Part 10 out of 12
"And yet, if it had been necessary to operate," said Harding one day to
him, "you would not have hesitated?"
"No, Cyrus!" said Gideon Spilett, "but thank God that we have been spared
As in so many other conjectures, the colonists had appealed to the logic
of that simple good sense of which they had made use so often, and once
more, thanks to their general knowledge, it had succeeded! But might not a
time come when all their science would be at fault? They were alone on the
island. Now, men in all states of society are necessary to each other.
Cyrus Harding knew this well, and sometimes he asked if some circumstance
might not occur which they would be powerless to surmount. It appeared to
him besides, that he and his companions, till then so fortunate, had
entered into an unlucky period. During the two years and a half which had
elapsed since their escape from Richmond, it might be said that they had
had everything their own way. The island had abundantly supplied them with
minerals, vegetables, animals, and as Nature had constantly loaded them,
their science had known how to take advantage of what she offered them.
The wellbeing of the colony was therefore complete. Moreover, in certain
occurrences an inexplicable influence had come to their aid!... But all
that could only be for a time.
In short, Cyrus Harding believed that fortune had turned against them.
In fact, the convicts' ship had appeared in the waters of the island, and
if the pirates had been, so to speak, miraculously destroyed, six of them,
at least, had escaped the catastrophe. They had disembarked on the island,
and it was almost impossible to get at the five who survived. Ayrton had no
doubt been murdered by these wretches, who possessed firearms, and at the
first use that they had made of them, Herbert had fallen, wounded almost
mortally. Were these the first blows aimed by adverse fortune at the
colonists? This was often asked by Harding. This was often repeated by the
reporter; and it appeared to him also that the intervention, so strange,
yet so efficacious, which till then had served them so well, had now failed
them. Had this mysterious being, whatever he was, whose existence could not
be denied, abandoned the island? Had he in his turn succumbed?
No reply was possible to these questions. But it must not be imagined
that because Harding and his companions spoke of these things, they were
men to despair. Far from that. They looked their situation in the face,
they analyzed the chances, they prepared themselves for any event, they
stood firm and straight before the future, and if adversity was at last to
strike them, it would find in them men prepared to struggle against it.
The convalescence of the young invalid was regularly progressing. One thing
only was now to be desired, that his state would allow him to be brought to
Granite House. However well built and supplied the corral house was, it
could not be so comfortable as the healthy granite dwelling. Besides, it
did not offer the same security, and its tenants, notwithstanding their
watchfulness, were here always in fear of some shot from the convicts.
There, on the contrary, in the middle of that impregnable and inaccessible
cliff, they would have nothing to fear, and any attack on their persons
would certainly fail. They therefore waited impatiently for the moment when
Herbert might be moved without danger from his wound, and they were
determined to make this move, although the communication through Jacamar
Wood was very difficult.
They had no news from Neb, but were not uneasy on that account. The
courageous Negro, well entrenched in the depths of Granite House, would not
allow himself to be surprised. Top had not been sent again to him, as it
appeared useless to expose the faithful dog to some shot which might
deprive the settlers of their most useful auxiliary.
They waited, therefore, although they were anxious to be reunited at
Granite House. It pained the engineer to see his forces divided, for it
gave great advantage to the pirates. Since Ayrton's disappearance they were
only four against five, for Herbert could not yet be counted, and this was
not the least care of the brave boy, who well understood the trouble of
which he was the cause.
The question of knowing how, in their condition, they were to act against
the pirates, was thoroughly discussed on the 29th of November by Cyrus
Harding, Gideon Spilett, and Pencroft, at a moment when Herbert was asleep
and could not hear them.
"My friends," said the reporter, after they had talked of Neb and of the
impossibility of communicating with him, "I think,--like you, that to
venture on the road to the corral would be to risk receiving a gunshot
without being able to return it. But do you not think that the best thing
to be done now is to openly give chase to these wretches?"
"That is just what I was thinking," answered Pencroft. "I believe we're
not fellows to be afraid of a bullet, and as for me, if Captain Harding
approves, I'm ready to dash into the forest! Why, hang it, one man is equal
"But is he equal to five?" asked the engineer.
"I will join Pencroft," said the reporter, "and both of us, well-armed
and accompanied by Top--"
"My dear Spilett, and you, Pencroft," answered Harding, "let us reason
coolly. If the convicts were hid in one spot of the island, if we knew that
spot, and had only to dislodge them, I would undertake a direct attack; but
is there not occasion to fear, on the contrary, that they are sure to fire
the first shot?"
"Well, captain," cried Pencroft, "a bullet does not always reach its
"That which struck Herbert did not miss, Pencroft," replied the engineer.
"Besides, observe that if both of you left the corral I should remain here
alone to defend it. Do you imagine that the convicts will not see you leave
it, that they will not allow you to enter the forest, and that they will
not attack it during your absence, knowing that there is no one here but a
wounded boy and a man?"
"You are right, captain," replied Pencroft, his chest swelling with
sullen anger. "You are right; they will do all they can to retake the
corral, which they know to be well stored; and alone you could not hold it
"Oh, if we were only at Granite House!"
"If we were at Granite House," answered the engineer, "the case would be
very different. There I should not be afraid to leave Herbert with one,
while the other three went to search the forests of the island. But we are
at the corral, and it is best to stay here until we can leave it together."
Cyrus Harding's reasoning was unanswerable, and his companions understood
"If only Ayrton was still one of us!" said Gideon Spilett. "Poor fellow!
his return to social life will have been but of short duration."
"If he is dead," added Pencroft, in a peculiar tone.
"Do you hope, then, Pencroft, that the villains have spared him?" asked
"Yes, if they had any interest in doing so."
"What! you suppose that Ayrton finding his old companions, forgetting
all that he owes us--"
"Who knows?" answered the sailor, who did not hazard this shameful
supposition without hesitating.
"Pencroft," said Harding, taking the sailor's arm, "that is a wicked idea
of yours, and you will distress me much if you persist in speaking thus. I
will answer for Ayrton's fidelity."
"And I also," added the reporter quickly.
"Yes, yes, captain, I was wrong," replied Pencroft; "it was a wicked idea
indeed that I had, and nothing justifies it. But what can I do? I'm not in
my senses. This imprisonment in the corral wearies me horribly, and I have
never felt so excited as I do now.
"Be patient, Pencroft," replied the engineer. "How long will it be, my
dear Spilett, before you think Herbert may be carried to Granite House?"
"That is difficult to say, Cyrus," answered the reporter, "for any
imprudence might involve terrible consequences. But his convalescence is
progressing, and if he continues to gain strength, in eight days from now--
well, we shall see."
Eight days! That would put off the return to Granite House until the
first days of December. At this time two months of spring had already
passed. The weather was fine, and the heat began to be great. The forests
of the island were in full leaf, and the time was approaching when the
usual crops ought to be gathered. The return to the plateau of Prospect
Heights would, therefore, be followed by extensive agricultural labors,
interrupted only by the projected expedition through the island.
It can, therefore, be well understood how injurious this seclusion in the
corral must have been to the colonists.
But if they were compelled to bow before necessity, they did not do so
Once or twice the reporter ventured out into the road and made the tour
of the palisade. Top accompanied him, and Gideon Spilett, his gun cocked,
was ready for any emergency.
He met with no misadventure and found no suspicious traces. His dog would
have warned him of any danger, and, as Top did not bark, it might be
concluded that there was nothing to fear at the moment at least, and that
the convicts were occupied in another part of the island.
However, on his second sortie, on the 27th of November, Gideon Spilett,
who had ventured a quarter of a mile into the woods, towards the south of
the mountain, remarked that Top scented something. The dog had no longer
his unconcerned manner; he went backwards and forwards, ferreting among
the grass and bushes as if his smell had revealed some suspicious object to
Gideon Spilett followed Top, encouraged him, excited him by his voice,
while keeping a sharp look-out, his gun ready to fire, and sheltering
himself behind the trees. It was not probable that Top scented the presence
of man, for in that case, he would have announced it by half-uttered,
sullen, angry barks. Now, as he did not growl, it was because danger was
neither near nor approaching.
Nearly five minutes passed thus, Top rummaging, the reporter following
him prudently when, all at once, the dog rushed towards a thick bush, and
drew out a rag.
It was a piece of cloth, stained and torn, which Spilett immediately
brought back to the corral. There it was examined by the colonists, who
found that it was a fragment of Ayrton's waistcoat, a piece of that felt,
manufactured solely by the Granite House factory.
"You see, Pencroft," observed Harding, "there has been resistance on the
part of the unfortunate Ayrton. The convicts have dragged him away in spite
of himself! Do you still doubt his honesty?"
"No, captain," answered the sailor, "and I repented of my suspicion a
long time ago! But it seems to me that something may be learned from the
"What is that?" asked the reporter.
"It is that Ayrton was not killed at the corral! That they dragged him
away living, since he has resisted. Therefore, perhaps, he is still
"Perhaps, indeed," replied the engineer, who remained thoughtful.
This was a hope, to which Ayrton's companions could still hold. Indeed,
they had before believed that, surprised in the corral, Ayrton had fallen
by a bullet, as Herbert had fallen. But if the convicts had not killed him
at first, if they had brought him living to another part of the island,
might it not be admitted that he was still their prisoner? Perhaps, even,
one of them had found in Ayrton his old Australian companion Ben Joyce, the
chief of the escaped convicts. And who knows but that they had conceived
the impossible hope of bringing back Ayrton to themselves? He would have
been very useful to them, if they had been able to make him turn traitor!
This incident was, therefore, favorably interpreted at the corral, and it
no longer appeared impossible that they should find Ayrton again. On his
side, if he was only a prisoner, Ayrton would no doubt do all he could to
escape from the hands of the villains, and this would be a powerful aid to
"At any rate," observed Gideon Spilett, "if happily Ayrton did manage to
escape, he would go directly to Granite House, for he could not know of the
attempted assassination of which Herbert has been a victim, and
consequently would never think of our being imprisoned in the corral."
