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Chapter 4


CHAPTER 4

All at once the reporter sprang up, and telling the sailor that he would
rejoin them at that same place, he climbed the cliff in the direction which
the Negro Neb had taken a few hours before. Anxiety hastened his steps, for
he longed to obtain news of his friend, and he soon disappeared round an
angle of the cliff. Herbert wished to accompany him.

"Stop here, my boy," said the sailor; "we have to prepare an encampment,
and to try and find rather better grub than these shell-fish. Our friends
will want something when they come back. There is work for everybody."

"I am ready," replied Herbert.

"All right," said the sailor; "that will do. We must set about it
regularly. We are tired, cold, and hungry; therefore we must have shelter,
fire, and food. There is wood in the forest, and eggs in nests; we have
only to find a house."

"Very well," returned Herbert, "I will look for a cove among the rocks,
and I shall be sure to discover some hole into which we can creep."

"All right," said Pencroft; "go on, my boy."

They both walked to the foot of the enormous wall over the beach, far
from which the tide had now retreated; but instead of going towards the
north, they went southward. Pencroft had remarked, several hundred feet
from the place at which they landed, a narrow cutting, out of which he
thought a river or stream might issue. Now, on the one hand it was
important to settle themselves in the neighborhood of a good stream of
water, and on the other it was possible that the current had thrown Cyrus
Harding on the shore there.

The cliff, as has been said, rose to a height of three hundred feet, but
the mass was unbroken throughout, and even at its base, scarcely washed by
the sea, it did not offer the smallest fissure which would serve as a
dwelling. It was a perpendicular wall of very hard granite, which even the
waves had not worn away. Towards the summit fluttered myriads of sea-fowl,
and especially those of the web-footed species with long, flat, pointed
beaks--a clamorous tribe, bold in the presence of man, who probably for the
first time thus invaded their domains. Pencroft recognized the skua and
other gulls among them, the voracious little sea-mew, which in great
numbers nestled in the crevices of the granite. A shot fired among this
swarm would have killed a great number, but to fire a shot a gun was
needed, and neither Pencroft nor Herbert had one; besides this, gulls and
sea-mews are scarcely eatable, and even their eggs have a detestable taste.
However, Herbert, who had gone forward a little more to the left, soon came
upon rocks covered with sea-weed, which, some hours later, would be hidden
by the high tide. On these rocks, in the midst of slippery wrack, abounded
bivalve shell-fish, not to be despised by starving people. Herbert called
Pencroft, who ran up hastily.

"Here are mussels!" cried the sailor; "these will do instead of eggs!"

"They are not mussels," replied Herbert, who was attentively examining
the molluscs attached to the rocks; "they are lithodomes."

"Are they good to eat?" asked Pencroft.

"Perfectly so."

"Then let us eat some lithodomes."

The sailor could rely upon Herbert; the young boy was well up in natural
history, and always had had quite a passion for the science. His father had
encouraged him in it, by letting him attend the lectures of the best
professors in Boston, who were very fond of the intelligent, industrious
lad. And his turn for natural history was, more than once in the course of
time, of great use, and he was not mistaken in this instance. These
lithodomes were oblong shells, suspended in clusters and adhering very
tightly to the rocks. They belong to that species of molluscous perforators
which excavate holes in the hardest stone; their shell is rounded at both
ends, a feature which is not remarked in the common mussel.

Pencroft and Herbert made a good meal of the lithodomes, which were then
half opened to the sun. They ate them as oysters, and as they had a strong
peppery taste, they were palatable without condiments of any sort.

Their hunger was thus appeased for the time, but not their thirst, which
increased after eating these naturally-spiced molluscs. They had then to
find fresh water, and it was not likely that it would be wanting in such a
capriciously uneven region. Pencroft and Herbert, after having taken the
precaution of collecting an ample supply of lithodomes, with which they
filled their pockets and handkerchiefs, regained the foot of the cliff.

Two hundred paces farther they arrived at the cutting, through which, as
Pencroft had guessed, ran a stream of water, whether fresh or not was to be
ascertained. At this place the wall appeared to have been separated by some
violent subterranean force. At its base was hollowed out a little creek,
the farthest part of which formed a tolerably sharp angle. The watercourse
at that part measured one hundred feet in breadth, and its two banks on
each side were scarcely twenty feet high. The river became strong almost
directly between the two walls of granite, which began to sink above the
mouth; it then suddenly turned and disappeared beneath a wood of stunted
trees half a mile off.

"Here is the water, and yonder is the wood we require!" said Pencroft.
"Well, Herbert, now we only want the house."

The water of the river was limpid. The sailor ascertained that at this
time--that is to say, at low tide, when the rising floods did not reach it
--it was sweet. This important point established, Herbert looked for some
cavity which would serve them as a retreat, but in vain; everywhere the
wall appeared smooth, plain, and perpendicular.

