Chapter 18 Summary
Elizabeth complains that it is too difficult for her to climb the rope ladder to their quarters on the large tree. She asks if her husband might devise another way to ascend. The father puzzles over this until he realizes a staircase might be built on the inside of the trunk. He remembers that Franz has seen bees enter the tree, making the father consider whether the trunk is hollow.
As soon as the older boys hear about the possibilities, they begin exploring the hole where Franz has seen bees enter. The boys' enthusiasm quickly fades when each suffers several bee stings. After applying mud to their faces and hands to draw out the bee venom and soothe the pain, the father shows his sons a better plan for getting at the bees. First, he takes a large gourd that he intends to make into a beehive. He does not want to drive the bees out and then lose them to another undetected location. He would rather keep them nearby to give a steady supply of honey.
Since the boys agitated the bees, the father waits until almost sundown for them to settle down. Once they do, the boys help him plug all the holes in the trunk with mud. In the morning, the father inserts a hollow bamboo tube into one of the mud patches and blows smoke into the tree trunk with his lit tobacco pipe. The smoke stupefies the bees, making them easier to handle.
The father then cuts a door into the side of the hollow tree and gathers the bees, hanging in large clumps and clinging to one another, and places them in their new gourd beehive. Once the bees are settled, the father, with the help of his sons, extracts the honeycomb left in the tree, separates the honey from the wax, and stores both for future use.
The next step is to make a proper opening at the base of the trunk and attach a planked door taken from the ship. Then they clear the rotten portions of the inner trunk and build a spiral staircase. They even cut windows into the trunk to allow light to enter. The construction of this inner staircase consumes a month of hard labor. When it is completed, Elizabeth is very pleased.