"Oh! I wish that he was there, at Granite House!" cried Pencroft, "and
that we were there, too! For, although the rascals can do nothing to our
house, they may plunder the plateau, our plantations, our poultry-yard!"
Pencroft had become a thorough farmer, heartily attached to his crops.
But it must be said that Herbert was more anxious than any to return to
Granite House, for he knew how much the presence of the settlers was needed
there. And it was he who was keeping them at the corral! Therefore, one
idea occupied his mind--to leave the corral, and when! He believed he could
bear removal to Granite House. He was sure his strength would return more
quickly in his room, with the air and sight of the sea!
Several times he pressed Gideon Spilett, but the latter, fearing, with
good reason, that Herbert's wounds, half healed, might reopen on the way,
did not give the order to start.
However, something occurred which compelled Cyrus Harding and his two
friends to yield to the lad's wish, and God alone knew that this
determination might cause them grief and remorse.
It was the 29th of November, seven o'clock in the evening. The three
settlers were talking in Herbert's room, when they heard Top utter quick
Harding, Pencroft, and Spilett seized their guns and ran out of the
house. Top, at the foot of the palisade, was jumping, barking, but it was
with pleasure, not anger.
"Some one is coming."
"It is not an enemy!"
These words had hardly been exchanged between the engineer and his two
companions when a body leaped over the palisade and fell on the ground
inside the corral.
It was Jup, Master Jup in person, to whom Top immediately gave a most
"Jup!" exclaimed Pencroft.
"Neb has sent him to us," said the reporter.
"Then," replied the engineer, "he must have some note on him."
Pencroft rushed up to the orang. Certainly if Neb had any important
matter to communicate to his master he could not employ a more sure or more
rapid messenger, who could pass where neither the colonists could, nor even
Cyrus Harding was not mistaken. At Jup's neck hung a small bag, and in
this bag was found a little note traced by Neb's hand.
The despair of Harding and his companions may be imagined when they read
"Friday, six o'clock in the morning.
"Plateau invaded by convicts.
They gazed at each other without uttering a word, then they re-entered
the house. what were they to do? The convicts on Prospect Heights! that was
disaster, devastation, ruin.
Herbert, on seeing the engineer, the reporter, and Pencroft re-enter,
guessed that their situation was aggravated, and when he saw Jup, he no
longer doubted that some misfortune menaced Granite House.
"Captain Harding," said he, "I must go; I can bear the journey. I must
Gideon Spilett approached Herbert; then, having looked at him,--
"Let us go, then!" said he.
The question was quickly decided whether Herbert should be carried on a
litter or in the cart which had brought Ayrton to the corral. The motion of
the litter would have been more easy for the wounded lad, but it would have
necessitated two bearers, that is to say, there would have been two guns
less for defense if an attack was made on the road. Would they not, on the
contrary, by employing the cart leave every arm free? Was it impossible to
place the mattress on which Herbert was lying in it, and to advance with so
much care that any jolt should be avoided? It could be done.
The cart was brought. Pencroft harnessed the onager. Cyrus Harding and
the reporter raised Herbert's mattress and placed it on the bottom of the
cart. The weather was fine. The sun's bright rays glanced through the
"Are the guns ready?" asked Cyrus Harding.
They were. The engineer and Pencroft, each armed with a double-barreled
gun, and Gideon Spilett carrying his rifle, had nothing to do but start.
"Are you comfortable, Herbert?" asked the engineer.
"Ah, captain," replied the lad, "don't be uneasy, I shall not die on the
While speaking thus, it could be seen that the poor boy had called up all
his energy, and by the energy of a powerful will had collected his failing
The engineer felt his heart sink painfully. He still hesitated to
give the signal for departure; but that would have driven Herbert
to despair--killed him perhaps.
"Forward!" said Harding.
The gate of the corral was opened. Jup and Top, who knew when to be
silent, ran in advance. The cart came out, the gate was reclosed, and the
onager, led by Pencroft, advanced at a slow pace.
Certainly, it would have been safer to have taken a different road than
that which led straight from the corral to Granite House, but the cart
would have met with great difficulties in moving under the trees. It was
necessary, therefore, to follow this way, although it was well known to the
Cyrus Harding and Gideon Spilett walked one on each side of the cart,
ready to answer to any attack. However, it was not probable that the
convicts would have yet left the plateau of Prospect Heights.
Neb's note had evidently been written and sent as soon as the convicts
had shown themselves there. Now, this note was dated six o'clock in the
morning, and the active orang, accustomed to come frequently to the corral,
had taken scarcely three quarters of an hour to cross the five miles which
separated it from Granite House. They would, therefore, be safe at that
time, and if there was any occasion for firing, it would probably not be
until they were in the neighborhood of Granite House. However, the
colonists kept a strict watch. Top and Jup, the latter armed with his club,
sometimes in front, sometimes beating the wood at the sides of the road,
signalized no danger.
The cart advanced slowly under Pencroft's guidance. It had left the
corral at half-past seven. An hour after, four out of the five miles had
been cleared, without any incident having occurred. The road was as
deserted as all that part of the Jacamar Wood which lay between the Mercy
and the lake. There was no occasion for any warning. The wood appeared as
deserted as on the day when the colonists first landed on the island.
They approached the plateau. Another mile and they would see the bridge
over Creek Glycerine. Cyrus Harding expected to find it in its place;
supposing that the convicts would have crossed it, and that, after having
passed one of the streams which enclosed the plateau, they would have taken
the precaution to lower it again, so as to keep open a retreat.
At length an opening in the trees allowed the sea-horizon to be seen. But
the cart continued its progress, for not one of its defenders thought of
At that moment Pencroft stopped the onager, and in a hoarse voice,--
"Oh! the villains!" he exclaimed.
And he pointed to a thick smoke rising from the mill, the sheds, and the
buildings at the poultry-yard.
A man was moving about in the midst of the smoke. It was Neb.
His companions uttered a shout. He heard, and ran to meet them.
The convicts had left the plateau nearly half-an-hour before, having
"And Mr. Herbert?" asked Neb.
Gideon Spilett returned to the cart.
Herbert had lost consciousness!
Of the convicts, the dangers which menaced Granite House, the ruins with
which the plateau was covered, the colonists thought no longer. Herbert's
critical state outweighed all other considerations. Would the removal prove
fatal to him by causing some internal injury? The reporter could not affirm
it, but he and his companions almost despaired of the result. The cart was
brought to the bend of the river. There some branches, disposed as a liner,
received the mattress on which lay the unconscious Herbert. Ten minutes
after, Cyrus Harding, Spilett, and Pencroft were at the foot of the cliff,
leaving Neb to take the cart on to the plateau of Prospect Heights. The
lift was put in motion, and Herbert was soon stretched on his bed in
What cares were lavished on him to bring him back to life! He smiled for
a moment on finding himself in his room, but could scarcely even murmur a
few words, so great was his weakness. Gideon Spilett examined his wounds. He
feared to find them reopened, having been imperfectly healed. There was
nothing of the sort. From whence, then, came this prostration? why was
Herbert so much worse? The lad then fell into a kind of feverish sleep, and
the reporter and Pencroft remained near the bed. During this time, Harding
told Neb all that had happened at the corral, and Neb recounted to his
master the events of which the plateau had just been the theater.
It was only during the preceding night that the convicts had appeared on
the edge of the forest, at the approaches to Creek Glycerine. Neb, who was
watching near the poultry-yard, had not hesitated to fire at one of the
pirates, who was about to cross the stream; but in the darkness he could
not tell whether the man had been hit or not. At any rate, it was not
enough to frighten away the band, and Neb had only just time to get up to
Granite House, where at least he was in safety.
But what was he to do there? How prevent the devastations with which the
convicts threatened the plateau? Had Neb any means by which to warn his
master? And, besides, in what situation were the inhabitants of the corral
themselves? Cyrus Harding and his companions had left on the 11th of
November, and it was now the 29th. It was, therefore, nineteen days since
Neb had had other news than that brought by Top--disastrous news: Ayrton
disappeared, Herbert severely wounded, the engineer, reporter, and sailor,
as it were, imprisoned in the corral!
What was he to do? asked poor Neb. Personally he had nothing to fear, for
the convicts could not reach him in Granite House. But the buildings, the
plantations, all their arrangements at the mercy of the pirates! Would it
not be best to let Cyrus Harding judge of what he ought to do, and to warn
him, at least, of the danger which threatened him?
Neb then thought of employing Jup, and confiding a note to him. He knew
the orang's great intelligence, which had been often put to the proof. Jup
understood the word corral, which had been frequently pronounced before
him, and it may be remembered, too, that he had often driven the cart
thither in company with Pencroft. Day had not yet dawned. The active orang
would know how to pass unperceived through the woods, of which the
convicts, besides, would think he was a native.
Neb did not hesitate. He wrote the note, he tied it to Jup's neck, he
brought the ape to the door of Granite House, from which he let down a long
cord to the ground; then, several times he repeated these words,--
"Jup Jup! corral, corral!"
The creature understood, seized the cord, glided rapidly down the beach,
and disappeared in the darkness without the convicts' attention having been
in the least excited.
"You did well, Neb," said Harding, "but perhaps in not warning us you
would have done still better!"
And, in speaking thus, Cyrus Harding thought of Herbert, whose recovery
the removal had so seriously checked.
Neb ended his account. The convicts had not appeared at all on the beach.
Not knowing the number of the island's inhabitants, they might suppose that
Granite House was defended by a large party. They must have remembered that
during the attack by the brig numerous shot had been fired both from the
lower and upper rocks, and no doubt they did not wish to expose themselves.
But the plateau of Prospect Heights was open to them, and not covered by
the fire of Granite House. They gave themselves up, therefore, to their
instinct of destruction,--plundering, burning, devastating everything,--and
only retiring half an hour before the arrival of the colonists, whom they
believed still confined in the corral.