However, at the mouth of the watercourse and above the reach of the high
tide, the convulsions of nature had formed, not a grotto, but a pile of
enormous rocks, such as are often met with in granite countries and which
bear the name of "Chimneys."

Pencroft and Herbert penetrated quite far in among the rocks, by sandy
passages in which light was not wanting, for it entered through the
openings which were left between the blocks, of which some were only
sustained by a miracle of equilibrium; but with the light came also air--a
regular corridor-gale--and with the wind the sharp cold from the exterior.
However, the sailor thought that by stopping-up some of the openings with a
mixture of stones and sand, the Chimneys could be rendered habitable. Their
geometrical plan represented the typographical sign "&," which signifies
"et cetera" abridged, but by isolating the upper mouth of the sign, through
which the south and west winds blew so strongly, they could succeed in
making the lower part of use.

"Here's our work," said Pencroft, "and if we ever see Captain Harding
again, he will know how to make something of this labyrinth."

"We shall see him again, Pencroft," cried Herbert, "and when be returns
he must find a tolerable dwelling here. It will be so, if we can make a
fireplace in the left passage and keep an opening for the smoke."

"So we can, my boy," replied the sailor, "and these Chimneys will serve
our turn. Let us set to work, but first come and get a store of fuel. I
think some branches will be very useful in stopping up these openings,
through which the wind shrieks like so many fiends."

Herbert and Pencroft left the Chimneys, and, turning the angle, they
began to climb the left bank of the river. The current here was quite
rapid, and drifted down some dead wood. The rising tide--and it could
already be perceived--must drive it back with force to a considerable
distance. The sailor then thought that they could utilize this ebb and flow
for the transport of heavy objects.

After having walked for a quarter of an hour, the sailor and the boy
arrived at the angle which the river made in turning towards the left. From
this point its course was pursued through a forest of magnificent trees.
These trees still retained their verdure, notwithstanding the advanced
season, for they belonged to the family of "coniferae," which is spread
over all the regions of the globe, from northern climates to the tropics.
The young naturalist recognized especially the "deedara," which are very
numerous in the Himalayan zone, and which spread around them a most
agreeable odor. Between these beautiful trees sprang up clusters of firs,
whose opaque open parasol boughs spread wide around. Among the long grass,
Pencroft felt that his feet were crushing dry branches which crackled like
fireworks.

"Well, my boy," said he to Herbert, "if I don't know the name of these
trees, at any rate I reckon that we may call them 'burning wood,' and just
now that's the chief thing we want."

"Let us get a supply," replied Herbert, who immediately set to work.

The collection was easily made. It was not even necessary to lop the
trees, for enormous quantities of dead wood were lying at their feet; but
if fuel was not wanting, the means of transporting it was not yet found.
The wood, being very dry, would burn rapidly; it was therefore necessary to
carry to the Chimneys a considerable quantity, and the loads of two men
would not be sufficient. Herbert remarked this.

"Well, my boy," replied the sailor, "there must be some way of carrying
this wood; there is always a way of doing everything. If we had a cart or a
boat, it would be easy enough."

"But we have the river," said Herbert.

"Right," replied Pencroft; "the river will be to us like a road which
carries of itself, and rafts have not been invented for nothing."

"Only," observed Herbert, "at this moment our road is going the wrong
way, for the tide is rising!"

"We shall be all right if we wait till it ebbs," replied the sailor, "and
then we will trust it to carry our fuel to the Chimneys. Let us get the
raft ready."

The sailor, followed by Herbert, directed his steps towards the river.
They both carried, each in proportion to his strength, a load of wood bound
in fagots. They found on the bank also a great quantity of dead branches in
the midst of grass, among which the foot of man had probably never before
trod. Pencroft began directly to make his raft. In a kind of little bay,
created by a point of the shore which broke the current, the sailor and the
lad placed some good-sized pieces of wood, which they had fastened together
with dry creepers. A raft was thus formed, on which they stacked all they
had collected, sufficient, indeed, to have loaded at least twenty men. In
an hour the work was finished, and the raft moored to the bank, awaited the
turning of the tide.

There were still several hours to be occupied, and with one consent
Pencroft and Herbert resolved to gain the upper plateau, so as to have a
more extended view of the surrounding country.

Exactly two hundred feet behind the angle formed by the river, the wall,
terminated by a fall of rocks, died away in a gentle slope to the edge of
the forest. It was a natural staircase. Herbert and the sailor began their
ascent; thanks to the vigor of their muscles they reached the summit in a
few minutes; and proceeded to the point above the mouth of the river.

