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Chapter 39


CHAPTER 17

These last words justified the colonists' presentiment. There had been some
mournful past, perhaps expiated in the sight of men, but from which his
conscience had not yet absolved him. At any rate the guilty man felt
remorse, he repented, and his new friends would have cordially pressed the
hand which they sought; but he did not feel himself worthy to extend it to
honest men! However, alter the scene with the jaguar, he did not return to
the forest, and from that day did not go beyond the enclosure of Granite
House.

What was the mystery of his life? Would the stranger one day speak of it?
Time alone could show. At any rate, it was agreed that his secret should
never be asked from him, and that they would live with him as if they
suspected nothing.

For some days their life continued as before. Cyrus Harding and Gideon
Spilett worked together, sometimes chemists, sometimes experimentalists. The
reporter never left the engineer except to hunt with Herbert, for it would
not have been prudent to allow the lad to ramble alone in the forest; and
it was very necessary to be on their guard. As to Neb and Pencroft, one day
at the stables and poultry-yard, another at the corral, without reckoning
work in Granite House, they were never in want of employment.

The stranger worked alone, and he had resumed his usual life, never
appearing at meals, sleeping under the trees in the plateau, never mingling
with his companions. It really seemed as if the society of those who had
saved him was insupportable to him!

"But then," observed Pencroft, "why did he entreat the help of his
fellow-creatures? Why did he throw that paper into the sea?"

"He will tell us why," invariably replied Cyrus Harding.

"When?"

"Perhaps sooner than you think, Pencroft."

And, indeed, the day of confession was near.

On the 10th of December, a week after his return to Granite House,
Harding saw the stranger approaching, who, in a calm voice and humble tone,
said to him: "Sir, I have a request to make of you."

"Speak," answered the engineer, "but first let me ask you a question."

At these words the stranger reddened, and was on the point of
withdrawing. Cyrus Harding understood what was passing in the mind of the
guilty man, who doubtless feared that the engineer would interrogate him on
his past life.

Harding held him back.

"Comrade," said he, "we are not only your companions but your friends. I
wish you to believe that, and now I will listen to you."

The stranger pressed his hand over his eyes. He was seized with a sort of
trembling, and remained a few moments without being able to articulate a
word.

"Sir," said he at last, "I have come to beg you to grant me a favor."

"What is it?"

"You have, four or five miles from here, a corral for your domesticated
animals. These animals need to be taken care of. Will you allow me to live
there with them?"

Cyrus Harding gazed at the unfortunate man for a few moments with a
feeling of deep commiseration; then,--


"My friend," said he, "the corral has only stables hardly fit for
animals."

"It will be good enough for me, sir."

"My friend," answered Harding, "we will not constrain you in anything.
You wish to live at the corral, so be it. You will, however, be always
welcome at Granite House. But since you wish to live at the corral we will
make the necessary arrangements for your being comfortably established
there."

"Never mind that, I shall do very well."

"My friend," answered Harding, who always intentionally made use of this
cordial appellation, "you must let us judge what it will be best to do in
this respect."

"Thank you, sir," replied the stranger as he withdrew.

The engineer then made known to his companions the proposal which had
been made to him, and it was agreed that they should build a wooden house
at the corral, which they would make as comfortable as possible.

That very day the colonists repaired to the corral with the necessary
tools, and a week had not passed before the house was ready to receive its
tenant. It was built about twenty feet from the sheds, and from there it
was easy to overlook the flock of sheep, which then numbered more than
eighty. Some furniture, a bed, table, bench, cupboard, and chest were
manufactured, and a gun, ammunition, and tools were carried to the corral.

The stranger, however, had seen nothing of his new dwelling, and he had
allowed the settlers to work there without him, while he occupied himself
on the plateau, wishing, doubtless, to put the finishing stroke to his
work. Indeed, thanks to him, all the ground was dug up and ready to he
sowed when the time came.

It was on the 20th of December that all the arrangements at the corral
were completed. The engineer announced to the stranger that his dwelling
was ready to receive him, and the latter replied that he would go and sleep
there that very evening.

On this evening the colonists were gathered in the diningroom of Granite
House. It was then eight o'clock, the hour at which their companion was to
leave them. Not wishing to trouble him by their presence, and thus imposing
on him the necessity of saying farewells which might perhaps be painful to
him, they had left him alone and ascended to Granite House.

