Uncle Robinson

Chapter IX

It was cloudy the next day but the rain had stopped. Flip and Mrs. Clifton decided to leave immediately after breakfast. After this wet night everyone was anxious to get to the new place.

After getting Jack and Belle dressed, Mrs. Clifton made breakfast. During this time, the two young children were frolicking on the sand even though their mother told them they risked damaging their clothes which would be difficult to replace. Jack especially, who looked up to Robert because of his vivacity, gave his sister deplorable examples of unruliness. Mrs. Clifton was right to worry about clothing. They could find nourishment and keep warm on this deserted shore but wouldn’t it really be difficult to clothe themselves?

During the meal they naturally talked about how they would make the move.

“Have you some ideas, Mister Jack?” the sailor asked the young lad who was taking a little interest in the discussion.

“Me?” replied Jack.

“Yes,” said Flip, “how will we get to our new house?”

“We’ll walk,” Jack replied.

“At least,” laughed Robert, “we won’t be taking the Fifth Avenue bus.”

Robert, by mocking, was making allusion to the system of locomotion used in the larger American cities.

“The bus!” repeated Belle, looking at Flip with large astonished eyes.

“Instead of a joke, Robert,” said Mrs. Clifton, “you would do better to make a serious response to the question our friend Flip asked in earnest.”

“But it is really very simple, mother,” replied the young lad, slightly blushing, “our furniture is very light! I will be in charge of the kettle. We will take the road past the cliff and we will easily reach the grotto.”

Robert was already on his feet impatient to leave.

“One moment,” Flip shouted, seizing the youngster by the hand! “Not so fast! What about the fire?”

In fact, Robert had completely forgotten about the precious burning fire that must be transported to the new encampment.

“Well then, have you nothing to say, Mister Marc?” the sailor asked.

“I think,” Marc replied after some thought, “I think that without inconveniencing ourselves, we can use another means of transport. Since sooner or later we must drag the boat to its new port, why don’t we use it to transport all of us?”

“Well said, Mister Marc!” shouted the sailor, “that is an excellent idea you have there, and I would never have thought of it. We will take the boat, load it with fagots placed over a bed of hot cinders and we will set sail for our new lake home.”

“Good, good!” shouted Jack, eager for this chance to sail on the ocean.

“What do you think of my proposal, Madam Clifton?” Flip asked.

Mrs. Clifton was ready to follow Flip. The sailor, wanting to profit from the rising tide which, according to his observations, would carry them from north to south between the islet and the shore, soon made preparations for a departure. He first had to take the boat off its supports; the rocks that supported it were removed one at a time and the operation was easily completed. The boat was then turned over and as soon as its keel and sides were firmly on the ground everyone, old and young, pushed it toward the river. There it was prevented from drifting with a line held down with a large stone. The wind was good—blowing to the northeast—and Flip decided to rig his foresail. Marc skilfully helped him to get underway. The sail was rolled out ready to be hauled up to the top of the mast.

They then began to load the boat. They piled up all the wood the boat would hold, but with a plan, placing the heaviest pieces at the bottom to serve as ballast. Then Flip spread out a layer of sand at the rear which he covered with a layer of cinders. On this double bed, Marc placed some glowing embers and charcoal. While at the helm, Flip expected to keep an eye on his travelling fire in case it needed more fuel. As an extra precaution, the fire at the encampment was not extinguished. On the contrary, Robert revived it by throwing on large fagots in a way that would make it possible to find some embers should the fire on the boat die out. Marc even suggested that he remain behind to watch the encampment fire while the rest of the family went through the channel; but Flip judged it useless to act this way, not wanting to leave anyone behind.

At nine o’clock everything was loaded, the kettle, the sack of salted meat and biscuits, the capybara ham that Mrs. Clifton had smoked on the previous day, the mollusks and the eggs. Flip took one last look around him to see if they had forgotten anything. How could these poor people ever forget this poor place? Then the signal to start was given. Marc and Robert were in front. Mrs. Clifton, Jack and Belle were seated on a little deck near the rear. Flip posted himself by the helm near the burning embers and charcoal, watching it like a vestal at a sacred fire.

At a command from the sailor, Marc and Robert pulled on the halyard, hoisting the sail to the top of the mast. Flip drew in the rope that anchored the boat. He turned the sail to catch the wind. They reached the entrance to the channel and the incoming tide swept the boat along rapidly.

The sea was calm. The light boat moved rapidly. The panorama of cliffs moving past them filled the young travellers with wonder. Thick clouds of birds passed over the water, filling the air with their deafening cries. The agitated fish jumped out of their element. Flip saw a timid seal and a capricious porpoise. The boat entered the right end of the channel several meters from the islet. They could see hundreds of stupid penguins who did not even think of fleeing. The islet was two fathoms 1 above sea level forming an enormous flat and dry rock thrown up as a barrier between the shore and the ocean. Flip thought that if he could enclose one end of the channel, it could become a natural port for a flotilla of vessels.

The boat moved rapidly. Everyone on board was silent. The children looked at the large cliffs that towered over them. Flip paid attention to his fire and, helping Mrs. Clifton, he surveyed the open ocean, looking at the silent horizon. Not a sail in sight! The ocean was deserted.

After travelling for a half hour, the boat reached the southern end of the cliff and he turned to avoid the submerged rocks that formed the point. The rising tide caused a strong surf by the meeting of two currents, the current from the channel and the current which drove to shore.

