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Chapter 40


CHAPTER 18

"Poor man!" said Herbert, who had rushed to the door, but returned, having
seen Ayrton slide down the rope on the lift and disappear in the darkness.

"He will come back," said Cyrus Harding.

"Come, now, captain," exclaimed Pencroft, "what does that mean? What!
wasn't it Ayrton who threw that bottle into the sea? Who was it then?"

Certainly, if ever a question was necessary to be made, it was that one!

"It was he," answered Neb, "only the unhappy man was half-mad."

"Yes!" said Herbert, "and he was no longer conscious of what he was
doing."

"It can only be explained in that way, my friends," replied Harding
quickly, "and I understand now how Ayrton was able to point out exactly the
situation of Tabor Island, since the events which had preceded his being
left on the island had made it known to him."

"However," observed Pencroft, "if he was not yet a brute when he wrote
that document, and if he threw it into the sea seven or eight years ago,
how is it that the paper has not been injured by damp?"

"That proves," answered Cyrus Harding, "that Ayrton was deprived of
intelligence at a more recent time than he thinks."

"Of course it must be so," replied Pencroft, "without that the fact would
be unaccountable."

"Unaccountable indeed," answered the engineer, who did not appear
desirous to prolong the conversation.

"But has Ayrton told the truth?" asked the sailor.

"Yes," replied the reporter. "The story which he has told is true in
every point. I remember quite well the account in the newspapers of the
yacht expedition undertaken by Lord Glenarvan, and its result."

"Ayrton has told the truth," added Harding. "Do not doubt it, Pencroft,
for it was painful to him. People tell the truth when they accuse
themselves like that!"

The next day--the 21st of December--the colonists descended to the beach,
and having climbed the plateau they found nothing of Ayrton. He had reached
his house in the corral during the night and the settlers judged it best
not to agitate him by their presence. Time would doubtless perform what
sympathy had been unable to accomplish.

Herbert, Pencroft, and Neb resumed their ordinary occupations. On this
day the same work brought Harding and the reporter to the workshop at the
Chimneys.

"Do you know, my dear Cyrus," said Gideon Spilett, "that the explanation
you gave yesterday on the subject of the bottle has not satisfied me at
all! How can it be supposed that the unfortunate man was able to write that
document and throw the bottle into the sea without having the slightest
recollection of it?"

"Nor was it he who threw it in, my dear Spilett."

"You think then--"

"I think nothing, I know nothing!" interrupted Cyrus Harding. "I am
content to rank this incident among those which I have not been able to
explain to this day!"

"Indeed, Cyrus," said Spilett, "these things are incredible! Your rescue,
the case stranded on the sand, Top's adventure, and lastly this bottle...
Shall we never have the answer to these enigmas?"

"Yes!" replied the engineer quickly, "yes, even if I have to penetrate
into the bowels of this island!"

"Chance will perhaps give us the key to this mystery!"

"Chance! Spilett! I do not believe in chance, any more than I believe in
mysteries in this world. There is a reason for everything unaccountable
which has happened here, and that reason I shall discover. But in the
meantime we must work and observe."

The month of January arrived. The year 1867 commenced. The summer
occupations were assiduously continued. During the days which followed,
Herbert and Spilett having gone in the direction of the corral, ascertained
that Ayrton had taken possession of the habitation which had been prepared
for him. He busied himself with the numerous flock confided to his care,
and spared his companions the trouble of coming every two or three days to
visit the corral. Nevertheless, in order not to leave Ayrton in solitude
for too long a time, the settlers often paid him a visit.

It was not unimportant either, in consequence of some suspicions
entertained by the engineer and Gideon Spilett, that this part of the
island should be subject to a surveillance of some sort, and that Ayrton,
if any incident occurred unexpectedly, should not neglect to inform the
inhabitants of Granite House of it.

Nevertheless it might happen that something would occur which it would be
necessary to bring rapidly to the engineer's knowledge. Independently of
facts bearing on the mystery of Lincoln Island, many others might happen,
which would call for the prompt interference of the colonists,--such as the
sighting of a vessel, a wreck on the western coast, the possible arrival of
pirates, etc.

