Swiss Family Robinson Chapter 49

Chapter 49

I did not disembark on this unknown shore without great emotion: it might be inhabited by a barbarous and cruel race, and I almost doubted the prudence of thus risking my three remaining children in the hazardous and uncertain search after our dear lost ones. I think I could have borne my bereavement with Christian resignation, if I had seen my wife and child die in my arms; I should then have been certain they were happy in the bosom of their God; but to think of them in the power of ferocious and idolatrous natives, who might subject them to cruel tortures and death, chilled my very blood. I demanded of my sons, if they felt courage to pursue the difficult and perilous enterprise we had commenced. They all declared they would rather die than not find their mother and brother. Fritz even besought me, with Ernest and Jack, to return to the island, in case the wanderers should come back, and be terrified to find it deserted; and to leave him the arms, and the means of trafficking with the natives, without any uneasiness about his prudence and discretion.

I assured him I did not distrust his courage and prudence, but I showed him the futility of hoping that the natives would voluntarily carry back their victims, or that they could escape alone. And should he meet with them here, and succeed, how could he carry his recovered treasures to the island?

“No, my children,” said I, “we will all search, in the confidence that God will bless our efforts.”

“And perhaps sooner than we think,” said Ernest. “Perhaps they are in this island.”

Jack was running off immediately to search, but I called my little madcap back, till we arranged our plans. I advised that two of us should remain to watch the coast, while the other two penetrated into the interior. The first thing necessary to ascertain was if the island was inhabited, which might easily be done, by climbing some tree that overlooked the country, and remarking if there were any traces of the natives, any huts, or fires lighted, &c. Those who made any discovery were immediately to inform the rest, that we might go in a body to recover our own. If nothing announced that the island was inhabited, we were to leave it immediately, to search elsewhere. All wished to be of the party of discovery. At length, Ernest agreed to remain with me, and watch for any arrivals by sea. Before we parted, we all knelt to invoke the blessing of God on our endeavours. Fritz and Jack, as the most active, were to visit the interior of the island, and to return with information as soon as possible. To be prepared for any chance, I gave them a game-bag filled with toys, trinkets, and pieces of money, to please the natives; I also made them take some food. Fritz took his gun, after promising me he would not fire it, except to defend his life, lest he should alarm the natives, and induce them to remove their captives. Jack took his lasso, and they set out with our benedictions, accompanied by the brave Turk, on whom I depended much to discover his mistress and his companion Flora, if she was still with her friends.

As soon as they were out of sight, Ernest and I set to work to conceal as much as possible our pinnace from discovery. We lowered the masts, and hid with great care under the deck the precious chest with our treasure, provisions, and powder. We got our pinnace with great difficulty, the water being low, behind a rock, which completely concealed it on the land-side, but it was still visible from the sea. Ernest suggested that we should entirely cover it with branches of trees, so that it might appear like a heap of bushes; and we began to cut them immediately with two hatchets we found in the chest, and which we speedily fitted with handles. We found also a large iron staple, which Ernest succeeded, with a hammer and pieces of wood, in fixing in the rock to moor the pinnace to. We had some difficulty in finding branches within our reach; there were many trees on the shore, but their trunks were bare. We found, at last, at some distance, an extensive thicket, composed of a beautiful shrub, which Ernest recognized to be a species of mimosa. The trunk of this plant is knotty and stunted, about three or four feet high, and spreads its branches horizontally, clothed with beautiful foliage, and so thickly interwoven, that the little quadrupeds who make their dwellings in these thickets are obliged to open covered roads out of the entangled mass of vegetation.

At the first blow of the hatchet, a number of beautiful little creatures poured forth on all sides. They resembled the kangaroos of our island, but were smaller, more elegant, and remarkable for the beauty of their skin, which was striped like that of the zebra.

“It is the striped kangaroo,” cried Ernest, “described in the voyages of Peron. How I long to have one. The female should have a pouch to contain her young ones.”

He lay down very still at the entrance of the thicket, and soon had the satisfaction of seizing two, which leaped out almost into his arms. This animal is timid as the hare of our country. They endeavoured to escape, but Ernest held them fast. One was a female, which had her young one in her pouch, which my son took out very cautiously. It was an elegant little creature, with a skin like its mother, only more brilliant it was full of graceful antics. The poor mother no longer wished to escape; all her desire seemed to be to recover her offspring, and to replace it in its nest. At last, she succeeded in seizing and placing it carefully in security. Then her desire to escape was so strong, that Ernest could scarcely hold her. He wished much to keep and tame her, and asked my permission to empty one of the chests for a dwelling for her, and to carry her off in the pinnace; but I refused him decidedly. I explained to him the uncertainty of our return to the island, and the imprudence of adding to our cares, and, “certainly,” added I, “you would not wish this poor mother to perish from famine and confinement, when your own mother is herself a prisoner?”

His eyes filled with tears, and he declared he would not be such a savage as to keep a poor mother in captivity. “Go, pretty creature,” said he, releasing her, “and may my mother be as fortunate as you.” She soon profited by his permission, and skipped off with her treasure.

We continued to cut down the branches of the mimosa; but they were so entangled, and the foliage so light, that we agreed to extend our search for some thicker branches.

As we left the shore, the country appeared more fertile: we found many unknown trees, which bore no fruit; but some covered with delicious flowers. Ernest was in his element, he wanted to collect and examine all, to endeavour to discover their names, either from analogy to other plants, or from descriptions he had read. He thought he recognized the melaleuca, several kinds of mimosa, and the Virginian pine, which has the largest and thickest branches. We loaded ourselves with as much as we could carry, and, in two or three journeys, we had collected sufficient to cover the vessel, and to make a shelter for ourselves, if we were obliged to pass the night on shore. I had given orders to my sons that both were to return before night, at all events; and if the least hope appeared, one was to run with all speed to tell us. All my fear was that they might lose their way in this unknown country: they might meet with lakes, marshes, or perplexing forests; every moment I was alarmed with the idea of some new danger, and never did any day seem so long. Ernest endeavoured, by every means in his power, to comfort and encourage me; but the buoyancy of spirit, peculiar to youth, prevented him dwelling long on one painful thought. He amused his mind by turning to search for the marine productions with which the rocks were covered: sea-weed, mosses of the most brilliant colours, zoophytes of various kinds, occupied his attention. He brought them to me, regretting that he could not preserve them.

“Oh! if my dear mother could see them,” said he, “or if Fritz could paint them, how they would amuse Francis!”

This recalled our sorrows, and my uneasiness increased.

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