Swiss Family Robinson Chapter 40

Chapter 40

The next day was Sunday, our happy Sabbath for repose and quiet conversation at home. After passing the day in our usual devotions and sober reading, my three elder boys requested my permission to walk towards our farm in the evening. On their return, they informed me it would be necessary to give a few days’ labour to our plantations of maize and potatoes. I therefore determined to look to them.

Though I was out early next morning, I found Fritz and Jack had been gone some time, leaving only the ass in the stables, which I secured for my little Francis. I perceived, also, that they had dismounted my cart, and carried away the wheels, from which I concluded that they had met with some tree in their walk the preceding evening, suitable for the pipes for their fountains, and that they had now returned to cut it down, and convey it to Tent House. As I did not know where to meet with them, I proceeded with Francis on the ass to commence his favourite work. I drew my plan on the ground first. At the distance of twelve feet from the rock which formed the front of our house, I marked a straight line of fifty feet, which I divided into ten spaces of five feet each for my colonnade; the two ends were to be reserved for the two pavilions my sons wished to build. I was busy in my calculations, and Francis placing stakes in the places where I wished to dig, when the cart drove up with our two good labourers. They had, as I expected, found the evening before a species of pine, well adapted for their pipes. They had cut down four, of fifteen or twenty feet in length, which they had brought on the wheels of the cart, drawn by the four animals. They had had some difficulty in transporting them to the place; and the greatest still remained the boring the trunks, and then uniting them firmly. I had neither augers nor any tools fit for the purpose. I had, certainly, constructed a little fountain at Falcon’s Nest; but the stream was near at hand, and was easily conveyed by cane pipes to our tortoise-shell basin. Here the distance was considerable, the ground unequal, and, to have the water pure and cool, underground pipes were necessary. I thought of large bamboos, but Fritz pointed out the knots, and the difficulty of joining the pieces, and begged me to leave it to him, as he had seen fountains made in Switzerland, and had no fears of success. In the mean time, all hands set to work at the arcade. We selected twelve bamboos of equal height and thickness, and fixed them securely in the earth, at five feet from each other. These formed a pretty colonnade, and were work enough for one day.

We took care to divert all inquiries at night, by discussing the subjects which our invalids had been reading during the day. The little library of our captain was very choice; besides the voyages and travels, which interested them greatly, there was a good collection of historians, and some of the best poets, for which Ernest had no little taste. However, he requested earnestly that he might be of our party next day, and Francis, good-naturedly, offered to stay with mamma, expecting, no doubt, Ernest’s congratulations on the forward state of the Franciade. The next morning Ernest and I set out, his brothers having preceded us. Poor Ernest regretted, as we went, that he had no share in these happy schemes for his mother. I reminded him, however, of his dutiful care of her during her sickness, and all his endeavours to amuse her. “And, besides,” added I, “did you not make her a straw bonnet?”

“Yes,” said he, “and I now remember what a frightful shape it was. I will try to make a better, and will go to-morrow morning to choose my straw.”

As we approached Tent House, we heard a most singular noise, echoing at intervals amongst the rocks. We soon discovered the cause; in a hollow of the rocks I saw a very hot fire, which Jack was blowing through a cane, whilst Fritz was turning amidst the embers a bar of iron. When it was red hot, they laid it on an anvil I had brought from the ship, and struck it alternately with hammers to bring it to a point.

“Well done, my young smiths,” said I; “we ought to try all things, and keep what is good. Do you expect to succeed in making your auger? I suppose that is what you want.”

“Yes, father,” said Fritz; “we should succeed well enough if we only had a good pair of bellows; you see we have already got a tolerable point.”

Now Fritz could not believe anything was impossible. He had killed a kangaroo the evening before, and skinned it. The flesh made us a dinner; of the skin he determined to make a pair of bellows. He nailed it, with the hair out, not having time to tan it, to two flat pieces of wood, with holes in them; to this he added a reed for the pipe; he then fixed it by means of a long cord and a post, to the side of his fire, and Jack, with his hand or his foot, blew the fire, so that the iron was speedily red hot, and quite malleable. I then showed them how to twist the iron into a screw, rather clumsy, but which would answer the purpose tolerably well. At one end they formed a ring, in which we placed a piece of wood transversely, to enable them to turn the screw. We then made a trial of it. We placed a tree on two props, and Fritz and I managed the auger so well, that we had our tree pierced through in a very little time, working first at one end and then at the other. Jack, in the mean time, collected the shavings we made, which he deposited in the kitchen for his mother’s use, to kindle the fire. Ernest, meanwhile, was walking about, making observations, and giving his advice to his brothers on the architecture of their pavilions, till, seeing they were going to bore another tree, he retired into the garden to see the embankment. He returned delighted with the improvements, and much disposed to take some employment. He wanted to assist in boring the tree, but we could not all work at it. I undertook this labour myself, and sent him to blow the bellows, while his brothers laboured at the forge, the work not being too hard for his lame hand.

