Robinson Crusoe Told to the children by Daniel Defoe, chapter name ROBINSON FINDS A CAVE; HEARS GUNS FIRED BY A SHIP IN DISTRESS


Now one day when Robinson was down in the bottom of the valley, cutting thick branches to burn for charcoal, he cleared away some undergrowth at the foot of a great rock, in which, near the ground, there was a sort of hole, or opening. Into this hole Robinson squeezed, not very easily, and found himself in a cave of good size, high enough, at least, to stand up in. It was quite dark, of course, to him coming in from the sunlight, and he turned his back to the entrance to feel his way further in, when suddenly, from the back of the cave he saw two great fiery eyes glaring at him. His very hair bristled with fright, for he could [Pg 49]only think that it must be the Devil at least that he saw; and through the mouth of the cave he fled with a yell.

But when he got into the bright sunshine he began to feel ashamed of his panic, and to reason with himself that what he had seen must be only his own fancy. So, taking up a big burning branch from his fire, in he went again.

Before Robinson had taken three steps he stopped, in almost as great a fright as at first. Close to him he heard a great sigh, as if of some one in pain, then a sound like a muttering, as of words that he could not understand; again another deep sigh. Cold sweat broke out all over him, and he stepped back trembling, yet determined this time not to run away.

Holding his torch well over his head, he looked around, and there on the floor of the cave lay a huge old he-goat, gasping for breath, dying, seemingly of mere old age.

He stirred him with his toe to see if he could get him out of the cave, but the poor beast could not rise, and Robinson left him to die where he was.

Now that he had got over his fright, Robinson looked carefully about him. The cave was small, not more than twelve feet across at its widest, but he noticed at the far end another opening. This was so low down, however, that he had to creep on his hands and knees to get in, and without a better light than the burning torch, he could not see how far it went. So he made up his mind to come again.

Robinson had long before this made a good supply of very fair candles from the tallow of the goats he had killed, and next day he returned to the cave with six of these, and his tinder-box to light them with. In those days there were no matches, and men used to strike a light with a flint and steel, and tinder, which was a stuff that caught fire very easily from a spark.

Entering the cave, Robinson found, on lighting a candle, that the goat was now dead. Moving it aside, to be buried later, he went down on his hands and knees, and crawled about ten yards through the small passage, till at last he found himself in a great chamber, the roof of which was quite twenty feet high. On every side the walls reflected the light of his candle, and glittered like gold, or almost like diamonds, he thought. The floor was perfectly dry and level, even on the walls there was no damp, and Robinson was delighted with his discovery. Its only drawback was the low entrance; but, as he decided to use the cave chiefly as a place to retreat to if he should ever be attacked, that was in reality an advantage, because one man, if he had firearms, could easily defend it against hundreds.

At once Robinson set about storing in it all his powder, except three or four pounds, all his lead for making bullets, and his spare guns and muskets. When moving the powder, he thought he might as well open a barrel which had drifted ashore out of the wreck after the earthquake, and though water had got into it, there was not a great deal of damage done, for the powder had crusted on the outside only, and in the inside there was about sixty pounds weight, quite dry and good. This, with what remained of the first lot, gave him a very large supply, enough to last all his life.

For more than two-and-twenty years Robinson had now been in the island, and he had grown quite used to it, and to his manner of living. If he could only have been sure that no savages would come near him, he felt almost that he would be content to spend all the rest of his days there, to die at last, as the goat he found in the cave had died, of old age.

It was near the end of the month of December, his harvest time, and Robinson used then to be much out in his fields even before daylight. One morning, being anxious to finish cutting the crop, he had left his house even earlier than usual, long before the stars had ceased to shine or the first flush of dawn had showed in the sky, and as he crossed the higher lying ground between his castle and the cornfield, it chanced that he glanced in the direction of the sea.

There, on the shore, to his great horror on his own side of the island, he saw a fire burning, and he knew that this could only have been lit by the cannibals, who had once more landed.

