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Chapter 35


CHAPTER 13

"A castaway!" exclaimed Pencroft; "left on this Tabor Island not two
hundred miles from us! Ah, Captain Harding, you won't now oppose my going."

"No, Pencroft," replied Cyrus Harding; "and you shall set out as soon as
possible."

"To-morrow?"

"To-morrow!"

The engineer still held in his hand the paper which he had taken from the
bottle. He contemplated it for some instants, then resumed,

"From this document, my friends, from the way in which it is worded, we
may conclude this: first, that the castaway on Tabor Island is a man
possessing a considerable knowledge of navigation, since he gives the
latitude and longitude of the island exactly as we ourselves found it, and
to a second of approximation; secondly, that he is either English or
American, as the document is written in the English language."

"That is perfectly logical," answered Spilett; "and the presence of this
castaway explains the arrival of the case on the shores of our island.
There must have been a wreck, since there is a castaway. As to the latter,
whoever he may be, it is lucky for him that Pencroft thought of building
this boat and of trying her this very day, for a day later and this bottle
might have been broken on the rocks."

"Indeed," said Herbert, "it is a fortunate chance that the 'Bonadventure'
passed exactly where the bottle was still floating!"

"Does not this appear strange to you?" asked Harding of Pencroft.

"It appears fortunate, that's all," answered the sailor. "Do you see
anything extraordinary in it, captain? The bottle must go somewhere, and
why not here as well as anywhere else?"

"Perhaps you are right, Pencroft," replied the engineer; "and yet--"

"But," observed Herbert, "there's nothing to prove that this bottle has
been floating long in the sea."

"Nothing," replied Gideon Spilett, "and the document appears even to have
been recently written. What do you think about it, Cyrus?"

During this conversation Pencroft had not remained inactive. He had put
the vessel about, and the "Bonadventure," all sails set, was running
rapidly towards Claw Cape.

Every one was thinking of the castaway on Tabor Island. Should they be in
time to save him? This was a great event in the life of the colonists! They
themselves were but castaways, but it was to be feared that another might
not have been so fortunate, and their duty was to go to his succor.

Claw Cape was doubled, and about four o'clock the "Bonadventure" dropped
her anchor at the mouth of the Mercy.

That same evening the arrangements for the new expedition were made. It
appeared best that Pencroft and Herbert, who knew how to work the vessel,
should undertake the voyage alone. By setting out the next day, the 10th of
October, they would arrive on the 13th, for with the present wind it would
not take more than forty-eight hours to make this passage of a hundred and
fifty miles. One day in the island, three or four to return, they might
hope therefore that on the 17th they would again reach Lincoln Island. The
weather was fine, the barometer was rising, the wind appeared settled,
everything then was in favor of these brave men whom an act of humanity was
taking far from their island.

Thus it had been agreed that Cyrus Harding, Neb, and Gideon Spilett should
remain at Granite House, but an objection was raised, and Spilett, who had
not forgotten his business as reporter to the New York Herald, having
declared that he would go by swimming rather than lose such an opportunity,
he was admitted to take a part in the voyage.

The evening was occupied in transporting on board the "Bonadventure,"
articles of bedding, utensils, arms, ammunition, a compass, provisions for
a week; this being rapidly done, the colonists ascended to Granite House.

The next day, at five o'clock in the morning, the farewells were said,
not without some emotion on both sides, and Pencroft setting sail made
towards Claw Cape, which had to be doubled in order to proceed to the
southwest.

The "Bonadventure" was already a quarter of a mile from the coast when
the passengers perceived on the heights of Granite House two men waving
their farewells; they were Cyrus Harding and Neb.

"Our friends," exclaimed Spilett, "this is our first separation in
fifteen months."

Pencroft, the reporter and Herbert waved in return, and Granite House
soon disappeared behind the high rocks of the Cape.

During the first part of the day the "Bonadventure" was still in sight of
the southern coast of Lincoln Island, which soon appeared just like a green
basket, with Mount Franklin rising from the center. The heights, diminished
by distance, did not present an appearance likely to tempt vessels to touch
there. Reptile End was passed in about an hour, though at a distance of
about ten miles.

At this distance it was no longer possible to distinguish anything of the
Western Coast, which stretched away to the ridges of Mount Franklin, and
three hours after the last of Lincoln Island sank below the horizon.

The "Bonadventure" behaved capitally. Bounding over the waves she
proceeded rapidly on her course. Pencroft had hoisted the foresail, and
steering by the compass followed a rectilinear direction. From time to time
Herbert relieved him at the helm, and the lad's hand was so firm that the
sailor had not a point to find fault with.

Gideon Spilett chatted sometimes with one, sometimes with the other, if
wanted he lent a hand with the ropes, and Captain Pencroft was perfectly
satisfied with his crew.

In the evening the crescent moon, which would not be in its first quarter
until the 16th, appeared in the twilight and soon set again. The night was
dark but starry, and the next day again promised to be fine.