On their retreat, Neb hurried out. He climbed the plateau at the risk of
being perceived and fired at, tried to extinguish the fire which was
consuming the buildings of the poultry-yard, and had struggled, though in
vain, against it until the cart appeared at the edge of the wood.
Such had been these serious events. The presence of the convicts
constituted a permanent source of danger to the settlers in Lincoln Island,
until then so happy, and who might now expect still greater misfortunes.
Spilett remained in Granite House with Herbert and Pencroft, while Cyrus
Harding, accompanied by Neb, proceeded to judge for himself of the extent
of the disaster.
It was fortunate that the convicts had not advanced to the foot of
Granite House. The workshop at the Chimneys would in that case not have
escaped destruction. But after all, this evil would have been more easily
reparable than the ruins accumulated on the plateau of Prospect Heights.
Harding and Neb proceeded towards the Mercy, and ascended its left bank
without meeting with any trace of the convicts; nor on the other side of
the river, in the depths of the wood, could they perceive any suspicious
Besides, it might be supposed that in all probability either the convicts
knew of the return of the settlers to Granite House, by having seen them
pass on the road from the corral, or, after the devastation of the plateau,
they had penetrated into Jacamar Wood, following the course of the Mercy,
and were thus ignorant of their return.
In the former case, they must have returned towards the corral, now
without defenders, and which contained valuable stores.
In the latter, they must have regained their encampment, and would wait
on opportunity to recommence the attack.
It was, therefore, possible to prevent them, but any enterprise to clear
the island was now rendered difficult by reason of Herbert's condition.
Indeed, their whole force would have been barely sufficient to cope with
the convicts, and just now no one could leave Granite House.
The engineer and Neb arrived on the plateau. Desolation reigned
everywhere. The fields had been trampled over; the ears of wheat, which
were nearly full-grown, lay on the ground. The other plantations had not
The kitchen-garden was destroyed. Happily, Granite House possessed a
store of seed which would enable them to repair these misfortunes.
As to the wall and buildings of the poultry-yard and the onagers stable,
the fire had destroyed all. A few terrified creatures roamed over the
plateau. The birds, which during the fire had taken refuge on the waters of
the lake, had already returned to their accustomed spot, and were dabbling
on the banks. Everything would have to be reconstructed.
Cyrus Harding's face, which was paler than usual, expressed an internal
anger which he commanded with difficulty, but he did not utter a word. Once
more he looked at his devastated fields, and at the smoke which still rose
from the ruins, then he returned to Granite House.
The following days were the saddest of any that the colonists had passed
on the island! Herbert's weakness visibly increased. It appeared that a
more serious malady, the consequence of the profound physiological
disturbance he had gone through, threatened to declare itself, and Gideon
Spilett feared such an aggravation of his condition that he would be
powerless to fight against it!
In fact, Herbert remained in an almost continuous state of drowsiness,
and symptoms of delirium began to manifest themselves. Refreshing drinks
were the only remedies at the colonists' disposal. The fever was not as yet
very high, but it soon appeared that it would probably recur at regular
intervals. Gideon Spilett first recognized this on the 6th of December.
The poor boy, whose fingers, nose, and ears had become extremely pale,
was at first seized with slight shiverings, horripilations, and tremblings.
His pulse was weak and irregular, his skin dry, his thirst intense. To this
soon succeeded a hot fit; his face became flushed; his skin reddened; his
pulse quick; then a profuse perspiration broke out after which the fever
seemed to diminish. The attack had lasted nearly five hours.
Gideon Spilett had not left Herbert, who, it was only too certain, was now
seized by an intermittent fever, and this fever must be cured at any cost
before it should assume a more serious aspect.
"And in order to cure it," said Spilett to Cyrus Harding, "we need a
"A febrifuge--" answered the engineer. "We have neither Peruvian bark,
nor sulphate of quinine."
"No," said Gideon Spilett, "but there are willows on the border of the
lake, and the bark of the willow might, perhaps, prove to be a substitute
"Let us try it without losing a moment," replied Cyrus Harding.
The bark of the willow has, indeed, been justly considered as a
succedaneum for Peruvian bark, as has also that of the horse-chestnut tree,
the leaf of the holly, the snake-root, etc. It was evidently necessary to
make trial of this substance, although not so valuable as Peruvian bark,
and to employ it in its natural state, since they had no means for
extracting its essence.
Cyrus Harding went himself to cut from the trunk of a species of black
willow, a few pieces of bark; he brought them back to Granite House, and
reduced them to a powder, which was administered that same evening to
The night passed without any important change. Herbert was somewhat
delirious, but the fever did not reappear in the night, and did not return
either during the following day.
Pencroft again began to hope. Gideon Spilett said nothing. It might be
that the fever was not quotidian, but tertian, and that it would return
next day. Therefore, he awaited the next day with the greatest anxiety.
It might have been remarked besides that during this period Herbert
remained utterly prostrate, his head weak and giddy. Another symptom
alarmed the reporter to the highest degree. Herbert's liver became
congested, and soon a more intense delirium showed that his brain was also
Gideon Spilett was overwhelmed by this new complication. He took the
"It is a malignant fever," said he.
"A malignant fever!" cried Harding. "You are mistaken, Spilett. A
malignant fever does not declare itself spontaneously; its germ must
previously have existed."
"I am not mistaken," replied the reporter. "Herbert no doubt contracted
the germ of this fever in the marshes of the island. He has already had one
attack; should a second come on and should we not be able to prevent a
third, he is lost."
"But the willow bark?"
"That is insufficient," answered the reporter, "and the third attack of a
malignant fever, which is not arrested by means of quinine, is always
Fortunately, Pencroft heard nothing of this conversation or he would have
It may be imagined what anxiety the engineer and the reporter suffered
during the day of the 7th of December and the following night.
Towards the middle of the day the second attack came on. The crisis was
terrible. Herbert felt himself sinking. He stretched his arms towards Cyrus
Harding, towards Spilett, towards Pencroft. He was so young to die! The
scene was heart-rending. They were obliged to send Pencroft away.
The fit lasted five hours. It was evident that Herbert could not survive
The night was frightful. In his delirium Herbert uttered words which went
to the hearts of his companions. He struggled with the convicts, he called
to Ayrton, he poured forth entreaties to that mysterious being,--that
powerful unknown protector,--whose image was stamped upon his mind; then he
again fell into a deep exhaustion which completely prostrated him. Several
times Gideon Spilett thought that the poor boy was dead.
The next day, the 8th of December, was but a succession of the fainting
fits. Herbert's thin hands clutched the sheets. They had administered
further doses of pounded bark, but the reporter expected no result from it.
"If before tomorrow morning we have not given him a more energetic
febrifuge," said the reporter, "Herbert will be dead."
Night arrived--the last night, it was too much to be feared, of the good,
brave, intelligent boy, so far in advance of his years, and who was loved
by all as their own child. The only remedy which existed against this
terrible malignant fever, the only specific which could overcome it, was
not to be found in Lincoln Island.
During the night of the 8th of December, Herbert was seized by a more
violent delirium. His liver was fearfully congested, his brain affected,
and already it was impossible for him to recognize any one.
Would he live until the next day, until that third attack which must
infallibly carry him off? It was not probable. His strength was exhausted,
and in the intervals of fever he lay as one dead.
Towards three o'clock in the morning Herbert uttered a piercing cry. He
seemed to be torn by a supreme convulsion. Neb, who was near him,
terrified, ran into the next room where his companions were watching.
Top, at that moment, barked in a strange manner.
All rushed in immediately and managed to restrain the dying boy, who was
endeavoring to throw himself out of his bed, while Spilett, taking his arm,
felt his pulse gradually quicken.
It was five in the morning. The rays of the rising sun began to shine in
at the windows of Granite House. It promised to be a fine day, and this day
was to be poor Herbert's last!
A ray glanced on the table placed near the bed.
Suddenly Pencroft, uttering a cry, pointed to the table.
On it lay a little oblong box, of which the cover bore these words:--
"SULPHATE OF QUININE."
Gideon Spilett took the box and opened it. It contained nearly two hundred
grains of a white powder, a few particles of which he carried to his lips.
The extreme bitterness of the substance precluded all doubt; it was
certainly the precious extract of quinine, that pre-eminent antifebrile.
This powder must be administered to Herbert without delay. How it came
there might be discussed later.
"Some coffee!" said Spilett.
In a few moments Neb brought a cup of the warm infusion. Gideon Spilett
threw into it about eighteen grains of quinine, and they succeeded in
making Herbert drink the mixture.
There was still time, for the third attack of the malignant fever had not
yet shown itself. How they longed to be able to add that it would not
Besides, it must be remarked, the hopes of all had now revived. The
mysterious influence had been again exerted, and in a critical moment, when
they had despaired of it.
In a few hours Herbert was much calmer. The colonists could now discuss
this incident. The intervention of the stranger was more evident than ever.
But how had he been able to penetrate during the night into Granite House?
It was inexplicable, and, in truth, the proceedings of the genius of the
island were not less mysterious than was that genius himself. During this
day the sulphate of quinine was administered to Herbert every three hours.
The next day some improvement in Herbert's condition was apparent.
Certainly, he was not out of danger, intermittent fevers being subject to
frequent and dangerous relapses, but the most assiduous care was bestowed
on him. And besides, the specific was at hand; nor, doubtless, was he who
had brought it far distant! And the hearts of all were animated by
This hope was not disappointed. Ten days after, on the 20th of December,
Herbert's convalescence commenced.
He was still weak, and strict diet had been imposed upon him, but no
access of fever supervened. And then, the poor boy submitted with such
docility to all the prescriptions ordered him! He longed so to get well!
Pencroft was as a man who has been drawn up from the bottom of an abyss.
Fits of joy approaching delirium seized him. When the time for the third
attack had passed by, he nearly suffocated the reporter in his embrace.
Since then, he always called him Dr. Spilett.
The real doctor, however, remained undiscovered.
"We will find him!" repeated the sailor.
Certainly, this man, whoever he was, might expect a somewhat too
energetic embrace from the worthy Pencroft!
