The Swiss Family Robinson, Chapter 18
Many wondrous tales were told or read in turn by the boys and Jenny during the long evenings as we sat drawing, weaving and plaiting in our rosy study. In fact this winter was a truly happy time, and when at length the rain ceased and the bright sun again smiled upon the face of nature, we could scarcely believe, as we stepped forth and once more felt the balmy breath of spring, that, for so many weeks, we had been prisoners within our rocky walls.
All was once more activity and life; the duties in field, garden and orchard called forth the energy of the lads, whilst their mother and sister found abundant occupation in the poultry-yard and house.
Our various settlements and stations required attention. Falconhurst, Woodlands, Prospect Hill, Shark and Whale Islands were in turn visited and set in order. The duty of attending to the island battery fell to Jack and Franz.
They had been busy all day repairing the flagstaff, rehoisting the flag, and cleaning and putting into working order the two guns. Evening was drawing on and our day's work over; the rest of us were strolling up and down upon the beach enjoying the cool sea breeze. We watched the lads as they completed their work. They loaded and ran out their guns and, paddling off with an empty tub in the cajack, placed it out to sea as a mark for practice. They returned and fired, and the barrel flew in pieces; with a shout of triumph, they cleaned the guns and ran them in.
Scarcely had they done so when, as though in answer to their shots, came the sound of three guns booming across the water from the westward.
We stopped, speechless. Was it fancy? Had we really heard guns from a strange ship? Or had the boys again fired? No! There were the lads leaping into their canoe and paddling in hot haste towards us. They, too, had heard the sound.
A tumult of feelings rushed over us—anxiety, joy, hope, doubt, each in turn took possession of our minds. Was it a European vessel close upon our shores, and were we about to be linked once more to civilized life? Or did those sounds proceed from a Malay pirate, who would rob and murder us? What was to be the result of meeting with our fellow beings; were they to be friends who would help us, enemies who would attack us, or would they prove unfortunate creatures in need of our assistance? Who could tell?
Before we could express these thoughts in words the cajack had touched the shore, and Jack and Franz were among us.
'Did you hear them? Did you hear them?' they gasped. 'What shall we do? Where shall we go?'
'Oh, Fritz,' continued my youngest son, 'it must be a European ship. We shall find her. We shall see our Fatherland once more,' and, in an emotion of joy, he grasped his brother's hands.
Till then I knew not what a craving for civilized life had been aroused in the two young men by the appearance of their European sister.
All eyes were turned towards me. What would I advise?
'At present,' I said, 'we can do nothing, for night is drawing on. We must make what preparation we can, and pray for guidance.' In the greatest excitement we returned to the house, all talking eagerly, and till late no one could be persuaded to retire to rest.
Few slept that night. The boys and I took it in turn to keep watch from the verandah, lest more signals might be fired, or a hostile visit might be paid us. But about midnight the wind began to rise, and before we reassembled to discuss our plans a fearful storm was raging; so terrific was the sea that I knew no boat could live, and had a broadside been fired at the entrance of the Bay we should not have heard it through the howling of the blast.
For two days and two nights the hurricane continued, but on the third day the sun again appeared, and, the wind lulling, the sea went rapidly down. Full of anxiety I readily complied with the boys' desire to put off to Shark Island and discharge the guns; for who could tell what had been the result of the gale; perhaps the vessel had been driven upon the rocky shore or, fearing such a fate, she had left the coast and weathered the storm out at sea; if so she might never return.
With these thoughts I accompanied Jack and Franz to the fort. One—two—we fired the guns and waited.
For some minutes there was no reply, and then an answering report rolled in the distance. There was no longer room for doubt; the strangers were still in the vicinity, and were aware of our presence. We waved the flag as a signal to those on shore that all was well, and quickly returned. We found the whole family in a state of the greatest excitement, and I felt it necessary to calm them down as much as possible, for neither could I answer the questions with which I was besieged, nor could I conceal the fact that the visit of the vessel might not prove so advantageous as they expected.
