Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
As soon as day broke, I mounted on deck, to look through the telescope.
I saw my wife looking towards us; and the flag, which denoted their
safety, floating in the breeze. Satisfied on this important point, we
enjoyed our breakfast of biscuit, ham, and wine, and then turned our
thoughts to the means of saving our cattle. Even if we could contrive a
raft, we could never get all the animals to remain still on it. We might
venture the huge sow in the water, but the rest of the animals we found
would not be able to swim to shore. At last Fritz suggested the swimming
apparatus. We passed two hours in constructing them. For the cow and ass
it was necessary to have an empty cask on each side, well bound in
strong sailcloth, fastened by leather thongs over the back and under
each animal. For the rest, we merely tied a piece of cork under their
bodies; the sow only being unruly, and giving us much trouble. We then
fastened a cord to the horns or neck of each animal, with a slip of wood
at the end, for a convenient handle. Luckily, the waves had broken away
part of the ship, and left the opening wide enough for the passage of
our troop. We first launched the ass into the water, by a sudden push;
he swam away, after the first plunge, very gracefully. The cow, sheep,
and goats, followed quietly after. The sow was furious, and soon broke
loose from us all, but fortunately reached the shore long before
We now embarked, fastening all the slips of wood to the stern of the
boat, thus drawing our train after us; and the wind filling our sail,
carried us smoothly towards the shore. Fritz exulted in his plan, as we
certainly could never have rowed our boat, loaded as we were. I once
more took out my telescope, and was remarking that our party on shore
seemed making ready for some excursion, when a loud cry from Fritz
filled me with terror. "We are lost! we are lost! see, what a monstrous
fish!" Though pale with alarm, the bold boy had seized his gun, and,
encouraged by my directions, he fired two balls into the head of the
monster, as it was preparing to dart on the sheep. It immediately made
its escape, leaving a long red track to prove that it was
Being freed from our enemy, I now resumed the rudder, and we lowered the
sail and rowed to shore. The animals, as soon as the water became low
enough, walked out at their own discretion, after we had relieved them
from their swimming girdles. We then secured our boat as before, and
landed ourselves, anxiously looking round for our friends.
We had not long to wait, they came joyfully to greet us; and, after our
first burst of pleasure, we sat down to tell our adventures in a regular
form. My wife was overjoyed to see herself surrounded by these valuable
animals; and especially pleased that her son Fritz had suggested so
many useful plans. We next proceeded to disembark all our treasures. I
noticed that Jack wore a belt of yellow skin, in which were placed a
pair of pistols, and inquired where he had got his brigand costume.
"I manufactured it myself," said he; "and this is not all. Look at the
The dogs wore each a collar of the same skin as his belt, bristling with
long nails, the points outwards--a formidable defence.
"It is my own invention," said he; "only mamma helped me in the sewing."
"But where did you get the leather, the needle and thread?" inquired I.
"Fritz's jackal supplied the skin," said my wife, "and my wonderful bag
the rest. There is still more to come from it, only say what you want."
Fritz evidently felt a little vexation at his brother's unceremonious
appropriation of the skin of the jackal, which displayed itself in the
tone in which he exclaimed, holding his nose, "Keep at a distance, Mr.
Skinner, you carry an intolerable smell about with you."
I gave him a gentle hint of his duty in the position of eldest son, and
he soon recovered his good humour. However, as the body as well as the
skin of the jackal was becoming offensive, they united in dragging it
down to the sea, while Jack placed his belt in the sun to dry.
As I saw no preparation for supper, I told Fritz to bring the ham; and,
to the astonishment and joy of all, he returned with a fine Westphalian
ham, which we had cut into in the morning.
"I will tell you," said my wife, "why we have no supper prepared; but
first, I will make you an omelet;" and she produced from a basket a
dozen turtle's eggs.
"You see," said Ernest, "they have all the characteristics of those
Robinson Crusoe had in his island. They are white balls, the skin of
which resembles moistened parchment."
