Uncle Robinson

Chapter XXIII

During supper, Clifton told his wife and his children about the various incidents that marked this excursion. They agreed to postpone the question of the ape to the next day. They rose at an early hour. The children looked through the cracks in the palisade. Their exclamations caught the attention of Clifton and Uncle Robinson.

The orang was still there. Sometimes he leaned against the trunk of a tree with his arms crossed, so to say, and examined the palisade. Sometimes he went up to the door, shook it vigorously and, not being able to open it, he went back to his post of observation.

Everyone gathered behind the stakes to look at him.

“What a fine ape!” Jack shouted.

“Yes,” Belle replied. “How nice he looks. He is not making too many faces at me and I am not afraid of him.”

“But what are we going to do with him?” Mrs. Clifton asked. “He can’t stay there forever watching our door.”

“Could we adopt him?” Uncle suggested.

“Is that what you’re thinking, my friend?” Mrs. Clifton replied.

“Honestly, madame,” Uncle replied, “some apes are well behaved. This one could make an excellent servant. If I am not very much mistaken, he has every intention of attaching himself to us. The only difficulty is that we must find out more about him.”

Uncle laughed all the while but he was not exaggerating in any way. The intelligence of these anthropomorphs is truly remarkable. Their facial angle is not significantly less than that of the Australians and of the Hottentots. Besides, the orang has neither the ferocity of the baboon, nor the thoughtlessness of the macaco, nor the filthy ways of the saguin, nor the impatience of barbary ape, nor the bad instincts of the cynocephalus, nor the bad temper of the cercopithic monkey. Harry Clifton knew some of these ingenious animals and he cited several examples of their quasi human intelligence. He told the children that they knew how to light a fire and to use it. Several apes had been usefully employed in homes. They served at the table, cleaned rooms, cared for clothes, drew water from wells, polished shoes, handled a knife, a spoon, a fork, cleaned dishes, drank wine and liquors, etc. Buffon possessed one of these apes who served him for a long time as a faithful and zealous servant.

“Very well,” Uncle then replied. “Since that’s the way things are, I do not see why this orang should not be given the title of servant to the colony. He seems to be young, his education will be easy and he certainly will become attached to his masters if we are good to him.”

After thinking for a few moments, Harry Clifton turned to Uncle and said to him:

“Are you seriously thinking of adopting this animal?”

“Very seriously, sir. You can see that we will not be obliged to use force to domesticate him nor to pull his teeth as is done in similar circumstances. This orang is vigorous and can be a great help to us.”

“Very well, let’s try it then,” Clifton replied, “and if later his presence becomes too troublesome we will see about getting rid of him.”

That agreed, Clifton asked his children to go back to the grotto. Then Uncle and he left the palisaded enclosure.

The orang had returned to the tree. He allowed his future masters to approach him and looked at them while gently moving his head. Uncle had taken some coconut nuts and offered them to the ape. The latter put them in his mouth and ate them with evident satisfaction. He certainly had a fine figure.

“Well, my boy,” Uncle said to him in a playful tone. “How are you feeling?”

The orang replied with a slight grunt of good humor.

“Would you like to join the colony” Uncle asked, “and enter the service of Mr. and Mrs. Clifton?”

The ape uttered another grunt of consent.

“And you will be content with our food as your full wages?” Uncle added, offering the animal a handshake.

The latter responded with a similar gesture, offering the worthy sailor his hand and uttering a third grunt.

“His conversation is a bit monotonous,” Clifton noted with a smile.

“Good, sir.” Uncle replied. “The best servants are the ones that talk the least.”

However, the ape rose and deliberately went to the grotto. He entered the palisaded enclosure. The older boys were at the door of the grotto and the youngsters were clutching at their mother opening their eyes wide at the gigantic animal. The latter seemed to be inspecting the place. He examined the poultry yard and threw a glance at the interior of the grotto. He then returned to Clifton whom he seemed to recognize as the chief of the family.

“Well, my friend,” Uncle said. “The house suits you? Yes? Understood. To begin with we will give you no wages but later we will double it if we are satisfied with you.”

And so, without further ado, the orang was installed in the Clifton house. It was agreed that they would build a wooden hut for him in the left corner of the yard. As for his name, Uncle asked that they use the name of many American negroes and he was baptized with the name of Jupiter or Jup for short.

Clifton had no reason to fault this new recruit. This orang was amazingly intelligent, exemplary in his gentleness and trained by Uncle for various tasks that he performed perfectly. Fifteen days after his admission into the family, he carried wood that he found in the forest, drew water from the lake in bamboo vases and swept the courtyard. He quickly climbed to the top of a coconut tree to pluck its fruits. Agile Robert could not think of competing with him. During the night he kept guard so keenly that Fido had to be jealous of him. Besides, the dog and the ape made a good team. As to the children, they quickly became accustomed to the ape’s services. Jack teased him and never left his side. Friend Jup let him play his games.

