Swiss Family Robinson Chapter 28

Chapter 28

The season changed sooner than we expected; the winds raged through the woods, the sea roared, mountains of clouds were piled in the heavens. They soon burst over our heads, and torrents of rain fell night and day, without intermission; the rivers swelled till their waters met, and turned the whole country around us into an immense lake. Happily we had formed our little establishment on a spot rather elevated above the rest of the valley; the waters did not quite reach our tree, but surrounded us about two hundred yards off, leaving us on a sort of island in the midst of the general inundation. We were reluctantly obliged to descend from our aerial abode; the rain entered it on all sides, and the hurricane threatened every moment to carry away the apartment, and all that were in it. We set about our removal, bringing down our hammocks and bedding to the sheltered space under the roots of the trees that we had roofed for the animals. We were painfully crowded in the small space; the stores of provisions, the cooking-utensils, and especially the neighbourhood of the animals, and the various offensive smells, made our retreat almost insupportable. We were choked with smoke if we lighted a fire, and inundated with rain if we opened a door. For the first time since our misfortune, we sighed for the comforts of our native home; but action was necessary, and we set about endeavouring to amend our condition.

The winding staircase was very useful to us; the upper part was crowded with things we did not want, and my wife frequently worked in the lower part, at one of the windows. We crowded our beasts a little more, and gave a current of air to the places they had left. I placed outside the enclosure the animals of the country, which could bear the inclemency of the season; thus I gave a half-liberty to the buffalo and the donkey, tying their legs loosely, to prevent them straying, the boughs of the tree affording them a shelter. We made as few fires as possible, as, fortunately it was never cold, and we had no provisions that required a long process of cookery. We had milk in abundance, smoked meat, and fish, the preserved ortolans, and cassava cakes. As we sent out some of our animals in the morning, with bells round their necks, Fritz and I had to seek them and bring them in every evening, when we were invariably wet through. This induced my ingenious Elizabeth to make us a sort of blouse and hood out of old garments of the sailors, which we covered with coatings of the caoutchouc, and thus obtained two capital waterproof dresses; all that the exhausted state of our gum permitted us to make.

The care of our animals occupied us a great part of the morning, then we prepared our cassava, and baked our cakes on iron plates. Though we had a glazed door to our hut, the gloominess of the weather, and the obscurity caused by the vast boughs of the tree, made night come on early. We then lighted a candle, fixed in a gourd on the table, round which we were all assembled. The good mother laboured with her needle, mending the clothes; I wrote my journal, which Ernest copied, as he wrote a beautiful hand; while Fritz and Jack taught their young brother to read and write, or amused themselves with drawing the animals or plants they had been struck with. We read the lessons from the Bible in turns, and concluded the evening with devotion. We then retired to rest, content with ourselves and with our innocent and peaceful life. Our kind housekeeper often made us a little feast of a roast chicken, a pigeon, or a duck, and once in four or five days we had fresh butter made in the gourd churn; and the delicious honey which we ate to our cassava bread might have been a treat to European epicures.

The remains of our repast was always divided among our domestic animals. We had four dogs, the jackal, the eagle, and the monkey, who relied on their masters, and were never neglected. But if the buffalo, the donkey, and the sow had not been able to provide for themselves, we must have killed them, for we had no food for them.

We now decided that we would not expose ourselves to another rainy season in such an unsuitable habitation; even my gentle Elizabeth got out of temper with the inconveniences, and begged we would build a better winter house; stipulating, however, that we should return to our tree in summer. We consulted a great deal on this matter; Fritz quoted Robinson Crusoe, who had cut a dwelling out of the rock, which sheltered him in the inclement season; and the idea of making our home at Tent House naturally came into my mind. It would probably be a long and difficult undertaking, but with time, patience, and perseverance, we might work wonders. We resolved, as soon as the weather would allow us, to go and examine the rocks at Tent House.

The last work of the winter was, at my wife’s incessant request, a beetle for her flax, and some carding-combs. The beetle was easily made, but the combs cost much trouble. I filed large nails till they were round and pointed, I fixed them, slightly inclined, at equal distances, in a sheet of tin, and raised the edge like a box; I then poured melted lead between the nails and the edge, to fix them more firmly. I nailed this on a board, and the machine was fit for use, and my wife was all anxiety to begin her manufacture.

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