Uncle Robinson

Chapter XV

At last! They were reunited. They forgot about their deprivations, their miserable present, the menacing future that awaited them, the terrible ordeals struck by fate time after time. They forgot themselves in this common embracement that united them to Harry Clifton. What tears of joy! Mrs. Clifton recovered. She sank to her knees near the boat and thanked God.

According to Belle's almanac, today was Sunday, May 1, a day for thanksgiving. The entire family passed it at the patient's bedside. Harry Clifton felt better. The attention that Flip had given him, this bit of nourishment he had already been able to take, the hope, the joy, everything contributed to restore his lost strength. He was still very weak but alive, very much alive, as Flip had told young Marc.

Harry Clifton was not able to walk from the boat to the grotto. Flip and two of the children carried him on a stretcher of branches. On each side, Belle and Jack held their father's hand. Mrs. Clifton prepared a bed of grass and moss in the best corner of the grotto. Harry Clifton was placed there. Tired from the trip and the emotion, he soon fell asleep. Flip considered this a good thing.

"I am a bit of a doctor," he told Mrs. Clifton, "or at least I have often treated sick people. I know about this. This sleep is good, very good! As to the engineer's wound, It's a trifle. We will take care of it until he gets better. But I repeat, Madam, this wound is a joke. As for myself, I once had my head scratched between two vessels at the wharf in Liverpool. Does it show? No. And since this accident, I no longer have headaches. You see, Mrs. Clifton, if one doesn't die from a headwound in three days, his recovery is assured."

Flip betrayed his pleasure by babbling on, all the while laughing and smiling. During Harry Clifton's sleep, he told the children and their mother all that occurred since the previous day, his exploration of the north shore, the crossing of the marsh, Fido's appearance, who deserved all the credit for the affair because Fido had recognized Flip but Flip, "imbecile, rattlehead," had not recognized Fido.

If the loyal dog was praised and caressed, it was painful to look at him. The day before Marc had killed a canard during a visit to the shores of the lake and he offered the canard to the intelligent Newfoundland animal. He made a meal of it, which prompted Jack to say:

"Good dog! That you are satisfied with raw meat!"

As to Mr. Clifton's story, how he escaped from the Vancouver, how he came here, Flip was still ignorant about it and he could say nothing.

"And that is fortunate," he added, "because we will give the brave gentleman the pleasure of telling us himself about his adventures."

However, they must think about Harry Clifton. If only, on his wakening, they could offer him a few cups of warm soup! They must not think of that. Instead of this comforting soup, Flip thought of preparing some fresh oysters, a real dish for an invalid, which a weak stomach could easily digest. Mrs. Clifton was put in charge of choosing the best of these mollusks from the oyster bed.

All this while, Flip searched the boat for anything Harry Clifton may have had with him, precious objects if ever they were. He found a knife with several blades and a saw, which could replace Flip's knife, and an ax the skilful sailor would appreciate and which would become his most useful tool. There was also a pistol, unfortunately unloaded, without a single grain of powder in it so they could make no fire from that. Of the three objects, it was the least useful, although Robert could amuse himself with it by bellicosely brandishing it.

They then waited for Harry Clifton to wake up. Around eleven o'clock, the engineer called for his wife and his children. Everyone ran to him. His tranquil sleep had strengthened him. The healing of the wound was already in an advanced stage and Mrs. Clifton and Flip soon dressed it.

Mrs. Clifton then offered her husband some oysters. They were so appetizing that he ate them with extreme pleasure. Poor woman. Her provision of meat and biscuit was exhausted and she trembled at the thought that her dear patient might ask for a little of this food that she no longer had. But this time, at least, the oysters were sufficient. His voice came back. He called everyone by name. A little color reappeared to his pale hollow cheeks. He was even able, with pauses between each phrase, to tell what had happened after the mutiny on the Vancouver.

