Landing on the Island by Jean Rudolf Wyss

For many days we had been tempest-tossed. Six times had the darkness closed over a wild and terrific scene, and returning light as often brought but renewed distress, for the raging storm increased in fury until on the seventh day all hope was lost. We were driven completely out of our course; no conjecture could be formed as to our whereabouts. The crew had lost heart, and were utterly exhausted by incessant labor....

My heart sank as I looked round upon my family in the midst of these horrors. Our four young sons were overpowered by terror. “Dear children,” said I, “if the Lord will, he can save us even from this fearful peril; if not, let us calmly yield our lives into his hand, and think of the joy and blessedness of finding ourselves forever and ever united in that happy home above.”

At these words my weeping wife looked bravely up, and, as the boys clustered round her, she began to cheer and encourage them with calm and loving words. I rejoiced to see her fortitude, though my heart was ready to break as I gazed on my dear ones....

Amid the roar of the thundering waves I suddenly heard the cry of “Land, land!” while at the same instant the ship struck with a frightful shock, which threw everyone to the deck, and seemed to threaten her immediate destruction.

Dreadful sounds betokened the breaking up of the ship, and the roaring waters poured in on all sides.

Then the voice of the captain was heard above the tumult, shouting, “Lower away the boats! We are lost!”...

Throughout the night my wife and I maintained our prayerful watch, dreading at every fresh sound some fatal change in the position of the wreck.

At length the faint dawn of day appeared, the long, weary night was over, and with thankful hearts we perceived that the gale had begun to moderate; blue sky was seen above us, and the lovely hues of sunrise adorned the eastern horizon.

I aroused the boys, and we assembled on the remaining portion of the deck, when they, to their surprise, discovered that no one else was on board.

“Hallo, papa! what has become of everybody? Are the sailors gone? Have they taken away the boats? Oh, papa! why did they leave us behind? What can we do by ourselves?”

“My good children,” I replied, “we must not despair, although we seem deserted. See how those on whose skill and good faith we depended have left us cruelly to our fate in the hour of danger. God will never do so. He has not forsaken us, and we will trust him still. Only let us bestir ourselves, and each cheerily do his best. Let each try to procure what will be of most use to us.”...

Fritz brought out a couple of guns, shot belt, powder flasks, and plenty of bullets.

Ernest produced a cap full of nails, an axe and a hammer, while pinchers, chisels, and augers stuck out of all his pockets.

Little Franz carried a box, and eagerly began to show us the “nice sharp little hooks” it contained. “Well done, Franz,” cried I; “these fish-hooks, which you, the youngest, have found, may contribute more than anything else in the ship to save our lives by procuring food for us. Fritz and Ernest, you have chosen well.”

“Will you praise me, too?” said my dear wife. “I have nothing to show, but I can give you good news. Some useful animals are still alive; a cow, a donkey, two goats, six sheep, a ram and a fine sow. I was but just in time to save their lives by taking food to them.”

“All these things are excellent indeed,” said I; “but my friend Jack here has presented me with a couple of huge, hungry, useless dogs, who will eat more than any of us.”

“Oh, papa, they will be of use! Why, they will help us to hunt when we get on shore!”

“No doubt they will, if ever we do get on shore, Jack; but I must say I don’t know how it is to be done.”

“Can’t we each get into a big tub, and float there?” returned he. “I have often sailed splendidly like that, round the pond at home.”

“My child, you have hit on a capital idea,” cried I. “Now, Ernest, let me have your tools, hammers, nails, saws, augers, and all; and then make haste to collect any tubs you can find!”

We very soon found four large casks, made of sound wood, and strongly bound with iron hoops; they were floating with many other things in the water in the hold, but we managed to fish them out, and drag them to a suitable place for launching them. They were exactly what I wanted, and I succeeded in sawing them across the middle. Hard work it was, and we were glad enough to stop and refresh ourselves with wine and biscuits.

My eight tubs now stood ranged in a row near the water’s edge, and I looked at them with great satisfaction; to my surprise, my wife did not seem to share my pleasure!

“I shall never,” said she, “muster courage to get into one of those!”

“Do not be too sure of that, dear wife; when you see my contrivance completed, you will perhaps prefer it to this immovable wreck.”...

All being ready, we cast off, and moved away from the wreck. My good, brave wife sat in the first compartment of the boat; next her was Franz, a pretty little boy, nearly eight years old. Then came Fritz, a handsome, spirited young fellow of fifteen; the two centre tubs contained the valuable cargo; then came our bold, thoughtless Jack; next him Ernest, my second son, intelligent, well-formed, and rather indolent. I myself, the anxious, loving father, stood in the stern, endeavoring to guide the raft with its precious burden to a safe landing-place.