Therefore Cyrus Harding resolved to put the corral in instantaneous
communication with Granite House.

It was on the 10th of January that he made known his project to his
companions.

"Why! how are you going to manage that, captain?" asked Pencroft. "Do you
by chance happen to think of establishing a telegraph?"

"Exactly so," answered the engineer.

"Electric?" cried Herbert.

"Electric," replied Cyrus Harding. "We have all the necessary materials
for making a battery, and the most difficult thing will be to stretch the
wires, but by means of a drawplate I think we shall manage it."

"Well, after that," returned the sailor, "I shall never despair of seeing
ourselves some day rolling along on a railway!"

They then set to work, beginning with the most difficult thing, for, if
they failed in that, it would be useless to manufacture the battery and
other accessories.

The iron of Lincoln Island, as has been said, was of excellent quality,
and consequently very fit for being drawn out. Harding commenced by
manufacturing a drawplate, that is to say, a plate of steel, pierced with
conical holes of different sizes, which would successively bring the wire
to the wished-for tenacity. This piece of steel, after having been
tempered, was fixed in as firm a way as possible in a solid framework
planted in the ground, only a few feet from the great fall, the motive
power of which the engineer intended to utilize. In fact as the fulling-
mill was there, although not then in use, its beam moved with extreme power
would serve to stretch out the wire by rolling it round itself. It was a
delicate operation, and required much care. The iron, prepared previously
in long thin rods, the ends of which were sharpened with the file, having
been introduced into the largest hole of the drawplate, was drawn out by
the beam which wound it round itself, to a length of twenty-five or thirty
feet, then unrolled, and the same operation was performed successively
through the holes of a less size. Finally, the engineer obtained wires from
forty to fifty feet long, which could be easily fastened together and
stretched over the distance of five miles, which separated the corral from
the bounds of Granite House.

It did not take more than a few days to perform this work, and indeed as
soon as the machine had been commenced, Cyrus Harding left his companions
to follow the trade of wiredrawers, and occupied himself with manufacturing
his battery.

It was necessary to obtain a battery with a constant current. It is known
that the elements of modern batteries are generally composed of retort
coal, zinc, and copper. Copper was absolutely wanting to the engineer, who,
notwithstanding all his researches, had never been able to find any trace
of it in Lincoln Island, and was therefore obliged to do without it. Retort
coal, that is to say, the hard graphite which is found in the retorts of
gas manufactories, after the coal has been dehydrogenized, could have been
obtained, but it would have been necessary to establish a special
apparatus, involving great labor. As to zinc, it may be remembered that the
case found at Flotsam Point was lined with this metal, which could not be
better utilized than for this purpose.

Cyrus Harding, after mature consideration, decided to manufacture a very
simple battery, resembling as nearly as possible that invented by Becquerel
in 1820, and in which zinc only is employed. The other substances, azotic
acid and potash, were all at his disposal.

The way in which the battery was composed was as follows, and the results
were to be attained by the reaction of acid and potash on each other. A
number of glass bottles were made and filled with azotic acid. The engineer
corked them by means of a stopper through which passed a glass tube, bored
at its lower extremity, and intended to be plunged into the acid by means
of a clay stopper secured by a rag. Into this tube, through its upper
extremity, he poured a solution of potash, previously obtained by burning
and reducing to ashes various plants, and in this way the acid and potash
could act on each other through the clay.

Cyrus Harding then took two slips of zinc, one of which was plunged into
azotic acid, the other into a solution of potash. A current was immediately
produced, which was transmitted from the slip of zinc in the bottle to that
in the tube, and the two slips having been connected by a metallic wire the
slip in the tube became the positive pole, and that in the bottle the
negative pole of the apparatus. Each bottle, therefore, produced as many
currents as united would be sufficient to produce all the phenomena of the
electric telegraph. Such was the ingenious and very simple apparatus
constructed by Cyrus Harding, an apparatus which would allow them to
establish a telegraphic communication between Granite House and the corral.

