Swiss Family Robinson Chapter 50

Chapter 50

All was so still around us, and our pinnace was so completely hidden with its canopy of verdure, that I could not help regretting that I had not accompanied my sons. It was now too late, but my steps involuntarily turned to the road I had seen them take, Ernest remaining on the rocks in search of natural curiosities; but I was suddenly recalled by a cry from Ernest

“Father, a canoe! a canoe!”

“Alas! is it not ours?” I said, rushing to the shore, where, indeed, I saw beyond the reefs a canoe, floating lightly, apparently filled with the islanders, easy to distinguish from their dark complexion. This canoe did not resemble ours; it was longer, narrower, and seemed to be composed of long strips of bark, quite rough, tied together at each end, which gave somewhat of a graceful form to it, though it evidently belonged to the infancy of the art of navigation. It is almost inconceivable how these frail barks resist the slightest storm; but these islanders swim so well, that even if the canoe fills, they jump out, empty it, and take their places again. When landed, one or two men take up the canoe and carry it to their habitation. This, however, appeared to be provided with out-riggers, to preserve the equilibrium, and six natives, with a sort of oars, made it fly like the wind. When it passed the part of the island where we were, we hailed it as loudly as we could; the natives answered by frightful cries, but showed no intention of approaching us or entering the bay; on the contrary, they went on with great rapidity, continuing their cries. I followed them with my eyes as far as I could in speechless emotion; for either my fancy deceived me, or I faintly distinguished a form of fairer complexion than the dark-hued beings who surrounded him features or dress I could not see; on the whole, it was a vague impression, that I trembled alike to believe or to doubt. Ernest, more active than I, had climbed a sand-bank, and, with his telescope, had commanded a better view of the canoe. He watched it round a point of land, and then came down almost as much agitated as myself. I ran to him and said,

“Ernest, was it your mother?”

“No, papa; I am certain it was not my mother,” said he. “Neither was it Francis.”

Here he was silent: a cold shuddering came over me.

“Why are you silent?” said I; “what do you think?”

“Indeed, papa, I could distinguish nothing,” said he, “even with the telescope, they passed so quickly. Would that it were my mother and brother, we should then be sure they were living, and might follow them. We can go quicker than they with the sail; we shall overtake them behind the cape, and then we shall at least be satisfied.”

I hesitated, lest my sons should come back. I would have given worlds to see them arrive before our departure, and to know they were safe. I often left off my work to take a glance into the interior of the island, hoping to see them. Frequently I mistook the trees in the twilight, which was now coming on, for moving objects. At last, I was not deceived, I saw distinctly a figure walking rapidly.

“They are here!” I cried, running forward, followed by Ernest; and we soon saw a dark-coloured figure approaching. I concluded it was a native, and, though disappointed, was not alarmed, as he was alone. I stopped, and begged Ernest to recollect all the words he had met with in his books, of the language of the natives. The black man approached; and conceive my surprise when I heard him cry, in my own language

“Don’t be alarmed, father, it is I, your son Fritz.”

“Is it possible,” said I; “can I believe it? and Jack? What have you done with my Jack? Where is he? Speak….”

Ernest did not ask. Alas! he knew too well; he had seen with his telescope that it was his dear brother Jack that was in the canoe with the natives; but he had not dared to tell me. I was in agony. Fritz, harassed with fatigue, and overwhelmed with grief, sunk down on the ground.

“Oh father!” said he, sobbing, “I dread to appear before you without my brother! I have lost him. Can you ever forgive your unfortunate Fritz?”

“Oh yes, yes; we are all equally unfortunate,” cried I, sinking down beside my son, while Ernest seated himself on the other side to support me. I then besought Fritz to tell me if the natives had murdered my dear boy. He assured me that he was not killed, but carried off by the natives; still he hoped he was safe. Ernest then told me he had seen him seated in the canoe, apparently without clothes, but not stained black as Fritz was.

“I earnestly wish he had been,” said Fritz; “to that I attribute my escape. But I am truly thankful to God that you have seen him, Ernest. Which way have the monsters gone?”