Fritz and I at once prepared to make a reconnaissance; we armed ourselves with our guns, pistols and cutlasses, took a spy-glass, seated ourselves in the cajack and, with a parting entreaty from my wife to be cautious, paddled out of the bay and round the high cliffs on our left. For nearly an hour we advanced in the direction from which the reports of the guns seemed to proceed. Nothing could we see, however, but the frowning rocks and cliffs, and the waves beating restlessly at their base. Cape Pug-Nose was reached, and we began to round the bluff old point.
In a moment all our doubts were dispelled, and joy and gratitude to the Great Giver of all good filled our hearts. There, in the little sheltered cove beyond the cape, her sails furled, and anchor dropped, lay a brig-of-war with the English colours at her masthead.
With the glass I could discern figures upon the deck and, upon the shore beyond, several tents pitched under the shelter of the trees, and the smoke of fires rising amongst them. As I handed the glass to Fritz, I felt a sudden misgiving. 'What,' said I to myself, 'can this English vessel be doing thus far from the usual track of ships?' and I called to mind tales of mutinous crews who have risen against their officers, have chosen some such sheltered retreat as this; have disguised the vessel, and then sailed forth to rob and plunder upon the high seas.
Fritz then exclaimed, 'I can see the captain, father, he is speaking to one of the officers, and I can see his face quite well; he is English, I am certain he is English, and the flag speaks the truth!' and he put the glass again in my hand that I might see for myself.
Still keeping under the shelter of the cliff, I carefully surveyed the vessel. There was no doubt that Fritz was right, and my fears were once more dispelled; all was neatness and regularity on board; the spotless decks, the burnished steel and brass, and the air of perfect order which pervaded both ship and camp, betokened that authority and discipline there reigned.
For some minutes longer we continued our examination of the scene, and then satisfied by the appearance of the camp on shore, that there was no chance of the brig quitting the coast for several days, we resolved to return without betraying our presence, for I was unwilling to appear before these strangers until we could do so in better form, and in a manner more in accordance with our actual resources.
We again landed at Rockburg, where our family awaited our arrival in eager expectation, and as fully as possible we told them of all we had seen. They thoroughly approved of our caution, and even Jenny, whose hopes had been excited to the highest pitch by our description of the English vessel, and who longed to meet her countrymen once more, agreed to postpone the visit until the following day, when, having put our yacht into good order, we might pay our respects to the captain, not as poor shipwrecked creatures begging assistance, but as lords and masters of the land, seeking to know for what purpose strangers were visiting the coast.
The rest of the day was occupied in making our preparations. Our dainty little craft was made to look her very best; her decks were scrubbed, her brass guns burnished, all lumber* removed and put ashore, and the flag of England hoisted to her peak.
* Junk, things stored but not in use.
My wife overhauled our wardrobes, and the neatest uniforms were put ready for the boys and me, for though neither my wife nor Jenny had ever dreamed of appearing otherwise than they would have done, had they been at home amongst civilized people in Europe, yet we, accustomed daily to rough and often even dirty work, had adopted just that costume which best suited our comfort and inclination. We should indeed have surprised the smart man-o'-war's men, had we appeared in our great shapeless wide-brimmed hats, our linen coats and trousers, our broad leathern belts and hairy buskins; so we next day readily donned the more becoming costumes.
At the break of that eventful morn, when we were destined once more to set our eyes upon our fellow men, and to hear news of the outer world, from which for so many years we had been exiled, we assembled in our little breakfast-room. The meal was eaten hurriedly and almost in silence, for our hearts were too full, and our minds too busily occupied, to allow of any outward display of excitement. Fritz and Jack then slipped quietly out, and presently returned from the garden with baskets of the choicest fruits in fresh and fragrant profusion, and with these, as presents for the strangers, we went on board our yacht.
The anchor was weighed, the sails set, and with the canoe in tow the little vessel, as though partaking of our hopes and joyous expectation, bounded merrily over the waters of Safety Bay, gave a wide berth to the Reef, against whose frowning rocks the sea still lashed itself to foam, and kept away for the cove, where the English ship unconsciously awaited us. The Pug-nosed Cape was reached, and to the surprise and utter amazement of the strangers, we rounded the point and brought up within hail.
