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Chapter 12


CHAPTER 12

They now began the descent of the mountain. Climbing down the crater, they
went round the cone and reached their encampment of the previous night.
Pencroft thought it must be breakfast-time, and the watches of the reporter
and engineer were therefore consulted to find out the hour.

That of Gideon Spilett had been preserved from the sea-water, as he had
been thrown at once on the sand out of reach of the waves. It was an
instrument of excellent quality, a perfect pocket chronometer, which the
reporter had not forgotten to wind up carefully every day.

As to the engineer's watch, it, of course, had stopped during the time
which he had passed on the downs.

The engineer now wound it up, and ascertaining by the height of the sun
that it must be about nine o'clock in the morning, he put his watch at that
hour.

"No, my dear Spilett, wait. You have kept the Richmond time, have you
not?"

"Yes, Cyrus."

"Consequently, your watch is set by the meridian of that town, which is
almost that of Washington?"

"Undoubtedly."

"Very well, keep it thus. Content yourself with winding it up very,
exactly, but do not touch the hands. This may be of use to us.

"What will be the good of that?" thought the sailor.

They ate, and so heartily, that the store of game and almonds was totally
exhausted. But Pencroft was not at all uneasy, they would supply themselves
on the way. Top, whose share had been very much to his taste, would know
how to find some fresh game among the brushwood. Moreover, the sailor
thought of simply asking the engineer to manufacture some powder and one or
two fowling-pieces; he supposed there would be no difficulty in that.

On leaving the plateau, the captain proposed to his companions to return
to the Chimneys by a new way. He wished to reconnoiter Lake Grant, so
magnificently framed in trees. They therefore followed the crest of one of
the spurs, between which the creek that supplied the lake probably had its
source. In talking, the settlers already employed the names which they had
just chosen, which singularly facilitated the exchange of their ideas.
Herbert and Pencroft--the one young and the other very boyish--were
enchanted, and while walking, the sailor said,

"Hey, Herbert! how capital it sounds! It will be impossible to lose
ourselves, my boy, since, whether we follow the way to Lake Grant, or
whether we join the Mercy through the woods of the Far West, we shall be
certain to arrive at Prospect Heights, and, consequently, at Union Bay!"

It had been agreed, that without forming a compact band, the settlers
should not stray away from each other. It was very certain that the thick
forests of the island were inhabited by dangerous animals, and it was
prudent to be on their guard. In general, Pencroft, Herbert, and Neb walked
first, preceded by Top, who poked his nose into every bush. The reporter
and the engineer went together, Gideon Spilett ready to note every
incident, the engineer silent for the most part, and only stepping aside to
pick up one thing or another, a mineral or vegetable substance, which he
put into his pocket, without making any remark.

"What can he be picking up?" muttered Pencroft. "I have looked in vain
for anything that's worth the trouble of stooping for."

Towards ten o'clock the little band descended the last declivities of
Mount Franklin. As yet the ground was scantily strewn with bushes and
trees. They were walking over yellowish calcinated earth, forming a plain
of nearly a mile long, which extended to the edge of the wood. Great blocks
of that basalt, which, according to Bischof, takes three hundred and fifty
millions of years to cool, strewed the plain, very confused in some places.
However, there were here no traces of lava, which was spread more
particularly over the northern slopes.

Cyrus Harding expected to reach, without incident, the course of the
creek, which he supposed flowed under the trees at the border of the plain,
when he saw Herbert running hastily back, while Neb and the sailor were
hiding behind the rocks.

"What's the matter, my boy?" asked Spilett.

"Smoke," replied Herbert. "We have seen smoke among the rocks, a hundred
paces from us."

"Men in this place?" cried the reporter.

"We must avoid showing ourselves before knowing with whom we have to
deal," replied Cyrus Harding. "I trust that there are no natives on this
island; I dread them more than anything else. Where is Top?"

"Top is on before."

"And he doesn't bark?"