On the 6th of February was commenced the planting along the road to the
corral, of posts furnished with glass insulators, and intended to support
the wire. A few days after, the wire was extended, ready to produce the
electric current at a rate of twenty thousand miles a second.

Two batteries had been manufactured, one for Granite House, the other for
the corral; for if it was necessary the corral should be able to
communicate with Granite House it might also be useful that Granite House
should be able to communicate with the corral.

As to the receiver and manipulator, they were very simple. At the two
stations the wire was wound round a magnet, that is to say, round a piece
of soft iron surrounded with a wire. The communication was thus established
between the two poles; the current, starting from the positive pole,
traversed the wire, passed through the magnet which was temporarily
magnetized, and returned through the earth to the negative pole. If the
current was interrupted, the magnet immediately became unmagnetized. It was
sufficient to place a plate of soft iron before the magnet, which,
attracted during the passage of the current, would fall back when the
current was interrupted. This movement of the plate thus obtained, Harding
could easily fasten to it a needle arranged on a dial, bearing the letters
of the alphabet, and in this way communicate from one station to the other.

All was completely arranged by the 12th of February. On this day,
Harding, having sent the current through the wire, asked if all was going
on well at the corral, and received in a few moments a satisfactory reply
from Ayrton. Pencroft was wild with joy, and every morning and evening he
sent a telegram to the corral, which always received an answer.

This mode of communication presented two very real advantages: firstly,
because it enabled them to ascertain that Ayrton was at the corral; and
secondly, that he was thus not left completely isolated. Besides, Cyrus
Harding never allowed a week to pass without going to see him, and Ayrton
came from time to time to Granite House, where he always found a cordial
welcome.

The fine season passed away in the midst of the usual work. The resources
of the colony, particularly in vegetables and corn, increased from day to
day, and the plants brought from Tabor Island had succeeded perfectly.

The plateau of Prospect Heights presented an encouraging aspect. The
fourth harvest had been admirable and it may be supposed that no one
thought of counting whether the four hundred thousand millions of grains
duly appeared in the crop. However, Pencroft had thought of doing so, but
Cyrus Harding having told him that even if he managed to count three
hundred grains a minute, or nine thousand an hour, it would take him nearly
five thousand five-hundred years to finish his task, the honest sailor
considered it best to give up the idea.

The weather was splendid, the temperature very warm in the day time, but
in the evening the sea-breezes tempered the heat of the atmosphere and
procured cool nights for the inhabitants of Granite House. There were,
however, a few storms, which, although they were not of long duration,
swept over Lincoln Island with extraordinary fury. The lightning blazed and
the thunder continued to roll for some hours.

At this period the little colony was extremely prosperous.

The tenants of the poultry-yard swarmed, and they lived on the surplus,
but it became necessary to reduce the population to a more moderate number.
The pigs had already produced young, and it may be understood that their
care for these animals absorbed a great part of Neb and Pencroft's time.
The onagers, who had two pretty colts, were most often mounted by Gideon
Spilett and Herbert, who had become an excellent rider under the reporter's
instruction, and they also harnessed them to the cart either for carrying
wood and coal to Granite House, or different mineral productions required
by the engineer.

Several expeditions were made about this time into the depths of the Far
West Forests. The explorers could venture there without having anything to
fear from the heat, for the sun's rays scarcely penetrated through the
thick foliage spreading above their heads. They thus visited all the left
bank of the Mercy, along which ran the road from the corral to the mouth of
Falls River.

But in these excursions the settlers took care to be well armed, for they
met with savage wild boars, with which they often had a tussle. They also,
during this season, made fierce war against the jaguars. Gideon Spilett had
vowed a special hatred against them, and his pupil Herbert seconded him
well. Armed as they were, they no longer feared to meet one of those
beasts. Herbert's courage was superb, and the reporter's sang-froid
astonishing. Already twenty magnificent skins ornamented the dining-room of
Granite House, and if this continued, the jaguar race would soon be extinct
in the island, the object aimed at by the hunters.

