Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 32


CHAPTER 10

When Pencroft had once got a plan in his head, he had no peace till it was
executed. Now he wished to visit Tabor Island, and as a boat of a certain
size was necessary for this voyage, he determined to build one.

What wood should he employ? Elm or fir, both of which abounded in the
island? They decided for the fir, as being easy to work, but which stands
water as well as the elm.

These details settled, it was agreed that since the fine season would not
return before six months, Cyrus Harding and Pencroft should work alone at
the boat. Gideon Spilett and Herbert were to continue to hunt, and neither
Neb nor Master Jup, his assistant, were to leave the domestic duties which
had devolved upon them.

Directly the trees were chosen, they were felled, stripped of their
branches, and sawn into planks as well as sawyers would have been able to
do it. A week after, in the recess between the Chimneys and the cliff, a
dockyard was prepared, and a keel five-and-thirty feet long, furnished with
a stern-post at the stern and a stem at the bows, lay along the sand.

Cyrus Harding was not working in the dark at this new trade. He knew as
much about ship-building as about nearly everything else, and he had at
first drawn the model of his ship on paper. Besides, he was ably seconded
by Pencroft, who, having worked for several years in a dockyard in
Brooklyn, knew the practical part of the trade. It was not until after
careful calculation and deep thought that the timbers were laid on the
keel.

Pencroft, as may be believed, was all eagerness to carry out his new
enterprise, and would not leave his work for an instant.

A single thing had the honor of drawing him, but for one day only, from
his dockyard. This was the second wheat-harvest, which was gathered in on
the 15th of April. It was as much a success as the first, and yielded the
number of grains which had been predicted.

"Five bushels, captain," said Pencroft, alter having scrupulously
measured his treasure.

"Five bushels," replied the engineer; "and a hundred and thirty thousand
grains a bushel will make six hundred and fifty thousand grains."

"Well, we will sow them all this time," said the sailor, "except a little
in reserve."

"Yes, Pencroft, and if the next crop gives a proportionate yield, we
shall have four thousand bushels."

"And shall we eat bread?"

"We shall eat bread."

"But we must have a mill.

"We will make one."

The third corn-field was very much larger than the two first, and the
soil, prepared with extreme care, received the precious seed. That done,
Pencroft returned to his work.

During this time Spilett and Herbert hunted in the neighborhood, and they
ventured deep into the still unknown parts of the Far West, their guns
loaded with ball, ready for any dangerous emergency. It was a vast thicket
of magnificent trees, crowded together as if pressed for room. The
exploration of these dense masses of wood was difficult in the extreme, and
the reporter never ventured there without the pocket-compass, for the sun
scarcely pierced through the thick foliage and it would have been very
difficult for them to retrace their way. It naturally happened that game
was more rare in those situations where there was hardly sufficient room to
move; two or three large herbivorous animals were however killed during the
last fortnight of April. These were koalas, specimens of which the settlers
had already seen to the north of the lake, and which stupidly allowed
themselves to be killed among the thick branches of the trees in which they
took refuge. Their skins were brought back to Granite House, and there, by
the help of sulphuric acid, they were subjected to a sort of tanning
process which rendered them capable of being used.

On the 30th of April, the two sportsmen were in the depth of the Far
West, when the reporter, preceding Herbert a few paces, arrived in a sort
of clearing, into which the trees more sparsely scattered had permitted a
few rays to penetrate. Gideon Spilett was at first surprised at the odor
which exhaled from certain plants with straight stalks, round and branchy,
bearing grape-like clusters of flowers and very small berries. The reporter
broke off one or two of these stalks and returned to the lad, to whom he
said,--

"What can this be, Herbert?"

"Well, Mr. Spilett," said Herbert, "this is a treasure which will secure
you Pencroft's gratitude forever."

"Is it tobacco?"

"Yes, and though it may not be of the first quality, it is none the less
tobacco!"

"Oh, good old Pencroft! Won't he be pleased! But we must not let him
smoke it all, he must give us our share."

"Ah! an idea occurs to me, Mr, Spilett," replied Herbert. "Don't let us
say anything to Pencroft yet; we will prepare these leaves, and one fine
day we will present him with a pipe already filled!"

"All right, Herbert, and on that day our worthy companion will have
nothing left to wish for in this world."

The reporter and the lad secured a good store of the precious plant, and
then returned to Granite House, where they smuggled it in with as much
precaution as if Pencroft had been the most vigilant and severe of custom-
house officers.

Cyrus Harding and Neb were taken into confidence, and the sailor
suspected nothing during the whole time, necessarily somewhat long, which
was required in order to dry the small leaves, chop them up, and subject
them to a certain torrefaction on hot stones. This took two months; but all
these manipulations were successfully carried on unknown to Pencroft, for,
occupied with the construction of his boat, he only returned to Granite
House at the hour of rest.

