Swiss Family Robinson Chapter 56

Chapter 56

“We had been more than an hour under the tree, when I heard cries again; but this time I was not alarmed, for I distinguished the voice of the disconsolate mother, and I knew that I could comfort her. Her grief brought her back to the spot where she thought her child had been devoured; she wished, as she afterwards told us, when we could understand her, to search for some remains of him, his hair, his bones, or even a piece of the bark that bound him; and here he was, full of life and health. She advanced slowly, sobbing, and her eyes turned to the ground. She was so absorbed in her search, that she did not see us when we were but twenty yards from her. Suddenly, Sophia darted like an arrow to her, took her hand, and said, ‘Come,Minou is here.’

“Canda neither knew what she saw nor what she heard; she took my daughter for something supernatural, and made no resistance, but followed her to the fig-tree. Even then she did not recognize the little creature, released from his bonds, half-clothed, covered with flowers, and surrounded by three divinities, for she took us for such, and wished to prostrate herself before us. She was still more convinced of it when I took up her son, and placed him in her arms: she recognized him, and the poor little infant held out his arms to her. I can never express to you the transport of the mother; she screamed, clasped her child till he was half-suffocated, rapidly repeating words which we could not understand, wept, laughed, and was in a delirium of delight that terrified Minou. He began to cry, and held out his arms to Sophia, who, as well as Matilda, was weeping at the sight. Canda looked at them with astonishment; she soothed the child, and put him to her breast, which he rejected at first, but finally seized it, and his mother was happy. I took the opportunity to try and make her comprehend, that the great animal had brought him here; that we had found him, and taken care of him; and I made signs for her to follow me, which she did without hesitation, till we reached the grotto, when, without entering, she fled away with her infant with such rapidity, that it was impossible to overtake her, and was soon out of sight.

“I had some difficulty in consoling my daughters for the loss of Minou; they thought they should see him no more, and that his mother was very ungrateful to carry him off, without even letting them take leave of him. They were still weeping and complaining, when we saw the objects of our anxiety approaching; but Canda was now accompanied by a man, who was carrying the child. They entered the grotto, and prostrated themselves before us. You know Parabery; his countenance pleased and tranquillized us. As a relation of the king, he was distinguished by wearing a short tunic of leaves; his body was tattooed and stained with various colours; but not his face, which expressed kindness and gratitude, united with great intelligence. He comprehended most of my signs. I did not succeed so well in understanding him; but saw he meant kindly. In the mean time my daughters had a more intelligible conversation with Canda and Minou; they half-devoured the latter with caresses, fed him with figs and honey, and amused him so much, that he would scarcely leave them. Canda was not jealous of this preference, but seemed delighted with it; she, in her turn, caressed my daughters, admired their glossy hair and fair skin, and pointed them out to her husband; she repeated Minou after them, but always added anotherMinou, and appeared to think this name beautiful. After some words with Parabery, she placed MinouMinou in Sophia’s arms, and they both departed, making signs that they would return; but we did not see them for some time after. Sophia and Matilda had their full enjoyment of their favourite; they wished to teach him to walk and to speak, and they assured me he was making great progress. They were beginning to hope his parents had left him entirely, when they came in sight, Parabery bending under the weight of two bear-skins, and a beautiful piece of matting to close the entrance to my grotto; Canda carried a basket on her head filled with fine fruit; the cocoa, the bread-fruit (which they call rima), pine-apples, figs, and, finally, a piece of bear’s flesh, roasted at the fire, which I did not like; but I enjoyed the fruits and the milk of the cocoa-nut, of which MinouMinou had a good share. They spread the bear-skins in the midst of the grotto; Parabery, Canda, and the infant, between them, took possession of one without ceremony, and motioned to us to make our bed of the other. But the bears having only been killed the evening before, these skins had an intolerable smell. I made them comprehend this, and Parabery immediately carried them off and placed them in the brook, secured by stones. He brought us in exchange a heap of moss and leaves, on which we slept very well.

“From this moment we became one family. Canda remained with us, and repaid to my daughters all the care and affection they bestowed on MinouMinou. There never was a child had more indulgence; but he deserved it, for his quickness and docility. At the end of a few months he began to lisp a few words of German, as well as his mother, of whom I was the teacher, and who made rapid progress. Parabery was very little with us, but he undertook to be our purveyor, and furnished us abundantly with everything necessary for our subsistence. Canda taught my daughter to make beautiful baskets, some, of a flat form, served for our plates and dishes. Parabery made us knives from sharp stones. My daughters, in return, taught Canda to sew. At the time of our shipwreck we had, each of us, in her pocket, a morocco housewife, with a store of needles and thread. By means of these we had mended our linen, and we now made dresses of palm-leaves. The bear-skins, washed in the stream, and thoroughly dried in the burning sun, have been very useful to us in the cold and rainy season. Now that we had guides, we made, in the fine season, excursions to different parts of the island.MinouMinou soon learned to walk, and being strong, like all these islanders, would always accompany us. We went one day to the sea-shore. I shuddered at the sight, and Canda, who knew that my husband and child had perished in the sea, wept with me. We now spoke each other’s language well enough to converse. She told me that a black friend (Emily bowed to Mr. Willis) had arrived in a neighbouring island, to announce to them that there was a Being, almighty and all-merciful, who lived in Heaven, and heard all they said. Her comprehension of this truth was very confused, and I endeavoured to make it more clear and positive.

