The Swiss Family Robinson, In Words of One Syllable/Chapter 12

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CHAPTER XII.

Our fields near Tent House had by this time brought forth good crops of wheat, maize, beans, and peas; but as the work of the Cave had for some weeks kept us on this side of the stream, we did not know in what state we should find our crops at The Nest.

One day we all set our for our old home. We found our corn fields of a rich brown hue, and saw that the wheat was, for the most part, fit to reap. This, and a large patch of rye, we cut down, and, as we did so, whole flocks of birds took to wing when we got near them, while quails were seen to run off at the sight of our dogs, who had no lack of sport that day.

We laid by the seed that was quite ripe till the time should come for us to sow it, and put the rest in sacks. Some of the what was laid up in sheaves till we should have time to beat out the grain.

When we left The Nest for the Cave, we could not find the hand mill that we had brought from the ship. This now came to light, and we took care to pack it up to take with us, as we should want it to grind our grain.

That night we slept once more in the great tree; but I must say that we did not now sleep so sound there as we used to do, nor did we feel so safe as we did in our rooms at Rock House.

The next day we were to start a plan by means of which our live stock would not want so much of our care. They had bred so fast that we could well spare some of them, and these I thought might be left in some place to seek their own food, and yet be in reach should we want them.

My wife took from her hen roost ten young fowls, and I took four young pigs, four sheep, and two goats. These we put in our large cart, with such tools as we thought we should need, tied the black ox, the cow, and the ass to the shafts, and then set off from The Nest.

We had to cross a wide plain, and here we met with some dwarf plants, on which, as Jack would have it, grew snow balls.

Fritz ran to see what they were, and brought me a twig to which clung balls of snow white down. I held it up to show my wife, for I knew the sight would please her still more than her sons.

"See," said I, "this is the Cot-ton plant, which you have oft tried to find. It seems to grow here as thick as weeds, and, if I am a judge, it is of the best kind."

We got as much of this as our bags could hold, and my wife took care to pluck some of the ripe seed, that we might raise a crop in our grounds at Tent House. At the end of the plain we came to the brow of a high hill, from which the eye fell on a view the like of which we had not yet seen. Trees of all kinds grew on the sides of the hill, and a clear stream ran through the plain at its base, and shone bright in the rays of the sun.

We said at once that this should be the site of our new farm. Close by we found a group of trees, the trunks of which, as they stood, would do for the main props of the house.

I had long had a mind to build a boat, and here I at last came on a tree that would suit. Fritz and I went for a mile or two in search of what we could find, and by the time we came back my wife had put up our tent for the night. We then all sat down to sup, and went to rest on beds made of the bags of the white down that we brought from the trees on the plain.

The next day we rose at dawn. The trees which were to form the frame of our farm house stood on a piece of land eight yards long by five wide. I made a deep cut in each of the trunks, ten feet from the ground, and put up cross beams to form a roof, on which we laid some bark in such a way that the rain would run off.

We were hard at work for some days at the Farm House. The walls we built of thin laths and long reeds, wove close for six feet from the ground, but the rest we made of thin cross bars to let in both light and air. We made racks to store hay and such like food for the live stock, and put by some grain for the fowls, for our plan was to come from time to time to feed them, till they got used to the place.

Our work took us more time than we thought; and as our store of food got low, we sent Fritz and Jack home to bring us a fresh stock, and to feed the beasts we had left at Tent House.

While they were gone, Ernest and I made a tour of the woods for some miles round the new Farm. We first took the course of the stream that ran by the foot of the hill. Some way up we came to a marsh on the edge of a small lake, and here in the swamp grew a kind of wild rice, now ripe on the stalk, round which flew flocks of birds. We shot five or six of these, and I was glad to note the skill with which Ernest now used his gun. I took some of the rice, that my wife might judge how far it was of use to us as food.

We went quite round the lake, and saw plants and trees that were not known to me, and birds that Ernest said he had not seen in any of the woods near The Nest. But we were most struck with the sight of a pair of black swans, and a troop of young ones that came in their train. Ernest would have shot at them, but I told him not to kill what we did not want for use. We did not get back till late in the day. Jack and Fritz, whom we met just as we came round the foot of the hill, had done their task well, for they had a good stock of food in a sack that lay on the back of the ass, and they brought the good news that all was well at home.

We spent four more days at the Farm, and then left it in such a state as to be fit for our use when we chose to go back to it.

The Farm House, was a part of our plan, for we had made up our minds to build a sort of half way house, or cot, in which we could rest on our way to the Farm. This took us six days to do. The spot we chose lay by the side of a brook, and was just a place as would tempt one to stop and rest in the shade of the trees that grew on the bank. While at the brook, I made a boat out of the tree we found at the Farm, and took it back with us to Tent House in the cart.

We had still two months ere the rain would set in, and this left us time to put the last touch to our cave. We laid the whole floor with clay, and spread on it some fine sand, which we beat down till it was quite smooth and firm. On this we put sail cloth, and threw down goats' hair and wool made moist with gum. This was well beat, and, when dry, made a kind of felt mat that was warm and soft to tread on, and would keep the damp from our feet. By the time these works were done our cave was in a fit state for us to dwell in. We did not now dread the rain, for we were safe out of its reach, and there was no need that we should go out in it. We had a warm light shop to work in by day, a snug place where we could take our meals, and dry bed rooms in which we could sleep in peace. Our live stock we kept in a shed at the back of the cave, and our store room held all that we could want.

