Swiss Family Robinson Chapters 20 and 21

Chapter 20

We had two days of incessant labour in fitting and loading the pinnace; finally, after putting up our masts, ropes, and sails, we selected a cargo of things our boats could not bring. When all was ready, my boys obtained permission, as a reward for their industry, to salute their mamma, as we entered the bay, by firing our two guns. Fritz was captain, and Ernest and Jack, at his command, put their matches to the guns, and fired. My wife and little boy rushed out in alarm; but our joyful shouts soon re-assured them; and they were ready to welcome us with astonishment and delight. Fritz placed a plank from the pinnace to the shore, and, assisting his mother, she came on board. They gave her a new salute, and christened the vessel, The Elizabeth, after her.

My wife praised our skill and perseverance, but begged we would not suppose that Francis and she had been idle during our long absence. We moored the little fleet safely to the shore, and followed her up the river to the cascade, where we saw a neat garden laid out in beds and walks.

“This is our work,” said she; “the soil here, being chiefly composed of decayed leaves, is light and easy to dig. There I have my potatoes; there manioc roots: these are sown with peas, beans and lentils; in this row of beds are sown lettuces, radishes, cabbages, and other European vegetables. I have reserved one part for sugar-canes; on the high ground I have transplanted pine-apples, and sown melons. Finally, round every bed, I have sown a border of maize, that the high, bushy stems may protect the young plants from the sun.”

I was delighted with the result of the labour and industry of a delicate female and a child, and could scarcely believe it was accomplished in so short a time.

“I must confess I had no great hope of success at first,” said my wife, “and this made me averse to speaking of it. Afterwards, when I suspected you had a secret, I determined to have one, too, and give you a surprise.”

After again applauding these useful labours, we returned to discharge our cargo; and as we went, my good Elizabeth, still full of horticultural plans, reminded me of the young fruit-trees we had brought from the vessel. I promised to look after them next day, and to establish my orchard near her kitchen-garden.

We unloaded our vessels; placed on the sledge all that might be useful at Falcon’s Nest; and, arranging the rest under the tent, fixed our pinnace to the shore, by means of the anchor and a cord fastened to a heavy stone; and at length set out to Falcon’s Nest, where we arrived soon, to the great comfort of my wife, who dreaded the burning plain at Tent House.


Chapter 21


After our return to Falcon’s Nest, I requested my sons to continue their exercises in gymnastics. I wished to develope all the vigour and energy that nature had given them; and which, in our situation, were especially necessary. I added to archery, racing, leaping, wrestling, and climbing trees, either by the trunks, or by a rope suspended from the branches, as sailors climb. I next taught them to use the lasso, a powerful weapon, by aid of which the people of South America capture savage animals. I fixed two balls of lead to the ends of a cord about a fathom in length. The Patagonians, I told them, used this weapon with wonderful dexterity. Having no leaden balls, they attach a heavy stone to each end of a cord about thirty yards long. If they wish to capture an animal, they hurl one of the stones at it with singular address. By the peculiar art with which the ball is thrown, the rope makes a turn or two round the neck of the animal, which remains entangled, without the power of escaping. In order to show the power of this weapon, I took aim at the trunk of a tree which they pointed out. My throw was quite successful. The end of the rope passed two or three times round the trunk of the tree, and remained firmly fixed to it. If the tree had been the neck of a tiger, I should have been absolute master of it. This experiment decided them all to learn the use of the lasso. Fritz was soon skilful in throwing it, and I encouraged the rest to persevere in acquiring the same facility, as the weapon might be invaluable to us when our ammunition failed.

The next morning I saw, on looking out, that the sea was too much agitated for any expedition in the boats; I therefore turned to some home employments. We looked over our stores for winter provision. My wife showed me a cask of ortolans she had preserved in butter, and a quantity of loaves of cassava bread, carefully prepared. She pointed out, that the pigeons had built in the tree, and were sitting on their eggs. We then looked over the young fruit-trees brought from Europe, and my sons and I immediately laid out a piece of ground, and planted them.

The day passed in these employments; and as we had lived only on potatoes, cassava bread, and milk for this day, we determined to go off next morning in pursuit of game to recruit our larder. At dawn of day we all started, including little Francis and his mother, who wished to take this opportunity of seeing a little more of the country. My sons and I took our arms, I harnessed the ass to the sledge which contained our provision for the day, and was destined to bring back the products of the chase. Turk, accoutered in his coat of mail, formed the advanced guard; my sons followed with their guns; then came my wife with Francis leading the ass; and at a little distance I closed the procession, with Master Knips mounted on the patient Flora.