The month of December ended, and with it the year 1867, during which the
colonists of Lincoln Island had of late been so severely tried. They
commenced the year 1868 with magnificent weather, great heat, and a
tropical temperature, delightfully cooled by the sea-breeze. Herbert's
recovery progressed, and from his bed, placed near one of the windows of
Granite House, he could inhale the fresh air, charged with ozone, which
could not fail to restore his health. His appetite returned, and what
numberless delicate, savory little dishes Neb prepared for him!
"It is enough to make one wish to have a fever oneself!" said Pencroft.
During all this time, the convicts did not once appear in the vicinity of
Granite House. There was no news of Ayrton, and though the engineer and
Herbert still had some hopes of finding him again, their companions did not
doubt but that the unfortunate man had perished. However, this uncertainty
could not last, and when once the lad should have recovered, the
expedition, the result of which must be so important, would be undertaken.
But they would have to wait a month, perhaps, for all the strength of the
colony must be put into requisition to obtain satisfaction from the
However, Herbert's convalescence progressed rapidly. The congestion of
the liver had disappeared, and his wounds might be considered completely
During the month of January, important work was done on the plateau of
Prospect Heights; but it consisted solely in saving as much as was possible
from the devastated crops, either of corn or vegetables. The grain and the
plants were gathered, so as to provide a new harvest for the approaching
half-season. With regard to rebuilding the poultry-yard, wall, or stables,
Cyrus Harding preferred to wait. While he and his companions were in
pursuit of the convicts, the latter might very probably pay another visit
to the plateau, and it would be useless to give them an opportunity of
recommencing their work of destruction. when the island should be cleared
of these miscreants, they would set about rebuilding. The young
convalescent began to get up in the second week of January, at first for
one hour a day, then two, then three. His strength visibly returned, so
vigorous was his constitution. He was now eighteen years of age. He was
tall, and promised to become a man of noble and commanding presence. From
this time his recovery, while still requiring care,--and Dr. Spilett was
very strict,--made rapid progress. Towards the end of the month, Herbert
was already walking about on Prospect Heights, and the beach.
He derived, from several sea-baths, which he took in company with
Pencroft and Neb, the greatest possible benefit. Cyrus Harding thought he
might now settle the day for their departure, for which the 15th of
February was fixed. The nights, very clear at this time of year, would be
favorable to the researches they intended to make all over the island.
The necessary preparations for this exploration were now commenced, and
were important, for the colonists had sworn not to return to Granite House
until their twofold object had been achieved; on the one hand, to
exterminate the convicts, and rescue Ayrton, if he was still living; on the
other, to discover who it was that presided so effectually over the
fortunes of the colony.
Of Lincoln Island, the settlers knew thoroughly all the eastern coast
from Claw Cape to the Mandible Capes, the extensive Tadorn Marsh, the
neighborhood of Lake Grant, Jacamar Wood, between the road to the corral
and the Mercy, the courses of the Mercy and Red Creek, and lastly, the
spurs of Mount Franklin, among which the corral had been established.
They had explored, though only in an imperfect manner, the vast shore of
Washington Bay from Claw Cape to Reptile End, the woody and marshy border
of the west coast, and the interminable downs, ending at the open mouth of
Shark Gulf. But they had in no way surveyed the woods which covered the
Serpentine Peninsula, all to the right of the Mercy, the left bank of Falls
River, and the wilderness of spurs and valleys which supported three
quarters of the base of Mount Franklin, to the east, the north, and the
west, and where doubtless many secret retreats existed. Consequently, many
millions of acres of the island had still escaped their investigations.
It was, therefore, decided that the expedition should be carried through
the Far West, so as to include all that region situated on the right of the
It might, perhaps, be better worth while to go direct to the corral,
where it might be supposed that the convicts had again taken refuge, either
to pillage or to establish themselves there. But either the devastation of
the corral would have been an accomplished fact by this time, and it would
be too late to prevent it, or it had been the convicts' interest to
entrench themselves there, and there would be still time to go and turn
them out on their return.
Therefore, after some discussion, the first plan was adhered to, and the
settlers resolved to proceed through the wood to Reptile End. They would
make their way with their hatchets, and thus lay the first draft of a road
which would place Granite House in communication with the end of the
peninsula for a length of from sixteen to seventeen miles.
The cart was in good condition. The onagers, well rested, could go a long
journey. Provisions, camp effects, a portable stove, and various utensils
were packed in the cart, as also weapons and ammunition, carefully chosen
from the now complete arsenal of Granite House. But it was necessary to
remember that the convicts were, perhaps, roaming about the woods, and that
in the midst of these thick forests a shot might quickly be fired and
received. It was therefore resolved that the little band of settlers should
remain together and not separate under any pretext whatever.
It was also decided that no one should remain at Granite House. Top and
Jup themselves were to accompany the expedition; the inaccessible dwelling
needed no guard. The 14th of February, eve of the departure, was
consecrated entirely to repose, and--thanksgiving addressed by the colonists
to the Creator. A place in the cart was reserved for Herbert, who, though
thoroughly convalescent, was still a little weak. The next morning, at
daybreak, Cyrus Harding took the necessary measures to protect Granite
House from any invasion. The ladders, which were formerly used for the
ascent, were brought to the Chimneys and buried deep in the sand, so that
they might be available on the return of the colonists, for the machinery
of the lift had been taken to pieces, and nothing of the apparatus
remained. Pencroft stayed the last in Granite House in order to finish this
work, and he then lowered himself down by means of a double rope held
below, and which, when once hauled down, left no communication between the
upper landing and the beach.
The weather was magnificent.
"We shall have a warm day of it," said the reporter, laughing.
"Pooh! Dr. Spilett," answered Pencroft, "we shall walk under the shade of
the trees and shan't even see the sun!"
"Forward!" said the engineer.
The cart was waiting on the beach before the Chimneys. The reporter made
Herbert take his place in it during the first hours at least of the
journey, and the lad was obliged to submit to his doctor's orders.
Neb placed himself at the onagers' heads. Cyrus Harding, the reporter,
and the sailor, walked in front. Top bounded joyfully along. Herbert
offered a seat in his vehicle to Jup, who accepted it without ceremony. The
moment for departure had arrived, and the little band set out.
The cart first turned the angle of the mouth of the Mercy, then, having
ascended the left bank for a mile, crossed the bridge, at the other side of
which commenced the road to Port Balloon, and there the explorers, leaving
this road on their left, entered the cover of the immense woods which
formed the region of the Far West.
For the first two miles the widely scattered trees allowed the cart to
pass with ease; from time to time it became necessary to cut away a few
creepers and bushes, but no serious obstacle impeded the progress of the
The thick foliage of the trees threw a grateful shade on the ground.
Deodars, Douglas firs, casuarinas, banksias, gum-trees, dragon-trees, and
other well-known species, succeeded each other far as the eye could reach.
The feathered tribes of the island were all represented--grouse, jacamars,
pheasants, lories, as well as the chattering cockatoos, parrots, and
paroquets. Agouties, kangaroos, and capybaras fled swiftly at their
approach; and all this reminded the settlers of the first excursions they
had made on their arrival at the island.
"Nevertheless," observed Cyrus Harding, "I notice that these creatures,
both birds and quadrupeds, are more timid than formerly. These woods have,
therefore, been recently traversed by the convicts, and we shall certainly
find some traces of them."
And, in fact, in several places they could distinguish traces, more or
less recent, of the passage of a band of men--here branches broken off the
trees, perhaps to mark out the way; there the ashes of a fire, and
footprints in clayey spots; but nothing which appeared to belong to a
The engineer had recommended his companions to refrain from hunting. The
reports of the firearms might give the alarm to the convicts, who were,
perhaps, roaming through the forest. Moreover, the hunters would
necessarily ramble some distance from the cart, which it was dangerous to
In the afterpart of the day, when about six miles from Granite House,
their progress became much more difficult. In order to make their way
through some thickets, they were obliged to cut down trees. Before entering
such places Harding was careful to send in Top and Jup, who faithfully
accomplished their commission, and when the dog and orang returned without
giving any warning, there was evidently nothing to fear, either from
convicts or wild beasts, two varieties of the animal kingdom, whose
ferocious instincts placed them on the same level. On the evening of the
first day the colonists encamped about nine miles from Granite House, on
the border of a little stream falling into the Mercy, and of the existence
of which they had till then been ignorant; it evidently, however, belonged
to the hydiographical system to which the soil owed its astonishing
fertility. The settlers made a hearty meal, for their appetites were
sharpened, and measures were then taken that the night might be passed in
safety. If the engineer had had only to deal with wild beasts, jaguars or
others, he would have simply lighted fires all around his camp, which would
have sufficed for its defense; but the convicts would be rather attracted
than terrified by the flames, and it was, therefore, better to be
surrounded by the profound darkness of night.
The watch was, however, carefully organized. Two of the settlers were to
watch together, and every two hours it was agreed that they should be
relieved by their comrades. And so, notwithstanding his wish to the
contrary, Herbert was exempted from guard. Pencroft and Gideon Spilett in
one party, the engineer and Neb in another, mounted guard in turns over
The night, however, was but of few hours. The darkness was due rather to
the thickness of the foliage than to the disappearance of the sun. The
silence was scarcely disturbed by the howling of jaguars and the chattering
of the monkeys, the latter appearing to particularly irritate Master Jup.
The night passed without incident, and on the next day, the 15th of
February, the journey through the forest, tedious rather than difficult,
was continued. This day they could not accomplish more than six miles, for
every moment they were obliged to cut a road with their hatchets.
Like true settlers, the colonists spared the largest and most beautiful
trees, which would besides have cost immense labor to fell, and the small
ones only were sacrificed, but the result was that the road took a very
winding direction, and lengthened itself by numerous detours.
