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Chapter 22


CHAPTER 22

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
backs."

"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
foxes carcasses.

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
of complaining.

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,
Pencroft."

"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."

"Why?"

"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
down.

"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,
etc.

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
not ended.

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
indoors.

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
to himself.

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
fine season.

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
domain.

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?"

"Suckling-pig."

"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
suckling-pig?'

"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
contented."

"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
cooking myself."

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
guests.

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
sailor.

"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.


Jules Verne