Swiss Family Robinson Chapter 2

Chapter 2

At break of day we were awake and ready, and after morning prayer, I addressed my children thus: “We are now, my dear boys, with the help of God, about to attempt our deliverance. Before we go, provide our poor animals with food for some days: we cannot take them with us, but if our voyage succeed, we may return for them. Are you ready? Collect what you wish to carry away, but only things absolutely necessary for our actual wants.” I planned that our first cargo should consist of a barrel of powder, three fowling-pieces, three muskets, two pair of pocket pistols, and one pair larger, ball, shot, and lead as much as we could carry, with a bullet-mould; and I wished each of my sons, as well as their mother, should have a complete game-bag, of which there were several in the officers’ cabins. We then set apart a box of portable soup, another of biscuit, an iron pot, a fishing-rod, a chest of nails, and one of carpenter’s tools, also some sailcloth to make a tent. In fact my boys collected so many things, we were compelled to leave some behind, though I exchanged all the useless ballast for necessaries. (So, maybe you don’t know what ballast is. That’s a boat term. But you know what “useless” and “necessary” mean. He’s getting rid of what’s not useful and only taking what’s necessary.)

When all was ready, we implored the blessing of God on our undertaking, and prepared to embark in our tubs. At this moment the cocks crowed a sort of reproachful farewell to us; we had forgotten them; I immediately proposed to take our poultry with us, geese, ducks, fowls and pigeons, for, as I observed to my wife, if we could not feed them, they would, at any rate, feed us. We placed our ten hens and two cocks in a covered tub; the rest we set at liberty, hoping the geese and ducks might reach the shore by water, and the pigeons by flight.

We waited a little for my wife, who came loaded with a large bag, which she threw into the tub that contained her youngest son. I concluded it was intended to steady him, or for a seat, and made no observation on it. Here follows the order of our embarkation. In the first division, sat the tender mother, the faithful and pious wife. In the second, our amiable little Francis, six years old, and of a sweet disposition.

In the third, Fritz, our eldest, fourteen or fifteen years old, a curly-headed, clever, intelligent and lively youth.

In the fourth, the powder-cask, with the fowls and the sailcloth.

Our provisions filled the fifth.

In the sixth, our heedless Jack, ten years old, enterprising, bold, and useful.

In the seventh, Ernest, twelve years of age, well-informed and rational, but somewhat selfish and indolent. In the eighth, myself, an anxious father, charged with the important duty of guiding the vessel to save my dear family. Each of us had some useful tools beside us; each held an oar, and had a swimming apparatus at hand, in case we were unfortunately upset. The tide was rising when we left, which I considered might assist my weak endeavours. We turned our out-riggers length-ways, and thus passed from the cleft of the ship into the open sea. We rowed with all our might, to reach the blue land we saw at a distance, but for some time in vain, as the boat kept turning round, and made no progress. At last I contrived to steer it, so that we went straight forward.

As soon as our dogs saw us depart, they leaped into the sea, and followed us; I could not let them get into the boat, for fear they should upset it. I was very sorry, for I hardly expected they would be able to swim to land; but by occasionally resting their forepaws on our out-riggers, they managed to keep up with us. Turk was an English dog, and Flora of a Danish breed.

We proceeded slowly, but safely. The nearer we approached the land, the more dreary and unpromising it appeared. The rocky coast seemed to announce to us nothing but famine and misery. The waves, gently rippling against the shore, were scattered over with barrels, bales, and chests from the wreck. Hoping to secure some good provisions, I called on Fritz for assistance; he held a cord, hammer, and nails, and we managed to seize two hogsheads in passing, and fastening them with cords to our vessel, drew them after us to the shore.

As we approached, the coast seemed to improve. The chain of rock was not entire, and Fritz’s hawk eye made out some trees, which he declared were the cocoa-nut tree; Ernest was delighted at the prospect of eating these nuts, so much larger and better than any grown in Europe. I was regretting not having brought the large telescope from the captain’s cabin, when Jack produced from his pocket a smaller one, which he offered me with no little pride.

All that were able leaped on shore in a moment. Even little Francis, who had been laid down in his tub, like a salted herring, tried to crawl out, but was compelled to wait for his mother’s assistance. The dogs, who had preceded us in landing, welcomed us in a truly friendly manner, leaping playfully around us; the geese kept up a loud cackling, to which the yellow-billed ducks quacked a powerful bass. This, with the clacking of the liberated fowls, and the chattering of the boys, formed a perfect Babel; mingled with these, were the harsh cries of the penguins and flamingoes, which hovered over our heads, or sat on the points of the rocks. They were in immense numbers, and their notes almost deafened us, especially as they did not accord with the harmony of our civilized fowls. However I rejoiced to see these feathered creatures, already fancying them on my table, if we were obliged to remain in this desert region.

Our first care, when we stepped in safety on land, was to kneel down and thank God, to whom we owed our lives; and to resign ourselves wholly to his Fatherly kindness.

We then began to unload our vessel. How rich we thought ourselves with the little we had saved! We sought a convenient place for our tent, under the shade of the rocks. We then inserted a pole into a fissure in the rock; this, resting firmly on another pole fixed in the ground, formed the frame of the tent. The sailcloth was then stretched over it, and fastened down at proper distances, by pegs, to which, for greater security, we added some boxes of provision; we fixed some hooks to the canvas at the opening in front, that we might close the entrance during the night. I sent my sons to seek some moss and withered grass, and spread it in the sun to dry, to form our beds; and while all, even little Francis, were busy with this, I constructed a sort of cooking-place, at some distance from the tent, near the river which was to supply us with fresh water. It was merely a hearth of flat stones from the bed of the stream, fenced round with some thick branches. I kindled a cheerful fire with some dry twigs, put on the pot, filled with water and some squares of portable soup, and left my wife, with Francis for assistant, to prepare dinner. He took the portable soup for glue, and could not conceive how mamma could make soup, as we had no meat, and there were no butchers’ shops here.

