Uncle Robinson

Chapter V

In front of this clear sparkling fire, the children shouted with pleasure. Belle and Jack opened their small pink hands to the flame. With this fireplace they considered themselves rescued. The present is everything at this age. Neither the past nor the future concerns them.

It must be said that the health of the abandoned family depended in part on this fire. Without fire, what would become of them? Flip, faithful Flip, had been overcome by the emotion he felt when he tried that last match. But this fire must never burn out; they must always keep some cinders to rekindle it. This needed only care and attention. At the moment they had enough wood and Flip promised to renew it on a timely basis.

“Now,” he said, “let's go to supper.”

“Yes! Let's eat,” shouted Jack.

“There's no shortage of biscuit and meat! Let's live on what we have. Later we'll find what we don't have.”

Flip went to the boat to look for the small reserve of food. Mrs. Clifton accompanied him.

“But afterwards, Flip?” she asked him, showing the sailor the sack of biscuit and salted meat.

“Later we will see, Madam,” replied Flip. “From afar this land seemed barren but on the contrary, it is fertile. I saw this during my walk in the forest. This island will be able to support our little colony.”

“Yes, my friend Flip; but we are abandoned without arms, without tools...“

“Arms we will make, Madam, and as to tools... Don't I have my knife? See—a fine “bowie knife” with a large blade. With this very instrument a man is never at a loss!”

Flip spoke with conviction, with such assurance and confidence in the future that the unfortunate Mrs. Clifton began to take hope.

“Yes, Madam,” the sailor repeated while going back to the fire which sparkled at the foot of the cliff, “you should know that with a knife, a simple knife, we can make a house of wood or a boat! Yes, a vessel of a hundred tons! I could supervise the work from the keel to the top of the masts, given enough time of course.”

“I believe you, my brave Flip,” Mrs. Clifton replied. “but how can we replace the pot or the kettle we don't have? How can we prepare a warm beverage for these children to refresh them?”

“Tonight will be bad,” replied the sailor, “but tomorrow we will find some coconuts or some gourds and I'll make you some things for the kitchen.”

“And some vases that can be heated?” Mrs. Clifton asked.

“If the fire cannot go underneath the pot, it will go inside the pot,” the sailor replied, “which will amount to the same thing. We will do what the savages do; we will heat some stones and these stones we will put into our gourds filled with water and we will get boiling water. Have confidence, Madam, have confidence! You will be astonished at what we can do when we have to.”

Mrs. Clifton and Flip joined the children who were poking at the fire; the smoke was twirling higher in the dark, sending up a shower of sparkles. It was like fireworks and it filled the two younger children with wonder. Jack took a lighted stick and amused himself by tracing circles in the air. Marc and Robert set aside enough wood for the night. Mrs. Clifton prepared supper and soon everyone had a share of biscuit and salted meat. As for a beverage, it was water from the river, the tide having gone down sufficiently so that the water lost its bitterness.

Nevertheless, Flip was uneasy seeing the family without good shelter on this rainy night. He decided to visit the western face of the cliff that formed the coastline. He hoped to find some cavity hollowed out by the high winds but out of reach of the waves. The high tide had receded. Flip went along the shore to the mouth of the river, turned left, and followed the beach which extended between the high wall and the breakers. For several hundred meters he carefully examined this rocky substructure but its surface, smooth and polished by the waves, showed no opening.

Flip then returned, absorbed in thought, and nibbled on a piece of biscuit.

“They need a nest!” he thought.

A nest, in fact. Rain was already falling in fine droplets. The high winds pulverized the condensed vapors. Thick clouds made the night even darker. The heard the sea growling on the reef. The surf sounded like thunder.

Flip was not mistaken about these signs. He thought about the mother and these young children who would be chilled by the rain and frost. The wind shifted a little to the west and it was evident that the cliff would no longer protect the encampment. The situation was becoming unbearable!

The worthy sailor, disconcerted, returned to the Clifton family. The children finished their meal, mother placed Jack and Belle on a bed of sand at the foot of the wall; but she could not keep the wind and rain away. Her eyes turned to Flip and she questioned him so intently that the honest sailor could not mistake her look.