The elder boys took the oars; every one wore a float belt, and had something useful close to him in case of being thrown into the water.

The tide was flowing, which was a great help to the young oarsmen. We emerged from the wreck and glided into the open sea. All eyes were strained to get a full view of the land, and the boys pulled with a will; but for some time we made no progress, as the boat kept turning round and round, until I hit upon the right way to steer it, after which we merrily made for the shore.

We had left two large dogs, Turk and Juno, on the wreck, as being both large mastiffs we did not care to have their additional weight on board our craft; but when they saw us apparently deserting them, they set up a piteous howl, and sprang into the sea. I was sorry to see this, for the distance to the land was so great that I scarcely expected them to be able to accomplish it. They followed us, however, and, occasionally resting their fore-paws on the outriggers, kept up with us well. Jack was inclined to deny them this, their only chance of safety. “Stop,” said I, “that would be unkind as well as foolish; remember, the merciful man regardeth the life of his beast.”

Our passage, though tedious, was safe; but the nearer we approached the shore the less inviting it appeared; the barren rocks seemed to threaten us with misery and want.

Many casks, boxes, and bales of goods floated on the water around us. Fritz and I managed to secure a couple of hogsheads, so as to tow them alongside. With the prospect of famine before us, it was desirable to lay hold of anything likely to contain provisions.

By and by we began to perceive that, between and beyond the cliffs, green grass and trees were discernible. Fritz could distinguish many tall palms, and Ernest hoped they would prove to be cocoanut trees, and enjoyed the thought of drinking the refreshing milk.

“I am very sorry I never thought of bringing away the captain’s telescope,” said I.

“Oh, look here, father!” cried Jack, drawing a little spyglass joyfully out of his pocket.

By means of this glass, I made out that at some distance to the left the coast was much more inviting; a strong current however, carried us directly toward the frowning rocks, but I presently observed an opening, where a stream flowed into the sea, and saw that our geese and ducks were swimming towards this place. I steered after them into the creek, and we found ourselves in a small bay or inlet where the water was perfectly smooth and of moderate depth. The ground sloped gently upward from the low banks of the cliffs, which here retired inland, leaving a small plain, on which it was easy for us to land. Everyone sprang gladly out of the boat but little Franz, who, lying packed in his tub like a potted shrimp, had to be lifted out by his mother....

Fritz meanwhile, leaving a loaded gun with me, took another himself, and went along the rough coast to see what lay beyond the stream; this fatiguing sort of walk not suiting Ernest’s fancy, he sauntered down to the beach, and Jack scrambled among the rocks, searching for shellfish.

I was anxious to land the two casks which were floating alongside our boat, but on attempting to do so I found that I could not get them up the bank on which we had landed, and was therefore obliged to look for a more convenient spot. As I did so, I was startled by hearing Jack shouting for help, as though in great danger. He was at some distance, and I hurried toward him with a hatchet in my hand. The little fellow stood screaming in a deep pool, and as I approached, I saw that a huge lobster had caught his leg in its powerful claw. Poor Jack was in a terrible fright; kick as he would, his enemy still clung on. I waded into the water, and seizing the lobster firmly by the back, managed to make it loosen its hold, and we brought it safe to land. Jack, having speedily recovered his spirits, and anxious to take such a prize to his mother, caught the lobster in both hands, but instantly received such a severe blow from its tail that he flung it down, and passionately hit the creature with a large stone. This display of temper vexed me. “You are acting in a very childish way, my son,” said I; “never strike an enemy in a revengeful spirit.” Once more lifting the lobster, Jack ran triumphantly toward the tent.

“Mother, mother! a lobster, Ernest! look here, Franz! mind, he’ll bite you! Where’s Fritz?” All came crowding round Jack and his prize, wondering at its unusual size, and Ernest wanted his mother to make lobster soup directly, by adding it to what she was now boiling.

She, however, begged to decline making any such experiment, and said she preferred cooking one dish at a time. Having remarked that the scene of Jack’s adventure afforded a convenient place for getting my casks on shore, I returned thither and succeeded in drawing them up on the beach, where I set them on end, and for the present left them.

On my return, I resumed the subject of Jack’s lobster, and told him he should have the offending claw all to himself, when it was ready to be eaten, congratulating him on being the first to discover anything useful.

