Swiss Family Robinson Chapters 15 and 16

Chapter 15

I had observed on the shore, the preceding day, a quantity of wood, which I thought would suit to make a sledge, to convey our casks and heavy stores from Tent House to Falcon’s Nest. At dawn of day I woke Ernest, whose inclination to indolence I wished to overcome, and leaving the rest asleep, we descended, and harnessing the ass to a strong branch of a tree that was lying near, we proceeded to the shore. I had no difficulty in selecting proper pieces of wood; we sawed them the right length, tied them together, and laid them across the bough, which the patient animal drew very contentedly. We added to the load a small chest we discovered half buried in the sand, and we returned homewards, Ernest leading the ass, and I assisted by raising the load with a lever when we met with any obstruction. My wife had been rather alarmed; but seeing the result of our expedition, and hearing of the prospect of a sledge, she was satisfied. I opened the chest, which contained only some sailors’ dresses and some linen, both wetted with sea-water; but likely to be very useful as our own clothes decayed. I found Fritz and Jack had been shooting ortolans (a kind of bird); they had killed about fifty, but had consumed so much powder and shot, that I checked a prodigality so imprudent in our situation. I taught them to make snares for the birds of the threads we drew from the karata leaves we had brought home. My wife and her two younger sons busied themselves with these, while I, with my two elder boys, began to construct the sledge. As we were working, we heard a great noise among the fowls, and Ernest, looking about, discovered the monkey seizing and hiding the eggs from the nests; he had collected a good store in a hole among the roots, which Ernest carried to his mother; and Knips was punished by being tied up, every morning, till the eggs were collected.

Our work was interrupted by dinner, composed of ortolans, milk, and cheese. After dinner, Jack had climbed to the higher branches of the trees to place his snares, and found the pigeons were making nests. I then told him to look often to the snares, for fear our own poor birds should be taken; and, above all, never in future to fire into the tree.

“Papa,” said little Francis, “can we not sow some gunpowder, and then we shall have plenty?” This proposal was received with shouts of laughter, which greatly discomposed the little innocent fellow. Professor Ernest immediately seized the opportunity to give a lecture on the composition of gunpowder.

At the end of the day my sledge was finished. Two long curved planks of wood, crossed by three pieces, at a distance from each other, formed the simple conveyance. The fore and hind parts were in the form of horns, to keep the load from falling off. Two ropes were fastened to the front, and my sledge was complete. My wife was delighted with it, and hoped I would now set out immediately to Tent House for the butter-cask. I made no objection to this; and Ernest and I prepared to go, and leave Fritz in charge of the family.


Chapter 16

When we were ready to set out, Fritz presented each of us with a little case he had made from the skin of the margay. They were ingeniously contrived to contain knife, fork, and spoon, and a small hatchet. We then harnessed the ass and the cow to the sledge, took a flexible bamboo cane for a whip, and, followed by Flora, we departed, leaving Turk to guard the tree.

We went by the shore, as the better road for the sledge, and crossing Family Bridge, were soon at Tent House. After unharnessing the animals, we began to load. We took the cask of butter, the cheese, and the biscuit; all the rest of our utensils, powder, shot, and Turk’s armour, which we had left there. These labours had so occupied us, that we had not observed that our animals, attracted by the pasturage, had crossed the bridge, and wandered out of sight. I sent Ernest to seek them, and in the mean time went to the bay, where I discovered some convenient little hollows in the rock, that seemed cut out for baths. I called Ernest to come, and till he arrived, employed myself in cutting some rushes, which I thought might be useful. When my son came, I found he had ingeniously removed the first planks from the bridge, to prevent the animals straying over again. We then had a very pleasant bath, and Ernest being out first, I sent him to the rock, where the salt was accumulated, to fill a small bag, to be transferred to the large bags on the ass. He had not been absent long, when I heard him cry out, “Papa! papa! a huge fish! I cannot hold it; it will break my line.” I ran to his assistance, and found him lying on the ground on his face, tugging at his line, to which an enormous salmon was attached, that had nearly pulled him into the water. I let it have a little more line, then drew it gently into a shallow, and secured it. It appeared about fifteen pounds weight; and we pleased ourselves with the idea of presenting this to our good cook. Ernest said, he remembered having remarked how this place swarmed with fish, and he took care to bring his rod with him; he had taken about a dozen small fishes, which he had in his handkerchief, before he was overpowered by the salmon. I cut the fishes open, and rubbed the inside with salt, to preserve them; then placing them in a small box on the sledge, and adding our bags of salt, we harnessed our animals, and set off homewards.

When we were about half-way, Flora left us, and, by her barking, raised a singular animal, which seemed to leap instead of ran. The irregular bounds of the animal disconcerted my aim, and, though very near, I missed it. Ernest was more fortunate; he fired at it, and killed it. It was an animal about the size of a sheep, with the tail of a tiger; its head and skin were like those of a mouse, ears longer than the hare; there was a curious pouch on the belly; the fore legs were short, as if imperfectly developed, and armed with strong claws, the hind legs long, like a pair of stilts. After Ernest’s pride of victory was a little subdued, he fell back on his science, and began to examine his spoil.

“By its teeth,” said he, “it should belong to the family of rodentes, or gnawers; by its legs, to the jumpers; and by its pouch, to the opossum tribe.”

This gave me the right clue. “Then,” said I, “this must be the animal Cook first discovered in New Holland, and it is called the kangaroo.”

We now tied the legs of the animal together, and, putting a stick through, carried it to the sledge very carefully, for Ernest was anxious to preserve the beautiful skin. Our animals were heavily laden; but, giving them a little rest and some fresh grass, we once more started, and in a short time reached Falcon’s Nest.

My wife had been employed during our absence in washing the clothes of the three boys, clothing them in the mean time from the sailor’s chest we had found a few days before. Their appearance was excessively ridiculous, as the garments neither suited their age nor size, and caused great mirth to us all; but my wife had preferred this disguise to the alternative of their going naked.

We now began to display our riches, and relate our adventures. The butter and the rest of the provisions were very welcome, the salmon still more so, but the sight of the kangaroo produced screams of admiration. Fritz displayed a little jealousy, but soon surmounted it by an exertion of his nobler feelings; and only the keen eye of a father could have discovered it. He congratulated Ernest warmly, but could not help begging to accompany me next time.

“I promise you that,” said I, “as a reward for the conquest you have achieved over your jealousy of your brother. But, remember, I could not have given you a greater proof of my confidence, than in leaving you to protect your mother and brothers. A noble mind finds its purest joy in the accomplishment of its duty, and to that willingly sacrifices its inclination. But,” I added, in a low tone, lest I should distress my wife, “I propose another expedition to the vessel, and you must accompany me.”

We then fed our tired animals, giving them some salt with their grass, a great treat to them. Some salmon was prepared for dinner, and the rest salted. After dinner, I hung up the kangaroo till next day, when we intended to salt and smoke the flesh. Evening arrived, and an excellent supper of fish,ortolans, and potatoes refreshed us; and, after thanks to God, we retired to rest.

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