My wife promised to relate the history of the discovery after supper,
and set about preparing her ham and omelet, while Fritz and I proceeded
in unloading our cargo, assisted by the useful ass.
Supper was now ready. A tablecloth was laid over the butter-cask, and
spread with the plates and spoons from the ship. The ham was in the
middle, and the omelet and cheese at each end; and we made a good meal,
surrounded by our subjects,--the dogs, the fowls, the pigeons, the
sheep, and the goats, waiting for our notice. The geese and ducks were
more independent, remaining in their marsh, where they lived in plenty
on the small crabs which abounded there.
After supper, I sent Fritz for a bottle of the captain's Canary wine,
and then requested my wife to give us her recital.
"I will spare you the history of the first day," said my good Elizabeth,
"spent in anxiety about you, and attending to the signals; but this
morning, being satisfied that all was going right, I sought, before the
boys got up, a shady place to rest in, but in vain; I believe this
barren shore has not a single tree on it. Then I began to consider on
the necessity of searching for a more comfortable spot for our
residence; and determined, after a slight repast, to set out with my
children across the river, on a journey of discovery. The day before,
Jack had busied himself in skinning the jackal with his knife, sharpened
on the rock; Ernest declining to assist him in his dirty work, for which
I reproved him, sorry that any fastidiousness should deter him from a
labour of benefit to society.
"Jack proceeded to clean the skin as well as he was able; then procured
from the nail-chest some long flat-headed nails, and inserted them
closely through the long pieces of skin he had cut for collars; he then
cut some sailcloth, and made a double lining over the heads of the
nails; and finished by giving me the delicate office of sewing them
together, which I could not but comply with.
"His belt he first stretched on a plank, nailing it down, and exposing
it to the sun, lest it should shrink in drying.
"Now for our journey: we took our game-bags and some hunting-knives. The
boys carried provisions, and I had a large flask of water. I took a
small hatchet, and gave Ernest a carbine, which might be loaded with
ball; keeping his light gun for myself. I carefully secured the opening
of the tent with the hooks. Turk went before, evidently considering
himself our guide; and we crossed the river with some difficulty.
"As we proceeded, I could not help feeling thankful that you had so
early taught the boys to use fire-arms properly, as the defence of my
youngest boy and myself now depended on the two boys of ten and twelve
years of age.
"When we attained the hill you described to us, I was charmed with the
smiling prospect, and, for the first time since our shipwreck, ventured
to hope for better things. I had remarked a beautiful wood, to which I
determined to make our way, for a little shade, and a most painful
progress it was, through grass that was higher than the children's
heads. As we were struggling through it, we heard a strange rustling
sound among the grass, and at the same moment a bird of prodigious size
rose, and flew away, before the poor boys could get their guns ready.
They were much mortified, and I recommended them always to have their
guns in readiness, for the birds would not be likely to wait till they
loaded them. Francis thought the bird was so large, it must be an eagle;
but Ernest ridiculed the idea, and added that he thought it must be of
the bustard tribe. We went forward to the spot from which it had arisen,
when suddenly another bird of the same kind, though still larger, sprung
up, close to our feet, and was soon soaring above our heads. I could not
help laughing to see the look of astonishment and confusion with which
the boys looked upwards after it. At last Jack took off his hat, and,
making a low bow, said, 'Pray, Mr. Bird, be kind enough to pay us
another visit, you will find us very good children!' We found the large
nest they had left; it was rudely formed of dry grass, and empty, but
some fragments of egg-shells were scattered near, as if the young had
been recently hatched; we therefore concluded that they had escaped
among the grass.
"Doctor Ernest immediately began a lecture. 'You observe, Francis, these
birds could not be eagles, which do not form their nests on the ground.
Neither do their young run as soon as they are hatched. These must be of
the gallinaceous tribe, an order of birds such as quails, partridges,
turkeys, &c.; and, from the sort of feathered moustache which I observed
at the corner of the beak, I should pronounce that these were bustards.'
