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Chapter 24


CHAPTER 2

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
Tadorn's Fens.

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
sleeve.

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
strange country.

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
only?"

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
under sail.

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
European make.

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
uninjured.

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
facilitate the moving of the chest, towing which the boat soon began to
double the point, to which the name of Flotsam Point was given.

The chest was heavy, and the barrels were scarcely sufficient to keep it
above water. The sailor also feared every instant that it would get loose
and sink to the bottom of the sea. But happily his fears were not realized,
and an hour and a half after they set out--all that time had been taken up
in going a distance of three miles--the boat touched the beach below Granite
House.

Canoe and chest were then hauled up on the sands; and as the tide was
then going out, they were soon left high and dry. Neb, hurrying home,
brought back some tools with which to open the chest in such a way that it
might be injured as little as possible, and they proceeded to its
inventory. Pencroft did not try to hide that he was greatly excited.

The sailor began by detaching the two barrels, which, being in good
condition, would of course be of use. Then the locks were forced with a
cold chisel and hammer, and the lid thrown back. A second casing of zinc
lined the interior of the chest, which had been evidently arranged that the
articles which it enclosed might under any circumstances be sheltered from
damp.

"Oh!" cried Neb, "suppose it's jam!

"I hope not," replied the reporter.

"If only there was--" said the sailor in a low voice.

"What?" asked Neb, who overheard him.

"Nothing!"

The covering of zinc was torn off and thrown back over the sides of the
chest, and by degrees numerous articles of very varied character were
produced and strewn about on the sand. At each new object Pencroft uttered
fresh hurrahs, Herbert clapped his hands, and Neb danced up and down. There
were books which made Herbert wild with joy, and cooking utensils which Neb
covered with kisses!

In short, the colonists had reason to be extremely satisfied, for this
chest contained tools, weapons, instruments, clothes, books; and this is
the exact list of them as stated in Gideon Spilett's note-book:

--Tools:--3 knives with several blades, 2 woodmen's axes, 2 carpenter's
hatchets, 3 planes, 2 adzes, 1 twibil or mattock, 6 chisels, 2 files, 3
hammers, 3 gimlets, 2 augers, 10 bags of nails and screws, 3 saws of
different sizes, 2 boxes of needles.

Weapons:--2 flint-lock guns, 2 for percussion caps, 2 breach-loader
carbines, 5 boarding cutlasses, 4 sabers, 2 barrels of powder, each
containing twenty-five pounds; 12 boxes of percussion caps.

Instruments:--1 sextant, 1 double opera-glass, 1 telescope, 1 box of
mathematical instruments, 1 mariner's compass, 1 Fahrenheit thermometer, 1
aneroid barometer, 1 box containing a photographic apparatus, object-glass,
plates, chemicals, etc.

Clothes:-2 dozen shirts of a peculiar material resembling wool, but
evidently of a vegetable origin; 3 dozen stockings of the same material.

Utensils:-1 iron pot, 6 copper saucepans, 3 iron dishes, 10 metal plates,
2 kettles, 1 portable stove, 6 table-knives,

Books:-1 Bible, 1 atlas, 1 dictionary of the different Polynesian idioms,
1 dictionary of natural science, in six volumes; 3 reams of white paper, 2
books with blank pages.

"It must be allowed," said the reporter, after the inventory had been
made, "that the owner of this chest was a practical man! Tools, weapons,
instruments, clothes, utensils, books--nothing is wanting! It might really
be said that he expected to be wrecked, and had prepared for it
beforehand."

"Nothing is wanting, indeed," murmured Cyrus Harding thoughtfully.

"And for a certainty," added Herbert, "the vessel which carried this
chest and its owner was not a Malay pirate!"

"Unless," said Pencroft, "the owner had been taken prisoner by pirates--"

"That is not admissible," replied the reporter. "It is more probable that
an American or European vessel has been driven into this quarter, and that
her passengers, wishing to save necessaries at least, prepared this chest
and threw it overboard."

"Is that your opinion, captain?" asked Herbert.

"Yes, my boy," replied the engineer, "that may have been the case. It is
possible that at the moment, or in expectation of a wreck, they collected
into this chest different articles of the greatest use in hopes of finding
it again on the coast--"

"Even the photographic box!" exclaimed the sailor incredulously.

"As to that apparatus," replied Harding, "I do not quite see the use of
it; and a more complete supply of clothes or more abundant ammunition would
have been more valuable to us as well as to any other castaways!"

"But isn't there any mark or direction on these instruments, tools, or
books, which would tell us something about them?" asked Gideon Spilett.

That might be ascertained. Each article was carefully examined,
especially the books, instruments and weapons. Neither the weapons nor the
instruments, contrary to the usual custom, bore the name of the maker; they
were, besides, in a perfect state, and did not appear to have been used.
The same peculiarity marked the tools and utensils; all were new, which
proved that the articles had not been taken by chance and thrown into the
chest, but, on the contrary, that the choice of things had been well
considered and arranged with care. This was also indicated by the second
case of metal which had preserved them from damp, and which could not have
been soldered in a moment of haste.

As to the dictionaries of natural science and Polynesian idioms, both
were English; but they neither bore the name of the publisher nor the date
of publication.

The same with the Bible printed in English, in quarto, remarkable from a
typographic point of view, and which appeared to have been often used.

The atlas was a magnificent work, comprising maps of every country in the
world, and several planispheres arranged upon Mercator's projection, and of
which the nomenclature was in French--but which also bore neither date nor
name of publisher.

There was nothing, therefore, on these different articles by which they
could be traced, and nothing consequently of a nature to show the
nationality of the vessel which must have recently passed these shores.

But, wherever the chest might have come from, it was a treasure to the
settlers on Lincoln Island. Till then, by making use of the productions of
nature, they had created everything for themselves, and, thanks to their
intelligence, they had managed without difficulty. But did it not appear as
if Providence had wished to reward them by sending them these productions
of human industry? Their thanks rose unanimously to Heaven.

However, one of them was not quite satisfied: it was Pencroft. It
appeared that the chest did not contain something which he evidently held
in great esteem, for in proportion as they approached the bottom of the
box, his hurrahs diminished in heartiness, and, the inventory finished, he
was heard to mutter these words:--"That's all very fine, but you can see
that there is nothing for me in that box!"

This led Neb to say,--

"Why, friend Pencroft, what more do you expect?"

"Half a pound of tobacco," replied Pencroft seriously, "and nothing would
have been wanting to complete my happiness!"

No one could help laughing at this speech of the sailor's.

But the result of this discovery of the chest was, that it was now more
than ever necessary to explore the island thoroughly. It was therefore
agreed that the next morning at break of day, they should set out, by
ascending the Mercy so as to reach the western shore. If any castaways had
landed on the coast, it was to be feared they were without resources, and
it was therefore the more necessary to carry help to them without delay.

During the day the different articles were carried to Granite House,
where they were methodically arranged in the great hall. This day--the 29th
of October--happened to be a Sunday, and, before going to bed, Herbert asked
the engineer if he would not read them something from the Gospel.

"Willingly," replied Cyrus Harding.

He took the sacred volume, and was about to open it, when Pencroft
stopped him, saying,--"Captain, I am superstitious. Open at random and read
the first verse which, your eye falls upon. We will see if it applies to
our situation."

Cyrus Harding smiled at the sailor's idea, and, yielding to his wish, he
opened exactly at a place where the leaves were separated by a marker.

Immediately his eyes were attracted by a cross which, made with a pencil,
was placed against the eighth verse of the seventh chapter of the Gospel of
St. Matthew. He read the verse, which was this:--

"For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth."


Jules Verne