The Swiss Family Robinson, In Words of One Syllable/Chapter 9

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CHAPTER IX.

There was to be seen so much that was new to us, and so much to be found that we could make good use of, that Fritz and I spent the whole of the next day in the woods. We took the ass and one of the dogs with us, but left all else at home.

Our way first lay through a dense wood, where we saw no end of small birds, but such game could not now tempt Fritz to waste his shot. We then had to cross a vast plain, and to wade through the high grass, which we did with care, lest we should tread on some strange thing that might turn and bite us.

We came at last to a grove of small trees, and in their midst I saw a bus, which I knew to be the wax tree, for the wax grew on it like white beads. I need not say how glad I was to find so great a prize. We had up to this time gone to bed as soon as the sun went down, for we had no lamp to use; but as we could now make wax lights, I told Fritz that we had found what would add two or three hours per day to our lives. We took as much of the wax as would serve us for some time, and then made our way out of the grove. Fritz here found a nest, in which was a young green and gold bird. This he took home with him, in the hope that he might tame it and teach it to speak.

Our path was now so clear that we could walk side by side with ease, and talk of what we had seen.

"How came you," said Fritz, "to know so much of the queer beasts, trees, and plants what we have found here?"

"When young," said I, "I used to read all the books that fell in my way; and those that told of strange lands and what was to be seen in them had for me as great a charm as they have for Ernest, who has read a great deal, and knows more of plants than you do."

"Well," said he, "I will do the same if I but get the chance. Can you tell what is the name of that huge tree on the right? It must be at least three score feet high. See, there are balls on the bark."

We went close to it, and found that these balls were of thick gum, which the sun had made quite hard. Fritz tried to pull one of them off, but felt that it clung tight to the bark, thought he could change its shape with his warm hands. "Look," said he, "I feel sure that this is the In-di-a Rub-ber which we used to clean our school books with." I took a piece of it in my hand, and said, "To be sure it is. What shall we not find in this rich land?" I then told him how the men in the New World

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Fritz finds an Iguana.

made flasks of this gum, in which form it is sent to all parts of the world. "And I do not see why we should not make boots of it in the same way. We have but to fill a sock with sand, then put gum all round it, while in a soft state, till it is as thick as we need, then pour the sand out, and we shall have made a shoe or a boot that will at least keep out the damp, and that is more than mine do just now."

Fritz now gave full play to his joy. "I have not done a bad day's work," said he, "to have found such a tree as this,"

Not far from this we came to a bush, the leaves of which were strewn with a white dust; and close by were two or three more in the same state. I cut a slit in the trunk of one of these, which had been torn up by the wind, and found it full of the white dust, which I knew by the taste to be Sa-go. We took all of this that we could get out of the tree, for it would add to our stock of food; and when our bags were full we laid them on the back of the ass, and set off to find our way back to The Nest.

"Each day brings us fresh wealth," said my wife, when she saw what we had brought her; "but I think we might now try to add to our goods." I knew that she had some fear lest we should one day get lost in the woods, or meet with wild beasts, so I at once said that we would now stay at home, at least for some days.

My first work was to make some wax lights, for my wife could then mend our clothes at night, while we sat down to talk. This done, the next task they gave me was to make a churn. What with my lack of skill, and want of tools, I thought it best not to aim to high, so I took a large gourd, made a small hole in the side, and cut out as much as I could, so as to leave but the rind. In this I put the cream, laid a piece on the hole, and bound it up so that none could come out. The boys then held a cloth, and on it I put the gourd, which they made to roll from side to side. They kept up this game with great mirth for near an hour, when my wife took off the string, and found that the churn had done its work well.

"Well shall not have to eat dry bread now," said Frank; and I was as glad as he that such was the case.

As our sledge was not fit to use on rough roads, my next work was to make a cart. I had brought a pair of wheels from the wreck, so that my task did not prove a hard one. It is true I did not make what you might call a neat job of it, but for all that we found it of great use.

While I was thus at work, my wife and the boys took some of the fruit trees we had brought with us, and put them in the ground where they thought they would grow best. The vines were put round the roots of our tree, in the hope that they would grow up the trunk. On each side of the path that led from The Nest to the Boys' Bridge they put a row of young nut trees, which would, as they grew up, shade us from the sun all the way to the stream. To make the path hard we laid down sand from the sea shore, and then beat it down with our spades.

We were for six weeks at this and such like work. Each day brought with it health and strength for us all, and we were loth to spare any pains to make The Nest, and all that could be seen near it, look neat and trim, though there were no eyes but our own to view the scene.