Now, they had been talking in the room for a few minutes, when a light
knock was heard at the door. Almost immediately the stranger entered, and
without any preamble,--

"Gentlemen," said he, "before I leave you, it is right that you should
know my history. I will tell it you."

These simple words profoundly impressed Cyrus Harding and his companions.
The engineer rose.

"We ask you nothing, my friend," said he; "it is your right to be
silent."

"It is my duty to speak."

"Sit down, then."

"No, I will stand."

"We are ready to hear you," replied Harding.

The stranger remained standing in a corner of the room, a little in the
shade. He was bareheaded, his arms folded across his chest, and it was in
this posture that in a hoarse voice, speaking like some one who obliges
himself to speak, he gave the following recital, which his auditors did not
once interrupt:--

"On the 20th of December, 1854, a steam-yacht, belonging to a Scotch
nobleman, Lord Glenarvan, anchored off Cape Bernouilli, on the western
coast of Australia, in the thirty-seventh parallel. On board this yacht
were Lord Glenarvan and his wife, a major in the English army, a French
geographer, a young girl, and a young boy. These two last were the children
of Captain Grant, whose ship, the 'Britannia,' had been lost, crew and
cargo, a year before. The 'Duncan' was commanded by Captain John Mangles,
and manned by a crew of fifteen men.

"This is the reason the yacht at this time lay off the coast of
Australia. Six months before, a bottle, enclosing a document written in
English, German, and French, had been found in the Irish Sea, and picked up
by the 'Duncan.' This document stated in substance that there still existed
three survivors from the wreck of the 'Britannia,' that these survivors
were Captain Grant and two of his men, and that they had found refuge on
some land, of which the document gave the latitude, but of which the
longitude, effaced by the sea, was no longer legible.

"This latitude was 37 11' south; therefore, the longitude being unknown,
if they followed the thirty-seventh parallel over continents and seas, they
would be certain to reach the spot inhabited by Captain Grant and his two
companions. The English Admiralty having hesitated to undertake this
search, Lord Glenarvan resolved to attempt everything to find the captain.
He communicated with Mary and Robert Grant, who joined him. The 'Duncan'
yacht was equipped for the distant voyage, in which the nobleman's family
and the captain's children wished to take part, and the 'Duncan,' leaving
Glasgow, proceeded towards the Atlantic, passed through the Straits of
Magellan, and ascended the Pacific as far as Patagonia, where, according to
a previous interpretation of the document, they supposed that Captain Grant
was a prisoner among the Indians.

"The 'Duncan' disembarked her passengers on the western coast of
Patagonia, and sailed to pick them up again on the eastern coast at Cape
Corrientes. Lord Glenarvan traversed Patagonia, following the thirty-
seventh parallel, and having found no trace of the captain, he re-embarked
on the 13th of November, so as to pursue his search through the Ocean.

"After having unsuccessfully visited the islands of Tristan d'Acunha and
Amsterdam, situated in her course, the 'Duncan,' as I have said, arrived at
Cape Bernouilli, on the Australian coast, on the 20th of December, 1854.

"It was Lord Glenarvan's intention to traverse Australia as he had
traversed America, and he disembarked. A few miles from the coast was
established a farm, belonging to an Irishman, who offered hospitality to
the travelers. Lord Glenarvan made known to the Irishman the cause which
had brought him to these parts, and asked if he knew whether a three-masted
English vessel, the 'Britannia,' had been lost less than two years before
on the west coast of Australia.

"The Irishman had never heard of this wreck, but, to the great surprise
of the bystanders, one of his servants came forward and said,--

"'My lord, praise and thank God! If Captain Grant is still living, he is
living on the Australian shores.'

"'Who are you?' asked Lord Glenarvan.

"'A Scotchman like yourself, my lord,' replied the man; 'I am one of
Captain Grant's crew--one of the castaways of the "Britannia."'

"This man was called Ayrton. He was, in fact, the boatswain's mate of the
'Britannia,' as his papers showed. But, separated from Captain Grant at the
moment when the ship struck upon the rocks, he had till then believed that
the captain with all his crew had perished, and that he, Ayrton, was the
sole survivor of the 'Britannia.'

"'Only,' he added, 'it was not on the west coast, but on the east coast
of Australia that the vessel was lost, and if Captain Grant is still
living, as his document indicates, he is a prisoner among the natives, and
it is on the other coast that he must be looked for.'

