ROBINSON VISITS THE WRECKED SPANISH SHIP; RESCUES A PRISONER FROM THE CANNIBALS
When the weather had again become calm and settled, Robinson was greatly tempted to venture out in his boat to the wreck, in spite of the narrow escape he had had before at that place; but there might still, he thought, be some one alive on board, and he made up his mind to risk it. This time he put a compass in the boat, and great store of food and water, as much as she could well carry, and he pushed off, paddling along the shore till he came near to the end of the sand-bank where the current ran so strong. And there his heart failed him. If he once got into that current, how was he to get out of it again? And if he were swept out to sea, and a gale [Pg 60]of wind sprang up, what chance was there that his small boat would live through it? He was so cast down by these thoughts that he ran the boat ashore and got out.
Going on to a high rock he sat for hours watching the water, trying to make up his mind whether to venture to the wreck or not, when he noticed that the current was now running in the direction contrary to that in which it had been flowing the first time he saw it. This, it occurred to him, must be caused by the tides, and it seemed likely that if he chose his time, the current going one way would carry him close to the wreck, and that caused by the next tide would help him back again.
This seemed so simple and easy that he determined to risk it next day. Sleeping that night in the canoe, early in the morning he started, and in little more than two hours safely reached the wreck, without any trouble.
She was a pitiful sight,—Spanish, he judged, from her build. She was lying on the reef, jammed fast between two rocks, the after part of her all stove in by the sea. Her main and foremasts had gone over the side when she struck, and hung about the wreck in a tangle of rigging and spars. Her bulwarks, and rails, and the poop ladders, were all gone, and part of one boat still hung on the davits, torn away by the furious sea before the crew could attempt to lower it. On board, there was no living thing except a dog, which yelped when it saw Robinson coming, and jumped into the sea, and swam eagerly to him when he spoke to it. Poor beast! It was almost dead from thirst. Robinson gave it water, and food, and it drank till he was almost afraid it might burst itself.
After this, Robinson boarded the wreck, and the first thing he saw was two men lying in the cook’s galley, dead, held fast in each other’s arms. Beyond this, there was no trace of any human being, and the cargo, whatever it might have been, had mostly been washed out of the wreck by the sea. There were still a few casks of brandy, or wine, low down in the bold, but they were too heavy for Robinson to move.
Some chests there were in the forecastle, which most likely had belonged to some of the crew. Two of these Robinson got into his boat, along with a small cask of liquor, and other things; a powder-horn full of powder, a fire-shovel and tongs (which he had always much needed), two little brass kettles, a copper pot, and a gridiron. These, and the dog, were all that he got from the wreck. The dog was a great comfort to him, for the animal he had brought ashore from his own ship had now been dead many years.
Except what he found in the seamen’s chests, there was nothing of value in the cargo he brought ashore. In the chests were many things that he prized, linen shirts, handkerchiefs, and coloured neckcloths, pots of sweetmeats, a case of bottles of cordial waters, very handsomely mounted with silver, and, what then was of less value to him, three great bags of gold pieces, besides gold doubloons, and bars of gold. But all this gold he would gladly have given then for a few pairs of English shoes and stockings, for it was of no use at all to him on the island. However, he stowed all the money and the gold in his cave, along with the other things, and then returned and worked his boat along shore to the harbour where he had kept her so long.
But the sight of the wrecked ship and the drowned men had filled him again with the longing to go away, and if he had had as good a boat as that in which he escaped from the pirates, he thought that he would have waited no longer on the island, but would have put to sea in her, and taken his chance of reaching some land where white men dwelt. With the frail craft that he had, however, such a plan was not possible, and he had no choice but to go on living as he had already so long lived, all the time in daily fear of a raid by the savages.
And yet, at times, when his spirits were more than usually low, when the burden of the lonely years pressed most heavily upon him, Robinson used to think that surely if the savages could come to his land, he could go to theirs. How far did they come? Where was their country? What kind of boats had they? And so eager to go was he sometimes, that he forgot to think of what he would do when he got there, or what would become of him if he fell into the hands of the savages. His mind was utterly taken up with the one thought of getting to the mainland, and even his dreams were of little else.
The harbour where he had kept his boat so long
One night, when he had put himself almost into a fever with the trouble of his mind, he had lain long awake, tossing and moaning, but at last he had fallen asleep. And he dreamed, not as he had usually done of late, that he was sailing to the mainland, but that as he was leaving his castle in the morning he saw on the shore two canoes and eleven savages landing, and that they had with them another man, whom they were just about to kill and eat, when suddenly the prisoner jumped up and ran for his life. And in his dream Robinson fancied that the man came running to hide in the thicket round the castle, and that thereupon he went out to help him. Then in the dream, the savage kneeled down, as if begging for mercy, and Robinson took him over the ladder into the castle, saying to himself, ‘Now that I’ve got this fellow, I can certainly go to the mainland, for he will show me what course to steer, and where to go when we land.’ And he woke, with the joyful feeling that now at last all was well. But when he was wide awake, and knew that it was only a dream after all, poor Robinson was more cast down than ever, and more unhappy than he had been during all the years he had lived on the island.
The dream had, however, this result; that he saw his only plan to get away was, if possible, to rescue some day one of the prisoners whom the cannibals were about to kill, and in time get the man to help him to navigate his canoe across the sea.
