Swiss Family Robinson Chapter 1

Chapter 1


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 fervor and emotion of my innocent boys proved to me that even children can pray, and find in prayer consolation and peace.  (When you get to the end of a paragraph, think about what’s happening. Are you picturing the storm? They are on a ship. How are the children feeling? Terrified! What do they do about it? They pray. Picture the story as you read.)

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.”  (In America we spell it, endeavor. When you see words with that “our” ending it’s the British spelling. To en-dev-er is to try hard to achieve something. You’ll see this word a lot.)

“Let us take some food,” said my wife; “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. (What’s happening? The boat is falling apart.)

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.”

“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.  (You can see the wooden tubs/casks in the picture I put in the beginning.)

“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.”

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 a 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.  (Here’s another word spelled with “our.” This is the word “labor.” You’ll see this word a lot because the father believes in working hard. How did you do with the reading? Did you picture it? What’s the family doing now? This is a tough book, but you can do it. Take your time. Keep thinking. Ask for help when you don’t know what it’s talking about, go back if you get lost, and never give up!)

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