"But we had now reached the little wood, and our learned friend had
sufficient employment in scrutinizing, and endeavouring to classify, the
immense number of beautiful, unknown birds, which sung and fluttered
about us, apparently regardless of our intrusion.
"We found that what we thought a wood was merely a group of a dozen
trees, of a height far beyond any I had ever seen; and apparently
belonging rather to the air than the earth; the trunks springing from
roots which formed a series of supporting arches. Jack climbed one of
the arches, and measured the trunk of the tree with a piece of
packthread. He found it to be thirty-four feet. I made thirty-two steps
round the roots. Between the roots and the lowest branches, it seemed
about forty or fifty feet. The branches are thick and strong, and the
leaves are of a moderate size, and resemble our walnut-tree. A thick,
short, smooth turf clothed the ground beneath and around the detached
roots of the trees, and everything combined to render this one of the
most delicious spots the mind could conceive.
"Here we rested, and made our noon-day repast; a clear rivulet ran near
us, and offered its agreeable waters for our refreshment. Our dogs soon
joined us; but I was astonished to find they did not crave for food, but
laid down to sleep at our feet. For myself, so safe and happy did I
feel, that I could not but think that if we could contrive a dwelling on
the branches of one of these trees, we should be in perfect peace and
safety. We set out on our return, taking the road by the sea-shore, in
case the waves had cast up anything from the wreck of the vessel. We
found a quantity of timber, chests, and casks; but all too heavy to
bring. We succeeded in dragging them, as well as we could, out of the
reach of the tide; our dogs, in the mean time, fishing for crabs, with
which they regaled themselves, much to their own satisfaction and to
mine, as I now saw they would be able to provide their own food. As we
rested from our rough labour, I saw Flora scratching in the sand, and
swallowing something with great relish. Ernest watched, and then said,
very quietly, 'They are turtles' eggs.' We drove away the dog, and
collected about two dozen, leaving her the rest as a reward for her
"While we were carefully depositing our spoil in the game-bags, we were
astonished at the sight of a sail. Ernest was certain it was papa and
Fritz, and though Francis was in dread that it should be the savages who
visited Robinson Crusoe's island, coming to eat us up, we were soon
enabled to calm his fears. We crossed the river by leaping from stone to
stone, and, hastening to the landing-place, arrived to greet you on
your happy return."
"And I understand, my dear," said I, "that you have discovered a tree
sixty feet high, where you wish we should perch like fowls. But how are
we to get up?"
"Oh! you must remember," answered she, "the large lime-tree near our
native town, in which was a ball-room. We used to ascend to it by a
wooden staircase. Could you not contrive something of the sort in one of
these gigantic trees, where we might sleep in peace, fearing neither
jackals nor any other terrible nocturnal enemy."
I promised to consider this plan, hoping at least that we might make a
commodious and shady dwelling among the roots. To-morrow we were to
examine it. We then performed our evening devotions, and retired
"Now, my dear Elizabeth," said I, waking early next morning, "let us
talk a little on this grand project of changing our residence; to which
there are many objections. First, it seems wise to remain on the spot
where Providence has cast us, where we can have at once means of support
drawn from the ship, and security from all attacks, protected by the
rock, the river, and the sea on all sides."
My wife distrusted the river, which could not protect us from the
jackals, and complained of the intolerable heat of this sandy desert, of
her distaste for such food as oysters and wild geese; and, lastly, of
her agony of mind, when we ventured to the wreck; willingly renouncing
all its treasures, and begging we might rest content with the blessings
we already had.
"There is some truth in your objections," said I, "and perhaps we may
erect a dwelling under the roots of your favourite tree; but among these
rocks we must have a storehouse for our goods, and a retreat in case of
invasion. I hope, by blowing off some pieces of the rock with powder, to
be able to fortify the part next the river, leaving a secret passage
known only to ourselves. This would make it impregnable. But before we
proceed, we must have a bridge to convey our baggage across the river.