My young smiths were engaged in flattening the iron to make joints to unite their pipes; they succeeded very well, and then began to dig the ground to lay them. Ernest, knowing something of geometry and land-surveying, was able to give them some useful hints, which enabled them to complete their work successfully. Leaving them to do this, I employed myself in covering in my long colonnade. After I had placed on my columns a plank cut in arches, which united them, and was firmly nailed to them, I extended from it bamboos, placed sloping against the rock, and secured to it by cramps of iron, the work of my young smiths. When my bamboo roof was solidly fixed, the canes as close as possible, I filled the interstices with a clay I found near the river, and poured gum over it; I had thus an impervious and brilliant roof, which appeared to be varnished, and striped green and brown. I then raised the floor a foot, in order that there might be no damp, and paved it with the square stones I had preserved when we cut the rock. It must be understood that all this was the work of many days. I was assisted by Jack and Fritz, and by Ernest and Francis alternately, one always remaining with his mother, who was still unable to walk.

Ernest employed his time, when at home, in making the straw bonnet, without either borrowing his brother’s head for a model, or letting any of them know what he was doing. Nevertheless, he assisted his brothers with their pavilions by his really valuable knowledge. They formed them very elegantly, something like a Chinese pagoda. They were exactly square, supported on four columns, and rather higher than the gallery. The roofs terminated in a point, and resembled a large parasol. The fountains were in the middle; the basins, breast-high, were formed of the shells of two turtles from our reservoir, which were mercilessly sacrificed for the purpose, and furnished our table abundantly for some days. They succeeded the cassowary, which had supplied us very seasonably: its flesh tasted like beef, and made excellent soup.

But to return to the fountains. Ernest suggested the idea of ornamenting the end of the perpendicular pipe, which brought the water to the basin, with shells; every sort might be collected on the shore, of the most brilliant colours, and curious and varied shapes. He was passionately devoted to natural history, and had made a collection of these, endeavouring to classify them from the descriptions he met with in the books of voyages and travels. Some of these, of the most dazzling beauty, were placed round the pipe, which had been plastered with clay; from thence the water was received into a volute, shaped like an antique urn, and again was poured gracefully into the large turtle-shell; a small channel conveyed it then out of the pavilions. The whole was completed in less time than I could have imagined, and greatly surpassed my expectations; conferring an inestimable advantage on our dwelling, by securing us from the heat.

All honour was rendered to Master Francis, the inventor, and The Franciade was written in large letters on the middle arch; Fritzia and Jackia were written in the same way over the pavilions. Ernest alone was not named; and he seemed somewhat affected by it. He had acquired a great taste for rambling and botanizing, and had communicated it also to Fritz, and now that our labours were ended at Tent House, they left us to nurse our invalid, and made long excursions together, which lasted sometimes whole days.

As they generally returned with some game, or some new fruit, we pardoned their absence, and they were always welcome. Sometimes they brought a kangaroo, sometimes an agouti, the flesh of which resembles that of a rabbit, but is richer; sometimes they brought wild ducks, pigeons, and even partridges. These were contributed by Fritz, who never went out without his gun and his dogs. Ernest brought us natural curiosities, which amused us much, stones, crystals, petrifactions, insects, butterflies of rare beauty, and flowers, whose colours and fragrance no one in Europe can form an idea of. Sometimes he brought fruit, which we always administered first to our monkey, as taster: some of them proved very delicious.

Two of his discoveries, especially, were most valuable acquisitions, the guajaraba, on the large leaf of which one may write with a pointed instrument, and the fruit of which, a sort of grape, is very good to eat; also the date-palm, every part of which is so useful, that we were truly thankful to Heaven, and our dear boys, for the discovery. Whilst young, the trunk contains a sort of marrow, very delicious. The date-palm is crowned by a head, formed of from forty to eighty leafy branches, which spread round the top. The dates are particularly good about half-dried; and my wife immediately began to preserve them. My sons could only bring the fruit now, but we purposed to transplant some of the trees themselves near our abode. We did not discourage our sons in these profitable expeditions; but they had another aim, which I was yet ignorant of. In the mean time, I usually walked with one of my younger sons towards Tent House, to attend to our garden, and to see if our works continued in good condition to receive mamma, who daily improved; but I insisted on her being completely restored, before she was introduced to them. Our dwelling looked beautiful amongst the picturesque rocks, surrounded by trees of every sort, and facing the smooth and lovely Bay of Safety. The garden was not so forward as I could have wished; but we were obliged to be patient, and hope for the best.

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