Part 4 out of 12
Floods of light entered by this hole, inundating the splendid cavern and
producing a magic effect! On its left side it did not measure more than
thirty feet in height and breadth, but on the right it was enormous, and
its vaulted roof rose to a height of more than eighty feet.
In some places granite pillars, irregularly disposed, supported the
vaulted roof, as those in the nave of a cathedral, here forming lateral
piers, there elliptical arches, adorned with pointed moldings, losing
themselves in dark bays, amid the fantastic arches of which glimpses could
be caught in the shade, covered with a profusion of projections formed like
so many pendants. This cavern was a picturesque mixture of all the styles
of Byzantine, Roman, or Gothic architecture ever produced by the hand of
man. And yet this was only the work of nature. She alone had hollowed this
fairy Aihambra in a mass of granite.
The settlers were overwhelmed with admiration. Where they had only
expected to find a narrow cavity, they had found a sort of marvelous
palace, and Neb had taken off his hat, as if he had been transported into a
Cries of admiration issued from every mouth. Hurrahs resounded, and the
echo was repeated again and again till it died away in the dark naves.
"Ah, my friends!" exclaimed Cyrus Harding, "when we have lighted the
interior of this place, and have arranged our rooms and storehouses in the
left part, we shall still have this splendid cavern, which we will make our
study and our museum!"
"And we will call it?--" asked Herbert.
"Granite House," replied Harding; a name which his companions again
saluted with a cheer.
The torches were now almost consumed, and as they were obliged to return
by the passage to reach the summit of the plateau, it was decided to put
off the work necessary for the arrangement of their new dwelling till the
Before departing, Cyrus Harding leaned once more over the dark well,
which descended perpendicularly to the level of the sea. He listened
attentively. No noise was heard, not even that of the water, which the
undulations of the surge must sometimes agitate in its depths. A flaming
branch was again thrown in. The sides of the well were lighted up for an
instant, but as at the first time, nothing suspicious was seen.
If some marine monster had been surprised unawares by the retreat of the
water, he would by this time have regained the sea by the subterranean
passage, before the new opening had been offered to him.
Meanwhile, the engineer was standing motionless, his eyes fixed on the
gulf, without uttering a word.
The sailor approached him, and touching his arm, "Captain!" said he.
"What do you want, my friend?" asked the engineer, as if he had returned
from the land of dreams.
"The torches will soon go out."
"Forward!" replied Cyrus Harding.
The little band left the cavern and began to ascend through the dark
passage. Top closed the rear, still growling every now and then. The ascent
was painful enough. The settlers rested a few minutes in the upper grotto,
which made a sort of landing-place halfway up the long granite staircase.
Then they began to climb again.
Soon fresher air was felt. The drops of water, dried by evaporation, no
longer sparkled on the walls. The flaring torches began to grow dim. The
one which Neb carried went out, and if they did not wish to find their way
in the dark, they must hasten.
This was done, and a little before four o'clock, at the moment when the
sailor's torch went out in its turn, Cyrus Harding and his companions
passed out of the passage.
The next day, the 22nd of May, the arrangement of their new dwelling was
commenced. In fact, the settlers longed to exchange the insufficient
shelter of the Chimneys for this large and healthy retreat, in the midst of
solid rock, and sheltered from the water both of the sea and sky. Their
former dwelling was not, however, to be entirely abandoned, for the
engineer intended to make a manufactory of it for important works. Cyrus
Harding's first care was to find out the position of the front of Granite
House from the outside. He went to the beach, and as the pickaxe when it
escaped from the hands of the reporter must have fallen perpendicularly to
the foot of the cliff, the finding it would be sufficient to show the place
where the hole had been pierced in the granite.
The pickaxe was easily found, and the hole could be seen in a
perpendicular line above the spot where it was stuck in the sand. Some rock
pigeons were already flying in and out of the narrow opening; they
evidently thought that Granite House had been discovered on purpose for
them. It was the engineer's intention to divide the right portion of the
cavern into several rooms, preceded by an entrance passage, and to light it
by means of five windows and a door, pierced in the front. Pencroft was
much pleased with the five windows, but he could not understand the use of
the door, since the passage offered a natural staircase, through which it
would always be easy to enter Granite House.
"My friend," replied Harding, "if it is easy for us to reach our dwelling
by this passage, it will be equally easy for others besides us. I mean, on
the contrary, to block up that opening, to seal it hermetically, and, if it
is necessary, to completely hide the entrance by making a dam, and thus
causing the water of the lake to rise."
"And how shall we get in?" asked the sailor.
"By an outside ladder," replied Cyrus Harding, "a rope ladder, which,
once drawn up, will render access to our dwelling impossible."
"But why so many precautions?" asked Pencroft. "As yet we have seen no
dangerous animals. As to our island being inhabited by natives, I don't
"Are you quite sure of that, Pencroft?" asked the engineer, looking at
"Of course we shall not be quite sure, till we have explored it in every
direction," replied Pencroft.
"Yes," said Harding, "for we know only a small portion of it as yet. But
at any rate, if we have no enemies in the interior, they may come from the
exterior, for parts of the Pacific are very dangerous. We must be provided
against every contingency."
Cyrus Harding spoke wisely; and without making any further objection,
Pencroft prepared to execute his orders.
The front of Granite House was then to be lighted by five windows and a
door, besides a large bay window and some smaller oval ones, which would
admit plenty of light to enter into the marvelous nave which was to be
their chief room. This facade, situated at a height of eighty feet above
the ground, was exposed to the east, and the rising sun saluted it with its
first rays. It was found to be just at that part of the cliff which was
between the projection at the mouth of the Mercy and a perpendicular line
traced above the heap of rocks which formed the Chimneys. Thus the winds
from the northeast would only strike it obliquely, for it was protected by
the projection. Besides, until the window-frames were made, the engineer
meant to close the openings with thick shutters, which would prevent either
wind or rain from entering, and which could be concealed in need.
The first work was to make the openings. This would have taken too long
with the pickaxe alone, and it is known that Harding was an ingenious man.
He had still a quantity of nitro-glycerine at his disposal, and he employed
it usefully. By means of this explosive substance the rock was broken open
at the very places chosen by the engineer. Then, with the pickaxe and
spade, the windows and doors were properly shaped, the jagged edges were
smoothed off, and a few days alter the beginning of the work, Granite House
was abundantly lighted by the rising sun, whose rays penetrated into its
most secret recesses. Following the plan proposed by Cyrus Harding, the
space was to be divided into five compartments looking out on the sea; to
the right, an entry with a door, which would meet the ladder; then a
kitchen, thirty feet long; a dining-room, measuring forty feet; a sleeping-
room, of equal size; and lastly, a "Visitor's room," petitioned for by
Pencroft, and which was next to the great hall. These rooms, or rather this
suite of rooms, would not occupy all the depth of the cave. There would be
also a corridor and a storehouse, in which their tools, provisions, and
stores would be kept. All the productions of the island, the flora as well
as the fauna, were to be there in the best possible state of preservation,
and completely sheltered from the damp. There was no want of space, so that
each object could be methodically arranged. Besides, the colonists had
still at their disposal the little grotto above the great cavern, which was
like the garret of the new dwelling.
This plan settled, it had only to be put into execution. The miners
became brickmakers again, then the bricks were brought to the foot of
Granite House. Till then, Harding and his companions had only entered the
cavern by the long passage. This mode of communication obliged them first
to climb Prospect Heights, making a detour by the river's bank, and then to
descend two hundred feet through the passage, having to climb as far when
they wished to return to the plateau. This was a great loss of time, and
was also very fatiguing. Cyrus Harding, therefore, resolved to proceed
without any further delay to the fabrication of a strong rope ladder,
which, once raised, would render Granite House completely inaccessible.
This ladder was manufactured with extreme care, and its uprights, formed
of the twisted fibers of a species of cane, had the strength of a thick
cable. As to the rounds, they were made of a sort of red cedar, with light,
strong branches; and this apparatus was wrought by the masterly hand of
Other ropes were made with vegetable fibers, and a sort of crane with a
tackle was fixed at the door. In this way bricks could easily be raised
into Granite House. The transport of the materials being thus simplified,
the arrangement of the interior could begin immediately. There was no want
of lime, and some thousands of bricks were there ready to be used. The
framework of the partitions was soon raised, very roughly at first, and in
a short time, the cave was divided into rooms and storehouses, according to
the plan agreed upon.
These different works progressed rapidly under the direction of the
engineer, who himself handled the hammer and the trowel. No labor came
amiss to Cyrus Harding, who thus set an example to his intelligent and
zealous companions. They worked with confidence, even gaily, Pencroft
always having some joke to crack, sometimes carpenter, sometimes rope-
maker, sometimes mason, while he communicated his good humor to all the
members of their little world. His faith in the engineer was complete;
nothing could disturb it. He believed him capable of undertaking anything
and succeeding in everything. The question of boots and clothes--assuredly
a serious question,--that of light during the winter months, utilizing the
fertile parts of the island, transforming the wild flora into cultivated
flora, it all appeared easy to him; Cyrus Harding helping, everything would
be done in time. He dreamed of canals facilitating the transport of the
riches of the ground; workings of quarries and mines; machines for every
industrial manufacture; railroads; yes, railroads! of which a network would
certainly one day cover Lincoln Island.
The engineer let Pencroft talk. He did not put down the aspirations of
this brave heart. He knew how communicable confidence is; he even smiled to
hear him speak, and said nothing of the uneasiness for the future which he
felt. In fact, in that part of the Pacific, out of the course of vessels,
it was to be feared that no help would ever come to them. It was on
themselves, on themselves alone, that the settlers must depend, for the
distance of Lincoln Island from all other land was such, that to hazard
themselves in a boat, of a necessarily inferior construction, would be a
serious and perilous thing.
"But," as the sailor said, "they quite took the wind out of the sails of
the Robinsons, for whom everything was done by a miracle."
In fact, they were energetic; an energetic man will succeed where an
indolent one would vegetate and inevitably perish.