"A bridge," said she, in a tone of vexation; "then when shall we get
from here? Why cannot we ford it as usual? The cow and ass could carry
I explained to her how necessary it was for our ammunition and provision
to be conveyed over without risk of wetting, and begged her to
manufacture some bags and baskets, and leave the bridge to me and my
boys. If we succeeded, it would always be useful; as for fear of danger
from lightning or accident, I intended to make a powder-magazine among
The important question was now decided. I called up my sons, and
communicated our plans to them. They were greatly delighted, though
somewhat alarmed, at the formidable project of the bridge; besides, the
delay was vexatious; they were all anxious for a removal into the Land
of Promise, as they chose to call it.
We read prayers, and then thought of breakfast. The monkey sucked one of
the goats, as if it had been its mother. My wife milked the cow, and
gave us boiled milk with biscuit for our breakfast; part of which she
put in a flask, for us to take on our expedition. We then prepared our
boat for a voyage to the vessel, to procure planks and timber for our
bridge. I took both Ernest and Fritz, as I foresaw our cargo would be
weighty, and require all our hands to bring it to shore.
We rowed vigorously till we got into the current, which soon carried us
beyond the bay. We had scarcely reached a little isle at the entrance,
when we saw a vast number of gulls and other sea-birds, fluttering with
discordant cries over it. I hoisted the sail, and we approached rapidly;
and, when near enough, we stepped on shore, and saw that the birds were
feasting so eagerly on the remains of a huge fish, that they did not
even notice our approach. We might have killed numbers, even with our
sticks. This fish was the shark which Fritz had so skilfully shot
through the head the night before. He found the marks of his three
balls. Ernest drew his ramrod from his gun, and struck so vigorously
right and left among the birds, that he killed some, and put the rest to
flight. We then hastily cut off some pieces of the skin of the monster,
which I thought might be useful, and placed them in our boat. But this
was not the only advantage we gained by landing. I perceived an immense
quantity of wrecked timber lying on the shore of the island, which
would spare us our voyage to the ship. We selected such planks as were
fit for our purpose; then, by the aid of our jack-screw and some
levers we had brought with us, we extricated the planks from the sand,
and floated them; and, binding the spars and yards together with cords,
with the planks above them, like a raft, we tied them to the stern of
our boat, and hoisted our sail.
Fritz, as we sailed, was drying the shark's skin, which I hoped to
convert into files. And Ernest, in his usual reflective manner, observed
to me, "What a beautiful arrangement of Providence it is, that the mouth
of the shark should be placed in such a position that he is compelled to
turn on his back to seize his prey, thus giving it a chance of escape;
else, with his excessive voracity, he might depopulate the ocean."
At last, we reached our landing-place, and, securing our boat, and
calling out loudly, we soon saw our friends running from the river; each
carried a handkerchief filled with some new acquisition, and Francis had
over his shoulder a small fishing-net. Jack reached us first, and threw
down before us from his handkerchief some fine crawfish. They had each
as many, forming a provision for many days.
Francis claimed the merit of the discovery. Jack related, that Francis
and he took a walk to find a good place for the bridge.
"Thank you, Mr. Architect," said I; "then you must superintend the
workmen. Have you fixed on your place?"
"Yes, yes!" cried he; "only listen. When we got to the river, Francis,
who was looking about, called out, 'Jack! Jack! Fritz's jackal is
covered with crabs! Come!--come!' I ran to tell mamma, who brought a net
that came from the ship, and we caught these in a few minutes, and could
have got many more, if you had not come."
I commanded them to put the smaller ones back into the river, reserving
only as many as we could eat. I was truly thankful to discover another
means of support.
We now landed our timber. I had looked at Jack's site for the bridge,
and thought my little architect very happy in his selection; but it was
at a great distance from the timber. I recollected the simplicity of the
harness the Laplanders used for their reindeer. I tied cords to the
horns of the cow--as the strength of this animal is in the head--and
then fastened the other ends round the piece of timber we wanted moving.