Once the point was doubled, all of the beautiful countryside came into view, the clear lake, the green prairie, clumps of trees thrown about at random, dunes to the south, forests in the background, and the majestic peak that dominated everything. “How beautiful! How beautiful,” the young children shouted. —“Yes,” Flip replied, “this is a delightful garden that Providence has given us!”

Mrs. Clifton, with a sad expression, observed this part of the coastal area. She too was affected by this beautiful countryside. Flip, unfurling his sail, brought his boat almost to a standstill. These beautiful scenes were made only by nature, speaking to the children’s imagination; they had suffered and the worthy sailor wanted his small colony to be carried away by its beauty.

He then looked for a cove in which to direct his boat. He ordered his two young novices to bring the sail to mid- mast and, skilfully maneuvering through the narrow passes left free by the rocks, he gently grounded the boat.

Robert jumped to shore. His brother and Flip followed immediately. Then the three of them hauled in on the mooring rope, placing it rather high so the tide could not reach it and drag on it.

Mrs. Clifton, Belle and Jack disembarked immediately.

“To the grotto, to the grotto!” Robert shouted.

“Wait, my young man,” said Flip, “and let us first unload our boat.”

Flip was concerned about the fire before anything else. The cinders were carried to the base of the cliff and with a few fagots they established a temporary fire. The firewood was then unloaded and each of the children did their share carrying food and utensils. The small troop then went to their new home following the southern face of the cliff.

What was Flip thinking of? While walking he thought of the footprints on the sand of the grotto that he had carefully observed on the previous day before erasing them. Would they again find new traces in the sand? This really worried him because the grotto must no longer remain a den frequented by wild beasts; in that case what should Flip do? Without defensive arms would he dare to occupy the cavern and drive out these ferocious inhabitants? The worthy sailor was at a loss, but since he had told no one about his fears, he kept his thoughts to himself.

The small group finally arrived at the grotto. Robert, who was in front, was about to enter, but Flip stopped him with a word. He wanted to examine the floor of sand before it was trampled on.

“Mister Robert,” he shouted to the young man, “do not go in, do not go in, I ask you. Mrs. Clifton, I beg you, tell him to wait for me.”

“Robert,” Mrs. Clifton said, “listen to our friend, Flip.”

Robert held back.

“Is there some danger in going into the grotto?” Mrs. Clifton asked.

“None whatsoever, Madam,” the sailor replied, “but in case some animal has taken refuge there, it would be best to take some precautions.”

Flip quickened his pace and soon joined Robert, waiting at the entrance of the excavation. He entered and, without saying anything about the undisturbed sand inside the grotto, he soon came out.

“Come, Madam, come,” he said, “your home is ready to receive you!”

Mother and children entered their new dwelling. Jack rolled in the sand. Belle wondered why no diamonds were embedded in the walls, but she was content with the mica stars that were shining here and there like points of fire. Mrs. Clifton could only thank God; she and her children were sheltered, and she began to hope.

Flip left Mrs. Clifton at the grotto. He returned to the boat in order to bring back some firewood with Marc and Robert’s help. On the way, Marc asked the sailor what his reason was in being the first to enter the grotto; and since he could tell Marc everything, Flip told him about the footprints he had seen on the previous day, begging him not to speak to anyone about it. It was important to note that the animal that had already visited the grotto had not returned and Flip hoped that this chance visit would not occur again.

Marc promised the sailor that he would be silent, but he asked him, in the future, not to conceal from him any dangers to the family. Flip promised him, adding that Marc was worthy enough to know everything and that henceforth he would treat him as the head of the family.

At seventeen years of age, head of the family! These words reminded the young man of all that he had left behind on board the Vancouver, all that he had lost!

“Father! poor father!” he murmured to himself, holding back his tears. Then, with a firm step, he walked to the water’s edge.

Arriving at the boat, Flip took on a heavy load of firewood asking Marc to carry two or three lighted sticks and to shake them while walking so as to keep them burning.

Marc obeyed and when he arrived at the encampment the sticks were still burning. Flip looked for a convenient location outside the grotto for his fire. He found a corner formed by some rocks which would shelter it from strong winds. There he placed some flat stones intended as an ash box and, above them, some elongated stones to act as an andiron. Over these stones he loaded a large log crosswise that Robert found in the boat and thus prepared the furnace was suitable for all domestic uses.

This very important installation required a certain amount of time. Soon the children were crying of hunger. They developed an appetite during the morning journey. Marc went to the lake to fill the kettle with fresh water and Mrs. Clifton quickly prepared a sort of capybara stew which refreshed everyone.

After the meal, Flip judged it best to spend the rest of the day gathering wood. It was a distance from the encampment to the edge of the forest and this time the river was no longer there to move the raft. But everyone, children and adults, did their share with this important occupation. Dead wood was everywhere. The woodsmen had only to tie the fagots. Guided and encouraged by Flip, the children worked until evening to carry this indispensable fuel. The wood was placed in a dry corner of the vast grotto and Flip calculated that this new supply would last for three days and three nights on the condition that they would not turn up the heat.

Seeing her children so busy with this laborious and fatiguing occupation, Mrs. Clifton decided to prepare a fortifying dinner. She sacrificed one of the four smoked capybara legs. The leg, roasted over a sparkling fire, was gnawed to the bone. Flip resolved to devote several hours of the next day to hunting and fishing in order to bring the food supply to a normal state.

At eight in the evening everyone was asleep with the exception of Flip who was outside keeping an eye on the fire. The night was cool and clear. About ten in the evening the reddish moon set behind the mountain shedding its gentle light over the ocean. At midnight young Marc took Flip’s place.

  1. A fathom equals six feet, nearly two meters.

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