The Swiss Family Robinson, Chapter 05

Chapter 5

Next morning, while the breakfast was getting ready, I attended to the beautiful skin of the kangaroo, which I was anxious to preserve entire; and afterwards, when Fritz had prepared everything in readiness for our trip to the wreck, I called Ernest and Jack in order to give them some parting injunctions.

They, however, had disappeared directly after breakfast, and their mother could only guess that, as we required potatoes, they might have gone to fetch a supply. I desired her to reprove them, on their return, for starting away without leave; but, as it appeared they had taken Turk, I satisfied myself that no harm was likely to befall them, although it was not without reluctance that I left my dear wife alone with little Franz, cheering her with hopes of our speedy return with new treasures from the wreck.

Advancing steadily on our way, we crossed the bridge at Jackal River, when suddenly, to our no small astonishment, Jack and Ernest burst out of a hiding-place where they had lain in wait for us, and were enchanted with the startling effect of their unexpected appearance upon their unsuspecting father and brother.

It was evident that they fully believed they might now go with us to the wreck.

To this notion I at once put a decided stop, although I could not find it in my heart to scold the two merry rogues for their thoughtless frolic, more especially as I particularly wished to send back a message to my wife. I told them they must hurry home, so as not to leave their mother in suspense, although, as they were already so far, they might collect some salt.

And I instructed them to explain that, as my work on board would take up a long time, she must try to bear with our absence for a night. This I had meant to say when we parted, but my courage had failed, knowing how much she would object to such a plan, and I had resolved to return in the evening.

On consideration, however, of the importance of constructing a raft, which was my intention in going, and finishing it without a second trip, I determined to remain on board for the night, as the boys had, unintentionally, given me the chance of sending a message to that effect.

'Goodbye boys, take care of yourselves! We're off,' shouted Fritz, as I joined him in the tub-boat, and we shoved off.

The current carried us briskly out of the bay; we were very soon moored safely alongside the wreck, and scrambling up her shattered sides, stood on what remained of the deck, and began at once to lay our plans. I wanted to make a raft fit to carry on shore a great variety of articles far too large and heavy for our present boat.

A number of empty water-casks seemed just what was required for a foundation: we closed them tightly, pushed them overboard, and arranging twelve of them side by side in rows of three, we firmly secured them together by means of spars, and then proceeded to lay a good substantial floor of planks, which was defended by a low bulwark. In this way we soon had a first-rate raft, exactly suited to our purpose.

It would have been impossible to return to land that same evening, for we were thoroughly fatigued by our labours, and had eaten only the light refreshment we had brought in our wallets, scarcely desisting a moment from our work.

Rejoicing that we were not expected home, we now made an excellent supper from the ship's provisions, and then rested for the night on spring mattresses, a perfect luxury to us, after our hard and narrow hammocks.

Next morning we actively set about loading the raft and boat: first carrying off the entire contents of our own cabins; and, passing on to the captain's room, we removed the furniture, as well as the doors and window-frames, with their bolts, bars and locks. We next took the officers' chests, and those belonging to the carpenter and gunsmith; the contents of these latter we had to remove in portions, as their weight was far beyond our strength.

One large chest was filled with an assortment of fancy goods, and reminded us of a jeweller's shop, so glittering was the display of gold and silver watches, snuff-boxes, buckles, studs, chains, rings and all manner of trinkets; these, and a box of money, drew our attention for a time; but more useful to us at present was a case of common knives and forks, which I was glad to find, as more suited to us than the smart silver ones we had previously taken on shore.

To my delight we found, most carefully packed, a number of young fruit trees; and we read on the tickets attached to them the names, so pleasant to European ears, of the apple, pear, chestnut, orange, almond, peach, apricot, plum, cherry and vine.

The cargo, which had been destined for the supply of a distant colony, proved, in fact, a rich and almost inexhaustible treasure to us. Ironmongery, plumber's tools, lead, paint, grind-stones, cart wheels, and all that was necessary for the work of a smith's forge, spades and plough-shares, sacks of maize, peas, oats, and wheat, a hand-mill, and also the parts of a saw-mill so carefully numbered that, were we strong enough, it would be easy to put it up, had been stowed away.

