Masterman Ready

Author: Frederick Marryat

Chapter XLII

They were all up early the next morning, and breakfasted at an early hour. The knapsacks and guns, and the other requisites for the journey, were all prepared; William and Ready rose from the table, and taking an affectionate leave of Mr. and Mrs. Seagrave, they started on their journey. The sun was shining brilliantly, and the weather had become warm; the ocean in the distance gleamed brightly, as its waters danced, and the cocoa-nut trees moved their branches gracefully to the breeze. They set off in high spirits, and having called the two shepherd dogs, and driven back Vixen, who would have joined the party, they passed the storehouse, and ascending the hill on the other side, they got their hatchets ready to blaze the trees; and Ready having set his course by his pocket compass, they were fairly on their way. For some time they continued to cut the bark of the trees with their hatchets, without speaking, and then Ready stopped again to look at his compass.

"I think the wood is thicker here than ever, Ready," observed William.

"Yes, sir, it is; but I suspect we are now in the thickest part of it, right in the middle of the island; however, we shall soon see. We must keep a little more away to the southward. We had better get on as fast as we can. We shall have less work by and by, and then we can talk better."

For half-an-hour they continued their way through the wood, and, as Ready had observed, the trees became more distant from each other; still, however, they could not see anything before them but the stems of the cocoa-nuts. It was hard work, chopping the trees every second, and their foreheads were moist with the exertion.

"I think we had better pull up for a few minutes, William; you will be tired."

"I have not been so used to exercise, Ready, and therefore I feel it more," replied William, wiping his face with his handkerchief. "I should like to stop a few minutes. How long do you think it will be before we are out of the wood?"

"Not half-an-hour more, sir, I should think; even before that, perhaps."

"What do you expect to find, Ready?"

"That’s a difficult question to answer. I can tell you what I hope to find, which is, a good space of clear ground between the beach and the wood, where we may pasture our sheep and goats; and perhaps we may find some other trees besides cocoa-nuts: at present, you know, we have seen only them and the castor-oil beans, that Tommy took such a dose of. You see, William, there is no saying what new seeds may have been brought here by birds, or by the winds and waves."

"But will those seeds grow?"

"Yes, William; I have been told that seeds may remain hundreds of years under-ground, and come up afterwards when exposed to the heat."

They continued their way, and had not walked for more than a quarter of an hour, when William cried out, "I see the blue sky, Ready; we shall soon be out; and glad shall I be, for my arm aches with chopping."

"I dare say it does, sir. I am just as glad as you are, for I’m tired of marking the trees; however, we must continue to mark, or we shall not find our way back when we want it."

In ten minutes more they were clear of the cocoa-nut grove, and found themselves among brushwood higher than their heads; so that they could not see how far they were from the shore.

"Well," said William, throwing down his hatchet, "I’m glad that’s over; now let us sit down a little before we go any further."

"I’m of your opinion, sir," replied Ready, sitting down by the side of William; "I feel more tired to-day than I did when we first went through the wood, after we set off from the cove. I suppose it’s the weather. Come back, dogs; lie down."

"The weather is very fine, Ready."

"Yes, now it is; but I meant to have said that the rainy season is very trying to the health, and I suppose I have not recovered from it yet. You have had a regular fever, and, of course, do not feel strong; but a man may have no fever, and yet his health suffer a great deal from it. I am an old man, William, and feel these things now."

"I think that before we go on, Ready, we had better have our dinner; that will do us good."

"Well, we will take an early dinner, and we shall get rid of one bottle of water, at all events; indeed, I think that, as we must go back by the same way we came, we may as well leave our knapsacks and everything but our guns under these trees; I dare say we shall sleep here too, for I told Mr. Seagrave positively not to expect us back to-night. I did not like to say so before your mother, she is so anxious about you."

They opened their knapsacks, and made their meal, the two dogs coming in for their share; after which they again started on their discoveries. For about ten minutes they continued to force their way through the thick and high bushes, till at last they broke out clear of them, and then looked around them for a short time without speaking. The sea was about half a mile distant, and the intervening land was clear, with fresh blades of grass just bursting out of the earth, composing a fine piece of pasture of at least fifty acres, here and there broken with small patches of trees and brushwood; there was no sandy beach, but the rocks rose from the sea about twenty to thirty feet high, and were in one or two places covered with something which looked as white as snow.

"Well, Ready," said William, "there will be no want of pasture for our flock, even if it increases to ten times its number."

"No," replied Ready, "we are very fortunate, and have great reason to be thankful; this is exactly what we required; and now let us go on a little, and examine these patches of wood, and see what they are. I see a bright green leaf out there, which, if my eyes do not fail me, I have seen many a time before." When they arrived at the clump of trees which Ready had pointed out, he said, "Yes, I was right. Look there, this is the banana; it is just bursting out now, and will soon be ten feet high, and bearing fruit which is excellent eating; besides which the stem is capital fodder for the beasts."

"Here is a plant I never saw before," said William, pulling off a piece of it, and showing it to Ready.