"This man spoke in a frank voice and with a confident look; his words
could not be doubted. The irishman, in whose service he had been for more
than a year, answered for his trustworthiness. Lord Glenarvan, therefore,
believed in the fidelity of this man and, by his advice, resolved to cross
Australia, following the thirty-seventh parallel. Lord Glenarvan, his wife,
the two children, the major, the Frenchman, Captain Mangles, and a few
sailors composed the little band under the command of Ayrton, while the
'Duncan,' under charge of the mate, Tom Austin, proceeded to Melbourne,
there to await Lord Glenarvan's instructions.

"They set out on the 23rd of December, 1854.

"It is time to say that Ayrton was a traitor. He was, indeed, the
boatswain's mate of the 'Britannia,' but, after some dispute with his
captain, he endeavored to incite the crew to mutiny and seize the ship, and
Captain Grant had landed him, on the 8th of April, 1852, on the west coast
of Australia, and then sailed, leaving him there, as was only just.

"Therefore this wretched man knew nothing of the wreck of the
'Britannia'; he had just heard of it from Glenarvan's account. Since his
abandonment, he had become, under the name of Ben Joyce, the leader of the
escaped convicts; and if he boldly maintained that the wreck had taken
place on the east coast, and led Lord Glenarvan to proceed in that
direction, it was that he hoped to separate him from his ship, seize the
'Duncan,' and make the yacht a pirate in the Pacific."

Here the stranger stopped for a moment. His voice trembled, but he
continued,--

"The expedition set out and proceeded across Australia. It was inevitably
unfortunate, since Ayrton, or Ben Joyce, as he may be called, guided it,
sometimes preceded, sometimes followed by his band of convicts, who had
been told what they had to do.

"Meanwhile, the 'Duncan' had been sent to Melbourne for repairs. It was
necessary, then, to get Lord Glenarvan to order her to leave Melbourne and
go to the east coast of Australia, where it would be easy to seize her.
After having led the expedition near enough to the coast, in the midst of
vast forests with no resources, Ayrton obtained a letter, which he was
charged to carry to the mate of the 'Duncan'--a letter which ordered the
yacht to repair immediately to the east coast, to Twofold Bay, that is to
say a few days' journey from the place where the expedition had stopped. It
was there that Ayrton had agreed to meet his accomplices, and two days
after gaining possession of the letter, he arrived at Melbourne.

"So far the villain had succeeded in his wicked design. He would be able
to take the 'Duncan' into Twofold Bay, where it would be easy for the
convicts to seize her, and her crew massacred, Ben Joyce would become
master of the seas. But it pleased God to prevent the accomplishment of
these terrible projects.

"Ayrton, arrived at Melbourne, delivered the letter to the mate, Tom
Austin, who read it and immediately set sail, but judge of Ayrton's rage
and disappointment, when the next day he found that the mate was taking the
vessel, not to the east coast of Australia, to Twofold Bay, but to the east
coast of New Zealand. He wished to stop him, but Austin showed him the
letter!... And indeed, by a providential error of the French geographer,
who had written the letter, the east coast of New Zealand was mentioned as
the place of destination.

"All Ayrton's plans were frustrated! He became outrageous. They put him
in irons. He was then taken to the coast of New Zealand, not knowing what
would become of his accomplices, or what would become of Lord Glenarvan.

"The 'Duncan' cruised about on this coast until the 3rd of March. On that
day Ayrton heard the report of guns. The guns on the 'Duncan' were being
fired, and soon Lord Glenarvan and his companions came on board.

"This is what had happened.

"After a thousand hardships, a thousand dangers, Lord Glenarvan had
accomplished his journey, and arrived on the east coast of Australia, at
Twofold Bay. 'No "Duncan!" ' He telegraphed to Melbourne. They answered, '
"Duncan" sailed on the 18th instant. Destination unknown.'

"Lord Glenarvan could only arrive at one conclusion; that his honest
yacht had fallen into the hands of Ben Joyce, and had become a pirate
vessel!

"However, Lord Glenarvan would not give up. He was a bold and generous
man. He embarked in a merchant vessel, sailed to the west coast of New
Zealand, traversed it along the thirty-seventh parallel, without finding
any trace of Captain Grant; but on the other side, to his great surprise,
and by the will of Heaven, he found the 'Duncan,' under command of the
mate, who had been waiting for him for five weeks!