On attaining it, their first look was cast upon the ocean which not long
before they had traversed in such a terrible condition. They observed, with
emotion, all that part to the north of the coast on which the catastrophe
had taken place. It was there that Cyrus Harding had disappeared. They
looked to see if some portion of their balloon, to which a man might
possibly cling, yet existed. Nothing! The sea was but one vast watery
desert. As to the coast, it was solitary also. Neither the reporter nor Neb
could be anywhere seen. But it was possible that at this time they were
both too far away to be perceived.

"Something tells me," cried Herbert, "that a man as energetic as Captain
Harding would not let himself be drowned like other people. He must have
reached some point of the shore; don't you think so, Pencroft?"

The sailor shook his head sadly. He little expected ever to see Cyrus
Harding again; but wishing to leave some hope to Herbert: "Doubtless,
doubtless," said he; "our engineer is a man who would get out of a scrape
to which any one else would yield."

In the meantime he examined the coast with great attention. Stretched out
below them was the sandy shore, bounded on the right of the river's mouth
by lines of breakers. The rocks which were visible appeared like amphibious
monsters reposing in the surf. Beyond the reef, the sea sparkled beneath
the sun's rays. To the south a sharp point closed the horizon, and it could
not be seen if the land was prolonged in that direction, or if it ran
southeast and southwest, which would have made this coast a very long
peninsula. At the northern extremity of the bay the outline of the shore
was continued to a great distance in a wider curve. There the shore was
low, flat, without cliffs, and with great banks of sand, which the tide
left uncovered. Pencroft and Herbert then returned towards the west. Their
attention was first arrested by the snow-topped mountain which rose at a
distance of six or seven miles. From its first declivities to within two
miles of the coast were spread vast masses of wood, relieved by large green
patches, caused by the presence of evergreen trees. Then, from the edge of
this forest to the shore extended a plain, scattered irregularly with
groups of trees. Here and there on the left sparkled through glades the
waters of the little river; they could trace its winding course back
towards the spurs of the mountain, among which it seemed to spring. At the
point where the sailor had left his raft of wood, it began to run between
the two high granite walls; but if on the left bank the wall remained clear
and abrupt, on the right bank, on the contrary, it sank gradually, the
massive sides changed to isolated rocks, the rocks to stones, the stones to
shingle running to the extremity of the point.

"Are we on an island?" murmured the sailor.

"At any rate, it seems to be big enough," replied the lad.

"An island, ever so big, is an island all the same!" said Pencroft.

But this important question could not yet be answered. A more perfect
survey had to be made to settle the point. As to the land itself, island or
continent, it appeared fertile, agreeable in its aspect, and varied in its
productions.

"This is satisfactory," observed Pencroft; "and in our misfortune, we
must thank Providence for it."

"God be praised!" responded Herbert, whose pious heart was full of
gratitude to the Author of all things.

Pencroft and Herbert examined for some time the country on which they had
been cast; but it was difficult to guess after so hasty an inspection what
the future had in store for them.

They then returned, following the southern crest of the granite platform,
bordered by a long fringe of jagged rocks, of the most whimsical shapes.
Some hundreds of birds lived there nestled in the holes of the stone;
Herbert, jumping over the rocks, startled a whole flock of these winged
creatures.

"Oh!" cried he, "those are not gulls nor sea-mews!"

"What are they then?" asked Pencroft.

"Upon my word, one would say they were pigeons!"

"Just so, but these are wild or rock pigeons. I recognize them by the
double band of black on the wing, by the white tail, and by their slate-
colored plumage. But if the rock-pigeon is good to eat, its eggs must be
excellent, and we will soon see how many they may have left in their
nests!"

"We will not give them time to hatch, unless it is in the shape of an
omelet!" replied Pencroft merrily.

"But what will you make your omelet in?" asked Herbert; "in your hat?"

"Well!" replied the sailor, "I am not quite conjuror enough for that; we
must come down to eggs in the shell, my boy, and I will undertake to
despatch the hardest!"

Pencroft and Herbert attentively examined the cavities in the granite,
and they really found eggs in some of the hollows. A few dozen being
collected, were packed in the sailor's handkerchief, and as the time when
the tide would be full was approaching, Pencroft and Herbert began to
redescend towards the watercourse. When they arrived there, it was an hour
after midday. The tide had already turned. They must now avail themselves
of the ebb to take the wood to the mouth. Pencroft did not intend to let
the raft go away in the current without guidance, neither did he mean to
embark on it himself to steer it. But a sailor is never at a loss when
there is a question of cables or ropes, and Pencroft rapidly twisted a
cord, a few fathoms long, made of dry creepers. This vegetable cable was
fastened to the after-part of the raft, and the sailor held it in his hand
while Herbert, pushing off the raft with a long pole, kept it in the
current. This succeeded capitally. The enormous load of wood drifted down
the current. The bank was very equal; there was no fear that the raft would
run aground, and before two o'clock they arrived at the river's mouth, a
few paces from the Chimneys.


Jules Verne