"But I have, William. It is what they call the bird’s-eye pepper; they make Cayenne pepper out of it. Look, the pods are just formed; it will be useful to us in cooking, as we have no pepper left. You see, William, we must have some birds on the island; at least it is most probable, for all the seeds of these plants and trees must have been brought here by them. The banana and the pepper are the food of many birds. What a quantity of bananas are springing up in this spot; there will be a little forest of them in a few weeks."

"What is that rough-looking sort of shrub out there, Ready?"

"I can’t see so well as you, William, so let us walk up to it. Oh, I know it now; it is what they call the prickly pear in the West Indies. I am very glad to have found that, for it will be very useful to us."

"Is it good eating, Ready?"

"Not particularly; and the little spikes run into your fingers, and are very difficult to get rid of; but it is not bad by way of a change. No, the use it will be to us is to hedge in our garden, and protect it from the animals; it makes a capital fence, and grows very fast, and without trouble. Now let us go on to that patch of trees, and see what they are."

"What is this plant, Ready?"

"I don’t know, William."

"Then I think I had better make a collection of all those you don’t know, and take them back to father; he is a good botanist."

William pulled a branch of the plant off, and carried it with him. On their arrival at the next patch of trees, Ready looked at them steadfastly for some time.

"I ought to know that tree," said he. "I have often seen it in hot countries. Yes, it’s the guava."

"What! is it the fruit they make guava jelly of?" said William.

"Yes, the very same."

"Let us now walk in the direction of those five or six trees," said William; "and from there down to the rocks; I want to find out how it is that they are so white."

"Be it so, if you wish," replied Ready.

"Why, Ready, what noise is that? Hark! such a chattering, it must be monkeys."

"No, they are not monkeys; but I’ll tell you what they are, although I cannot see them; they are parrots - I know their noise well. You see, William, it’s not very likely that monkeys should get here, but birds can, and it is the birds that we have to thank for the bananas and guavas, and other fruits we may find here."

As soon as they came under the trees, there was a great rioting and fluttering, and then away flew, screaming as loud as they could, a flock of about three hundred parrots, their beautiful green and blue feathers glistening in the beams of the sun.

"I told you so; well, we’ll have some capital pies out of them, William."

"Pies! do they make good pies, Ready?"

"Yes, excellent; and very often have I had a good dinner from one in the West Indies, and in South America. Stop, let us come a little this way; I see a leaf which I should like to examine."

"The ground is very swampy just here, Ready; is it not?"

"Yes; there’s plenty of water below, I don’t doubt. So much the better for the animals; we must dig some pools when they come here.

"Oh! I thought I was not wrong. Look! this is the best thing I have found yet - we now need not care so much about potatoes."

"Why, what are they, Ready?"

"Yams, which they use instead of potatoes in the West Indies. Indeed, potatoes do not remain potatoes long, when planted in hot climates."

"How do you mean, Ready?"

"They turn into what they call sweet-potatoes, after one or two crops: yams are better things, in my opinion."

At this moment the dogs dashed among the broad yam leaves, and commenced baying; there was a great rustling and snorting.

"What’s that?" cried William, who had been stooping down to examine the yam plant, and who was startled at the noise.

Ready laughed heartily. "It isn’t the first time that they’ve made you jump, William."

"Why, it’s our pigs, isn’t it?" replied William.

"To be sure; they’re in the yam patch, very busy feeding on them, I’ll be bound."

Ready gave a shout, and a grunting and rushing were heard among the broad leaves, and, very soon, out rushed, instead of the six, about thirty pigs large and small; who, snorting and twisting their tails, galloped away at a great rate, until they gained the cocoa-nut grove.

"How wild they are, Ready!" said William.

"Yes, and they’ll be wilder every day; but we must fence these yams from them, or we shall get none ourselves."

"But they’ll beat down the fence before it grows up."

"We must pale it with cocoa-nut palings, and plant the prickly pears outside. Now, we’ll go down to the sea-side."

As they neared the rocks, which were bare for about fifty yards from the water’s edge, Ready said, "I can tell you now what those white patches on the rocks are, William; they are the places where the sea-birds come to every year to make their nests, and bring up their young. They always come to the same place every year, if they are not disturbed." They soon arrived at the spot, and found it white with the feathers of birds, mixed up with dirt.

"I see no nests, Ready, nor the remains of any."

"No, they do not make any nests, further than scratching a round hole, about half an inch deep, in the soil, and there they lay their eggs, sitting quite close to one another; they will soon be here, and begin to lay, and then we will come and take the eggs, if we want any, for they are not bad eating."

"Why, Ready, what a quantity of good things we have found out already! This has been a very fortunate expedition of ours."

"Yes, it has; and we may thank God for his goodness, who thus provides for us so plentifully in the wilderness."

"Do you know, Ready, I cannot help thinking that we ought to have built our house here."

"Not so, William; we have not the pure water, recollect, and we have not the advantages of the sandy beach, where we have our turtleand fish-pond. No; we may feed our stock here; we may gather the fruit, taking our share of it with the poor birds; we may get our yams, and every other good provided for us; but our house and home must be where it is now."

"You are right, Ready; but it will be a long walk."

