Chapter 33





CHAPTER 11

Winter arrived with the month of June, which is the December of the
northern zones, and the great business was the making of warm and solid
clothing.

The musmons in the corral had been stripped of their wool, and this
precious textile material was now to be transformed into stuff.

Of course Cyrus Harding, having at his disposal neither carders,
combers, polishers, stretchers, twisters, mule-jenny, nor self-acting
machine to spin the wool, nor loom to weave it, was obliged to proceed in a
simpler way, so as to do without spinning and weaving. And indeed he
proposed to make use of the property which the filaments of wool possess
when subjected to a powerful pressure of mixing together, and of
manufacturing by this simple process the material called felt. This felt
could then be obtained by a simple operation which, if it diminished the
flexibility of the stuff, increased its power of retaining heat in
proportion. Now the wool furnished by the musmons was composed of very
short hairs, and was in a good condition to be felted.

The engineer, aided by his companions, including Pencroft, who was once
more obliged to leave his boat, commenced the preliminary operations, the
subject of which was to rid the wool of that fat and oily substance with
which it is impregnated, and which is called grease. This cleaning was done
in vats filled with water, which was maintained at the temperature of
seventy degrees, and in which the wool was soaked for four-and-twenty
hours; it was then thoroughly washed in baths of soda, and, when
sufficiently dried by pressure, it was in a state to be compressed, that is
to say, to produce a solid material, rough, no doubt, and such as would
have no value in a manufacturing center of Europe or America, but which
would be highly esteemed in the Lincoln Island markets.

This sort of material must have been known from the most ancient times,
and, in fact, the first woolen stuffs were manufactured by the process
which Harding was now about to employ. Where Harding's engineering
qualifications now came into play was in the construction of the machine
for pressing the wool; for he knew how to turn ingeniously to profit the
mechanical force, hitherto unused, which the waterfall on the beach
possessed to move a fulling-mill.

Nothing could be more rudimentary. The wool was placed in troughs, and
upon it fell in turns heavy wooden mallets; such was the machine in
question, and such it had been for centuries until the time when the
mallets were replaced by cylinders of compression, and the material was no
longer subjected to beating, but to regular rolling.

The operation, ably directed by Cyrus Harding, was a complete success.
The wool, previously impregnated with a solution of soap, intended on the
one hand to facilitate the interlacing, the compression, and the softening
of the wool, and on the other to prevent its diminution by the beating,
issued from the mill in the shape of thick felt cloth. The roughnesses with
which the staple of wool is naturally filled were so thoroughly entangled
and interlaced together that a material was formed equally suitable either
for garments or bedclothes. It was certainly neither merino, muslin,
cashmere, rep, satin, alpaca, cloth, nor flannel. It was "Lincolnian felt,"
and Lincoln Island possessed yet another manufacture. The colonists had now
warm garments and thick bedclothes, and they could without fear await the
approach of the winter of 1866-67.

The severe cold began to be felt about the 20th of June, and, to his
great regret, Pencroft was obliged to suspend his boat-building, which he
hoped to finish in time for next spring.

The sailor's great idea was to make a voyage of discovery to Tabor
Island, although Harding could not approve of a voyage simply for
curiosity's sake, for there was evidently nothing to be found on this
desert and almost arid rock. A voyage of a hundred and fifty miles in a
comparatively small vessel, over unknown seas, could not but cause him some
anxiety. Suppose that their vessel, once out at sea, should be unable to
reach Tabor Island, and could not return to Lincoln Island, what would
become of her in the midst of the Pacific, so fruitful of disasters?

Harding often talked over this project with Pencroft, and he found him
strangely bent upon undertaking this voyage, for which determination he
himself could give no sufficient reason.

"Now," said the engineer one day to him, "I must observe, my friend, that
after having said so much, in praise of Lincoln Island, after having spoken
so often of the sorrow you would feel if you were obliged to forsake it,
you are the first to wish to leave it."

"Only to leave it for a few days," replied Pencroft, "only for a few
days, captain. Time to go and come back, and see what that islet is like!"

"But it is not nearly as good as Lincoln Island."

"I know that beforehand."

"Then why venture there?"

"To know what is going on in Tabor Island."

"But nothing is going on there; nothing could happen there."

"Who knows?"

"And if you are caught in a hurricane?"

"There is no fear of that in the fine season," replied Pencroft. "But,
captain, as we must provide against everything, I shall ask your permission
to take Herbert only with me on this voyage."