We crossed Flamingo Marsh, and there my wife was charmed with the richness of the vegetation and the lofty trees. Fritz left us, thinking this a favourable spot for game. We soon heard the report of his gun, and an enormous bird fell a few paces from us. I ran to assist him, as he had much difficulty in securing his prize, which was only wounded in the wing, and was defending itself vigorously with its beak and claws. I threw a handkerchief over its head, and, confused by the darkness, I had no difficulty in binding it, and conveying it in triumph to the sledge. We were all in raptures at the sight of this beautiful creature, which Ernest pronounced to be a female of the bustard tribe. My wife hoped that the bird might be domesticated among her poultry, and, attracting some more of its species, might enlarge our stock of useful fowls. We soon arrived at the Wood of Monkeys, as we called it, where we had obtained our cocoa-nuts; and Fritz related the laughable scene of the stratagem to his mother and brothers. Ernest looked up wistfully at the nuts, but there were no monkeys to throw them down.

“Do they never fall from the trees?” and hardly had he spoken, when a large cocoa-nut fell at his feet, succeeded by a second, to my great astonishment, for I saw no animal in the tree, and I was convinced the nuts in the half-ripe state, as these were, could not fall of themselves.

“It is exactly like a fairy tale,” said Ernest; “I had only to speak, and my wish was accomplished.”

“And here comes the magician,” said I, as, after a shower of nuts, I saw a huge land-crab descending the tree quietly, and quite regardless of our presence. Jack boldly struck a blow at him, but missed, and the animal, opening its enormous claws, made up to its opponent, who fled in terror. But the laughter of his brothers made him ashamed, and recalling his courage, he pulled off his coat, and threw it over the back of the crab; this checked its movements, and going to his assistance, I killed it with a blow of my hatchet.



“Suddenly we saw Ernest running to us, in great terror,
crying, ‘A wild boar, papa! a great wild boar!.”

“But, with this,” said Fritz, “we have a poor show of game. Do let us leave mamma with the young ones, and set off, to see what we can meet with.”

I consented, and we left Ernest with his mother and Francis, Jack wishing to accompany us. We made towards the rocks at the right hand, and Jack preceded us a little, when he startled us by crying out, “A crocodile, papa! a crocodile!”

“You simpleton!” said I, “a crocodile in a place where there is not a drop of water!”

“Papa! I see it!” said the poor child, his eyes fixed on one spot; “it is there, on this rock, sleeping. I am sure it is a crocodile!”

As soon as I was near enough to distinguish it, I assured him his crocodile was a very harmless lizard, called the iguana, whose eggs and flesh were excellent food. Fritz would immediately have shot at this frightful creature, which was about five feet in length. I showed him that his scaly coat rendered such an attempt useless. I then cut a strong stick and a light wand. To the end of the former I attached a cord with a noose; this I held in my right hand, keeping the wand in my left. I approached softly, whistling. The animal awoke, apparently listening with pleasure. I drew nearer, tickling him gently with the wand. He lifted up his head, and opened his formidable jaws. I then dexterously threw the noose round his neck, drew it, and, jumping on his back, by the aid of my sons, held him down, though he succeeded in giving Jack a desperate blow with his tail. Then, plunging my wand up his nostrils, a few drops of blood came, and he died apparently without pain.

We now carried off our game. I took him on my back, holding him by the fore-claws, while my boys carried the tail behind me; and, with shouts of laughter, the procession returned to the sledge.

Poor little Francis was in great dismay when he saw the terrible monster we brought, and began to cry; but we rallied him out of his cowardice, and his mother, satisfied with our exploits, begged to return home. As the sledge was heavily laden, we decided to leave it till the next day, placing on the ass, the iguana, the crab, our gourd vessels, and a bag of the guavas, little Francis being also mounted. The bustard we loosed, and, securing it by a string tied to one of its legs, led it with us.

We arrived at home in good time. My wife prepared part of the iguana for supper, which was pronounced excellent. The crab was rejected as tough and tasteless. Our new utensils were then tried, the egg-baskets and the milk-bowls, and Fritz was charged to dig a hole in the earth, to be covered with boards, and serve as a dairy, till something better was thought of. Finally, we ascended our leafy abode, and slept in peace.

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