautiful blue color can be obtained."

The flag, when completed, was really a work of art. They gave many days to the task, and were proud of it. The question of a suitable pole or flagstaff was one which now absorbed their energies. As nothing of the kind was found in the immediate neighborhood, it was suggested that on their regular hunting day it should be made a part of their duty to find a staff worthy to be installed. The trips to the cave, and the absorbing work of preparing the flag, had so taken up the time, that they had entirely forgotten the regular outings.

On this occasion they insisted that the Professor should accompany them, and George declared that the only place available for a good pole would be in the forest below the South River, where they had shot the ocelots.

The yaks were prepared, as usual, and it was a merry party which started off on that bright morning for the forest. They did not, you may be sure, forget the spears and the guns, and before leaving home Harry thought it would be a good idea to provide a small two-wheeled truck, which could be used as a trailer, for the pole.

On the way down, Harry said: "How large a pole shall we get?"

George had his opinions, as usual: "Let us get a pole at least 50 feet long. We must have something which will match the flag."

"A pole that length will be a difficult matter to raise; have you thought of that?" was the Professor's observation.

"Can't we rig up something to raise it with?"

"Yes; and for a pole a hundred feet long, if necessary."

The Professor made no further objections. Reaching the South River the yaks were tethered, and taking advantage of the raft which they had used on the first trip, they were soon on the way into the forest. On this occasion they took a course to the right of their former exploits, the desire being to acquaint themselves, as much as possible, with the topography of the country toward the falls. Soon they came within sight of game, squirrels, woodchucks; and many familiar varieties of birds were seen on all sides.

What interested the boys most was an animal about three and a half feet long, and almost three feet high, which they saw at a distance.

"What is that, Professor?"

"It is a giant ant-eater, found in many parts of South America."

"What a big bushy tail he has."

"He uses that in a peculiar way. When he sleeps he lies on one side, rolls himself up so that his snout lies on his breast, places all his feet together, and covers himself with that bushy tail. As the hair of the tail resembles hay, or the surrounding dried grass, it is likely to be passed by without being noticed."

"I wish we could get a shot at him."

"There is a fine pole," said Harry, whose keen interest was as great in that quarter as in the hunting.

* * *

Fig. 34. The Giant Ant-eater

* * *

It was an exceptionally fine specimen of shell-bark hickory, and the base was nearly six inches in diameter, but it was as straight as a line, apparently, and it was fully thirty feet to the first limb.

"You couldn't get a better pole; but hickory is one of the heaviest woods, and being green, it will be a task to raise it. It weighs, dry, about 45 pounds per cubic foot."

"What is the weight of a cubic foot of water?"

"About sixty-four pounds."

"How much do you think that pole will weigh when it is trimmed up?"

The Professor, after carefully surveying the tree for a time, answered: "It will weigh fully 400 pounds, but I am in favor of taking it, as we know shell bark is a good American tree, and it is the kind of wood we usually select on account of its strength. I know it will resist any winds likely to come our way."

It was at once cut down, and on measuring was found to be 58 feet up to the branching top, at which point it was not less than two inches in diameter.

"Cut it off above the last crotch, as we shall want that part to attach the top pulley between."

Now that it was cut and trimmed, the problem was to convey it back to the river.

"Do you think we can induce the yaks to swim across the river?"

"That's a capital idea, Harry, let us go back and try it."

"While you are getting the animals I shall do some investigating," said the Professor.

The boys crossed the river and took the two-wheeled truck across. "It might be amusing to the Professor, if he found we had taken the truck across before we knew whether the yaks could be induced to go over." Harry laughed at George, and answered: "How shall we manage it? We had better keep them yoked, I suppose."

After some urging, they were driven to the water, the boys having tied a rope to the yoke before they went into the river. To their great surprise and relief, the yaks made no objections, and immediately started out at a great rate for the opposite shore, and before they had gone twenty feet were swimming. The boys in the raft held on tightly and were drawn across without further trouble.

As they left the river for the trip, they distinctly heard a shot.

"I wonder what the Professor has shot? Did you hear him?" They listened intently. The shot appeared to come from a point considerably to the left of the place where the pole had been cut, but they paid little attention to that. After they had gone halfway another shot was heard, this time at a point which indicated that the Professor must be some distance away.

As anticipated, the Professor was not in the location of the pole.

"I don't think the Professor expected us back so soon," was Harry's suggestion. "Let us rig up the pole and hitch the team, and by that time he may be back."

In less than a half hour this was done, ready for a start; still no signs of the Professor.

"I think we had better fire a shot to let him know we are here."

"Singular we didn't think of that before; here goes." Waiting fully a quarter of an hour after the shot, they were surprised at not hearing any response from him. "I wonder," continued Harry, "if he has met with some accident?"

"We heard it in this direction, didn't we? Don't let us waste any more time. Get the guns and ammunition. Hurry up; and let us take a spear; it may be useful."

Each boy took a spear, as a matter of precaution, and set out. At intervals the boys shouted, and after wandering about for fully a half hour, determined to try another shot. This was answered by a shot apparently from the direction of the team, and the boys turned about and hurriedly made their way back.

It happened that the boys had actually lost their way, and in the excitement all sense of direction. The Professor had made a complete circle and the boys in their wanderings had executed a complete loop within that circle, and were actually going back to the river instead of to the team.

"I can't understand this business," said George, in a despairing tone. "We have traveled far enough to get back to the team twice over. Let's try another shot." It was answered by a shout from the Professor, close by, to their left, and when they appeared in sight he was seated on the log leisurely driving the yaks, laughing in a quiet way, and apparently not noticing the discomfiture of the boys.

"We thought you were lost," said George; "didn't you hear us firing?"

"How does it happen you are going in this direction?" was the Professor's quizzical remark, which he uttered with a faint suspicion of a smile. As the boys did not reply, he continued: "Did you expect to find the team at the river?"

* * *

Fig. 35. Chart Showing How the Boys Were Lost

* * *

Of course, they all had a good laugh at this, because the direction they were taking, and the position in which the Professor found them, were sufficient to indicate that they were really lost, and that he knew it.

"I felt satisfied," was his final remark, "that you had not a well-defined idea of your direction when you fired the last time, but you will learn in time how to keep your direction, and what is more, you will never again permit an excited condition of the mind to make you take a crooked path."

The boys looked wonderingly at the Professor.

"How," asked Harry, "does an excited mind make anyone take a crooked path?"

"When the mind is excited, it is, for the time, deranged, like soldiers, frequently on the field of battle, who are wounded, without having the least knowledge of it. The sense of direction is a well-developed trait in some people; in others, it does not exist at all. But in the case of either, the moment the mind is excited, it becomes abnormal; some lose the ability to judge distances, some are unable to talk, and others can't do anything but talk. All judgment for the time disappears. Now, take that person in a forest, and highly excite him, and he has absolutely no judgment of distance or direction, and is not in a good position to mark and follow a course with intelligence. I have spoken thus fully on the subject, in order to warn you, that under no circumstances should you ever set out on such a mission as you have with the least cloud of excitement. It is far better not to go at all."

It was a warning the boys never forgot.

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