The Swiss Family Robinson, In Words of One Syllable/Chapter 6

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The meal at an end, my first thought was to make some steps by means of which we could reach the first strong branch of the tree. On a part of the root which rose high up out of the earth, so as to form an arch some six feet from the ground, we laid a large piece of sail cloth, and I then went in search of some thick canes that grew in the sands hard by. These we cut down, and, with the aid of some strong string, we bound them to four long poles, and thus made a pair of steps that would, we thought, reach far up the trunk.

On our way back from the sands, one of the dogs made a dart at a clump of reeds, and a troop of large birds rose on the wing with a loud noise. Fritz let fly at them, and brought down two at a shot. One of them fell quite dead, but its mate, though hurt in the wing, made use of its long legs so well that it would have got off if Bill had not held it till we came up. The joy of Fritz, to have caught such a strange bird, was so great that he would have us at once bind it by the neck and take it back with us. "Look," said Ernest, "what fine plumes he has, and you see he has web feet like a goose, and has long legs like a stork: thus he can run on land as fast as he can swim,"
"Yes," said I, " and he can fly with more speed through the air, for these birds have great strength in their wings. In fact, few birds have such means of flight as the Fla-min-go."

Loud were the cries of Jack and Frank when we came in sight; but my wife thought the great bird might need more food than we could spare. I told her that it would feed on small fish and worms, and not rob our geese of their grain. I then tied him to a stake near the stream by a cord that left him room to fish at his ease; and in a few days we were glad to find that he knew us, and would come at a call, like a tame bird.

While I sat on the grass with my sons, late in the day, I thought I would try to make a bow that might be of some use to kill birds, and thus save our shot. This I did with a long cane with a piece of string, and then made a dart with a sharp point, which I shot off and found it would go straight. The branch of the tree on which we were to fix our hut was so high that our steps would not near reach it. "What shall we do now?" said Fritz. "Wait, and you shall see, my lad." I then tied some strong thread to the dart, and shot it over the branch; then tied a piece of rope to the end of the thread,


Ned driving the Birds away from the dead Shark.

and drew that up, and at last made a long row of cane steps, with a rope at each side, which we drew up to the first strong branch. The boys were now all in haste to climb the tree, but I chose that Jack, who was light of build and sure of foot, should go up first and try the strength of our work. Fritz went up next with some nails, and made the ropes fast to the tree, while I drove stakes in the ground to keep them firm at the foot. It was now time for me to mount, and up I went with an axe to lop off the twigs and smooth the bough that was to form the ground of our new house. I sent the boys down out of my way, and kept hard at work till it was late, for the sky was clear, and the moon lent me her beams of light to see by.

When I came down I found that my two sons, whom I sent down, had not been there. I was at a loss to think where they could be, but my fears were soon gone, for just then I heard them sing a hymn, the sound of which came from one of the top boughs of the tree.

When they came down my wife spread a good meal on the ground, which we ate as best we could, and then made our beds of dry moss, round which we put heaps of twigs. These we set light to, as watch fires to keep off wild beasts and snakes. The toils of the day had made the boys tired, and they were soon in a sound sleep, but my wife and I took it in turns to watch through the whole night long.

We were all out of our beds as soon as light was in the sky, and set to work to hoist up the planks that were to form the floor of our hut. These we laid down on the branch, with their ends made fast to a cross piece of wood that we had to fix to the trunk of the tree. Our nails were long, and we drove each one of them home, so that we had no cause to fear the strength of our work. Some parts were rough, but we took care to make our floor quite smooth, and put up a large sail cloth to serve for a roof till we had time to make one of wood. By the time we had done this the day was far spent, and we were all glad to lay by our tools and rest our limbs. That night we lit our fires round the tree, tied the dogs to the roots, and went to sleep out of harm's way for the first time since we left the ship. When the steps were drawn up we all felt that we were now safe at last, and that we had brought the toils of the day to a good end.