Swiss Family Robinson Chapter 37

Chapter 37

Our animals were impatiently expecting us; they had been neglected during the storm, and were ill-supplied with food, besides being half-sunk in water. The ducks and the flamingo liked it well enough, and were swimming comfortably in the muddy water; but the quadrupeds were complaining aloud, each in his own proper language, and making a frightful confusion of sounds. Valiant, especially, the name Francis had bestowed on the calf I had given him to bring up, bleated incessantly for his young master, and could not be quieted till he came. It is wonderful how this child, only twelve years old, had tamed and attached this animal; though sometimes so fierce, with him he was mild as a lamb. The boy rode on his back, guiding him with a little stick, with which he just touched the side of his neck as he wished him to move; but if his brothers had ventured to mount, they would have been certainly thrown off. A pretty sight was our cavalry: Fritz on his handsome donkey, Jack on his huge buffalo, and Francis on his young bull. There was nothing left for Ernest but the donkey, and its slow and peaceful habits suited him very well.

Francis ran up to his favourite, who showed his delight at seeing him as well as he was able, and at the first summons followed his master from the stable. Fritz brought out Lightfoot Jack his buffalo, and I followed with the cow and the ass. We left them to sport about at liberty on the humid earth, till we removed the water from their stable, and supplied them with fresh food. We then drove them in, considering it advisable to pursue our expedition on foot, lest the bridge should still be overflowed. Francis was the superintendent of the fowls, and knew every little chicken by name; he called them out and scattered their food for them, and soon had his beautiful and noisy family fluttering round him.

After having made all our animals comfortable, and given them their breakfast, we began to think of our own. Francis made a fire and warmed some chicken broth for his mother; for ourselves, we were contented with some new milk, some salt herrings, and cold potatoes. I had often searched in my excursions for the precious bread-fruit tree, so highly spoken of by modern travellers, which I had hoped might be found in our island, from its favourable situation; but I had hitherto been unsuccessful. We were unable to procure the blessing of bread, our ship biscuit had long been exhausted, and though we had sown our European corn, we had not yet reaped any.

After we had together knelt down to thank God for his merciful protection through the terrors of the past night, and besought him to continue it, we prepared to set out. The waves still ran high, though the wind had subsided, and we determined merely to go along the shore, as the roads still continued impassable from the rain, and the sand was easier to walk on than the wet grass; besides, our principal motive for the excursion was to search for any traces of a recent shipwreck. At first we could discover nothing, even with the telescope; but Fritz, mounting a high rock, fancied he discovered something floating towards the island. He besought me to allow him to take the canoe, which was still where he left it the preceding night. As the bridge was now easy to cross, I consented, only insisting on accompanying him to assist in managing it. Jack, who was much afraid of being left behind, was the first to leap in and seize an oar. There was, however, no need of it; I steered my little boat into the current, and we were carried away with such velocity as almost to take our breath. Fritz was at the helm, and appeared to have no fear; I will not say that his father was so tranquil. I held Jack, for fear of accidents, but he only laughed, and observed to his brother that the canoe galloped better than Lightfoot.

We were soon in the open sea, and directed our canoe towards the object we had remarked, and which we still had in sight. We were afraid it was the boat upset, but it proved to be a tolerably large cask, which had probably been thrown overboard to lighten the distressed vessel; we saw several others, but neither mast nor plank to give us any idea that the vessel and boat had perished. Fritz wished much to have made the circuit of the island, to assure ourselves of this, but I would not hear of it; I thought of my wife’s terror; besides, the sea was still too rough for our frail bark, and we had, moreover, no provisions. If my canoe had not been well built, it would have run great risk of being overset by the waves, which broke over it. Jack, when he saw one coming, lay down on his face, saying he preferred having them on his back rather than in his mouth; he jumped up as soon as it passed, to help to empty the canoe, till another wave came to fill it again; but, thanks to my out-riggers, we preserved our balance very well, and I consented to go as far as Cape Disappointment, which merited the name a second time, for we found no trace here of the vessel, though we mounted the hill, and thus commanded a wide extent of view. As we looked round the country, it appeared completely devastated: trees torn up by the roots, plantations levelled with the ground, water collected into absolute lakes, all announced desolation; and the tempest seemed to be renewing.

The sky was darkened, the wind arose, and was unfavourable for our return; nor could I venture the canoe on the waves, every instant becoming more formidable. We moored our bark to a large palm-tree we found at the foot of the hill, near the shore, and set out by land to our home. We crossed the Gourd Wood and the Wood of Monkeys, and arrived at our farm, which we found, to our great satisfaction, had not suffered much from the storm. The food we had left in the stables was nearly consumed; from which we concluded that the animals we had left here had sheltered themselves during the storm. We refilled the mangers with the hay we had preserved in the loft, and observing the sky getting more and more threatening, we set out without delay for our house, from which we were yet a considerable distance. To avoid Flamingo Marsh, which was towards the sea, and Rice Marsh, towards the rock, we determined to go through Cotton Wood, which would save us from the wind, which was ready to blow us off our feet. I was still uneasy about the ship, which the lieutenant had told me was out of repair; but I indulged a hope that they might have taken refuge in some bay, or found anchorage on some hospitable shore, where they might get their vessel into order.