Marc shared his mother's anxieties. He looked at the thick low clouds and held out his hand to see if the rain was getting heavier. At this moment he got an idea because he ran straight to Flip.

“Flip,” he said.


“What about the boat!”

“The boat!” shouted the sailor. “The boat turned over! That's a roof! The house will come later! Come, my lads, Come!”

Marc, Robert, Mrs. Clifton and Flip ran to the boat! Flip declared Marc an industrious lad. He was a son worthy of an engineer! The boat turned over! He had not thought of that, he, Flip, with all his experience.

They had to bring the boat to the foot of the cliff to use the wall itself as a support. Fortunately it was a light boat made of fir, measuring but twelve feet long and four across. If they pulled together then Flip, the two boys, and Mrs. Clifton could drag it to the sand at the encampment. Flip, a strong fellow, braced himself on his knees and shoved with his shoulders the way fishermen do, giving the boat its initial thrust. It reached its destination in a few moments.

There, at small hollows in the wall, Flip set up two piles of large rocks, intended to support the two ends of the boat at a height of two feet above the ground. That done, the boat was overturned with the keel in the air. Already Jack and Belle wanted to dash underneath but Flip stopped them.

“Just a minute,” he said, “what is it that fell there on the sand?”

In fact, while the boat was turned over, something rolled to the ground making a metallic sound. Flip bent over and got hold of it.

“Good!” he shouted. “We are rich.”

And he showed an old iron kettle, a utensil so dear to every American and English sailor. The kettle was damaged, as Flip saw when he examined it near the fire, but it could still hold five to six pints 1 of liquid. This was a priceless utensil for the Clifton family. “All goes well! All goes well!” the happy Master Flip repeated, “a knife, a kettle! We are well stocked. The dinners at the White House are not served better than ours!”

The overturned boat was then edged closer to the stone supports. The bow was soon resting on the right pile but it was quite an affair to get the rear up without a hoist or a screw jack.

“Bah! My lads” he said to the boys who were helping him, “when one is not strong he must be smart.”

And little by little, by sliding thin wedge shaped pebbles under each other, Flip was able to bring the stern to the level of the bow. The left gunwale leaned against the cliff. To make this improvised shelter even more waterproof, Flip wrapped the sail around the sides of the boat making it reach the ground. This made it like a tent with a solid roof giving protection from the high winds.

In addition, Flip dug up the sand underneath the boat, throwing it outside and forming a weather stripping to keep out the rain.

In a few moments the children and he gathered a large quantity of moss which carpeted the lower part of the cliff, a sort of brownish androecium, 2 which formed an excellent rock moss; it was a natural eiderdown which changed the sand on the ground into a soft bed. Flip, enchanted, did not stop talking about it.

“It's a house! A real house!” he repeated “and I begin to believe that we are mistaken about the purpose of boats: they are roofs except that we turn them over for indoor sailing! Come children, to the nest, to the nest.”

“But who will watch the fire?” Mrs. Clifton asked.

“Me, me!” Marc and Robert said simultaneously.

“No, my young friends, don't argue,” the honorable Flip replied, “let me have this task during our first night. Later we will organize our schedule.”

Mrs. Clifton wanted to share this task with Flip, but the sailor would not hear of it and she had to obey him.

Before going inside the boat, the children huddled around their mother; they prayed for their missing father and invoked the help of Providence. Then after having embraced Mrs. Clifton and the good Flip, after having embraced each other, they snuggled up on their bed of moss. Mother shook hands with Flip and went into the boat in her turn. The attentive sailor watched this precious fire throughout the night while the rain and wind threatened to extinguish it!

  1. A pint is an old measure of capacity equal to 0.931 (liters). [Translator's note: Two pints equal 0.931 liters]
  2. A family of mosses.

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Translation Copyright © 2000 Sidney Kravitz
Copyright © Zvi Har’El
$Date: 2007/12/23 17:44:42 $