This was very serious!
They had kept this beef as a last resource, trusting to it as a "stand- by" to last them through the winter months; but now it had to be thrown away, reducing them to dry potatoes for their diet—for, the penguins, which they might have eaten "on a pinch," had departed and would not return to the island until August, and there was no other bird or animal to be seen in the valley!
Their plight was made all the more aggravating from the knowledge of the fact that, if they could only manage to ascend the plateau, they might live in clover on the wild pigs and goats there; so, here they were suffering from semi-starvation almost in sight of plenty!
Fritz and Eric, however, were not the sort of fellows to allow themselves to be conquered by circumstances. Both, therefore, put their thinking caps on, and, after much cogitation, they at last hit upon a plan for relieving their necessities.
CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE.
A LONG SWIM.
This plan was nothing else than their attempting the feat of swimming round the headland, in order to reach the western shore, from whence, of course, they knew from past experience they could easily ascend to the tableland above—the happy hunting-ground for goats and pigs, their legitimate prey.
"Nonsense," exclaimed Fritz, when Eric mooted the project; "the thing can never be done!"
"Never is a long day," rejoined the sailor lad. "I'm sure I have covered over twice that distance in the water before now."
"Ah, that might have been in a calm sea," said Fritz; "but, just recollect the terrible rough breakers we had to contend with that time in December when the whale-boat got smashed! Why, we might never get out of the reach of that current which you know runs like a mill-race under the eastern cliff."
"We won't go that way," persisted Eric. "Besides, the sea is not always rough; for, on some days the water, especially now since the frost has set in, is as calm as a lake."
"And terribly cold, too," cried his brother. "I dare say a fellow would get the cramp before he had well-nigh cleared the bay."
"Well, I never saw such a chap for throwing cold water on any suggestion one makes!" exclaimed Eric in an indignant tone. He was almost angry.
"It is cold water this time with a vengeance," retorted Fritz, laughing; whereupon Eric calmed down again, but only to argue the point more determinedly.
"Mind, I don't want you to go, brother," he pleaded. "I'm much the stronger of the two of us, although I am the youngest; so, I'll try the feat. It will be easy enough after rounding the headland, which will be the hardest part of the job; but when I have weathered that, it will be comparatively easy to reach the seal-caves. Once arrived there, I shall only have to climb up to the plateau and shoot some pigs and a goat and fling them down to you here, returning at my leisure; for, there'll be no hurry. As for the swim back, it will not be half so difficult a task as getting round there, for the wind and tide will both be in my favour."
But, Fritz would not hear of this for a moment.
"No," he said; "if anybody attempts the thing, it must be me, my impulsive laddie! Do you think I could remain here quietly while you were risking your life to get food for us both?"
"And how do you expect me to do so either?" was the prompt rejoinder.
"I am the eldest, and ought to decide."
"Ah, we are brothers in misfortune now, as well as in reality; so the accident of birth shall not permit you to assert a right of self- sacrifice over me!" cried Eric, using almost glowing language in his zealous wish to secure his brother's safety at the expense of his own.
"What fine words, laddie!" said Fritz, laughing again at the other's earnestness, as if to make light of it, although he well recognised the affection that called forth Eric's eloquence. "Why, you are speaking in as grand periods as little Burgher Jans!"
Eric laughed, too, at this; but, still, he was not going to be defeated by ridicule.
"Grand words or not, brother," he said, with a decision that the other could not bear down; "you shall not venture upon the swim while I stop here doing nothing!"
"Nor will I allow you to go and I remain behind," retorted Fritz.
"I tell you what, then," cried Eric; "as we're two obstinate fellows and have both made up our minds, suppose we attempt the feat together, eh?"
Fritz urged at first that it was unnecessary for both to run the risk; however, Eric's pleadings made him finally yield.
"You see," argued the sailor lad, "we can swim side by side, the same as we have done many a time in the old canal at Lubeck; and then, should either of us get the cramp, or feel 'played-out,' as the skipper used to say, why the other can lend a helping hand!"
