The Swiss Family Robinson, In Words of One Syllable/Chapter 15
In the spring time of the year, when the rain was past, Fritz and Jack set off on a trip in their boat to Shark Isle. The day was fine, the sky clear, and there was no wind, yet the waves rose and fell as in a storm.
"See!" cried Jack, "here comes a shoal of whales. They will eat us up."
"There is no fear of that," said Fritz; "whales will do us no harm, if we do not touch them." This proved to be the case. Though any one of them might have broke up the boat with a stroke of its tail, they did not touch it, but swam by in a line, two by two, like a file of troops.
On Shark Isle, near the shore, we had thrown up a mound, and built a fort, on which were set two of the ship's guns. These the boys made a rule to fire off, with a view to let us know that they were safe, and to try if the guns were still fit for use. This time they found their charge quite dry, and the guns went off with a loud bang.
They had just put a plug in the hole of one of the guns, to keep out the wet, when they heard a sound roll through the air.
"Did you hear that?" said Jack. "I am sure that noise must have come from some ship at sea. Let us fire once more."
But Fritz thought they ought to go home at once and tell me what they had heard. They both ran to the boat with all speed, and put out their strength to reach home ere the sun went down.
The day was fine, and as the rain had kept us in doors for two months, we were glad to go down on the beach for a change. All at once I saw the boys come up the stream in their boat, at a great speed, and the way they used their sculls led me to think that all was not right.
"What have you seen, that should thus put two brave youths to flight?" said I.
They then told us what had brought them back so soon. I had heard the sound of the two guns which they had fired off, but no more. I told them I thought their ears must be at fault, and that the sounds they had heard were no more than those of their own guns, which the hills had sent back through the air. This view of the case did not at all please them, as by this time they well knew what sounds their guns made.
"It will be a strange thing," said I, "if the hope to which I have so long clung should at last come to be a fact; but we must have a care that we do not hail a ship the crew of which may rob and kill us for the sake of our wealth. I feel that we have as much cause to dread a foe as we have grounds of hope that we may meet with friends."
Our first course was to make the cave quite safe, and then to mount guard where we could see a ship if one should come near the coast. That night the rain came down in a flood, and a storm broke over us, and we were thus kept in doors for two days and two nights.
On the third day I set out with Jack to Shark Isle, with a view to seek for the strange ship which he said he knew must be in some place not far from the coast. I went to the top of a high rock, but though my eye swept the sea for miles round, I could see no signs of a sail. I then made Jack fire three more shots, to try if they would give the same sound as the two boys had heard. You may judge how I felt, when I heard one! two! three! boom through the air. There was now no room for doubt that, though I could not see it, there must be a ship near Shark's Isle. Jack heard me say this with great glee, and cried out, "What can we now do to find it?"
We had brought a flag with us, and I told Jack to haul this up twice to the top of the staff, by means of which sign those who saw it would know that we had good news to tell them.
I then left Jack on the fort with the guns, and told him to fire as soon as a ship hove in sight. I bent my way at once back to Rock House, to talk with my wife, Jane, and the boys, as to what steps we should now take. they all met me on the beach, and made me tell them the news while I was still in the boat.
"We know no more," said I, "than the fact that there is still a ship on the coast. You must all now keep in doors, while Fritz and I go in search of it."
We set off at noon, and went straight to the west part of the coast, where we thought the sound must have come from. We knew a cape there from which we could get a good view of the sea, and by the side of which lay a small bay.
When we got round the cape, great was our joy to find a fine ship in the bay. It was not far away from us, for we could see the eng-lish flag float in the breeze from one of its masts. I seek in vain to find words by means of which I can set forth in print what I then felt. Both Fritz and I fell on our knees and gave thanks to God that He had thus led the ship to our coast. If I had not held him back, Fritz would have gone into the sea with a leap and swam off to the ship.
"Stay," said I, "till we are quite sure what they are. There are bad men on the seas who put up false flags to lure ships out of their course, and then rob and kill the crew."
We could now see all that took place on board. Two tents had been set up on the shore, in front of which was a fire; and we could see that men went to and fro with planks. There were two men left on guard on the deck of the ship, and to these we made signs. When they saw us they spoke to some one who stood near, and whom we thought had charge of the ship. He then put his glass up to his eye and took a good view of us through it.
We did not at first like to go too near, but kept our boat some way off. Fritz said he could see that the faces of the men were not so dark as our own.
"If that be the case," said I, "we are safe, and we may trust their flag."
We both sang a Swiss song, and then I cried out at the top of my voice these words: "Ship hoy! good men!" But they made no sign that they heard us. Our song, our boat, and, more than all, our dress, made them no doubt guess that we were wild men of the woods; for at last one of the crew on board held up knives and glass beads, which I knew the wild tribes of the New World were fond of. This made us laugh, but we would not as yet draw nigh to the ship, as we thought we ought to meet our new friends in our best trim.
We then gave a shout and a wave of the hand, and shot off round the cape as fast as our boat would take us. We soon got back to Rock House, where our dear ones were on the look out for us. My wife said we had done quite right to come back, but Jane thought we should have found out who they were.