So bewildered were we by the wealth around us that for some time we were at a loss as to what to remove to the raft. It would be impossible to take everything; yet the first storm would complete the destruction of the ship, and we should lose all we left behind.

Selecting a number of the most useful articles, however, including of course the grain and the fruit trees, we gradually loaded our raft.

Fishing lines, reels, cordage, and a couple of harpoons were put on board, as well as a mariner's compass. Fritz, recollecting our encounter with the shark, placed the harpoons in readiness; and amused me by seeming to picture himself a whaler, flourishing his harpoon in most approved fashion. Early in the afternoon, both our craft were heavily laden, and we were ready to make for the shore. The voyage was begun with considerable anxiety, as, with the raft in tow, there was some danger of an accident.

But the sea being calm and the wind favourable, we found we could spread the sail, and our progress was very satisfactory. Presently, Fritz asked me for the telescope, as he had observed something curious floating at a distance. Then handing it back, he begged me to examine the object; which I soon discovered to be a turtle asleep on the water, and of course unconscious of our approach.

'Do, father, steer towards it!' exclaimed he. I accordingly did so, that he might have a nearer look at the creature. Little did I suspect what was to follow. The lad's back was turned to me, and the broad sail was between us, so that I could not perceive his actions; when, all of a sudden, I experienced a shock, and the thrill as of line running through a reel. Before I had time to call out, a second shock, and the sensation of the boat being rapidly drawn through the water, alarmed me.

'Fritz, what are you about?' cried I. 'You are sending us to the bottom.'

'I have him, hurrah! I have him safe!' shouted he, in eager excitement. To my amazement, I perceived that he really had struck the tortoise with a harpoon; a rope was attached to it, and the creature was running away with us.

Lowering the sail and seizing my hatchet, I hastened forward, in order to cut the line, and cast adrift at once turtle and harpoon.

'Father! Do wait!' pleaded the boy. 'There is no danger just yet! I promise to cut the line myself the instant it is necessary! Let us catch this turtle if we possibly can.'

'My dear boy, the turtle will be a very dear bargain, if he upsets all our goods into the sea, even if he does not drown us too. For heaven's sake, be careful! I will wait a few minutes, but the instant there is danger, cut the line.'

As the turtle began to make for the open sea, I hoisted the sail again; and, finding the opposition too much for it, the creature again directed its course landward, drawing us rapidly after it. The part of the shore for which the turtle was making was considerably to the left of our usual landing-place. The beach there shelved very gradually, and at some distance from land we grounded with a sharp shock, but fortunately without a capsize.

The turtle was evidently greatly exhausted, and no wonder, since it had been acting the part of a steam tug, and had been dragging, at full speed, a couple of heavily laden vessels. Its intention was to escape to land; but I leaped into the water, and wading up to it, dispatched it with my axe. Such was its tenacity of life, however, that it did not cease its struggles, until I had actually severed its head from its body.

As we were by no means far from Falconhurst, Fritz gave notice of our approach by firing off his gun, as well as shouting loudly in his glee; and, while we were yet engaged in securing our boats and getting the turtle on shore, the whole family appeared in the distance hastening eagerly towards us; and our new prize, together with the well-laden boat and raft, excited the liveliest interest; my wife's chief pleasure, however, consisted in seeing us safely back, as our night's absence had disturbed her, and she was horrified by the description of our dangerous run in the wake of the fugitive turtle.

Being anxious to remove some of our goods before night, the boys ran off to fetch the sledge; while I, having no anchor, contrived to moor the boats by means of some of the heavy blocks of iron we had brought. It required our united strength to get the turtle hoisted on to the sledge, its weight being prodigious; we found it, indeed, with the addition of the sapling fruit-trees, quite a sufficient load.

We then made the best of our way home, chatting merrily about our various adventures. The first thing to be done on arriving was to obtain some of the turtle's flesh to cook for supper. To my wife this appeared necessarily a work of time, as well as of difficulty; but I turned the beast on its back, and soon detached a portion of the meat from the breast with a hatchet, by breaking the lower shell; and I then directed that it should be cooked, with a little salt, shell and all.