During the day Herbert discovered several new specimens not before met
with in the island, such as the tree-fern, with its leaves spread out like
the waters of a fountain, locust-trees, on the long pods of which the
onagers browsed greedily, and which supplied a sweet pulp of excellent
flavor. There, too, the colonists again found groups of magnificent
kauries, their cylindrical trunks, crowded with a cone of verdure, rising
to a height of two hundred feet. These were the tree-kings of New Zealand,
as celebrated as the cedars of Lebanon.
As to the fauna, there was no addition to those species already known to
the hunters. Nevertheless, they saw, though unable to get near them, a
couple of those large birds peculiar to Australia, a sort of cassowary,
called emu, five feet in height, and with brown plumage, which belong to
the tribe of waders. Top darted after them as fast as his four legs could
carry him, but the emus distanced him with ease, so prodigious was their
As to the traces left by the convicts, a few more were discovered. Some
footprints found near an apparently recently extinguished fire were
attentively examined by the settlers. By measuring them one after the
other, according to their length and breadth, the marks of five men's feet
were easily distinguished. The five convicts had evidently camped on this
spot; but,--and this was the object of so minute an examination,--a sixth
footprint could not be discovered, which in that case would have been that
"Ayrton was not with them!" said Herbert.
"No," answered Pencroft, "and if he was not with them, it was because the
wretches had already murdered him! but then these rascals have not a den to
which they may be tracked like tigers!"
"No," replied the reporter, "it is more probable that they wander at
random, and it is their interest to rove about until the time when they
will be masters of the island!"
"The masters of the island!" exclaimed the sailor; "the masters of the
island!..." he repeated, and his voice was choked, as if his throat was
seized in an iron grasp. Then in a calmer tone, "Do you know, Captain
Harding," said he, "what the ball is which I have rammed into my gun?"
"It is the ball that went through Herbert's chest, and I promise you it
won't miss its mark!"
But this just retaliation would not bring Ayrton back to life, and from
the examination of the footprints left in the ground, they must, alas!
conclude that all hopes of ever seeing him again must be abandoned.
That evening they encamped fourteen miles from Granite House, and Cyrus
Harding calculated that they could not be more than five miles from Reptile
And indeed, the next day the extremity of the peninsula was reached, and
the whole length of the forest had been traversed; but there was nothing to
indicate the retreat in which the convicts had taken refuge, nor that, no
less secret, which sheltered the mysterious unknown.
The next day, the 18th of February, was devoted to the exploration of all
that wooded region forming the shore from Reptile End to Falls River. The
colonists were able to search this forest thoroughly, for, as it was
comprised between the two shores of the Serpentine Peninsula, it was only
from three to four miles in breadth. The trees, both by their height and
their thick foliage, bore witness to the vegetative power of the soil, more
astonishing here than in any other part of the island. One might have said
that a corner from the virgin forests of America or Africa had been
transported into this temperate zone. This led them to conclude that the
superb vegetation found a heat in this soil, damp in its upper layer, but
warmed in the interior by volcanic fires, which could not belong to a
temperate climate. The most frequently occurring trees were knaries and
eucalypti of gigantic dimensions.
But the colonists' object was not simply to admire the magnificent
vegetation. They knew already that in this respect Lincoln Island would
have been worthy to take the first rank in the Canary group, to which the
first name given was that of the Happy Isles. Now, alas! their island no
longer belonged to them entirely; others had taken possession of it,
miscreants polluted its shores, and they must be destroyed to the last man.
No traces were found on the western coast, although they were carefully
sought for. No more footprints, no more broken branches, no more deserted
"This does not surprise me," said Cyrus Harding to his companions. "The
convicts first landed on the island in the neighborhood of Flotsam Point,
and they immediately plunged into the Far West forests, after crossing
Tadorn Marsh. They then followed almost the same route that we took on
leaving Granite House. This explains the traces we found in the wood. But,
arriving on the shore, the convicts saw at once that they would discover no
suitable retreat there, and it was then that, going northwards again, they
came upon the corral."
"Where they have perhaps returned," said Pencroft.
"I do not think so," answered the engineer, "for they would naturally
suppose that our researches would be in that direction. The corral is only
a storehouse to them, and not a definitive encampment."
"I am of Cyrus' opinion," said the reporter, "and I think that it is
among the spurs of Mount Franklin that the convicts will have made their
"Then, captain, straight to the corral!" cried Pencroft. "We must finish
them off, and till now we have only lost time!"
"No, my friend," replied the engineer; "you forget that we have a reason
for wishing to know if the forests of the Far West do not contain some
habitation. Our exploration has a double object, Pencroft. If, on the one
hand, we have to chastise crime, we have, on the other, an act of gratitude
"That was well said, captain," replied the sailor, "but, all the same, it
is my opinion that we shall not find the gentleman until he pleases."
And truly Pencroft only expressed the opinion of all. It was probable
that the stranger's retreat was not less mysterious than was he himself.
That evening the cart halted at the mouth of Falls River. The camp was
organized as usual, and the customary precautions were taken for the night.
Herbert, become again the healthy and vigorous lad he was before his
illness, derived great benefit from this life in the open air, between the
sea breezes and the vivifying air from the forests. His place was no longer
in the cart, but at the head of the troop.
The next day, the 19th of February, the colonists, leaving the shore,
where, beyond the mouth, basalts of every shape were so picturesquely piled
up, ascended the river by its left bank. The road had been already partly
cleared in their former excursions made from the corral to the west coast.
The settlers were now about six miles from Mount Franklin.
The engineer's plan was this:--To minutely survey the valley forming the
bed of the river, and to cautiously approach the neighborhood of the
corral; if the corral was occupied, to seize it by force; if it was not, to
entrench themselves there and make it the center of the operations which
had for their object the exploration of Mount Franklin.
This plan was unanimously approved by the colonists, for they were
impatient to regain entire possession of their island.
They made their way then along the narrow valley separating two of the
largest spurs of Mount Franklin. The trees, crowded on the river's bank,
became rare on the upper slopes of the mountain. The ground was hilly and
rough, very suitable for ambushes, and over which they did not venture
without extreme precaution. Top and Jup skirmished on the flanks, springing
right and left through the thick brushwood, and emulating each other in
intelligence and activity. But nothing showed that the banks of the stream
had been recently frequented--nothing announced either the presence or the
proximity of the convicts. Towards five in the evening the cart stopped
nearly 600 feet from the palisade. A semicircular screen of trees still hid
It was necessary to reconnoiter the corral, in order to ascertain if it
was occupied. To go there openly, in broad daylight, when the convicts were
probably in ambush, would be to expose themselves, as poor Herbert had
done, to the firearms of the ruffians. It was better, then, to wait until
night came on.
However, Gideon Spilett wished without further delay to reconnoiter the
approaches to the corral, and Pencroft, who was quite out of patience,
volunteered to accompany him.
"No, my friends," said the engineer, "wait till night. I will not allow
one of you to expose himself in open day."
"But, captain--" answered the sailor, little disposed to obey.
"I beg of you, Pencroft," said the engineer.
"Very well!" replied the sailor, who vented his anger in another way, by
bestowing on the convicts the worst names in his maritime vocabulary.
The colonists remained, therefore, near the cart, and carefully watched
the neighboring parts of the forest.
Three hours passed thus. The wind had fallen, and absolute silence
reigned under the great trees. The snapping of the smallest twig, a
footstep on the dry leaves, the gliding of a body among the grass, would
have been heard without difficulty. All was quiet. Besides, Top, lying on
the grass, his head stretched out on his paws, gave no sign of uneasiness.
At eight o'clock the day appeared far enough advanced for the
reconnaissance to be made under favorable conditions. Gideon Spilett
declared himself ready to set out accompanied by Pencroft. Cyrus Harding
consented. Top and Jup were to remain with the engineer, Herbert, and Neb,
for a bark or a cry at a wrong moment would give the alarm.
"Do not be imprudent," said Harding to the reporter and Pencroft, "you
have not to gain possession of the corral, but only to find out whether it
is occupied or not."
"All right," answered Pencroft.
And the two departed.
Under the trees, thanks to the thickness of their foliage, the obscurity
rendered any object invisible beyond a radius of from thirty to forty feet.
The reporter and Pencroft, halting at any suspicious sound, advanced with
They walked a little distance apart from each other so as to offer a less
mark for a shot. And, to tell the truth, they expected every moment to hear
a report. Five minutes after leaving the cart, Gideon Spilett and Pencroft
arrived at the edge of the wood before the clearing beyond which rose the
They stopped. A few straggling beams still fell on the field clear of
trees. Thirty feet distant was the gate of the corral, which appeared to be
closed. This thirty feet, which it was necessary to cross from the wood to
the palisade, constituted the dangerous zone, to borrow a ballistic term:
in fact, one or more bullets fired from behind the palisade might knock
over any one who ventured on to this zone. Gideon Spilett and the sailor
were not men to draw back, but they knew that any imprudence on their part,
of which they would be the first victims, would fall afterwards on their
companions. If they themselves were killed, what would become of Harding,
Neb, and Herbert?
But Pencroft, excited at feeling himself so near the corral where he
supposed the convicts had taken refuge, was about to press forward, when
the reporter held him back with a grasp of iron.
"In a few minutes it will be quite dark," whispered Spilett in the
sailor's ear, "then will be the time to act."
Pencroft, convulsively clasping the butt-end of his gun, restrained his
energies, and waited, swearing to himself.
Soon the last of the twilight faded away. Darkness, which seemed as if it
issued from the dense forest, covered the clearing. Mount Franklin rose
like an enormous screen before the western horizon, and night spread
rapidly over all, as it does in regions of low latitudes. Now was the time.
The reporter and Pencroft, since posting themselves on the edge of the
wood, had not once lost sight of the palisade. The corral appeared to be
absolutely deserted. The top of the palisade formed a line, a little darker
than the surrounding shadow, and nothing disturbed its distinctness.
Nevertheless, if the convicts were there, they must have posted one of
their number to guard against any surprise.
Spilett grasped his companion's hand, and both crept towards the corral,
their guns ready to fire.
They reached the gate without the darkness being illuminated by a single
ray of light.
