The Swiss Family Robinson, In Words of One Syllable/Chapter 14

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As Fritz and Ernest were now men, they were of course free to go where they chose, and to come back when their will led them home. Thus, from time to time they took long trips, and went far from Rock House. They had fine boats and strong steeds, and of these they made such good use that there was scarce a spot for leagues round that was not well known to them.

At one time, Fritz had been so long from home that we had a dread lest he should have lost his way, or fell a prey to wild beasts. When he came back he told us a long tale of what he had seen and where he had been, and how he had brought with him birds, beasts, moths, and such strange things as he thought Ernest would like to see. When he had done, he drew me out into our grounds and said he had a strange thing to tell me. It seems that he found a piece of white cloth tied to the foot of a bird which he had struck down with a stick, on which were these words: "Save a poor soul, who is on the rock from which you may see the smoke rise."

He thought that this rock could not be far off, and that he ought to set off at once in search of it.

"I have a thought," said he; "I will tie a piece of cloth, like that I found, to the leg of the bird, and on it I will write, 'Have faith in God: help is near." If the bird goes back to the place from whence it came, our brief note may reach the eye of the lone one on the rock. At any rate, it can do no harm, and may do some good.."

He at once took the bird which was an al-ba-tross, tied the strip of cloth to its foot, and let it go.

"And now," said he, "tell me what you think of this. If we should find a new friend, what a source of joy it will be. Will you join me in the search?"

"To be sure I will," said I; "and so shall the rest; but we will not yet tell them of this."

They were all glad to take a trip in the large boat, but they could not make out why we went in such haste.

"The fact is," said Jack, "Fritz has found some queer thing on the coast that he can't bring home, and wants us to see it. But I dare say we shall know what it all means in good time."

Fritz was our guide, and went first in his bark boat, or ca-noe. In this he could go round the rocks and shoals that girt the coast, which would not have been safe for the large boat. He went up all the small creeks we met with on the way, and kept a sharp look out for the smoke by which he would know the rock we came out to find.

I must tell you that once when he came to these parts with Ernest he met with a ti-ger, and would have lost his life had it not been for his pet the Ea-gle. The brave bird, to save Fritz from the beast, made a swoop down on its head. Fritz thus got off with a scratch or two, but the poor bird was struck dead by a blow from the paw of its foe. This was a sad loss to Fritz, for his pet had been a kind friend, and would go with him at all times when he went far from home. There was scarce a spot we came to that did not bring to the mind of one of us some such tale as this, so that we were full of talk while the boat bore us on.

We had been out some days, but could find no trace of what we went in search. I rose from my berth at dawn, and went on deck with Fritz. I told him that as we had no clue to the place, we must now give up the search. He did not seem to like this, but no more was said. That day we spent on shore, and came back to our boat to sleep at night. Next day we were to change our course, and trace our way back, for the wind now blew from the sea.

When I went on deck next day I found a short note from Fritz, in which he told me that he could not give up the search, but had gone some way up the coast in his small boat. "Let me beg of you," he wrote, "to lie in wait for me here till I come back."

When he had been gone two days, I felt that I ought to tell my wife the cause of our trip, as it might ease her mind, and she now had some fear lest her son should not be safe. She heard me to the end, and then said that she was sure he would not fail, but soon bring back good news.

As we were all on the look out for Fritz, we saw his boat a long way off.

"There is no one with him in the boat," said I to my wife; "that does not say much for our hopes." "Oh, where have you been?" said the boys, all at once, as he came on board. But they scarce got a word from him. He then drew me on one side, and said, with a smile of joy, "What do you think is the news I bring?"

"Let me hear it," said I.

"Then I have found what I went forth to seek, and our search has not been in vain."

"And who is it that you have found?"

"Not a man," he said, "but a girl. The dress she wears is that of a man, and she does not wish at first that her sex should be known to more than we can help, for she would not like to meet Ernest and the rest in that state, if they knew that she was a girl. And, strange to tell," said Fritz, "she has been on shore three years."

While I went to tell the news to my wife, Fritz had gone down to his berth to change his clothes, and I must say that he took more care to look neat in his dress than was his wont at home.

