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Authors: Daisy Alberto

Swiss Family Robinson (3 page)

BOOK: Swiss Family Robinson
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A
t length, the winds calmed and the rain finally stopped. Spring had arrived.

No one could have felt more joy than we did as we stepped outside.

Our first task was restoring our nest. It was filled with leaves and torn by the wind.

Fritz and I visited Tentholm. The damage to Falconhurst was nothing compared to poor Tentholm. The tent was ripped to rags, and the supplies were soaked. We’d
have to make better winter quarters before the next rainy season.

Fritz suggested that we should hollow out a cave in the rock. It would be hard work, but I decided to try. We began hammering on the rock. For days we kept at it. We made little progress. But on the tenth day, Jack shouted, “Father, my bar has gone right through!” The boy had found a great cavern!

With a shout of joy, we banged on the rock. Pieces fell until the hole was big enough for us to enter.

Jack ran home to tell the others. They all came back in the cart. Jack had also brought all the candles he could find. Silently we marched into a cave of glittering crystal. Crystal pillars rose from the floor like trees and dripped from the ceiling.

I tasted a piece. It was rock salt. Here was an unlimited supply of pure salt!

We turned all our attention to the new house, which we called Rockburg. We decided we would use it for the rainy season and keep Falconhurst for the summers. We cut a row of windows in the rock. We fitted them with the window frames from the officers’ cabins. We divided the cave into rooms and built a fireplace and a chimney.

For two months we worked on our salt cave to make it comfortable. We leveled the floors. We made carpet out of wool and hair from the sheep and goats.

It was around this time that we saw something strange in the water. The sea moved as if it were boiling! Hundreds of birds hovered over it.

“A herring bank,” I said. “A huge number of herring that come to shallow water to escape larger fish.”

We quickly began a fishery. Jack and Fritz stood in the water with baskets. They scooped out the fish. We cleaned them. Then we packed them in salt to preserve them. We would eat well during the next rainy season!

One morning soon after this, I realized that the very next day would be the anniversary
of our escape from the wreck. I decided that it should be a day of thanksgiving.

On the anniversary, we talked of everything that had taken place since the storm. I read from my journal and we thanked God for saving us.

Afterward, I announced a “Grand Display of Athletic Sports.” My wife and I would be the judges.

“What a wonderful idea! Will there be prizes?” asked the boys.

“Certainly!” I said. “Trumpeters! Sound the openings!”

I waved my arms wildly toward the shady spot where the ducks and geese rested. Up they started, cackling and trumpeting as I had hoped.

We began with shooting. I brought out a board shaped like a kangaroo. The boys
fired. Fritz hit the kangaroo’s head every time.

Archery followed. I saw with pleasure that the boys were really skillful.

After a break, I started a running match. Fritz, Ernest, and Jack had to run to Falconhurst. The first one to reach the tree had to bring me a penknife I had left there. I gave the signal, and they were off!

Fritz and Jack burst forward with all their effort. Ernest started behind with a good, steady pace. Ernest was smart. I guessed he’d be able to keep up that pace better than his brothers.

Long before we expected them back, we heard galloping. We looked in surprise toward the bridge and saw Jack thundering toward us on Storm, the buffalo.

He waved at us. “I very soon saw that I
hadn’t a chance,” he explained, “so I came back on Storm so I could see the winner come puffing in.”

By and by, the other boys made it back. Ernest held up the knife to show he had won.

Next we tested the young athletes’ climbing skills. Jack won easily. He was as lively as a monkey. Riding followed. Each boy rode a different beast. I thought riding was over when little Franz appeared. He was leading Grumble.

“Prepare to see something wonderful!” he said.

Then, taking a whip, he made the animal walk, trot, and gallop on command.

The sports finished with swimming matches.

By this time, it was getting late. We returned home for the prize ceremony. For shooting and swimming, Fritz won a beautiful hunting knife and a rifle. For running, Ernest won a gold watch. For climbing and riding, Jack won a pair of silver spurs and a riding whip. And for bull training, Franz received a pair of stirrups and a driving whip.

S
oon after that day I remembered it was around this time last year when huge flocks of birds came to eat the figs at Falconhurst. We hurried to the nest, where we found the birds already busy with the fruit. I made a sticky mixture of oil and a rubbery tree gum to catch them.

