Swiss Family Robinson Chapter 39

Chapter 39

We rose early; and, after our usual morning duties, we left our invalids for the whole day, taking with us, for our dinner, a goose and some potatoes, made ready the evening before. We harnessed the bull and the buffalo to the cart, and I sent Fritz and Jack to the wood of bamboos, with orders to load the cart with as many as it would contain; and, especially, to select some very thick ones for my colonnade; the rest I intended for props for my young trees; and this I proposed to be my first undertaking. Francis would have preferred beginning with the Franciade, or the garden, but he was finally won over by the thoughts of the delicious fruits, which we might lose by our neglect; the peaches, plums, pears, and, above all, the cherries, of which he was very fond. He then consented to assist me in holding the trees whilst I replaced the roots; after which he went to cut the reeds to tie them. Suddenly I heard him cry, “Papa, papa, here is a large chest come for us; come and take it.” I ran to him, and saw it was the very chest we had seen floating, and which we had taken for the boat at a distance; the waves had left it in our bay, entangled in the reeds, which grew abundantly here. It was almost buried in the sand. We could not remove it alone, and, notwithstanding our curiosity, we were compelled to wait for the arrival of my sons. We returned to our work, and it was pretty well advanced when the tired and hungry party returned with their cart-load of bamboos. We rested, and sat down to eat our goose. Guavas and sweet acorns, which had escaped the storm, and which my sons brought, completed our repast. Fritz had killed a large bird in the marsh, which I took at first for a young flamingo; but it was a young cassowary, the first I had seen in the island. This bird is remarkable for its extraordinary size, and for its plumage, so short and fine that it seems rather to be hair than feathers. I should have liked to have had it alive to ornament our poultry-yard, and it was so young we might have tamed it; but Fritz’s unerring aim had killed it at once. I wished to let my wife see this rare bird, which, if standing on its webbed feet, would have been four feet high; I therefore forbade them to meddle with it.



“Fritz, with a strong hatchet forced the chest open,
and we all eagerly crowded to see the contents.”

As we ate, we talked of the chest, and our curiosity being stronger than our hunger, we swallowed our repast hastily, and then ran down to the shore. We were obliged to plunge into the water up to the waist, and then had some difficulty to extricate it from the weed and slime, and to push it on shore. No sooner had we placed it in safety than Fritz, with a strong hatchet, forced it open, and we all eagerly crowded to see the contents. Fritz hoped it would be powder and fire-arms; Jack, who was somewhat fond of dress, and had notions of elegance, declared in favour of clothes, and particularly of linen, finer and whiter than that which his mother wove; if Ernest had been there, books would have been his desire; for my own part, there was nothing I was more anxious for than European seeds, particularly corn; Francis had a lingering wish that the chest might contain some of those gingerbread cakes which his grandmamma used to treat him with in Europe, and which he had often regretted; but he kept this wish to himself, for fear his brothers should call him “little glutton,” and assured us that he should like a little pocket-knife, with a small saw, better than anything in the world; and he was the only one who had his wish. The chest was opened, and we saw that it was filled with a number of trifling things likely to tempt savage nations, and to become the means of exchange, principally glass and iron ware, coloured beads, pins, needles, looking-glasses, children’s toys, constructed as models, such as carts, and tools of every sort; amongst which we found some likely to be useful, such as hatchets, saws, planes, gimlets, &c.; besides a collection of knives, of which Francis had the choice; and scissors, which were reserved for mamma, her own being nearly worn out. I had, moreover, the pleasure of finding a quantity of nails of every size and kind, besides iron hooks, staples, &c, which I needed greatly. After we had examined the contents, and selected what we wanted immediately, we closed up the chest, and conveyed it to our magazine at Tent House. We had spent so much time in our examination, that we had some difficulty to finish propping our trees, and to arrive at home before it was dark. We found my wife somewhat uneasy at our lengthened absence, but our appearance soon calmed her. “Mother,” said I, “I have brought back all your chickens to crowd under your wing.”

“And we have not come back empty-handed,” said Jack. “Look, mamma; here are a beautiful pair of scissors, a large paper of needles, another of pins, and a thimble! How rich you are now! And when you get well, you can make me a pretty waistcoat and a pair of trousers, for I am in great want of them.”

“And I, mamma,” said Francis, “have brought you a mirror, that you may arrange your cap; you have often been sorry papa did not remember to bring one from the ship. This was intended for the savages, and I will begin with you.”

