A Celebration of Women Writers

"The Children in the Wood of the Far South." by Charlotte M. Yonge (1823-1901)
From: A Book of Golden Deeds. (1864) by Charlotte M. Yonge. London: Blackie & Son, Ltd., n.d.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom



Our roll of Golden Deeds is nearly at an end, not indeed that acts of self-devotion are exhausted, but that full and authentic particulars have not reached us of more than we have related. We have not ventured to tell the stories of the gentlemen who, in the Indian mutiny, rode for miles through an enemy's country, under a burning sun, with the young child of a friend in their arms. One of these little creatures, still under three years old, whose protector had had to fight his way through the natives with her on his horse's neck, was too young to know what she owed to him, and only remembered the horrors of her ride, so that when he was at length able to restore her to her mother, she shrank from him, and would not even look at him. The other little girl, a little Miss Christian, not four years old, was only rescued for the time to fall with her protector into the possession of a native prince, who retained them in his power while besieging Lucknow. The child pined and died before the time of release came, but her illness was the occasion of an unlooked-for comfort to her companions in captivity. A native doctor, who was allowed to prescribe for her, sent some powders for her wrapped in a chance bit of printed paper. It proved to be the leaf of a torn Bible, and these were the words that it bore; "I, even I, am He that comforteth you: who art thou, that thou shouldst be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man that shall be made as grass; and forgettest the LORD thy Maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundation of the earth; and hast feared continually every day because of the fury of the oppressor? and where is the fury of the oppressor? The captive exile hasteneth that he may be loosed, and that he should not die in the pit, nor that his bread should fail. But I am the LORD thy God, that divided the sea, whose waves roared: the LORD of hosts is His Name." (Isa., li. 12-15.)

The few survivors of that band of "captive exiles" have declared that these words were to them a message of exceeding joy and hope of deliverance from the fury of the oppressor, and that they were thus greatly strengthened to endure unto the end. Neither the child nor her rescuer were among them. They had both been set free by sickness from captivity and all other ills of this mortal life.

Neither can we here pause upon the story of Arthur Cheek, the young ensign of only sixteen years old, who at Allahabad, sorely wounded and dying of thirst, not only was steadfast in confessing his own faith, but by his exclamation, "Oh, my friend, come what may, do not deny the LORD JESUS", prevented the apostasy of a convert from Mahometanism, whom the Sepoys were cruelly torturing. A sudden attack of the Madras fusiliers saved the convert, but it was too late to save the martyr boy, who had sunk to rest ere his countrymen had made their way into the city.

We must turn from these, and speak of those little elder sisters, almost mothers in their love and devotion. We see such little heroines oftener than we think dragging about babies as big as themselves, to whom they often give the last morsel when they are hungry enough themselves, or rushing almost under horses' hoofs, or carriage wheels, to snatch some unlucky brother from the destruction into which he is just big enough to toddle. Perhaps the most notable of all these sisters was Françoise Marie, of Rochebeaucour, who, at eleven years old, was left an orphan with a little brother of four, to whom she fully did a mother's part for three years, maintaining him entirely by her knitting and spinning, until, in a severe winter, a wolf with five whelps burst into the cottage, attracted by the smell of the hot loaves that Françoise had been baking.

She had almost driven the she-wolf off with a heavy stick, when seeing one of the cubs about to attack her brother, she seized the boy, thrust him into a cupboard, and buttoned the door. That moment gave the wolf time to fly on her throat, and the next moment she was the prey of the wild beasts. Her brother remained safe, though unable to get out of the cupboard till released by the neighbours. He was an old man in 1796, still cherishing the memory of the mother-like sister who had died to save him.

Nor may we forget the little Scottish sister, who, when lost with her little brother on the mountainside, was saved by the good collie dog, who sped home to call help, and guided the father to the spot, where, buried far under a snowdrift, lay the two children, the younger wrapped in all the warmer garments of the elder. Both survived, thanks to the good dog's timely sagacity. Indeed, we believe that a chapter of canine deeds, almost deserving the name of golden, might be brought together in honour of our faithful comrades. There was Delta, the dog whose skeleton was disinterred at Herculaneum, stretched over that of a boy of twelve years old, with an inscription on his collar, telling that he had three times saved the life of his master–from the sea, from robbers, and from wolves; there was Phileros, the dog of Athens, who broke his leg by leaping after his young master when he had fallen out at the window, and finally died of grief on his grave; there was the dog who is commemorated in Vandyke's picture of the Duke of Richmond, whom his sagacity and courage had saved from assassins; there was the dog who awoke his master, Lord Forbes, at Castle Forbes, in Ireland, and dragged him, half-suffocated and helpless, from his burning bedroom; there was the well-known dog who daily carried bannocks to the shepherd's child lost in the cave behind the waterfall; there was the Newfoundland dog who won a silver collar by saving, first the postman, and then his letter bag from the water of a swelled ford. Gellert must be given up, since his story proves to be only a Western version of an Indian legend of a serpent and mungoose, instead of a wolf and a hound, but there is no passing by the dog of Montargis, who, under Charles VI of France, vainly defended his master, Aubri de Montdidier, when sent upon by his mortal foe, Macaire; then lay day and night on the forest grave where Macaire hoped his crime was hidden, before going to the house of his master's chief friend in Paris, for his daily meal, until at length he was followed, the ground searched, the murder discovered, and the corpse freshly buried. Afterwards, the dog's furious attacks upon Macaire were deemed an accusation, and the matter was put to the proof by the ordeal of combat in the Isle de Notre Dame. The dog had a tub into which he might retire, the man a club and a shield. The combat was so lengthy that Macaire, no doubt from the force of conscience, was so worn out that he fainted away, and on coming to himself owned the deed. Dogs of St. Bernard and Newfoundland dogs rise before us by scores when we think of these gallant doings–among them the strange black dog who came to the lone widow's house the night she had with her all the proceeds of the sale of her effects, fought manfully till he drove off the thieves who assailed the house, and disappeared so mysteriously next morning, that she always regarded him as a special messenger of Providence for her protection. The touching story of "Rab and his friends" is no unique incident; it is only that in Dr. John Brown it met with a spectator and biographer able to appreciate and regard the beautiful affection and fidelity that our Maker has embodied before our eyes in these His good creatures. If, as some wise men have deemed, the brutes are created to show us in living shape, figures and emblems of our own qualities, the dog, with his master taking to him the place of our Great Master, is most certainly the living type of that heart-whole devotion which is the root of Golden Deeds.