"This was on the 3rd of March, 1855. Lord Glenarvan was now on board the
'Duncan,' but Ayrton was there also. He appeared before the nobleman, who
wished to extract from him all that the villain knew about Captain Grant.
Ayrton refused to speak. Lord Glenarvan then told him, that at the first
port they put into, he would be delivered up to the English authorities.
Ayrton remained mute.

"The 'Duncan' continued her voyage along the thirty-seventh parallel. In
the meanwhile, Lady Glenarvan undertook to vanquish the resistance of the
ruffian.

"At last, her influence prevailed, and Ayrton, in exchange for what he
could tell, proposed that Lord Glenarvan should leave him on some island in
the Pacific, instead of giving him up to the English authorities. Lord
Glenarvan, resolving to do anything to obtain information about Captain
Grant, consented.

"Ayrton then related all his life, and it was certain that he knew
nothing from the day on which Captain Grant had landed him on the
Australian coast.

"Nevertheless, Lord Glenarvan kept the promise which he had given. The
'Duncan' continued her voyage and arrived at Tabor Island. It was there
that Ayrton was to be landed, and it was there also that, by a veritable
miracle, they found Captain Grant and two men, exactly on the thirty-
seventh parallel.

"The convict, then, went to take their place on this desert islet, and at
the moment he left the yacht these words were pronounced by Lord
Glenarvan:--

"'Here, Ayrton, you will be far from any land, and without any possible
communication with your fellow-creatures. You can-not escape from this
islet on which the 'Duncan' leaves you. You will be alone, under the eye of
a God who reads the depths of the heart, but you will be neither lost nor
forgotten, as was Captain Grant. Unworthy as you are to be remembered by
men, men will remember you. I know where you are Ayrton, and I know where
to find you. I will never forget it!

"And the 'Duncan,' making sail, soon disappeared. This was 18th of March,
1855.


(The events which have just been briefly related are taken from a

work which some of our readers have no doubt read, and which is

entitled, "Captain Grant's children." They will remark on this

occasion, as well as later, some discrepancy in the dates; but

later again, they will understand why the real dates were not at

first given.)


"Ayrton was alone, but he had no want of either ammunition, weapons,
tools, or seeds.

"At his, the convict's disposal, was the house built by honest Captain
Grant. He had only to live and expiate in solitude the crimes which he had
committed.

"Gentlemen, he repented, he was ashamed of his crimes and was very
miserable! He said to himself, that if men came some day to take him from
that islet, he must be worthy to return among them! How he suffered, that
wretched man! How he labored to recover himself by work! How he prayed to
be reformed by prayer! For two years, three years, this went on, but
Ayrton, humbled by solitude, always looking for some ship to appear on the
horizon, asking himself if the time of expiation would soon be complete,
suffered as none other suffered! Oh! how dreadful was this solitude, to a
heart tormented by remorse!

"But doubtless Heaven had not sufficiently punished this unhappy man, for
he felt that he was gradually becoming a savage! He felt that brutishness
was gradually gaining on him!

"He could not say if it was after two or three years of solitude, but at
last he became the miserable creature you found!

"I have no need to tell you, gentlemen, that Ayrton, Ben Joyce, and I,
are the same."

Cyrus Harding and his companions rose at the end of this account. It is
impossible to say how much they were moved! What misery, grief, and despair
lay revealed before them!

"Ayrton," said Harding, rising, "you have been a great criminal, but
Heaven must certainly think that you have expiated your crimes! That has
been proved by your having been brought again among your fellow-creatures.
Ayrton, you are forgiven! And now you will be our companion?"

Ayrton drew back.

"Here is my hand!" said the engineer.

Ayrton grasped the hand which Harding extended to him, and great tears
fell from his eyes.

"Will you live with us?" asked Cyrus Harding.

"Captain Harding, leave me some time longer," replied Ayrton, "leave me
alone in the hut in the corral!"

"As you like, Ayrton," answered Cyrus Harding. Ayrton was going to
withdraw, when the engineer addressed one more question to him:--

"One word more, my friend. Since it was your intention to live alone, why
did you throw into the sea the document which put us on your track?"

"A document?" repeated Ayrton, who did not appear to know what he meant.

"Yes, the document which we found enclosed in a bottle, giving us the
exact position of Tabor Island!"

Ayrton passed his hand over his brow, then after having thought, "I never
threw any document into the sea!" he answered.

"Never?" exclaimed Pencroft.

"Never!"

And Ayrton, bowing, reached the door and departed.


Jules Verne