"No."

"That is strange. However, we must try to call him back."

In a few moments, the engineer, Gideon Spilett, and Herbert had rejoined
their two companions, and like them, they kept out of sight behind the
heaps of basalt.

From thence they clearly saw smoke of a yellowish color rising in the
air.

Top was recalled by a slight whistle from his master, and the latter,
signing to his companions to wait for him, glided away among the rocks. The
colonists, motionless, anxiously awaited the result of this exploration,
when a shout from the engineer made them hasten forward. They soon joined
him, and were at once struck with a disagreeable odor which impregnated the
atmosphere.

The odor, easily recognized, was enough for the engineer to guess what
the smoke was which at first, not without cause, had startled him.

"This fue," said he, "or rather, this smoke is produced by nature alone.
There is a sulphur spring there, which will cure all our sore throats."

"Captain!" cried Pencroft. "What a pity that I haven't got a cold!"

The settlers then directed their steps towards the place from which the
smoke escaped. They there saw a sulphur spring which flowed abundantly
between the rocks, and its waters discharged a strong sulphuric acid odor,
after having absorbed the oxygen of the air.

Cyrus Harding, dipping in his hand, felt the water oily to the touch. He
tasted it and found it rather sweet. As to its temperature, that he
estimated at ninety-five degrees Fahrenheit. Herbert having asked on what
he based this calculation,--

"Its quite simple, my boy," said he, "for, in plunging my hand into the
water, I felt no sensation either of heat or cold. Therefore it has the
same temperature as the human body, which is about ninety-five degrees."

The sulphur spring not being of any actual use to the settlers, they
proceeded towards the thick border of the forest, which began some hundred
paces off.

There, as they had conjectured, the waters of the stream flowed clear and
limpid between high banks of red earth, the color of which betrayed the
presence of oxide of iron. From this color, the name of Red Creek was
immediately given to the watercourse.

It was only a large stream, deep and clear, formed of the mountain water,
which, half river, half torrent, here rippling peacefully over the sand,
there falling against the rocks or dashing down in a cascade, ran towards
the lake, over a distance of a mile and a half, its breadth varying from
thirty to forty feet. Its waters were sweet, and it was supposed that those
of the lake were so also. A fortunate circumstance, in the event of their
finding on its borders a more suitable dwelling than the Chimneys.

As to the trees, which some hundred feet downwards shaded the banks of
the creek, they belonged, for the most part, to the species which abound in
the temperate zone of America and Tasmania, and no longer to those
coniferae observed in that portion of the island already explored to some
miles from Prospect Heights. At this time of the year, the commencement of
the month of April, which represents the month of October, in this
hemisphere, that is, the beginning of autumn, they were still in full leaf.
They consisted principally of casuarinas and eucalypti, some of which next
year would yield a sweet manna, similar to the manna of the East. Clumps of
Australian cedars rose on the sloping banks, which were also covered with
the high grass called "tussac" in New Holland; but the cocoanut, so
abundant in the archipelagoes of the Pacific, seemed to be wanting in the
island, the latitude, doubtless, being too low.

"What a pity!" said Herbert, "such a useful tree, and which has such
beautiful nuts!"

As to the birds, they swarmed among the scanty branches of the eucalypti
and casuarinas, which did not hinder the display of their wings. Black,
white, or gray cockatoos, paroquets, with plumage of all colors,
kingfishers of a sparkling green and crowned with red, blue lories, and
various other birds appeared on all sides, as through a prism, fluttering
about and producing a deafening clamor. Suddenly, a strange concert of
discordant voices resounded in the midst of a thicket. The settlers heard
successively the song of birds, the cry of quadrupeds, and a sort of
clacking which they might have believed to have escaped from the lips of a
native. Neb and Herbert rushed towards the bush, forgetting even the most
elementary principles of prudence. Happily, they found there, neither a
formidable wild beast nor a dangerous native, but merely half a dozen
mocking and singing birds, known as mountain pheasants. A few skillful
blows from a stick soon put an end to their concert, and procured excellent
food for the evening's dinner.

