The tempest had raged for six days, and on the seventh seemed to increase. The ship had been so far driven from its course, that no one on board knew where we were. Every one was exhausted with fatigue and watching. The shattered vessel began to leak in many places, the oaths of the sailors were changed to prayers, and each thought only how to save his own life. “Children,” said I, to my terrified boys, who were clinging round me, “God can save us if he will. To him nothing is impossible; but if he thinks it good to call us to him, let us not murmur; we shall not be separated.” My excellent wife dried her tears, and from that moment became more tranquil. We knelt down to pray for the help of our Heavenly Father; and the fervour and emotion of my innocent boys proved to me that even children can pray, and find in prayer consolation and peace.
We rose from our knees strengthened to bear the afflictions that hung over us. Suddenly we heard amid the roaring of the waves the cry of “Land! land!” At that moment the ship struck on a rock; the concussion threw us down. We heard a loud cracking, as if the vessel was parting asunder; we felt that we were aground, and heard the captain cry, in a tone of despair, “We are lost! Launch the boats!” These words were a dagger to my heart, and the lamentations of my children were louder than ever. I then recollected myself, and said, “Courage, my darlings, we are still, above water, and the land is near. God helps those who trust in him. Remain here, and I will endeavour to save us.”
I went on deck, and was instantly thrown down, and wet through by a huge sea; a second followed. I struggled boldly with the waves, and succeeded in keeping myself up, when I saw, with terror, the extent of our wretchedness. The shattered vessel was almost in two; the crew had crowded into the boats, and the last sailor was cutting the rope. I cried out, and prayed them to take us with them; but my voice was drowned in the roar of the tempest, nor could they have returned for us through waves that ran mountains high. All hope from their assistance was lost; but I was consoled by observing that the water did not enter the ship above a certain height. The stern, under which lay the cabin which contained all that was dear to me on earth, was immovably fixed between two rocks. At the same time I observed, towards the south, traces of land, which, though wild and barren, was now the haven of my almost expiring hopes; no longer being able to depend on any human aid. I returned to my family, and endeavoured to appear calm. “Take courage,” cried I, “there is yet hope for us; the vessel, in striking between the rocks, is fixed in a position which protects our cabin above the water, and if the wind should settle to-morrow, we may possibly reach the land.”
This assurance calmed my children, and as usual, they depended on all I told them; they rejoiced that the heaving of the vessel had ceased, as, while it lasted, they were continually thrown against each other. My wife, more accustomed to read my countenance, discovered my uneasiness; and by a sign, I explained to her that I had lost all hope. I felt great consolation in seeing that she supported our misfortune with truly Christian resignation.
“Let us take some food,” said she; “with the body, the mind is strengthened; this must be a night of trial.”
Night came, and the tempest continued its fury; tearing away the planks from the devoted vessel with a fearful crashing. It appeared absolutely impossible that the boats could have out-lived the storm.
My wife had prepared some refreshment, of which the children partook with an appetite that we could not feel. The three younger ones retired to their beds, and soon slept soundly. Fritz, the eldest, watched with me. “I have been considering,” said he, “how we could save ourselves. If we only had some cork jackets, or bladders, for mamma and my brothers, you and I don’t need them, we could then swim to land.”
“A good thought,” said I, “I will try during the night to contrive some expedient to secure our safety.” We found some small empty barrels in the cabin, which we tied two together with our handkerchiefs, leaving a space between for each child; and fastened this new swimming apparatus under their arms. My wife prepared the same for herself. We then collected some knives, string, tinder-box, and such little necessaries as we could put in our pockets; thus, in case the vessel should fall to pieces during the night, we hoped we might be enabled to reach land.
At length Fritz, overcome with fatigue, lay down and slept with his brothers. My wife and I, too anxious to rest, spent that dreadful night in prayer, and in arranging various plans. How gladly we welcomed the light of day, shining through an opening. The wind was subsiding, the sky serene, and I watched the sun rise with renewed hope. I called my wife and children on deck. The younger ones were surprised to find we were alone. They inquired what had become of the sailors, and how we should manage the ship alone.