Ernest pointed out the cape, and Fritz was anxious that we should embark without delay, and endeavour to snatch him from them.

“And have you learned nothing of your mother and Francis?” said I.

“Alas! nothing,” said he; “though I think I recognized a handkerchief, belonging to dear mamma, on the head of a native. I will tell you all my adventure as we go. You forgive me, dear father?”

“Yes, my dear son,” said I; “I forgive and pity you.” After recommending ourselves to the protection of God, I desired Fritz to commence his melancholy recital.

“It will be melancholy, indeed,” said the poor boy, weeping; “if we do not find my dear Jack, I shall never forgive myself for not having stained his skin before my own; then he should have been with you now ”

“But I have you, my dear son, to console your father,” said I. “I can do nothing myself, in my sorrow. I depend on you, my two eldest, to restore to me what I have lost. Go on, Fritz.”

“We went on,” continued he, “with courage and hope; and as we proceeded, we felt that you were right in saying we ought not to judge of the island by the borders. You can form no idea of the fertility of the island, or of the beauty of the trees and shrubs we met with at every step, quite unknown to me; some were covered with fragrant flowers, others with tempting fruits; which, however, we did not venture to taste, as we had not Knips to try them.”

“Did you see any monkeys?” asked Ernest.

“Not one,” replied his brother, “to the great vexation of Jack; but we saw parrots, and all sorts of birds of the most splendid plumage. Whilst we were remarking these creatures, I did not neglect to look carefully about for any trace that might aid our search. I saw no hut, no sort of dwelling, nor anything that could indicate that the island was inhabited, and not the slightest appearance of fresh water; and we should have been tormented with thirst if we had not found some cocoa-nuts containing milk. But if we found no dwellings, we often discovered traces of the natives, extinguished fires, remains of kangaroos and of fish, cocoa-nut shells, and even entire nuts, which we secured for ourselves; we remarked, also, footmarks on the sand. We both wished anxiously to meet with a native, that we might endeavour to make him comprehend, by signs, whom we were in search of, hoping that natural affection might have some influence even with these untaught creatures. I was only fearful that my dress and the colour of my skin might terrify them. In the mean time, Jack, with his usual rashness, had climbed to the summit of one of the tallest trees, and suddenly cried out, ’Fritz, prepare your signs, the natives are landing. Oh! what black ugly creatures they are, and nearly naked! you ought to dress yourself like them, to make friends with them. You can stain your skin with these,’ throwing me down branches of a sort of fruit of a dark purple colour, large as a plum, with a skin like the mulberry. ’I have been tasting them, they are very nauseous, and they have stained my fingers black; rub yourself well with the juice of this fruit, and you will be a perfect native,’

“I agreed immediately. He descended from the tree while I undressed, and with his assistance I stained myself from head to foot, as you see me; but don’t be alarmed, a single dip in the sea will make me a European again. The good-natured Jack then helped to dress me in a sort of tunic made of large leaves, and laughed heartily when he looked at me. I then wished to disguise him in the same way, but he would not consent; he declared that, when he met with mamma and Francis, he should fly to embrace them, and that he should alarm and disgust them in such a costume. He said I could protect him if the natives wished to devour him: they were now at hand, and we went forward, Jack following me with my bundle of clothes under his arm. I had slung my kangaroo-skin bag of powder and provision on my shoulders, and I was glad to see that most of the natives wore the skin of that animal, for the most part spread out like a mantle over their shoulders; few of them had other clothes, excepting one, who appeared to be the chief, and had a tunic of green rushes, neatly woven. I tried to recollect all the words of native language I could, but very few occurred to me. But, alas! they did not appear to understand my words. The chief thought I wished to rob him of his handkerchief, and repelled me roughly. I then wished to retire, and I told Jack to follow me; but four islanders seized him, opened his waistcoat and shirt, and cried out together, ‘Alea tea tata.’ In an instant he was stripped, and his clothes and mine were put on in a strange fashion by the natives. Jack, mimicking all their contortions, recovered his shirt from one of them, put it on, and began to dance, calling on me to do the same, and, in a tone as if singing, repeated, ’Make your escape, Fritz, while I am amusing them; I will then run off and join you very soon,’ As if I could for a moment think of leaving him in the hands of these barbarians! However, I recollected at that moment the bag you had given me of toys and trinkets; we had thoughtlessly left it under the great tree where I had undressed. I told Jack, in the same tone, I would fetch it, if he could amuse the natives till I returned, which he might be certain would be very soon. I ran off with all speed, and without opposition arrived at the tree, found my bag well guarded, indeed, father; for what was my surprise to find our two faithful dogs, Turk and Flora, sitting over it.”