Pencroft tried to push open the gate, which, as the reporter and he had
supposed, was closed. However, the sailor was able to ascertain that the
outer bars had not been put up. It might, then, be concluded that the
convicts were there in the corral, and that very probably they had fastened
the gate in such a way that it could not be forced open.
Gideon Spilett and Pencroft listened.
Not a sound could be heard inside the palisade. The musmons and the
goats, sleeping no doubt in their huts, in no way disturbed the calm of
The reporter and the sailor hearing nothing, asked themselves whether
they had not better scale the palisades and penetrate into the corral. This
would have been contrary to Cyrus Harding's instructions.
It is true that the enterprise might succeed, but it might also fail.
Now, if the convicts were suspecting nothing, if they knew nothing of the
expedition against them, if, lastly, there now existed a chance of
surprising them, ought this chance to be lost by inconsiderately attempting
to cross the palisades?
This was not the reporter's opinion. He thought it better to wait until
all the settlers were collected together before attempting to penetrate into
the corral. One thing was certain, that it was possible to reach the
palisade without being seen, and also that it did not appear to be guarded.
This point settled, there was nothing to be done but to return to the cart,
where they would consult.
Pencroft probably agreed with this decision, for he followed the reporter
without making any objection when the latter turned back to the wood.
In a few minutes the engineer was made acquainted with the state of
"Well," said he, after a little thought, "I now have reason to believe
that the convicts are not in the corral."
"We shall soon know," said Pencroft, "when we have scaled the palisade."
"To the corral, my friends!" said Cyrus Harding.
"Shall we leave the cart in the wood?" asked Neb.
"No," replied the engineer, "it is our wagon of ammunition and
provisions, and, if necessary, it would serve as an entrenchment."
"Forward, then!" said Gideon Spilett.
The cart emerged from the wood and began to roll noiselessly towards the
palisade. The darkness was now profound, the silence as complete as when
Pencroft and the reporter crept over the ground. The thick grass completely
muffled their footsteps. The colonists held themselves ready to fire. Jup,
at Pencroft's orders, kept behind. Neb led Top in a leash, to prevent him
from bounding forward.
The clearing soon came in sight. It was deserted. Without hesitating, the
little band moved towards the palisade. In a short space of time the
dangerous zone was passed. Neb remained at the onagers' heads to hold them.
The engineer, the reporter, Herbert, and Pencroft, proceeded to the door,
in order to ascertain if it was barricaded inside. It was open!
"What do you say now?" asked the engineer, turning to the sailor and
Both were stupefied.
"I can swear," said Pencroft, "that this gate was shut just now!"
The colonists now hesitated. Were the convicts in the corral when
Pencroft and the reporter made their reconnaissance? It could not be
doubted, as the gate then closed could only have been opened by them. Were
they still there, or had one of their number just gone out?
All these questions presented themselves simultaneously to the minds of
the colonists, but how could they be answered?
At that moment, Herbert, who had advanced a few steps into the enclosure,
drew back hurriedly, and seized Harding's hand.
"What's the matter?" asked the engineer.
"In the house?"
All five advanced and indeed, through the window fronting them, they saw
glimmering a feeble light. Cyrus Harding made up his mind rapidly. "It is
our only chance," said he to his companions, "of finding the convicts
collected in this house, suspecting nothing! They are in our power!
Forward!" The colonists crossed through the enclosure, holding their guns
ready in their hands. The cart had been left outside under the charge of
Jup and Top, who had been prudently tied to it.
Cyrus Harding, Pencroft, and Gideon Spilett on one side, Herbert and Neb
on the other, going along by the palisade, surveyed the absolutely dark and
In a few moments they were near the closed door of the house.
Harding signed to his companions not to stir, and approached the window,
then feebly lighted by the inner light.
He gazed into the apartment.
On the table burned a lantern. Near the table was the bed formerly used
On the bed lay the body of a man.
Suddenly Cyrus Harding drew back, and in a hoarse voice,--"Ayrton!" he
Immediately the door was forced rather than opened, and the colonists
rushed into the room.
Ayrton appeared to be asleep. His countenance showed that he had long and
cruelly suffered. On his wrists and ankles could be seen great bruises.
Harding bent over him.
"Ayrton!" cried the engineer, seizing the arm of the man whom he had just
found again under such unexpected circumstances.
At this exclamation Ayrton opened his eyes, and, gazing at Harding, then
at the others,--
"You!" he cried, "you?"
"Ayrton! Ayrton!" repeated Harding.
"Where am I?"
"In the house in the corral!"
"But they will come back!" cried Ayrton. "Defend yourselves! defend
And he fell back exhausted.
"Spilett," exclaimed the engineer, "we may be attacked at any moment.
Bring the cart into the corral. Then, barricade the door, and all come back
Pencroft, Neb, and the reporter hastened to execute the engineer's
orders. There was not a moment to be lost. Perhaps even now the cart was in
the hands of the convicts!
In a moment the reporter and his two companions had crossed the corral
and reached the gate of the palisade behind which Top was heard growling
The engineer, leaving Ayrton for an instant, came out ready to fire.
Herbert was at his side. Both surveyed the crest of the spur overlooking
the corral. If the convicts were lying in ambush there, they might knock
the settlers over one after the other.
At that moment the moon appeared in the east, above the black curtain of
the forest, and a white sheet of light spread over the interior of the
enclosure. The corral, with its clumps of trees, the little stream which
watered it, its wide carpet of grass, was suddenly illuminated. From the
side of the mountain, the house and a part of the palisade stood out white
in the moonlight. On the opposite side towards the door, the enclosure
remained dark. A black mass soon appeared. This was the cart entering the
circle of light, and Cyrus Harding could hear the noise made by the door,
as his companions shut it and fastened the interior bars.
But, at that moment, Top, breaking loose, began to bark furiously and
rush to the back of the corral, to the right of the house.
"Be ready to fire, my friends!" cried Harding.
The colonists raised their pieces and waited the moment to fire.
Top still barked, and Jup, running towards the dog, uttered shrill cries.
The colonists followed him, and reached the borders of the little stream,
shaded by large trees. And there, in the bright moonlight, what did they
see? Five corpses, stretched on the bank!
They were those of the convicts who, four months previously, had landed
on Lincoln Island!
How had it happened? who had killed the convicts? Was it Ayrton? No, for a
moment before he was dreading their return.
But Ayrton was now in a profound stupor, from which it was no longer
possible to rouse him. After uttering those few words he had again become
unconscious, and had fallen back motionless on the bed.
The colonists, a prey to a thousand confused thoughts, under the
influence of violent excitement, waited all night, without leaving Ayrton's
house, or returning to the spot where lay the bodies of the convicts. It
was very probable that Ayrton would not be able to throw any light on the
circumstances under which the bodies had been found, since he himself was
not aware that he was in the corral. But at any rate he would be in a
position to give an account of what had taken place before this terrible
execution. The next day Ayrton awoke from his torpor, and his companions
cordially manifested all the joy they felt, on seeing him again, almost
safe and sound, after a hundred and four days separation.
Ayrton then in a few words recounted what had happened, or, at least, as
much as he knew.
The day after his arrival at the corral, on the 10th of last November, at
nightfall, he was surprised by the convicts, who had scaled the palisade.
They bound and gagged him; then he was led to a dark cavern, at the foot of
Mount Franklin, where the convicts had taken refuge.
His death had been decided upon, and the next day the convicts were about
to kill him, when one of them recognized him and called him by the name
which he bore in Australia. The wretches had no scruples as to murdering
Ayrton! They spared Ben Joyce!
But from that moment Ayrton was exposed to the importunities of his
former accomplices. They wished him to join them again, and relied upon his
aid to enable them to gain possession of Granite House, to penetrate into
that hitherto inaccessible dwelling, and to become masters of the island,
after murdering the colonists!
Ayrton remained firm. The once convict, now repentant and pardoned, would
rather die than betray his companions. Ayrton--bound, gagged, and closely
watched--lived in this cave for four months.
Nevertheless the convicts had discovered the corral a short time after
their arrival in the island, and since then they had subsisted on Ayrton's
stores, but did not live at the corral.
On the 11th of November, two of the villains, surprised by the colonists'
arrival, fired at Herbert, and one of them returned, boasting of having
killed one of the inhabitants of the island; but he returned alone. His
companion, as is known, fell by Cyrus Harding's dagger.
Ayrton's anxiety and despair may be imagined when he learned the news of
Herbert's death. The settlers were now only four, and, as it seemed, at the
mercy of the convicts. After this event, and during all the time that the
colonists, detained by Herbert's illness, remained in the corral, the
pirates did not leave their cavern, and even after they had pillaged the
plateau of Prospect Heights, they did not think it prudent to abandon it.
The ill-treatment inflicted on Ayrton was now redoubled. His hands and
feet still bore the bloody marks of the cords which bound him day and
night. Every moment he expected to be put to death, nor did it appear
possible that he could escape.
Matters remained thus until the third week of February. The convicts,
still watching for a favorable opportunity, rarely quitted their retreat,
and only made a few hunting excursions, either to the interior of the
island, or the south coast.
Ayrton had no further news of his friends, and relinquished all hope of
ever seeing them again. At last, the unfortunate man, weakened by ill-
treatment, fell into a prostration so profound that sight and hearing
failed him. From that moment, that is to say, since the last two days, he
could give no information whatever of what had occurred.
"But, Captain Harding," he added, "since I was imprisoned in that cavern,
how is it that I find myself in the corral?"
"How is it that the convicts are lying yonder dead, in the middle of the
enclosure?" answered the engineer.
"Dead!" cried Ayrton, half rising from his bed, notwithstanding his
His companions supported him. He wished to get up, and with their
assistance he did so. They then proceeded together towards the little
It was now broad daylight.
There, on the bank, in the position in which they had been stricken by
death in its most instantaneous form, lay the corpses of the five convicts!
Ayrton was astounded. Harding and his companions looked at him without
uttering a word. On a sign from the engineer, Neb and Pencroft examined the
bodies, already stiffened by the cold.