Every eye on board and on shore was turned towards us, every glass was produced and fixed upon our motions; for of all the strange sights which the gallant crew may have looked for, such an anomaly as a pleasure yacht, manned by such a party as ours, and cruising upon this strange and inhospitable shore, was the furthest from their thoughts.
Fritz and I stepped into our boat, and pulled for the brig. In another minute we were upon her deck. The captain, with the simple frankness of a British seaman, welcomed us cordially, and having led us into his cabin, begged us to explain to what good fortune he owed a visit from residents upon a coast generally deemed uninhabited, or the abode of the fiercest savages.
I gave him an outline of the history of the wreck, and of our sojourn upon these shores, and spoke to him, too, of Miss Montrose, and of the providential way in which we had been the means of rescuing her from her lonely position.
'Then,' said the gallant officer, rising and grasping Fritz by the hand, 'let me heartily thank you in my own name, and in that of Colonel Montrose; for it was the hope of finding some trace of that brave girl that led me to these shores. The disappearance of the Dorcas has been a terrible blow to the Colonel, and yet, though for three years no word of her or of any of those who sailed in her has reached England, he has never entirely abandoned all hope of again hearing of his daughter. I knew this, and a few weeks ago, when I was about to leave Sydney for the Cape, I found three men who declared themselves survivors of the Dorcas, and said that their boat, of four which left the wreck, was the only one which, to their knowledge, reached land in safety.
'From them I learned all particulars, and applying for permission to cruise in these latitudes, I sailed in the hopes of finding further traces of the unfortunate crew. My efforts have been rewarded by unlooked-for success.'
Fritz replied most modestly to the praises which he received, and then the captain begged to be introduced to my wife and Miss Montrose.
'And,' he continued, 'if it be not contrary to your rules of discipline, for the whole ship's company to be absent at once, I will now send a boat for the remainder of your party.'
One of the officers was accordingly dispatched to the yacht with a polite message, and the mother, Jenny, and the three boys were presently on board.
Our kind host greeted them most warmly, and he and his officers vied with one another in doing us honour. They proved, indeed, most pleasant entertainers, and the time passed rapidly away.
At luncheon the captain told us that there had sailed with him from Sydney an invalid gentleman, Mr. Wolston, his wife, and two daughters; but that though the sea voyage had been recommended on account of his health, yet it had not done Mr. Wolston so much good as had been anticipated, and he had suffered so greatly from the effects of the storm which had driven the Unicorn into the bay for repairs, that he had been eager to rest for a short time on land.
We were anxious to meet the family, and in the afternoon it was decided that we should pay them a visit. Tents had been pitched for their accommodation under the shady trees, and when we landed we found Mr. Wolston seated by one of them, enjoying the cool sea-breeze. He and his family were delighted to see us, and so much did we enjoy their society, that evening found us still upon the shore. It was too late then to return to Rockburg, and the captain kindly offered tents for the accommodation of those who could not find room in the yacht. The boys spent the night on land.
That night I had a long and serious consultation with my wife, as to whether or not we really had any well-grounded reason for wishing to return to Europe. It would be childish to undertake a voyage thither simply because an opportunity offered for doing so.
Neither knew to what decision the feelings of the other inclined; each was afraid of expressing what might run counter to those feelings; but gradually it began to appear that neither entertained any strong wish to leave the peaceful island; and finally we discovered that the real wish which lay at the bottom of both our hearts was to adopt New Switzerland as thenceforward our home.
What can be more delightful than to find harmony of opinion in those we love, when a great and momentous decision has to be taken?
My dear wife assured me that she desired nothing more earnestly than to spend the rest of her days in a place to which she had become so much attached, provided I, and at least two of her sons, also wished to remain.
From the other two she would willingly part, if they chose to return to Europe, with the understanding that they must endeavour to send out emigrants of a good class to join us, and form a prosperous colony, adding that she thought the island ought to continue to bear the name of our native country, even if inhabited in future time by colonists from England, as well as from Switzerland.
I heartily approved of this excellent idea, and we agreed to mention it, while consulting with Captain Littlestone on the subject of placing the island under the protection of Great Britain.
Then came the question as to which of our sons were best suited to remain with us, and which to go away.
