Swiss Family Robinson Chapter 38

Chapter 38

The storm continued to rage the whole of the following day, and even the day after, with the same violence. Happily our tree stood firm, though several branches were broken; amongst others, that to which Francis’s wire was suspended. I replaced it with more care, carried it beyond our roof, and fixed at the extremity the pointed instrument which had attracted the lightning. I then substituted for the hammocks before the window, strong planks, which remained from my building, and which my sons assisted me to raise with pulleys, after having sawed them to the proper length. Through these I made loop-holes, to admit the light and air. In order to carry off the rain, I fixed a sort of spout, made of the wood of a tree I had met with, which was unknown to me, though apparently somewhat like the elder. The whole of the tree, almost to the bark, was filled up with a sort of pith, easily removed. From this tree I made the pipes for our fountain, and the remainder was now useful for these rain-spouts. I employed those days in which I could not go out, in separating the seeds and grain, of which I saw we should have need, and in mending our work-tools; my sons, in the mean time, nestled under the tree among the roots, were incessantly employed in the construction of the carriage for their mother. The karatas had nearly completed the cure of Ernest’s hand, and he was able to assist his brothers preparing the canes, which Fritz and Jack wove between the flat wooden wands, with which they had made the frame of their pannier; they succeeded in making it so strong and close, that they might have carried liquids in it. My dear wife’s foot and leg were gradually improving; and I took the opportunity of her confinement, to reason with her on her false notion of the dangers of the sea, and to represent to her the gloomy prospect of our sons, if they were left alone in the island. She agreed with me, but could not resolve to leave it; she hoped God would send some vessel to us, which might leave us some society; and after all, if our sons were left, she pointed out to me, that they had our beautiful pinnace, and might at any time, of their own accord, leave the island.

“And why should we anticipate the evils of futurity, my dear friend?” said she. “Let us think only of the present. I am anxious now to know if the storm has spared my fine kitchen-garden.”

“You must wait a little,” said I. “I am as uneasy as you, for my maize-plantations, my sugar-canes, and my corn-fields.”

At last, one night, the storm ceased, the clouds passed away, and the moon showed herself in all her glory. How delighted we were! My wife got me to remove the large planks I had placed before the opening, and the bright moonbeams streamed through the branches of the tree into our room; a gentle breeze refreshed us, and so delighted were we in gazing on that sky of promise, that we could scarcely bear to go to bed, but spent half the night in projects for the morrow; the good mother alone said, that she could not join in our excursions. Jack and Francis smiled at each other, as they thought of their litter, which was now nearly finished.

A bright sun awoke us early next morning. Fritz and Jack had requested me to allow them to finish their carriage; so, leaving Ernest with his mother, I took Francis with me to ascertain the damage done to the garden at Tent House, about which his mother was so anxious. We easily crossed the bridge, but the water had carried away some of the planks; however, my little boy leaped from one plank to another with great agility, though the distance was sometimes considerable. He was so proud of being my sole companion, that he scarcely touched the ground as he ran on before me; but he had a sad shock when he got to the garden; of which we could not find the slightest trace. All was destroyed; the walks, the fine vegetable-beds, the plantations of pines and melons all had vanished. Francis stood like a marble statue, as pale and still; till, bursting into tears, he recovered himself.

“Oh! my good mamma,” said he; “what will she say when she hears of this misfortune? But she need not know it, papa,” added he, after a pause; “it would distress her too much; and if you and my brothers will help me, we will repair the damage before she can walk. The plants may not be so large; but the earth is moist, and they will grow quickly, and I will work hard to get it into order.”