I placed a halter round the neck of the ass, and attached the cords to
this. We were thus enabled, by degrees, to remove all our wood to the
chosen spot, where the sides of the river were steep, and appeared of
It was necessary to know the breadth of the river, to select the proper
planks; and Ernest proposed to procure a ball of packthread from his
mother, to tie a stone to one end of the string, and throw it across the
river, and to measure it after drawing it back. This expedient succeeded
admirably. We found the breadth to be eighteen feet; but, as I proposed
to give the bridge strength by having three feet, at least, resting on
each shore, we chose some planks of twenty-four feet in length. How we
were to get these across the river was another question, which we
prepared to discuss during dinner, to which my wife now summoned us.
Our dinner consisted of a dish of crawfish, and some very good
rice-milk. But, before we began, we admired her work. She had made a
pair of bags for the ass, sewed with packthread; but having no large
needles, she had been obliged to pierce holes with a nail, a tedious and
painful process. Well satisfied with her success, we turned to our
repast, talking of our bridge, which the boys, by anticipation, named
the Nonpareil. We then went to work.
There happened to be an old trunk of a tree standing on the shore. To
this I tied my main beam by a strong cord, loose enough to turn round
the trunk. Another cord was attached to the opposite end of the beam,
long enough to cross the river twice. I took the end of my rope over the
stream, where we had previously fixed the block, used in our boat, to a
tree, by the hook which usually suspended it. I passed my rope, and
returned with the end to our own side. I then harnessed my cow and ass
to the end of my rope, and drove them forcibly from the shore. The beam
turned slowly round the trunk, then advanced, and was finally lodged
over the river, amidst the shouts of the boys; its own weight keeping it
firm. Fritz and Jack leaped on it immediately to run across, to my
We succeeded in placing four strong beams in the same way; and, by the
aid of my sons, I arranged them at a convenient distance from each
other, that we might have a broad and good bridge. We then laid down
planks close together across the beams; but not fixed, as in time of
danger it might be necessary rapidly to remove the bridge. My wife and I
were as much excited as the children, and ran across with delight. Our
bridge was at least ten feet broad.
Thoroughly fatigued with our day of labour, we returned home, supped,
and offered thanks to God, and went to rest.
The next morning, after prayers, I assembled my family. We took a solemn
leave of our first place of refuge. I cautioned my sons to be prudent,
and on their guard; and especially to remain together during our
journey. We then prepared for departure. We assembled the cattle: the
bags were fixed across the backs of the cow and the ass, and loaded with
all our heavy baggage; our cooking utensils; and provisions, consisting
of biscuits, butter, cheese, and portable soup; our hammocks and
blankets; the captain's service of plate, were all carefully packed in
the bags, equally poised on each side the animals.
All was ready, when my wife came in haste with her inexhaustible bag,
requesting a place for it. Neither would she consent to leave the
poultry, as food for the jackals; above all, Francis must have a place;
he could not possibly walk all the way. I was amused with the exactions
of the sex; but consented to all, and made a good place for Francis
between the bags, on the back of the ass.
The elder boys returned in despair,--they could not succeed in catching
the fowls; but the experienced mother laughed at them, and said she
would soon capture them.
"If you do," said my pert little Jack, "I will be contented to be
roasted in the place of the first chicken taken."
"Then, my poor Jack," said his mother, "you will soon be on the spit.
Remember, that intellect has always more power than mere bodily
exertion. Look here!" She scattered a few handfuls of grain before the
tent, calling the fowls; they soon all assembled, including the pigeons;
then throwing more down inside the tent, they followed her. It was now
only necessary to close the entrance; and they were all soon taken, tied
by the wings and feet, and, being placed in baskets covered with nets,
were added to the rest of our luggage on the backs of the animals.
Finally, we conveyed inside the tent all we could not carry away,
closing the entrance, and barricading it with chests and casks, thus
confiding all our possessions to the care of God. We set out on our
pilgrimage, each carrying a game-bag and a gun. My wife and her eldest
son led the way, followed by the heavily-laden cow and ass; the third
division consisted of the goats, driven by Jack, the little monkey
seated on the back of its nurse, and grimacing, to our great amusement;
next came Ernest, with the sheep; and I followed, superintending the
whole. Our gallant dogs acted as aides-de-camp, and were continually
passing from the front to the rear rank.