“Children,” said I, “one more powerful than man has protected us till now, and will still extend a saving arm to us, if we do not give way to complaint and despair. Let all hands set to work. Remember that excellent maxim, God helps those who help themselves. Let us all consider what is best to do now.”
“Let us leap into the sea,” cried Fritz, “and swim to the shore.”
“Very well for you,” replied Ernest, “who can swim; but we should be all drowned. Would it not be better to construct a raft and go all together?”
“That might do,” added I, “if we were strong enough for such a work, and if a raft was not always so dangerous a conveyance. But away, boys, look about you, and seek for anything that may be useful to us.”
We all dispersed to different parts of the vessel. For my own part I went to the provision-room, to look after the casks of water and other necessaries of life; my wife visited the live stock and fed them, for they were almost famished; Fritz sought for arms and ammunition; Ernest for the carpenter’s tools. Jack had opened the captain’s cabin, and was immediately thrown down by two large dogs, who leaped on him so roughly that he cried out as if they were going to devour him. However, hunger had rendered them so docile that they licked his hands, and he soon recovered his feet, seized the largest by the ears, and mounting his back, gravely rode up to me as I was coming from the hold. I could not help laughing; I applauded his courage; but recommended him always to be prudent with animals of that kind, who are often dangerous when hungry.
My little troop began to assemble. Fritz had found two fowling-pieces, some bags of powder and shot, and some balls, in horn flasks. Ernest was loaded with an axe and hammer, a pair of pincers, a large pair of scissors, and an auger showed itself half out of his pocket.
Francis had a large box under his arm, from which he eagerly produced what he called little pointed hooks. His brothers laughed at his prize. “Silence,” said I, “the youngest has made the most valuable addition to our stores. These are fish-hooks, and may be more useful for the preservation of our lives than anything the ship contains. However, Fritz and Ernest have not done amiss.”
“For my part,” said my wife, “I only contribute good news; I have found a cow, an ass, two goats, six sheep, and a sow with young. I have fed them, and hope we may preserve them.”
“Very well,” said I to my little workmen, “I am satisfied with all but Master Jack, who, instead of anything useful, has contributed two great eaters, who will do us more harm than good.”
“They can help us to hunt when we get to land,” said Jack.
“Yes,” replied I, “but can you devise any means of our getting there?”
“It does not seem at all difficult,” said the spirited little fellow; “put us each into a great tub, and let us float to shore. I remember sailing capitally that way on godpapa’s great pond at S—.”
“A very good idea, Jack; good counsel may sometimes be given even by a child. Be quick, boys, give me the saw and auger, with some nails, we will see what we can do.” I remembered seeing some empty casks in the hold. We went down and found them floating. This gave us less difficulty in getting them upon the lower deck, which was but just above the water. They were of strong wood, bound with iron hoops, and exactly suited my purpose; my sons and I therefore began to saw them through the middle. After long labour, we had eight tubs all the same height. We refreshed ourselves with wine and biscuit, which we had found in some of the casks. I then contemplated with delight my little squadron of boats ranged in a line; and was surprised that my wife still continued depressed. She looked mournfully on them. “I can never venture in one of these tubs,” said she.
“Wait a little, till my work is finished,” replied I, “and you will see it is more to be depended on than this broken vessel.”
I sought out a long flexible plank, and arranged eight tubs on it, close to each other, leaving a piece at each end to form a curve upwards, like the keel of a vessel. We then nailed them firmly to the plank, and to each other. We nailed a plank at each side, of the same length as the first, and succeeded in producing a sort of boat, divided into eight compartments, in which it did not appear difficult to make a short voyage, over a calm sea.
But, unluckily, our wonderful vessel proved so heavy, that our united efforts could not move it an inch. I sent Fritz to bring me the jack-screw, and, in the mean time, sawed a thick round pole into pieces; then raising the fore-part of our work by means of the powerful machine, Fritz placed one of these rollers under it.