'But let me first cut away this disgusting green fat,' said my wife, with a little shudder. 'See how it sticks all over the meat. No one could eat anything so nasty.'

'Leave the fat, whatever you do!' exclaimed I. 'Why, my dear, that is the very best part, and the delight of the epicures. If there be really too much, cut some off-it can be used as lard, and let the dogs make a supper of the refuse.'

'And the handsome shell!' cried Fritz. 'I should like to make a water-trough of that, to stand near the brook, and be kept always full of clear water. How useful it would be!'

'That is a capital idea,' I replied, 'and we may manage it easily, if we can find clay so as to make a firm foundation on which to place it.'

'Oh, as to clay,' said Jack, 'I have a grand lump of clay there under that root.'

'Well done, my lad! When did you find it?'

'He found a bed of clay near the river this morning,' said his mother, 'and came home in such a mess, I had regularly to scrape his clothes and wash him thoroughly!'

'Well, mother, I can only tell you I should never in all my days have found the clay, if I had not slipped and fallen amongst it.'

'That I can well believe,' returned his mother, 'only, to hear your talk this morning, one would have thought your discovery of clay the result of very arduous search indeed.'

'When you have ended the question of the clay and the turtle-shell,' said Ernest, 'I should like to show you some roots I found today; they are getting rather dry now. They look something like radishes, although the plant itself was almost a bush; but I have not ventured to taste them, although our old sow was devouring them at a great rate.'

'In that you did wisely, my boy. Swine eat many things injurious to men. Let me see your roots. How did you discover them?'

'I was rambling in the wood this morning, and came upon the sow, very busy grubbing under a small bush, and eating something ravenously; so I drove her away, and found a number of these roots, which I brought for you to see.'

'Indeed, Ernest,' I exclaimed, after taking the roots in my hand and considering them attentively, 'I am inclined to believe that you have really made a brilliant discovery! If this proves to be, as I expect, the manioc root, we might lose every other eatable we possess, and yet not starve. In the West Indies, cakes called cassava bread are made from it; and, already having potatoes, we shall be very independent if we can succeed in preparing flour from these roots. Great care must be taken in the manufacture to express the juice, otherwise the flour may be injurious and even poisonous.

'If we can collect a sufficient quantity, we will attempt bread-making. I think I know how to set about it.'

Finding there was still time to make another trip with the sledge, I went off with the elder boys, leaving Franz with his mother; and we all looked forward with satisfaction to the prospect of the princely supper they were to have ready for us, for our day's work had been none of the lightest.

'I have been thinking about my turtle, father,' said Fritz, as we went along, 'is not the shell very valuable? Surely beautiful combs, boxes, and a number of ornamental things are made of tortoise-shell, and if so, it seems a pity to use it for a water-trough.'

'Your turtle, Fritz, is only fit for eating, its shell is worthless as regards ornament; whereas the species whose shell is prized so much is unfit for food. Tortoiseshell is subjected to the action of heat, the outer layer peels off, leaving a beautifully marked, semi-transparent surface, which is susceptible of a very high polish.'

The sledge quickly received its second load from the raft. Chests, four cart-wheels and the hand-mill were placed on it, with all manner of smaller articles, and we lost no time in returning to Falconhurst.

My wife welcomed us joyfully, for she said we had been regularly overworked during the last two days. 'However, now you are come home to rest,' said she, 'and you little think what refreshment awaits you here in the shade. Come and see my cellar!' and she smilingly exhibited a small cask, half sunk in the ground, and well sheltered with leaves and branches.

'Ah! You wonder where this came from,' continued my wife; 'well, I found it myself on the sands, today, while you were all absent; and fancying it was wine of some sort, I got it up here on purpose to be ready for you. The boys are most anxious to know what sort of wine it will prove to be.'

As the simplest method of ascertaining this, I inserted a straw at the vent-hole, and presently announced that in all my life I had never enjoyed a more delicious draught of canary sack. My wife was immensely pleased to find that her exertions in my behalf had not been thrown away, and the boys pressed round me, armed with straws, and begging for a taste.

