Swiss Family Robinson Chapter 42

Chapter 42

In a few days we completed the Grotto Ernestine. It contained some stalactites; but not so many as our former grotto. We found, however, a beautiful block of salt, which resembled white marble, of which Ernest formed a sort of altar, supported by four pillars, on which he placed a pretty vase of citron-wood, which he had turned himself, and in which he arranged some of the beautiful erica which had been the cause of his discovering the grotto. It was one of those occasions when his feelings overcame his natural indolence, when he became for a time the most active of the four, and brought forward all his resources, which were many. This indolence was merely physical; when not excited by any sudden circumstance, or by some fancy which soon assumed the character of a passion, he loved ease, and to enjoy life tranquilly in study. He improved his mind continually, as well by his excellent memory, as by natural talent and application. He reflected, made experiments, and was always successful. He had at last succeeded in making his mother a very pretty bonnet. He had also composed some verses, which were intended to celebrate her visit to Tent House; and this joyful day being at last fixed, the boys all went over, the evening before, to make their preparations. The flowers that the storm had spared were gathered to ornament the fountains, the altar, and the table, on which was placed an excellent cold dinner, entirely prepared by themselves. Fritz supplied and roasted the game, a fine bustard, the flesh of which resembles a turkey, and a brace of partridges. Ernest brought pines, melons, and figs; Jack should have supplied the fish, but was able only to procure oysters, crabs, and turtles’ eggs. Francis had the charge of the dessert, which consisted of a dish of strawberries, honeycomb, and the cream of the cocoa-nut. I had contributed a bottle of Canary wine, that we might drink mamma’s health. All was arranged on a table in the middle of the Franciade, and my sons returned to accompany the expedition next day.

The morning was beautiful, and the sun shone brightly on our emigration. My wife was anxious to set out, expecting she should have to return to her aerial dwelling. Though her leg and foot were better, she still walked feebly, and she begged us to harness the cow and ass to the cart, and to lead them as gently as possible.

“I will only go a little way the first day,” said she, “for I am not strong enough to visit Tent House yet.”

We felt quite convinced she would change her opinion when once in her litter. I wished to carry her down the staircase; but she declined, and descended very well with the help of my arm. When the door was opened, and she found herself once more in the open air, surrounded by her children, she thanked God, with tears of gratitude, for her recovery, and all his mercies to us. Then the pretty osier carriage arrived. They had harnessed the cow and young bull to it; Francis answering for the docility of Valiant, provided he guided him himself. Accordingly, he was mounted before, his cane in his hand, and his bow and quiver on his back, very proud to be mamma’s charioteer. My other three boys mounted on their animals, were ready before, to form the advanced guard, while I proposed to follow, and watch over the whole. My wife was moved even to tears, and could not cease admiring her new carriage, which Fritz and Jack presented to her as their own work. Francis, however, boasted that he had carded the cotton for the soft cushion on which she was to sit, and I, that I had made it. I then lifted her in, and as soon as she was seated Ernest came to put her new bonnet on her head, which greatly delighted her; it was of fine straw, and so thick and firm that it might even defend her from the rain. But what pleased her most was, that it was the shape worn by the Swiss peasants in the Canton of Vaud, where my dear wife had resided some time in her youth. She thanked all her dear children, and felt so easy and comfortable in her new conveyance, that we arrived at Family Bridge without her feeling the least fatigue. Here we stopped.

“Would you like to cross here, my dear?” said I; “and as we are very near, look in at your convenient Tent House, where you will have no staircase to ascend. And we should like to know, too, if you approve of our management of your garden,”

“As you please,” said she; “in fact, I am so comfortable in my carriage, that if it were necessary, I could make the tour of the island. I should like to see my house again; but it will be so very hot at this season, that we must not stay long.”

“But you must dine there, my dear mother,” said Fritz; “it is too late to return to dinner at Falcon’s Nest; consider, too, the fatigue it would occasion you.”

“I would be very glad, indeed, my dear,” said she; “but what are we to dine on? We have prepared no provision, and I fear we shall all be hungry.”

“What matter,” said Jack, “provided you dine with us? You must take your chance. I will go and get some oysters, that we may not die with hunger;” and off he galloped on his buffalo. Fritz followed him, on some pretence, on Lightfoot. Mamma wished she had brought a vessel to carry some water from the river, for she knew we could get none at Tent House. Francis reminded her we could milk the cow, and she was satisfied, and enjoyed her journey much. At last we arrived before the colonnade. My wife was dumb with wonder for some moments.

“Where am I, and what do I see?” said she, when she could speak.

“You see the Franciade, mamma,” said her little boy; “this beautiful colonnade was my invention, to protect you from the heat; stay, read what is written above: Francis to his dear mother. May this colonnade, which is called the Franciade, be to her a temple of happiness. Now mamma, lean on me, and come and see my brothers’ gifts much better than mine;” and he led her to Jack’s pavilion, who was standing by the fountain. He held a shell in his hand, which he filled with water, and drank, saying, “To the health of the Queen of the Island; may she have no more accidents, and live as long as her children! Long live Queen Elizabeth, and may she come every day to Jackia, to drink her son Jack’s health.”