This point we left undecided, thinking that in the course of a few days, they would probably make a choice of their own accord, which they did, even sooner than we anticipated. After breakfast, it was proposed that Captain Littlestone should bring his ship round to Safety Bay, that we might receive a visit from him and his party, at Rockburg—where we invited the invalid, Mr. Wolston, and his family, in hopes that his health might benefit by a comfortable residence on shore.
No sooner was this plan adopted, than Fritz and Jack hurried off in the canoe to prepare for their reception, being followed in more leisurely style by the brig and our yacht.
But what words can express the amazement of our guests, when, rounding the Rocky Cape at the entrance, Safety Bay, and the beautiful domain of Rockburg, lay before them.
Still greater was their astonishment, as a salute of eleven guns boomed from the battery on Shark Island, where the royal standard of England was displayed and floated majestically on the morning breeze.
A glow of surprise and pleasure beamed on every countenance, and poor Wolston's spirits appeared to revive with the very idea of the peace and happiness to be enjoyed in such a home.
He was carried on shore with the utmost care and tenderness, and comfortably established in my room, a camp-bed for Mrs. Wolston being added to the furniture there, that she might be able conveniently to attend on her husband.
Meantime the scene at the harbour and all round Rockburg was of the liveliest description; merriment and excitement prevailed in all directions, as the beauties and wonders of our residence were explored, so that a summons to dinner scarcely attracted notice.
However, as a visit to Falconhurst was projected, the company was at length induced to be seated, and to partake of our good cheer, but the spirit of restlessness soon returned, and the young people kept roaming about through our hitherto quiet lawns, avenues and shrubberies, until I was ready to believe their number three times what it actually was.
Towards evening the universal excitement began to abate, and the party assembled for supper with tolerable composure.
Mr. Wolston was able to join us, as the rest he had enjoyed, and the pleasure inspired by the hope of a residence among us, seemed to have given him new life. This wish he now distinctly expressed in his own name, and in that of his wife; inquiring what our intentions were, and proposing, if agreeable to us, that they, with their eldest daughter, whose health, like his own, was delicate, should make a long stay on the island, while the younger daughter went for the present to her brother at the Cape of Good Hope.
In the event of his ultimately deciding to settle altogether among us, Mr. Wolston would propose that his son should leave the Cape, and join our colony.
With sincere satisfaction, I welcomed this proposal, saying that it was my wish and that of my wife to remain for the rest of our days in New Switzerland.
'Hurrah for New Switzerland! New Switzerland for ever!' shouted the whole company enthusiastically, as they raised their glasses, and made them touch with a musical ring, which so expressively denotes a joyful unanimity of sentiment.
'Prosperity to New Switzerland; long may she flourish,' echoed on all sides.
'Long life and happiness to those who make New Switzerland their home!' added Ernest to my great surprise, leaning forward as he spoke, to ring his glass with mine, his mother's and Mr. Wolston's.
'Won't somebody wish long life and prosperity to those who go away?' inquired Jenny with a pretty arch look. 'Much as I long to return to England and my father, my inclination will waver if all the cheers are for New Switzerland!'
'Three cheers for England and Colonel Montrose,' cried Fritz, 'success and happiness to us who return to Europe!' and while the vaulted roofs rang with the cheering elicited by this toast, a glance from Jenny showed him how much she thanked him for appreciating her wish to return to her father, notwithstanding her attachment to our family.
'Well,' said I, when silence was restored, 'since Fritz resolves to go to England, he must undertake for me the duty of bringing happiness to a mourning father by restoring to him this dear daughter, whom I have been ready to regard as my own, by right of finding her cast on the shores of my island.
'Ernest chooses to remain with me. His mother and I rejoice heartily in this decision, and promise him all the highest scientific appointments in our power to bestow.
'And now what is Jack's choice? The only talent I can say he possesses is that of a comic actor, and to shine on the stage he must needs go to Europe.'
'Jack is not going to Europe, however,' was his reply. 'He means to stay here, and when Fritz is gone, he will be the best rider, and the best shot in New Switzerland, which is the summit of his ambition.