"Pencroft," replied the engineer, placing his hand on the sailor's
shoulder, "if any misfortune happens to you, or to this lad, whom chance
has made our child, do you think we could ever cease to blame ourselves?"

"Captain Harding," replied Pencroft, with unshaken confidence, "we shall
not cause you that sorrow. Besides, we will speak further of this voyage,
when the time comes to make it. And I fancy, when you have seen our tight-
rigged little craft, when you have observed how she behaves at sea, when we
sail round our island, for we will do so together--I fancy, I say, that you
will no longer hesitate to let me go. I don't conceal from you that your
boat will be a masterpiece."

"Say 'our' boat, at least, Pencroft," replied the engineer, disarmed for
the moment. The conversation ended thus, to be resumed later on, without
convincing either the sailor or the engineer.

The first snow fell towards the end of the month of June. The corral had
previously been largely supplied with stores, so that daily visits to it
were not requisite; but it was decided that more than a week should never
be allowed to pass without someone going to it.

Traps were again set, and the machines manufactured by Harding were
tried. The bent whalebones, imprisoned in a case of ice, and covered with a
thick outer layer of fat, were placed on the border of the forest at a spot
where animals usually passed on their way to the lake.

To the engineer's great satisfaction, this invention, copied from the
Aleutian fishermen, succeeded perfectly. A dozen foxes, a few wild boars,
and even a jaguar, were taken in this way, the animals being found dead,
their stomachs pierced by the unbent bones.

An incident must here be related, not only as interesting in itself, but
because it was the first attempt made by the colonists to communicate with
the rest of mankind.

Gideon Spilett had already several times pondered whether to throw into
the sea a letter enclosed in a bottle, which currents might perhaps carry
to an inhabited coast, or to confide it to pigeons.

But how could it be seriously hoped that either pigeons or bottles could
cross the distance of twelve hundred miles which separated the island from
any inhabited land? It would have been pure folly.

But on the 30th of June the capture was effected, not without difficulty,
of an albatross, which a shot from Herbert's gun had slightly wounded in
the foot. It was a magnificent bird, measuring ten feet from wing to wing,
and which could traverse seas as wide as the Pacific.

Herbert would have liked to keep this superb bird, as its wound would
soon heal, and he thought he could tame it; but Spilett explained to him
that they should not neglect this opportunity of attempting to communicate
by this messenger with the lands of the Pacific; for if the albatross had
come from some inhabited region, there was no doubt but that it would
return there so soon as it was set free.

Perhaps in his heart Gideon Spilett, in whom the journalist sometimes
came to the surface, was not sorry to have the opportunity of sending forth
to take its chance an exciting article relating the adventures of the
settlers in Lincoln Island. What a success for the authorized reporter of
the New York Herald, and for the number which should contain the article,
if it should ever reach the address of its editor, the Honorable James
Bennett!

Gideon Spilett then wrote out a concise account, which was placed in a
strong waterproof bag, with an earnest request to whoever might find it to
forward it to the office of the New York Herald. This little bag was
fastened to the neck of the albatross, and not to its foot, for these birds
are in the habit of resting on the surface of the sea; then liberty was
given to this swift courier of the air, and it was not without some emotion
that the colonists watched it disappear in the misty west.

"Where is he going to?" asked Pencroft.

"Towards New Zealand," replied Herbert.

"A good voyage to you," shouted the sailor, who himself did not expect
any great result from this mode of correspondence.

With the winter, work had been resumed in the interior of Granite House,
mending clothes and different occupations, among others making the sails
for their vessel, which were cut from the inexhaustible balloon-case.

During the month of July the cold was intense, but there was no lack of
either wood or coal. Cyrus Harding had established a second fireplace in
the dining-room, and there the long winter evenings were spent. Talking
while they worked, reading when the hands remained idle, the time passed
with profit to all.

It was real enjoyment to the settlers when in their room, well lighted
with candles, well warmed with coal, after a good dinner, elderberry coffee
smoking in the cups, the pipes giving forth an odoriferous smoke, they
could hear the storm howling without. Their comfort would have been
complete, if complete comfort could ever exist for those who are far from
their fellow-creatures, and without any means of communication with them.
They often talked of their country, of the friends whom they had left, of
the grandeur of the American Republic, whose influence could not but
increase; and Cyrus Harding, who had been much mixed up with the affairs of
the Union, greatly interested his auditors by his recitals, his views, and
his prognostics.

