Authors: Daisy Alberto
To my own bold Jack
or many days our ship had been tossed at sea. The storm raged and raged. Above us, the seamen yelled frantically to each other.
My heart sank as I looked around the cabin at my family. My brave wife was trying to calm the children. Our four sons were filled with terror.
Suddenly I heard a cry. At the same time, the ship struck something! Water poured in on all sides.
“Lower the boats!” the captain shouted.
I rushed on deck. The last lifeboat was already pushing off! I begged the sailors to wait for us. But it was too late.
After a moment, however, I saw that our position wasn’t as bad as I had thought. The stern, or back of the ship, was jammed between two rocks. The rocks kept the ship from sinking. And through the rain, I could see land!
I returned to my family. “Courage, dear ones!” I said. “Our ship is secure and there is land nearby. We should be able to go ashore tomorrow!”
By morning, the storm had passed. I woke the boys. My wife and our youngest son, Franz, fed the animals on board. The rest of us gathered supplies we would need onshore.
We found guns, bullets, tools, and fishhooks. My wife told us there were also some chickens, ducks, geese, and pigeons, and a cow, a donkey, two goats, six sheep, a ram, and a pig on board. And Jack had discovered two friendly dogs!
“Excellent,” I said. “But how will we get everything to shore?”
“Why can’t we each get into a tub and float there?” asked Jack. “That’s what I do on our pond at home.”
“Capital idea!” I cried.
We sawed four large barrels in half. I nailed them together into a makeshift boat and added poles to give it balance. The boys brought oars.
We stowed everything that we would need in the tubs. Then we set the ship’s ducks, geese, and pigeons free. We would
come back for the rest of the animals later.
My wife sat in the first tub. Franz, who was almost eight years old, sat next to her. Fifteen-year-old Fritz rode behind them. The cargo was in the middle. Then came Jack, eleven, and our second son, Ernest, age thirteen. I stood in the stern.
We cast off and glided into the open sea. We had left the two dogs, Turk and Juno, on board. But when they saw us leave, they jumped overboard and swam behind us.
Soon we could see rocky cliffs and palm trees. The geese and ducks swam toward a small bay. I steered after them.
When we landed, we fell to our knees and gave thanks for our escape. We had no idea what we would find on this island. But we were all alive and on dry land, and for now that was enough.
I selected a large rock to set up camp on. We made a tent from a sailcloth. That night, we drank soup we’d brought from the wreck, using oyster shells as spoons. It was our first meal on our new island home.
Our rooster woke me at daybreak. After morning prayers, Fritz and I went to explore. We searched for signs of sailors from our ship, but found none.
Our hearts were lifted, though, by the peaceful beauty of our new home. A smooth stream flowed from the sea through rocky cliffs on either side. Beyond the cliffs were green grass and tall palms.
We followed the stream past a waterfall and continued on through a grove of calabash trees. We collected several gourds from the trees. The gourds could be carved out to make bowls, spoons, and bottles.
We pushed forward and climbed a rocky summit. We could see far and wide. And we saw that there was no trace of other survivors from the wreck. We were completely alone. A feeling of utter sadness washed over us.
“Cheer up, son,” I said after a moment. “Let us remember how lucky we really are.”
Fritz agreed and we decided that we would make the best of our situation. On the way down, I cut a reed to use as a weapon if need be. We hadn’t gone far when I noticed juice dripping out of it. I tasted it and found it very sweet. It was sugarcane!
We passed the sugarcane and reached a cluster of palms. A group of monkeys chattered from the treetops. Fritz raised his gun. “No!” I cried. “Never take the life of any animal needlessly. A live monkey is of more use than a dozen dead ones. Watch.”
I gathered a handful of small stones and threw them at the monkeys. A monkey’s instinct is to copy. So they grabbed all the coconuts they could reach from the treetops and threw them right at us!
We picked some up and pierced holes in them. We drank the milk through the holes. Then I split them open and we ate the cream that lined their shells. After this delicious meal, we took a couple of the nuts and started home. Things were beginning to look up.
Suddenly Turk darted after one of the
monkeys. We found a tiny baby monkey hiding in the grass, trembling. When he saw us, he jumped on Fritz’s shoulder and held tight to his hair.
“What a jolly little fellow!” exclaimed Fritz. “Do let me try to care for it.”
I agreed. Fritz called Turk and seated the monkey on the dog’s back. The monkey rode along perfectly at ease.