That night none of us slept well; our guest thought there might now be a change for her to reach her home, and she dreamt she heard the known voice of her sire call her to come to him. The boys were half crazed with vague hopes and lay for hours ere they went to sleep. My wife and I sat up late to think and talk of the use that might be made of this chance. We felt that we were now full of years, and should not like in our age to leave the place where we had spent the best part of our lives; still we might do some trade with the land from which the ship came; if it were but known that we were here, and we might hear news of our dear Swiss home.
At break of day we put on board our boat a stock of fruit and fresh food of all kinds, such as we thought the crew of the ship would like to have, and Fritz and I set sail for the bay. We took with us all the arms we could find, so as not to be at a loss should the crew prove false to their flag, and turn out to be a set of thieves.
As we drew near the ship I fired a gun, and told Fritz to hoist a flag like theirs to the top of our mast, and as we did so the crew gave a loud cheer. I then went on board, and the mate of the ship led me to his chief, who soon put me at my ease by a frank shake of the hand. I then told him who we were, and how we came to dwell on the isle. I learnt from him, in turn, that he was bound for New South Wales; that he knew Captain Rose, who had lost his child, and that he had made a search for her on the coast. He told me that a storm had thrown him off his course, and that the wind drove him on this coast, where he took care to fill his casks from a fresh stream that ran by the side of a hill, and to take in a stock of wood.
"It was then," he said, "that we first heard your guns; and when on the third day the same sound came to our ears, we knew that there must be some one on the coast, and this led us to put up our tents and wait till the crew should search the land round the bay. I then made the crew a gift of what we had brought in our boat, and said to Cap-tain Stone, for that was his name: "I hope, sir, that you will now go with me to Rock House, the place where we live, and where you will see Miss Rose, who will be glad to hear some news of home."
"To be sure I will, and thank you much," said he; "and I have no doubt that Mr. West would like to go with us." This Mr. West was on his way, with his wife and two girls, to New South Wales, where he meant to build a house and clear a piece of land.
We all three then left the ship in our boat, and as we came in sight of Shark Isle, Jack, who was on the fort, fired his guns.
When we came to the beach, my wife and the rest were there to meet us. Jane was half wild with joy when she heard that Cap-tain Stone had brought her good news from home.
We led them round our house and through the grounds, and Mr. West took note of all he saw. When we came to talk, I found that he had made up his mind to stay with us. I need not say how glad I was to hear this, for he had brought out with him a large stock of farm tools, of which we had long been in want.
The boys were of course in high glee at all this, but I did not share their joy so much as I could wish. The ship which now lay close to our shore was the first we had seen since we came to the isle, and no one could tell when the next might come. My wife and I did not wish to leave. I had a love for the kind of life we led and we were both at an age when ease and rest should take the place of toil. But then our sons were young—not yet in the prime of life—and I did not think it right that we should keep them from the world. Jane, I could tell, would not stay with us, nor did she hide from us the fact that her heart drew her to the dear one at home, from whom she had been kept so long. So I told my wife that I would ask my boys to choose what they would do—to stay with us on the isle, or leave with Cap-tain Stone in the ship.
Fritz and Jack said they would not leave us; Ernest spoke not a word, but I saw that he had made up his mind to go. I did not grieve at this, as I felt our isle was too small for the scope of his mind, and did not give him the means to learn all he could wish. I told him to speak out, when he said he should like to leave the place for a few years, and he knew Frank had a wish to go with him.
I thought this would give my wife pain, but she said that the boys had made a good choice, and that she knew Ernest and Frank would make their way in the world.
Captain Stone gave Jane, Ernest, and Frank, leave to go with him, as there was room in the ship now that the Wests were to stay with us.
The ship was brought round to Safe Bay, and Fritz and Jack went on board to fetch Mrs. West and her two girls, who were glad to find that they were not to go back to the ship, for the storm had made them dread the sea.
I may here say, by the way, that my wife soon found that her two sons grew fond of their fair friends, and gave me a hint that some day we should see them wed, which would be a fresh source of joy to us.
I have not much more to tell. The stores I had laid up—furs, pearls, spice, and fruits—were put on board the ship, and left to the care of my sons, who were to sell them. And then the time came for us to part. I need not say that it was a hard trial for my wife; but she bore up well, for she had made up her mind that it was all for the best, and that her sons would some day come back to see her. I felt, too, that with the help of our new friends, we should not miss them so much as we at first thought, and this we found to be the case.
As the next day my boys were to leave me, I had a long talk with them. I told them to act well their part in the new sphere in which they were to move, and to take as their guide the Word of God. They then knelt down for me to bless them, and went to their beds in Rock House for the last time.
I got no sleep all that night, nor did the two boys, who were to start the next day.
As Ernest takes this Tale with him—which I give him leave to print, that all may know how good God has been to us—I have no time to add more than a few words.
The ship that is to take from us our two sons and our fair guest will sail from this coast in a few hours, and by the close of the day three who are dear to us will have gone from our midst. I can not put down what I feel, or tell the grief of my poor wife.
I add these lines while the boat waits for my sons. May God grant them health and strength for the trials they may have to pass through; may they gain the love of those with whom they are now to dwell; and may they keep free from taint the good name of the Swiss Family Robinson.