It chanced one day that Spilett was led to say--

"But now, my dear Cyrus, all this industrial and commercial movement to
which you predict a continual advance, does it not run the danger of being
sooner or later completely stopped?"

"Stopped! And by what?"

"By the want of coal, which may justly be called the most precious of
minerals."

"Yes, the most precious indeed," replied the engineer; "and it would seem
that nature wished to prove that it was so by making the diamond, which is
simply pure carbon crystallized."

"You don't mean to say, captain," interrupted Pencroft, "that we burn
diamonds in our stoves in the shape of coal?"

"No, my friend," replied Harding.

"However," resumed Gideon Spilett, "you do not deny that some day the
coal will be entirely consumed?"

"Oh! the veins of coal are still considerable, and the hundred thousand
miners who annually extract from them a hundred millions of hundredweights
have not nearly exhausted them."

"With the increasing consumption of coal," replied Gideon Spilett, "it
can be foreseen that the hundred thousand workmen will soon become two
hundred thousand, and that the rate of extraction will be doubled."

"Doubtless; but after the European mines, which will be soon worked more
thoroughly with new machines, the American and Australian mines will for a
long time yet provide for the consumption in trade."

"For how long a time?" asked the reporter.

"For at least two hundred and fifty or three hundred years."

"That is reassuring for us, but a bad look-out for our great-
grandchildren!" observed Pencroft.

"They will discover something else," said Herbert.

"It is to be hoped so," answered Spilett, "for without coal there would be
no machinery, and without machinery there would be no railways, no
steamers, no manufactories, nothing of that which is indispensable to
modern civilization!"

"But what will they find?" asked Pencroft. "Can you guess, captain?"

"Nearly, my friend."

"And what will they burn instead of coal?"

"Water," replied Harding.

"Water!" cried Pencroft, "water as fuel for steamers and engines! water
to heat water!"

"Yes, but water decomposed into its primitive elements," replied Cyrus
Harding, "and decomposed doubtless, by electricity, which will then have
become a powerful and manageable force, for all great discoveries, by some
inexplicable laws, appear to agree and become complete at the same time.
Yes, my friends, I believe that water will one day be employed as fuel,
that hydrogen and oxygen which constitute it, used singly or together, will
furnish an inexhaustible source of heat and light, of an intensity of which
coal is not capable. Some day the coalrooms of steamers and the tenders of
locomotives will, instead of coal, be stored with these two condensed
gases, which will burn in the furnaces with enormous calorific power. There
is, therefore, nothing to fear. As long as the earth is inhabited it will
supply the wants of its inhabitants, and there will be no want of either
light or heat as long as the productions of the vegetable, mineral or
animal kingdoms do not fail us. I believe, then, that when the deposits of
coal are exhausted we shall heat and warm ourselves with water. Water will
be the coal of the future."

"I should like to see that," observed the sailor.

"You were born too soon, Pencroft," returned Neb, who only took part in
the discussion by these words.

However, it was not Neb's speech which interrupted the conversation, but
Top's barking, which broke out again with that strange intonation which had
before perplexed the engineer. At the same time Top began to run round the
mouth of the well, which opened at the extremity of the interior passage.

"What can Top be barking in that way for?" asked Pencroft.

"And Jup be growling like that?" added Herbert.

In fact the orang, joining the dog, gave unequivocal signs of agitation,
and, singular to say, the two animals appeared more uneasy than angry.

"It is evident," said Gideon Spilett, "that this well is in direct
communication with the sea, and that some marine animal comes from time to
time to breathe at the bottom."

"That's evident," replied the sailor, "and there can be no other
explanation to give. Quiet there, Top!" added Pencroft, turning to the dog,
"and you, Jup, be off to your room!"

The ape and the dog were silent. Jup went off to bed, but Top remained in
the room, and continued to utter low growls at intervals during the rest of
the evening. There was no further talk on the subject, but the incident,
however, clouded the brow of the engineer.

During the remainder of the month of July there was alternate rain and
frost. The temperature was not so low as during the preceding winter, and
its maximum did not exceed eight degrees Fahrenheit. But although this
winter was less cold, it was more troubled by storms and squalls; the sea
besides often endangered the safety of the Chimneys. At times it almost
seemed as if an under-current raised these monstrous billows which
thundered against the wall of Granite House.