After so strongly expressing my own enjoyment of the wine, it seemed unreasonable to deny them this, and I let them come in turns, but was speedily obliged to call a halt; for the rogues got so eager and excited that I had to reprove them for their greediness, and warn them of the risk they ran of being intoxicated.

Supper was more to the purpose; and, as the turtle proved delicious, it was heartily enjoyed, and gave us strength to haul the mattresses we had brought from the ship, up into our sleeping-rooms, so that very refreshing slumbers closed the day.

Early next morning, I got up without rousing any of the others, intending to pay a visit to the beach; for I had my doubts about the safety of my vessels on the open shore. The dogs were delighted when I descended the ladder, and bounded to meet me; the cocks crowed and flapped their wings; two pretty kids gambolled around; all was life and energy: the ass alone seemed disinclined to begin the day, and, as I especially required his services, this was unfortunate.

I put his morning dreams to flight, however, and harnessed him to the sledge; the cow, as she had not been milked, enjoyed the privilege of further repose, and with the rest of the family, I left her dozing.

My fears as to the safety of the boats were soon dispelled, for they were all right; and, being in haste to return, the load I collected from their freight was but a light one, and the donkey willingly trotted home with it, he, as well as I, being uncommonly ready for breakfast.

Approaching the tree, not a sound was to be heard, not a soul was to be seen, although it was broad day; and great was my good wife's surprise, when, roused by the clatter and hullabaloo I made, she started up, and became aware of the late hour!

'What can have made us oversleep ourselves like this?' she exclaimed. 'It must be the fault of those mattresses, they are delightful, but really too lulling; see the children are sound asleep still.'

With much stretching and many yawns, the boys at last came tumbling down from the tree, rubbing their eyes and seeming but half awake; Ernest last, as usual.

'Come, my boys,' said I, 'this will never do! Your beds were too luxurious last night, I see.'

In my own opinion, however, I felt there was something else to blame besides the comfortable mattresses, and I made a mental resolve that the captain's fine canary should be dealt with very sparingly in future. 'So now for prayers and breakfast,' I continued, 'and then off to work; I must have our cargo landed in time to get the boats off with the next tide.'

By dint of downright hard work, we accomplished this, and I got on board with Fritz as soon as they were afloat; the rest turned homewards, but Jack lingered behind with such imploring looks, that I could not resist taking him with me.

My intention had been simply to take the vessels round to the harbour in Safety Bay, but the calm sea and fine weather tempted me to make another trip to the wreck. It took up more time than I expected, so that, when on board, we could only make a further examination of the cargo, collect a few portable articles and then avail ourselves of the sea-breeze which would fail us later in the evening.

To Jack the pleasure of hunting about in the hold, was novel and charming, and very soon a tremendous rattling and clattering heralded his approach with a wheelbarrow, in the highest spirits at his good fortune in having found such a capital thing in which to bring home potatoes.

He was followed by Fritz, whose news was still more important. He had found, carefully packed and enclosed within partitions, what appeared to be the separate parts of a pinnace, with rigging and fittings complete, even to a couple of small brass guns. This was a great discovery, and I hastened to see if the lad was right. Indeed he was, but my pleasure was qualified by a sense of the arduous task it would be to put such a craft together so as to be fit for sea.

For the present, we had barely time to get something to eat and hurry into the boat, where were collected our new acquisitions, namely, a copper boiler, iron plates, tobacco-graters, two grindstones, a small barrel of powder, and another of flints, two wheelbarrows besides Jack's, which he kept under his own especial care.

As we drew near the shore, we were surprised to see a number of little figures ranged in a row along the water's edge, and apparently gazing fixedly at us. They seemed to wear dark coats and white waistcoats, and stood quite still with their arms dropping by their sides, only every now and then one would extend them gently, as though longing to embrace us.

'Ah! Here at last come the pigmy inhabitants of the country to welcome us!' cried I, laughing.

'Oh, father!' exclaimed Jack, 'I hope they are Lilliputians! I once read in a book about them, so there must be such people you know, only these look rather too large.'