Straight back to his castle he ran, and climbed hurriedly over the fence, pulling the ladder up after him. Quickly he loaded all his muskets and pistols, ready to defend himself to the last gasp, for he was sure that, if these savage men should happen to see his crops growing in the fields, they would know that some one was living on the island, and would never rest till they found him.

But when Robinson had waited some time without anything happening, he could bear the suspense no longer. Taking the telescope, he put his ladder against the rock where there was a flat ledge, and climbing up to this, pulled the ladder after him, and again resting it there, so climbed to the top of the rock, where he lay down and looked eagerly through the glass.

There were no less than nine savages, he saw, all sitting round the fire, cooking something, but what it was that they cooked he could not tell, though it was not difficult to guess.

After a time they began a kind of dance round the fire, all of them stark naked, and Robinson watched them at this for nearly two hours.

The cannibals had two canoes, which were hauled up on the shore, and as it was then low water he fancied they must be waiting for the tide to rise again. And so it turned out, for when the tide had been flowing for a time, they shoved off, jumped on board, and paddled away.

As soon as Robinson was sure that they were really gone, he went with all his speed to the hill from where, first of all, long ago, he had seen signs of savages, and looking through his glass, he saw three more canoes at sea, all paddling away from the island. On going down to the shore, there he saw a dreadful sight. Skulls, bits of flesh, and bones, lay about, and fresh blood was everywhere, hardly yet soaked into the sand.

This awful sight so horrified and roused Robinson that once more he determined, whenever the next chance came, to attack the cannibals, however many there might be, and kill all that he could. But always, for long after, he lived in great uneasiness, never sure that at any moment he might not be taken by surprise. Often he wished the time had come when he could run at them; for suspense is always harder to bear than any action, however dangerous.

But many months went by, and no savages were seen, and nothing disturbed Robinson except dreadful dreams, from which in the night he often started out of his sleep, crying out and struggling, thinking that the savages were trying to kill him.

About the middle of the following May, one day there came a very great storm, with much thunder and lightning and rain, and during the night the wind blew a perfect hurricane. Robinson was sitting listening to the roaring of the wind, and sometimes reading the Bible which he had found in one of the seamen’s chests, for he could not sleep.

Suddenly he was startled by a kind of dull thud that seemed to shake the very air, such a thud as you might hear if something very heavy, but soft, fell on the floor of a room upstairs. And this noise was followed in about a minute by another thud. This time he could hear plainer, and he knew that the sounds were those of big guns fired at sea, and that they must come from some ship in danger, and signalling for help, perhaps to some other vessel.

Robinson ran out, and climbing up his ladder, got to the top of the rock in time to see the flash of another gun, away towards the reef of rocks at the end of the island.

If he was not able to help the people on board the vessel, they might yet, if they were saved, help him, so he collected all the dry wood he could get, and making a great pile, set fire to it, as a signal to the ship that there was some one on the island. And he was sure that the signal was seen, for as soon as it blazed up another gun was fired; then gun after gun, for some time.

Robinson kept his fire blazing all night, and when daylight came, and the storm cleared off, he thought he could see, away to the east, something which looked like a ship. He fancied she was at anchor, for she never moved. But the distance was too great, and the weather too thick for him to be sure if it was a ship at all that he saw.

Later in the day, when the weather had cleared, on going up the hill from which, long ago, he had watched the current sweeping past the rocks, he could see plainly that there was a vessel, but, to his sorrow, that she was a wreck, fast on the reef where, the day he was carried out to sea, he had found the current divide.

Without doubt the crew must have perished. And it filled Robinson with sadness and great grief to think how near he had been perhaps to fellow countrymen, and how not even one had been spared to come ashore. His whole soul yearned for the sight of a white man, some one to whom he could speak. But all that ever he saw of the crew, except what he afterwards found on the ship itself, was the body of a boy, which drifted on shore at the end of the island nearest the wreck; and he could not tell from the few clothes that were on the body to what nation the boy had belonged. In his pockets were two gold coins, and a tobacco pipe, and the last at least was of use to Robinson.