Swiss Family Robinson Chapter 53

Chapter 53

We were never weary with caressing our dear Francis. We were very anxious to learn from him all the particulars of the arrival of the natives in our island, the seizure of his mother and himself, their voyage, and their residence here, and who were the friends they had met with: but it was impossible, his tawny majesty never left us for a moment, and played with the boy as if he had been a child himself. Francis showed him all the toys from our chest; he was extremely amused with the small mirrors, and the dolls. A painted carriage, driven by a coachman who raised his whip when the wheels turned, appeared miraculous to him. He uttered screams of delight as he pointed it out to his followers. The ticking of my watch also charmed him; and as I had several more, I gave him it, showing him how to wind it up. But the first time he tried to do it, he broke the spring, and when it was silent he cared no longer for it, but threw it on one side. However, as the gold was very glittering, he took it up again, and suspending it from the handkerchief that was wound round his head, it hung over his nose, and formed a striking ornament. Francis showed him his face in a mirror, which royal amusement made him laugh heartily. He asked the missionary if it was the invisible and Almighty God who had made all these wonderful things. Mr. Willis replied, that it was he who gave men the power to make them. I do not know whether Bara-ourou comprehended this, but he remained for some time in deep thought. I profited by this to ask the missionary what were the words which had terrified them so when they wished to keep my son from me, and which had compelled them to surrender him?

“I told them,” answered he, “that the Almighty and unseen God, of whom I spoke to them daily, ordered them, by my voice, to restore a son to his father; I threatened them with his anger if they refused, and promised them his mercy if they obeyed; and they did obey. The first step is gained, they know the duty of adoring and obeying God; every other truth proceeds from this, and I have no doubt that my natives will one day become good Christians. My method of instruction is suited to their limited capacity. I prove to them that their wooden idols, made by their own hands, could neither create, hear them, nor protect them. I have shown them God in his works, have declared him to be as good as he is powerful, hating evil, cruelty, murder, and cannibalism, and they have renounced all these. In their late wars they have either released or adopted their prisoners. If they carried off your wife and son, they intended it for a good action, as you will soon understand.”

I could not ask Francis any questions, as Bara-ourou continued playing with him, so turning to Ernest, I asked him what passed when the natives joined him?

“When you left me,” said he, “I amused myself by searching for shells, plants, and zoophytes, with which the rocks abound, and I have added a good deal to my collection. I was at some distance from the pinnace, when I heard a confused sound of voices, and concluded that the natives were coming; in fact, ten or a dozen issued from the road you had entered, and I cannot comprehend how you missed meeting them. Fearing they would attempt to take possession of my pinnace, I returned speedily, and seized a loaded musket, though I determined to use it only to defend my own life, or the pinnace. I stood on the deck in an attitude as bold and imposing as I could command; but I did not succeed in intimidating them. They leaped, one after the other, on deck, and surrounded me, uttering loud cries. I could not discover whether they were cries of joy or of fury; but I showed no fear, and addressed them in a friendly tone, in some words from Capt. Cook’s vocabulary; but they did not seem to comprehend me, neither could I understand any of theirs except écroue (father), which they frequently repeated, and tara-tauo (woman). One of them had Fritz’s gun, from which I concluded they were of the party that had carried off Jack. I took it, and showing him mine, endeavoured to make him understand that it also belonged to me. He thought I wished to exchange, and readily offered to return it, and take mine. This would not have suited me; Fritz’s gun was discharged, and I could not let them have mine loaded. To prevent accident, surrounded as I was, I decided to give them a fright, and seeing a bird flying above us, I took aim so correctly, that my shot brought down the bird, a blue pigeon.

They were for a moment stupified with terror; then immediately all left the pinnace, except Parabery; he seemed to be pleased with me, often pointing to the sky, saying mete, which means good, I believe. His comrades were examining the dead bird. Some touched their own shoulders, to try if they were wounded as well as the bird and Jack had been, which convinced me they had carried him off. I tried to make Parabery understand my suspicion, and I think I succeeded, for he made me an affirmative sign, pointing to the interior of the island, and touching his shoulder with an air of pity. I took several things from the chest, and gave them to him, making signs that he should show them to the others, and induce them to return to me. He comprehended me very well, and complied with my wishes. I was soon surrounded by the whole party, begging of me. I was busy distributing beads, mirrors, and small knives when you came, and we are now excellent friends. Two or three of them returned to the wood, and brought me cocoa-nuts and bananas. But we must be careful to hide our guns, of which they have a holy horror. And now, dear father, I think no one ought to call these people savages. They have the simplicity of childhood; a trifle irritates them, a trifle appeases them; they are grateful and affectionate. I find them neither cruel nor barbarous. They have done me no harm, when they might easily have killed me, thrown me into the sea, or carried me away.”

“We must not,” said I, “judge of all native people by these, who have had the benefit of a virtuous teacher. Mr. Willis has already cast into their hearts the seeds of that divine religion, which commands us to do unto others as we would they should do unto us, and to pardon and love our enemies.”

While we were discoursing, we arrived at a spot where the canoes had already landed; we were about to do the same, but the king did not seem inclined to quit the pinnace, but continued speaking to the missionary. I was still fearful that he wished to keep Francis, to whom he seemed to be more and more attached, holding him constantly on his knee; but at last, to my great joy, he placed him in my arms.