Herbert distinguished himself in these works. He was intelligent and
active; understanding quickly, he performed well; and Cyrus Harding became
more and more attached to the boy. Herbert had a lively and reverent love
for the engineer. Pencroft saw the close sympathy which existed between the
two, but he was not in the least jealous. Neb was Neb: he was what he would
be always, courage, zeal, devotion, self-denial personified. He had the
same faith in his master that Pencroft had, but he showed it less
vehemently. When the sailor was enthusiastic, Neb always looked as if he
would say, "Nothing could be more natural." Pencroft and he were great
As to Gideon Spilett, he took part in the common work, and was not less
skilful in it than his companions, which always rather astonished the
sailor. A "journalist," clever, not only in understanding, but in
The ladder was finally fixed on the 28th of May. There were not less than
a hundred rounds in this perpendicular height of eighty feet. Harding had
been able, fortunately, to divide it in two parts, profiting by an
overhanging of the cliff which made a projection forty feet above the
ground. This projection, carefully leveled by the pickaxe, made a sort of
platform, to which they fixed the first ladder, of which the oscillation
was thus diminished one-half, and a rope permitted it to be raised to the
level of Granite House. As to the second ladder, it was secured both at its
lower part, which rested on the projection, and at its upper end, which was
fastened to the door. In short the ascent had been made much easier.
Besides, Cyrus Harding hoped later to establish an hydraulic apparatus,
which would avoid all fatigue and loss of time, for the inhabitants of
The settlers soon became habituated to the use of this ladder. They were
light and active, and Pencroft, as a sailor, accustomed to run up the masts
and shrouds, was able to give them lessons. But it was also necessary to
give them to Top. The poor dog, with his four paws, was not formed for this
sort of exercise. But Pencroft was such a zealous master, that Top ended by
properly performing his ascents, and soon mounted the ladder as readily as
his brethren in the circus. It need not be said that the sailor was proud
of his pupil. However, more than once Pencroft hoisted him on his back,
which Top never complained of.
It must be mentioned here, that during these works, which were actively
conducted, for the bad season was approaching, the alimentary question was
not neglected. Every day, the reporter and Herbert, who had been voted
purveyors to the colony, devoted some hours to the chase. As yet, they only
hunted in Jacamar Wood, on the left of the river, because, for want of a
bridge or boat, the Mercy had not yet been crossed. All the immense woods,
to which the name of the Forests of the Far West had been given, were not
explored. They reserved this important excursion for the first fine days of
the next spring. But Jacamar Wood was full of game; kangaroos and boars
abounded, and the hunters iron-tipped spears and bows and arrows did
wonders. Besides, Herbert discovered towards the southwest point of the
lagoon a natural warren, a slightly damp meadow, covered with willows and
aromatic herbs which scented the air, such as thyme, basil, savory, all the
sweet-scented species of the labiated plants, which the rabbits appeared to
be particularly fond of.
On the reporter observing that since the table was spread for the
rabbits, it was strange that the rabbits themselves should be wanting, the
two sportsmen carefully explored the warren. At any rate, it produced an
abundance of useful plants, and a naturalist would have had a good
opportunity of studying many specimens of the vegetable kingdom. Herbert
gathered several shoots of the basil, rosemary, balm, betony, etc., which
possess different medicinal properties, some pectoral, astringent,
febrifuge, others anti-spasmodic, or anti-rheumatic. When, afterwards,
Pencroft asked the use of this collection of herbs,--
"For medicine," replied the lad, "to treat us when we are ill."
"Why should we be ill, since there are no doctors in the island?" asked
Pencroft quite seriously.
There was no reply to be made to that, but the lad went on with his
collection all the same, and it was well received at Granite House. Besides
these medicinal herbs, he added a plant known in North America as "Oswego
tea," which made an excellent beverage.
At last, by searching thoroughly, the hunters arrived at the real site of
the warren. There the ground was perforated like a sieve.
"Here are the burrows!" cried Herbert.
"Yes," replied the reporter, "so I see."
"But are they inhabited?"
"That is the question."
This was soon answered. Almost immediately, hundreds of little animals,
similar to rabbits, fled in every direction, with such rapidity that even
Top could not overtake them. Hunters and dog ran in vain; these rodents
escaped them easily. But the reporter resolved not to leave the place,
until he had captured at least half-a-dozen of the quadrupeds. He wished to
stock their larder first, and domesticate those which they might take
later. It would not have been difficult to do this, with a few snares
stretched at the openings of the burrows. But at this moment they had
neither snares, nor anything to make them of. They must, therefore, be
satisfied with visiting each hole, and rummaging in it with a stick, hoping
by dint of patience to do what could not be done in any other way.
At last, after half an hour, four rodents were taken in their holes. They
were similar to their European brethren, and are commonly known by the name
of American rabbits.
This produce of the chase was brought back to Granite House, and figured
at the evening repast. The tenants of the warren were not at all to be
despised, for they were delicious. It was a valuable resource of the
colony, and it appeared to be inexhaustible.
On the 31st of May the partitions were finished. The rooms had now only
to be furnished, and this would be work for the long winter days. A chimney
was established in the first room, which served as a kitchen. The pipe
destined to conduct the smoke outside gave some trouble to these amateur
bricklayers. It appeared simplest to Harding to make it of brick clay; as
creating an outlet for it to the upper plateau was not to be thought of, a
hole was pierced in the granite above the window of the kitchen, and the
pipe met it like that of an iron stove. Perhaps the winds which blew
directly against the facade would make the chimney smoke, but these winds
were rare, and besides, Master Neb, the cook, was not so very particular
When these interior arrangements were finished, the engineer occupied
himself in blocking up the outlet by the lake, so as to prevent any access
by that way. Masses of rock were rolled to the entrance and strongly
cemented together. Cyrus Harding did not yet realize his plan of drowning
this opening under the waters of the lake, by restoring them to their
former level by means of a dam. He contented himself with hiding the
obstruction with grass and shrubs, which were planted in the interstices of
the rocks, and which next spring would sprout thickly. However, he used the
waterfall so as to lead a small stream of fresh water to the new dwelling.
A little trench, made below their level, produced this result; and this
derivation from a pure and inexhaustible source yielded twenty-five or
thirty gallons a day. There would never be any want of water at Granite
House. At last all was finished, and it was time, for the bad season was
near. Thick shutters closed the windows of the facade, until the engineer
had time to make glass.
Gideon Spilett had very artistically arranged on the rocky projections
around the windows plants of different kinds, as well as long streaming
grass, so that the openings were picturesquely framed in green, which had a
The inhabitants of this solid, healthy, and secure dwelling, could not
but be charmed with their work. The view from the windows extended over a
boundless horizon, which was closed by the two Mandible Capes on the north,
and Claw Cape on the south. All Union Bay was spread before them. Yes, our
brave settlers had reason to be satisfied, and Pencroft was lavish in his
praise of what he humorously called, "his apartments on the fifth floor
above the ground!"
The winter season set in with the month of June, which corresponds with the
month of December in the Northern Hemisphere. It began with showers and
squalls, which succeeded each other without intermission. The tenants of
Granite House could appreciate the advantages of a dwelling which sheltered
them from the inclement weather. The Chimneys would have been quite
insufficient to protect them against the rigor of winter, and it was to be
feared that the high tides would make another irruption. Cyrus Harding had
taken precautions against this contingency, so as to preserve as much as
possible the forge and furnace which were established there.
During the whole of the month of June the time was employed in different
occupations, which excluded neither hunting nor fishing, the larder being,
therefore, abundantly supplied. Pencroft, so soon as he had leisure,
proposed to set some traps, from which he expected great results. He soon
made some snares with creepers, by the aid of which the warren henceforth
every day furnished its quota of rodents. Neb employed nearly all his time
in salting or smoking meat, which insured their always having plenty of
provisions. The question of clothes was now seriously discussed, the
settlers having no other garments than those they wore when the balloon
threw them on the island. These clothes were warm and good; they had taken
great care of them as well as of their linen, and they were perfectly
whole, but they would soon need to be replaced. Moreover, if the winter was
severe, the settlers would suffer greatly from cold.
On this subject the ingenuity of Harding was at fault. They must provide
for their most pressing wants, settle their dwelling, and lay in a store of
food; thus the cold might come upon them before the question of clothes had
been settled. They must therefore make up their minds to pass this first
winter without additional clothing. When the fine season came round again,
they would regularly hunt those musmons which had been seen on the
expedition to Mount Franklin, and the wool once collected, the engineer
would know how to make it into strong warm stuff.... How? He would
"Well, we are free to roast ourselves at Granite House!" said Pencroft.
"There are heaps of fuel, and no reason for sparing it."
"Besides," added Gideon Spilett, "Lincoln Island is not situated under a
very high latitude, and probably the winters here are not severe. Did you
not say, Cyrus, that this thirty-fifth parallel corresponded to that of
Spain in the other hemisphere?"
"Doubtless," replied the engineer, "but some winters in Spain are very
cold! No want of snow and ice; and perhaps Lincoln Island is just as
rigourously tried. However, it is an island, and as such, I hope that the
temperature will be more moderate."
"Why, captain?" asked Herbert.
"Because the sea, my boy, may be considered as an immense reservoir, in
which is stored the heat of the summer. When winter comes, it restores this
heat, which insures for the regions near the ocean a medium temperature,
less high in summer, but less low in winter."
"We shall prove that," replied Pencroft. "But I don't want to bother
myself about whether it will be cold or not. One thing is certain, that is
that the days are already short, and the evenings long. Suppose we talk
about the question of light."
"Nothing is easier," replied Harding.
"To talk about?" asked the sailor.
"And when shall we begin?"
"To-morrow, by having a seal hunt."
"To make candles?"
Such was the engineer's project; and it was quite feasible, since he had
lime and sulphuric acid, while the amphibians of the islet would furnish
the fat necessary for the manufacture.
They were now at the 4th of June. It was Whit Sunday and they agreed to
observe this feast. All work was suspended, and prayers were offered to
Heaven. But these prayers were now thanksgivings. The settlers in Lincoln
Island were no longer the miserable castaways thrown on the islet. They
asked for nothing more--they gave thanks. The next day, the 5th of June, in
rather uncertain weather, they set out for the islet. They had to profit by
the low tide to cross the Channel, and it was agreed that they would
construct, for this purpose, as well as they could, a boat which would
render communication so much easier, and would also permit them to ascend
the Mercy, at the time of their grand exploration of the southwest of the
island, which was put off till the first fine days.
The seals were numerous, and the hunters, armed with their iron-tipped
spears, easily killed half-a-dozen. Neb and Pencroft skinned them, and only
brought back to Granite House their fat and skin, this skin being intended
for the manufacture of boots.