“Flora!” cried I, “she accompanied my dear wife and child into their captivity; they must be in this island why have we left it!”

“My dear father,” continued Fritz, “depend on it, they are not there; but I feel convinced that the wretches who have carried off Jack, hold dear mamma and Francis in captivity; therefore we must, at all events, pursue them. The meeting between Flora and me was truly joyful, for I was now convinced that my mother and Francis were not far off, though certainly not on the same island, or their attached friend would not have quitted them. I concluded that the chief who had taken my mamma’s handkerchief had also taken her dog, and brought her on this excursion, and that she had here met with her friend Turk, who had rambled from us.

“After caressing Flora, and taking up my bag, I ran off full speed to the spot where my dear Jack was trying to divert the barbarians. As I approached, I heard cries, not the noisy laughter of the natives, but cries of distress from my beloved brother, cries for help, addressed to me. I did not walk I flew till I reached the spot, and I then saw him bound with a sort of strong cord, made of gut; his hands were fastened behind his back, his legs tied together, and these cruel men were carrying him towards their canoe, while he was crying out, ’Fritz, Fritz, where are you?’ I threw myself desperately on the six men who were bearing him off. In the struggle, my gun, which I held in my hand, caught something, and accidentally went off, and O, father, it was my own dear Jack that I wounded! I cannot tell how I survived his cry of ‘You have killed me!’ And when I saw his blood flow, my senses forsook me, and I fainted. When I recovered, I was alone; they had carried him off. I rose, and following the traces of his blood, arrived fortunately at the shore just as they were embarking. God permitted me to see him again, supported by one of the natives, and even to hear his feeble voice cry, ’Console yourself, Fritz, I am not dead; I am only wounded in the shoulder; it is not your fault; go, my kind brother, as quick as possible to papa, and you will both’ the canoe sailed away so swiftly, that I heard no more; but I understood the rest ’you will both come and rescue me.’ But will there be time? Will they dress his wound? Oh! father, what have I done! Can you forgive me?”

Overwhelmed with grief, I could only hold out my hand to my poor boy, and assure him I could not possibly blame him for this distressing accident.

Ernest, though greatly afflicted, endeavoured to console his brother; he told him a wound in the shoulder was not dangerous, and the natives certainly intended to dress his wound, or they would have left him to die. Fritz, somewhat comforted, begged me to allow him to bathe, to divest himself of the colouring, which was now become odious to him, as being that of these ruthless barbarians. I was reluctant to consent; I thought it might still be useful, in gaining access to the natives; but he was certain they would recognize him in that disguise as the bearer of the thunder, and would distrust him. I now recollected to ask what had become of his gun, and was sorry to learn that they had carried it off whilst he lay insensible; he himself considered that it would be useless to them, as they had fortunately left him the bag of ammunition. Ernest, however, regretted the loss to ourselves, this being the third we had lost the one we had left in the canoe being also in the possession of the natives. The dogs we missed, too, and Fritz could give no account of them; we concluded they had either followed the natives, or were still in the island. This was another severe sorrow; it seemed as if every sort of misfortune was poured out upon us. I rested on the shoulder of Ernest in my anguish. Fritz took advantage of my silence, and leaped out of the pinnace to have a bath. I was alarmed at first; but he was such an excellent swimmer, and the sea was so calm, that I soon abandoned my fears for him.

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