But we must pass on to the latest of which we have heard, and then turn aside from the roll that has truly been a labour of love and refreshment.

It was in Australia–that great and somewhat repulsive southern island, or rather continent, that has deranged the convenient old geographical arrangment of four quarters of the world, and, willingly or unwillingly, has received a large proportion of the English population, before whom the poor feeble native race are fast dwindling away.

Under English management, Australia is excellent for sheep farms; but the "bush", as colonists everywhere call uncleared forest land, is particularly desolate and dreary. And it was into such bush that, in the winter of 1864, the three little children of a carpenter, named Duff, at a station near Melbourne, were often sent out to gather broom. The eldest was a boy of nine years old; Jane, his sister, was seven, and little Frank was five. One evening they did not come back, and their parents became alarmed. There are, indeed, in Australia no dangerous wild beasts, such as the bears that two little lost Canadian babes once called to as their father's oxen, "Buck" and "Bell"; but on the other hand, there are no raspberries, such as sustained those little wanderers–not even the "blackberries" that "dyed the pretty lips" of our own "Babes in the Wood"–only dull gum trees, with oddly shaped cones and blue upright leaves, and bark that they shed instead of changing leaves–she-oak trees, with hard joints, like over-grown English horse-tails–monstrous nettle trees, like a bad dream of our English stinging-nettle–all growing in such similar shapes and clusters, that it is a most difficult, nay, impossible, thing for a person once lost to recover his bearings; and, worse than all, the drought is terrible, so that thirst will cause a more painful death than even hunger. Stout men, sturdy explorers, have been known to lie down, famished, to die in this unhospitable forest; and what could be the fate of the poor little children?

The father and his neighbours in vain shouted "Cooee!" (the bush call), and sought the country day after day, until a week had passed; when he obtained the aid of some of the natives, who, despised as they are by the colonists, have a wonderful power of tracking the faintest trail in their forests. They soon made out signs where the children had been, from the bendings of the twigs or the tramplings of the grass. "Here litttle one tired," they said; "sit down. Big one kneel down; carry him along. Here travel all night; dark–not see that bush; her fall on him." Then came: "Here little one tired again; big one kneel down; no get up–fall flat on face."

The children had been lost on Friday afternoon. On the Saturday week, the blacks led the father up to a clump of broom, where lay three little figures, the least in the middle, with his sister's frock over his own clothes. Duff went up to them, comforted, at least, that he could carry home the little corpses to their mother. But the eldest boy roused himself, sat up, and said, "Father!" then fell back from sheer weakness; and indeed, his lips were so shrunk, that they could no longer cover his teeth. Little Frank awoke as if from a quiet sleep. "Father, why didn't you come before?" he said; "we were cooeeing for you." Jane was scarcely alive; when she was lifted up, she only made a murmur of "Cold–cold!" If neither had lived to tell the tale, little Frank's condition, so much better than that of his elders, would have told how free from selfishness their behaviour must have been through all that dreadful week. When the elder brother was carried past the places that the blacks had pointed out, his account of their wanderings and adventures exactly agreed with what the natives had inferred. He said that this whole time they had been without food, and had only had one drink of water–perhaps from the "pitcher plant", which is a native of those woods, and has a wonderfully shaped cup, which retains water for many weeks. A man had been known to live eleven days in the bush upon nothing but water; but the endurance of these little ones was even more wonderful.

They were all fast recovering; and the feeling of admiration for little Jane was so strong in the colony, that a subscription was being raised for her, which soon amounted to several hundred pounds. May it be well and wisely laid out on her behalf, and may her further life be worthy of the Golden Deed of her childhood!


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This chapter has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
Initial text entry and proof-reading of this chapter were the work of volunteer
Mary Mark Ockerbloom.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom