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Fritz and Eric

John C. Hutcheson

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  Fritz and Eric, or the Brother Crusoes

  by John Conroy Hutcheson________________________________________________________________This is rather an extraordinary book, because it consists of tworather different eras in the lives of two brothers. In thefirst the brother Fritz takes part in the Franco-Prussian war of1870-71, and is severely wounded, but survives - just. He istended by a beauteous maiden, with whom he falls in love.

  Meanwhile the brother Eric has gone to sea in what turns out tobe a rotten old vessel, which sinks in southern waters. Thereare some survivors, but Eric is not among them, and is presumeddead.

  Fritz departs for America, and is wondering how to get a job. Hemeets a whaling captain and they are having a chat in a bar whenwho should appear but Eric, who has had a miraculous rescue, buthas never had a chance of writing home. The two brothers decidethey will get the whaling ship to drop them off on a very remoteisland in the South Atlantic, Inaccessible Island, where theywill spend a year sealing, and make their fortunes from theskins they get during the year.

  There are many vicissitudes, and they do make their fortunes,but not from sealing. There are so many tense situations, sovery well described, that the book might almost have come fromthe pen of George Manville Fenn. A well-written and interestingbook, and with a very good description of the Franco-PrussianWar, the war which is so often forgotten about. N.H.________________________________________________________________





  "Time is getting on, little mother, and we'll soon have to sayfarewell!"

  "Aye, my child. The parting is a sad one to me; but I hope and trustthe good God will hold you in His safe keeping, and guide your footstepsback home to me again!"

  "Never you fear, little mother. He will do that, and in a year's timewe shall all meet again under the old roof-tree, I'm certain. Keep yourheart up, mother mine, the same as I do; remember, it is not a`Farewell' I am saying for ever, it is merely `Auf wiedersehen!'"

  "I hope so, Eric, surely; still, we cannot tell what the future maybring forth!" said the other sadly.

  Mother and son were wending their way through the quaint, old-fashioned,sleepy main street of Lubeck that led to the railway station--a bran-newmodern structure that seemed strangely incongruous amidst the antiquesurroundings of the ancient town. Although it was past the midday hour,hardly a soul was to be seen moving about; and the western sun lightedup the green spires of the churches and red-tiled pointed roofs of thehouses, glinting from the peculiar eye-shaped dormer windows of some ofthe cottages with the most grotesque effect and making them appear as ifwinking at the onlooker. It seemed like a scene of a bygone agereproduced on the canvas of some Flemish artist; and, but that Eric andhis mother were accustomed to it, they must have rubbed their eyes, likeRip Van Winkle when he came down from the goblin-haunted mountain intothe old village of his youth, in doubt whether all was real, thinking itmight be a dream. Presently, however, they were at the railway station,and they would have been convinced, if they had felt inclined to believeotherwise, that they were living in the present. But, even here, amidall the hissing of steam, and creaking of carriages, and whirr of movingmachinery, the queer old-world costumes of the peasantry, with theirquaint hats and mantles, which more resembled the stage properties of aChristmas pantomime than the known dress of any people of the period,all spoke of the past--a past when the great Barbarossa reigned inCentral Europe, and when there were "Robbers of the Rhine," and "Fortythousand virgins," in company with Saint Ursula, canonising the saintedand scented city of Cologne. Ah, those days of long ago!

  "Here we are at last, mother," said Eric, slinging the bag containinghis sea kit on to the railway platform. "The old engine is getting itssteam up, and we'll soon be off. Cheer up, little mother! As I've toldyou, it is not a good-bye for ever!"

  "So you say, my son. The young ever look forward; but old people likemyself look back, and it makes us reflect how few of the nobleaspirations and longing anticipations of our youth are ever realised!"

  "Old people like yourself indeed, little mother!" said Eric indignantly,tossing up his lion-like head, and looking as if he would like to seeany one else who would dare to make such an assertion, the next momentthrowing his arms round her neck, and hugging her fondly. "I won't haveyou calling yourself old, you dear little mother, with your nice glossybrown hair, and beautiful bright blue eyes and handsome face--a facewhich I fail not to see Burgher Jans gaze on with eloquent expressionevery Sunday when we go to the Dom Kirche. Ah, I know--"

  "Fie, my son!" exclaimed Madame Dort, interrupting him by placing herhand across his mouth, a process which soon stopped his indiscreetimpetuosity, a warm blush the while mantling her comely countenance; forshe was yet in the bloom of middle-aged womanhood. "Suppose, now, anyone were to overhear you, audacious child!"

  "Ah, but I know, though," repeated the boy triumphantly, when he hadagain regained his freedom of speech. "I won't tell, little mother;still, I must make a bargain with you, as I don't intend that fusty oldBurgher Jans to have my handsome young mutterchen, that's poz! But, tochange the subject, why are you so despondent about my leaving you now,dear mother? I've been already away from you two voyages, and yet havereturned safe and sound to Lubeck."