When the rain at length set in, we all had some task that kept us close at work in the cave, My wife took her wheel or her loom, both of which I had made for her, for this kind of work fell to here share from choice. By the help of the wheels of one of the ship's guns I had made a lathe, and with this I could turn legs for stools and chairs. Ernest, too, was fond of the lathe, and soon learnt to do such work quite as well as I.

At dust, when we had done our work for the day, we brought out our stock of books, and sat down to read by the light of a lamp.

At times, Jack and Frank would play a tune on their flutes, which I had made out of reeds; and my wife, who had a sweet voice, would sing some of the old Swiss songs, that brought to our minds the joys of home.

Though we were by no means dull, nor in want of work to fill up our time, we were glad when the time came for the rain to cease, and when we could gaze once more on the green fields. We went out the first fine day, and took a long walk by the base of the cliff. On the shore we found a dead whale, which the sea had no doubt thrown up in the storm. We had long felt the need of oil; for though we had a lamp, we had naught but our wax lights to put in it, and these gave a poor light to read by. The next day we cut up the whale, and put the flesh in tubs. It was far from a clean job, for the oil ran down our clothes and made them smell; but as we could change them for new ones, thanks to the hemp and my wife's skill, we did not mind that, for the oil was now worth more to us than our clothes, though at one time we should not have thought so.

One day we all set out on a tour to the Farm. Jack and Frank had gone on first, while my wife and I were as yet close to the Cave. All at once the boys came back, and Fritz said: "Look at that strange thing on its way up the path. What can it be?"

I cast my eye on the spot, and cried out, "Fly all of you to the Cave! fly for your lives!" for I saw it was a huge snake, or boa, that would make a meal of one of us, if we did not get out of its way.

We all ran in doors, and put bars up to the doors of the Cave. A large dove cote had been made on the roof, and to this we got up through a hole in the rock. Ernest took aim with his gun, and shot at the snake, so did Fritz and Jack, but it gave no sign that they had hit it. I then tried my skill, but it did not seem to feel my shot any more than theirs, though I was sure I must have struck its head. Just as we took aim at it once more, we saw it turn round and glide through the reeds in the marsh.

Our fears kept us for three long days in the Cave. The snake gave no sign that could lead us to think it was still near, but the ducks and geese had left the spot where their nests were, and this we knew to be a bad sign. On the fourth day I went to the door, with a view to let out some of the beasts to graze, for we were short of food for them. The ass was just at my back, and as soon as it saw the light, made a rush to get out. Off it went, straight to the sands, with its heels in the air, but just as it got to the marsh we saw the boa glide out from the reeds, part its wide jaws, and make for its prey. The ass at once saw its foe, but stood still as if struck with fear, and in less time than I take to tell it, our old friend was tight in the folds of the boa.

This was a sad sight for all of us, yet we could not take our eyes off the snake, but saw it crush the poor beast, and then gorge its prey. When it had put the whole of the ass out of sight, it laid down on the sand quite still, as if it had gone to sleep or died. "Now is the time to seal the fate of our foe," said I to Fritz; and with that we went out with our guns. When we got near, we both took a straight aim, and each put a ball in its head. This made it move with a start, and writhe as if in pain.

"See how its eyes glare on us with rage. Now load your gun, and let us put a bit more lead in him."

Our next shot went in its eyes. It then shook as with a strong spasm, and fell dead on the sand.

A shout of joy brought my wife and the three boys to the spot. The state of fear they had been kept in for three whole days had made them quite ill, but now the joy of Jack and Frank knew no bounds, for they leapt on the snake and beat it as if they would go mad.

My wife said that the death of the boa took a great weight off her mind, for she thought it would lie in wait for us near the Cave, starve us out, and then kill us as it had done the poor ass.

We slit up the snake, and took out the flesh of the ass, which the boys laid in a grave near Tent House. The boa's skin we hung up at the door of the Cave, over which Ernest wrote the words, "No ass to be found here," which we all thought to be a good joke.

One day late in the spring I went with my three sons a long way from the Cave. My wife and Frank were left at our Half Way House, to wait till we came back, but the dogs went with us. Our route lay far up the course of a small stream, which had its source some miles north of the Farm House. The ground was new to us, but we could not well lose our way, for on the right stood a hill from which we could see the whole of the plain.

Ernest had gone with one of the dogs to a cave that he had spied at the foot of the hill, but we saw him turn round and run back with Turk at his heels. As soon as he thought his voice would reach us, he cried out, "A bear! a bear! come to my help!"

We could now see that there were two great beasts at the mouth of the cave. At a word from us both the dogs flew to fight the bear that stood in front. Fritz took up his post at my side, while Jack and Ernest kept in the rear. Our first shot was "a miss," as Jack said; but we took a sure aim the next time, and both shots told.

We would have let fly at them once more from this spot, but as we thought we might hit our brave dogs, who were now in the heat of a hard fight with their foes, we ran up close to them.

"Now Fritz," said I, "take a straight aim at the head of the first, while I fire on the one at his back."

We both shot at once; the bears gave a loud growl, and then, with a low moan, fell dead at our feet.

As it was now time to go back, we put the bears in the cave, but took care to cut off their paws, which form a dish fit to grace the feast of a king.

We had a long walk back to the place where I had left my wife. The boys told her what a hard fight the dogs had with the bears, and how Fritz and I had shot them, and then gave her the paws. With the aid of Frank she had fed our live stock and brought in wood to make up our watch fire for the night, so we sat down to sup at once, and then went to rest.

Next day we put our beasts to the cart and drove as far as the bears' den. As we came near to the spot a flock of birds flew out of the mouth of the cave, two or three of which Fritz brought down with his gun. It took us the whole day to cut up the bears. The hams were laid by to be smoke dried; while my wife took charge of the fat and the skins.