And, so it was finally settled, that, on the first bright calm day when there should be but little wind, and while the tide was setting out of the bay in the direction favourable for them, which was generally at the full and change of the moon, they were to attempt the task of swimming round the headland to the west shore of the island. Thence they could ascend the plateau in search of that animal food which they so sadly required, the two having been restricted for some weeks to a diet of dry potatoes, without even a scrap of butter or grease to make them go down more palatably.
This being determined on, the two quickly made their preparations for the undertaking, which to them appeared almost as formidable as poor Captain Webb's feat of trying to go down the Falls of Niagara; although, it might be mentioned incidentally, that, at the time they attempted their natatory exploit, that reckless swimmer's name was unknown to fame.
Of course, they had to consider that, should they reach the beach on the other side all right and thus get up to the tableland, they would require some weapon to bring down the animals they were going in chase of; and, as both the Remington rifles as well as Fritz's shot gun had been lost with the whale-boat, the only firearm remaining was the needle-gun, which the elder brother had brought with him from Germany— more, indeed, as a reminiscence of the campaign in which he had been engaged than from any idea of its serviceableness.
However, for want of anything better, there it was; and, as Fritz had plenty of cartridges which would fit it, the weapon had a chance of now being employed for a more peaceful purpose than that for which it was originally intended. It would, certainly, still take life, it is true; but it would do so with the object of ultimately saving and not destroying humanity.
There was the weapon and the cartridges; but, how to get them round with them was the question?
The brothers could swim well enough without any encumbrance, still, they would be crippled in their efforts should they be foolish enough to load themselves with a heavy gun, as well as sundry other articles which they thought it necessary to take with them for the success of their expedition.
Why, such a procedure would be like handicapping themselves heavily for the race!
What was to be done?
Eric, the "inventive genius," very soon solved this difficulty.
"I tell you what we'll do, brother," he said; "let us put our blankets, with the kettle and rifle and the other things we require, in one of the oil casks. We can then push this before us as we swim along, the cask serving us for a life buoy to rest upon when we are tired, besides carrying our traps, eh?"
"Himmel, Eric, you're a genius!" exclaimed Fritz, clapping him on the back. "I never knew such a fellow for thinking of things like you, laddie; you beat Bismark and Von Moltke both rolled into one!"
"Ah, the idea only just flashed across my mind," said the other, somewhat shamefaced at his brother's eulogy and almost blushing. "It came just on the spur of the moment, you know!"
"But, how are we going to get the needle-gun into the barrel?" asked Fritz suddenly, taking up the weapon and seeing that its muzzle would project considerably beyond the mouth of the said article, even when the butt end was resting on the bottom.
"Why, by unscrewing the breech, of course," said Eric promptly.
Fritz gazed at him admiringly.
"The lad is never conquered by anything!" he cried out, as if speaking to a third person. "He's the wonder of Lubeck, that's what he is!"
"The 'wonder of Lubeck' then requests you'll lose no time in getting the gun ready," retorted Eric, in answer to this chaff. "While we're talking and thus wasting time, we may lose the very opportunity we wish for our swim out of the bay!"
This observation made Fritz set to work: and the two had shortly placed all their little property in one of the stoutest of the oil casks, which they then proceeded to cooper up firmly, binding their old bed tarpaulin round it as an additional precaution for keeping out the salt water when it should be immersed in the sea.
Rolling the cask down to the beach, they tried it, to see how it floated; and this it did admirably, although it was pretty well loaded with their blankets wrapped round the needle-gun and other things. It still rose, indeed, quite half out of the water.
Eric then plaited a rope round it, with beckets for them to hold on by; and so, everything being ready, they only waited for a calm day to make the venture.
Some three days afterwards, the south-east wind having lulled to a gentle breeze and the sea being as smooth as glass, only a tumid swell with an unbroken surface rolling into the bay, the brothers started, after having first stripped and anointed their bodies with seal oil—a plan for the prevention of cold which Eric had been told of by the whalers.
Until they reached the headland, they had easy work; but, there, a cross current carried them first one way and then another, so much interfering with their onward progress that it took them a good hour to round the point.
That achieved, however, as the sailor lad had pointed out when they were first considering the feasibility of the attempt, all the rest of the distance before them was "plain sailing"; so that, although they had to cover twice the length of water, if not more, another couple of hours carried them to the west beach. Here they arrived not the least exhausted with their long swim; for, by pushing the cask before them in turn and holding on to it by the beckets, they, were enabled to have several rests and breathing spells by the way.