The boys brought rods. I smeared the rods with the mixture. Then we placed them in the treetops.

When the birds landed, they stuck fast. The more they fluttered, the more stuck they became. Eventually they fell to the ground.

The following day was spent in plucking, boiling, roasting, and stewing.

For some time nothing more exciting happened. Then one day Jack came home covered in mud and green slime. He looked like he was going to cry!

“My dear boy, what has happened?”

“I was in the swamp, Father,” he said. “I was on a firm spot when I slipped!”

The poor child took a deep breath and continued. “I sunk deeper and deeper. I was soon stuck above my knees! I screamed and screamed. But nobody came!”

At that, Jack knelt and patted Fangs fondly. “At last, who should appear but my
faithful jackal, Fangs. I cut down all the swamp reeds I could reach. Then I leaned on them and kicked until I got my legs free. Fangs ran back and forth, barking. Finally, I caught hold of his tail and he dragged me to firm ground.”

“A fortunate escape, my boy!” I cried. “Fangs is a hero!”

With Jack safe once more, we returned to our work. Now that the cave was almost finished, we built an aqueduct to supply it with freshwater. We made it with pipes of hollow bamboo. My wife said she was as pleased as if we had made her a marble fountain.

The rainy season was again near. So we collected stores of roots, fruits, grains, potatoes, rice, guavas, acorns, and pine cones.

Heavy clouds gathered. We moved the animals and ourselves to the salt cave.

We still had much to do to make the cave even more comfortable. With Jack’s help, I made a chandelier out of a ship’s lantern to light the cave.

Ernest and Franz made shelves for a library. They placed on them the books we’d saved from the wreck.

We built tables and benches. I added a wide porch along the front of the cave.

We amused ourselves by opening chests from the ship we hadn’t looked into yet. We found all sorts of treasures—mirrors, a musical box, elegant writing tables, and clocks. Our cave soon looked like a palace!

Finally, the thunder quieted and the rainy season ended. I was seated with my wife and Fritz beneath the shade of the veranda one day when Fritz jumped up.

“I see something strange in the distance
Father! It’s coming toward the bridge!”

My wife and the boys retreated into the cave. They closed up all the entrances, then kept watch, with guns at the windows.

Fritz and I stayed outside, looking at the creature through my spyglass.

“It is a giant serpent!” I cried at last.

The monster reptile advanced with writhing movements. From time to time, it reared its head to the great height of fifteen or twenty feet!

As it crossed the bridge, we withdrew into the cave. We barricaded everything at the door and waited with beating hearts. When the serpent reached the front of the cave, the boys and my wife began firing. These shots startled the monster. He turned and disappeared into the reedy marsh.

I asked that no one leave the cave while the serpent was nearby. And in truth, no one had any desire to do so.

For three days we were kept in suspense and fear. By the third day, we were running out of hay for the animals. I decided to send Fritz with them across the river to find food. We were getting ready to do this when old Grizzle, the donkey, broke free. He galloped straight for the marsh! With horror, we saw the serpent rear up from its lair. Its deadly jaws opened wide. Grizzle was doomed.

Swift and straight, the serpent was upon him. He wound round him, then swallowed the poor donkey whole. When the serpent was finished, he lay quiet. Now was the moment for attack!

The boys and I crept forward with our guns. We fired together. A quiver ran through the mighty frame. And the serpent lay dead.

W
e had faced our greatest danger yet. But I was worried that another serpent might appear.

I suggested a trip to search the area where the serpent had come from. The whole family decided to join me.

We packed the tent and our supplies in the cart. We harnessed it to Storm and Grumble and started off.

After a time, we reached a place near the
sugarcanes where we had once built an arbor. We spread the sailcloth over it to make a tent.

The three older boys and I, and all the dogs except Juno, set off to explore. My brave wife remained in camp with Franz. As we went, we found that the shrubs had been broken down. The serpent had clearly been through.

We decided to build strong defenses there to stop future invaders. Then we continued on. We crossed a stream and soon found ourselves in a desert. We stopped to eat beneath the shade of an overhanging rock.

While we were eating, Fritz cast his eyes over the plain before us.

“Is it possible that I see horsemen?” he said.

We passed the spyglass around. Jack and
Ernest agreed that they looked like men on horseback. But when I looked, I saw that they were very large ostriches.