After the death of Captain Harrison, the vessel turned south. The second in command had taken over. Clifton was a prisoner in his cabin and could speak to no one. He thought of his wife and his children abandoned on the ocean. What would become of them? As for himself, there was no doubt about his fate. These madmen would put him to death.

A few days passed and, as often happens when a vessel finds itself under these conditions, the Kanakas who were inspired to revolt against Captain Harrison by the second mate, in turn revolted against him. This wretch provoked them with his cruelty. The second mate was a rouge of the worst kind.

Three weeks after the initial revolt, the Vancouver turned back north. It was held in place by a calm wind. They sighted the northern shore of none other than this very land. However, they did not see the part already explored by Flip.

In the afternoon of April 24th, Harry Clifton, who was continually locked in his cabin, heard a commotion on the bridge mixed with shouting. He understood that there was a crisis. Perhaps this was a chance to break free. They would not be watching him so carefully and he might profit from it. He forced open the door to his cabin. He ran to the mess hall, grabbed a loaded pistol from the arms rack and a boarding ax. He then ran to the bridge. Fido was with him.

The revolt between the Kanakas and the crew was fearsome. When Clifton appeared on the bridge it became bloody. The howling crowd of Kanakas, armed with picks and axes, surrounded the crew. Soon the second mate was stained in blood and mortally wounded.

Clifton understood the new situation. The Kanakas would kill him in a moment. He saw a shore two miles windward. He resolved to risk his life to reach it. He ran to the bulwarks in order to throw himself into the sea.

But they saw Harry Clifton. Two of the mutineers ran toward him. He stopped one of them with a pistol shot. However, the other struck him on the head with a crow-bar which he could not avoid. He fell overboard. The cold water revived him. When he returned to the surface and opened his eyes, he saw that the Vancouver was already several cables in the distance. He heard a barking. It was Fido. The vigorous Newfounlander swam to his side and he was able to hold on to the animal.

The tide carried him to land but it was a large distance to cover. Harry Clifton was wounded and exhausted. Twenty times he sank beneath the waters but twenty times his faithful companion held him above the waves. The currant moved Clifton along and after a long battle he finally felt solid ground beneath his feet. With Fido's help, he struggled out of the wave's reach and dragged himself to the dunes. Here he would have died of hunger if Flip, guided by the dog, had not found him.

Harry Clifton ended his story and shook Flip's hand.

"When did you leave the Vancouver and its cargo of rascals?" the sailor asked him.

"The 23rd of April, my friend."

"Good!" Flip replied. "Since today is the first of May, it was eight days you were lying on the dunes awaiting death. And at first I was fearful. What a brute I am."

However, after he finished his story, after he received the caresses of his wife and children one more time, be asked for some warm soup.

Everyone looked at him. Mrs. Clifton grew pale. Must they tell the patient of their privations? Flip felt this was not the time to make this confession. Silently, he signaled Mrs. Clifton. With hesitation, he responded to the engineer.

"Good, sir," he said in a happy voice, "warm soup. Yes, very good, very good! Capybara soup. for example. We will make it for you. But at the moment the fire is extinct. While we were chatting I foolishly let the flame die out. But I will soon light it."

And Flip left the grotto followed by Mrs. Clifton.

"No, Madam," he said to her in a whisper. "No, we still must not tell him about it. Tomorrow! Later!"

"But what if he asks about the warm soup that you promised him?"

"Yes! I understand that! It is very embarrassing. But we must have more time. Perhaps he will forget about it. Hold on. Distract him. Tell him about what happened to us."

Mrs. Clifton and Flip returned to the grotto.

"Well, Mister engineer, how are you feeling," the sailor asked him. Better, no doubt. If you are strong enough to listen to us, Mrs. Clifton will tell you about our adventures. She saved the family. You will see that."