Our march was slow, but orderly, and quite patriarchal. "We are now
travelling across the deserts, as our first fathers did," said I, "and
as the Arabs, Tartars, and other nomade nations do to this day, followed
by their flocks and herds. But these people generally have strong camels
to bear their burdens, instead of a poor ass and cow. I hope this may be
the last of our pilgrimages." My wife also hoped that, once under the
shade of her marvellous trees, we should have no temptation to
We now crossed our new bridge, and here the party was happily augmented
by a new arrival. The sow had proved very mutinous at setting out, and
we had been compelled to leave her; she now voluntarily joined us,
seeing we were actually departing; but continued to grunt loudly her
disapprobation of our proceedings. After we had crossed the river, we
had another embarrassment. The rich grass tempted our animals to stray
off to feed, and, but for our dogs, we should never have been able to
muster them again. But, for fear of further accident, I commanded my
advanced guard to take the road by the coast, which offered no
temptation to our troops.
We had scarcely left the high grass when our dogs rushed back into it,
barking furiously, and howling as if in combat; Fritz immediately
prepared for action, Ernest drew near his mother, Jack rushed forward
with his gun over his shoulder, and I cautiously advanced, commanding
them to be discreet and cool. But Jack, with his usual impetuosity,
leaped among the high grass to the dogs; and immediately returned,
clapping his hands, and crying out, "Be quick, papa! a huge porcupine,
with quills as long as my arm!"
When I got up, I really found a porcupine, whom the dogs were warmly
attacking. It made a frightful noise, erecting its quills so boldly,
that the wounded animals howled with pain after every attempt to seize
it. As we were looking at them Jack drew a pistol from his belt, and
discharged it directly into the head of the porcupine, which fell dead.
Jack was very proud of his feat, and Fritz, not a little jealous,
suggested that such a little boy should not be trusted with pistols, as
he might have shot one of the dogs, or even one of us. I forbade any
envy or jealousy among the brothers, and declared that all did well who
acted for the public good. Mamma was now summoned to see the curious
animal her son's valour had destroyed. Her first thought was to dress
the wounds made by the quills which had stuck in the noses of the dogs
during their attack. In the mean time, I corrected my son's notions on
the power of this animal to lance its darts when in danger. This is a
popular error; nature has given it a sufficient protection in its
defensive and offensive armour.
As Jack earnestly desired to carry his booty with him, I carefully
imbedded the body in soft grass, to preserve the quills; then packed it
in strong cloth, and placed it on the ass behind Francis.
At last, we arrived at the end of our journey,--and, certainly, the size
of the trees surpassed anything I could have imagined. Jack was certain
they were gigantic walnut-trees; for my own part, I believed them to be
a species of fig-tree--probably the Antilles fig. But all thanks were
given to the kind mother who had sought out such a pleasant home for us;
at all events, we could find a convenient shelter among the roots. And,
if we should ever succeed in perching on the branches, I told her we
should be safe from all wild beasts. I would defy even the bears of our
native mountains to climb these immense trunks, totally destitute
We released our animals from their loads, tying their fore legs
together, that they might not stray; except the sow, who, as usual, did
her own way. The fowls and pigeons we released, and left to their own
discretion. We then sat down on the grass, to consider where we should
establish ourselves. I wished to mount the tree that very night.
Suddenly we heard, to our no slight alarm, the report of a gun. But the
next moment the voice of Fritz re-assured us. He had stolen out
unnoticed, and shot a beautiful tiger-cat, which he displayed in
"Well done, noble hunter!" said I; "you deserve the thanks of the fowls
and pigeons; they would most probably have all fallen a sacrifice
to-night, if you had not slain their deadly foe. Pray wage war with all
his kind, or we shall not have a chicken left for the pot."