The result of the hunt was this: nearly three hundred pounds of fat, all
to be employed in the fabrication of candles.
The operation was extremely simple, and if it did not yield absolutely
perfect results, they were at least very useful. Cyrus Harding would only
have had at his disposal sulphuric acid, but by heating this acid with the
neutral fatty bodies he could separate the glycerine; then from this new
combination, he easily separated the olein, the margarin, and the stearin,
by employing boiling water. But to simplify the operation, he preferred to
saponify the fat by means of lime. By this he obtained a calcareous soap,
easy to decompose by sulphuric acid, which precipitated the lime into the
state of sulphate, and liberated the fatty acids.
From these three acids-oleic, margaric, and stearic-the first, being
liquid, was driven out by a sufficient pressure. As to the two others, they
formed the very substance of which the candles were to be molded.
This operation did not last more than four and twenty hours. The wicks,
after several trials, were made of vegetable fibers, and dipped in the
liquefied substance, they formed regular stearic candles, molded by the
hand, which only wanted whiteness and polish. They would not doubtless have
the advantages of the wicks which are impregnated with boracic acid, and
which vitrify as they burn and are entirely consumed, but Cyrus Harding
having manufactured a beautiful pair of snuffers, these candles would be
greatly appreciated during the long evenings in Granite House.
During this month there was no want of work in the interior of their new
dwelling. The joiners had plenty to do. They improved their tools, which
were very rough, and added others also.
Scissors were made among other things, and the settlers were at last able
to cut their hair, and also to shave, or at least trim their beards.
Herbert had none, Neb but little, but their companions were bristling in a
way which justified the making of the said scissors.
The manufacture of a hand-saw cost infinite trouble, but at last an
instrument was obtained which, when vigorously handled, could divide the
ligneous fibers of the wood. They then made tables, seats, cupboards, to
furnish the principal rooms, and bedsteads, of which all the bedding
consisted of grass mattresses. The kitchen, with its shelves, on which
rested the cooking utensils, its brick stove, looked very well, and Neb
worked away there as earnestly as if he was in a chemist's laboratory.
But the joiners had soon to be replaced by carpenters. In fact, the
waterfall created by the explosion rendered the construction of two bridges
necessary, one on Prospect Heights, the other on the shore. Now the plateau
and the shore were transversely divided by a watercourse, which had to be
crossed to reach the northern part of the island. To avoid it the colonists
had been obliged to make a considerable detour, by climbing up to the
source of the Red Creek. The simplest thing was to establish on the
plateau, and on the shore, two bridges from twenty to five and twenty feet
in length. All the carpenter's work that was needed was to clear some trees
of their branches: this was a business of some days. Directly the bridges
were established, Neb and Pencroft profited by them to go to the oyster-bed
which had been discovered near the downs. They dragged with them a sort of
rough cart, which replaced the former inconvenient hurdle, and brought back
some thousands of oysters, which soon increased among the rocks and formed
a bed at the mouth of the Mercy. These molluscs were of excellent quality,
and the colonists consumed some daily.
It has been seen that Lincoln Island, although its inhabitants had as yet
only explored a small portion of it, already contributed to almost all
their wants. It was probable that if they hunted into its most secret
recesses, in all the wooded part between the Mercy and Reptile Point, they
would find new treasures.
The settlers in Lincoln Island had still one privation. There was no want
of meat, nor of vegetable products; those ligneous roots which they had
found, when subjected to fermentation, gave them an acid drink, which was
preferable to cold water; they also made sugar, without canes or beet-
roots, by collecting the liquor which distils from the "acer saceharinum,"
a son of maple-tree, which flourishes in all the temperate zones, and of
which the island possessed a great number; they made a very agreeable tea
by employing the herbs brought from the warren; lastly, they had an
abundance of salt, the only mineral which is used in food . . . but bread
Perhaps in time the settlers could replace this want by some equivalent,
it was possible that they might find the sago or the breadfruit tree among
the forests of the south, but they had not as yet met with these precious
trees. However, Providence came directly to their aid, in an infinitesimal
proportion it is true, but Cyrus Harding, with all his intelligence, all
his ingenuity, would never have been able to produce that which, by the
greatest chance, Herbert one day found in the lining of his waistcoat,
which he was occupied in setting to rights.
On this day, as it was raining in torrents, the settlers were assembled
in the great hall in Granite House, when the lad cried out all at once,--
"Look here, captain--A grain of corn!"
And he showed his companions a grain--a single grain--which from a hole
in his pocket had got into the lining of his waistcoat.
The presence of this grain was explained by the fact that Herbert, when
at Richmond, used to feed some pigeons, of which Pencroft had made him a
"A grain of corn?" said the engineer quickly.
"Yes, captain; but one, only one!"
"Well, my boy," said Pencroft, laughing, "we're getting on capitally,
upon my word! What shall we make with one grain of corn?"
"We will make bread of it," replied Cyrus Harding.
"Bread, cakes, tarts!" replied the sailor. "Come, the bread that this
grain of corn will make won't choke us very soon!"
Herbert, not attaching much importance to his discovery, was going to
throw away the grain in question; but Harding took it, examined it, found
that it was in good condition, and looking the sailor full in the face--
"Pencroft," he asked quietly, "do you know how many ears one grain of corn
"One, I suppose!" replied the sailor, surprised at the question.
"Ten, Pencroft! And do you know how many grains one ear bears?"
"No, upon my word."
"About eighty!" said Cyrus Harding. "Then, if we plant this grain, at the
first crop we shall reap eight hundred grains which at the second will
produce six hundred and forty thousand; at the third, five hundred and
twelve millions; at the fourth, more than four hundred thousands of
millions! There is the proportion."
Harding's companions listened without answering. These numbers astonished
them. They were exact, however.
"Yes, my friends," continued the engineer, "such are the arithmetical
progressions of prolific nature; and yet what is this multiplication of the
grain of corn, of which the ear only bears eight hundred grains, compared
to the poppy-plant, which bears thirty-two thousand seeds; to the tobacco-
plant, which produces three hundred and sixty thousand? In a few years,
without the numerous causes of destruction, which arrests their fecundity,
these plants would overrun the earth."
But the engineer had not finished his lecture.
"And now, Pencroft," he continued, "do you know how many bushels four
hundred thousand millions of grains would make?"
"No," replied the sailor; "but what I do know is, that I am nothing
better than a fool!"
"Well, they would make more than three millions, at a hundred and thirty
thousand a bushel, Pencroft."
"Three millions!" cried Pencroft.
"In four years?"
"In four years," replied Cyrus Harding, "and even in two years, if, as I
hope, in this latitude we can obtain two crops a year."
At that, according to his usual custom, Pencroft could not reply
otherwise than by a tremendous hurrah.
"So, Herbert," added the engineer, "you have made a discovery of great
importance to us. Everything, my friends, everything can serve us in the
condition in which we are. Do not forget that, I beg of you."
"No, captain, no, we shan't forget it," replied Pencroft; "and if ever I
find one of those tobacco-seeds, which multiply by three hundred and sixty
thousand, I assure you I won't throw it away! And now, what must we do?"
"We must plant this grain," replied Herbert.
"Yes," added Gideon Spilett, "and with every possible care, for it bears
in itself our future harvests."
"Provided it grows!" cried the sailor.
"It will grow," replied Cyrus Harding.
This was the 20th of June. The time was then propitious for sowing this
single precious grain of corn. It was first proposed to plant it in a pot,
but upon reflection it was decided to leave it to nature, and confide it to
the earth. This was done that very day, and it is needless to add, that
every precaution was taken that the experiment might succeed.
The weather having cleared, the settlers climbed the height above Granite
House. There, on the plateau, they chose a spot, well sheltered from the
wind, and exposed to all the heat of the midday sun. The place was cleared,
carefully weeded, and searched for insects and worms; then a bed of good
earth, improved with a little lime, was made; it was surrounded by a
railing; and the grain was buried in the damp earth.
Did it not seem as if the settlers were laying the first stone of some
edifice? It recalled to Pencroft the day on which he lighted his only
match, and all the anxiety of the operation. But this time the thing was
more serious. In fact, the castaways would have been always able to procure
fire, in some mode or other, but no human power could supply another grain
of corn, if unfortunately this should be lost!
From this time Pencroft did not let a single day pass without going to
visit what he gravely called his "corn-field." And woe to the insects which
dared to venture there! No mercy was shown them.
Towards the end of the month of June, after incessant rain, the weather
became decidedly colder, and on the 29th a Fahrenheit thermometer would
certainly have announced only twenty degrees above zero, that is
considerably below the freezing-point. The next day, the 30th of June, the
day which corresponds to the 31st of December in the northern year, was a
Friday. Neb remarked that the year finished on a bad day, but Pencroft
replied that naturally the next would begin on a good one, which was
At any rate it commenced by very severe cold. Ice accumulated at the
mouth of the Mercy, and it was not long before the whole expanse of the
lake was frozen.
The settlers had frequently been obliged to renew their store of wood.
Pencroft also had wisely not waited till the river was frozen, but had
brought enormous rafts of wood to their destination. The current was an
indefatigable moving power, and it was employed in conveying the floating
wood to the moment when the frost enchained it. To the fuel which was so
abundantly supplied by the forest, they added several cartloads of coal,
which had to be brought from the foot of the spurs of Mount Franklin. The
powerful heat of the coal was greatly appreciated in the low temperature,
which on the 4th of July fell to eight degrees of Fahrenheit, that is,
thirteen degrees below zero. A second fireplace had been established in the
dining-room, where they all worked together at their different avocations.
During this period of cold, Cyrus Harding had great cause to congratulate
himself on having brought to Granite House the little stream of water from
Lake Grant. Taken below the frozen surface, and conducted through the
passage, it preserved its fluidity, and arrived at an interior reservoir
which had been hollowed out at the back part of the storeroom, while the
overflow ran through the well to the sea.
About this time, the weather being extremely dry, the colonists, clothed
as warmly as possible, resolved to devote a day to the exploration of that
part of the island between the Mercy and Claw Cape. It was a wide extent of
marshy land, and they would probably find good sport, for water-birds ought
to swarm there.
