Brave and Bold/Chapter XXXI
But for the knowledge that he was a prisoner, Robert would have enjoyed his present situation. The island, though small, was covered with a luxuriant vegetation, and was swept by cooling breezes, which tempered the ardor of the sun's rays. And, of this island realm, he and his companion were the undisputed sovereigns. There was no one to dispute their sway. All that it yielded was at their absolute disposal.
"I wonder what is the name of this island?" said Robert.
"Perhaps it has no name. Mayhap we are the first that ever visited it."
"I have a great mind to declare myself the king," said our young hero, smiling, "unless you want the office."
"You shall be captain, and I will be mate," said Bates, to whom the distinctions of sea life were more familiar than those of courts.
"How long do you think we shall have to stay here?" asked Robert, anxiously.
"There's no telling, lad. We'll have to stick up a pole on the seashore, and run up a flag when any vessel comes near,"
"We have no flag."
"Have you a handkerchief?"
"Only one," said Robert.
"That's one more than I have. We'll rig that up when it's wanted."
"Where shall we sleep?"
"That's what I have been thinking. We must build a house."
"A brownstone front?" said Robert. "The governor ought to live in a good house."
"So he shall," said Bates. "He shall have the first on the island."
"I wonder if it rains often?"
"Not much at this season. In the winter a good deal of rain falls, but I hope we won't be here then."
"Where shall we build our house?"
"It would be pleasanter inland, but we must be near the shore, so as to be in sight of ships,"
"That's true, Bates. That is the most important consideration."
They set to work at once, and built a hut, something like an Indian's wigwam, about a hundred yards from the shore. It was composed, for the most part, of branches of trees and inclosed an inner space of about fifteen feet in diameter. They gathered large quantities of leaves, which were spread upon the ground for beds.
"That's softer than our bunks aboard ship," said Bates.
"Yes," said Robert. "I wouldn't wish any better bed. It is easy to build and furnish a house of your own here."
"The next thing is dinner," said his companion.
"Shall we go to market?" asked Robert, with a smile.
"We'll find a market just outside."
"You mean the trees?"
"Yes; we'll find our dinner already cooked on them."
The fruit of which they partook freely was quite sweet and palatable. Still, one kind of food cloys after a time, and so our new settlers found it. Besides, it was not very substantial, and failed to keep up their wonted strength. This set them to looking up some other article which might impart variety to their fare. At last they succeeded in finding an esculent root, which they partook of at first with some caution, fearing that it might be unwholesome. Finding, however, that eating it produced no unpleasant effects, they continued the use of it. Even this, however, failed to afford them as much variety as they wished.
"I feel as if I should like some fish for breakfast," said Robert one morning, on waking up.
"So should I, lad," returned Bates. "Why shouldn't we have some?"
"You mean that we shall go fishing?"
"Yes; we've got a boat, and I have some cord. We'll rig up fishing lines, and go out on a fishing cruise."
Robert adopted the idea with alacrity. It promised variety and excitement.
"I wonder we hadn't thought of it before. I used to be a fisherman, Bates."
"Yes; I supplied the market at home for a short time, till Captain Haley smashed my boat."
"The mean lubber! I wish we had him here."
"I don't; I prefer his room to his company."
"I'd try how he'd like being tied to a tree."
"I don't think you'd untie him again in a hurry."
"You may bet high on that, lad."
They rigged their fishing lines--cutting poles from the trees--and armed them with hooks, of which, by good luck, Bates happened to have a supply with him. Then they launched the ship's boat, in which Bates had come to the island, and put out to sea.
Robert enjoyed the row in the early morning, and wondered they had not thought of taking out the boat before. At last they came to the business which brought them out, and in about half an hour had succeeded in catching four fishes, weighing perhaps fifteen pounds altogether.
"That'll be enough for us, unless you are very hungry," said Robert. "Now, suppose we land and cook them."
"Ay, ay, lad!"
Of course, their cooking arrangements were very primitive. In the first place, they were compelled to make a fire by the method in use among the savages, of rubbing two sticks smartly together, and catching the flame in a little prepared tinder. The fish were baked over the fire thus kindled. Though the outside was smoked, the inside was sweet and palatable, and neither was disposed to be fastidious. The preparation of the meal took considerable time, but they had abundance of that, and occupation prevented their brooding over their solitary situation.
"I wish I had 'Robinson Crusoe' here," said Robert--"we might get some hints from his adventures. I didn't imagine, when I used to read them, that I should ever be in a similar position."
"I've heard about him," said Bates; "but I never was much of a reader, and I never read his yarn. You might maybe tell me something of it."
"I will tell you all I can remember, but that isn't very much," said Robert.
He rehearsed to the attentive sailor such portions as he could call to mind of the wonderful story which for centuries to come is destined to enchain the attention of adventurous boys.
"That's a pretty good yarn," said Bates, approvingly. "Did he ever get off the island?"
"Yes, he got off, and became quite rich before he died."
"Maybe it'll be so with us, lad."
"I hope so. I don't know what I should do if I were alone as he was. It's selfish in me, Bates, to be glad that you are shut up here with me, but I cannot help it."
"You needn't try, lad. It would be mighty dull being alone here, 'specially if you was tied to a tree."
"But suppose we should never get off!"
"We won't suppose that, lad. We are sure to get off some time."
This confident assurance always cheered up Robert, and for the time inspired him with equal confidence. But when day after day passed away and the promised ship did not come in sight, he used to ponder thoughtfully over his situation, and the possibility that he might have to spend years at least on this lonely island. What in the meantime would become of his mother? She might die, and if he ever returned it would be to realize the loss he had sustained. The island, pleasant as it was, began to lose its charm. If his sailor companion ever shared his feelings, he never manifested them, unwilling to let the boy see that he was becoming discouraged.
At length--about six weeks after their arrival upon the island--they were returning from an excursion to the other side of the island, when, on arriving in sight of the shore, an unexpected sight greeted their eyes.
A pole had been planted in the sand, and from it waved the familiar flag, dear to the heart of every American--the star-spangled banner.
They no sooner caught sight of it, than, in joyful excitement, they ran to the shore with all the speed they could muster.