'You must be content to give up the Lilliputians and accept penguins, my dear Jack,' said I. 'We have not before seen them in such numbers, but Ernest knocked one down, if you remember, soon after we landed. They are excellent swimmers, but helpless on land, as they can neither fly nor run.'

We were gradually approaching the land as I spoke, and no sooner was the water shallow, than out sprang Jack from his tub, and wading ashore, took the unsuspecting birds by surprise, and with his stick laid half a dozen, right and left, either stunned or dead at his feet. The rest escaped into the water, dived, and disappeared.

As these penguins are disagreeable food, on account of their strong oily taste, I was sorry Jack had attacked them; but going to examine them when we landed, some of the fallen arose from their swoon, and began solemnly to waddle away, upon which we caught them, and tying their feet together with long grass, laid them on the sand to wait until we were ready to start.

The three wheelbarrows then each received a load, the live penguins seated gravely were trundled along by Jack, and away we went at a great rate.

The unusual noise of our approach set the dogs barking furiously, but discovering us, they rushed forward with such forcible demonstrations of delight, that poor little Jack, who, as it was, could scarcely manage his barrow, was fairly upset, penguins and all. This was too much for his patience, and it was absurd to see how he started up and cuffed them soundly for their boisterous behaviour.

This scene, and the examination of our burdens, caused great merriment: the tobacco-grater and iron plates evidently puzzling everybody.

I sent the boys to catch some of our geese and ducks, and bid them fasten a penguin to each by the leg, thinking that it was worth while to try to tame them.

My wife had exerted herself in our absence to provide a good store of potatoes, and also of manioc root. I admired her industry, and little Franz said, 'Ah, father! I wonder what you will say when mother and I give you some Indian corn, and melons, and pumpkins and cucumbers!'

'Now, you little chatterbox!' cried she. 'You have let out my secret! I was to have the pleasure of surprising your father when my plants were growing up.'

'Ah, the poor disappointed little mother!' said I. 'Never mind! I am charmed to hear about it. Only do tell me, where did those seeds come from?'

'Out of my magic bag, of course!' replied she. 'And each time I have gone for potatoes, I have sown seeds in the ground which was dug up to get them; and I have planted potatoes also.'

'Well done, you wise little woman!' I exclaimed, 'Why, you are a model of prudence and industry!'

'But,' continued she, 'I do not half like the appearance of those tobacco-graters you have brought. Is it possible you are going to make snuff? Do, pray, let us make sure of abundance of food for our mouths, before we think of our noses!'

'Make your mind easy, my wife. I have not the remotest intention of introducing the dirty, ridiculous habit of snuffing into your family! Please to treat my graters with respect, however, because they are to be the means of providing you with the first fresh bread you have seen this many a long day.'

'What possible connection can there be between bread and tobacco-graters? I cannot imagine what you mean, and to talk of bread where there are no ovens is only tantalizing.'

'Ah, you must not expect real loaves,' said I. 'But on these flat iron plates I can bake flat cakes or scones, which will be excellent bread; I mean to try at once what I can do with Ernest's roots. And first of all, I want you to make me a nice strong canvas bag.'

This my wife willingly undertook to do, but she evidently had not much faith in my powers as a baker, and I saw her set on a good potful of potatoes before beginning to work, as though to make sure of a meal without depending on my bread.

Spreading a large sailcloth on the ground, I summoned my boys and set to work. Each took a grater and a supply of well-washed manioc root, and when all were seated round the cloth—'Once, twice, thrice! Off!' cried I, beginning to rub a root as hard as I could against the rough surface of my grater. My example was instantly followed by the whole party, amid bursts of merriment, as each remarked the funny attitude and odd gestures of his neighbours while vehemently rubbing, rasping, grating and grinding down the roots allotted to him. No one was tempted by the look of the flour to stop and taste it, for in truth it looked much like wet sawdust.

'Cassava bread is highly esteemed in many parts of the New World, and I have even heard that some Europeans there prefer it to the wheaten bread of their own country. There are various species of manioc. One sort grows quickly, and its roots ripen in a very short time. Another kind is of somewhat slower growth. The roots of the third kind do not come to maturity for two years. The two first are poisonous, if eaten raw, yet they are preferred to the last, which is harmless, because they are so much more fruitful, and the flour produced is excellent, if the scrapings are carefully pressed.'