  "You forget, my child, that the pitcher sometimes goes once too often tothe well. The ocean is treacherous, and the perils of the sea aregreat, although you, in boy-like fashion, may laugh at them. Strong menhave but too often to acknowledge the supremacy of the waves when theybear them down to their watery grave, leaving widows and orphans, alas!to mourn their untimely fate with sad and bitter tears! Don't youremember your poor father's end, my son?"

  "I do, mother," answered the boy gravely; "still, all sailors are notdrowned, nor is a seafaring life always dangerous."

  "Granted, my child," responded his mother to this truism; "but, thosewho go down to the sea in ships, as the Psalmist says, see the perils ofthe deep, and lead a venturesome calling! Besides, Eric, I must tellyou that I--I do not feel myself so strong as I was when you first lefthome and became a sailor boy; and, although I have no doubt a goodProvidence will watch over you, and preserve you in answer to myheartfelt prayers, yet you are now starting on a longer voyage than youhave yet undertaken, and perchance I may not live to greet you on yourreturn!"

  "Oh, mother, don't say that, don't say that!" exclaimed Eric in a heart-broken voice; "you are not ill, you are not ailing, mother dear?" and hepeered anxiously with a loving gaze into her eyes, to try and read somemeaning there for the sorrowful presage that had escaped thusinadvertently from her lips, drawn forth by the agony of parting.

  "No, my darling, nothing very alarming," she said soothingly, wishing toavoid distressing him needlessly by communicating what might really beonly, as she hoped, a groundless fear on her part. "I do not feelexactly ill, dear. I was only speaking about the natural frail tenureof this mortal life of ours. This saying `Good-bye' to you too, mydarling, makes me infected with morbid fear and nervous anxiety. Fancyme nervous, Eric--I whom you call your strong-minded mother, eh?" andthe poor lady smiled bravely, so as to encourage the lad, and banish hiseasily excited fears on her account. It was but a sickly smile,however, for it did not come genuinely from the heart, prompted thoughthe latter was with the fullest affection. Still, Eric did not perceivethis, and the smile quickly dismissed his fears.

  "Ha, ha," he laughed in his light-hearted, ringing way. "The idea ofyour being nervous, like I remember old grandmother Grimple was when Iused to jump suddenly in at the door or fire my popgun! I would neverbelieve it, not even
if you yourself said it. Ah, now you look betteralready, and like my own dear little mother who will keep safe and well,and welcome me back next year, surely; and then, dear one, we'll have noend of a happy time!"

  "I hope so, Eric; I hope so with all my heart," said she, pressing theeager lad to her bosom in a fond embrace; "and you may be sure that nonewill be so glad to welcome you back as I!"

  "Think, mother," said Eric presently, after a moment's silence, in whichthe feelings of the two seemed too great to find expression in words ofcommon import. "Why, by that time I will have nearly sailed round theworld; for in my voyage to Java and back I will have to `double theCape,' as sailors say!"

  "Yes, that you will, my boy," chimed in his mother, anxious to sustainthis buoyant change in his humour, and drive away the somewhatmelancholy tone she had unwittingly introduced into their last partingconversation. "You'll be a regular little travelled monkey, like theone belonging to the Dutchman that we were reading about the other daywhich could do everything almost but speak, although I don't thinkanybody would accuse you of any want of ability on the latter score, youchatterbox!"

  "No, no, little mother; I think not likewise," chuckled Ericcomplacently. "I'm not one of your silent ones, not so! But, hurrah!--There comes Fritz turning in under the old gateway. He said he wouldtry and get away for half an hour in the afternoon from the counting-house to wish me another good-bye and see me off, if Herr Grosschnappercould spare him. Ah ha, Master Fritz," shouted out the sailor lad, ashis brother drew nigh, "you're just in time to see the last of me. Ithought the worthy Herr would not let you come, you are so very late."

  "Better late than never," said the other, smiling, coming up beside thepair, who were standing in front of one of the railway carriages, intowhich Eric had already bundled his bag. "The old man did growl a bitabout my `idling away the afternoon,' as he called it; but when Iimpressed him with the fact that you were going away to sea, he relentedand let me come, saying that it was a good job such a circumstance didnot occur every day!"

  "Much obliged to him, I'm sure!" said Eric, with that usual toss of hishead which threw back his mane-like locks of yellow hair. "He wouldhave been a fine old curmudgeon to have refused you leave to wish good-bye to your only brother!" And he put one of his arms round Fritz'sneck as he spoke.

  "Hush, my son," interposed Madame Dort. "You must not speak ill of thegood merchant who has been such a kind friend to Fritz and given himregular employment in his warehouse!"

  "All right, mutterchen, I won't mention again the name of the old cur--,I mean dear old gentleman, little mother, there!" And then catching thetwinkling eye of Fritz, the two burst into a simultaneous laugh at thenarrow escape there had been of his repeating the obnoxious epithet;while Madame Dort could not help smiling too, as she gazed fondly intothe merry face of the roguish boy, standing by his brother's side andclinging to him with that deep fraternal affection which is so rarelyseen, alas! in members of the same family.