When the settlers, leaning from their windows, gazed on the huge watery
masses breaking beneath their eyes, they could not but admire the
magnificent spectacle of the ocean in its impotent fury. The waves
rebounded in dazzling foam, the beach entirely disapppearing under the
raging flood, and the cliff appearing to emerge from the sea itself, the
spray rising to a height of more than a hundred feet.

During these storms it was difficult and even dangerous to venture out,
owing to the frequently falling trees; however, the colonists never allowed
a week to pass without having paid a visit to the corral. Happily, this
enclosure, sheltered by the southeastern spur of Mount Franklin, did not
greatly suffer from the violence of the hurricanes, which spared its trees,
sheds, and palisades; but the poultry-yard on Prospect Heights, being
directly exposed to the gusts of wind from the east, suffered considerable
damage. The pigeon-house was twice unroofed and the paling blown down. All
this required to be remade more solidly than before, for, as may be clearly
seen, Lincoln Island was situated in one of the most dangerous parts of the
Pacific. It really appeared as if it formed the central point of vast
cyclones, which beat it perpetually as the whip does the top, only here it
was the top which was motionless and the whip which moved. During the first
week of the month of August the weather became more moderate, and the
atmosphere recovered the calm which it appeared to have lost forever. With
the calm the cold again became intense, and the thermometer fell to eight
degrees Fahrenheit, below zero.

On the 3rd of August an excursion which had been talked of for several
days was made into the southeastern part of the island, towards Tadorn
Marsh. The hunters were tempted by the aquatic game which took up their
winter quarters there. Wild duck, snipe, teal and grebe abounded there, and
it was agreed that a day should be devoted to an expedition against these
birds.

Not only Gideon Spilett and Herbert, but Pencroft and Neb also took part
in this excursion. Cyrus Harding alone, alleging some work as an excuse,
did not join them, but remained at Granite House.

The hunters proceeded in the direction of Port Balloon, in order to reach
the marsh, after having promised to be back by the evening. Top and Jup
accompanied them. As soon as they had passed over the Mercy Bridge, the
engineer raised it and returned, intending to put into execution a project
for the performance of which he wished to be alone.

Now this project was to minutely explore the interior well, the mouth of
which was on a level with the passage of Granite House, and which
communicated with the sea, since it formerly supplied a way to the waters
of the lake.

Why did Top so often run round this opening? Why did he utter such
strange barks when a sort of uneasiness seemed to draw him towards this
well? Why did Jup join Top in a sort of common anxiety? Had this well
branches besides the communication with the sea? Did it spread towards
other parts of the island? This is what Cyrus Harding wished to know. He
had resolved, therefore, to attempt the exploration of the well during the
absence of his companions, and an opportunity for doing so had now
presented itself.

It was easy to descend to the bottom of the well by employing the rope
ladder which had not been used since the establishment of the lift. The
engineer drew the ladder to the hole, the diameter of which measured nearly
six feet, and allowed it to unroll itself after having securely fastened
its upper extremity. Then, having lighted a lantern, taken a revolver, and
placed a cutlass in his belt, he began the descent.

The sides were everywhere entire; but points of rock jutted out here and
there, and by means of these points it would have been quite possible for
an active creature to climb to the mouth of the well.

The engineer remarked this; but although he carefully examined these
points by the light of his lantern, he could find no impression, no
fracture which could give any reason to suppose that they had either
recently or at any former time been used as a staircase. Cyrus Harding
descended deeper, throwing the light of his lantern on all sides.

He saw nothing suspicious.

When the engineer had reached the last rounds he came upon the water,
which was then perfectly calm. Neither at its level nor in any other part
of the well, did any passage open, which could lead to the interior of the
cliff. The wall which Harding struck with the hilt of his cutlass sounded
solid. It was compact granite, through which no living being could force a
way. To arrive at the bottom of the well and then climb up to its mouth it
was necessary to pass through the channel under the rocky subsoil of the
beach, which placed it in communication with the sea, and this was only
possible for marine animals. As to the question of knowing where this
channel ended, at what point of the shore, and at what depth beneath the
water, it could not be answered.

Then Cyrus Harding, having ended his survey, re-ascended, drew up the
ladder, covered the mouth of the well, and returned thoughtfully to the
diningroom, saying to himself,--

"I have seen nothing, and yet there is something there!"




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