Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Robinson Crusoe Faces Retirement

Having been cast away in my wretched condition for the better part of seven and forty years, as best I could reckon by my calendar post, I found it necessary to provide certain machines and contrivances to make allowances for those physical dysfunctions which accompany the advancement of old age. Nor could I rely too heavily on the albeit willing assistance offered by my still loyal and devoted man, Friday, whose life span seemed to be a great deal shorter than mine, whether owing to his nurturance in the primitive wilds, or to some personal peculiarity, and thus was feeling at his younger age similar impairments and disabilities as I was suffering under due to my more advanced age. Taking this into account, and realizing that things would get worse as time went on, our mortal condition being what it is, I exercised as much foresight as possible to supply not only for my present needs and wants, but also for those which could occur thereafter, although my careful consideration proved insufficient for certain emergencies, especially regarding my man, Friday, as will be seen shortly.

As for the bounties provided by my island, and God's great mercy, they continued as much and as plentiful as ever. My goat herds increased and prospered. I never suffered a single crop failure, though such good fortune rarely blesses the farmers of England, or any other country I have knowledge of. I still had my supply of raisins, limes and other fruits which 50 such men as myself could not have begun to deplete. Through careful marshalling and rationing, I kept a good supply of rum, though not nearly so much as I had started out with. And most important, and most gracious of God to whom I did not miss one day falling upon my knees to thank and praise, and whose words I continued to instruct Friday in, I still retained my two front teeth, without which I would have been hard put to enjoy most if not all of the aforementioned bounties.

The contrivances I found necessary took a great deal of thought and much painstaking labor until I had achieved to my satisfaction their construction. Chief among these was a chair with wheels, or a wheel-chair, which I now found necessary in order to get around my island. The construction took many months of labor, it being hardest to hit upon a feasible means of creating the two wheels without which the whole machine was useless. I finally solve this problem by finding a straight hardwood tree whose trunk was of the diameter I desired, and then very painstakingly cutting and sawing until I had two equal cross-sections of that trunk, which served me very well, and were as perfect as any wheel that could have been fashioned by a carpenter or a blacksmith in England. Along with this, I found it necessary to abandon my methods of fortification, and cut a threshold through the two walls protecting my domicile, as my old method of climbing up a ladder and then pulling it in after me was no longer feasible. It was, in fact, this necessary alteration which led to the dire and tragic circumstances of which I will now treat concerning my man, Friday.

Since I could no longer rely on sheer strength and the impenetrability of my wooden hedge for my security, I resolved to resort to disguise and the various wiles necessary to make up for the weaknesses under which I now suffered. With this in mind, I sent Friday, who though old, still had use of his legs, out in search of those broad palm leaves which graced the trees of the far side of the island. I intended to use the broadness and hugeness of these leaves to fashion a covering for the entrance to my cave which would make it indistinguishable from the surrounding foliage, except upon a very close inspection, and yet would allow me a quick and easy ingress or egress.

Friday had been gone on this errand for the better part of a week when I began to worry and take notice of his absence. The island was still visited occasionally by savages from the mainland, and I became afeerd lest Friday should have fallen into their clutches, and in his enfeebled condition have become the main course of one of their cannibalistic feasts. With the passage of another week, I resolved to set out in search of my faithful servant and companion, carrying with me those weapons I thought necessary in case my worst fears proved to be real, vis., two muskets, several hand pistols, a saber and an assortment of smaller knives, plus sufficient supply of shot and powder. These I carried by means of containers and straps I had fastened to the back of my chair, my arms of needs being left free to provide propulsion for the wheels.

It was with great difficulty that I navigated the rough terrain between my fortress and the aforementioned area where the palm trees grew in abundance. Many time I had near escapes from running into trees or toppling over into a ditch, and so I made my way as carefully as possible, though I knew time was of the essence, it was not to be helped unless I wished to be the casualty and have Friday come searching after me. I paused overnight at my country retreat, and on the morning of the third day since I left my fortress, I arrive on the shore where the palms were at hand. After a careful search, which I feared would be fruitless, I fairly stumbled upon poor Friday, lying beneath one of the largest of the trees, several of it huge leaves still clutched in his hand. I was at a loss at first to discern the nature of his affliction. From the manner in which he lay, it appeared that he had been suddenly afflicted, though no spear lay with his flesh, nor did any blood show to stain his garments, so I put any fear of an attack by the cannibals out of my head. It was possible that he had been struck by some tropical ailment of which I was ignorant, or possibly the random unlucky dropping of a coconut from the very tree beneath which he lay. Upon careful examination, I discerned that he was, in fact, still alive, though barely breathing, and I decided it was of the utmost urgency to transport him back to the fortress where I could care for him properly, and put off discovering the cause of his misfortune until he himself could tell me.

With this in mind, I returned with all due haste to my fortress with the intention of fashioning some contrivance to transport Friday home. Feeling more and more the desperate nature of the situation, I did not bother with refining or perfecting my design, but set out to construct it as quickly as possible. What I had in mind was simple enough, and the materials for its construction were readily at hand. Here is what I decided upon: a stretcher fashioned out of good, sturdy wood; and some of the canvas that I still kept in my cave. I did not consider then some of the obvious difficulties that would ensue, which will be recounted shortly.

Most of the canvas was rotten. However, I did find one piece of sufficient strength and proportions for my purposes. My next problem was to find two study poles to attach my canvas to and so complete my project. I was at first torn between choosing a hard wood or a soft wood. I finally decided that soft wood poles would not only be easier to cut and alter, but would also better support the strain of carrying a man's weight. With some difficulty, and several false starts, I cut and refined the wood for the poles. Then, at a great expense in time and effort, I sewed the canvas onto the frame--the task being all the more difficult as I had neither needle, nor thread--until it was good and strong, and would have supported not just the weight of one man, but several, if the need should arise. All this labor cost me many weeks, at the end of which I was all the more eager to set out, my fears for Friday being all the more increased. However, it was the start of the rainy season, and even if I had braved the storm and dangers of wind and rain, I would have found the way so muddy and treacherous that I could not have helped but made for two casualties, rather than one. Therefore, I could only sit within my cave, and wait for the rain to end.

During my time of enforced confinement, I gave much thought to the calamities which can befall a man when he least expects it. I thought of poor Friday, who, while not in his prime, still maintained a good physical condition, and could look forward to many more years on our wretched island. When I thought of him lying beneath that tree, I wept bitterly, and then realized that no matter how miserable my condition, I could nonetheless be worse off, as the unfortunate circumstances of Friday's misfortune attested to. I further reflected on how God, in His great mercy, had let me find Friday before it was too late, and then supplied me the wherewithal to affect his rescue. Nor did I fail to give thanks and praise to Him.

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