Ernest was very anxious to know how this small machine could accomplish more than our united strength. I explained to him, as well as I could, the power of the lever of Archimedes, with which he had declared he could move the world, if he had but a point to rest it on; and I promised my son to take the machine to pieces when we were on shore, and explain the mode of operation. I then told them that God, to compensate for the weakness of man, had bestowed on him reason, invention, and skill in workmanship. The result of these had produced a science which, under the name of Mechanics, taught us to increase and extend our limited powers incredibly by the aid of instruments.
Jack remarked that the jack-screw worked very slowly.
“Better slowly, than not at all,” said I. “It is a principle in mechanics, that what is gained in time is lost in power. The jack is not meant to work rapidly, but to raise heavy weights; and the heavier the weight, the slower the operation. But, can you tell me how we can make up for this slowness?”
“Oh, by turning the handle quicker, to be sure!”
“Quite wrong; that would not aid us at all. Patience and Reason are the two fairies, by whose potent help I hope to get our boat afloat.”
I quickly proceeded to tie a strong cord to the after-part of it, and the other end to a beam in the ship, which was still firm, leaving it long enough for security; then introducing two more rollers underneath, and working with the jack, we succeeded in launching our bark, which passed into the water with such velocity, that but for our rope it would have gone out to sea. Unfortunately, it leaned so much on one side, that none of the boys would venture into it. I was in despair, when I suddenly remembered it only wanted ballast to keep it in equilibrium. I hastily threw in anything I got hold of that was heavy, and soon had my boat level, and ready for occupation. They now contended who should enter first; but I stopped them, reflecting that these restless children might easily capsize our vessel. I remembered that savage nations made use of an out-rigger, to prevent their canoe oversetting, and this I determined to add to my work. I fixed two portions of a topsail-yard, one over the prow, the other across the stern, in such a manner that they should not be in the way in pushing off our boat from the wreck. I forced the end of each yard into the bunghole of an empty brandy-cask, to keep them steady during our progress.
It was now necessary to clear the way for our departure. I got into the first tub, and managed to get the boat into the cleft in the ship’s side, by way of a haven; I then returned, and, with the axe and saw, cut away right and left all that could obstruct our passage. Then we secured some oars, to be ready for our voyage next day.
The day had passed in toil, and we were compelled to spend another night on the wreck, though we knew it might not remain till morning. We took a regular meal, for during the day we had scarcely had time to snatch a morsel of bread and a glass of wine. More composed than on the preceding night, we retired to rest. I took the precaution to fasten the swimming apparatus across the shoulders of my three younger children and my wife, for fear another storm might destroy the vessel, and cast us into the sea. I also advised my wife to put on a sailor’s dress, as more convenient for her expected toils and trials. She reluctantly consented, and, after short absence, appeared in the dress of a youth who had served as a volunteer in the vessel. She felt very timid and awkward in her new dress; but I showed her the advantage of the change, and, at last, she was reconciled, and joined in the laughter of the children at her strange disguise. She then got into her hammock, and we enjoyed a pleasant sleep, to prepare us for new labours.
At break of day we were awake and ready, and after morning prayer, I addressed my children thus: “We are now, my dear boys, with the help of God, about to attempt our deliverance. Before we go, provide our poor animals with food for some days: we cannot take them with us, but if our voyage succeeds, we may return for them. Are you ready? Collect what you wish to carry away, but only things absolutely necessary for our actual wants.” I planned that our first cargo should consist of a barrel of powder, three fowling-pieces, three muskets, two pair of pocket pistols, and one pair larger, ball, shot, and lead as much as we could carry, with a bullet-mould; and I wished each of my sons, as well as their mother, should have a complete game-bag, of which there were several in the officers’ cabins. We then set apart a box of portable soup, another of biscuit, an iron pot, a fishing-rod, a chest of nails, and one of carpenter’s tools, also some sailcloth to make a tent. In fact my boys collected so many things, we were compelled to leave some behind, though I exchanged all the useless ballast for necessaries.