They reckoned that it would be about eight or nine miles to go there, and
as much to return, so that the whole of the day would be occupied. As an
unknown part of the island was about to be explored, the whole colony took
part in the expedition. Accordingly, on the 5th of July, at six o'clock in
the morning, when day had scarcely broken, Cyrus Harding, Gideon Spilett,
Herbert, Neb, and Pencroft, armed with spears, snares, bows and arrows, and
provided with provisions, left Granite House, preceded by Top, who bounded
Their shortest way was to cross the Mercy on the ice, which then covered
"But," as the engineer justly observed, "that could not take the place of
a regular bridge!" So, the construction of a regular bridge was noted in
the list of future works.
It was the first time that the settlers had set foot on the right bank of
the Mercy, and ventured into the midst of those gigantic and superb
coniferae now sprinkled over with snow.
But they had not gone half a mile when from a thicket a whole family of
quadrupeds, who had made a home there, disturbed by Top, rushed forth into
the open country.
"Ah! I should say those are foxes!" cried Herbert, when he saw the troop
They were foxes, but of a very large size, who uttered a sort of barking,
at which Top seemed to be very much astonished, for he stopped short in the
chase, and gave the swift animals time to disappear.
The dog had reason to be surprised, as he did not know Natural History.
But, by their barking, these foxes, with reddish-gray hair, black tails
terminating in a white tuft, had betrayed their origin. So Herbert was
able, without hesitating, to give them their real name of "Arctic foxes."
They are frequently met with in Chile, in the Falkland Islands, and in all
parts of America traversed by the thirtieth and fortieth parallels. Herbert
much regretted that Top had not been able to catch one of these carnivora.
"Are they good to eat?" asked Pencroft, who only regarded the
representatives of the fauna in the island from one special point of view.
"No," replied Herbert; "but zoologists have not yet found out if the eye
of these foxes is diurnal or nocturnal, or whether it is correct to class
them in the genus dog, properly so called."
Harding could not help smiling on hearing the lad's reflection, which
showed a thoughtful mind. As to the sailor, from the moment when he found
that the foxes were not classed in the genus eatable, they were nothing to
him. However, when a poultry-yard was established at Granite House, he
observed that it would be best to take some precautions against a probable
visit from these four-legged plunderers, and no one disputed this.
After having turned the point, the settlers saw a long beach washed by
the open sea. It was then eight o'clock in the morning. The sky was very
clear, as it often is after prolonged cold; but warmed by their walk,
neither Harding nor his companions felt the sharpness of the atmosphere too
severely. Besides there was no wind, which made it much more bearable. A
brilliant sun, but without any calorific action, was just issuing from the
ocean. The sea was as tranquil and blue as that of a Mediterranean gulf,
when the sky is clear. Claw Cape, bent in the form of a yataghan, tapered
away nearly four miles to the southeast. To the left the edge of the marsh
was abruptly ended by a little point. Certainly, in this part of Union Bay,
which nothing sheltered from the open sea, not even a sandbank, ships
beaten by the east winds would have found no shelter. They perceived by the
tranquillity of the sea, in which no shallows troubled the waters, by its
uniform color, which was stained by no yellow shades, by the absence of
even a reef, that the coast was steep and that the ocean there covered a
deep abyss. Behind in the west, but at a distance of four miles, rose the
first trees of the forests of the Far West. They might have believed
themselves to be on the desolate coast of some island in the Antarctic
regions which the ice had invaded. The colonists halted at this place for
breakfast. A fire of brushwood and dried seaweed was lighted, and Neb
prepared the breakfast of cold meat, to which he added some cups of Oswego
While eating they looked around them. This part of Lincoln Island was
very sterile, and contrasted with all the western part. The reporter was
thus led to observe that if chance had thrown them at first on the shore,
they would have had but a deplorable idea of their future domain.
"I believe that we should not have been able to reach it," replied the
engineer, "for the sea is deep, and there is not a rock on which we could
have taken refuge. Before Granite House, at least, there were sandbanks, an
islet, which multiplied our chances of safety. Here, nothing but the
"It is singular enough," remarked Spilett, "that this comparatively small
island should present such varied ground. This diversity of aspect,
logically only belongs to continents of a certain extent. One would really
say, that the western part of Lincoln Island, so rich and so fertile, is
washed by the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and that its shores to the
north and the southeast extend over a sort of Arctic sea."
"You are right, my dear Spilett," replied Cyrus Harding, "I have also
observed this. I think the form and also the nature of this island strange.
It is a summary of all the aspects which a continent presents, and I should
not be surprised if it was a continent formerly."
"What! a continent in the middle of the Pacific?" cried Pencroft.
"Why not?" replied Cyrus Harding. "Why should not Australia, New Ireland,
Australasia, united to the archipelagoes of the Pacific, have once formed a
sixth part of the world, as important as Europe or Asia, as Africa or the
two Americas? To my mind, it is quite possible that all these islands,
emerging from this vast ocean, are but the summits of a continent, now
submerged, but which was above the waters at a prehistoric period."
"As the Atlantis was formerly," replied Herbert.
"Yes, my boy... if, however, it existed."
"And would Lincoln Island have been a part of that continent?" asked
"It is probable," replied Cyrus Harding, "and that would sufficiently,
explain the variety of productions which are seen on its surface."
"And the great number of animals which still inhabit it," added Herbert.
"Yes, my boy," replied the engineer, "and you furnish me with an argument
to support my theory. It is certain, after what we have seen, that animals
are numerous in this island, and what is more strange, that the species are
extremely varied. There is a reason for that, and to me it is that Lincoln
Island may have formerly been a part of some vast continent which had
gradually sunk below the Pacific."
"Then, some fine day," said Pencroft, who did not appear to be entirely
convinced, "the rest of this ancient continent may disappear in its turn,
and there will be nothing between America and Asia."
"Yes," replied Harding, "there will be new continents which millions and
millions of animalculae are building at this moment."
"And what are these masons?" asked Pencroft.
"Coral insects," replied Cyrus Harding. "By constant work they made the
island of Clermont-Tonnerre, and numerous other coral islands in the
Pacific Ocean. Forty-seven millions of these insects are needed to weigh a
grain, and yet, with the sea-salt they absorb, the solid elements of water
which they assimilate, these animalculae produce limestone, and this
limestone forms enormous submarine erections, of which the hardness and
solidity equal granite. Formerly, at the first periods of creation, nature
employing fire, heaved up the land, but now she entrusts to these
microscopic creatures the task of replacing this agent, of which the
dynamic power in the interior of the globe has evidently diminished--which
is proved by the number of volcanoes on the surface of the earth, now
actually extinct. And I believe that centuries succeeding to centuries, and
insects to insects, this Pacific may one day be changed into a vast
continent, which new generations will inhabit and civilize in their turn."
"That will take a long time," said Pencroft.
"Nature has time for it," replied the engineer.
"But what would be the use of new continents?" asked Herbert. "It appears
to me that the present extent of habitable countries is sufficient for
humanity. Yet nature does nothing uselessly."
"Nothing uselessly, certainly," replied the engineer, "but this is how
the necessity of new continents for the future, and exactly on the tropical
zone occupied by the coral islands, may be explained. At least to me this
explanation appears plausible."
"We are listening, captain," said Herbert.
"This is my idea: philosophers generally admit that some day our globe
will end, or rather that animal and vegetable life will no longer be
possible, because of the intense cold to which it will be subjected. What
they are not agreed upon, is the cause of this cold. Some think that it
will arise from the falling of the temperature, which the sun will
experience alter millions of years; others, from the gradual extinction of
the fires in the interior of our globe, which have a greater influence on
it than is generally supposed. I hold to this last hypothesis, grounding it
on the fact that the moon is really a cold star, which is no longer
habitable, although the sun continues to throw on its surface the same
amount of heat. If, then, the moon has become cold, it is because the
interior fires to which, as do all the stars of the stellar world, it owes
its origin, are completely extinct. Lastly, whatever may be the cause, our
globe will become cold some day, but this cold will only operate gradually.
What will happen, then? The temperate zones, at a more or less distant
period, will not be more habitable than the polar regions now are. Then the
population of men, as well as the animals, will flow towards the latitudes
which are more directly under the solar influence. An immense emigration
will take place. Europe, Central Asia, North America, will gradually be
abandoned, as well as Australasia and the lower parts of South America. The
vegetation will follow the human emigration. The flora will retreat towards
the Equator at the same time as the fauna. The central parts of South
America and Africa will be the continents chiefly inhabited. The Laplanders
and the Samoides will find the climate of the polar regions on the shores
of the Mediterranean. Who can say, that at this period, the equatorial
regions will not be too small, to contain and nourish terrestrial humanity?
Now, may not provident nature, so as to give refuge to all the vegetable
and animal emigration, be at present laying the foundation of a new
continent under the Equator, and may she not have entrusted these insects
with the construction of it? I have often thought of all these things, my
friends, and I seriously believe that the aspect of our globe will some day
be completely changed; that by the raising of new continents the sea will
cover the old, and that, in future ages, a Columbus will go to discover the
islands of Chimborazo, of the Himalayas, or of Mont Blanc, remains of a
submerged America, Asia, and Europe. Then these new continents will become,
in their turn, uninhabitable; heat will die away, as does the heat from a
body when the soul has left it; and life will disappear from the globe, if
not for ever, at least for a period. Perhaps then, our spheroid will rest--
will be left to death--to revive some day under superior conditions! But all
that, my friends, is the secret of the Author of all things; and beginning
by the work of the insects, I have perhaps let myself be carried too far,
in investigating the secrets of the future.
"My dear Cyrus," replied Spilett, "these theories are prophecies to me,
and they will be accomplished some day."
"That is the secret of God," said the engineer.
"All that is well and good," then said Pencroft, who had listened with
all his might, "but will you tell me, captain, if Lincoln Island has been
made by your insects?"
"No," replied Harding; "it is of a purely volcanic origin."
"Then it will disappear some day?"
"That is probable.
"I hope we won't be here then."
"No, don't be uneasy, Pencroft; we shall not be here then, as we have no
wish to die here, and hope to get away some time."
"In the meantime," replied Gideon Spilett, "let us establish ourselves
here as if forever. There is no use in doing things by halves."
This ended the conversation. Breakfast was finished, the exploration was
continued, and the settlers arrived at the border of the marshy region. It
was a marsh of which the extent, to the rounded coast which terminated the
island at the southeast, was about twenty square miles. The soil was formed
of clayey flint-earth, mingled with vegetable matter, such as the remains
of rushes, reeds, grass, etc. Here and there beds of grass, thick as a
carpet, covered it. In many places icy pools sparkled in the sun. Neither
rain nor any river, increased by a sudden swelling, could supply these
ponds. They therefore naturally concluded that the marsh was fed by the
infiltrations of the soil and it was really so. It was also to be feared
that during the heat miasmas would arise, which might produce fevers.