On a sign from her husband, Mrs. Clifton began her story. In detail she told of their separation from the Vancouver in the boat, the arrival at the mouth of the river, their first encampment under the overturned boat, the excursion into the forest, the exploration of the cliff and the shore, the discovery of the lake and the grotto, the hunting and the fishing. She did not forget to tell about the broken knife but she did not say a word about the storm and the extinguished fire. Then she spoke about their children, their devotion and their courage. They were worthy of their father. Finally, in tearful gratitude, she praised Flip and his sacrifices. The excellent man blushed, not knowing where to hide.

Harry Clifton rose up a bit, placed his two hands on Flip's shoulders, seating him near his bed.

"Flip," he said to him with a vivid emotion, "you saved my wife and children, you even saved me! Bless you, Flip!"

"Not at all, Mister engineer," replied the sailor, "it is nothing to speak of... it just turned out that way... You are a decent man..."

Then, whispering to Mrs. Clifton:

"Continue, Madam, continue. He is forgetting about the soup!"

He then spoke to Harry Clifton again.

"Besides," he replied, "much is still to be done. We are waiting for you. I will do nothing without your orders. I needed an ax and a knife to replace my broken knife and you were kind enough to provide me with one. Isn't that true, Mister Marc?"

"Yes, Flip," the young lad replied with a smile.

"Those are charming children you have there, Mister Clifton. A worthy, lovable family! Mister Robert is a little impatient but he will quiet down. Believe me, with these fine lads and with you, an engineer, we will do many things here."

"Especially if you help us, friend Flip," Mr. Clifton replied.

"Yes, father," Marc shouted. "Our friend Flip can do everything. He is a sailor, fisherman, hunter, carpenter, blacksmith..."

"Oh! Mister Marc!" Flip replied. "That is not an exaggeration. As a sailor I can do a little of everything but badly, very badly. I do not have ideas. I need supervision. But Mister Clifton has that, I... We will be very happy here!"

"Very happy," Harry Clifton said, looking at his wife.

"Yes, my dear Harry," Mrs. Clifton replied. "I have nothing to wish for since you were returned to me. Well, perhaps! But in any case, we have no parents or friends to depend on. We would return to our country as strangers! Yes! I agree with our friend Flip. We could live happily in this corner of the world counting on what the infallible Almighty has in store for us!"

Harry Clifton pressed his dear wife to his heart. She was so confidant and strong. His strength would return in this small world where he would focus all his affections.

"Yes," he said, "Yes! We can still be happy. But tell me, friend Flip, does this land seem to be a continent or an island?"

"I beg your pardon, sir," Flip said, preferring to carry on the conversation in this tone of voice, "but this is a question we still have not been able to resolve."

"It is important, however."

"Very important, in fact. But daylight will last longer now. As soon as your strength returns, Mister Clifton, we will explore our new domain and we will know if we have the right or not to qualify as islanders!"

"If this land is only an island," Harry Clifton replied, "we have little hope of ever leaving it, because ships hardly ever frequent this portion of the Pacific!"

"In fact, sir," the sailor replied, "in this situation we must rely only on ourselves and if we ever do leave it, it will only be because we ourselves have furnished the means of leaving it."

"By making a ship!" Robert shouted.

"Hey, hey!" Flip replied, rubbing his hands, "we have a boat, which is already something."

"My children," Harry Clifton said, "before looking for a way to leave the island, if it is one, we must first settle in. Later we will see what is best to do. But tell me, Flip, you have doubtless explored the immediate countryside. What do you think?"

"Much of it is good, Mister engineer. It is, without doubt, a charming land and especially very varied. In the north, where you were waiting for me, there is a vast marsh swarming with aquatic birds. This will be an excellent preserve for our young hunters.

"Yes, my boy, a marsh made just for you, but you need not get all soiled up there. In the south, sir, in an arid, savage region of rocks and dunes, there is a bank of oysters, good oysters like the ones you just ate, an inexhaustible bank. Then, beyond the shore, there are verdant prairies, magnificent forests, trees of every species, and coconut trees. I am not fooling you. We have real coconut trees. Mister Robert, if it will not trouble you, pick a coconut for your father, a coconut not too hard, you hear me, so it has the best milk!"