“He keeps his word with you,” said Mr. Willis. “You may carry him to his mother; but, in return, he wishes you to permit him to go in your pinnace to his abode on the other side of the strait, that he may show it to the women, and he promises to bring it back; perhaps there would be danger in refusing him.”

I agreed with him; but still there was a difficulty in granting this request. If he chose to keep it, how should we return? Besides, it contained our only barrel of powder, and all our articles of traffic, and how could we expect it would escape pillage?

Mr. Willis confessed he had not yet been able to cure their fondness for theft, and suggested, as the only means of security, that I should accompany the king, and bring the pinnace back, which was then to be committed to the charge of Parabery, for whose honesty he would be responsible.

Here was another delay; the day was so far advanced, that I might not, perhaps, be able to return before night. Besides, though my wife did not know we were so near her, she knew they had carried away Francis, and she would certainly be very uneasy about him. Bara-ourou looked very impatient, and as it was necessary to answer him, I decided at once; I resigned Francis to the missionary, entreating him to take him to his mother, to prepare her for our approach, and to relate the cause of our delay.

I went on board my pinnace, and, conducted by the good Parabery, we took our way to that part of the coast where the dear ones resided whom I so anxiously desired to see. Some of the natives accompanied us in their own canoe; we should have preferred having only our friend Parabery, but we were not the masters.

Favoured by the wind, we soon reached the shore we had formerly quitted, and found our excellent missionary waiting for us.

“Come,” said he, “you are now going to receive your reward. Your wife and children impatiently expect you; they would have come to meet you, but your wife is still weak, and Jack suffering your presence will soon cure them.”

I was too much affected to answer. Fritz gave me his arm, as much to support me as to restrain himself from rushing on before. Ernest did the same with Mr. Willis; his mildness pleased the good man, who also saw his taste for study, and tried to encourage it. After half an hour’s walk, the missionary told us we were now near our good friends. I saw no sign of a habitation, nothing but trees and rocks; at last I saw a light smoke among the trees, and at that moment Francis, who had been watching, ran to meet us.

“Mamma is expecting you,” said he, showing us the way through a grove of shrubs, thick enough to hide entirely the entrance into a kind of grotto; we had to stoop to pass into it. It resembled much the entrance of the bear’s den, which we found in the remote part of our island. A mat of rushes covered the opening, yet permitted the light to penetrate it. Francis removed the matting, calling

“Mamma, here we are!”

A lady, apparently about twenty-seven years of age, of mild and pleasing appearance, came forward to meet me. She a clothed in a robe mad of palm-leaves tied together, which reached from her throat to her feet, leaving her beautiful arms uncovered. Her light hair was braided and fastened up round her head.

“You are welcome,” said she, taking my hand; “you will be my poor friend’s best physician.”

We entered, and saw my dear wife seated on a bed of moss and leaves; she wept abundantly, pointing out to me our dear boy by her side. A little nymph of eleven or twelve years old was endeavouring to raise him.

“Here are your papa and brothers, Jack,” said she; “you are very happy in having what I have not: but your papa will be mine, and you shall be my brother.”

Jack thanked her affectionately. Fritz and Ernest, kneeling beside the couch, embraced their mother. Fritz begged her to forgive him for hurting his brother; and then tenderly inquired of Jack after his wound. For me, I cannot describe my gratitude and agitation; I could scarce utter a word to my dear wife, who, on her part, sunk down quite overcome on her bed. The lady, who was, I understood, named Madame Hirtel, approached to assist her. When she recovered, she presented to me Madame Hirtel and her two daughters. The eldest, Sophia, was attending on Jack; Matilda, who was about ten or eleven years of age, was playing with Francis; while the good missionary, on his knees, thanked God for having re-united us.

“And for life,” cried my dear wife. “My dear husband, I well knew you would set out to seek me; but how could I anticipate that you would ever succeed in finding me? We will now separate no more; this beloved friend has agreed to accompany us to the Happy Island, as I intend to call it, if I ever have the happiness to reach it again with all I love in the world. How graciously God permits us to derive blessings from our sorrows. See what my trial has produced me: a friend and two dear daughters, for henceforward we are only one family,”

We were mutually delighted with this arrangement, and entreated Mr. Willis to visit us often, and to come and live in the Happy Island when his mission was completed.

“I will consent,” said he, “if you will come and assist me in my duties; for which purpose you and your sons must acquire the language of these islanders. We are much nearer your island than you think, for you took a very circuitous course, and Parabery, who knows it, declares it is only a day’s voyage with a fair wind. And, moreover, he tells me, that he is so much delighted with you and your sons, that he cannot part with you, and wishes me to obtain your permission to accompany you, and remain with you. He will be exceedingly useful to you: will teach the language to you all, and will be a ready means of communication between us.”

I gladly agreed to take Parabery with us as a friend; but it was no time yet to think of departing, as Mr. Willis wished to have Jack some days longer under his care; we therefore arranged that I and my two sons should become his guests, as his hut was but a short distance off. We had many things to hear; but, as my wife was yet too weak to relate her adventures, we resolved first to have the history of Madame Hirtel. Night coming on, the missionary lighted a gourd lamp, and, after a light collation of bread-fruit, Madame Hirtel began her story.

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