They bore no apparent trace of any wound.
Only, after carefully examining them, Pencroft found on the forehead of
one, on the chest of another, on the back of this one, on the shoulder of
that, a little red spot, a sort of scarcely visible bruise, the cause of
which it was impossible to conjecture.
"It is there that they have been struck!" said Cyrus Harding.
"But with what weapon?" cried the reporter.
"A weapon, lightning-like in its effects, and of which we have not the
"And who has struck the blow?" asked Pencroft.
"The avenging power of the island," replied Harding, "he who brought you
here, Ayrton, whose influence has once more manifested itself, who does for
us all that which we cannot do for ourselves, and who, his will
accomplished, conceals himself from us."
"Let us make search for him, then!" exclaimed Pencroft.
"Yes, we will search for him," answered Harding, "but we shall not
discover this powerful being who performs such wonders, until he pleases to
call us to him!"
This invisible protection, which rendered their own action unavailing,
both irritated and piqued the engineer. The relative inferiority which it
proved was of a nature to wound a haughty spirit. A generosity evinced in
such a manner as to elude all tokens of gratitude, implied a sort of
disdain for those on whom the obligation was conferred, which in Cyrus
Harding's eyes marred, in some degree, the worth of the benefit.
"Let us search," he resumed, "and God grant that we may some day be
permitted to prove to this haughty protector that he has not to deal with
ungrateful people! What would I not give could we repay him, by rendering
him in our turn, although at the price of our lives, some signal service!"
From this day, the thoughts of the inhabitants of Lincoln Island were
solely occupied with the intended search. Everything incited them to
discover the answer to this enigma, an answer which would only be the name
of a man endowed with a truly inexplicable, and in some degree superhuman
In a few minutes, the settlers re-entered the house, where their
influence soon restored to Ayrton his moral and physical energy. Neb and
Pencroft carried the corpses of the convicts into the forest, some distance
from the corral, and buried them deep in the ground.
Ayrton was then made acquainted with the facts which had occurred during
his seclusion. He learned Herbert's adventures, and through what various
trials the colonists had passed. As to the settlers, they had despaired of
ever seeing Ayrton again, and had been convinced that the convicts had
ruthlessly murdered him.
"And now," said Cyrus Harding, as he ended his recital, "a duty remains
for us to perform. Half of our task is accomplished, but although the
convicts are no longer to be feared, it is not owing to ourselves that we
are once more masters of the island."
"Well!" answered Gideon Spilett, "let us search all this labyrinth of the
spurs of Mount Franklin. We will not leave a hollow, not a hole unexplored!
Ah! if ever a reporter found himself face to face with a mystery, it is I
who now speak to you, my friends!"
"And we will not return to Granite House until we have found our
benefactor," said Herbert.
"Yes," said the engineer, "we will do all that it is humanly possible to
do, but I repeat we shall not find him until he himself permits us."
"Shall we stay at the corral?" asked Pencroft.
"We shall stay here," answered Harding. "Provisions are abundant, and we
are here in the very center of the circle we have to explore. Besides, if
necessary, the cart will take us rapidly to Granite House."
"Good!" answered the sailor. "Only I have a remark to make."
"What is it?"
"Here is the fine season getting on, and we must not forget that we have
a voyage to make."
"A voyage?" said Gideon Spilett.
"Yes, to Tabor Island," answered Pencroft. "It is necessary to carry a
notice there to point out the position of our island and say that Ayrton is
here in case the Scotch yacht should come to take him off. Who knows if it
is not already too late?"
"But, Pencroft," asked Ayrton, "how do you intend to make this voyage?"
"In the 'Bonadventure.'"
"The 'Bonadventure!'" exclaimed Ayrton. "She no longer exists."
"My 'Bonadventure' exists no longer!" shouted Pencroft, bounding from his
"No," answered Ayrton. "The convicts discovered her in her little harbor
only eight days ago, they put to sea in her--"
"And?" said Pencroft, his heart beating.
"And not having Bob Harvey to steer her, they ran on the rocks, and the
vessel went to pieces."
"Oh, the villains, the cutthroats, the infamous scoundrels!" exclaimed
"Pencroft," said Herbert, taking the sailor's hand, "we will build
another 'Bonadventure'--a larger one. We have all the ironwork--all the
rigging of the brig at our disposal."
"But do you know," returned Pencroft, "that it will take at least five or
six months to build a vessel of from thirty to forty tons?"
"We can take our time," said the reporter, "and we must give up the
voyage to Tabor Island for this year."
"Oh, my 'Bonadventure!' my poor 'Bonadventure!'" cried Pencroft, almost
broken-hearted at the destruction of the vessel of which he was so proud.
The loss of the "Bonadventure" was certainly a thing to be lamented by
the colonists, and it was agreed that this loss should be repaired as soon
as possible. This settled, they now occupied themselves with bringing their
researches to bear on the most secret parts of the island.
The exploration was commenced at daybreak on the 19th of February, and
lasted an entire week. The base of the mountain, with its spurs and their
numberless ramifications, formed a labyrinth of valleys and elevations. It
was evident that there, in the depths of these narrow gorges, perhaps even
in the interior of Mount Franklin itself, was the proper place to pursue
their researches. No part of the island could have been more suitable to
conceal a dwelling whose occupant wished to remain unknown. But so
irregular was the formation of the valleys that Cyrus Harding was obliged
to conduct the exploration in a strictly methodical manner.
The colonists first visited the valley opening to the south of the
volcano, and which first received the waters of Falls River. There Ayrton
showed them the cavern where the convicts had taken refuge, and in which he
had been imprisoned until his removal to the corral. This cavern was just
as Ayrton had left it. They found there a considerable quantity of
ammunition and provisions, conveyed thither by the convicts in order to
form a reserve.
The whole of the valley bordering on the cave, shaded by fir and other
trees, was thoroughly explored, and on turning the point of the
southwestern spur, the colonists entered a narrower gorge similar to the
picturesque columns of basalt on the coast. Here the trees were fewer.
Stones took the place of grass. Goats and musmons gambolled among the
rocks. Here began the barren part of the island. It could already be seen
that, of the numerous valleys branching off at the base of Mount Franklin,
three only were wooded and rich in pasturage like that of the corral, which
bordered on the west on the Falls River valley, and on the east on the Red
Creek valley. These two streams, which lower down became rivers by the
absorption of several tributaries, were formed by all the springs of the
mountain and thus caused the fertility of its southern part. As to the
Mercy, it was more directly fed from ample springs concealed under the
cover of Jacamar Wood, and it was by springs of this nature, spreading in a
thousand streamlets, that the soil of the Serpentine Peninsula was watered.
Now, of these three well-watered valleys, either might have served as a
retreat to some solitary who would have found there everything necessary
for life. But the settlers had already explored them, and in no part had
they discovered the presence of man.
Was it then in the depths of those barren gorges, in the midst of the
piles of rock, in the rugged northern ravines, among the streams of lava,
that this dwelling and its occupant would be found?
The northern part of Mount Franklin was at its base composed solely of
two valleys, wide, not very deep, without any appearance of vegetation,
strewn with masses of rock, paved with lava, and varied with great blocks
of mineral. This region required a long and careful exploration. It
contained a thousand cavities, comfortless no doubt, but perfectly
concealed and difficult of access.
The colonists even visited dark tunnels, dating from the volcanic period,
still black from the passage of the fire, and penetrated into the depths of
the mountain. They traversed these somber galleries, waving lighted
torches; they examined the smallest excavations; they sounded the
shallowest depths, but all was dark and silent. It did not appear that the
foot of man had ever before trodden these ancient passages, or that his arm
had ever displaced one of these blocks, which remained as the volcano had
cast them up above the waters, at the time of the submersion of the island.
However, although these passages appeared to be absolutely deserted, and
the obscurity was complete, Cyrus Harding was obliged to confess that
absolute silence did not reign there.
On arriving at the end of one of these gloomy caverns, extending several
hundred feet into the interior of the mountain, he was surprised to hear a
deep rumbling noise, increased in intensity by the sonorousness of the
Gideon Spilett, who accompanied him, also heard these distant mutterings,
which indicated a revivification of the subterranean fires. Several times
both listened, and they agreed that some chemical process was taking place
in the bowels of the earth.
"Then the volcano is not totally extinct?" said the reporter.
"It is possible that since our exploration of the crater," replied Cyrus
Harding, "some change has occurred. Any volcano, although considered
extinct, may evidently again burst forth."
"But if an eruption of Mount Franklin occurred," asked Spilett, "would
there not be some danger to Lincoln Island?"
"I do not think so," answered the reporter. "The crater, that is to say,
the safety-valve, exists, and the overflow of smoke and lava, would escape,
as it did formerly, by this customary outlet."
"Unless the lava opened a new way for itself towards the fertile parts of
"And why, my dear Spilett," answered Cyrus Harding, "should it not follow
the road naturally traced out for it?"
"Well, volcanoes are capricious," returned the reporter.
"Notice," answered the engineer, "that the inclination of Mount Franklin
favors the flow of water towards the valleys which we are exploring just
now. To turn aside this flow, an earthquake would be necessary to change
the mountain's center of gravity."
"But an earthquake is always to be feared at these times," observed
"Always," replied the engineer, "especially when the subterranean forces
begin to awake, as they risk meeting with some obstruction, after a long
rest. Thus, my dear Spilett, an eruption would be a serious thing for us,
and it would be better that the volcano should not have the slightest
desire to wake up. But we could not prevent it, could we? At any rate, even
if it should occur, I do not think Prospect Heights would he seriously
threatened. Between them and the mountain, the ground is considerably
depressed, and if the lava should ever take a course towards the lake, it
would be cast on the downs and the neighboring parts of Shark Gulf."
"We have not yet seen any smoke at the top of the mountain, to indicate
an approaching eruption," said Gideon Spilett.