"Not when we are accustomed to it, and have made a beaten path; besides, we may bring the boat round, perhaps."

Then they walked along the sea-side for about a quarter of a mile, until they came to where the rocks were not so high, and there they discovered a little basin, completely formed in the rocks, with a narrow entrance.

"See, William, what a nice little harbour for our boat! we may here load it with yams and take it round to the bay, provided we can find an entrance through the reefs on the southern side of it, which we have not looked for yet, because we have not required it."

"Yes, Ready - it is, indeed, a nice, smooth little place for the boat. What is that thing on the bottom, there?" said William, pointing in the direction.

"That is a sea crawfish, quite as good eating as a lobster. I wonder if I could make a lobster-pot; we should catch plenty, and very good they are."

"And what are those little rough things on the rock?"

"They are a very nice little sort of oyster; not like those we have in England, but much better - they are so delicate."

"Why, Ready, we have two more good things for our table, again," replied William; "how rich we shall be!"

"Yes; but we have to catch them, recollect: there is nothing to be had in this world without labour."

"Ready," said William, "we have good three hours’ daylight; suppose we go back and tell what we have seen: my mother will be so glad to see us."

"I agree with you, William. We have done well for one day; and may safely go back again, and remain for another week. There are no fruits at present, and all I care about are the yams; I should like to protect them from the pigs. But let us go home and talk the matter over with Mr. Seagrave."

They found out the spot where they had left their knapsacks and hatchets, and again took their path through the cocoa-nut trees, following the blaze which they had made in the morning. One hour before sunset they arrived at the house, where they found Mr. and Mrs. Seagrave sitting outside, and Juno standing on the beach with the two children, who were amusing themselves with picking up the shells which were strewed about. William gave a very clear account of all they had seen, and showed his father the specimens of the plants which he had collected.

"This," said Mr. Seagrave, "is a well-known plant; and I wonder Ready did not recognize it; it is hemp."

"I never saw it except in the shape of rope," replied Ready. "I know the seed well enough."

"Well, if we require it, I can tell you how to dress it," replied Mr. Seagrave. "Now, William, what is the next?"

"This odd-looking, rough thing."

"That’s the egg-plant: it bears fruit of a blue colour. I am told they eat it in the hot countries."

"Yes, sir, they do; they fry it with pepper and salt; they call it bringal. I think it must be that."

"I do not doubt but you are right," replied Mr. Seagrave. "Why, William, you should know this."

"It is like the grape-vine."

"Yes, and it is so; it is the wild grape; we shall eat them by and bye."

"I have only one more, papa: what is this?"

"You don’t know it, because it has sprung up so high, William; but it is the common mustard plant, - what we use in England, and is sold as mustard and cress. I think you have now made a famous day’s work of it; and we have much to thank God for."

As soon as they had returned to the house, a consultation was held as to their future proceedings; and, after some debate, it was agreed that it would be advisable that they should take the boat out of the sand; and, as soon as it was ready, examine the reef on the southward, to see if they could find a passage through it, as it would take a long while to go round it; and, as soon as that was accomplished, Mr. Seagrave, Ready, William, and Juno should all go through the wood, carrying with them a tent to pitch on the newly-discovered piece of ground: and that they should set up a flag-staff at the little harbour, to point out its position. Of course, that would be a hard day’s work; but that they would, nevertheless, return the same night, and not leave Mrs. Seagrave alone with the children. Having accomplished this, Ready and William would then put the wheels and axle in the boat, and other articles required, such as saw, hatchets, and spades, and row round to the south side of the island, to find the little harbour. As soon as they had landed them, and secured the boat, they would then return by the path through the wood.

The next job would be to rail in the yam plantation to keep off the pigs, and, at the same time, to drive the sheep and goats through the wood, that they might feed on the new pasture ground. Ready and William were then to cut down cocoa-nut trees sufficient for the paling, fix up the posts, and when that was done, Mr. Seagrave was to come to them and assist them in railing it in, and drawing the timber. This they expected would be all done in about a month; and during that time, as Mrs. Seagrave and Juno would be, for the greatest part of it, left at the house, they were to employ themselves in clearing the garden of weeds, and making preparation for fencing it in.

As soon as this important work had been completed, the boat would return to the bay with a load of prickly pears for the garden fence, and then they were to direct their attention to the stores which had been saved from the wreck, and were lying in the cove where they had first landed. When they had examined them, and brought round what were required, and secured them in the storehouse, they would then have a regular survey of the island by land and by water. But man proposes and God disposes, as will be shown by the interruption of their intended projects which we shall have to narrate in the ensuing chapter.


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Chicago: Frederick Marryat, "Chapter XLII," Masterman Ready, ed. Altemus, Henry in Masterman Ready Original Sources, accessed October 5, 2022,

MLA: Marryat, Frederick. "Chapter XLII." Masterman Ready, edited by Altemus, Henry, in Masterman Ready, Original Sources. 5 Oct. 2022.

Harvard: Marryat, F, 'Chapter XLII' in Masterman Ready, ed. . cited in , Masterman Ready. Original Sources, retrieved 5 October 2022, from