Arrived again on terra firma, they at once opened their novel portmanteau; and, taking out a spare suit of clothes for each, which they had taken the precaution to pack up with the rest of their gear, they proceeded to dress themselves. After this, they carried up their blankets and other things to a little sheltered spot on the plateau above, where they had camped on their previous expedition.
They did not find the tableland much altered, save that a considerable amount of snow was scattered about over its surface, accumulating in high drifts at some points where the wind had piled it in the hollows. The ground beneath the various little clumps of wood and brush, however, was partly bare; so, here, they expected to find their old friend "Kaiser Billy" and the remains of his flock.
But, high and low, everywhere, in the thickets and out on the open alike, they searched in vain for the goats. Not a trace of them was to be seen; so, Fritz and Eric had finally to come to the conclusion that the islanders—along with their enemy, as they now looked upon him, Nat Slater—had paid another secret visit to the plateau and destroyed the animals. They believed the Tristaners did this with the object of expediting their departure from Inaccessible Island, where there could be no doubt they must have spoiled their sealing, thus depriving them of a valuable article of barter.
"Never mind," said Eric the indomitable, when Fritz lamented the disappearance of the goats. "We've got the wild hogs left; and, for my part, I think roast pig better than dry potatoes!"
"Himmel, the idea is good!" replied Fritz, who had already screwed on the breech of the needle-gun, making it ready for action. "We must go pig-chasing, then."
And, so they did, shooting a lusty young porker ere they had travelled many steps further.
Eric's matches were then produced, the inevitable box of safety lights being in the pocket of the sealskin jacket he had headed up in the oil cask; when, a fire being lit, the game was prepared in a very impromptu fashion, the animal being roasted whole.
On previously tasting the flesh of these island hogs, they had thought the pork rather fishy; but now, after weeks of deprivation from any species of animal food, it seemed more delicious than anything they had ever eaten before.
"Why, Eric, it beats even your roast beef!" said Fritz jokingly.
The lad looked at him reproachfully; that was all he could do, for his mouth was full and this prevented him from speaking.
"I beg your pardon," interposed the other. "I shan't say so again; I forgot myself that time."
"I should think you did," rejoined Eric, now better able to express himself. "It's best to let bye-gones be bye-gones!"
"Yes," replied Fritz; and the two then went on eating in silence, so heartily that it seemed as if they would never stop. Indeed, they made such good knife-and-fork play, that they were quite weary with their exertions when they had finished, and were obliged to adjourn to their little camp in the sheltered hollow where, curling themselves up comfortably in their blankets, they went cosily to sleep.
The next day, they killed several of the younger hogs and threw their carcases down to the bottom of the gully by the waterfall; for, besides planning out the manufacture of some hams out of the island porkers, they intended utilising the lard for frying their potatoes, in. This, in the event of their finding the pig's flesh too rank after a time, would then afford them an agreeable change of diet to the plain boiled tubers with which hitherto they had had only salt to eat for a relish.
On the third day, as the wind seemed about to change and ominous clouds were flying across the face of the sky, they determined to return home, having by that time consumed the last of their roast pig as well as all the potatoes they had brought with them in their floating cask.
They were taking a last walk over the plateau, which they thought they might never see again—for the swim round the headland was not a feat to be repeated often, even if the weather allowed it, the currents being so treacherous and the sea working itself up into commotion at a moment's notice—when, suddenly, Eric stopped right over the edge of the gully. He arrested his footsteps just at the spot where the tussock-grass ladder had formerly trailed down, enabling them to reach their valley, without all the bother of toiling round the coast as they had to do now.
"Don't you think this spot here has altered greatly?" said the sailor lad to Fritz.
"No, I can't say I do," returned the other. "The grass has only been burnt away; that, of course, makes it look bare."
"Well, I think differently," replied Eric, jumping down into the crevice. "This place wasn't half so wide before."
"No, it wasn't I couldn't have squeezed myself in here when I last came up the plateau."
"Why, that was all on account of the space the tussock-grass took up."
Eric did not reply to this; but, a moment after, he shouted out in a tone of great surprise, "Hullo, there's a cave here, with something glittering on the floor!"