Pencroft prudently lowered the foresail, not wishing to be caught by a
sudden gust while carrying too much canvas; it was perhaps an unnecessary
precaution on such a calm night, but Pencroft was a prudent sailor and
cannot be blamed for it.

The reporter slept part of the night. Pencroft and Herbert took turns for
a spell of two hours each at the helm. The sailor trusted Herbert as he
would himself, and his confidence was justified by the coolness and
judgment of the lad. Pencroft gave him his directions as a commander to his
steersman, and Herbert never allowed the "Bonadventure" to swerve even a
point. The night passed quickly, as did the day of the 12th of October. A
south-easterly direction was strictly maintained. Unless the "Bonadventure"
fell in with some unknown current she would come exactly within sight of
Tabor Island.

As to the sea over which the vessel was then sailing, it was absolutely
deserted. Now and then a great albatross or frigate bird passed within
gunshot, and Gideon Spilett wondered if it was to one of them that he had
confided his last letter addressed to the New York Herald. These birds were
the only beings that appeared to frequent this part of the ocean between
Tabor and Lincoln Islands.

"And yet," observed Herbert, "this is the time that whalers usually
proceed towards the southern part of the Pacific. Indeed I do not think
there could be a more deserted sea than this."

"It is not quite so deserted as all that," replied Pencroft.

"What do you mean?" asked the reporter.

"We are on it. Do you take our vessel for a wreck and us for porpoises?"

And Pencroft laughed at his joke.

By the evening, according to calculation, it was thought that the
"Bonadventure" had accomplished a distance of a hundred and twenty miles
since her departure from Lincoln Island, that is to say in thirty-six
hours, which would give her a speed of between three and four knots an
hour. The breeze was very slight and might soon drop altogether. However,
it was hoped that the next morning by break of day, if the calculation had
been correct and the course true, they would sight Tabor Island.

Neither Gideon Spilett, Herbert, nor Pencroft slept that night. In the
expectation of the next day they could not but feel some emotion. There was
so much uncertainty in their enterprise! Were they near Tabor Island? Was
the island still inhabited by the castaway to whose succor they had come?
Who was this man? Would not his presence disturb the little colony till
then so united? Besides, would he be content to exchange his prison for
another? All these questions, which would no doubt be answered the next
day, kept them in suspense, and at the dawn of day they all fixed their
gaze on the western horizon.

"Land!" shouted Pencroft at about six o'clock in the morning.

And it was impossible that Pencroft should be mistaken, it was evident
that land was there. Imagine the joy of the little crew of the
"Bonadventure." In a few hours they would land on the beach of the island!

The low coast of Tabor Island, scarcely emerging from the sea, was not
more than fifteen miles distant.

The head of the "Bonadventure," which was a little to the south of the
island, was set directly towards it, and as the sun mounted in the east,
its rays fell upon one or two headlands.

"This is a much less important isle than Lincoln Island," observed
Herbert, "and is probably due like ours to some submarine convulsion."

At eleven o'clock the "Bonadventure" was not more than two miles off, and
Pencroft, while looking for a suitable place at which to land, proceeded
very cautiously through the unknown waters. The whole of the island could
now be surveyed, and on it could be seen groups of gum and other large
trees, of the same species as those growing on Lincoln Island. But the
astonishing thing was that no smoke arose to show that the island was
inhabited, no signal whatever appeared on the shore!

And yet the document was clear enough; there was a castaway, and this
castaway should have been on the watch.

In the meanwhile the "Bonadventure" entered the winding channels among
the reefs, and Pencroft observed every turn with extreme care. He had put
Herbert at the helm, posting himself in the bows, inspecting the water,
while he held the halliard in his hand, ready to lower the sail at a
moment's notice. Gideon Spilett with his glass eagerly scanned the shore,
though without perceiving anything.

However, at about twelve o'clock the keel of the "Bonadventure" grated on
the bottom. The anchor was let go, the sails furled, and the crew of the
little vessel landed.

And there was no reason to doubt that this was Tabor Island, since
according to the most recent charts there was no island in this part of the
Pacific between New Zealand and the American Coast.

The vessel was securely moored, so that there should be no danger of her
being carried away by the receding tide; then Pencroft and his companions,
well armed, ascended the shore, so as to gain an elevation of about two
hundred and fifty or three hundred feet which rose at a distance of half a
mile.

"From the summit of that hill," said Spilett, "we can no doubt obtain a
complete view of the island, which will greatly facilitate our search."

"So as to do here," replied Herbert, "that which Captain Harding did the
very first thing on Lincoln Island, by climbing Mount Franklin."

"Exactly so," answered the reporter, "and it is the best plan."

While thus talking the explorers had advanced along a clearing which
terminated at the foot of the hill. Flocks of rock-pigeons and sea-
swallows, similar to those of Lincoln Island, fluttered around them. Under
the woods which skirted the glade on the left they could hear the bushes
rustling and see the grass waving, which indicated the presence of timid
animals, but still nothing to show that the island was inhabited.