I embraced my dear boy, and promised him this should be our first work. I feared we should have many other disasters to repair; but a child of twelve years old gave me an example of resignation and courage. We agreed to come next day to begin our labour, for the garden was too well situated for me to abandon it. It was on a gentle declivity, at the foot of the rocks, which sheltered it from the north wind, and was conveniently watered from the cascade. I resolved to add a sort of bank, or terrace, to protect it from the violent rains; and Francis was so pleased with the idea, that he began to gather the large stones which were scattered over the garden, and to carry them to the place where I wished to build my terrace. He would have worked all day, if I would have allowed him; but I wanted to look after my young plantations, my sugar-canes, and my fields, and, after the destruction I had just witnessed, I had everything to fear. I proceeded to the avenue of fruit-trees that led to Tent House, and was agreeably surprised. All were half-bowed to the ground, as well as the bamboos that supported them, but few were torn up; and I saw that my sons and I, with the labour of two or three days, could restore them. Some of them had already begun to bear fruit, but all was destroyed for this year. This was, however, a trifling loss, compared with what I had anticipated; for, having no more plants of European fruits, I could not have replaced them. Besides, having resolved to inhabit Tent House at present, entirely, being there defended from storms, it was absolutely necessary to contrive some protection from the heat. My new plantations afforded little shade yet, and I trembled to propose to my wife to come and inhabit these burning rocks. Francis was gathering some of the beautiful unknown flowers of the island for his mother, and when he had formed his bouquet, bringing it to me,

“See, papa,” said he, “how the rain has refreshed these flowers. I wish it would rain still, it is so dreadfully hot here. Oh! if we had but a little shade.”

“That is just what I was thinking of, my dear,” said I; “we shall have shade enough when my trees are grown; but, in the mean time ”

“In the mean time, papa,” said Francis, “I will tell you what you must do. You must make a very long, broad colonnade before our house, covered with cloth, and open before, so that mamma may have air and shade at once.”

I was pleased with my son’s idea, and promised him to construct a gallery soon, and call it the Franciade in honour of him. My little boy was delighted that his suggestion should be thus approved, and begged me not to tell his mamma, as he wished to surprise her, as much as his brothers did with their carriage; and he hoped the Franciade might be finished before she visited Tent House. I assured him I would be silent; and we took the road hence, talking about our new colonnade. I projected making it in the most simple and easy way. A row of strong bamboo-canes planted at equal distances along the front of our house, and united by a plank of wood at the top cut into arches between the canes; others I would place sloping from the rock, to which I would fasten them by iron cramps; these were to be covered with sailcloth, prepared with the elastic gum, and well secured to the plank. This building would not take much time, and I anticipated the pleasure of my wife when she found out that it was an invention of her little favourite, who, of a mild and reflecting disposition, was beloved by us all. As we walked along, we saw something approaching, that Francis soon discovered to be his brothers, with their new carriage; and, concluding that his mamma occupied it, he hastened to meet them, lest they should proceed to the garden. But on our approach, we discovered that Ernest was in the litter, which was borne by the cow before, on which Fritz was mounted, and by the ass behind, with Jack on it. Ernest declared the conveyance was so easy and delightful that he should often take his mother’s place.

“I like that very much,” said Jack; “then I will take care that we will harness the donkey and the buffalo for you, and they will give you a pretty jolting, I promise you. The cow and ass are only for mamma. Look, papa, is it not complete? We wished to try it as soon as we finished it, so we got Ernest to occupy it, while mother was asleep.”

Ernest declared it only wanted two cushions, one to sit upon, the other to recline against, to make it perfect; and though I could not help smiling at his love of ease, I encouraged the notion, in order to delay my wife’s excursion till our plans were completed. I then put Francis into the carriage beside his brother; and ordering Fritz and Jack to proceed with their equipage to inspect our corn-fields, I returned to my wife, who was still sleeping. On her awaking, I told her the garden and plantations would require a few days’ labour to set them in order, and I should leave Ernest, who was not yet in condition to be a labourer, to nurse her and read to her. My sons returned in the evening, and gave me a melancholy account of our corn-fields; the corn was completely destroyed, and we regretted this the more, as we had very little left for seed. We had anticipated a feast of real bread, but we were obliged to give up all hope for this year, and to content ourselves with our cakes of cassava, and with potatoes. The maize had suffered less, and might have been a resource for us, but the large, hard grain was so very difficult to reduce to flour fine enough for dough. Fritz often recurred to the necessity of building a mill near the cascade at Tent House; but this was not the work of a moment, and we had time to consider of it; for at present we had no corn to grind. As I found Francis had let his brothers into all our secrets, it was agreed that I, with Fritz, Jack, and Francis, should proceed to Tent House next morning. Francis desired to be of the party, that he might direct the laying out of the garden, he said, with an important air, as he had been his mother’s assistant on its formation. We arranged our bag of vegetable-seeds, and having bathed my wife’s foot with a simple embrocation, we offered our united prayers, and retired to our beds to prepare ourselves for the toils of the next day.

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