Swiss Family Robinson Chapter 43

Chapter 43

The next and following days were spent in removing our furniture and property, particularly our poultry, which had multiplied greatly. We also constructed a poultry-yard, at a sufficient distance from our house to save our sleep from disturbance, and still so near that we could easily tend them. We made it as a continuation of the colonnade, and on the same plan, but enclosed in the front by a sort of wire trellis-work, which Fritz and Jack made wonderfully well. Fritz, who had a turn for architecture and mechanics, gave me some good hints, especially one, which we put into execution. This was to carry the water from the basin of the fountain through the poultry-yard, which enabled us also to have a little pond for our ducks. The pigeons had their abode above the hen-roosts, in some pretty baskets, which Ernest and Francis made, similar to those made by the natives of the Friendly Isles, of which they had seen engravings in Cook’s Voyages. When all was finished, my wife was delighted to think that even in the rainy season she could attend to her feathered family and collect their eggs.

“What a difference,” said she, admiring the elegance of our buildings, “what a difference between this Tent House and the original dwelling that suggested the name to us, and which was our only shelter four years ago. What a surprising progress luxury has made with us in that time! Do you remember, my dear, the barrel which served us for a table, and the oyster-shells for spoons, the tent where we slept, crowded together on dried leaves, and without undressing, and the river half a mile off, where we were obliged to go to drink if we were thirsty? Compared to what we were then, we are now great lords

“Kings, you mean, mamma,” said Jack, “for all this island is ours, and it is quite like a kingdom.”

“And how many millions of subjects does Prince Jack reckon in the kingdom of his august father?” said I.

Prince Jack declared he had not yet counted the parrots, kangaroos, agoutis, and monkeys. The laughter of his brothers stopped him. I then agreed with my wife that our luxuries had increased; but I explained to her that this was the result of our industry. All civilized nations have commenced as we did; necessity has developed the intellect which God has given to man alone, and by degrees the arts have progressed, and knowledge has extended more perhaps than is conducive to happiness. What appeared luxury to us now was still simplicity compared with the luxury of towns, or even villages, among civilized nations. My wife declared she had everything she wished for, and should not know what more to ask for, as we now had only to rest and enjoy our happiness.

I declared against spending our time in rest and indolence, as the sure means of ending our pleasure; and I well knew my dear wife was, like myself, an enemy to idleness; but she dreaded any more laborious undertakings.

“But, mamma,” said Fritz, “you must let me make a mill under the cascade; it will be so useful when our corn grows, and even now for the maize. I also think of making an oven in the kitchen, which will be very useful for you to bake your bread in.”

“These would indeed be useful labours,” said the good mother, smiling; “but can you accomplish them?”

“I hope so,” said Fritz, “with the help of God and that of my dear brothers.”

Ernest promised his best aid, in return for his brother’s kind services in forming his grotto, only requesting occasional leisure for his natural history collections. His mother did not see the utility of these collections, but, willing to indulge her kind and attentive Ernest, she offered, till she could walk well, to assist him in arranging and labelling his plants, which were yet in disorder, and he gratefully consented. In procuring her some paper for the purpose, of which I had brought a large quantity from the vessel, I brought out an unopened packet, amongst which was a piece of some fabric, neither paper nor stuff apparently. We examined it together, and at length remembered it was a piece of stuff made at Otaheite, which our captain had bought of a native at an island where we had touched on our voyage. Fritz appearing much interested in examining this cloth, Ernest said gravely, “I can teach you how to make it;” and immediately bringing Cook’s Voyages, where a detailed description is given, he proceeded to read it. Fritz was disappointed to find it could only be made of the bark of three trees of these our island produced only one. These trees were the mulberry-tree, the bread fruit, and the wild fig. We had the last in abundance, but of the two former we had not yet discovered a single plant.

Fritz was not, however, discouraged. “They ought to be here,” said he, “since they are found in all the South-Sea Islands. Perhaps we may find them on the other side of the rocks, where I saw some superb unknown trees from the height where we discovered the grotto; and who knows but I may find my pretty gazelle there again. The rogue can leap better than I can over those rocks. I had a great wish to descend them, but found it impossible; some are very high and perpendicular; others have overhanging summits; I might, however, get round as you did by the pass, between the torrent and the rocks at the Great Bay.”

