The Swiss Family Robinson, In Words of One Syllable/Chapter 10
Frank one day found some long leaves, to which, from their shape, he gave the name of sword leaves. These he brought home to play with, and then, when he grew tired of them, threw them down. As they lay on the floor, Fritz took some of them in his hand, and found them so limp, that he said he could plait them, and make a whip for Frank to drive the sheep and goats with. As he split them up to do this, I could not but note their strength. This led me to try them, and I found that we had now a kind of flax plant, which was a source of great joy to my wife.
"You have not yet found a thing," she said, "that will be of more use to us than this. Go at once and search for some more of these leaves, and bring me the most you can of them. With these I can make you hose, shirts, clothes, thread, rope; in short, give me flax, and make me a loom and some frames, and I shall be at no loss for work when the rain comes."
I could not help a smile at my wife's joy when she heard the name of flax; for there was still much to do ere the leaves could take the shape of cloth. But two of the boys set off at once to try to find some more of the flax. While they were gone, my wife, full of new life, and with some show of pride, told me how I should make the loom by means of which see was to clothe us from head to foot. In a short time they came back, and brought with them a good load of the plant, which they laid at her feet. She now said she would lay by all else till she had tried what she could make of it. The first thing to be done was to steep the flax. To do this we took the plant down to the marsh, tied up in small bales, as they pack hemp for sale. The leaves were then spread out in the pond, and kept down with stones, and left there in that state till it was time to take them out and set them in the sun to dry, when they would be so soft that we could peel them with ease. It was two weeks ere the flax was fit for us to take it out of the marsh. We spread it out on the grass in the sun, where it dried so quick that we took it home to The Nest the same day. It was then put by till we could find time to make the wheels, reels, and combs which my wife said that she would want to turn our new found plant to its best use.
We now made haste to lay up a store of canes, nuts, wood, and such things as we thought we might want; and took care, while it was still fine, to sow wheat, and all the grain we had left in our bags was soon put in the ground. The fear that the rain might come and put a stop to our work led us to take our meals in haste, and to make the days as long as we could see. We knew that the rain was close at hand, for the nights were cold; large clouds could be seen in the sky, and the wind blew as we had not felt it since the night our ship struck on the rock.
The great change came at last. One night we were woke up out of our sleep with the noise made by the rush of the winds through the woods, and we could hear the loud roar of the sea far off. Then the dense storm clouds which we had seen in the sky burst on us, and the rain came down in floods. The streams, pools, and ponds on all sides were soon full, and the whole plain round us met our view as one vast lake. By good luck, the site of our house stood up out of the flood, and our group of trees had the look of a small isle in the midst of the lake.
We soon found that The Nest was not built so well as we thought, for the rain came in at the sides, and we had good cause to fear that the wind would blow the roof off. Once the storm made such a rush at it, that we heard the beams creak, and the planks gave signs that there was more strain on them than they could bear. This drove us from our room to the stairs in the trunk, on which we sat in a state of fear till the worst of the storm was past. Then we went down to the shed we had built on the ground at the root of the tree, and made the best shift we could. All our stores were kept here, so that the space was too small to hold us, and the smell from the beasts made it far from a fit place for six of us to dwell in; but it was at least safe for a time, and this was of course the first thing to be thought of. To dress our food we had to make a fire in the barn, and as there was no place to let out the smoke, it got down our throats and made us cough all the day long.
It was now for the first time that my wife gave a sigh for her old Swiss home. But we all knew that it was of no use to grieve, and each set to work to do all he could to make the place look neat and clean. Some of our stores we took up the stairs out of our way, and this gave us more room. As we had cut square holes in the trunk of the tree all the way up, and put in frames of glass that we got from the ship, my wife could sit on the stairs, with Frank at her feet, and mend our clothes. Each day I drove from the barn such of the beasts as could bear to be out in the rain. That we might not lose them, I tied bells round their necks; and if we found that they did not come back when the sun went down, Fritz and I went out to bring them in. We oft got wet through to the skin, which gave us a chill, and might have laid us up if my wife had not made cloth capes and hoods for us to wear. To make these rain proof, I spread some of the gum on them while hot, and this, when dry, had the look of oil cloth, and kept the head, arms, chest, and back free from damp. Our gum boots came far up our legs, so that we could go out in the rain and come back quite free from cold and damp.
We made but few fires, for the air was not cold, save for an hour or two late at night, and we did not cook more than we could help, but ate the dried meat, fowls, and fish we had by us.
The care of our beasts took us a great part of the day; then we made our cakes and set them to bake in a tin plate on a slow fire. I had cut a hole in the wall to give us light, and put a pane of glass in it to keep out the wind, but the thick clouds hid the sun from the earth, and the shade of thetree threw a gloom round our barn, so that our day light was but short, and night came on far too soon. We then made use of our wax lights, and all sat round a bench. My wife had as much as she could well do to mend the rents we made in our clothes. I kept a log, in which I put down, day by day, what we did and what we had seen; and then Ernest wrote this out in a neat clear hand, and made a book of it. Fritz and Jack drew the plants, trees, and beasts which they had found, and these were stuck in our book. Each night we took it in turns to read the Word of God, and then all knelt down to pray ere we went to bed. Ours was not a life of ease, it is true, but it was one of peace and hope; and we felt that God had been so kind to us that it would be a great sin to wish for what it did not please Him to grant us.
My wife did all she could to cheer us, and it was no strange thing for us to find that while we were out in the rain with thee live stock shed had made some new dish, which we would scent as soon as we put our heads in at the door. One night it was a thrush pie, the next a roast fowl, or some wild duck soup; and once in a way she would give us a grand feast, and bring out some of all the good things we had in store.
In the course of our stay in doors we made up our minds that we would not spend the next time of storm and rain, when it should come round, in the same place. The Nest would serve us well in that time of year when it was fine and dry, but we should have to look our for some spot where we could build a house that would keep us from the rain the next time the storms came.
Fritz thought that we might find a cave, or cut one out of the rock by the sea shore. I told him that this would be a good plan, but would take a long while to do. By this time the boys were all well used to hard work, and they thought they would much like to try their skill at some new king of work.
"Well," said I, "we will go to the rocks round Tent House the first fine day that comes, and try to find some place that will serve to keep us from the next year's storms."