Ernest then examined the animal with his customary attention, and
declared that the proper name was the margay, a fact Fritz did not
dispute, only requesting that Jack might not meddle with the skin, as he
wished to preserve it for a belt. I recommended them to skin it
immediately, and give the flesh to the dogs. Jack, at the same time,
determined to skin his porcupine, to make dog-collars. Part of its
flesh went into the soup-kettle, and the rest was salted for the next
day. We then sought for some flat stones in the bed of the charming
little river that ran at a little distance from us, and set about
constructing a cooking-place. Francis collected dry wood for the fire;
and, while my wife was occupied in preparing our supper, I amused myself
by making some packing-needles for her rude work from the quills of the
porcupine. I held a large nail in the fire till it was red-hot, then,
holding the head in wet linen, I pierced the quills, and made several
needles, of various sizes, to the great contentment of our indefatigable
Still occupied with the idea of our castle in the air, I thought of
making a ladder of ropes; but this would be useless, if we did not
succeed in getting a cord over the lower branches, to draw it up.
Neither my sons nor myself could throw a stone, to which I had fastened
a cord, over these branches, which were thirty feet above us. It was
necessary to think of some other expedient. In the mean time, dinner was
ready. The porcupine made excellent soup, and the flesh was well-tasted,
though rather hard. My wife could not make up her mind to taste it, but
contented herself with a slice of ham and some cheese.
After dinner, as I found we could not ascend at present, I suspended our
hammocks under the arched roots of our tree, and, covering the whole
with sailcloth, we had a shelter from the dew and the insects.
While my wife was employed making harness for the cow and ass, I went
with my sons to the shore, to look for wood fit for our use next day. We
saw a great quantity of wreck, but none fit for our purpose, till Ernest
met with a heap of bamboo canes, half buried in sand and mud. These were
exactly what I wanted. I drew them out of the sand, stripped them of
their leaves, cut them in pieces of about four or five feet long, and my
sons each made up a bundle to carry home. I then set out to seek some
slender stalks to make arrows, which I should need in my project.
We went towards a thick grove, which appeared likely to contain
something for my purpose. We were very cautious, for fear of reptiles or
other dangerous animals, allowing Flora to precede us. When we got near,
she darted furiously among the bushes, and out flew a troop of beautiful
flamingoes, and soared into the air. Fritz, always ready, fired at them.
Two fell; one quite dead, the other, slightly wounded in the wing, made
use of its long legs so well that it would have escaped, if Flora had
not seized it and held it till I came up to take possession. The joy of
Fritz was extreme, to have this beautiful creature alive. He thought at
once of curing its wound, and domesticating it with our own poultry.
"What splendid plumage!" said Ernest; "and you see he is web-footed,
like the goose, and has long legs like the stork; thus he can run as
fast on land as he can swim in the water,"
"Yes," said I, "and fly as quickly in the air. These birds are
remarkable for the power and strength of their wings. Few birds have so
My boys occupied themselves in binding their captive and dressing his
wound; while I sought some of the canes which had done flowering, to cut
off the hard ends, to point my arrows. These are used by the savages of
the Antilles. I then selected the highest canes I could meet with, to
assist me in measuring, by a geometrical process, the height of the
tree. Ernest took the canes, I had the wounded flamingo, and Fritz
carried his own game. Very loud were the cries of joy and astonishment
at our approach. The boys all hoped the flamingo might be tamed, of
which I felt no doubt; but my wife was uneasy, lest it should require
more food than she could spare. However, I assured her, our new guest
would need no attention, as he would provide for himself at the
river-side, feeding on small fishes, worms, and insects. His wounds I
dressed, and found they would soon be healed; I then tied him to a
stake, near the river, by a cord long enough to allow him to fish at his
pleasure, and, in fact, in a few days, he learned to know us, and was
quite domesticated. Meantime, my boys had been trying to measure the
tree with the long canes I had brought, and came laughing to report to
me, that I ought to have got them ten times as long to reach even the
lowest branches. "There is a simpler mode than that," said I, "which
geometry teaches us, and by which the highest mountains can be
I then showed the method of measuring heights by triangles and imaginary
lines, using canes of different lengths and cords instead of
mathematical instruments. My result was thirty feet to the lowest
branches. This experiment filled the boys with wonder and desire to
become acquainted with this useful, exact science, which, happily, I was
able to teach them fully.