“‘I see very well,’ said she, ’that you know him. Is it to Him that you speak every morning and evening, kneeling as we do before our king Bara-ourou?’

“‘Yes, Canda,’ said I, ’it is before Him who is the King of Kings, who gave us our life, who preserves it, and bestows on us all good, and who promises us still more when this life is past.’

“’Was it he who charged you to take care of MinouMinou, and to restore him to me?’ asked she.

“’Yes, Canda; all that you or I do that is good, is put into our hearts by Him.’

“I thus tried to prepare the simple mind of Canda for the great truths that Mr. Willis was to teach her.”

“You left me little to do,” said Mr. Willis. “I found Parabery and Canda prepared to believe, with sincere faith, the holy religion I came to teach the God of the white people was the only one they adored. I knew Parabery, he had come to hunt seals in the island where I was established, and I was struck by his appearance. What was my astonishment to find, that when I spoke to him of the one true God, he was no stranger to the subject. He had even some ideas of a Saviour, and of future rewards and punishments.

“‘It was the white lady,’ said he, ’who taught me this; she teaches Canda and Minouminou, whose life she saved, and whom she is bringing up to be good like herself.’

“I had a great desire,” continued Mr. Willis, “to become acquainted with my powerful assistant in the great work of my mission. I told Parabery this, who offered to bring me here in his canoe; I came and found, in a miserable cave, or rather in a bear’s den, all the virtues of mature age united to the charms of youth; a resigned and pious mother, bringing up her children, as women should be brought up, in simplicity, forbearance, and love of industry; teaching them, as the best knowledge, to love God with all their heart, and their neighbour as themselves. Under the inspection of their mother, they were educating the son of Parabery. This child, then four years and a half old, spoke German well, and knew his alphabet, which Madame Hirtel traced on the floor of the grotto; in this way she taught her daughters to read; they taught Minouminou, who, in his turn, teaches his parents. Parabery often brings his friends to the grotto, and Madame Hirtel, having acquired the language, casts into their hearts the good seed, which I venture to hope will not be unfruitful.

“Finding these people in such a good state, and wishing to enjoy the society of a family, like myself, banished to a remote region, I decided to take up my abode in this island.

“Parabery soon built me a hut in the neighbourhood of the grotto; Madame Hirtel compelled me to take one of her bear-skins. I have by degrees formed my establishment, dividing with my worthy neighbour the few useful articles I brought from Europe, and we live a tranquil and happy life.

“And now comes the time that brought about our meeting. Some of our islanders, in a fishing expedition, were driven by the wind on your island. At the entrance of a large bay, they found a small canoe of bark, carefully moored to a tree. Either their innate propensity for theft, or the notion that it had no owner, prevailed over them, and they brought it away. I was informed of this, and was curious to see it; I recognized at once that it was made by Europeans: the careful finish, the neat form, the oars, rudder, mast, and triangular sail, all showed that it had not been made by natives. The seats of the rowers were made of planks, and were painted, and what further convinced me was, that I found in it a capital gun, loaded, and a horn of powder in a hole under one of the seats. I then made particular inquiries about the island from whence they had brought the canoe; and all their answers confirmed my idea that it must be inhabited by a European, from whom they had perhaps taken his only means of leaving it.

“Restless about this fancy, I tried to persuade them to return and discover if the island was inhabited. I could not prevail on them to restore the canoe; but, seeing me much agitated, they resolved secretly to procure me a great pleasure as they thought, by returning to the island and bringing away any one they could meet with, whether he would or not. Parabery, always the leader in perilous enterprises, and who was so attached to me, would not be left out in one which was to produce me such pleasure. They set out, and you know the result of their expedition. I leave it to your wife to tell you how she was brought away, and pass on to the time of their arrival. My people brought them to me in triumph, and were vexed that they had only found one woman and a child, whom I might give to the white lady. This I did promptly. Your wife was ill and distressed, and I carried her immediately to the grotto. There she found a companion who welcomed her with joy; Francis replaced her own lost Alfred, and the two good mothers were soon intimate friends. But, notwithstanding this solace, your Elizabeth was inconsolable at the separation from her husband and children, and terrified at the danger to which you would expose yourself in searching for her. We were even afraid she would lose her reason, when the king came to take away Francis. He had seen him on his arrival, and was much taken with his appearance; he came again to see him, and resolved to adopt him as his son. You know what passed on this subject; and now you are once more united to all those who are dear to you.

“Bless God, brother, who knows how to produce good from what we think evil, and acknowledge the wisdom of his ways. You must return all together to your island; I am too much interested in the happiness of Emily to wish to detain her; and if God permits me, when my missions are completed, I will come to end my days with you, and to bless your rising colony.”

I suppress all our reflections on this interesting history, and our gratitude for the termination of our trials, and hasten to the recital, which, at my particular entreaty, my wife proceeded to give us.

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