  Truly, they were sons of whom any mother might have been proud.

  Fritz was tall and manly, by virtue of his two-and-twenty years and asmall fringe of dark down that covered his upper lip; Eric was shorterby some inches, but more thick-set and with broader shoulders,predicting that he would be the bigger of the two as time rolled on.

  The firstborn, Fritz, with his closely cropped hair and swarthycomplexion, took after his dead father, who had been a Holsteiner--amariner by profession, who had sailed his ship from the Elbe some yearsbefore for the last time, and left his wife to bring up her fatherlessboys by the sweat of her brow and her own exertions; for Captain Dorthad left but little worldly goods behind him, his all being embarkedwith himself in his ship, which was lost, with all hands on board, inthe North Sea. Fritz and Eric had both been too young at the time toappreciate the struggles of their mother to support herself and them,until she had achieved a comfortable competency by teaching music andlanguages in several rich Hanoverian families; and now she had no longerto battle for her bread.

  Eric took after her in face and expression, having the same light-coloured hair and bright blue eyes; but there the resemblance ceased, ashardly had he grown to boyhood than he evinced that desire for a sealife which he must have inherited with his father's blood--he would, hemust be a sailor!

  Being the youngest, he naturally was her pet; and thus, although therecollection of her husband's fate was ever before her, and Madame Dorthad a dread of the sea which only those who have suffered a similarbereavement can fully understand, she could not resist the boy'scontinual pleadings, backed up as they were by his evident andunaffected bias of mind towards everything connected with ships andshipping; for, Eric never seemed so happy as when frequenting the quaysand talking with the sailors and sea-captains who came to the old portof Lubeck, where of late years the mother had taken up her residence, inorder to be near Fritz, who had obtained a clerkship in a merchant'shouse there, through the friendly offices of the parents of one of themusic-teacher's pupils.

  Eric had already received his `sea-baptism,' so to speak, having been ona trip to England in a Hamburgh cattle-boat, and on a cruise up theBaltic in a timber-ship; but he was now going away in a Dutch vessel tothe East Indies, the voyage promising to occupy more than a year, sothere is no wonder that his mother was anxious on his account, thinkingshe would never live to see him again. It seemed so terrible to her asshe stood on the railway platform, surrounded by all the bustle andpreparation of the train about to depart, to fancy, as she gazed withlonging eyes at her brave and gallant Eric, with his lion-like head andcurling locks of golden hair, that she might never look on her sailorladdie's merry, loving face any more; and, tears dropped from thewidow's eyes as she drew him towards her, clasping him to her, as if shecould not bear to let him go.

  "Come, mother," said Fritz, after a moment's interval. "Time is up!The guard is calling out for the passengers to take their seats. Eric,old fellow, good-bye, and God bless you! You will write to the motherand me from every port you touch at?"

  "Aye, surely," said the boy, a sob breaking his voice and banishing themannish composure which he had tried to maintain to the last. "Good-bye, Fritz; you'll take care of mother?"

  "Don't you fear, that will I, brother!" was the answer in those earnesttones which Fritz always used when he was making a promise and givinghis word to anything he undertook--a word which he never broke.

  "And now, good-bye, mutterchen, my own darling little mother," saidEric, clasping his mother in a last clinging hug; "you'll never forgetme, but will keep strong and well till I come back."

  "I will try, my child, with God's help," sobbed out the poor lady."But, may He preserve you and bring you back safe to my arms! Good-bye,my darling. You must never forget Him or me; my consolation in yourabsence will be that your prayers will ascend to heaven along withmine."

  "You may trust me, mother, indeed you may. Good-bye, little mother!God bless you, mutterchen! Good-bye!" cried out the sailor lad from thecarriage window; and then, the train moved off, puffing and panting outof the station, leaving Fritz and his mother standing on the platform,and waving their handkerchiefs in farewell to Eric, who was as busilyengaged gesticulating, with his hat in one hand and in the other anewspaper that his brother had brought him, shouting out, `Lebewohl!'--asobbing farewell it was--for the last time, and still waving adieux whenhis voice failed him!

  "Never mind, my mother," said Fritz softly, giving his arm to the heart-stricken lady, and leading her away with tender care from the railwaystation to their now sadly bereaved home. "Cheer up, and hope,mutterchen! You have a son still left you, who will never desert you orquit his post of looking after you, till Eric, the dear boy, comesback."

  "I know, my son, I know your love and affection," replied Madame Dort,pressing his arm to her side affectionately; "but, who can tell what thefuture may have in store for us? Ah, it's a wise proverb that, dearson, which reminds us that `man proposes, but God disposes!'"

  "It is so," murmur
ed Fritz, more to himself than to her; "still, I trustwe'll all meet again beneath the old roof-tree."

  "And I the same, from the bottom of my heart!" said his mother, incordial sympathy with his wish, as she began to ascend the steps leadingup to her dwelling; while Fritz returned to the counting-house of hisemployer, Herr Grosschnapper, to finish those duties which had beeninterrupted by his having to see Eric off.