Above the aquatic plants, on the surface of the stagnant water, fluttered
numbers of birds. Wild duck, teal, snipe lived there in flocks, and those
fearless birds allowed themselves to be easily approached.
One shot from a gun would certainly have brought down some dozen of the
birds, they were so close together. The explorers were, however, obliged to
content themselves with bows and arrows. The result was less, but the
silent arrow had the advantage of not frightening the birds, while the
noise of firearms would have dispersed them to all parts of the marsh. The
hunters were satisfied, for this time, with a dozen ducks, which had white
bodies with a band of cinnamon, a green head, wings black, white, and red,
and flattened beak. Herbert called them tadorns. Top helped in the capture
of these birds, whose name was given to this marshy part of the island. The
settlers had here an abundant reserve of aquatic game. At some future time
they meant to explore it more carefully, and it was probable that some of
the birds there might be domesticated, or at least brought to the shores of
the lake, so that they would be more within their reach.
About five o'clock in the evening Cyrus Harding and his companions
retraced their steps to their dwelling by traversing Tadorn's Fens, and
crossed the Mercy on the ice-bridge.
At eight in the evening they all entered Granite House.
This intense cold lasted till the 15th of August, without, however, passing
the degree of Fahrenheit already mentioned. When the atmosphere was calm,
the low temperature was easily borne, but when the wind blew, the poor
settlers, insufficiently clothed, felt it severely. Pencroft regretted that
Lincoln Island was not the home of a few families of bears rather than of
so many foxes and seals.
"Bears," said he, "are generally very well dressed, and I ask no more
than to borrow for the winter the warm cloaks which they have on their
"But," replied Neb, laughing, "perhaps the bears would not consent to
give you their cloaks, Pencroft. These beasts are not St. Martins."
"We would make them do it, Neb, we would make them," replied Pencroft, in
quite an authoritative tone.
But these formidable carnivora did not exist in the island, or at any
rate they had not yet shown themselves.
In the meanwhile, Herbert, Pencroft, and the reporter occupied themselves
with making traps on Prospect Heights and at the border of the forest.
According to the sailor, any animal, whatever it was, would be a lawful
prize, and the rodents or carnivora which might get into the new snares
would be well received at Granite House.
The traps were besides extremely simple; being pits dug in the ground, a
platform of branches and grass above, which concealed the opening, and at
the bottom some bait, the scent of which would attract animals. It must be
mentioned also, that they had not been dug at random, but at certain places
where numerous footprints showed that quadrupeds frequented the ground.
They were visited every day, and at three different times, during the first
days, specimens of those Antarctic foxes which they had already seen on the
right bank of the Mercy were found in them.
"Why, there are nothing but foxes in this country!" cried Pencroft, when
for the third time he drew one of the animals out of the pit. Looking at it
in great disgust, he added, "beasts which are good for nothing!"
"Yes," said Gideon Spilett, "they are good for something!"
"And what is that?"
"To make bait to attract other creatures!"
The reporter was right, and the traps were henceforward baited with the
The sailor had also made snares from the long tough fibers of a certain
plant, and they were even more successful than the traps. Rarely a day
passed without some rabbits from the warren being caught. It was always
rabbit, but Neb knew how to vary his sauces and the settlers did not think
However, once or twice in the second week of August, the traps supplied
the hunters with other animals more useful than foxes, namely, several of
those small wild boars which had already been seen to the north of the
lake. Pencroft had no need to ask if these beasts were eatable. He could
see that by their resemblance to the pig of America and Europe.
"But these are not pigs," said Herbert to him, "I warn you of that,
"My boy," replied the sailor, bending over the trap and drawing out one
of these representatives of the family of sus by the little appendage which
served it as a tail. "Let me believe that these are pigs."
"Because that pleases me!"
"Are you very fond of pig then, Pencroft?"
"I am very fond of pig," replied the sailor, "particularly of its feet,
and if it had eight instead of four, I should like it twice as much!"
As to the animals in question, they were peccaries belonging to one of
the four species which are included in the family, and they were also of
the species of Tajacu, recognizable by their deep color and the absence of
those long teeth with which the mouths of their congeners are armed. These
peccaries generally live in herds, and it was probable that they abounded
in the woody parts of the island.
At any rate, they were eatable from head to foot, and Pencroft did not
ask more from them.
Towards the 15th of August, the state of the atmosphere was suddenly
moderated by the wind shifting to the northwest. The temperature rose some
degrees, and the accumulated vapor in the air was not long in resolving
into snow. All the island was covered with a sheet of white, and showed
itself to its inhabitants under a new aspect. The snow fell abundantly for
several days, and it soon reached a thickness of two feet.
The wind also blew with great violence, and at the height of Granite
House the sea could be heard thundering against the reefs. In some places,
the wind, eddying round the corners, formed the snow into tall whirling
columns, resembling those waterspouts which turn round on their base, and
which vessels attack with a shot from a gun. However, the storm, coming
from the northwest, blew across the island, and the position of Granite
House preserved it from a direct attack.
But in the midst of this snow-storm, as terrible as if it had been
produced in some polar country, neither Cyrus Harding nor his companions
could, notwithstanding their wish for it, venture forth, and they remained
shut up for five days, from the 20th to the 25th of August. They could hear
the tempest raging in Jacamar Wood, which would surely suffer from it. Many
of the trees would no doubt be torn up by the roots, but Pencroft consoled
himself by thinking that he would not have the trouble of cutting them
"The wind is turning woodman, let it alone," he repeated.
Besides, there was no way of stopping it, if they had wished to do so.
How grateful the inhabitants of Granite House then were to Heaven for
having prepared for them this solid and immovable retreat! Cyrus Harding
had also his legitimate share of thanks, but after all, it was Nature who
had hollowed out this vast cavern, and he had only discovered it. There all
were in safety, and the tempest could not reach them. If they had
constructed a house of bricks and wood on Prospect Heights, it certainly
would not have resisted the fury of this storm. As to the Chimneys, it must
have been absolutely uninhabitable, for the sea, passing over the islet,
would beat furiously against it. But here, in Granite House, in the middle
of a solid mass, over which neither the sea nor air had any influence,
there was nothing to fear.
During these days of seclusion the settlers did not remain inactive.
There was no want of wood, cut up into planks, in the storeroom, and
little by little they completed their furnishing; constructing the most
solid of tables and chairs, for material was not spared. Neb and Pencroft
were very proud of this rather heavy furniture, which they would not have
changed on any account.
Then the carpenters became basket-makers, and they did not succeed badly
in this new manufacture. At the point of the lake which projected to the
north, they had discovered an osier-bed in which grew a large number of
purple osiers. Before the rainy season, Pencroft and Herbert had cut down
these useful shrubs, and their branches, well prepared, could now be
effectively employed. The first attempts were somewhat crude, but in
consequence of the cleverness and intelligence of the workmen, by
consulting, and recalling the models which they had seen, and by emulating
each other, the possessions of the colony were soon increased by several
baskets of different sizes. The storeroom was provided with them, and in
special baskets Neb placed his collection of rhizomes, stone-pine almonds,
During the last week of the month of August the weather moderated again.
The temperature fell a little, and the tempest abated. The colonists
sallied out directly. There was certainly two feet of snow on the shore,
but they were able to walk without much difficulty on the hardened surface.
Cyrus Harding and his companions climbed Prospect Heights.
What a change! The woods, which they had left green, especially in the
part at which the firs predominated, had disappeared under a uniform color.
All was white, from the summit of Mount Franklin to the shore, the forests,
the plains, the lake, the river. The waters of the Mercy flowed under a
roof of ice, which, at each rising and ebbing of the tide, broke up with
loud crashes. Numerous birds fluttered over the frozen surface of the lake.
Ducks and snipe, teal and guillemots were assembled in thousands. The rocks
among which the cascade flowed were bristling with icicles. One might have
said that the water escaped by a monstrous gargoyle, shaped with all the
imagination of an artist of the Renaissance. As to the damage caused by the
storm in the forest, that could not as yet be ascertained; they would have
to wait till the snowy covering was dissipated.
Gideon Spilett, Pencroft, and Herbert did not miss this opportunity of
going to visit their traps. They did not find them easily, under the snow
with which they were covered. They had also to be careful not to fall into
one or other of them, which would have been both dangerous and humiliating;
to be taken in their own snares! But happily they avoided this
unpleasantness, and found their traps perfectly intact. No animal had
fallen into them, and yet the footprints in the neighborhood were very
numerous, among others, certain very clear marks of claws. Herbert did not
hesitate to affirm that some animal of the feline species had passed there,
which justified the engineer's opinion that dangerous beasts existed in
Lincoln Island. These animals doubtless generally lived in the forests of
the Far West, but pressed by hunger, they had ventured as far as Prospect
Heights. Perhaps they had smelled out the inhabitants of Granite House.
"Now, what are these feline creatures?" asked Pencroft. "They are tigers,"
replied Herbert. "I thought those beasts were only found in hot countries?"
"On the new continent," replied the lad, "they are found from Mexico to
the Pampas of Buenos Aires. Now, as Lincoln Island is nearly under the same
latitude as the provinces of La Plata, it is not surprising that tigers are
to be met with in it."
"Well, we must look out for them," replied Pencroft.
However, the snow soon disappeared, quickly dissolving under the
influence of the rising temperature. Rain fell, and the sheet of white soon
vanished. Notwithstanding the bad weather, the settlers renewed their
stores of different things, stone-pine almonds, rhizomes, syrup from the
maple-tree, for the vegetable part; rabbits from the warren, agouties, and
kangaroos for the animal part. This necessitated several excursions into
the forest, and they found that a great number of trees had been blown down
by the last hurricane. Pencroft and Neb also pushed with the cart as far as
the vein of coal, and brought back several tons of fuel. They saw in
passing that the pottery kiln had been severely damaged by the wind, at
least six feet of it having been blown off.