"No," answered Harding, "not a vapor escapes from the crater, for it was
only yesterday that I attentively surveyed the summit. But it is probable
that at the lower part of the chimney, time may have accumulated rocks,
cinders, hardened lava, and that this valve of which I spoke, may at any
time become overcharged. But at the first serious effort, every obstacle
will disappear, and you may be certain, my dear Spilett, that neither the
island, which is the boiler, nor the volcano, which is the chimney, will
burst under the pressure of gas. Nevertheless, I repeat, it would be better
that there should not be an eruption."
"And yet we are not mistaken," remarked the reporter. "Mutterings can be
distinctly heard in the very bowels of the volcano!"
"You are right," said the engineer, again listening attentively. "There
can be no doubt of it. A commotion is going on there, of which we can
neither estimate the importance nor the ultimate result."
Cyrus Harding and Spilett, on coming out, rejoined their companions, to
whom they made known the state of affairs.
"Very well!" cried Pencroft, "The volcano wants to play his pranks! Let
him try, if he likes! He will find his master!"
"Who?" asked Neb.
"Our good genius, Neb, our good genius, who will shut his mouth for him,
if he so much as pretends to open it!"
As may be seen, the sailor's confidence in the tutelary deity of his
island was absolute, and, certainly, the occult power, manifested until now
in so many inexplicable ways, appeared to be unlimited; but also it knew
how to escape the colonists' most minute researches, for, in spite of all
their efforts, in spite of the more than zeal,--the obstinacy,--with which
they carried on their exploration, the retreat of the mysterious being
could not be discovered.
From the 19th to the 20th of February the circle of investigation was
extended to all the northern region of Lincoln Island, whose most secret
nooks were explored. The colonists even went the length of tapping every
rock. The search was extended to the extreme verge of the mountain. It was
explored thus to the very summit of the truncated cone terminating the
first row of rocks, then to the upper ridge of the enormous hat, at the
bottom of which opened the crater.
They did more; they visited the gulf, now extinct, but in whose depths
the rumbling could be distinctly heard. However, no sign of smoke or vapor,
no heating of the rock, indicated an approaching eruption. But neither
there, nor in any other part of Mount Franklin, did the colonists find any
traces of him of whom they were in search.
Their investigations were then directed to the downs. They carefully
examined the high lava-cliffs of Shark Gulf from the base to the crest,
although it was extremely difficult to reach even the level of the gulf. No
Indeed, in these three words was summed up so much fatigue uselessly
expended, so much energy producing no results, that somewhat of anger
mingled with the discomfiture of Cyrus Harding and his companions.
It was now time to think of returning, for these researches could not be
prolonged indefinitely. The colonists were certainly right in believing
that the mysterious being did not reside on the surface of the island, and
the wildest fancies haunted their excited imaginations. Pencroft and Neb,
particularly, were not contented with the mystery, but allowed their
imaginations to wander into the domain of the supernatural.
On the 25th of February the colonists re-entered Granite House, and by
means of the double cord, carried by an arrow to the threshold of the door,
they re-established communication between their habitation and the ground.
A month later they commemorated, on the 25th of March, the third
anniversary of their arrival on Lincoln Island.
Three years had passed away since the escape of the prisoners from
Richmond, and how often during those three years had they spoken of their
country, always present in their thoughts!
They had no doubt that the civil war was at an end, and to them it
appeared impossible that the just cause of the North had not triumphed. But
what had been the incidents of this terrible war? How much blood had it not
cost? How many of their friends must have fallen in the struggle? They
often spoke of these things, without as yet being able to foresee the day
when they would be permitted once more to see their country. To return
thither, were it but for a few days, to renew the social link with the
inhabited world, to establish a communication between their native land and
their island, then to pass the longest, perhaps the best, portion of their
existence in this colony, founded by them, and which would then be
dependent on their country, was this a dream impossible to realize?
There were only two ways of accomplishing it--either a ship must appear
off Lincoln Island, or the colonists must themselves build a vessel strong
enough to sail to the nearest land.
"Unless," said Pencroft, "our good genius, himself provides us with the
means of returning to our country."
And, really, had any one told Pencroft and Neb that a ship of 300 tons
was waiting for them in Shark Gulf or at Port Balloon, they would not even
have made a gesture of surprise. In their state of mind nothing appeared
But Cyrus Harding, less confident, advised them to confine themselves to
fact, and more especially so with regard to the building of a vessel--a
really urgent work, since it was for the purpose of depositing, as soon as
possible, at Tabor Island a document indicating Ayrton's new residence.
As the "Bonadventure" no longer existed, six months at least would be
required for the construction of a new vessel. Now winter was approaching,
and the voyage would not be made before the following spring.
"We have time to get everything ready for the fine season," remarked the
engineer, who was consulting with Pencroft about these matters. "I think,
therefore, my friend, that since we have to rebuild our vessel it will be
best to give her larger dimensions. The arrival of the Scotch yacht at
Tabor Island is very uncertain. It may even be that, having arrived several
months ago, she has again sailed after having vainly searched for some
trace of Ayrton. Will it not then he best to build a ship which, if
necessary, could take us either to the Polynesian Archipelago or to New
Zealand? What do you think?"
"I think, captain," answered the sailor; "I think that you are as capable
of building a large vessel as a small one. Neither the wood nor the tools
are wanting. It is only a question of time."
"And how many months would be required to build a vessel of from 250 to
300 tons?" asked Harding.
"Seven or eight months at least," replied Pencroft. "But it must not be
forgotten that winter is drawing near, and that in severe frost wood is
difficult to work. We must calculate on several weeks delay, and if our
vessel is ready by next November we may think ourselves very lucky."
"Well," replied Cyrus Harding, "that will be exactly the most favorable
time for undertaking a voyage of any importance, either to Tabor Island or
to a more distant land."
"So it will, captain," answered the sailor. "Make out your plans then;
the workmen are ready, and I imagine that Ayrton can lend us a good
The colonists, having been consulted, approved the engineer's plan, and
it was, indeed, the best thing to be done. It is true that the construction
of a ship of from two to three hundred tons would be great labor, but the
colonists had confidence in themselves, justified by their previous
Cyrus Harding then busied himself in drawing the plan of the vessel and
making the model. During this time his companions employed themselves in
felling and carting trees to furnish the ribs, timbers, and planks. The
forest of the Far West supplied the best oaks and elms. They took advantage
of the opening already made on their last excursion to form a practicable
road, which they named the Far West Road, and the trees were carried to the
Chimneys, where the dockyard was established. As to the road in question,
the choice of trees had rendered its direction somewhat capricious, but at
the same time it facilitated the access to a large part of the Serpentine
It was important that the trees should be quickly felled and cut up, for
they could not be used while yet green, and some time was necessary to
allow them to get seasoned. The carpenters, therefore, worked vigorously
during the month of April, which was troubled only by a few equinoctial
gales of some violence. Master Jup aided them dexterously, either by
climbing to the top of a tree to fasten the ropes or by lending his stout
shoulders to carry the lopped trunks.
All this timber was piled up under a large shed, built near the
Chimneys, and there awaited the time for use.
The month of April was tolerably fine, as October often is in the
northern zone. At the same time other work was actively continued, and soon
all trace of devastation disappeared from the plateau of Prospect Heights.
The mill was rebuilt, and new buildings rose in the poultry-yard. It had
appeared necessary to enlarge their dimensions, for the feathered
population had increased considerably. The stable now contained five
onagers, four of which were well broken, and allowed themselves to be
either driven or ridden, and a little colt. The colony now possessed a
plow, to which the onagers were yoked like regular Yorkshire or Kentucky
oxen. The colonists divided their work, and their arms never tired. Then
who could have enjoyed better health than these workers, and what good
humor enlivened the evenings in Granite House as they formed a thousand
plans for the future!
As a matter of course Ayrton shared the common lot in every respect, and
there was no longer any talk of his going to live at the corral.
Nevertheless he was still sad and reserved, and joined more in the work
than in the pleasures of his companions. But he was a valuable workman at
need--strong, skilful, ingenious, intelligent. He was esteemed and loved by
all, and he could not be ignorant of it.
In the meanwhile the corral was not abandoned. Every other day one of the
settlers, driving the cart or mounted on an onager, went to look after the
flock of musmons and goats and bring back the supply of milk required by
Neb. These excursions at the same time afforded opportunities for hunting.
Therefore Herbert and Gideon Spilett, with Top in front, traversed more
often than their companions the road to the corral, and with the capital
guns which they carried, capybaras, agouties, kangaroos, and wild pigs for
large game, ducks, grouse, jacamars, and snipe for small game, were never
wanting in the house. The produce of the warren, of the oyster-bed, several
turtles which were taken, excellent salmon which came up the Mercy,
vegetables from the plateau, wild fruit from the forest, were riches upon
riches, and Neb, the head cook, could scarcely by himself store them away.
The telegraphic wire between the corral and Granite House had of course
been repaired, and it was worked whenever one or other of the settlers was
at the corral and found it necessary to spend the night there. Besides, the
island was safe now and no attacks were to be feared, at any rate from men.
However, that which had happened might happen again. A descent of
pirates, or even of escaped convicts, was always to be feared. It was
possible that companions or accomplices of Bob Harvey had been in the
secret of his plans, and might be tempted to imitate him. The colonists,
therefore, were careful to observe the sea around the island, and every day
their telescope covered the horizon enclosed by Union and Washington Bays.
when they went to the corral they examined the sea to the west with no less
attention, and by climbing the spur their gaze extended over a large
section of the western horizon.
Nothing suspicious was discerned, but still it was necessary for them to
be on their guard.
The engineer one evening imparted to his friends a plan which he had
conceived for fortifying the corral. It appeared prudent to him to heighten
the palisade and to flank it with a sort of blockhouse, which, if
necessary, the settlers could hold against the enemy. Granite House might,
by its very position, be considered impregnable; therefore the corral with
its buildings, its stores, and the animals it contained, would always be
the object of pirates, whoever they were, who might land on the island, and
should the colonists be obliged to shut themselves up there they ought also
to be able to defend themselves without any disadvantage. This was a