"Yes, and it looks like gold!"
CHAPTER THIRTY SIX.
"Gold!" exclaimed Fritz in astonishment.
"Yes, gold," repeated the other, excitedly. "There are a lot of coins here each bigger than an eight-gulden piece."
"Yes, there is, really. Come down here and see for yourself. There's plenty of room for both you and me."
Trembling with excitement, Fritz jumped down beside his brother, who, stooping down in the crevice of the gully, had discovered a cavity in the rock further in the face of the cliff. This the fringe of the now destroyed tussock-grass had previously hidden from view as they ascended and descended the ladder-way; else they must have noticed the place the very first time they came up to the tableland from the valley below. It was exactly facing the ledge from whence they climbed on to the plateau; so, had it not been then covered over, they could not have failed to see it.
The cavity, which had been probably worn away by the water trickling down, was like a little grotto; and there, piled on the bare rock, were hundreds of coins!
These were quite bright, strange to say, although this circumstance was most likely owing to the action of the fire that had burnt the tussock- grass; for, some heavy iron clamps and hinges, that had evidently belonged to the box which contained the coins originally and had been consumed at the same time, lay on either side of the golden treasure. A number of the coins, too, if any further proof was needed, were fused together in a solid lump.
With eyes dilated with joy, the brothers gazed at the mine of wealth, hardly daring to believe that what they saw was real.
Then, Fritz put out his hands and touched the heap.
"It is there—I feel it!" he exclaimed. "We are not dreaming?"
"I'm sure I'm not," said Eric, laughing with delight. "Why, it is a regular fortune—it will beat all that we have earned by our sealing!"
Fritz took up one of the coins and examined it carefully. He had some knowledge of numismatics from his mercantile education in Herr Grosschnapper's office, that worthy merchant trading to all parts of the globe and having considerable dealings with foreign monies.
"It is a doubloon," he explained to his brother after studying it a bit. "The treasure consists of old Spanish coins that must have lain here for years."
"I wonder who put them in this little hole?" said Eric.
Fritz did not answer this query for the moment; but, almost at the same instant, there flashed across his recollection a curious story which an old man at Tristan d'Acunha had told him—at the time when he and Eric were inspecting the settlement on that island, before coming over to their own little colony—concerning an old pirate who had buried a lot of treasure either there or on Inaccessible Island.
After the brothers had gazed to their hearts' fill at the precious hoard which had so suddenly been, revealed to them, the next thought was how to remove it to their hut below.
"We'll roll up the lot in a blanket," said Eric, who as usual was always to the fore when anything had to be planned out. "Tie up the gold securely; and then chuck the bundle containing it down below, along with the poor pigs we have slaughtered! There's no fear of anybody making off with our doubloons before we accomplish the swim round the headland back home."
"Yes, that will be the wisest course," acquiesced Fritz; "but, talking of swimming round the headland, the sooner we're off the better. Those clouds look very threatening."
"Only rain, I think," replied Eric, looking up at the sky.
"Good, that will not make us very wet when we are in the water, with our bare skins," said Fritz quizzingly.
"No," replied Eric, laughing. "But, the sooner we are now off the better, as you say; for, even if the weather holds up, there are a lot of things for us to do when we get home. We have the pigs to skin, as well as cut up and salt; and, besides, there's all our money to count over."
"We can do that now, as we roll it up in the blanket," replied Fritz, proceeding to suit the action to the word.
To their high delight, they found that there were nearly two thousand separate gold coins, apart from the solid lump fused together, the whole being probably worth some three thousand pounds, or thereabouts.
"Why, it's a perfect fortune!" exclaimed Eric. "You and Madaleine will now be able to marry and settle down, and mother be comfortably provided for, and everything!"
"But, how about your share?" said Fritz, looking at the unselfish lad with glistening eyes. "Your share, indeed, why it's all yours!"
"Nonsense," replied Eric; "we are partners, are we not? Besides, I don't want any money. When we leave here, you know, I'm going to sea again with Captain Brown, in the Pilot's Bride; and a sailor, unlike you poor land folk, carries his home with him. He does not continually want cash for housekeeping expanses!"