At the same time as the coal, the store of wood was renewed at Granite
House, and they profited by the current of the Mercy having again become
free, to float down several rafts. They could see that the cold period was
A visit was also paid to the Chimneys, and the settlers could not but
congratulate themselves on not having been living there during the
hurricane. The sea had left unquestionable traces of its ravages. Sweeping
over the islet, it had furiously assailed the passages, half filling them
with sand, while thick beds of seaweed covered the rocks. While Neb,
Herbert, and Pencroft hunted or collected wood, Cyrus Harding and Gideon
Spilett busied themselves in putting the Chimneys to rights, and they found
the forge and the bellows almost unhurt, protected as they had been from
the first by the heaps of sand.
The store of fuel had not been made uselessly. The settlers had not done
with the rigorous cold. It is known that, in the Northern Hemisphere, the
month of February is principally distinguished by rapid fallings of the
temperature. It is the same in the Southern Hemisphere, and the end of the
month of August, which is the February of North America, does not escape
this climatic law.
About the 25th, after another change from snow to rain, the wind shifted
to the southeast, and the cold became, suddenly, very severe. According to
the engineer's calculation, the mercurial column of a Fahrenheit
thermometer would not have marked less than eight degrees below zero, and
this intense cold, rendered still more painful by a sharp gale, lasted for
several days. The colonists were again shut up in Granite House, and as it
was necessary to hermetically seal all the openings of the facade, only
leaving a narrow passage for renewing the air, the consumption of candles
was considerable. To economize them, the cavern was often only lighted by
the blazing hearths, on which fuel was not spared. Several times, one or
other of the settlers descended to the beach in the midst of ice which the
waves heaped up at each tide, but they soon climbed up again to Granite
House, and it was not without pain and difficulty that their hands could
hold to the rounds of the ladder. In consequence of the intense cold,
their fingers felt as if burned when they touched the rounds. To occupy the
leisure hours, which the tenants of Granite House now had at their
disposal, Cyrus Harding undertook an operation which could be performed
We know that the settlers had no other sugar at their disposal than the
liquid substance which they drew from the maple, by making deep incisions
in the tree. They contented themselves with collecting this liquor in jars
and employing it in this state for different culinary purposes, and the
more so, as on growing old, this liquid began to become white and to be of
a syrupy consistence.
But there was something better to be made of it, and one day Cyrus
Harding announced that they were going to turn into refiners.
"Refiners!" replied Pencroft. "That is rather a warm trade, I think."
"Very warm," answered the engineer.
"Then it will be seasonable!" said the sailor.
This word refining need not awake in the mind thoughts of an elaborate
manufactory with apparatus and numerous workmen. No! to crystallize this
liquor, only an extremely easy operation is required. Placed on the fire in
large earthen pots, it was simply subjected to evaporation, and soon a scum
arose to its surface. As soon as this began to thicken, Neb carefully
removed it with a wooden spatula; this accelerated the evaporation, and at
the same time prevented it from contracting an empyreumatic flavor.
After boiling for several hours on a hot fire, which did as much good to
the operators as the substance operated upon, the latter was transformed
into a thick syrup. This syrup was poured into clay molds, previously
fabricated in the kitchen stove, and to which they had given various
shapes. The next day this syrup had become cold, and formed cakes and
tablets. This was sugar of rather a reddish color, but nearly transparent
and of a delicious taste.
The cold continued to the middle of September, and the prisoners in
Granite House began to find their captivity rather tedious. Nearly every
day they attempted sorties which they could not prolong. They constantly
worked at the improvement of their dwelling. They talked while working.
Harding instructed his companions in many things, principally explaining to
them the practical applications of science. The colonists had no library at
their disposal; but the engineer was a book which was always at hand,
always open at the page which one wanted, a book which answered all their
questions, and which they often consulted. The time thus passed away
pleasantly, these brave men not appearing to have any fears for the future.
However, all were anxious to see, if not the fine season, at least the
cessation of the insupportable cold. If only they had been clothed in a way
to meet it, how many excursions they would have attempted, either to the
downs or to Tadorn's Fens! Game would have been easily approached, and the
chase would certainly have been most productive. But Cyrus Harding
considered it of importance that no one should injure his health, for he
had need of all his hands, and his advice was followed.
But it must be said, that the one who was most impatient of this
imprisonment, after Pencroft perhaps, was Top. The faithful dog found
Granite House very narrow. He ran backwards and forwards from one room to
another, showing in his way how weary he was of being shut up. Harding
often remarked that when he approached the dark well which communicated
with the sea, and of which the orifice opened at the back of the storeroom,
Top uttered singular growlings. He ran round and round this hole, which had
been covered with a wooden lid. Sometimes even he tried to put his paws
under the lid, as if he wished to raise it. He then yelped in a peculiar
way, which showed at once anger and uneasiness.
The engineer observed this maneuver several times.
What could there be in this abyss to make such an impression on the
intelligent animal? The well led to the sea, that was certain. Could narrow
passages spread from it through the foundations of the island? Did some
marine monster come from time to time, to breathe at the bottom of this
well? The engineer did not know what to think, and could not refrain from
dreaming of many strange improbabilities. Accustomed to go far into the
regions of scientific reality, he would not allow himself to be drawn into
the regions of the strange and almost of the supernatural; but yet how to
explain why Top, one of those sensible dogs who never waste their time in
barking at the moon, should persist in trying with scent and hearing to
fathom this abyss, if there was nothing there to cause his uneasiness?
Top's conduct puzzled Cyrus Harding even more than he cared to acknowledge
At all events, the engineer only communicated his impressions to Gideon
Spilett, for he thought it useless to explain to his companions the
suspicions which arose from what perhaps was only Top's fancy.
At last the cold ceased. There had been rain, squalls mingled with snow,
hailstorms, gusts of wind, but these inclemencies did not last. The ice
melted, the snow disappeared; the shore, the plateau, the banks of the
Mercy, the forest, again became practicable. This return of spring
delighted the tenants of Granite House, and they soon only passed it in the
hours necessary for eating and sleeping.
They hunted much in the second part of September, which led Pencroft to
again entreat for the firearms, which he asserted had been promised by
Cyrus Harding. The latter, knowing well that without special tools it would
be nearly impossible for him to manufacture a gun which would be of any
use, still drew back and put off the operation to some future time,
observing in his usual dry way, that Herbert and Spilett had become very
skilful archers, so that many sorts of excellent animals, agouties,
kangaroos, capybaras, pigeons, bustards, wild ducks, snipes, in short, game
both with fur and feathers, fell victims to their arrows, and that,
consequently, they could wait. But the obstinate sailor would listen to
nothing of this, and he would give the engineer no peace till he promised
to satisfy his desire. Gideon Spilett, however, supported Pencroft.
"If, which may be doubted," said he, "the island is inhabited by wild
beasts, we must think how to fight with and exterminate them. A time may
come when this will be our first duty."
But at this period, it was not the question of firearms which occupied
Harding, but that of clothes. Those which the settlers wore had passed this
winter, but they would not last until next winter. Skins of carnivora or
the wool of ruminants must be procured at any price, and since there were
plenty of musmons, it was agreed to consult on the means of forming a flock
which might be brought up for the use of the colony. An enclosure for the
domestic animals, a poultry-yard for the birds, in a word to establish a
sort of farm in the island, such were the two important projects for the
In consequence and in view of these future establishments, it became of
much importance that they should penetrate into all the yet unknown parts
of Lincoln Island, that is to say, through that thick forest which extended
on the right bank of the Mercy, from its mouth to the extremity of the
Serpentine Peninsula, as well as on the whole of its western side. But this
needed settled weather, and a month must pass before this exploration could
be profitably undertaken.
They therefore waited with some impatience, when an incident occurred
which increased the desire the settlers had to visit the whole of their
It was the 24th of October. On this day, Pencroft had gone to visit his
traps, which he always kept properly baited. In one of them he found three
animals which would be very welcome for the larder. They were a female
peccary and her two young ones.
Pencroft then returned to Granite House, enchanted with his capture, and,
as usual, he made a great show of his game.
"Come, we shall have a grand feast, captain!" he exclaimed. "And you too,
Mr. Spilett, you will eat some!"
"I shall be very happy," replied the reporter; "but what is it that I am
going to eat?"
"Oh, indeed, suckling-pig, Pencroft? To hear you, I thought that you were
bringing back a young partridge stuffed with truffles!"
"What?" cried Pencroft. "Do you mean to say that you turn up your nose at
"No," replied Gideon Spilett, without showing any enthusiasm; "provided
one doesn't eat too much"
"That's right, that's right," returned the sailor, who was not pleased
whenever he heard his chase made light of. "You like to make objections.
Seven months ago, when we landed on the island, you would have been only
too glad to have met with such game!"
"Well, well," replied the reporter, "man is never perfect, nor
"Now," said Pencroft, "I hope that Neb will distinguish himself. Look
here! These two little peccaries are not more than three months old! They
will be as tender as quails! Come along, Neb, come! I will look after the
And the sailor, followed by Neb, entered the kitchen, where they were
soon absorbed in their culinary labors.
They were allowed to do it in their own way. Neb, therefore, prepared a
magnificent repast--the two little peccaries, kangaroo soup, a smoked ham,
stone-pine almonds, Oswego tea; in fact, all the best that they had, but
among all the dishes figured in the first rank the savory peccaries.
At five o'clock dinner was served in the dining-room of Granite House.
The kangaroo soup was smoking on the table. They found it excellent.
To the soup succeeded the peccaries, which Pencroft insisted on carving
himself, and of which he served out monstrous portions to each of the
These suckling-pigs were really delicious, and Pencroft was devouring his
share with great gusto, when all at once a cry and an oath escaped him.
"What's the matter?" asked Cyrus Harding.
"The matter? the matter is that I have just broken a tooth!" replied the
"What, are there pebbles in your peccaries?" said Gideon Spilett.
"I suppose so," replied Pencroft, drawing from his lips the object which
had cost him a grinder!--
It was not a pebble--it was a leaden bullet.
It was now exactly seven months since the balloon voyagers had been thrown
on Lincoln Island. During that time, notwithstanding the researches they
had made, no human being had been discovered. No smoke even had betrayed
the presence of man on the surface of the island. No vestiges of his
handiwork showed that either at an early or at a late period had man lived
there. Not only did it now appear to be uninhabited by any but themselves,
but the colonists were compelled to believe that it never had been
inhabited. And now, all this scaffolding of reasonings fell before a simple
ball of metal, found in the body of an inoffensive rodent! In fact, this
bullet must have issued from a firearm, and who but a human being could
have used such a weapon?