For some days they had observed an enormous animal two or three miles out
in the open sea swimming around Lincoln Island. This was a whale of the
largest size, which apparently belonged to the southern species, called
the "Cape Whale."

"What a lucky chance it would be if we could capture it!" cried the
sailor. "Ah! if we only had a proper boat and a good harpoon, I would say
'After the beast,' for he would be well worth the trouble of catching!"

"Well, Pencroft," observed Harding, "I should much like to watch you
handling a harpoon. It would be very interesting."

"I am astonished," said the reporter, "to see a whale in this
comparatively high latitude."

"Why so, Mr. Spilett?" replied Herbert. "We are exactly in that part of
the Pacific which English and American whalemen call the whale field, and
it is here, between New Zealand and South America, that the whales of the
Southern Hemisphere are met with in the greatest numbers."

And Pencroft returned to his work, not without uttering a sigh of regret,
for every sailor is a born fisherman, and if the pleasure of fishing is in
exact proportion to the size of the animal, one can judge how a whaler
feels in sight of a whale. And if this had only been for pleasure! But they
could not help feeling how valuable such a prize would have been to the
colony, for the oil, fat, and bones would have been put to many uses.

Now it happened that this whale appeared to have no wish to leave the
waters of the island. Therefore, whether from the windows of Granite House,
or from Prospect Heights, Herbert and Gideon Spilett, when they were not
hunting, or Neb, unless presiding over his fires, never left the telescope,
but watched all the animal's movements. The cetacean, having entered far
into Union Bay, made rapid furrows across it from Mandible Cape to Claw
Cape, propelled by its enormously powerful flukes, on which it supported
itself, and making its way through the water at the rate little short of
twelve knots an hour. Sometimes also it approached so near to the island
that it could be clearly distinguished. It was the southern whale, which is
completely black, the head being more depressed than that of the northern
whale.

They could also see it throwing up from its air-holes to a great height a
cloud of vapor, or of water, for, strange as it may appear, naturalists and
whalers are not agreed on this subject. Is it air or is it water which is
thus driven out? It is generally admitted to be vapor, which, condensing
suddenly by contact with the cold air, falls again as rain.

However, the presence of this mammifer preoccupied the colonists. It
irritated Pencroft especially, as he could think of nothing else while at
work. He ended by longing for it, like a child for a thing which it has
been denied. At night he talked about it in his sleep, and certainly if he
had had the means of attacking it, if the sloop had been in a fit state to
put to sea, he would not have hesitated to set out in pursuit.

But what the colonists could not do for themselves chance did for them,
and on the 3rd of May shouts from Neb, who had stationed himself at the
kitchen window, announced that the whale was stranded on the beach of the
island.

Herbert and Gideon Spilett, who were just about to set out hunting, left
their guns, Pencroft threw down his ax, and Harding and Neb joining their
companions, all rushed towards the scene of action.

The stranding had taken place on the beach of Flotsam Point, three miles
from Granite House, and at high tide. It was therefore probable that the
cetacean would not be able to extricate itself easily; at any rate it was
best to hasten, so as to cut off its retreat if necessary. They ran with
pick-axes and iron-tipped poles in their hands, passed over the Mercy
bridge, descended the right bank of the river, along the beach, and in less
than twenty minutes the settlers were close to the enormous animal, above
which flocks of birds already hovered.

"What a monster!" cried Neb.

And the exclamation was natural, for it was a southern whale, eighty feet
long, a giant of the species, probably not weighing less than a hundred and
fifty thousand pounds!

In the meanwhile, the monster thus stranded did not move, nor attempt by
struggling to regain the water while the tide was still high.

It was dead, and a harpoon was sticking out of its left side.

"There are whalers in these quarters, then?" said Gideon Spilett
directly.

"Oh, Mr. Spilett, that doesn't prove anything!" replied Pencroft. "Whales
have been known to go thousands of miles with a harpoon in the side, and
this one might even have been struck in the north of the Atlantic and come
to die in the south of the Pacific, and it would be nothing astonishing."

Pencroft, having torn the harpoon from the animal's side, read this
inscription on it:


           MARIA STELLA, VINEYARD


"A vessel from the Vineyard! A ship from my country!" he cried. "The
'Maria Stella!' A fine whaler, 'pon my word; I know her well! Oh, my
friends, a vessel from the Vineyard!--a whaler from the Vineyard!"

And the sailor brandishing the harpoon, repeated, not without emotion,
the name which he loved so well--the name of his birthplace.