'The fact is,' he continued, laughing, 'I rather stand in awe of their European schools, and should expect to find myself caught and clapped into one, if I ventured too near them.'
'A good school is exactly what I want,' said Franz. 'Among a number of students there is some emulation and enthusiasm, and I shall have a chance of rising in the world.
'Fritz will probably return here some day; but it might be well for one member of the family to go home with the intention of remaining there altogether, and as I am the youngest, I could more easily than the rest, adapt myself to a different life. My father, however, will decide for me.'
'You may go, my dear son,' I replied, 'and God bless all our plans and resolutions. The whole earth is the Lord's, and where, as in his sight, you lead good and useful lives, there is your home.
'And now that I know your wishes, the only question is, whether Captain Littlestone will kindly enable you to carry them out?'
All eyes were fixed eagerly upon him, and after a moment's pause the gallant officer spoke as follows:
'I think my way in this matter is perfectly clear, and I consider that I have been providentially guided to be the means of once more placing this family in communication with their friends and with the civilized world.
'My orders were to search for a shipwrecked crew.
'Survivors from two wrecks have been discovered.
'Three passengers express a wish to leave my ship here, instead of at the Cape, while, at the same time, I am requested to give to three persons a passage to England.
'Could anything suit better? I am most willing to undertake the charge of those who may be committed to my care.
'Every circumstance has been wonderfully ordered and linked together by Divine Providence, and if England gains a prosperous and happy colony, it will prove a fitting clasp to this fortunate chain of events. Three cheers for New Switzerland.'
Deep emotion stirred every heart as the party separated for the night. Many felt that they were suddenly standing on the threshold of a new life, while, for myself a weight was rolled from my heart, and I thanked God that a difficulty was solved which, for years, had oppressed me with anxiety.
After this nothing was thought of but making preparations for the departure of the dear ones bound for England. Captain Littlestone allowed as much time as he could spare; but it was necessarily short, so that incessant movement and industry pervaded the settlement for several days.
Everything was provided and packed up that could in any way add to our children's comfort on the voyage, or benefit them after their arrival in England, and a large share of my possessions in pearls, corals, furs, spices and other valuables would enable them to take a good position in the world of commerce.
I committed to their care private papers, money, and jewels which I knew to have been the personal property of the captain of our ill-fated ship, desiring them to hand them over, if possible, to his heirs. A short account of the wreck, with the names of the crew, a list of which I had found, was given to Captain Littlestone.
His ship, the Unicorn, was amply stored by us with fresh provisions, fish, vegetables and fruit, for in our gratitude to him for his kindness and sympathy, we felt ready to offer every possible assistance.
In a long conversation with my sons I solemnly charged them with the future responsibilities of their life, in all its varied aspects, of duty towards God, their fellow men, and themselves, pointing out the temptations to which their different characters were likely to expose them, and exhorting them affectionately to hold fast to the faith in which they had been brought up.
Fritz, having previously made known to me, what indeed was very evident, the attachment between himself and Jenny, I advised him to mention it to Colonel Montrose as soon as possible after being introduced to him, and ask for his sanction to their engagement.
I on my part, gladly bestowing mine, as did his mother, who loved the sweet girl dearly, and heartily grieved to part with her.
On the evening before our separation, I gave to Fritz the journal in which, ever since the shipwreck, I had chronicled the events of our life, desiring that the story might be printed and published. 'It was written, as you well know,' said I, 'for the instruction and amusement of my children, but it is very possible that it may be useful to other young people.
'Children are, on the whole, very much alike everywhere, and you four lads fairly represent multitudes, who are growing up in all directions. It will make me happy to think that my simple narrative may lead some of these to observe how blessed are the results of patient continuance in well-doing, what benefits arise from the thoughtful application of knowledge and science, and how good and pleasant a thing it is when brethren dwell together in unity, under the eyes of parental love.'
Night has closed around me.
For the last time my united family slumbers beneath my care. Tomorrow this closing chapter of my journal will pass into the hands of my eldest son.
From afar I greet thee, Europe!
I greet thee, dear old Switzerland!
Like thee, may New Switzerland flourish and prosper—good, happy and free!