On returning, I congratulated Jack on being the first who had been successful in foraging. Ernest remarked, that he had seen some oysters attached to a rock, but could not get at them without wetting his feet, which he did not like.

“Indeed, my delicate gentleman!” said I, laughing, “I must trouble you to return and procure us some. We must all unite in working for the public good, regardless of wet feet. The sun will soon dry us.”

“I might as well bring some salt at the same time,” said he; “I saw plenty in the fissures of the rock, left by the sea, I should think, papa?”

He went, and returned with some salt, so mixed with sand and earth, that I should have thrown it away as useless; but my wife dissolved it in fresh water, and, filtering it through a piece of canvas, managed to flavour our soup with it.

Jack asked why we could not have used sea-water; and I explained to him that the bitter and nauseous taste of sea-water would have spoiled our dinner. My wife stirred the soup with a little stick, and, tasting it, pronounced it very good, but added, “We must wait for Fritz. And how shall we eat our soup without plates or spoons? We cannot possibly raise this large boiling pot to our heads, and drink out of it.”

It was too true. We gazed stupified at our pot, and, at last, all burst into laughter at our destitution, and our folly in forgetting such useful necessaries.

“If we only had cocoa-nuts,” said Ernest, “we might split them, and make basins and spoons.”

“If!” replied I “but we have none! We might as well wish for a dozen handsome silver spoons at once, if wishes were of any use.”

“But,” observed he, “we can use oyster-shells.”

“A useful thought, Ernest; go directly and get the oysters; and, remember, gentlemen, no complaints, though the spoons are without handles, and you should dip your fingers into the bowl.”

Off ran Jack, and was mid-leg in the water before Ernest got to him. He tore down the oysters, and threw them to his idle brother, who filled his handkerchief, taking care to put a large one into his pocket for his own use; and they returned with their spoil.

Fritz spoke, “Beyond the river there is rich grass for pasturage, and a shady wood. Why should we remain in this barren wilderness?”

“Softly!” replied I, “there is a time for all things. To-morrow, and the day after to-morrow will have their work. But first tell me, did you see anything of our shipmates?”

“Not a trace of man, living or dead, on land or sea; but I saw an animal more like a hog than this, but with feet like a hare; it leaped among the grass, sometimes sitting upright, and rubbing its mouth with its forepaws; sometimes seeking for roots, and gnawing them like a squirrel. If I had not been afraid it would escape me, I would have tried to take it alive, it seemed so very tame.”

As we were talking, Jack had been trying, with many grimaces, to force an oyster open with his knife. I laughed at his vain endeavours, and putting some on the fire, showed him them open of themselves. I had no taste for oysters myself; but as they are everywhere accounted a delicacy, I advised my sons to try them. They all at first declined the unattractive repast, except Jack, who, with great courage, closed his eyes, and desperately swallowed one as if it had been medicine. The rest followed his example, and then all agreed with me that oysters were not good. The shells were soon plunged into the pot to bring out some of the good soup; but scalding their fingers, it was who could cry out the loudest. Ernest took his large shell from his pocket, cautiously filled it with a good portion of soup, and set it down to cool, exulting in his own prudence.

“You have been very thoughtful, my dear Ernest,” said I; “but why are your thoughts always for yourself; so seldom for others? As a punishment for your egotism, that portion must be given to our faithful dogs. We can all dip our shells into the pot, the dogs cannot. Therefore, they shall have your soup, and you must wait, and eat as we do.” My reproach struck his heart, and he placed his shell obediently on the ground, which the dogs emptied immediately. We were almost as hungry as they were, and were watching anxiously till the soup began to cool; when we perceived that the dogs were tearing and gnawing Fritz’s agouti (that’s a sort of rodent). The boys all cried out; Fritz was in a fury, took his gun, struck the dogs, called them names, threw stones at them, and would have killed them if I had not held him. He had actually bent his gun with striking them. As soon as he would listen to me, I reproached him seriously for his violence, and represented to him how much he had distressed us, and terrified his mother; that he had spoiled his gun, which might have been so useful to us, and had almost killed the poor animals, who might be more so. “Anger,” said I, “leads to every crime. Remember Cain, who killed his brother in a fit of passion.” “Oh, father!” said he, in a voice of terror; and, acknowledging his error, he asked pardon, and shed bitter tears.

Our pigeons now flew among the rocks, the cocks and hens perched on the frame of the tent, and the geese and ducks chose to roost in a marsh, covered with bushes, near the sea. We prepared for our rest; we loaded all our arms, then offered up our prayers together, thanking God for his signal mercy to us, and commending ourselves to his care. When the last ray of light departed, we closed our tent, and lay down on our beds, close together. The children had remarked how suddenly the darkness came on, from which I concluded we were not far from the equator; for I explained to them, the more perpendicularly the rays of the sun fall, the less their refraction; and consequently night comes on suddenly when the sun is below the horizon.

Once more I looked out to see if all was quiet, then carefully closing the entrance, I lay down. Warm as the day had been, the night was so cold that we were obliged to crowd together for warmth. The children soon slept, and when I saw their mother in her first peaceful sleep, my own eyes closed, and our first night on the island passed comfortably.

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