The Swiss Family Robinson

Author: Johann Wyss  | Date: 1813


Weaving-machine- Basket-making- The Alarm- The dangerous Visitor

WE HAD HAD so much trouble in harvesting our crops the last season that we had resolved, instead of trusting them to the ground, without any order or regularity, to prepare a field which could receive them all at the same time, and where they could ripen together. But as our animals were not yet sufficiently accustomed to the yoke to warrant our undertaking the task, I was obliged to defer it till some future period.

In the meantime, I employed myself in constructing a weaving-machine for my wife: our garments had become so tattered and torn that the machine was of incalculable benefit to us. It was neither perfect nor handsome, and nothing more could be expected. As we had none of the wheat flour that the weavers use to make paste, which they employ in hardening the warp, and preventing the threads from tangling, I substituted the glue of fish; and I may confess, without self-praise, that my composition was better than that of the weavers, for the fish-glue preserves a humidity that the ordinary glue does not, and by employing it one can weave in a dry situation, instead of descending into cellars, where the weavers, from time immemorial, have been obliged to confine themselves. From this fish-glue I also made window-panes, not well calculated, it is true, for windows exposed to the rain; but they answered for ours, which, on account of their deep embrasures, were protected from storm.

These two successes encouraged me, and I resolved to try my hand at another thing, or, to speak poetically, ’add another flower to my wreath.’ My little cavaliers had long tormented me to make them saddles and bridles, and our beasts had need of yokes and other harness. I commenced my work and established myself as saddler; kangaroos and sea-dogs furnished me with the necessary leather, and I used for wadding the moss that the Molucca pigeons had discovered to us. But as this moss would have matted together, and grown hard under the rider, I employed my sons in twisting it into cords, in which state it was left some time, and then untwisted; by that means we obtained frizzed hair, as elastic as that of horses. In a short time we had saddles and stirrups, bits and bridles, yokes and collars, each adapted to the strength of the animal for which it was intended.

Instead of attaching the plough, or any other implement, by cords, to the horns of the animal, as they do in France and Germany, I resolved to adopt the Italian method, and put the yoke on their necks. Besides, it appeared to me that the pressure was less on the forehead than on the shoulders of the animal, and future experience confirmed my opinion.

These labours were not yet terminated when we received, as we had the preceding year, the visit of a bank of herrings. We had found them so agreeable during the rainy season, that we did not let these pass unheeded.

The herrings were followed by the sea-dogs, which we also received thankfully; their bladders and skins had become too precious to allow us to neglect them. We killed about twenty or twenty-four, of different sizes; the skin and fat were all put to use; nothing was left but the tough flesh, which we abandoned to the crawfishes in the Jackal’s River.

But this sedentary course of life did not suit the restless minds of my young people, and they earnestly begged me to take them hunting in the country. I put the matter off, and took in hand another sort of work, the want of which we felt sensibly. I speak of the making of baskets, a number of which articles we needed to carry our rice, roots, grain, etc. Our first attempts were clumsy enough, and we reserved them for our potato baskets. We gradually improved, and when I thought we were skilful enough, I ventured to use those Spanish rushes that had cost Jack so dear, and we made a number of fine baskets; they were not as finished workmanship as more skilful hands would have effected, but they were light and strong, and that was all we cared for.

My sons had made a large basket to put manioc roots in, and, in a fit of mischief, Jack and Ernest had passed a bamboo cane through the handles, and, putting little Francis in the basket, set off on a full run, while the poor fellow endeavoured in vain to stop them.

Fritz, who had been looking at them, turned to me, saying, ’An idea has struck me, papa; why cannot we make a litter of rushes for mamma, and then she will be able to accompany us in our distant excursions?’ ’Really,’ I replied, ’a litter would be much more convenient than the back of the ass, and much easier than the cart: we will try what can be done.’

My children were delighted at the plan; but my wife laughingly observed, ’that she would make but a poor figure seated in a wicker basket.’ ’Never fear,’ said I, ’we will make you a fine palanquin, such as are used in Persia and Hindostan.’

’Heyday!’ cried Ernest, ’a palanquin supposes slaves to carry it: are we to act in that capacity?’

’Be quiet, my dear children,’ answered their good mother; ’I will never take you for my slaves; and, if ever I consent to ride in such a machine, it will be on condition that it shall be carried on stronger shoulders than yours.’

’Really,’ said Jack, ’we need not trouble ourselves about being porters; have we not the buffalo and the bull? Mr. Storm, my courser, will do all that is asked of him.’

I approved of his idea, and I complimented the boy on his bright thought, a rare occurrence for him.