With this idea, he set himself to watch, more closely than ever he had done before, for the savages to land, and during more than a year and a half he went nearly every day to his lookout-place, and swept the sea with his telescope, in the hope of seeing canoes coming. But none came, and Robinson was getting terribly tired of the constant watch. Still he did not give up, for he knew that sooner or later the savages would land again.
Yet many months passed, and still they did not come, till one morning, very early, almost to his surprise, he saw no fewer than five canoes hauled up on the shore on his own side of the island. The savages who had come in them were nowhere to be seen. Now, he knew that always from four to six men came in each canoe, which meant that at least twenty, and perhaps as many as thirty men had landed.
This was a greater number than he cared to face, so he kept inside his castle, in great doubt what to do, but ready to fight, in case they should attack him.
When he had waited a long time and still could hear nothing of the savages, he climbed up his ladder and got to the top of the rock, taking great care not to show himself against the sky-line. Looking through his glass, he saw that there were at least thirty savages, dancing wildly round a fire.
As he looked, some of the men left the others, and going over to the canoes dragged from them two prisoners. One of these almost at once fell forward on his face, knocked down from behind, as it seemed to Robinson, with a wooden club, and two or three of the cannibals at once cut him open to be ready for cooking, whilst for a moment or two they left the other prisoner standing by himself.
Seeing a chance of escape, the man made a dash for his life, running with tremendous speed along the sands straight for that part of the beach near Robinson’s castle.
Now this alarmed Robinson very much, for it seemed to him that the whole of the savages started after the prisoner. He could not help thinking it likely that, as in his dream, this man would take shelter in the thicket round the castle, in which case Robinson was likely soon to have more fighting than he would relish, for the whole body of the cannibals would be on him at once.
As he watched the poor man racing for life, however, he was relieved to see that he ran much faster than his pursuers, of whom only three continued to run after him. If he could hold out for another mile or two there was little doubt that he would escape. Between the castle and the runners was the creek up which Robinson used to run his rafts from the wreck, and when the escaped prisoner came to that, he plunged in, and though the tide was full, with less than thirty powerful strokes he reached the other side, and with long easy strides continued his run. Of the men in pursuit, two also plunged in and swam through, but less quickly than the man escaping, being more blown with running, because of what they had eaten before starting. The third man stopped altogether, and went back the way he came.
Seeing the turn things were taking, it seemed to Robinson that now had come his chance to get a servant, and he resolved to try to save the life of the man who was fleeing from the cannibals. At once he hurried down the ladder, snatched up his two guns, and running as fast as he could, got between the man and his pursuers, calling out to him at the same time to stop. The man looked back, and the sight of Robinson seemed to frighten him at first as much as did the men who were trying to catch him. But Robinson again spoke, and signed to him with his hand to come back, and in the meantime went slowly towards the other men, who were now coming near. Then, rushing at the foremost, he knocked him senseless with the butt of his gun, for it seemed to him safer not to fire, lest the noise should bring the other cannibals around.
The second man, seeing his comrade fall, hesitated, and stopped, but Robinson saw when nearer to him that the savage had in his hands a bow and arrow with which he was just about to shoot. There was then no choice but to fire first, which Robinson did, killing the man on the spot.
Thereupon the man who had been chased by the others was so terrified by the flash and noise of the gun, and at seeing his enemy fall dead, that he stood stock still, trembling, and it was with great difficulty that Robinson coaxed him to come near. This at last he did, stopping every few paces and kneeling down. At length, coming close to Robinson, he again knelt, kissed the ground, and taking hold of Robinson’s foot, set it on his head as it rested on the sand.
The man knelt and kissed the ground
Whilst this was going on, Robinson noticed that the savage whom he had knocked down had begun to move, and to come to his senses. To this he drew the attention of the man whom he had rescued, who said some words that Robinson could not understand, but which sounded pleasant to an ear that had heard no voice but his own for more than twenty-five years. Next he made a motion with his hand, as if asking for the cutlass that hung at Robinson’s belt, and when the weapon was given to him he ran at his enemy, and with one clean blow cut off his head. Then, laughing, he brought the head, and laid it with the cutlass at Robinson’s feet.
But what caused most wonder to the man was how the savage whom Robinson shot had been killed at so great a distance, and he went to look at the body, turning it over and over, and looking long at the wound in the breast that the bullet had made, evidently much puzzled.
Robinson then turned to go away, beckoning to the savage to follow, but the man made signs that he would bury the two bodies in the sand, so that the others might not find them if they followed. With his hands he soon scraped holes deep enough to cover the bodies, and in less than a quarter of an hour there was hardly a trace left of what had happened.
Calling him away, Robinson now took him, not to his castle, but to the cave, where he gave him food and water; and then he made signs for him to lie down and rest, pointing to a bundle of rice straw.
Soon the man was sound asleep. He was, Robinson thought, a handsome and well-made man; the muscles of his arms and back and legs showed great strength, and all his limbs were beautifully formed. As near as Robinson could guess, he was about twenty-six years of age, with a good and manly face, and long black hair. His nose and lips were like those of a European, and his teeth were white and even. In colour he was not black, but of a sort of rich chocolate brown, the skin shining with health, and pleasant to look upon.