When all was ready, we implored the blessing of God on our undertaking, and prepared to embark in our tubs. At this moment the cocks crowed a sort of reproachful farewell to us; we had forgotten them; I immediately proposed to take our poultry with us, geese, ducks, fowls and pigeons, for, as I observed to my wife, if we could not feed them, they would, at any rate, feed us. We placed our ten hens and two cocks in a covered tub; the rest we set at liberty, hoping the geese and ducks might reach the shore by water, and the pigeons by flight.
We waited a little for my wife, who came loaded with a large bag, which she threw into the tub that contained her youngest son. I concluded it was intended to steady him, or for a seat, and made no observation on it. Here follows the order of our embarkation. In the first division, sat the tender mother, the faithful and pious wife. In the second, our amiable little Francis, six years old, and of a sweet disposition.
In the third, Fritz, our eldest, fourteen or fifteen years old, a curly-headed, clever, intelligent and lively youth.
In the fourth, the powder-cask, with the fowls and the sailcloth.
Our provisions filled the fifth.
In the sixth, our heedless Jack, ten years old, enterprising, bold, and useful.
In the seventh, Ernest, twelve years of age, well-informed and rational, but somewhat selfish and indolent. In the eighth, myself, an anxious father, charged with the important duty of guiding the vessel to save my dear family. Each of us had some useful tools beside us; each held an oar, and had a swimming apparatus at hand, in case we were unfortunately upset. The tide was rising when we left, which I considered might assist my weak endeavours. We turned our out-riggers length-ways, and thus passed from the cleft of the ship into the open sea. We rowed with all our might, to reach the blue land we saw at a distance, but for some time in vain, as the boat kept turning round, and made no progress. At last I contrived to steer it, so that we went straight forward.
As soon as our dogs saw us depart, they leaped into the sea, and followed us; I could not let them get into the boat, for fear they should upset it. I was very sorry, for I hardly expected they would be able to swim to land; but by occasionally resting their forepaws on our out-riggers, they managed to keep up with us. Turk was an English dog, and Flora of a Danish breed.
We proceeded slowly, but safely. The nearer we approached the land, the more dreary and unpromising it appeared. The rocky coast seemed to announce to us nothing but famine and misery. The waves, gently rippling against the shore, were scattered over with barrels, bales, and chests from the wreck. Hoping to secure some good provisions, I called on Fritz for assistance; he held a cord, hammer, and nails, and we managed to seize two hogsheads in passing, and fastening them with cords to our vessel, drew them safely after us to the shore.
As we approached, the coast seemed to improve. The chain of rock was not entire, and Fritz’s hawk eye made out some trees, which he declared were the cocoa-nut tree; Ernest was delighted at the prospect of eating these nuts, so much larger and better than any grown in Europe. I was regretting not having brought the large telescope from the captain’s cabin, when Jack produced from his pocket a smaller one, which he offered me with no little pride.
This was a valuable acquisition, as I was now enabled to make the requisite observations, and direct my course. The coast before us had a wild and desert appearance,—it looked better towards the left; but I could not approach that part, for a current which drove us towards the rocky and barren shore. At length we saw, near the mouth of a rivulet, a little creek between the rocks, towards which our geese and ducks made, serving us for guides. This opening formed a little bay of smooth water, just deep enough for our boat. I cautiously entered it, and landed at a place where the coast was about the height of our tubs, and the water deep enough to let us approach. The shore spread inland, forming a gentle declivity of a triangular form, the point lost among the rocks, and the base to the sea.