“I believe I rather resemble one now,” said my good Elizabeth, arranging the red and yellow silk handkerchief which she usually wore on her head.

“Only, mamma,” said Jack, “when you wear the comical pointed bonnet which Ernest made you.”

“What matters it,” said she, “whether it be pointed or round? It will protect me from the sun, and it is the work of my Ernest, to whom I am much obliged.”

Ernest, with great ingenuity and patience, had endeavoured to plait his mother a bonnet of the rice-straw; he had succeeded; but not knowing how to form the round crown, he was obliged to finish it in a point, to the great and incessant diversion of his brothers.

“Mother,” said Ernest, in his usual grave and thoughtful tone, “I should not like you to look like a savage; therefore, as soon as I regain the use of my hand, my first work shall be to make you a bonnet, which I will take care shall be formed with a round crown, as you will lend me one of your large needles, and I will take, to sew the crown on, the head of either Jack or Francis.”

“What do you mean? My head!” said they both together.

“Oh, I don’t mean to take it off your shoulders,” said he; “it will only be necessary that one of you should kneel down before me, for a day perhaps, while I use your head as a model; and you need not cry out much if I should chance to push my needle in.”

This time the philosopher had the laugh on his side, and his tormentors were silenced.

We now explained to my wife where we had found the presents we had brought her. My offerings to her were a light axe, which she could use to cut her fire-wood with, and an iron kettle, smaller and more convenient than the one she had. Fritz had retired, and now came in dragging with difficulty his huge cassowary. “Here, mamma,” said he, “I have brought you a little chicken for your dinner;” and the astonishment and laughter again commenced. The rest of the evening was spent in plucking the bird, to prepare part of it for next day. We then retired to rest, that we might begin our labour early next morning. Ernest chose to remain with his books and his mother, for whom he formed with the mattresses a sort of reclining chair, in which she was able to sit up in bed and sew. Thus she endured a confinement of six weeks, without complaint, and in that time got all our clothes put into good order. Francis had nearly betrayed our secret once, by asking his mamma to make him a mason’s apron. “A mason’s apron!” said she; “are you going to build a house, child?”

“I meant to say a gardener’s apron,” said he.

His mamma was satisfied, and promised to comply with his request.

In the mean time, my three sons and I laboured assiduously to get the garden into order again, and to raise the terraces, which we hoped might be a defence against future storms. Fritz had also proposed to me to construct a stone conduit, to bring the water to our kitchen-garden from the river, to which we might carry it back, after it had passed round our vegetable-beds. This was a formidable task, but too useful an affair to be neglected; and, aided by the geometrical skill of Fritz, and the ready hands of my two younger boys, the conduit was completed. I took an opportunity, at the same time, to dig a pond above the garden, into which the conduit poured the water; this was always warm with the sun, and, by means of a sluice, we were able to disperse it in little channels to water the garden. The pond would also be useful to preserve small fish and crabs for use. We next proceeded to our embankment. This was intended to protect the garden from any extraordinary overflow of the river, and from the water running from the rocks after heavy rains. We then laid out our garden on the same plan as before, except that I made the walks wider, and not so flat; I carried one directly to our house, which, in the autumn, I intended to plant with shrubs, that my wife might have a shady avenue to approach her garden; where I also planned an arbour, furnished with seats, as a resting-place for her. The rocks were covered with numerous climbing plants, bearing every variety of elegant flower, and I had only to make my selection.

All this work, with the enclosing the garden with palisades of bamboo, occupied us about a fortnight, in which time our invalids made great progress towards their recovery. After the whole was finished, Francis entreated me to begin his gallery. My boys approved of my plan, and Fritz declared that the house was certainly comfortable and commodious, but that it would be wonderfully improved by a colonnade, with a little pavilion at each end, and a fountain in each pavilion.

“I never heard a word of these pavilions,” said I.

“No,” said Jack, “they are our own invention. The colonnade will be called the Franciade; and we wish our little pavilions to be named, the one Fritzia, the other Jackia, if you please.”

I agreed to this reasonable request, and only begged to know how they would procure water for their fountains. Fritz undertook to bring the water, if I would only assist them in completing this little scheme, to give pleasure to their beloved mother. I was charmed to see the zeal and anxiety of my children to oblige their tender mother. Her illness seemed to have strengthened their attachment; they thought only how to console and amuse her. She sometimes told me she really blessed the accident, which had taught her how much she was valued by all around her.

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