Herbert also discovered some magnificent pigeons with bronzed wings, some
superbly crested, others draped in green, like their congeners at Port-
Macquarie; but it was impossible to reach them, or the crows and magpies
which flew away in flocks.

A charge of small shot would have made great slaughter among these birds,
but the hunters were still limited to sticks and stones, and these
primitive weapons proved very insufficient.

Their insufficiency was still more clearly shown when a troop of
quadrupeds, jumping, bounding, making leaps of thirty feet, regular flying
mammiferae, fled over the thickets, so quickly and at such a height, that
one would have thought that they passed from one tree to another like
squirrels.

"Kangaroos!" cried Herbert.

"Are they good to eat?" asked Pencroft.

"Stewed," replied the reporter, "their flesh is equal to the best
venison!--"

Gideon Spilett had not finished this exciting sentence when the sailor,
followed by Neb and Herbert, darted on the kangaroos tracks. Cyrus Harding
called them back in vain. But it was in vain too for the hunters to pursue
such agile game, which went bounding away like balls. After a chase of five
minutes, they lost their breath, and at the same time all sight of the
creatures, which disappeared in the wood. Top was not more successful than
his masters.

"Captain," said Pencroft, when the engineer and the reporter had rejoined
them, "Captain, you see quite well we can't get on unless we make a few
guns. Will that be possible?"

"Perhaps," replied the engineer, "but we will begin by first
manufacturing some bows and arrows, and I don't doubt that you will become
as clever in the use of them as the Australian hunters."

"Bows and arrows!" said Pencroft scornfully. "That's all very well for
children!"

"Don't be proud, friend Pencroft," replied the reporter. "Bows and arrows
were sufficient for centuries to stain the earth with blood. Powder is but
a thing of yesterday, and war is as old as the human race--unhappily."

"Faith, that's true, Mr. Spilett," replied the sailor, "and I always
speak too quickly. You must excuse me!"

Meanwhile, Herbert constant to his favorite science, Natural History,
reverted to the kangaroos, saying,--

"Besides, we had to deal just now with the species which is most
difficult to catch. They were giants with long gray fur; but if I am not
mistaken, there exist black and red kangaroos, rock kangaroos, and rat
kangaroos, which are more easy to get hold of. It is reckoned that there
are about a dozen species."

"Herbert," replied the sailor sententiously, "there is only one species
of kangaroos to me, that is 'kangaroo on the spit,' and it's just the one
we haven't got this evening!"

They could not help laughing at Master Pencroft's new classification. The
honest sailor did not hide his regret at being reduced for dinner to the
singing pheasants, but fortune once more showed itself obliging to him.

In fact, Top, who felt that his interest was concerned went and ferreted
everywhere with an instinct doubled by a ferocious appetite. It was even
probable that if some piece of game did fall into his clutches, none would
be left for the hunters, if Top was hunting on his own account; but Neb
watched him and he did well.

Towards three o'clock the dog disappeared in the brushwood and gruntings
showed that he was engaged in a struggle with some animal. Neb rushed after
him, and soon saw Top eagerly devouring a quadruped, which ten seconds
later would have been past recognizing in Top's stomach. But fortunately
the dog had fallen upon a brood, and besides the victim he was devouring,
two other rodents--the animals in question belonged to that order--lay
strangled on the turf.

Neb reappeared triumphantly holding one of the rodents in each hand. Their
size exceeded that of a rabbit, their hair was yellow, mingled with green
spots, and they had the merest rudiments of tails.

The citizens of the Union were at no loss for the right name of these
rodents. They were maras, a sort of agouti, a little larger than their
congeners of tropical countries, regular American rabbits, with long ears,
jaws armed on each side with five molars, which distinguish the agouti.

"Hurrah!" cried Pencroft, "the roast has arrived! and now we can go
home."