"Very well, we'll see about that bye-and-bye," said Fritz, putting all the coins into the blanket, which Eric then tied up securely, lashing it round with a cord in seaman fashion. After that, they pitched the bundle down below, when the chink of the coins at the bottom of the gully sounded like pleasant music in their ears!
The barrel of the needle-gun was then unscrewed from the stock, Fritz having kept the weapon ready for use as long as they remained on the plateau, thinking that as Fortune had so strangely endowed them with the pirate's treasure, perhaps some outlandish bird might equally suddenly make its appearance for him to add to their spoil. However, as nothing new in the feathered line came in sight, the albatross having taken their departure with the penguins, and not even an "island hen" being to be seen, the two now clambered down to the west beach once more.
Here, packing up their cask again with the various impedimenta they still had, they proceeded also to put in their clothing.
Then, fastening up the cask and lashing the tarpaulin round it again with the fastenings and beckets, which had been taken off in order the easier to unpack it, they entered the sea for their return swim round the headland—starting off in the best of spirits on their way back home once more.
This time, the swim back was far more fatiguing, the wind and a slight swell being against them; but, the good living they enjoyed while on the plateau had nerved them up to any amount of exertion, so the journey, if more wearying, was performed in almost the same time they had taken to go to the western coast.
Besides, as soon as they neared the headland, the currents there, which had been against them, were now all in their favour, the waves bearing them and their oil cask, once they had turned the point, buoyantly up to their own beach in the little bay, without the trouble almost of swimming a stroke!
It was now well on towards the latter end of July, in the second year of the island life; and, the next week or two, they were busy enough salting down their pigs and attending to their garden, some cabbages from which with their newly acquired pork making them many a good meal.
Then, came the return of the penguins to their breeding-place in August; so, there was now no further fear of their suffering from a scarcity of food, for, in case they tired of pork, they had plenty of fresh eggs for a change, as well as an occasional roast of one of the inhabitants of the rookery, whose fleshy breasts tasted somewhat, Eric said, like goose—albeit Fritz called him a goose for saying so!
September was ushered in by a strong north-easterly gale, similar to that in which the brig had been wrecked.
This alarmed the brothers, who began to fear, when the gale had lasted over the middle of the month, that the stormy weather might possibly prevent the Pilot's Bride from venturing near the island, Captain Brown having said that it would have been more than madness while the wind prevailed from that quarter for any vessel to approach the coast.
However, towards the third week in the month, the north-east wind shifting round, a gentle breeze sprang up from the south-west. A like change had very similarly occurred at the time of their own landing on the island; so, the brothers' hearts beat high with hope.
Everything was got ready for their instant departure; the consequence of which was that all their own personal little goods and chattels were packed up so soon that they had frequently to open the bundles again to take out some article they required for use!
The golden treasure was not forgotten either—that may be taken for granted.
The result of their sealing for the past year was also put up for shipment. This consisted of eighty-five sealskins and fifty barrels of oil—a result that said much for their industry during the period.
And so, the brother crusoes waited and looked out, day after day, with longing eyes for the anxiously expected vessel that was to terminate their exile on Inaccessible Island and bear them back to the loved ones at home!
Fritz of late had somewhat reformed his lazy habits, rising much earlier than he used to do, this reformation being caused by a natural desire to be up and stirring when the Pilot's Bride should arrive; but, still, Eric invariably forestalled him. The sailor lad was always down on the beach on the look-out, in default of being able to climb up to his former signalling station on the cliff, at the first break of day!
Morning after morning, he went down to the shore; morning after morning, he returned with a disconsolate face and the same sad report—
"Nothing in sight!"
This was the case every day.
There was never the vestige of a vessel on the horizon.
At last, one morning became a gladdened one in their calendar!
Eric had proceeded to the beach as usual; but, not returning so soon as was his general habit, Fritz had time to awaken and rouse up from bed.
Anxious at the lad's delay, he went to the door of the hut, peering out to seaward as the sun rose in the east, flooding the ocean with a radiance of light.
At the same instant, Fritz heard Eric hailing him in the distance.
It was the cheeriest shout, he thought, he had ever heard!
Only two words the lad called out.
CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN.
IN THE GULDEN STRASSE AGAIN.