But as it could not be expected that the "Maria Stella" would come to
reclaim the animal harpooned by her, they resolved to begin cutting it up
before decomposition should commence. The birds, who had watched this rich
prey for several days, had determined to take possession of it without
further delay, and it was necessary to drive them off by firing at them
repeatedly.

The whale was a female, and a large quantity of milk was taken from it,
which, according to the opinion of the naturalist Duffenbach, might pass
for cow's milk, and, indeed, it differs from it neither in taste, color,
nor density.

Pencroft had formerly served on board a whaling-ship, and he could
methodically direct the operation of cutting up, a sufficiently
disagreeable operation lasting three days, but from which the settlers did
not flinch, not even Gideon Spilett, who, as the sailor said, would end by
making a "real good castaway."

The blubber, cut in parallel slices of two feet and a half in thickness,
then divided into pieces which might weigh about a thousand pounds each,
was melted down in large earthen pots brought to the spot, for they did not
wish to taint the environs of Granite House, and in this fusion it lost
nearly a third of its weight.

But there was an immense quantity of it; the tongue alone yielded six
thousand pounds of oil, and the lower lip four thousand. Then, besides the
fat, which would insure for a long time a store of stearine and glycerine,
there were still the bones, for which a use could doubtless be found,
although there were neither umbrellas nor stays used at Granite House. The
upper part of the mouth of the cetacean was, indeed, provided on both sides
with eight hundred horny blades, very elastic, of a fibrous texture, and
fringed at the edge like great combs, at which the teeth, six feet long,
served to retain the thousands of animalculae, little fish, and molluscs,
on which the whale fed.

The operation finished, to the great satisfaction of the operators, the
remains of the animal were left to the birds, who would soon make every
vestige of it disappear, and their usual daily occupations were resumed by
the inmates of Granite House.

However, before returning to the dockyard, Cyrus Harding conceived the
idea of fabricating certain machines, which greatly excited the curiosity
of his companions. He took a dozen of the whale's bones, cut them into six
equal parts, and sharpened their ends.

"This machine is not my own invention, and it is frequently employed by
the Aleutian hunters in Russian America. You see these bones, my friends;
well, when it freezes, I will bend them, and then wet them with water till
they are entirely covered with ice, which will keep them bent, and I will
strew them on the snow, having previously covered them with fat. Now, what
will happen if a hungry animal swallows one of these baits? Why, the heat
of his stomach will melt the ice, and the bone, springing straight, will
pierce him with its sharp points."

"Well! I do call that ingenious!" said Pencroft.

"And it will spare the powder and shot," rejoined Cyrus Harding.

"That will be better than traps!" added Neb.

In the meanwhile the boat-building progressed, and towards the end of the
month half the planking was completed. It could already be seen that her
shape was excellent, and that she would sail well.

Pencroft worked with unparalleled ardor, and only a sturdy frame could
have borne such fatigue; but his companions were preparing in secret a
reward for his labors, and on the 31st of May he was to meet with one of
the greatest joys of his life.

On that day, after dinner, just as he was about to leave the table,
Pencroft felt a hand on his shoulder.

It was the hand of Gideon Spilett, who said,--

"One moment, Master Pencroft, you mustn't sneak off like that! You've
forgotten your dessert."

"Thank you, Mr. Spilett," replied the sailor, "I am going back to my
work."

"Well, a cup of coffee, my friend?"

"Nothing more."

"A pipe, then?"

Pencroft jumped up, and his great good-natured face grew pale when he saw
the reporter presenting him with a ready-filled pipe, and Herbert with a
glowing coal.

The sailor endeavored to speak, but could not get out a word; so, seizing
the pipe, he carried it to his lips, then applying the coal, he drew five
or six great whiffs. A fragrant blue cloud soon arose, and from its depths
a voice was heard repeating excitedly,--

"Tobacco! real tobacco!"

"Yes, Pencroft," returned Cyrus Harding, "and very good tobacco too!"

"O, divine Providence; sacred Author of all things!" cried the sailor.
"Nothing more is now wanting to our island."

And Pencroft smoked, and smoked, and smoked.

"And who made this discovery?" he asked at length. "You, Herbert, no
doubt?"

"No, Pencroft, it was Mr. Spilett."

"Mr. Spilett!" exclaimed the sailor, seizing the reporter, and clasping
him to his breast with such a squeeze that he had never felt anything like
it before.

"Oh Pencroft," said Spilett, recovering his breath at last, "a truce for
one moment. You must share your gratitude with Herbert, who recognized the
plant, with Cyrus, who prepared it, and with Neb, who took a great deal of
trouble to keep our secret."

"Well, my friends, I will repay you some day," replied the sailor. "Now
we are friends for life."


Jules Verne