The walk, interrupted for an instant, was resumed. The limpid waters of
the Red Creek flowed under an arch of casuannas, banksias, and gigantic
gum-trees. Superb lilacs rose to a height of twenty feet. Other arborescent
species, unknown to the young naturalist, bent over the stream, which could
be heard murmuring beneath the bowers of verdure.

Meanwhile the stream grew much wider, and Cyrus Harding supposed that
they would soon reach its mouth. In fact, on emerging from beneath a thick
clump of beautiful trees, it suddenly appeared before their eyes.

The explorers had arrived on the western shore of Lake Grant. The place
was well worth looking at. This extent of water, of a circumference of
nearly seven miles and an area of two hundred and fifty acres, reposed in a
border of diversified trees. Towards the east, through a curtain of
verdure, picturesquely raised in some places, sparkled an horizon of sea.
The lake was curved at the north, which contrasted with the sharp outline
of its lower part. Numerous aquatic birds frequented the shores of this
little Ontario, in which the thousand isles of its American namesake were
represented by a rock which emerged from its surface, some hundred feet
from the southern shore. There lived in harmony several couples of
kingfishers perched on a stone, grave, motionless, watching for fish, then
darting down, they plunged in with a sharp cry, and reappeared with their
prey in their beaks. On the shores and on the islets, strutted wild ducks,
pelicans, water-hens, red-beaks, philedons, furnished with a tongue like a
brush, and one or two specimens of the splendid menura, the tail of which
expands gracefully like a lyre.

As to the water of the lake, it was sweet, limpid, rather dark, and from
certain bubblings, and the concentric circles which crossed each other on
the surface, it could not be doubted that it abounded in fish.

"This lake is really beautiful!" said Gideon Spilett. "We could live on
its borders!"

"We will live there!" replied Harding.

The settlers, wishing to return to the Chimneys by the shortest way,
descended towards the angle formed on the south by the junction of the
lake's bank. It was not without difficulty that they broke a path through
the thickets and brushwood which had never been put aside by the hand of
mm, and they thus went towards the shore, so as to arrive at the north of
Prospect Heights. Two miles were cleared in this direction, and then, after
they had passed the last curtain of trees, appeared the plateau, carpeted
with thick turf, and beyond that the infinite sea.

To return to the Chimneys, it was enough to cross the plateau obliquely
for the space of a mile, and then to descend to the elbow formed by the
first detour of the Mercy. But the engineer desired to know how and where
the overplus of the water from the lake escaped, and the exploration was
prolonged under the trees for a mile and a half towards the north. It was
most probable that an overfall existed somewhere, and doubtless through a
cleft in the granite. This lake was only, in short, an immense center
basin, which was filled by degrees by the creek, and its waters must
necessarily pass to the sea by some fall. If it was so, the engineer
thought that it might perhaps be possible to utilize this fall and borrow
its power, actually lost without profit to any one. They continued then to
follow the shores of Lake Grant by climbing the plateau; but, after having
gone a mile in this direction, Cyrus Harding had not been able to discover
the overfall, which, however, must exist somewhere.

It was then half-past four. In order to prepare for dinner it was
necessary that the settlers should return to their dwelling. The little
band retraced their steps, therefore, and by the left bank of the Mercy,
Cyrus Harding and his companions arrived at the Chimneys.

The fire was lighted, and Neb and Pencroft, on whom the functions of
cooks naturally devolved, to the one in his quality of Negro, to the other
in that of sailor, quickly prepared some broiled agouti, to which they did
great justice.

The repast at length terminated; at the moment when each one was about to
give himself up to sleep, Cyrus Harding drew from his pocket little
specimens of different sorts of minerals, and just said,--

"My friends, this is iron mineral, this a pyrite, this is clay,
this is lime, and this is coal. Nature gives us these things. It is our
business to make a right use of them. To-morrow we will commence
operations."


Jules Verne