That was all.
"Sail ho!" shouted Eric in stentorian tones, his voice penetrating through the entire valley, and reaching probably the remotest extent of the island.
The shout was quite enough for Fritz; for, hardly taking time to dress, he at once rushed down to join his brother on the beach.
"Where is she?" he cried out anxiously, when yet some distance off. He panted out the question as he ran.
"Right off the bay!" sang out Eric, in quite as great a state of frenzied excitement. "She's hull down to windward now; but she's rising every moment on the horizon."
"Where?" repeated Fritz, now alongside of the other. "I can't see her."
"There," said Eric, pointing to a tiny white speck in the distance, which to Fritz's eyes seemed more like the wing of a sea bird than anything else.
"How can you make her out to be the Pilot's Bride?" was his next query. "I can barely discern a faint spec far away; and that might be anything!"
"Himmel!" he cried with an infinite superiority. "What bad sight you landsmen have, to be sure! Can't you see that she is a barque and is steering straight for the bay. What other vessel, I should like to know, would be coming here of that description, save the old skipper's ship!"
Fritz made no reply to this unanswerable logic; so, he asked another question instead.
"What time do you think she'll be near enough to send a boat off, eh, brother? We can't go out to meet her, now, you know."
"No, worse luck!" said Eric. "However, I think, with this breeze, she'll be close to us in a couple of hours' time."
"A couple of hours!" exclaimed Fritz with dismay, the interval, in his present excited state of feeling, appearing like an eternity!
"Yes; but, the time will soon pass in watching her," replied the sailor lad. "Look how she rises! There, can't you now see her hull above the waves?"
Fritz gazed till his eyes were almost blinded, the sun being right in his face when he looked in the direction of the advancing vessel; but, to his inexperienced eyes, she still seemed as far off as ever.
"I dare say you are right, Eric," he said; "still, I cannot see her hull yet—nor anything indeed but the same little tiny speck I noticed at first! However," he added, drawing a deep sigh, "if we only wait patiently, I suppose she'll arrive in time."
"Everything comes to him who knows how to wait," replied his brother, rather grandiloquently; after which speech the two continued to look out over the shimmering expanse of water, now lit up by the rays of the steadily rising sun, without interchanging another word. Their thoughts were too full for speech.
Some two hours later, the Pilot's Bride—for it was that vessel, Eric's instinct not having misled him—backed her main-topsail and lay- to off the entrance to the little bay, the gaudy American flag being run up as she came to the wind, and a gun fired.
The brother crusoes were almost mad in their eagerness to get on board.
"What a pity we have no boat!" they both exclaimed together.
They looked as if they could have plunged into the sea, ready dressed as they were, so as to swim off to the welcome vessel!
Eric waved his handkerchief frantically to and fro.
"The skipper will soon know that something has prevented our coming off, and will send in a boat," he said; and the two then waited impatiently for the next act of the stirring nautical drama in which they had so deep an interest.
In a few minutes, they could see a boat lowered from the side of the ship; and, presently, this was pulled towards the shore by four oarsmen, while another individual, whom Eric readily recognised in the distance as Captain Brown, sat in the stern-sheets, steering the little craft in whaling fashion with another oar.
"It's the good old skipper!" exclaimed Eric, dancing about and waving his hat round his head so wildly that it seemed as if he had taken leave of his senses. "I can see his jolly old face behind the rowers, as large as life!"
Two or three minutes more, and the boat's keel grated on the beach, when Fritz and Eric sprang into the water to greet their old friend.
"Waall, boys!" cried the skipper, "I guess I'm raal downright glad to see you both ag'in, thet I am—all thet, I reckon. It's a sight for sore eyes to see you lookin' so slick and hearty."
So saying, Captain Brown shook hands with the two in his old, thoroughgoing arm-wrenching fashion, their hands when released seeming to be almost reduced to pulp in the process, through the pressure of his brawny fist.
Of course, they then had a long talk together, the brothers recounting all that had happened to them in the past year, Captain Fuller of the schooner Jane having taken to the Cape an account of their doings during the preceding twelve months.
