The Swiss Family Robinson, In Words of One Syllable/Chapter 1

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When one has a good tale to tell, he should try to be brief, and not say more than he can help ere he makes a fair start; so I shall not say a word of what took place on board the ship till we had been six days in a storm. The bark had gone far out of her true course, and no one on board knew where we were. The masts lay in splints on the deck, the sails were torn, a leak in the side of the ship let more in than the crew could pump out, and each one felt that ere long he would find a grave in the deep sea, which rose and fell in great white waves of foam, and sent its spray from side to side of what was now but a mere hulk.

Most of those on board sought the best means that they could think of to save their own lives; but some knelt down to pray that God would quell the storm and still the waves, for they felt that none but He could help them now.

"Come, boys," said I to my four sons, who were with me, and were struck dumb with fear, "God can save us if it please Him so to do; but, if this is to be our last hour, let us bow to His will—we shall at least all go down side by side."
My dear wife could not hide the tears that fell down her cheeks as I thus spoke to my sons, but she was calm, and knelt down to pray, while the boys clung round her as if they thought she could help them.

Just then we heard a cry of "Land! land!" felt a shock, and were thrown down upon the deck. It was clear that we had struck on a rock, for we heard a loud cry from one of the men,"We are lost! Launch the boat; try for your lives!" These words went, as it were, through my heart like a knife; but, as I felt that I ought to cheer my sons, I said to them, "Now is the time to show that we are brave; we still have life, the land is near, and we know that God helps those who trust in him. Keep up your hearts, then, while I go and see if there be not some hope yet left for us."

I went at once on deck, and was met by a wave that threw me down, and wet me through to the skin. When I got up, and went to the side of the ship, I found that all the boats had been let down, and that the last of the crew had just left it. I cried out for the men to come back and take us with them, but it was in vain, for the sound of my voice did not reach them through the roar of the waves.

I then thought that our last chance was gone. Still, as I felt that the ship did not sink, I went to the stern, and found, to my joy, that she was held up by a piece of rock on each side, and made fast like a wedge. At the same time I saw some trace of land, which lay to the south, and this made me go back with some hope that we had still a faint chance, though how to get from the ship I could not tell.

As soon as I got downstairs I took my wife by the hand, and said, "Be of good cheer, we are at least safe for some time, and if the wind should veer round, we may yet reach the land that lies but a short way off."

I said this to calm the fears of my wife and sons, and it did so far more than I had a right to hope.

"Let us now take some food," said my wife. "We are sure to need it, for this will no doubt be a night to try our strength."

We still heard the roar of the sea, and now and then the planks would creak as if they were torn up from the deck, so that we had still good cause to fear that we might go down.

My wife got some food for her boys, which we were glad to see them eat, poor as it was; but we could not share their meal. Three out of the four were put to bed in their berths, and soon went to sleep; but Fritz, who was our first child, would not leave us. He said, like a good son, that he wold try to be of some use, and think what could be done. "If we could but find some cook," said Fritz to me in a low tone, "we might make floats. You and I will not need them, for we can swim, but the rest will want some such means to keep them up, and then we can help them to reach the land."

"A good thought," said I. "Let us try in the night to find what things there are in the ship that we can thus make use of."

We soon found some casks and ropes, and with these we made a kind of float for each of the three boys, and then my wife made one for her own use. This done, we got some knives, string, and such things as we could make fast to our belts. We did not fail to look for and find a flint and steel, and the box in which the burnt rags were kept, for these were at that time in use as the means to strike a light.

Fritz, who was now well nigh worn out, laid down on his bed, and slept like the rest. As for me and my poor wife, we kept watch, each in fear lest the next wave should lift the ship off the rock and break it up. We spent part of the night in thought as to our plans for the next day, and sought God to bless the means we had in view to save our lives.

I need not tell you how glad we were when we saw the first gleam of light shine through the chink of the door that shut us in from the cold night air. At dawn the wind did not blow so strong, the sky was clear of clouds, and we saw the sun rise, and with it rose our hopes. I soon had my wife and sons on deck. The boys did not know till then that all the men had left the ship, and that there was no one but us on board.

"Where are the men?" said they. "How can we steer the ship?"

"My dear boys," said I, "He who has kept us safe till now will still aid us, if we do not give way to fear. Let all hands set to work, and leave the rest to God."

At these words we all went to work with a will. My wife went to feed the live stock; Fritz set off in search of arms, and the means to make use of them; and Ernest made his way to the tool chest. Jack ran to pick up what he could find, but as he got to one of the doors he gave it a push, and two huge dogs sprang out and leapt at him. He thought at first they would bite him, but he soon found that they meant him no harm, and one of them let him get on his back and ride up to me as I came from the hold of the ship. I could not keep back a smile, but I told him that it was not safe thus to play with dogs which had not been fed for so long a time.

When the boys had done their search, and the spoil was brought on deck, we thought we had found all that we should need. "As for me," said my wife, "I have brought good news, for I find we have still on board a cow, an ass, two goats, six sheep, a ram, a pig, and a sow, and I have found food for them all."

"All that you bring will be of use," said I; "but I fear that Jack's dogs will do us more harm than good."

"Not at all," said Jack, in his pert way, for they can help use to hunt when we get to land."

"Well said, Jack. And now let us see what we can do that will aid us to get there."

We then took the casks that we had found, and as both Ernest and I could use the saw, we soon cut them in half. With these tubs, which were bound round with strong hoops, we made a kind of raft, thought it was no slight task. The tubs, in fact, were a fleet of eight small round boats, made so fast to some planks that no one of them could float from the rest. When we had done this, we sat down to a good meal, which we ate with great zest, for we now felt that we had done our best to earn it.

The next thing to be done was to launch the raft. This we at length did, and when the boys saw it slide down the side of the ship and float on the sea, they gave a loud shout, and each one tried who should be the first to get on it. I made it fast to the ship, and there left it.

It was late ere our work was thus far brought to an end; and, as we had to spend at least one night more on the wreck, I told

the boys to get a good night's rest, so that they might be fresh for the toils of the next day.

I then told my wife to change her dress for that of one of the crew which she had found, as her skirts would have got in her way when she had to climb. She did not at first like this, but did so as soon as she saw the truth of what I told her. At last, when all was done, we went to bed, and slept as sound as if we had been on land.