However, the days flew by. The second half of September came by while these activities were still going on. In anticipation of the approaching winter, every kind of reserve was increased. Uncle Robinson built a large covered shed at a corner of the cliff to cut and store the wood. Regular hunts were organized to procure a large number of agoutis and capybara whose meat was salted and smoked. In addition, the poultry yard was populated with gallinules of all kinds to assure the colony fresh meat during the rainy season. They made a clean sweep of the rocks in the south, capturing sea tortoises whose carefully preserved flesh promised excellent soups in the future. Needless to say, the supply of sago was increased to be made into bread, biscuits or cakes, making it an excellent food. The question of food for the winter was very nearly resolved.

Mrs. Clifton was no longer concerned about the question of clothing. Thanks to Uncle’s efforts, there was no lack of fur. There were warm leather clothes of all sizes. It was the same with the shoes. Uncle skilfully made wooden soled shoes, half wood and half leather, to be put to good use in rain or in snow. Some were made into high boots to be used for hunts in the marsh when the frost would harass the aquatic game at the north of the island. As to hats, bonnets or caps, they were made of sea otter skins bright as a button. They could not have done better neither in quality nor in quantity. The otters, in fact, seemed to seek refuge in this part of the Pacific and the children captured several of them by surprise among the rocks of the southwest of the island.

It must be said nevertheless that Uncle still had not been able to give Clifton a fine bear fur coat. There was no lack of traces of bears but until now these animals had not shown themselves. It was principally to the south of the lake on the road to the warren that a large number of their footprints were to be found. Evidently a few of these animals passed this way to drink from the lake. Uncle then decided to use the only way he could to bring about the capture of one of these plantigrades. He confided his plan to Marc. With his help he dug a pit some ten to twelve feet deep and covered the opening under a pile of branches. This was a primitive method but Uncle could do nothing else. He did not have any weapons to attack a bear face to face. He could only hope that by chance on a dark night one of these animals would fall into the pit. Each morning, under one pretext or another, Uncle or Marc visited the pit which unfortunately was always empty.

While all these various occupations were going on, Uncle did not neglect the education of his ape. Besides, he was aided by the animal’s remarkable intelligence. The orang was used with daring and skill for the heavier work. They liked each other a great deal and an insignificant detail occurred which drew them closer. One day Uncle found Jup smoking his pipe, yes, his very lobster shell pipe. The tobacco seemed to give the orang unparalleled pleasure. Uncle, enchanted, told Mr. Clifton about it. The latter was not surprised at all about the news. He cited several examples of apes who were familiar with the use of tobacco. At the end of the day Master Jup had his own pipe which hung in his cabin with a supply of tobacco. Master Jup filled it himself, lit it with a hot cinder and smoked with pleasure. In addition, Uncle offered him a small cup of fermented coconut juice each morning. Mrs. Clifton was afraid this would give him a drinking problem but Uncle invariably said to her:

“Be assured, madame, this ape has received a good education and he will never become an addict.”

There was fine weather for all of the month of September. No rain or heavy wind. There was a refreshing light breeze morning and evening. The leaves from the trees changed color with the beginning of autumn and fell to the ground little by little. The cold season had not yet been felt when one morning, it was the 29th of September, they heard little Jack shouting outside:

“Come Marc! Come Jack! There’s snow outside. Let’s have fun!”

They all got up. There was nothing on the ground between the grotto and the sea. Robert began to make fun of him but Jack pointed to the islet which was all covered with white.

“That’s strange,” Clifton said.

They could not explain the appearance of snow at this time of the year with a brilliant sun so high in the sky.

“Wonderful!” Uncle shouted. “We have a phenomenal island.”

“We must see what it is,” Clifton said.

“Let’s take the boat and cross the channel,” Marc replied.

To launch the boat into the sea was the matter of a moment. In a few strokes of the oars, they reached the islet but no sooner had they touched shore when the supposed layer of snow rose up and spread out over the islet, hiding the sun for a moment. This so called snow was a huge flock of white birds. They disappeared so quickly into the distance that Clifton could not identify them.

However, the rainy season was approaching. The days were getting shorter. It was the beginning of October. There were ten hours of daylight versus fourteen hours of darkness. It was too late to undertake a voyage around the island as Clifton had planned. They now had equinoctial winds and heavy squalls churning up the sea. The frail boat could be exposed to the rocks along the shore or to be lost at sea. They must put off the exploration for the next year.

The evenings were already long with sunset at five thirty. These evenings were spent together as a family with everyone chatting and improving themselves. They made plans for the future. They were quite settled in and accustomed to to their island.