One day I told my sons that I would at last try to make a flight of stairs in place of the cane steps with rope sides, which were a source of fear to my wife, and, to tell the truth, the worst part of our house. As yet we had not used them much, for we came down as soon as we got out of bed, and did not go up till it was time for rest; but the rain would some day force us to keep in The Nest, and then we should like to go up and down stairs with more ease than we could now climb the rude steps. To make a flight of stairs of such great length was no slight task, and each time that I thought of it I gave it up as a thing we could not do. But I now had a mind to try our skill at this kind of work. I knew that a swarm of bees had built their nest in the trunk of our tree, and this led me to think that there might be a void space in it some way up. "Should this prove to be the case," I said, "our work will be half done, for we shall then have but to fix the stairs in the tree round the trunk." As soon as I had thus spoke, the boys got up and went to the top of the root to tap the trunk, and to judge by the sound how far up the hole went. But they had to pay for their want of thought: the whole swarm of bees came out as soon as they heard the noise, stung their cheeks, stuck to their hair and clothes, and soon put them to flight.

It took my wife and I some time to drive off the bees, and to put fresh earth on the wounds to ease the pain the poor boys felt form the stings. We found that Jack, who was at all times rash, had struck the bees' nest with his axe, and was much more hurt by them than the rest; in fact, his face was so bad, that we had to swathe the whole of it in cloths. Ernest, who went to his work in his slow way, got up to it last, and was the first to run off when he saw the bees; thus he did not get more than a sting or two, but the rest wee some hours ere they could see out of their eyes. When they were free from pain, we took means to deal with the bees. I took a large gourd, which had long been meant to serve for a hive, and put it on a stand. We then made a straw roof to keep it from the sun and wind, and as by this time it grew dark, we left the hive there for the night.

Next day we rose at the first glimpse of dawn, and the boys, whose wounds were now quite well, went with me to help to move the bees to the new home we had made for them. Our first work was to stop with clay all the holes in the tree but one through which the bees were wont to go in to their nest. To this I put the bowl of a pipe, and blew in the smoke of the weed as fast as I could, with a view to drug them with its fumes. At first we heard a loud buzz like the noise of a storm afar off; but the more I blew my pipe the less grew the sound, till at last the bees were quite still, and then I took the pipe out of the hole.

We now cut out a piece of the trunk, three feet square, and this gave us a full view of the nest. Our joy was great to find such a stock of wax, for I could see the comb reach far up the tree. I took some of the comb, in which the bees lay in swarms, and put it by on the plank. The rest I put in a cask, which my wife tied down with sail cloth, lest the bees, led by the smell, should come to claim their own.

We then put the gourd on the comb that held the swarm, and took care that the queen was not left out. By these means we soon got a hive of fine bees, and the trunk of the tree was left free for our use.

We had now to try the length of the hole. This we did with a long pole, and found it reach as far up as the branch on which our house stood.

"You see," said I to my sons, "that this tree has no sap in its trunk, but, like some that grow in the land we came from, it draws its means of life through the bark."

We now cut a square hole in that side of the trunk next the sea shore, and made one of the doors that we had brought from the ship to fit in the space. We then made the sides smooth all the way up, and with planks and the staves of some old casks, built up the stairs round a pole which we made fast in the ground. To do this we had to make a notch in the pole and one in the side of the trunk for each stair, and thus go up step by step till we came to the top. We had a good store of strong nails, and with them, and such tools as we brought back on the raft, which we had now learnt to use with some skill, we got on well with our task. Each day we spent a part of our time at what we could now call the farm, where the beasts and fowls were kept, and did odd jobs as well, so that we should not make too great a toil of the flight of stairs, which took us some six weeks to put up.

One day Fritz caught a fine Ea-gle, which he tied by the leg to a branch of the tree, and fed with small birds. It took him a long while to tame, but in time he taught it to perch on his wrist, and to feed from his hand. He once let it go, and thought he would have lost it, but the bird knew it had a good friend, for it came back to the tree at night. From that time it was left free, though we thought that some day its love of war and wild sports would tempt it to leave us for the rocks of the sea shore, where Fritz had first found it.

Each of my boys had now some pet to take care of, and, I may say, to tease, for they all thought they had a fair right to get some fun out of the pets they could call their own; but they were kind to them, fed them well, and kept them clean.

In what I may term my spare time, which was when I left off work out of doors, I made a pair of gum shoes for each of my sons, in the way I had told Fritz it could be done. I do not know what we should have done had we not found the gum tree, for the stones soon wore out the boots we had, and we could not have gone through the woods or trod the hard rocks with bare feet.

By this time our sow had brought forth ten young pigs, and the hens had each a brood of fine chicks. Some we kept near us, but most of them went to the wood, where my wife said she could find them when she had need to use them.

I knew the time must now be near when, in this clime, the rain comes down day by day for weeks, and that it would was us out of The Nest if we did not make a good roof to our house. Then our live stock would need some place where they could rest out of the rain. The thatch for The Nest was of course our first care; then we made a long roof of canes for our live stock, and on this we spread clay and moss, and then a thick coat of tar, so that it was rain proof from end to end. This was held up by thick canes stuck deep in the ground, with planks made fast to them to form the walls, and round the whole we put a row of cask staves to serve for rails. In this way we soon had a barn, store room, and hay loft, with stalls for the cow, the ass, and what else we kept that had need of a place to live in.