I supported my wife, and was almost as much affected as herself. She wept and trembled with joy and surprise. Jack and Ernest then joined their hands, and carried her to the other pavilion, where Fritz was waiting to receive her, and the same scene of tenderness ensued. “Accept this pavilion, dear mother,” said he; “and may Fritzia ever make you think on Fritz.”

The delighted mother embraced them all, and observing Ernest’s name was not commemorated by any trophy, thanked him again for her beautiful bonnet. She then drank some of the delicious water of the fountain, and returned to seat herself at the repast, which was another surprise for her. We all made an excellent dinner; and at the dessert, I handed my Canary wine round in shells; and then Ernest rose and sung us very prettily, to a familiar air, some little verses he had composed:

On this festive happy day,
Let us pour our grateful lay;
Since Heaven has hush’d our mother’s pain,
And given her to her sons again.
Then from this quiet, lovely home
Never, never, may we roam.
All we love around us smile:
Joyful is our desert isle.

When o’er our mother’s couch we bent,
Fervent prayers to Heaven we sent,
And God has spared that mother dear,
To bless her happy children here.
Then from this quiet, lovely home,
Never, never, may we roam;
All we love around us smile,
Joyful is our desert isle.

We all joined in the chorus, and none of us thought of the ship, of Europe, or of anything that was passing in the world. The island was our universe, and Tent House was a palace we would not have exchanged for any the world contained. This was one of those happy days that God grants us sometimes on earth, to give us an idea of the bliss of Heaven; and most fervently did we thank Him, at the end of our repast, for all his mercies and blessings to us.

After dinner, I told my wife she must not think of returning to Falcon’s Nest, with all its risks of storms and the winding staircase, and she could not better recompense her sons for their labours than by living among them. She was of the same opinion, and was very glad to be so near her kitchen and her stores, and to be able to walk alone with the assistance of a stick in the colonnade, which she could do already; but she made me promise to leave Falcon’s Nest as it was. It would be a pretty place to walk to, and besides, this castle in the air was her own invention. We agreed that this very evening she should take possession of her own pretty room, with the good felt carpet, on which she could walk without fear; and that the next day, I should go with my elder sons and the animals to bring the cart, such utensils as we needed, and above all, the poultry. Our dogs always followed their masters, as well as the monkey and jackal, and they were so domesticated, we had no trouble with them.

I then prevailed on my wife to go into her room and rest for an hour, after which we were to visit the garden. She complied, and after her repose found her four sons ready to carry her in her litter as in a sedan-chair. They took care to bring her straight to the grotto, where I was waiting for her. This was a new surprise for the good mother. She could not sufficiently express her astonishment and delight, when Jack and Francis, taking their flageolets, accompanied their brothers, who sung the following verse, which Ernest had added to his former attempt.

Dear mother, let this gift be mine,
Accept the Grotto Ernestine.
May all your hours be doubly blest
Within this tranquil place of rest.
Then from this quiet, lovely home
Never, never may we roam;
All we love around us smile.
Joyful is our desert isle!

What cause had we to rejoice in our children! we could not but shed tears to witness their affection and perfect happiness.

Below the vase of flowers, on the block of salt, Ernest had written:

Ernest, assisted by his brother Fritz,
Has prepared this grotto,
As a retreat for his beloved mother,
When she visits her garden.

Ernest then conducted his mother to one of the benches, which he had covered with soft moss, as a seat for her, and there she rested at her ease to hear the history of the discovery of the grotto. It was now my turn to offer my present; the garden, the embankment, the pond, and the arbour. She walked, supported by my arm, to view her little empire, and her delight was extreme; the pond, which enabled her to water her vegetables, particularly pleased her, as well as her shady arbour, under which she found all her gardening tools, ornamented with flowers, and augmented by two lightwatering-pans, constructed by Jack and Francis, from two gourds. They had canes for spouts, with the gourd bottles at the end, pierced with holes, through which the water came in the manner of a watering-pan. The embankment was also a great surprise; she proposed to place plants of pines and melon on it, and I agreed to it. Truly did she rejoice at the appearance of the vegetables, which promised us some excellent European provision, a great comfort to her. After expressing her grateful feelings, she returned to the grotto, and seating herself in her sedan-chair, returned to Tent House, to enjoy the repose she needed, after such a day of excitement. We did not, however, lie down before we had together thanked God for the manifold blessings he had given us, and for the pleasure of that day.

“If I had been in Europe,” said my dear wife, “on the festival of my recovery, I should have received a bouquet of flowers, a ribbon, or some trinket; here I have had presented a carriage, a colonnade, pavilions, ornamental fountains, a large grotto, a garden, a pond, an arbour, and a straw bonnet!”

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