We immediately put the design of the palanquin into execution: the two animals were brought out; two poles, which supported a large basket, were suspended by cords on each side, and Ernest jumped in to make the first trial. Jack mounted Storm, who was placed at the head, and Francis Broumm, who supported the hinder part, and they set off. The first steps answered admirably; the basket, balanced between the poles, resembled a luxurious carriage on its springs of steel. But it was not exactly a pleasant carriage-drive that Ernest enjoyed; for, at a given signal agreed on by his coachmen, they whipped up their beasts, and set off at full gallop, subjecting Ernest to a punishment as novel as it was ridiculous, which consisted in forcing him to perform a sort of basket-dance at each jump of his conductors. The fun was violent, but it was harmless, and we could not help laughing to see the phlegmatic Ernest so tossed about.

’Hold on! hold on! Stop! stop!’ he screamed, at the top of his voice.

But they turned a deaf ear to his entreaties, and the poor patient was obliged to undergo this agreeable amusement during the time it took them to gallop from our sides to Jackal’s River. One can easily imagine his anger when they dumped him over on the sand; and the quarrel went so far that I was obliged to interfere. I reprimanded Jack, and that was satisfaction enough for the pacific Ernest, whom I saw, a moment after, helping his brother to unharness the animals, and put them in the stable. He even went to find some salt for these innocent instruments of his memorable ride. We then all returned to our basket-making; but we had scarcely recommenced, when Fritz, whose eagle eye was always making discoveries, suddenly started up, as if frightened at a cloud of dust which had arisen on the other side of the river, in the direction of Falcon’s Nest.

’There is some large animal there,’ said he, ’to judge from the dust it has raised; besides, it is plainly coming in this direction.’

’I cannot imagine what it is,’ I answered; ’our large animals are in the stable, resting themselves after the experiment of the palanquin.’

’Probably two or three sheep, or, perhaps, our sow, frollicking in the sand,’ observed my wife.

’No, no,’ replied Fritz, quickly; ’it is some singular animal: I can perceive its movements: it rolls and unrolls itself alternately; I can see the rings of which it is formed. See, it is raising itself up, and looks like a huge mast in the dust; it advances- stops- marches on; but I cannot distinguish either feet or legs.’

I ran for the spy-glass we had saved from the wreck, and directed it toward the dust.

’I can see it plainly,’ said Fritz; ’it has a greenish-coloured body. What do you think of it, papa?’

’That we must fly as fast as possible, and intrench ourselves in the grotto.’

’What do you think it is?’

’A serpent- a huge serpent, advancing directly for us.’

’Shall I run for the guns, to be ready to receive him?’

’Not here. The serpent is too powerful to permit of our attacking him, unless we are ourselves in a place of safety.’

We hastened to gain the interior of the grotto, and prepared to receive our enemy. It was a boa-constrictor; * and he advanced so quickly that it was too late to take up the boards on Family Bridge.

* Of all the reptiles that exist, none equal in size and power the Boa, some of them being occasionally met with from thirty to forty feet in length, and of a strength so prodigious as to destroy as large and powerful an animal as a rhinoceros by enveloping its victim in its capacious folds, and then contracting itself to such an extent that it quickly succeeds in crushing it to death.

We watched all his movements, and saw him stretching out his enormous length along the bank of the river. From time to time the reptile would raise up the forepart of his body twenty feet from the ground, and turn his head gently from right to left, as if seeking for his prey, while he darted a triple-barbed tongue from his half-open jaws. He crossed the bridge, and directed his course straight for the grotto: we had barricaded the door and the windows as well as we were able, and ascended into the dove-cot, to which we had made an interior entrance; we passed our muskets through the holes in the door, and waited silently for the enemy- it was the silence of terror.

But the boa, in advancing, had perceived the traces of man’s handiwork, and he came on hesitatingly, until at last he stopped, about thirty paces directly in front of our position. He had scarcely advanced thus far when Ernest, more through fear than through any warlike ardour, discharged his gun, and thus gave a false signal. Jack and Francis followed his example; and my wife, whom the danger had rendered bold, also discharged her gun.

The monster raised his head; but either because none of the shots had touched him, or because the scales of his skin were impenetrable to balls, he appeared to have received no wound. Fritz and I then fired, but without any effect, and the serpent glided away with inconceivable rapidity toward the marsh which our ducks and geese inhabited, and disappeared in the rushes.

A general exclamation accompanied his disappearance. We were inexpressibly relieved. We commenced to speak. Every one was sure that they had hit him; but all agreed he was as yet unwounded. We also concurred as to his immense proportions; but as for the colour of his skin, every one embroidered it according to his own taste.

The neighbourhood of the boa threw me into the most unenviable state of mind; for I could think of no way to rid ourselves of him, and our united forces were as nothing against such an enemy. I expressly commanded my whole family to remain in the grotto, and forbade them opening the door without my permission.


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Chicago: Johann Wyss, "36," The Swiss Family Robinson Original Sources, accessed July 20, 2024,

MLA: Wyss, Johann. "36." The Swiss Family Robinson, Original Sources. 20 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Wyss, J, '36' in The Swiss Family Robinson. Original Sources, retrieved 20 July 2024, from