Jack was alarmed lest they should fall into the hands of the anthropophagi, who eat men like hares or sheep, of whom he had read in some book of travels, and excited the ridicule of his brother, who was astonished at his ready belief of travellers’ tales, which he asserted were usually false.

“But Robinson Crusoe would not tell a falsehood,” said Jack, indignantly; “and there were cannibals came to his island, and were going to eat Friday, if he had not saved him.”

“Oh! Robinson could not tell a falsehood,” said Fritz, “because he never existed. The whole history is a romance is not that the name, father, that is given to works of the imagination?”

“It is,” said I; “but we must not call Robinson Crusoe a romance; though Robinson himself, and all the circumstances of his history are probably fictitious, the details are all founded on truth on the adventures and descriptions of voyagers who may be depended on, and unfortunate individuals who have actually been wrecked on unknown shores. If ever our journal should be printed, many may believe that it is only a romance a mere work of the imagination.”

My boys hoped we should not have to introduce any natives into our romance, and were astonished that an island so beautiful had not tempted any to inhabit it; in fact, I had often been myself surprised at this circumstance; but I told them many voyagers had noticed islands apparently fertile, and yet uninhabited; besides, the chain of rocks which surrounded this might prevent the approach of natives, unless they had discovered the little Bay of Safety where we had landed. Fritz said he anxiously desired to circumnavigate the island, in order to ascertain the size of it, and if there were similar chains of rocks on the opposite side. I promised him, as soon as the stormy weather was past, and his mother well enough to remove to Tent House, we would take our pinnace, and set out on our little voyage.

We now approached the marsh, and he begged me to let him go and cut some canes, as he projected making a sort of carriage for his mother. As we were collecting them, he explained his scheme to me. He wished to weave of these reeds, which were very strong, a large and long sort of pannier, in which his mother might sit or recline, and which might be suspended between two strong bamboo-canes by handles of rope. He then purposed to yoke two of our most gentle animals, the cow and the ass, the one before and the other behind, between these shafts, the leader to be mounted by one of the children as director; the other would follow naturally, and the good mother would thus be carried, as if in a litter, without any danger of jolting. I was pleased with this idea, and we all set to work to load ourselves each with a huge burden of reeds. They requested me not to tell my wife, that they might give her an agreeable surprise. It needed such affection as ours to induce us to the undertaking in such unpropitious weather. It rained in torrents, and the marsh was so soft and wet, that we were in danger of sinking at every step. However, I could not be less courageous than my sons, whom nothing daunted, and we soon made up our bundles, and, placing them on our heads, they formed a sort of umbrella, which was not without its benefits. We soon arrived at Falcon’s Nest. Before we reached the tree, I saw a fire shine to such a distance, that I was alarmed; but soon found it was only meant for our benefit by our kind friends at home. When my wife saw the rain falling, she had instructed her little assistant to make a fire in our usual cooking-place, at a little distance from the tree, and protected by a canopy of waterproof cloth from the rain. The young cook had not only kept up a good fire to dry us on our return, but had taken the opportunity of roasting two dozen of those excellent little birds which his mother had preserved in butter, and which, all ranged on the old sword which served us for a spit, were just ready on our arrival, and the fire and feast were equally grateful to the hungry, exhausted, and wet travellers, who sat down to enjoy them.

However, before we sat down to our repast, we went up to see our invalids, whom we found tolerably well, though anxious for our return. I then returned to the fire to dry myself, and to enjoy my repast. Besides the birds, Francis had prepared fresh eggs and potatoes for us. He told me that his mamma had given up her office of cook to him, and assured me that he would perform the duties to our satisfaction, provided he was furnished with materials. Fritz was to hunt, Jack to fish, I was to order dinner, and he would make it ready. “And when we have neither game nor fish,” said Jack, “we will attack your poultry-yard.” This was not at all to the taste of poor little Francis, who could not bear his favourites to be killed, and who had actually wept over the chicken that was slaughtered to make broth for his mother. We were obliged to promise him that, when other resources failed, we would apply to our barrels of salt-fish. He, however, gave us leave to dispose as we liked of the ducks and geese, which were too noisy for him.

After we had concluded our repast, we carried a part of it to our friends above, and proceeded to give them an account of our expedition. I then secured the hammocks somewhat more firmly, to save us from the storm that was still raging, and the hour of rest being at hand, my sons established themselves on mattresses of cotton, made by their kind mother, and in spite of the roaring of the winds, we were soon in profound repose.

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