“As to that,” said Ernest, “I found something very good to eat, as well as Jack, only I could not get at them without wetting my feet.”

“Pooh!” cried Jack, “I know what he saw—nothing but some nasty mussels; I saw them too. Who wants to eat trash like that? Lobster for me!”

“I believe them to be oysters, not mussels,” returned Ernest calmly.

“Be good enough, my philosophical young friend, to fetch a few specimens of these oysters in time for our next meal,” said I; “we must all exert ourselves, Ernest, for the common good, and pray never let me hear you object to wetting your feet. See how quickly the sun has dried Jack and me.”

“I can bring some salt at the same time,” said Ernest. “I remarked a good deal lying in the crevices of the rocks; it tasted very pure and good, and I concluded it was produced by the evaporation of sea-water in the sun.”

“Extremely probable, learned sir,” cried I; “but if you had brought a bagful of this good salt instead of merely speculating so profoundly on the subject, it would have been more to the purpose. Run and fetch some directly.”

It proved to be salt sure enough, although so impure that it seemed useless, till my wife dissolved and strained it, when it became fit to put in the soup.

“Why not use the sea-water itself?” asked Jack.

“Because,” said Ernest, “it is not only salt, but bitter too. Just try it.”

“Now,” said my wife, tasting the soup with the stick with which she had been stirring it, “dinner is ready, but where can Fritz be?” she continued, a little anxiously....

He presently appeared before us, his hands behind his back, and a look of disappointment upon his countenance.

“Unsuccessful!” said he.

“Really!” I replied; “never mind, my boy, better luck next time.”

“Oh, Fritz!” exclaimed his brothers, who had looked behind him, “a sucking-pig, a little sucking-pig. Where did you get it? How did you shoot it? Do let us see it!”....

“It was one of several,” said Fritz, “which I found on the shore; most curious animals they are; they hopped rather than walked, and every now and then would squat down on their legs and rub their snouts with their fore-paws. Had not I been afraid of losing them all, I would have tried to catch one alive, they seemed so tame.”

Meanwhile Ernest had been carefully examining the animal in question.

“This is no pig,” he said; “and except for its bristly skin, does not look like one. See, its teeth are not like those of a pig, but rather those of a squirrel. In fact,” he continued, looking at Fritz, “your sucking-pig is an agouti.”

“Dear me,” said Fritz; “listen to the great professor lecturing! He is going to prove that a pig is not a pig!”

“You need not be so quick to laugh at your brother,” said I, in my turn; “he is quite right. I, too, know the agouti by descriptions and pictures, and there is little doubt that this is a specimen. The little animal is a native of North America, where it makes its nest under the roots of trees, and lives upon fruit. But, Ernest, the agouti not only looks something like a pig, but most decidedly grunts like a porker.”

While we were thus talking, Jack had been vainly endeavoring to open an oyster with his large knife. “Here is a simpler way,” said I, placing an oyster on the fire; it immediately opened. “Now,” I continued, “who will try this delicacy?” All at first hesitated to partake of them, so unattractive did they appear. Jack, however, tightly closing his eyes and making a face as though about to take medicine, gulped one down. We followed his example, one after the other, each doing so rather to provide himself with a spoon than with any hope of cultivating a taste for oysters.

Our spoons were now ready, and gathering round the pot we dipped them in, not, however, without sundry scalded fingers. Ernest then drew from his pocket the large shell he had procured for his own use, and scooping up a good quantity of soup he put it down to cool, smiling at his own foresight.

“Prudence should be exercised for others,” I remarked; “your cool soup will do capitally for the dogs, my boy; take it to them, and then come and eat like the rest of us....”

By this time the sun was sinking beneath the horizon, and the poultry, which had been straying to some little distance, gathered round us, and began to pick up the crumbs of biscuits which had fallen during our repast. My wife hereupon drew from her mysterious bag some handfuls of oats, peas, and other grain, and with them began to feed the poultry. She showed me at the same time several other seeds of various vegetables. “That was indeed thoughtful,” said I; “but pray be careful of what will be of such value to us; we can bring plenty of damaged biscuits from the wreck, which, though of no use as food for us, will suit the fowls very well indeed.”

The pigeons now flew up to crevices in the rocks, the fowls perched themselves on our tent pole, and the ducks waddled off, cackling and quacking, to the marshy margin of the river. We, too, were ready for repose, and having loaded our guns, and offered up our prayers to God, thanking Him for His many mercies to us, we commended ourselves to His protecting care, and as the last ray of light departed, closed our tent and lay down to rest.