Robert left on the run. Harry Clifton, listening to the sailor's happy blabbing, did not think of asking about his warm soup. Flip, enchanted, continued with renewed ardor.

"Yes, mister engineer, these forests must be immense, and we have seen only a small part of it. Mister Robert has already killed a charming capybara! And then, but I really forgot, we also have a warren filled with excellent rabbits! We have a very agreeable islet that we have not yet had the time to visit! We have a lake, sir, not a pond, a real lake, with beautiful water and delicate fish that have no desire other than to be caught!"

Hearing this recital, Harry Clifton could not conceal a smile. Mrs. Clifton, with tearful eyes, looked at the good Flip and Belle and Jack could not take their eyes off him. Never had it occurred to them that their domain could provoke such enthusiastic descriptions.

"And the mountain," Jack said.

"Yes, the mountain," Flip continued. "The young man is right. I forgot about the mountain with its snow at the peak. A real peak, not a little sugar loaf. No, a high peak, six thousand feet high at least which we will climb one day! Truly, whether this land is a continent or an island, we could not have chosen a better one!"

At this moment, Robert returned, carrying a fresh coconut. Flip poured the milk into a bamboo cup and the patient drank this refreshing liquor with extreme pleasure.

For another hour Flip continued to charm his audience with a picture of the countryside, the incontestable advantages it presented, telling the engineer about the projects that could be easily completed, what you would do if you imigrated to your favorite land.

"We will be the Robinsons of the Pacific!" Marc said.

"Good!" said Jack. I have always dreamed of living on an island with the Swiss Family Robinson!"

"Well, Mister Jack, you have been given your wish!"

Flip forgot that in this imaginary tale the author placed all of industry and nature at the disposal of the castaways. He chose for them a particular island where there was no fear of the rigors of a winter climate. Each day, little by little, they found the vegetables and the animals they needed without looking for it. They already had arms, tools, powder, and clothes. They had a cow, sheep, a donkey, and pigs. Their stranded vessel furnished them with an oversupply of wood, iron, and grain of every kind. No! That situation could not be the same! The Swiss castaways were millionaires! Here were unfortunates, reduced to complete destitution, who must make everything they needed.

But Harry Clifton could not deceive himself. He kept thoughts to himself that differed with Flip's ideas. He confined himself to asking the good sailor if there was anything he really regretted.

"Nothing, Mister Clifton, nothing!" Flip replied. "I do not have a family. I was even an orphan, I believe, before coming into the world!"

With that, Flip began to talk again. He told Mr. and Mrs. Cliton that he was a Frenchman by birth, a Picardian from Marquenterre but really americanized. He had travelled the entire world over land and sea. Having seen everything, nothing could astonish him. He had experienced all the accidents and adventures that could befall a human being. If, at any time, they wanted to sink into despair they must not count on him.

Hearing Flip speak this way with a sincere clear voice, seeing his reassuring gestures with his body full of health and energy, would bring a dying person back to life.

If Harry Clifton did not have the enchanted island of the Swiss Robinsons, he at least had the faithful devoted Flip. It would not be long before they would explore this unknown land and colonize it.

But at the moment, overcome by fatigue, he felt the need to sleep. Mrs. Clifton asked her children to let their father sleep.

They were leaving the grotto when Belle stopped short.

"Let's see, Mister Flip," she said. "We can no longer call you 'Papa Flip' since you found our father."

"Papa Flip," Harry Clifton murmurred with a smile.

"Yes sir, pardon me," said the sailor. "This charming lady and Mister Jack are already in the habit of calling me papa, but now..."

"Well now," Jack replied, "papa Flip will become our uncle!"

"Yes! Uncle Robinson!" Belle said, clapping her hands.

Everyone agreed and gave "Uncle Robinson" three hurrahs.

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