"Waal," exclaimed the skipper, when he was showed their little cargo of sealskins and oil, and told also of the treasure which they had found, "I guess you h'ain't made half so bad a job o' crusoeing, arter all! I reckon them skins an' He, along o' what you shipped afore, will fetch you more'n a couple o' thousan' dollars; an' what with them doubloons you mention, I guess you'll hev' made a pretty considerable pile fur the time you've been sealin'!"
There being no object to be gained by the vessel remaining any length of time at the island—which indeed was the reason that the skipper had not brought the Pilot's Bride to anchor, preferring to ply on and on in front of the bay, so as to be ready for an instant start—the little property of the brothers was, without further delay, taken on board; and then, crusoes now no longer, they bade adieu, a long adieu, to Inaccessible Island, their abiding place for the past two years.
As the Pilot's Bride filled her sails and cleared the headlands, which, stretching their giant arms across the entrance to the little bay, soon shut out all view of the valley from their gaze, the last thing they noticed was their hut, the home of so many long and weary months, blazing away in regular bonfire fashion. Master Eric had put a match to the thatch of the little edifice on crossing its threshold for the last time!
"There's no fear, however, of this bonfire doing as much mischief as the last, old fellow!" he said apologetically to Fritz as they gazed back over the ship's stern at the rapidly receding island.
"No," replied the other. "It won't do any particular harm, it is true; but still, I think it was a pity to burn down our little home. We have passed many pleasant as well as sad hours there, you know, during the last two years."
"That may be all very true, brother," replied Eric, "but do you know what was my real reason for setting fire to it?"
"No," said Fritz.
"Well then I'll tell you," continued the other. "I couldn't bear to think that those cheeky penguins should invade it and perhaps make their nests there after we were gone!"
"What?" exclaimed Fritz, beginning to laugh. "You don't mean to say you haven't forgiven the poor birds yet for—"
"Stop!" cried Eric, interrupting him. "You know what you agreed to, eh? Let bye-gones be bye-gones!"
"Good," said Fritz; and there ended the matter.
The return voyage of the Pilot's Bride back to America was uneventful, although full enough of incident to the brothers after their enforced exile; but when the vessel arrived again at her old home port of Providence in Rhode Island, of course the two had something more to excite them in the greeting they received from the cheery and kindly- hearted family of the good old skipper at the shanty on the bay.
The worthy dame, Mrs Brown, welcomed them like sons of her own; while, Miss Celia—declared that Eric had grown quite a man—adding, with a toss of her head, that she "guessed he'd lost nothing of his old impudence!"
However, in spite of all the kindness and hospitality of these good people, Fritz and Eric were both too anxious to get home to Lubeck to prolong their stay in the States any longer than was absolutely necessary; so, as soon as the worthy skipper had managed to convert their stock of sealskins and oil into hard cash—getting the weighty and old-fashioned doubloons exchanged for a valuable banker's draft, save one or two which they kept for curiosity's sake—the pair were off and away again on their way back to Europe by the next—starting North German steamer from New York.
Before setting out, however, Eric promised to return to Providence ere the following "fall," in time to resume his post of third mate of the Pilot's Bride before she started again on another whaling voyage to the southern seas.
One more scene, and the story of "The Brother Crusoes" will be "as a tale that is told!"
It is Christmas Eve again at Lubeck.
The streets as well as the roofs and exteriors of the houses are covered with snow, exhibiting without every appearance of a hard winter; while, within, the interiors are filled with bustling folk, busy with all the myriad and manifold preparations for the coming festival on the morrow.
Mirth, music, and merry-making are everywhere apparent.
In the little old-fashioned house in the Gulden Strasse, where Fritz and Eric were first introduced to the readers notice, these cheery signs of the festive season are even more prominently displayed than usual; for, are not the long-absent wanderers expected back beneath the old roof- tree once more, and is not their coming anticipated at every hour—nay, almost at any moment?
Madame Dort is sitting in her accustomed corner of the stove. She is looking ever so much better in health and younger in appearance than she was at the time of that sad celebration of the Christmas anniversary three years ago, detailed in an early chapter of the story; and there is a smile of happiness and content beaming over her face.
The good lady of the house is pretending to be darning a pair of stockings, which she has taken up to keep her fingers busy; but every now and then, she lets the work drop from her hands on to her knees, and looks round the room, as if listening and waiting for some one who will soon be here.