The engineer sometimes took part in the expeditions made to the unknown
parts of the island, which he surveyed with great attention. It was for
other traces than those of animals that he searched the thickets of the
vast forest, but nothing suspicious ever appeared. Neither Top nor Jup, who
accompanied him, ever betrayed by their behavior that there was anything
strange there, and yet more than once again the dog barked at the mouth of
the well, which the engineer had before explored without result.

At this time Gideon Spilett, aided by Herbert, took several views of the
most picturesque parts of the island, by means of the photographic
apparatus found in the cases, and of which they had not as yet made any
use.

This apparatus, provided with a powerful object-glass, was very complete.
Substances necessary for the photographic reproduction, collodion for
preparing the glass plate, nitrate of silver to render it sensitive,
hyposulfate of soda to fix the prints obtained, chloride of ammonium in
which to soak the paper destined to give the positive proof, acetate of
soda and chloride of gold in which to immerse the paper, nothing was
wanting. Even the papers were there, all prepared, and before laying in the
printing-frame upon the negatives, it was sufficient to soak them for a few
minutes in the solution of nitrate of silver.

The reporter and his assistant became in a short time very skilful
operators, and they obtained fine views of the country, such as the island,
taken from Prospect Heights with Mount Franklin in the distance, the mouth
of the Mercy, so picturesquely framed in high rocks, the glade and the
corral, with the spurs of the mountain in the background, the curious
development of Claw Cape, Flotsam Point, etc.

Nor did the photographers forget to take the portraits of all the
inhabitants of the island, leaving out no one.

"It multiplies us," said Pencroft.

And the sailor was enchanted to see his own countenance, faithfully
reproduced, ornamenting the walls of Granite House, and he stopped as
willingly before this exhibition as he would have done before the richest
shop-windows in Broadway.

But it must be acknowledged that the most successful portrait was
incontestably that of Master Jup. Master Jup had sat with a gravity not to
be described, and his portrait was lifelike!

"He looks as if he was just going to grin!" exclaimed Pencroft.

And if Master Jup had not been satisfied, he would have been very
difficult to please; but he was quite contented and contemplated his own
countenance with a sentimental air which expressed some small amount of
conceit.

The summer heat ended with the month of March. The weather was sometimes
rainy, but still warm. The month of March, which corresponds to the
September of northern latitudes, was not so fine as might have been hoped.
Perhaps it announced an early and rigorous winter.

It might have been supposed one morning--the 21 st--that the first snow
had already made its appearance. In fact Herbert looking early from one of
the windows of Granite House, exclaimed,--

"Hallo! the islet is covered with snow!"

"Snow at this time?" answered the reporter, joining the boy.

Their companions were soon beside them, but could only ascertain one
thing, that not only the islet but all the beach below Granite House was
covered with one uniform sheet of white.

"It must be snow!" said Pencroft.

"Or rather it's very like it!" replied Neb.

"But the thermometer marks fifty-eight degrees!" observed Gideon Spilett.

Cyrus Harding gazed at the sheet of white without saying anything, for he
really did not know how to explain this phenomenon, at this time of year
and in such a temperature.

"By Jove!" exclaimed Pencroft, "all our plants will be frozen!"

And the sailor was about to descend, when he was preceded by the nimble
Jup, who slid down to the sand.

But the orang had not touched the ground, when the snowy sheet arose and
dispersed in the air in such innumerable flakes that the light of the sun
was obscured for some minutes.

"Birds!" cried Herbert.

They were indeed swarms of sea-birds, with dazzling white plumage. They
had perched by thousands on the islet and on the shore, and they
disappeared in the distance, leaving the colonists amazed as if they had
been present at some transformation scene, in which summer succeeded winter
at the touch of a fairy's wand. Unfortunately the change had been so
sudden, that neither the reporter nor the lad had been able to bring down
one of these birds, of which they could not recognize the species.

A few days after came the 26th of March, the day on which, two years
before, the castaways from the air had been thrown upon Lincoln Island.


Jules Verne