“They would be difficult to catch,” I said. “Ostriches are very fast.”

We thought no more about the ostriches and made our way to a shady valley. Ernest and one of the dogs were ahead. Suddenly we heard a cry of terror.

We rushed forward.

Ernest met us. “A bear, Father!” he shouted. “He is coming after me!”

To my alarm,
two
huge bears appeared!

Fritz and I both fired. The bullets hit the monsters, but merely wounded them. The bears roared in rage! The dogs rushed at them. We dared not fire in case we hit one of the hounds. Instead, we advanced with loaded pistols. When we were just a few paces away, we fired. One was shot through the head. The other was rearing back, about to spring on Fritz! The bullet found his heart. They both fell dead.

“Thank Heaven!” I cried.

Jack raised a shout of victory.

“We shall have a couple of splendid bearskin rugs,” said Fritz.

It was getting late. So we dragged the huge beasts into their den to wait until we could skin them. Then we headed to camp for the night.

In the morning, we returned to the den
and went to work. We smoked the meat on the spot and stored the fat. We saved the paws to cook later.

I woke the boys at dawn. Fritz, Jack, Franz, and I, with two of the dogs, galloped off. We were going to try to capture one of the ostriches we’d seen earlier.

We soon came to the spot where Fritz had seen them. Jack and Franz rode ahead. They were some distance from us when four ostriches rose from where they were sitting. With a shout, Jack and Franz drove them toward us. Fritz threw his eagle up in the air. The eagle swooped down on the head of one of the birds. The ostrich was so confused that he slowed down. Jack hurled his lasso and snared the giant bird. We looped a cord around his legs so that he could not run off.

“I am going to make a saddle for him and ride him,” said Jack.

His brothers wanted the interesting creature for themselves and raised a cry at Jack’s plan. “Come, come,” I said. “I think that Jack has a right to the ostrich, seeing as he was the one who brought it down.”

We headed homeward at dawn. The ostrich trotted between Storm and Grumble. He was livelier than they were, but the two beasts kept him in check.

We were soon once more settled at Rockburg

We tied the ostrich between two bamboo posts out front. After a month of training, the ostrich would trot, gallop, and obey our commands.

At length, we all learned to ride Master Hurricane. He was so fast we could travel
between Rockburg and Falconhurst in almost no time!

In this way, time passed, and another winter arrived, with great black clouds and terrific storms. We gave up our daily trips. The time inside dragged. And our spirits were low.

“Let’s make a kayak,” suggested Fritz. “Something swifter than what we have, that will skim over the water.”

Everyone was delighted with the idea. We built the boat’s skeleton of whalebone. We used bamboo to strengthen the sides and to make the deck. We left a little square hole for us to sit in.

By the time the kayak was done, the rain had passed and the sun again shone.

The day came when Fritz was ready to make his trial trip. He boldly ventured into
the strong current of Jackal River. From there, he was rapidly carried out to sea! This was more than I had bargained for!

Ernest, Jack, and I gave chase in our boat. After some time, we soon heard Fritz’s cheery halloo. The kayak darted from behind a point of land. “Come to this beach,” cried Fritz. “I have something to show you!”

With amazement, we saw a young walrus. It had been killed by a harpoon.

“I congratulate you, my boy! But you should not have gone out of the bay.”

“I was carried along by the current,” said Fritz. “I could not help myself. Then I saw a herd of walruses. I chased them and harpooned this fellow. I should like to fasten the head, with these grand white tusks, on the kayak. I will call it the Sea Horse.”

“We must certainly carry away the ivory tusks,” I agreed. “But hurry, a storm is brewing.”

We cut off the head of the walrus and sliced strips of its skin. Fritz was soon skimming over the water on his kayak with its fierce figurehead. We followed at a slower rate.

Meanwhile, black clouds had gathered. A tremendous storm came on. Fritz was out of sight.

Ernest, Jack, and I lashed ourselves to the boat so that we would not be washed overboard.

Wind whipped the ocean. Rain fell. Lightning flashed. The storm picked up. Then the sky began to clear as suddenly as it had darkened. I had never lost hope for us. All my fears were for Fritz—alone in his
little boat. At last, we entered Safety Bay.

To our surprise and delight, we saw Fritz with his mother. We gave thanks for our spared lives.

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