I now ordered Fritz to measure our strong cord, and the little ones to
collect all the small string, and wind it. I then took a strong bamboo
and made a bow of it, and some arrows of the slender canes, filling them
with wet sand to give them weight, and feathering them from the dead
flamingo. As soon as my work was completed, the boys crowded round me,
all begging to try the bow and arrows. I begged them to be patient, and
asked my wife to supply me with a ball of thick strong thread. The
enchanted bag did not fail us; the very ball I wanted appeared at her
summons. This, my little ones declared, must be magic; but I explained
to them, that prudence, foresight, and presence of mind in danger, such
as their good mother had displayed, produced more miracles than magic.
I then tied the end of the ball of thread to one of my arrows, fixed it
in my bow, and sent it directly over one of the thickest of the lower
branches of the tree, and, falling to the ground, it drew the thread
after it. Charmed with this result, I hastened to complete my ladder.
Fritz had measured our ropes, and found two of forty feet each,--exactly
what I wanted. These I stretched on the ground at about one foot
distance from each other; Fritz cut pieces of cane two feet long, which
Ernest passed to me. I placed these in knots which I had made in the
cords, at about a foot distance from each other, and Jack fastened each
end with a long nail, to prevent it slipping. In a very short time our
ladder was completed; and, tying it to the end of the cord which went
over the branch, we drew it up without difficulty. All the boys were
anxious to ascend; but I chose Jack, as the lightest and most active.
Accordingly, he ascended, while his brothers and myself held the ladder
firm by the end of the cord. Fritz followed him, conveying a bag with
nails and hammer. They were soon perched on the branches, huzzaing to
us. Fritz secured the ladder so firmly to the branch, that I had no
hesitation in ascending myself. I carried with me a large pulley fixed
to the end of a rope, which I attached to a branch above us, to enable
us to raise the planks necessary to form the groundwork of our
habitation. I smoothed the branches a little by aid of my axe, sending
the boys down to be out of my way. After completing my day's work, I
descended by the light of the moon, and was alarmed to find that Fritz
and Jack were not below; and still more so, when I heard their clear
voices, at the summit of the tree, singing the evening hymn, as if
to sanctify our future abode. They had climbed the tree, instead of
descending, and, filled with wonder and reverence at the sublime view
below them, had burst out into the hymn of thanksgiving to God.
I could not scold my dear boys, when they descended, but directed them
to assemble the animals, and to collect wood, to keep up fires during
the night, in order to drive away any wild beasts that might be near.
My wife then displayed her work,--complete harness for our two beasts
of burden, and, in return, I promised her we would establish ourselves
next day in the tree. Supper was now ready, one piece of the porcupine
was roasted by the fire, smelling deliciously; another piece formed a
rich soup; a cloth was spread on the turf; the ham, cheese, butter, and
biscuits, were placed upon it.
My wife first assembled the fowls, by throwing some grain to them, to
accustom them to the place. We soon saw the pigeons fly to roost on the
higher branches of the trees, while the fowls perched on the ladder; the
beasts we tied to the roots, close to us. Now, that our cares were over,
we sat down to a merry and excellent repast by moonlight. Then, after
the prayers of the evening, I kindled our watch-fires, and we all lay
down to rest in our hammocks. The boys were rather discontented, and
complained of their cramped position, longing for the freedom of their
beds of moss; but I instructed them to lie, as the sailors do,
diagonally, and swinging the hammock, and told them that brave Swiss
boys might sleep as the sailors of all nations were compelled to sleep.
After some stifled sighs and groans, all sank to rest except myself,
kept awake by anxiety for the safety of the rest.