All that were able leaped on shore in a moment. Even little Francis, who had been laid down in his tub, like a salted herring, tried to crawl out, but was compelled to wait for his mother’s assistance. The dogs, who had preceded us in landing, welcomed us in a truly friendly manner, leaping playfully around us; the geese kept up a loud cackling, to which the yellow-billed ducks quacked a powerful bass. This, with the clacking of the liberated fowls, and the chattering of the boys, formed a perfect Babel; mingled with these, were the harsh cries of the penguins and flamingoes, which hovered over our heads, or sat on the points of the rocks. They were in immense numbers, and their notes almost deafened us, especially as they did not accord with the harmony of our civilized fowls. However I rejoiced to see these feathered creatures, already fancying them on my table, if we were obliged to remain in this desert region.
Our first care, when we stepped in safety on land, was to kneel down and thank God, to whom we owed our lives; and to resign ourselves wholly to his Fatherly kindness.
We then began to unload our vessel. How rich we thought ourselves with the little we had saved! We sought a convenient place for our tent, under the shade of the rocks. We then inserted a pole into a fissure in the rock; this, resting firmly on another pole fixed in the ground, formed the frame of the tent. The sailcloth was then stretched over it, and fastened down at proper distances, by pegs, to which, for greater security, we added some boxes of provision; we fixed some hooks to the canvas at the opening in front, that we might close the entrance during the night. I sent my sons to seek some moss and withered grass, and spread it in the sun to dry, to form our beds; and while all, even little Francis, were busy with this, I constructed a sort of cooking-place, at some distance from the tent, near the river which was to supply us with fresh water. It was merely a hearth of flat stones from the bed of the stream, fenced round with some thick branches. I kindled a cheerful fire with some dry twigs, put on the pot, filled with water and some squares of portable soup, and left my wife, with Francis for assistant, to prepare dinner. He took the portable soup for glue, and could not conceive how mamma could make soup, as we had no meat, and there were no butchers’ shops here.
Fritz, in the mean time, had loaded our guns. He took one to the side of the river; Ernest declined accompanying him, as the rugged road was not to his taste; he preferred the sea-shore. Jack proceeded to a ridge of rocks on the left, which ran towards the sea, to get some muscles. I went to try and draw the two floating hogsheads on shore, but could not succeed, for our landing-place was too steep to get them up. Whilst I was vainly trying to find a more favourable place, I heard my dear Jack uttering most alarming cries. I seized my hatchet, and ran to his assistance. I found him up to the knees in a shallow pool, with a large lobster holding his leg in its sharp claws. It made off at my approach; but I was determined it should pay for the fright it had given me. Cautiously taking it up, I brought it out, followed by Jack, who, now very triumphant, wished to present it himself to his mother, after watching how I held it. But he had hardly got it into his hands, when it gave him such a violent blow on the cheek with its tail, that he let it fall, and began to cry again. I could not help laughing at him, and, in his rage, he seized a stone, and put an end to his adversary. I was grieved at this, and recommended him never to act in a moment of anger, showing him that he was unjust in being so revengeful; for, if he had been bitten by the lobster, it was plain he would have eaten his foe if he had conquered him. Jack promised to be more discreet and merciful in future, and obtained leave to bear the prize to his mother.
“Mamma,” said he, proudly, “a lobster! A lobster, Ernest! Where is Fritz! Take care it does not bite you, Francis!” They all crowded round in astonishment. “Yes,” added he, triumphantly, “here is the impertinent claw that seized me; but I repaid the knave,”
“You are a boaster,” said I. “You would have got indifferently on with the lobster, if I had not come up; and have you forgotten the slap on the cheek which compelled you to release him? Besides, he only defended himself with his natural arms; but you had to take a great stone. You have no reason to be proud, Jack.”
Ernest wished to have the lobster added to the soup to improve it; but his mother, with a spirit of economy, reserved it for another day. I then walked to the spot where Jack’s lobster was caught, and, finding it favourable for my purpose, drew my two hogsheads on shore there, and secured them by turning them on end.
On returning, I congratulated Jack on being the first who had been successful in foraging. Ernest remarked, that he had seen some oysters attached to a rock, but could not get at them without wetting his feet, which he did not like.