Jack offered to be his guide, even with his eyes shut, into that rich country where he conquered and captured his buffalo; and Ernest begged to be of the party. As this was an expedition I had long projected, I agreed to accompany them next day, their mother being content to have Francis left with her as a protector. I cautioned Fritz not to fire off his gun when we approached the buffaloes, as any show of hostility might render them furious; otherwise the animals, unaccustomed to man, have no fear of him, and will not harm him. “In general,” added I, “I cannot sufficiently recommend to you to be careful of your powder; we have not more than will last us a year, and there may be a necessity to have recourse to it for our defence.”

“I have a plan for making it,” said Fritz, who never saw a difficulty in anything. “I know it is composed of charcoal, saltpetre, and sulphur and we ought to find all these materials in the island. It is only necessary to combine them, and to form it into little round grains. This is my only difficulty; but I will consider it over; and I have my mill to think on first. I have a confused recollection of a powder manufactory at Berne: there was some machinery which went by water; this machinery moved some hammers, which pounded and mixed the ingredients was not this the case, father?”

“Something like it,” said I; “but we have many things to do before making powder. First, we must go to sleep; we must set out before daybreak, if we intend to return to-morrow evening.” We did indeed rise before the sun, which would not rise for us. The sky was very cloudy, and shortly we had an abundant and incessant rain, which obliged us to defer our journey, and put us all in bad humour, but my wife, who was not sorry to keep us with her, and who declared this gracious rain would water her garden, and bring it forward. Fritz was the first who consoled himself; he thought on nothing but building mills, and manufacturing gunpowder. He begged me to draw him a mill; this was very easy, so far as regards the exterior, that is, the wheel, and the waterfall that sets it in motion; but the interior, the disposition of the wheels, the stones to bruise the grain, the sieve, or bolter, to separate the flour from the bran; all this complicated machinery was difficult to explain; but he comprehended all, adding his usual expression, “I will try, and I shall succeed.” Not to lose any time, and to profit by this rainy day, he began by making sieves of different materials, which he fastened to a circle of pliant wood, and tried by passing through them the flour of the cassava; he made some with sailcloth, others with the hair of the donkey, which is very long and strong, and some of the fibres of bark. His mother admired his work, which he continued to improve more and more; she assured him the sieve would be sufficient for her; it was useless to have the trouble of building a mill.

“But how shall we bruise the grain, mamma?” said he; “it would be tedious and hard work.”

“And you think there will be no hard work in building your mill?” said Jack. “I am curious to see how you will contrive to form that huge stone, which is called the millstone.”

“You shall see,” said Fritz; “only find me the stone, and it shall soon be done. Do you think, father, that of our rock would be suitable?”

I told him I thought it would be hard enough, but it would be difficult to cut from the rock a piece large enough for the purpose. He made his usual reply, “I will try. Ernest and Jack will assist me; and perhaps you, papa.”

I declared my willingness, but named him the master-mason; we must only be his workmen. Francis was impatient to see the mill in operation. “Oh!” said Jack, “you shall soon have that pleasure. It is a mere trifle; we only want stone, wood, tools, and science.”

At the word “science,” Ernest, who was reading in a corner, without listening to us, raised his head suddenly, saying, “What science are you in need of?”

“Of one you know nothing of, Mr. Philosopher,” said Jack. “Come, tell us, do you know how to build a mill?”

“A mill?” answered Ernest; “of what description? There are many sorts. I was just looking in my dictionary for it. There are corn-mills, and powder-mills, oil-mills, wind-mills, water-mills, hand-mills, and saw-mills; which do you want?”

Fritz would have liked them all.

“You remind me,” said I, “that we brought from the vessel a hand-mill and a saw-mill, taken to pieces, to be sure, but numbered and labelled, so that they could be easily united: they should be in the magazine, where you found the anvil and iron bars; I had forgotten them.”

“Let us go and examine them,” said Fritz, lighting his lantern; “I shall get some ideas from them.”

“Rather,” said his mother, “they will spare you the trouble of thinking and labouring.”

I sent them all four to seek these treasures, which, heaped in an obscure corner of the store-room, had escaped my recollection. When we were alone, I seriously besought my wife not to oppose any occupations our children might plan, however they might seem beyond their power; the great point being, to keep them continually occupied, so that no evil or dangerous fancies might fill their minds. “Let them,” I said, “cut stone, fell trees, or dig fountains, and bless God that their thoughts are so innocently directed.” She understood me, and promised not to discourage them, only fearing the excessive fatigue of these undertakings.

Chapter List