Arrived at the foot of the hill, Pencroft, Spilett, and Herbert climbed
it in a few minutes, and gazed anxiously round the horizon.

They were on an islet, which did not measure more than six miles in
circumference, its shape not much bordered by capes or promontories, bays
or creeks, being a lengthened oval. All around, the lonely sea extended to
the limits of the horizon. No land nor even a sail was in sight.

This woody islet did not offer the varied aspects of Lincoln Island, arid
and wild in one part, but fertile and rich in the other. On the contrary
this was a uniform mass of verdure, out of which rose two or three hills of
no great height. Obliquely to the oval of the island ran a stream through a
wide meadow falling into the sea on the west by a narrow mouth.

"The domain is limited," said Herbert.

"Yes," rejoined Pencroft: "It would have been too small for us."

"And moreover,' said the reporter, "it appears to be uninhabited."

"Indeed," answered Herbert, "nothing here betrays the presence of man."

"Let us go down," said Pencroft, "and search."

The sailor and his two companions returned to the shore, to the place
where they had left the "Bonadventure."

They had decided to make the tour of the island on foot, before exploring
the interior; so that not a spot should escape their investigations. The
beach was easy to follow, and only in some places was their way barred by
large rocks, which, however, they easily passed round. The explorers
proceeded towards the south, disturbing numerous flocks of sea-birds and
herds of seals, which threw themselves into the sea as soon as they saw the
strangers at a distance.

"Those beasts yonder," observed the reporter, "do not see men for the
first time. They fear them, therefore they must know them."

An hour after their departure they arrived on the southern point of the
islet, terminated by a sharp cape, and proceeded towards the north along
the western coast, equally formed by sand and rocks, the background
bordered with thick woods.

There was not a trace of a habitation in any part, not the print of a
human foot on the shore of the island, which after four hours' walking had
been gone completely round.

It was to say the least very extraordinary, and they were compelled to
believe that Tabor Island was not or was no longer inhabited. Perhaps,
after all the document was already several months or several years old, and
it was possible in this case, either that the castaway had been enabled to
return to his country, or that he had died of misery.

Pencroft, Spilett, and Herbert, forming more or less probable conjectures,
dined rapidly on board the "Bonadventure" so as to be able to continue
their excursion until nightfall. This was done at five o'clock in the
evening, at which hour they entered the wood.

Numerous animals fled at their approach, being principally, one might
say, only goats and pigs, which were obviously European species.

Doubtless some whaler had landed them on the island, where they had
rapidly increased. Herbert resolved to catch one or two living, and take
them back to Lincoln Island.

It was no longer doubtful that men at some period or other had visited
this islet, and this became still more evident when paths appeared trodden
through the forest, felled trees, and everywhere traces of the hand of man;
but the trees were becoming rotten, and had been felled many years ago; the
marks of the axe were velveted with moss, and the grass grew long and thick
on the paths, so that it was difficult to find them.

"But," observed Gideon Spilett, "this not only proves that men have
landed on the island, but also that they lived on it for some time. Now,
who were these men? How many of them remain?"

"The document," said Herbert, "only spoke of one castaway."

"Well, if he is still on the island," replied Pencroft, "it is impossible
but that we shall find him."

The exploration was continued. The sailor and his companions naturally
followed the route which cut diagonally across the island, and they were
thus obliged to follow the stream which flowed towards the sea.

If the animals of European origin, if works due to a human hand, showed
incontestably that men had already visited the island, several specimens of
the vegetable kingdom did not prove it less. In some places, in the midst
of clearings, it was evident that the soil had been planted with culinary
plants, at probably the same distant period.

What, then, was Herbert's joy, when he recognized potatoes, chicory,
sorrel, carrots, cabbages, and turnips, of which it was sufficient to
collect the seed to enrich the soil of Lincoln Island.

"Capital, jolly!" exclaimed Pencroft. "That will suit Neb as well as us.
Even if we do not find the castaway, at least our voyage will not have been
useless, and God will have rewarded us."

"Doubtless," replied Gideon Spilett, "but to see the state in which we
find these plantations, it is to be feared that the island has not been
inhabited for some time."

"Indeed," answered Herbert, "an inhabitant, whoever he was, could not have
neglected such an important culture!"

"Yes," said Pencroft, "the castaway has gone."

"We must suppose so."

"It must then be admitted that the document has already a distant date?"

"Evidently."

"And that the bottle only arrived at Lincoln Island after having floated
in the sea a long time."

"Why not?" returned Pencroft. "But night is coming on," added he, "and I
think that it will be best to give up the search for the present."

"Let us go on board, and to-morrow we will begin again," said the
reporter.

This was the wisest course, and it was about to be followed when Herbert,
pointing to a confused mass among the trees, exclaimed,--

"A hut!"

All three immediately ran towards the dwelling. In the twilight it was
just possible to see that it was built of planks and covered with a thick
tarpaulin.

The half-closed door was pushed open by Pencroft, who entered with a
rapid step.

The hut was empty!


Jules Verne