When Pencroft had placed the bullet on the table, his companions looked
at it with intense astonishment. All the consequences likely to result from
this incident, notwithstanding its apparent insignificance, immediately
took possession of their minds. The sudden apparition of a supernatural
being could not have startled them more completely.
Cyrus Harding did not hesitate to give utterance to the suggestions which
this fact, at once surprising and unexpected, could not fail to raise in
his mind. He took the bullet, turned it over and over, rolled it between
his finger and thumb; then, turning to Pencroft, he asked,--
Are you sure that the peccary wounded by this bullet was not more than
three months old?"
"Not more, captain," replied Pencroft. "It was still sucking its mother
when I found it in the trap."
"Well," said the engineer, "that proves that within three months a gun-
shot was fired in Lincoln Island."
"And that a bullet," added Gideon Spilett, "wounded, though not mortally,
this little animal."
"That is unquestionable," said Cyrus Harding, "and these are the
deductions which must be drawn from this incident: that the island was
inhabited before our arrival, or that men have landed here within three
months. Did these men arrive here voluntarily or involuntarily, by
disembarking on the shore or by being wrecked? This point can only be
cleared up later. As to what they were, Europeans or Malays, enemies or
friends of our race, we cannot possibly guess; and if they still inhabit
the island, or if they have left it, we know not. But these questions are
of too much importance to be allowed to remain long unsettled."
"No! a hundred times no! a thousand times no!" cried the sailor,
springing up from the table. "There are no other men than ourselves on
Lincoln Island! By my faith! The island isn't large and if it had been
inhabited, we should have seen some of the inhabitants long before this!"
"In fact, the contrary would be very astonishing," said Herbert.
"But it would be much more astonishing, I should think, observed the
reporter, "if this peccary had been born with a bullet in its inside!"
"At least," said Neb seriously, "if Pencroft has not had--"
"Look here, Neb," burst out Pencroft. "Do you think I could have a bullet
in my jaw for five or six months without finding it out? Where could it be
hidden?" he asked, opening his mouth to show the two-and-thirty teeth with
which it was furnished. "Look well, Neb, and if you find one hollow tooth
in this set, I will let you pull out half a dozen!"
"Neb's supposition is certainly inadmissible," replied Harding, who,
notwithstanding the gravity of his thoughts, could not restrain a smile.
"It is certain that a gun has been fired in the island, within three months
at most. But I am inclined to think that the people who landed on this
coast were only here a very short time ago, or that they just touched here;
for if, when we surveyed the island from the summit of Mount Franklin, it
had been inhabited, we should have seen them or we should have been seen
ourselves. It is therefore, probable that within only a few weeks castaways
have been thrown by a storm on some part of the coast. However that may
be, it is of consequence to us to have this point settled."
"I think that we should act with caution," said the reporter.
"Such is my advice," replied Cyrus Harding, "for it is to be feared that
Malay pirates have landed on the island!"
"Captain," asked the sailor, "would it not be a good plan, before setting
out, to build a canoe in which we could either ascend the river, or, if we
liked, coast round the inland? It will not do to be unprovided."
"Your idea is good, Pencroft," replied the engineer, "but we cannot wait
for that. It would take at least a month to build a boat."
"Yes, a real boat," replied the sailor; "but we do not want one for a
sea voyage, and in five days at the most, I will undertake to construct a
canoe fit to navigate the Mercy."
"Five days," cried Neb, "to build a boat?"
"Yes, Neb; a boat in the Indian fashion."
"Of wood?" asked the Negro, looking still unconvinced.
"Of wood," replied Pencroft, "of rather of bark. I repeat, captain, that
in five days the work will be finished!"
"In five days, then, be it," replied the engineer.
"But till that time we must be very watchful," said Herbert.
"Very watchful indeed, my friends," replied Harding; "and I beg you to
confine your hunting excursions to the neighborhood of Granite House."
The dinner ended less gaily than Pencroft had hoped.
So, then, the island was, or had been, inhabited by others than the
settlers. Proved as it was by the incident of the bullet, it was hereafter
an unquestionable fact, and such a discovery could not but cause great
uneasiness among the colonists.
Cyrus Harding and Gideon Spilett, before sleeping, conversed long about
the matter. They asked themselves if by chance this incident might not have
some connection with the inexplicable way in which the engineer had been
saved, and the other peculiar circumstances which had struck them at
different times. However, Cyrus Harding, after having discussed the pros
and cons of the question, ended by saying,--
"In short, would you like to know my opinion, my dear Spilett?"
"Well, then, it is this: however minutely we explore the island, we
shall find nothing."
The next day Pencroft set to work. He did not mean to build a boat with
boards and planking, but simply a flat-bottomed canoe, which would be well
suited for navigating the Mercy--above all, for approaching its source,
where the water would naturally be shallow. Pieces of bark, fastened one to
the other, would form a light boat; and in case of natural obstacles, which
would render a portage necessary, it would be easily carried. Pencroft
intended to secure the pieces of bark by means of nails, to insure the
canoe being water-tight.
It was first necessary to select the trees which would afford a strong
and supple bark for the work. Now the last storm had brought down a number
of large birch-trees, the bark of which would be perfectly suited for their
purpose. Some of these trees lay on the ground, and they had only to be
barked, which was the most difficult thing of all, owing to the imperfect
tools which the settlers possessed. However, they overcame all
While the sailor, seconded by the engineer, thus occupied himself without
losing an hour, Gideon Spilett and Herbert were not idle.
They were made purveyors to the colony. The reporter could not but admire
the boy, who had acquired great skill in handling the bow and spear.
Herbert also showed great courage and much of that presence of mind which
may justly be called "the reasoning of bravery." These two companions of
the chase, remembering Cyrus Harding's recommendations, did not go beyond a
radius of two miles round Granite House; but the borders of the forest
furnished a sufficient tribute of agoutis, capybaras, kangaroos, peccaries,
etc.; and if the result from the traps was less than during the cold, still
the warren yielded its accustomed quota, which might have fed all the
colony in Lincoln Island.
Often during these excursions, Herbert talked with Gideon Spilett on the
incident of the bullet, and the deductions which the engineer drew from it,
and one day--it was the 26th of October--he said--"But, Mr. Spilett, do you
not think it very extraordinary that, if any castaways have landed on the
island, they have not yet shown themselves near Granite House?"
"Very astonishing if they are still here," replied the reporter, "but not
astonishing at all if they are here no longer!"
"So you think that these people have already quitted the island?"
"It is more than probable, my boy; for if their stay was prolonged, and
above all, if they were still here, some accident would have at last
betrayed their presence."
"But if they were able to go away," observed the lad, "they could not
have been castaways."
"No, Herbert; or, at least, they were what might be called provisional
castaways. It is very possible that a storm may have driven them to the
island without destroying their vessel, and that, the storm over, they went
"I must acknowledge one thing," said Herbert, "it is that Captain Harding
appears rather to fear than desire the presence of human beings on our
"In short," responded the reporter, "there are only Malays who frequent
these seas, and those fellows are ruffians which it is best to avoid."
"It is not impossible, Mr. Spilett," said Herbert, "that some day or
other we may find traces of their landing."
"I do not say no, my boy. A deserted camp, the ashes of a fire, would put
us on the track, and this is what we will look for in our next expedition."
The day on which the hunters spoke thus, they were in a part of the
forest near the Mercy, remarkable for its beautiful trees. There, among
others, rose, to a height of nearly 200 feet above the ground, some of
those superb coniferae, to which, in New Zealand, the natives give the name
"I have an idea, Mr. Spilett," said Herbert. "If I were to climb to the
top of one of these kauris, I could survey the country for an immense
"The idea is good," replied the reporter; "but could you climb to the top
of those giants?"
"I can at least try," replied Herbert.
The light and active boy then sprang on the first branches, the
arrangement of which made the ascent of the kauri easy, and in a few
minutes he arrived at the summit, which emerged from the immense plain of
From this elevated situation his gaze extended over all the southern
portion of the island, from Claw Cape on the southeast, to Reptile End on
the southwest. To the northwest rose Mount Franklin, which concealed a
great part of the horizon.
But Herbert, from the height of his observatory, could examine all the
yet unknown portion of the island, which might have given shelter to the
strangers whose presence they suspected.
The lad looked attentively. There was nothing in sight on the sea, not a
sail, neither on the horizon nor near the island. However, as the bank of
trees hid the shore, it was possible that a vessel, especially if deprived
of her masts, might lie close to the land and thus be invisible to Herbert.
Neither in the forests of the Far West was anything to be seen. The wood
formed an impenetrable screen, measuring several square miles, without a
break or an opening. It was impossible even to follow the course of the
Mercy, or to ascertain in what part of the mountain it took its source.
Perhaps other creeks also ran towards the west, but they could not be seen.
But at last, if all indication of an encampment escaped Herbert's sight
could he not even catch a glimpse of smoke, the faintest trace of which
would be easily discernible in the pure atmosphere?
For an instant Herbert thought he could perceive a slight smoke in the
west, but a more attentive examination showed that he was mistaken. He
strained his eyes in every direction, and his sight was excellent. No,
decidedly there was nothing there.
Herbert descended to the foot of the kauri, and the two sportsmen
returned to Granite House. There Cyrus Harding listened to the lad's
account, shook his head and said nothing. It was very evident that no
decided opinion could be pronounced on this question until after a complete
exploration of the island.
Two days after--the 28th of October--another incident occurred, for which
an explanation was again required.
While strolling along the shore about two miles from Granite House,
Herbert and Neb were fortunate enough to capture a magnificent specimen of
the order of chelonia. It was a turtle of the species Midas, the edible
green turtle, so called from the color both of its shell and fat.
Herbert caught sight of this turtle as it was crawling among the rocks to
reach the sea.
"Help, Neb, help!" he cried.
Neb ran up.
"What a fine animal!" said Neb; "but how are we to catch it?"
"Nothing is easier, Neb," replied Herbert. "We have only to turn the
turtle on its back, and it cannot possibly get away. Take your spear and do
as I do."