'What is the good of pressing them, father?' inquired Ernest.

'It is in order to express the sap, which contains the poison. The dry pith is wholesome and nourishing. Still, I do not mean to taste my cakes, until I have tried their effect on our fowls and the ape.'

By this time our supply of roots being reduced to damp powder, the canvas bag was filled with it, and tying it tightly up, I attempted to squeeze it, but soon found that mechanical aid was necessary in order to express the moisture.

My arrangements for this purpose were as follows. A strong straight beam was made flat on one side, smooth planks were laid across two of the lower roots of our tree; on these we placed the sack, above the sack another plank, and over that the long beam; one end was passed under a root near the sack, the other projected far forward. And to that we attached all the heaviest weights we could think of, such as an anvil, iron bars and masses of lead. The consequent pressure on the bag was enormous, and the sap flowed from it to the ground.

'Will this stuff keep any time?' inquired my wife, who came to see how we were getting on. 'Or must all this great bagful be used at once? In that case we shall have to spend the whole of tomorrow in baking cakes.'

'Not at all,' I replied, 'once dry, the flour in barrels will keep fresh a long time. We shall use a great deal of this, however, as you shall see.'

'Do you think we might begin now, father?' said Fritz.

'There does not seem the least moisture remaining.'

'Certainly,' said I. 'But I shall only make one cake today for an experiment; we must see how it agrees with Master Knips and the hens before we set up a bakehouse in regular style.'

I took out a couple of handfuls of flour for this purpose, and with a stick loosened and stirred the remainder, which I intended should again be pressed. While an iron plate placed over a good fire was getting hot, I mixed the meal with water and a little salt, kneaded it well, and forming a thick cake, laid it on the hot plate when, one side presently becoming a nice yellow brown colour, it was turned and was quickly baked.

It smelt so delicious, that the boys quite envied the two hens and the monkey, who were selected as the subjects of this interesting experiment, and they silently watched them gobbling up the bits of cake I gave them, until Fritz turned to me, saying, 'Suppose the cake is poisonous, what effect will it have on the creatures? Will they be stupefied, or will they suffer pain?'

'That depends upon the nature of the poison. Some cause violent pain, as colchicum, hellebore, and aconite. Others produce stupefaction and paralysis, as opium, hemlock, and prussic acid; while others again, as strychnine, are followed by violent convulsions, or, as belladonna, by delirium.

'The effects of course vary according to the quantity taken, and such remedies should be applied as will best counteract the effect of each poison: emetics in any case, to remove as much as possible of the noxious substance, combined with oils and mucilaginous drinks to soothe and protect the stomach in the case of irritants; stimulants, such as spirits, ammonia, or strong coffee to rouse from the stupor of the narcotics; and sedative drugs, which are perhaps in themselves poisons, to counteract the over stimulation of the nerves caused by the convulsant poisons.

'But now let us think no more of poisons; here is supper ready and we need not be afraid to eat roast penguin and potatoes.'

No sooner said than done; we left the fowls picking up the least crumb they could find of the questionable food, and assembled to enjoy our evening meal of roast penguin. The potatoes were as usual excellent, the penguin really not so bad as I expected, although fishy in taste and very tough.

Next morning every one expressed the tenderest concern as to the health of Knips and the hens; and lively pleasure was in every countenance when Jack, who ran first to make the visit of inquiry, brought news of their perfect good health and spirits.

No time was now to be lost, and bread-baking commenced in earnest. A large fire was kindled, the plates heated, the meal made into cakes, each of the boys busily preparing his own, and watching the baking most eagerly. Mistakes occurred, of course, some of the bread was burnt, some not done enough; but a pile of nice tempting cakes was at length ready, and with plenty of good milk we breakfasted right royally, and in high spirits at our success.

Soon after, whilst feeding the poultry with the fragments of the repast, I observed that the captive penguins were quite at ease among them and as tame as the geese and ducks; their bonds were therefore loosed, and they were left as free as the other fowls.