Clifton had to find a way to light up these long winter evenings since they did want to go to bed at sunset. They asked Mrs. Clifton to carefully save any animal fat that could be used to make tallow. But this tallow was in a raw state. Having no sulfuric acid, they could not purify it nor remove its aqueous material. Nevertheless, such as it was, they used it that way. Using a thick wick made from coconut fibers, Clifton made tallow candles that sparkled at first while burning but finally they give something of a light at least around the table where the family gathered. Next year they would think of a better way to light the place using oil instead of fat, “until gas light is installed” Uncle would say, no longer doubting anything.

However, even though the island was perfect and had everything, he declared one evening that there was still something missing.

“What could that be,” Mrs. Clifton asked.

“I’m not quite sure. It seems to me that our island does not exactly exist but that is a trivial matter.”

“I understand you, Uncle,” the engineer replied. “It is not an official place.”


“And what is missing is a name.”

“A name, a name!” the children shouted with one voice. “Let’s give the island a name.”

“Yes,” father replied, “and not only a name for the island but also names for the various parts of the island. That will simplify our instructions in the future.”

“Yes,” Uncle replied, “so when we go somewhere we will at least know where we are.”

“Well, let’s use our own names,” impetuous Robert shouted. “I propose we call it the Robert Clifton Island.”

“One moment, my boy,” the engineer replied. “You must not think only of yourself. If we use names of people we hold dear for the capes, the promontories, the watercourses and the mountains of this island, let us also use names that recall for us events and situations. But let’s proceed methodically. First a name for the island.”

The discussion began. Several names were suggested but they could not come to an agreement.

“My word,” Uncle said. “I think we can agree that in every civilized country it is the right of the discoverer to name his discovery and for this reason I propose to call this island Clifton Island.”

“Agreed,” the engineer replied vividly, “but then this honor must be reserved for the real discoverer of this island, to the savior of my wife and my children, to our devoted friend. From now on, this island is called Flip Island.”

Hurrahs were shouted. The children crowded around Uncle Robinson. Mr. and Mrs. Clifton rose and extended their hands to him. The worthy sailor, very emotional, wanted to protest this honor but he had everyone against him and in spite of his modesty, he had to accept. And so the name Flip Island was definitely given to the island and it would appear under this name on modern charts.

Secondary names were then discussed and Uncle had no difficulty getting agreement for the name Mount Clifton for the volcano that dominated the island. The conversation on this subject continued. Geographical names led to interesting debates among the children and the results were these: The bay into which the river emptied was called First Sight Bay because that was where the castaways first saw the island; the river with its winding course took on the name of Serpentine River which was justified.

As to the marsh in the north, near where Uncle found Clifton, that was called Safety Marsh, to the cape at the northern end of the island, Senior Cape, and to the one at the southern end of the island, Junior Cape in honor of Marc and Robert, to the lake the name of Lake Ontario so the abandoned family could remember their absent country, to the channel between the islet and the shore the name Harrison Channel in memory of the unfortunate captain of the Vancouver, and to the islet the name of Seal Islet. Finally, to the port situated between the beginning of First View Bay and the mouth of the river the name of Deo Gratias, a recognition that God had so evidently protected the abandoned family.

Belle and Jack were a little regretful that their names had been omitted from this geographical list but Mr. Clifton promised to use them with the first discoveries that would be made on the island.

“As for your wonderful mother,” he added, “her name will not be forgotten. Uncle and I will build a comfortable home which will be used as our principal residence and this place will be carry the name of the one cherished by everybody. It will be called Elisa House.”

This last idea was vividly applauded and the courageous mother received no end of kisses.

The discussion was prolonged into the evening. It came time to go to sleep. Mother and children retired to their beds of hides and moss. Master Jup himself had already gone to his hut.

Before going to sleep, Uncle and Clifton went alone as usual to examine the surroundings around the grotto. When they were alone, Uncle thanked the engineer once more for giving the island his name.

“We now have a real island,” he said, “whose existence is legally verified and which can be placed on the maps with pride and note, sir, that we can claim the right to have discovered it.”

“My worthy friend,” Clifton replied, “it is important to know if Flip Island was inhabited before our arrival on these shores and, I say again, if it has other inhabitants.”

“What do you wish to say, sir?” Uncle shouted. “Have you some indication of this?”

“I have one,” Clifton replied, lowering his voice, “only one. I have no need to tell you that there is no purpose in causing our small colony any anxiety.”

“You are right, sir,” Uncle said. “What is it?”

“This. You remember the cock with the horn which we captured and which is now acclimatized to our poultry yard?”

“Perfectly,” Uncle replied.

“Well, my friend, I do not believe that his horn, this appendage that our cock carries on its head is a natural one. When this cock was a young chicken someone made a cut in its crest and implanted this false spur at the very base of its crest. After fifteen days this graft took root and is now an integral part of the bird. It is the work of a human hand.”

“And how old is this cock?” Uncle asked.

“Barely two years old which proves that in the last two years men, probably white men, were on our island.”

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Translation Copyright © 2000 Sidney Kravitz
Copyright © Zvi Har’El
$Date: 2007/12/23 17:44:43 $