The reptile, aware of danger, had retired between its carapace and
plastron. They no longer saw its head or feet, and it was motionless as a
Herbert and Neb then drove their sticks underneath the animal, and by
their united efforts managed without difficulty to turn it on its back. The
turtle, which was three feet in length, would have weighed at least four
"Capital!" cried Neb; "this is something which will rejoice friend
In fact, the heart of friend Pencroft could not fail to be rejoiced, for
the flesh of the turtle, which feeds on wrack-grass, is extremely savory.
At this moment the creature's head could be seen, which was small, flat,
but widened behind by the large temporal fossae hidden under the long roof.
"And now, what shall we do with our prize?" said Neb. "We can't drag it
to Granite House!"
"Leave it here, since it cannot turn over," replied Herbert, "and we will
come back with the cart to fetch it."
"That is the best plan."
However, for greater precaution, Herbert took the trouble, which Neb
deemed superfluous, to wedge up the animal with great stones; after which
the two hunters returned to Granite House, following the beach, which the
tide had left uncovered. Herbert, wishing to surprise Pencroft, said
nothing about the "superb specimen of a chelonian" which they had turned
over on the sand; but, two hours later, he and Neb returned with the cart
to the place where they had left it. The "superb specimen of a chelonian"
was no longer there!
Neb and Herbert stared at each other first; then they stared about them.
It was just at this spot that the turtle had been left. The lad even found
the stones which he had used, and therefore he was certain of not being
"Well!" said Neb, "these beasts can turn themselves over, then?''
"It appears so," replied Herbert, who could not understand it at all, and
was gazing at the stones scattered on the sand.
"Well, Pencroft will be disgusted!"
"And Captain Harding will perhaps be very perplexed how to explain this
disappearance," thought Herbert.
"Look here," said Neb, who wished to hide his ill-luck, "we won't speak
"On the contrary, Neb, we must speak about it," replied Herbert.
And the two, taking the cart, which there was now no use for, returned to
Arrived at the dockyard, where the engineer and the sailor were working
together, Herbert recounted what had happened.
"Oh! the stupids!" cried the sailor, "to have let at least fifty meals
"But, Pencroft," replied Neb, "it wasn't our fault that the beast got
away; as I tell you, we had turned it over on its back!"
"Then you didn't turn it over enough!" returned the obstinate sailor.
"Not enough!" cried Herbert.
And he told how he had taken care to wedge up the turtle with stones.
"It is a miracle, then!" replied Pencroft.
"I thought, captain," said Herbert, "that turtles, once placed on their
backs, could not regain their feet, especially when they are of a large
"That is true, my boy," replied Cyrus Harding.
"Then how did it manage?"
"At what distance from the sea did you leave this turtle?" asked the
engineer, who, having suspended his work, was reflecting on this incident.
"Fifteen feet at the most," replied Herbert.
"And the tide was low at the time?"
"Well," replied the engineer, "what the turtle could not do on the sand
it might have been able to do in the water. It turned over when the tide
overtook it, and then quietly returned to the deep sea."
"Oh! what stupids we were!" cried Neb.
"That is precisely what I had the honor of telling you before!" returned
Cyrus Harding had given this explanation, which, no doubt, was
admissible. But was he himself convinced of the accuracy of this
explanation? It cannot be said that he was.
On the 9th of October the bark canoe was entirely finished. Pencroft had
kept his promise, and a light boat, the shell of which was joined together
by the flexible twigs of the crejimba, had been constructed in five days. A
seat in the stern, a second seat in the middle to preserve the equilibrium,
a third seat in the bows, rowlocks for the two oars, a scull to steer with,
completed the little craft, which was twelve feet long, and did not weigh
more than two hundred pounds. The operation of launching it was extremely
simple. The canoe was carried to the beach and laid on the sand before
Granite House, and the rising tide floated it. Pencroft, who leaped in
directly, maneuvered it with the scull and declared it to be just the
thing for the purpose to which they wished to put it.
"Hurrah!" cried the sailor, who did not disdain to celebrate thus his own
triumph. "With this we could go round--"
"The world?" asked Gideon Spilett.
"No, the island. Some stones for ballast, a mast and a sail, which the
captain will make for us some day, and we shall go splendidly! Well,
captain--and you, Mr. Spilett; and you, Herbert; and you, Neb--aren't you
coming to try our new vessel? Come along! we must see if it will carry all
five of us!"
This was certainly a trial which ought to be made. Pencroft soon brought
the canoe to the shore by a narrow passage among the rocks, and it was
agreed that they should make a trial of the boat that day by following the
shore as far as the first point at which the rocks of the south ended.
As they embarked, Neb cried,--
"But your boat leaks rather, Pencroft."
"That's nothing, Neb," replied the sailor; "the wood will get seasoned.
In two days there won't be a single leak, and our boat will have no more
water in her than there is in the stomach of a drunkard. Jump in!"
They were soon all seated, and Pencroft shoved off. The weather was
magnificent, the sea as calm as if its waters were contained within the
narrow limits of a lake. Thus the boat could proceed with as much security
as if it was ascending the tranquil current of the Mercy.
Neb took one of the oars, Herbert the other, and Pencroft remained in the
stern in order to use the scull.
The sailor first crossed the channel, and steered close to the southern
point of the islet. A light breeze blew from the south. No roughness was
found either in the channel or the green sea. A long swell, which the canoe
scarcely felt, as it was heavily laden, rolled regularly over the surface
of the water. They pulled out about half a mile distant from the shore,
that they might have a good view of Mount Franklin.
Pencroft afterwards returned towards the mouth of the river. The boat
then skirted the shore, which, extending to the extreme point, hid all
This point, of which the distance was increased by the irregularity of
the coast, was nearly three miles from the Mercy. The settlers resolved to
go to its extremity, and only go beyond it as much as was necessary to take
a rapid survey of the coast as far as Claw Cape.
The canoe followed the windings of the shore, avoiding the rocks which
fringed it, and which the rising tide began to cover. The cliff gradually
sloped away from the mouth of the river to the point. This was formed of
granite reeks, capriciously distributed, very different from the cliff at
Prospect Heights, and of an extremely wild aspect. It might have been said
that an immense cartload of rocks had been emptied out there. There was no
vegetation on this sharp promontory, which projected two miles from the
forest, and it thus represented a giant's arm stretched out from a leafy
The canoe, impelled by the two oars, advanced without difficulty. Gideon
Spilett, pencil in one hand and notebook in the other, sketched the coast in
bold strokes. Neb, Herbert, and Pencroft chatted, while examining this part
of their domain, which was new to them, and, in proportion as the canoe
proceeded towards the south, the two Mandible Capes appeared to move, and
surround Union Bay more closely.
As to Cyrus Harding, he did not speak; he simply gazed, and by the
mistrust which his look expressed, it appeared that he was examining some
In the meantime, after a voyage of three-quarters of an hour, the canoe
reached the extremity of the point, and Pencroft was preparing to return,
when Herbert, rising, pointed to a black object, saying,--
"What do I see down there on the beach?"
All eyes turned towards the point indicated.
"Why," said the reporter, "there is something. It looks like part of a
wreck half buried in the sand."
"Ah!" cried Pencroft, "I see what it is!"
"What?" asked Neb.
"Barrels, barrels, which perhaps are full," replied the sailor.
"Pull to the shore, Pencroft!" said Cyrus.
A few strokes of the oar brought the canoe into a little creek, and its
passengers leaped on shore.
Pencroft was not mistaken. Two barrels were there, half buried in the
sand, but still firmly attached to a large chest, which, sustained by them,
had floated to the moment when it stranded on the beach.
"There has been a wreck, then, in some part of the island," said Herbert.
"Evidently," replied Spilett.
"But what's in this chest?" cried Pencroft, with very natural impatience.
"What's in this chest? It is shut up, and nothing to open it with! Well,
perhaps a stone--"
And the sailor, raising a heavy block, was about to break in one of the
sides of the chest, when the engineer arrested his hand.
"Pencroft," said he, "can you restrain your impatience for one hour
But, captain, just think! Perhaps there is everything we want in there!"
"We shall find that out, Pencroft," replied the engineer; "but trust to
me, and do not break the chest, which may be useful to us. We must convey
it to Granite House, where we can open it easily, and without breaking it.
It is quite prepared for a voyage; and since it has floated here, it may
just as well float to the mouth of the river."
"You are right, captain, and I was wrong, as usual," replied the sailor.
The engineer's advice was good. In fact, the canoe probably would not
have been able to contain the articles possibly enclosed in the chest,
which doubtless was heavy, since two empty barrels were required to buoy it
up. It was, therefore, much better to tow it to the beach at Granite House.
And now, whence had this chest come? That was the important question.
Cyrus Harding and his companions looked attentively around them, and
examined the shore for several hundred steps. No other articles or pieces
of wreck could be found. Herbert and Neb climbed a high rock to survey the
sea, but there was nothing in sight--neither a dismasted vessel nor a ship
However, there was no doubt that there had been a wreck. Perhaps this
incident was connected with that of the bullet? Perhaps strangers had
landed on another part of the island? Perhaps they were still there? But
the thought which came naturally to the settlers was, that these strangers
could not be Malay pirates, for the chest was evidently of American or
All the party returned to the chest, which was of an unusually large
size. It was made of oak wood, very carefully closed and covered with a
thick hide, which was secured by copper nails. The two great barrels,
hermetically sealed, but which sounded hollow and empty, were fastened to
its sides by strong ropes, knotted with a skill which Pencroft directly
pronounced sailors alone could exhibit. It appeared to be in a perfect
state of preservation, which was explained by the fact that it had stranded
on a sandy beach, and not among rocks. They had no doubt whatever, on
examining it carefully, that it had not been long in the water, and that
its arrival on this coast was recent. The water did not appear to have
penetrated to the inside, and the articles which it contained were no doubt
It was evident that this chest had been thrown overboard from some
dismasted vessel driven towards the island, and that, in the hope that it
would reach the land, where they might afterwards find it, the passengers
had taken the precaution to buoy it up by means of this floating apparatus.
"We will tow this chest to Granite House," said the engineer, "where we
can make an inventory of its contents; then, if we discover any of the
survivors from the supposed wreck, we can return it to those to whom it
belongs. If we find no one--"
"We will keep it for ourselves!" cried Pencroft. "But what in the world
can there be in it?"
The sea was already approaching the chest, and the high tide would
evidently float it. One of the ropes which fastened the barrels was partly
unlashed and used as a cable to unite the floating apparatus with the
canoe. Pencroft and Neb then dug away the sand with their oars, so as to