Madaleine, prettier than ever, clad in a gala dress and with bright ribbons in her golden hair, while her rosebud lips are half parted and her blue eyes dancing with joy and excitement, is pacing up and down the room impatiently. She is too eager to sit still!
Mouser, our old friend the cat, is curled up in a round ball between Gelert's paws on the rug in front of the stove; while, as for Lorischen, she is bustling in and out of the room, placing things on the well- spread table and then immediately taking them away again, quite forgetful of what she is about in her absence of mind and anxiety of expectancy.
Burgher Jans, too, now and again, keeps popping his head through the doorway, to ask if "the high, well-born and noble Herren" have yet come—the little fat man then retiring, with an humble apology for intruding, only to intrude again the next instant!
Madame Dort had received, late that afternoon, a telegram from Fritz, stating that he had reached Bremerhaven; and that he and Eric were just going to take the train, hoping to be with them in Lubeck ere nightfall.
Cause enough, is there not, for all this excitement and expectancy in the household?
Presently, a party of singers pass down the street, singing a plaintive Volkslieder, that sounds, oh so tender and touching in the frosty evening air; and then, suddenly, there is a sound of footsteps crunching the snow on the outside stairway.
Gelert, shaking off poor Mouser's fraternal embrace most unceremoniously, starts up with a growl, rushing the moment afterwards with a whine and yelp of joy to the rapidly thrown open door; and, here he jumps affectionately up upon a stalwart, bearded individual who enters, trying to lick his face in welcome.
"Fritz!" cries Madaleine.
"Eric!" echoes the mother, the same instant.
"Madaleine!" bursts forth from Fritz's lips; while Eric, close behind, cries out joyously, "Mother—mutterchen—dear little mother mine!"
The long-expected meeting is over, and the "Brother Crusoes" are safe at home again.
Little remains to be told.
Early in the new year, when winter had given place to spring and the earth was budding forth into fresh life, Fritz and Madaleine were married. The happy pair live on still with good Madame Dort in the little house of the Gulden Strasse as of yore; for, Fritz has settled down into the old groove he occupied before the war, having gone back to rejoin his former employer, Herr Grosschnapper—although, mind you, instead of being only a mere clerk and book-keeper, he is now a partner in the shipbroker's business:— the little capital which he and Eric gained in their sealing venture to Inaccessible Island, and which Fritz has invested in the concern in their joint names, is amply sufficient to make him a co-proprietor instead of occupying a subordinate position.
Well, the lad is doing well enough.
He went back to Providence at the end of the following summer, as he had promised; and, having joined the Pilot's Bride, and sailed in her since, he is now first officer of that staunch old ship—which the fates will that our old friend the Yankee skipper shall still command.
The last news from Rhode Island, however, records a rumour anent a "splice," to use the nautical phrase, between Master Eric and Miss Celia Brown; and report has it that when this matrimonial engagement is effected "the old man" has announced his intention of giving over his dearly beloved vessel to the entire charge of his son-in-law.
Still, this has not happened yet—Master Eric being yet too young for such honours.
Lorischen and Burgher Jans, strange to say, did not make a match of it after all, the fickle-minded old nurse backing out of the bargain instead of holding to her promise after the arrival of her young masters at home.
Gelert is yet to the fore, and as good and brave an old dog as ever, albeit time has robbed him of some of his teeth and made him somewhat less active; but as for Mouser, he does not seem to have "turned a hair." The highly intelligent animal still purrs and fizzes as vigourously as in his youth—occupying his leisure moments, when not after birds or mice, in basking in the sunshine on the window-ledge above the staircase in summer; while, in winter, he curls himself up between Gelert's outstretched paws on the hearthrug, in front of the old-fashioned china stove.
The brothers must have the last word; and, here a little sermon must come in.
Do you know, if you should ask them their candid opinion, they would tell you that, although the idea of playing at Robinson Crusoe may seem pleasant enough to those whose only experience of life on a desert island is derived from what they have read about its romantic features in books, persons, like themselves, who know what the real thing is, could narrate a very different story concerning its haps and mishaps, its deadly monotony and dreary solitude, its hopes and its despair!