He was not long, and when he came on deck he bid me say no word to the rest of whom he had found. He leapt like a frog in to his light craft, and led the way. We were soon on our course through the rocks and shoals, and an hour's sail, with the aid of a good breeze, brought us to a small tract of land the trees of which hid the soil from our view. Here we got close in to the shore, and made our bark safe. We all got out, and ran up the banks, led by the marks that Fritz had made in the soil with his feet. We soon found a path that led to a clump of trees, and there saw a hut, with a fire in front, from which rose a stream of smoke.

As we drew near I could see that the boys did not know what to make of it, for they gave me a stare, as if to ask what they were to see next. They did not know how to give vent to their joy when they saw Fritz come out of the hut with a strange youth, whose slight make, fair face, and grace of form, did not seem to match well with the clothes that hung upon his limbs.

It was so long since we had seen a strange face, that we were all loth to speak first. When I could gain my speech I took our new friend by the hand, and told her in words as kind as I could call to my aid, how glad we were to have thus found her.

Fritz, when he bade Ernest and Jack shake hands with her, spoke of our new friend as James; but she could not hide her sex from my wife, for her first act was to fall on her breast and weep. The boys were not slow to see through the trick, and made Fritz tell them that "James" was not the name they should call her by.

I could not but note that our strange mode of life had made my sons rough, and that years of rude toil had worn off that grace and ease which is one of the charms of well bred youth.

I saw that this made the girl shy of them, and that the garb she wore brought a blush to her cheek. I bade my wife take charge of her, and lead her down to the boat, while the boys and I stood a while to speak of our fair guest.

When we got on board we sat down to hear Fritz tell how he came to find Miss Jane, for that was her real name; but he had not told half his tale when we saw my wife and her new friend come up on deck. She still had a shy look, but as soon as she saw Fritz she held out her hand to him with a smile, and this made us feel more at our ease.

The next day we were to go back to our home, and on the way Fritz was to tell us what he knew of Miss Jane, for his tale had been cut short when she came on the deck with my wife. The boys did all they could to make her feel at home with them, and by the end of the day they were the best of friends.

The next day we set sail at sun rise; for we had far to go, and the boys had a strong wish to hear Fritz tell his tale.

When the boat had made a fair start, we all sat down on the deck, with Jane in our midst, while Fritz told his tale to the end.

Jane Rose was born in in-di-a. She was the child of one Cap-tain Rose, whose wife died when Jane was but a babe in arms. When ten years of age he sent her to a first class school, where she was taught all that was fit for the child of a rich man to know. In course of time she could ride a horse with some skill, and she then grew fond of most of the field sports of the East. As the Cap-tain had to go from place to place with his troops, he thought that this kind of sport would train her for the mode of life she would lead when she came to live with him. But this was not to be, for one day he told Jane that he must leave the East, and take home the troops. As it was a rule that no girl should sail in a ship with troops on board, he left her to the care of a friend who was to leave near the same time. He thought fit that she should dress in the garb of a young man while at sea, as there would then be no need for her to keep in her berth, and he knew that she was strong and brave, and would like to go on deck, and see the crew at their work. It gave the Cap-tain pain to part with his child, but there was no help for it.

The ship had been some weeks at sea, when one day a storm broke over it, and the wind drove it for days out of its course. The crew did their best to steer clear of rocks, but she struck on a reef and sprung a leak. The boats then put off from the wreck, but a wave broke over the one in which Jane left, and she was borne, half dead with fright, to the place where we found her. She had been thrown high up on the beach, and though faint and sick, got out of the reach of the waves. She did not know if those who were in the boat with her had lost their lives, but she had seen no trace of them since.

When she had strength to walk, she found some birds' eggs and shell fish, which she ate, and then went in search of some safe place where she could rest for the night. By good chance she had a flint and a knife; with these she set light to some dry twigs, and made a fire, which she did not once let out till the day she left. Her life was at first hard to bear, but she was full of hope that some day a ship would come near the shore, to which she could make signs for help. The wild sports of the East in which she took part had made her strong of limb, and she had been taught to make light of such things as would vex most of her sex.

She built a hut to sleep in, and made snares to catch birds. Some of them she made use of for food, and some she let go, with bits of cloth tied to their legs, on which she wrote words, in the hope that they might meet the eye of some one who could help her. This, as we knew, had led Fritz to make his search, the end of which had brought as much joy to us as to the young friend who now sat in our midst.