At the end of the day, we neared the camp and our dear ones came running to greet us. A tempting meal awaited. Several fish and a bird were roasting over the fire. The gravy dripped into a large shell placed beneath them.
We sat down to dinner and used our gourds for the first time. We ate coconuts for dessert. And Fritz fed coconut milk to the little monkey, whom we named Mr. Knips. With my family around me and my stomach full, I began to feel content in our new home.
The next day, I decided to return to the
wreck with Fritz to rescue the animals left there. I also wanted to bring back many of the items on board.
The ship had carried supplies for a new colony. So it had everything we might need. To my great joy, we found guns and knives, kitchen utensils, wine, meat, seeds, nails, matches, and more tools.
We spent the night on board the wreck. In the morning, we made swimming belts for the animals. I caught a sheep. Then I tied a piece of cloth around its belly and hooked some empty tins to it. This done, Fritz and I flung the animal overboard. Our plan worked, and the sheep bobbed in the water! We did the same for all the animals. Each animal had a cord around its neck. We held on to the other ends and rowed for shore, drawing the herd after us.
The sea was calm and my spirits were high. With the supplies and the animals, we could live comfortably for as long as we might be on the island.
Suddenly Fritz yelled and drew his gun. A huge shark was swimming straight for one of our sheep! Fritz fired. The bullet found its mark and the shark sank into the water. The lucky sheep escaped what would surely have been a grisly end.
“Well done, Fritz!” I cried, and steered us safely home.
e were greeted on land with shouts of joy. My wife told us that she and the boys had found a beautiful grove of giant trees. The trunks were lifted high off the ground by great arching roots. The leafy branches offered cool shade. And the ground itself was carpeted in soft green leaves.
“If we could build a house in one of those trees, I should feel perfectly happy” she said.
I considered her plan. “Suppose we build your nest in the trees,” I suggested, “but keep this rocky place as a fortress.”
Everyone was excited about living in the treetops. Before we left, we built a bridge across a nearby stream to make our journey easier.
We packed our bags and placed the bundles on the cow’s back. The donkey was also put to work carrying bundles and bags.
We crossed the bridge and were making good progress when the dogs suddenly dashed off. We heard a furious barking, followed by a howling. I had no doubt a dangerous animal had attacked them!
“Father! Come quickly!” cried Jack. “A huge porcupine!”
Sure enough, the dogs had tried to seize the creature and had been wounded by its
quills. They would learn to stay away from porcupines in the future!
We marched on until we reached our new home. The site was just as my wife had described.
We unloaded the animals. Then we sat down to rest among the soft leaves on the ground.
Ernest studied the tree closest to us. “What sort of tree is this?” he asked.
“I think these must be wild figs,” I replied. Their sweet fruit would be as welcome as their shade.
After a good dinner, we slung hammocks from the arched roots of the tree. We covered the arches with the sailcloth to form a tent.
Fritz, Ernest, and I went to the beach to gather wood and bamboo. Then we set to work on a rope ladder to reach what would
become our tree house—thirty feet above the ground.
When the ladder was finished, Jack climbed up, quick as a monkey. “What a grand home we will have here!” he exclaimed. Fritz was soon by his side. I followed with an ax and took a survey of the tree. It was perfect! The branches were strong and close. We could simply lay some planks across them to make floors. We worked until after dark, and rose early the next morning to set to work again.
Fritz and I climbed the ladder. We chopped off the extra branches from the tree so they wouldn’t be in our way. We left a few branches to hang the hammocks on and some higher ones to support the sailcloth roof.
My wife tied the wood we had brought to a rope, and Fritz and I hauled it up. We laid it down on the bottom branches to form a smooth, solid floor. Around this platform we built a wall of planks. Then we threw the sailcloth over the higher branches for a roof. We drew it down and firmly nailed it in place.
Our house was enclosed on three sides by the walls and the great trunk. We left the front open to let in the sea breeze. We then hauled up our hammocks and hung them. It wasn’t dark yet, so we cleared the floor of leaves and twigs. We used the rest of the wood to build a table and a few benches.
After working so hard, we flung ourselves on the grass below. My wife set supper out on the table we had made. “Come and taste flamingo stew,” she said.
That night, we lit our watch fires and left
the dogs on guard. Then we climbed the ladder. I went last, with Franz on my back. I pulled the ladder up behind us. I felt safer than I had since we landed.