When Fritz had told us this, and much more, we came in sight of Safe Bay. He then took Ernest with him in his small boat, and left us to go up to the stream as fast as he could to Rock House, so as to make the place look neat by the time we brought home our guest. The two boys—for to us they were still boys—met us on the beach. Fritz, with a look of pride, gave his hand to Jane, and I could see a slight blush rise to her cheek as she gave him hers. He then led her up the path, on each side of which grew a row of young trees, and took her to a seat in our grounds. There he and Ernest had spread out a feast of our best food—fish, fowls, and fruit, and some of my wife's choice jam—whilst our burnt clay plate made a great show on the board, for it was set out with some taste. We had a wish to show Jane that, though the coast was a wild kind of place, still there were means to make life a joy to those who dwelt on it, if they chose to use them. As for Jane, the sight of our home, the style of our feast, and the kind words of the boys, were things so new to her, that she knew not what to say.

"I shall tell no more than truth," she said, "when I say that what you have shown me is of far more worth than all the wealth I have seen in the East, and that I feel more joy this day than I have felt in all the days of my life. I can use no terms less strong than these to show how much I thank you."

This was just the kind of speech to please the boys, for there had been no one to praise their work till now. When the meal was done, my wife brought out some of her best wine, and we drank to the health of our guest in great state, and with loud cheers. We then made a tour of our house and grounds, that Jane might see the whole of the place that from this time she was to make her home. It would take me a long time to tell what she thought of all she saw, or the neat things she said in praise of our skill, as we took her from place to place. My wife's room, in which were kept the pots and pans to dress our food, and the plates, bowls, and cups, out of which we ate, took her some time to view; for she had long felt the want of such things made for our use out of what we could find.

The next day we all went to The Nest, and by when the rainy season came round, Jane knew the place quite as well as we did. My wife found in her a true friend, for she soon took a large share of work off her hands, and did it with so much skill, and with so strong a wish to please us, that we grew to love her as if she had been our own child.

When the time came for us to keep in doors from the rain, the boys would oft lay by their work, and sit to hear Jane talk of what she had seen in the East, and Ernest and Fritz would read to her by turns such books as she might choose. I was glad to see that this wrought a great change in my sons, whose mode of life had made them rough in their ways and loud in their speech—faults which we did not think of so long as there was no one to see or hear them.

When the spring came, the boys went in our boat to the spot where they had found Jane, which we now knew by the name of "Jane's Isle," and brought back some beans, which were new to them. These we found to be cof-fee.

Jane told us that they were by no means scarce, but that she had not made use of them, as she knew no way to roast or grind the beans, which she found in a green state.

"Do you think," said my wife, "that the plant would grow here?"

I then thought for the first time how fond she was of it. There had been some bags on board the ship, but I had not brought them from the wreck; and my wife had but once said that she would like to see the plant in our ground. Now that we knew where to get it, she told me that it was one of the few things that she felt the loss of. When the boys heard this, they set out on a trip to Jane's Isle, and while there they went to the spot where she had dwelt for so long, and sought for what things she had left when she came to live with us.

All these were brought to Rock House, and I may tell you that Fritz set great store by them. There were all sorts of odd clothes, which she had made of the skin of the sea calf; fish lines wrought out of the hair of her head; pins made from the bones of fish; a lamp made out of a shell, with a wick of the threads which she had drawn from her hose. There were the shells she used to cook her food in; a hat made from the breast of a large bird, the tail of which she had spread out so as to shade her neck from the sun; belts, shoes, and odd things of a like kind.

My wife, who had now a friend of her own sex to talk with, did not feel dull when the boys left us for a time, so they had leave to roam where their wish led them, and to stay as long as they chose. In the course of time they knew the whole of the isle on which we dwelt. Ernest drew a map of it to scale, so that we could trace their course from place to place with ease. When they went for a long trip they took some doves with them, and these birds brought us notes tied to their wings from time to time, so that we knew where they were, and could point out the spot on the map. I will not dwell on what took place now for some time, for I find that each year was very much like the last. We had our fields to sow, our crops to reap, our beasts to feed and train; and these cares kept our hands at work, and our minds free from the least thought of our lone mode of life.

I turn to my log as I write this, and on each page my eye falls on some thing that brings back to my mind the glad time we spent at Rock House.