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Chapter 42


CHAPTER 20

Things happened as Pencroft had predicted, he being seldom mistaken in his
prognostications. The wind rose, and from a fresh breeze it soon increased
to a regular gale; that is to say, it acquired a speed of from forty to
forty-five miles an hour, before which a ship in the open sea would have
run under close-reefed topsails. Now. as it was nearly six o'clock when the
"Bonadventure" reached the gulf, and as at that moment the tide turned, it
was impossible to enter. They were therefore compelled to stand off, for
even if he had wished to do so, Pencroft could not have gained the mouth of
the Mercy. Hoisting the jib to the mainmast by way of a storm-sail, he hove
to, putting the head of the vessel towards the land.

Fortunately, although the wind was strong the sea, being sheltered by the
land, did not run very high. They had then little to fear from the waves,
which always endanger small craft. The "Bonadventure" would doubtlessly not
have capsized, for she was well ballasted, but enormous masses of water
falling on the deck might injure her if her timbers could not sustain them.
Pencroft, as a good sailor, was prepared for anything. Certainly, he had
great confidence in his vessel, but nevertheless he awaited the return of
day with some anxiety.

During the night, Cyrus Harding and Gideon Spilett had no opportunity for
talking together, and yet the words pronounced in the reporter's ear by the
engineer were well worth being discussed, together with the mysterious
influence which appeared to reign over Lincoln Island. Gideon Spilett did
not cease from pondering over this new and inexplicable incident, the
appearance of a fire on the coast of the island. The fire had actually been
seen! His companions, Herbert and Pencroft, had seen it with him! The fire
had served to signalize the position of the island during that dark night,
and they had not doubted that it was lighted by the engineer's hand; and
here was Cyrus Harding expressly declaring that he had never done anything
of the sort! Spilett resolved to recur to this incident as soon as the
"Bonadventure" returned, and to urge Cyrus Harding to acquaint their
companions with these strange facts. Perhaps it would be decided to make in
common a complete investigation of every part of Lincoln Island.

However that might be, on this evening no fire was lighted on these yet
unknown shores, which formed the entrance to the gulf, and the little
vessel stood off during the night.

When the first streaks of dawn appeared in the western horizon, the wind,
which had slightly fallen, shifted two points, and enabled Pencroft to
enter the narrow gulf with greater ease. Towards seven o'clock in the
morning, the "Bonadventure," weathering the North Mandible Cape, entered
the strait and glided on to the waters, so strangely enclosed in the frame
of lava.

"Well," said Pencroft, "this bay would make admirable roads, in which a
whole fleet could lie at their ease!"

"What is especially curious," observed Harding, "is that the gulf has
been formed by two rivers of lava, thrown out by the volcano, and
accumulated by successive eruptions. The result is that the gulf is
completely sheltered on all sides, and I believe that even in the stormiest
weather, the sea here must be as calm as a lake."

"No doubt," returned the sailor, "since the wind has only that narrow
entrance between the two capes to get in by, and, besides, the north cape
protects that of the south in a way which would make the entrance of gusts
very difficult. I declare our 'Bonadventure' could stay here from one end
of the year to the other, without even dragging at her anchor!"

"It is rather large for her!" observed the reporter.

"Well! Mr. Spilett," replied the sailor, "I agree that it is too large
for the 'Bonadventure,' but if the fleets of the Union were in want of a
harbor in the Pacific, I don't think they would ever find a better place
than this!"

"We are in the shark's mouth," remarked Nab, alluding to the form of the
gulf.

"Right into its mouth, my honest Nab!" replied Herbert, "but you are not
afraid that it will shut upon us, are you?"

"No, Mr. Herbert," answered Neb, "and yet this gulf here doesn't please
me much! It has a wicked look!"

"Hallo!" cried Pencroft, "here is Neb turning up his nose at my gulf,
just as I was thinking of presenting it to America!"

"But, at any rate, is the water deep enough?" asked the engineer, "for a
depth sufficient for the keel of the 'Bonadventure' would not be enough for
those of our iron-clads."

"That is easily found out," replied Pencroft.

And the sailor sounded with a long cord, which served him as a lead-line,
and to which was fastened a lump of iron. This cord measured nearly fifty
fathoms, and its entire length was unrolled without finding any bottom.

"There," exclaimed Pencroft, "our iron-dads can come here after all! They
would not run aground!"

"Indeed," said Gideon Spilett, "this gulf is a regular abyss, but, taking
into consideration the volcanic origin of the island, it is not astonishing
that the sea should offer similar depressions."

"One would say too," observed Herbert, "that these cliffs were perfectly
perpendicular; and I believe that at their foot, even with a line five or
six times longer, Pencroft would not find bottom."

"That is all very well," then said the reporter, "but I must point out to
Pencroft that his harbor is wanting in one very important respect!"

"And what is that, Mr. Spilett?"

"An opening, a cutting of some sort, to give access to the interior of
the island. I do not see a spot on which we could land." And, in fact, the
steep lava cliffs did not afford a single place suitable for landing. They
formed an insuperable barrier, recalling, but with more wildness, the
fiords of Norway. The "Bonadventure," coasting as close as possible along
the cliffs, did not discover even a projection which would allow the
passengers to leave the deck.

Pencroft consoled himself by saying that with the help of a mine they
could soon open out the cliff when that was necessary, and then, as there
was evidently nothing to be done in the gulf, he steered his vessel towards
the strait and passed out at about two o'clock in the afternoon.

"Ah!" said Nab, uttering a sigh of satisfaction.

One might really say that the honest Negro did not feel at his ease in
those enormous jaws.

The distance from Mandible Cape to the mouth of the Mercy was not more
than eight miles. The head of the "Bonadventure" was put towards Granite
House, and a fair wind filling her sails, she ran rapidly along the coast.

To the enormous lava rocks succeeded soon those capricious sand dunes,
among which the engineer had been so singularly recovered, and which
seabirds frequented in thousands.

About four o'clock, Pencroft leaving the point of the islet on his left,
entered the channel which separated it from the coast, and at five o'clock
the anchor of the  'Bonadventure" was buried in the sand at the mouth of
the Mercy.

The colonists had been absent three days from their dwelling. Ayrton was
waiting for them on the beach, and Jup came joyously to meet them, giving
vent to deep grunts of satisfaction.

A complete exploration of the coast of the island had now been made, and
no suspicious appearances had been observed. If any mysterious being
resided on it, it could only be under cover of the impenetrable forest of
the Serpentine Peninsula, to which the colonists had not yet directed their
investigations.

Gideon Spilett discussed these things with the engineer, and it was
agreed that they should direct the attention of their companions to the
strange character of certain incidents which had occurred on the island,
and of which the last was the most unaccountable.

However, Harding, returning to the fact of a fire having been kindled on
the shore by an unknown hand, could not refrain from repeating for the
twentieth time to the reporter,--

"But are you quite sure of having seen it? Was it not a partial eruption
of the volcano, or perhaps some meteor?"

"No, Cyrus," answered the reporter, "it was certainly a fire lighted by
the hand of man. Besides; question Pencroft and Herbert. They saw it as I
saw it myself, and they will confirm my words."

In consequence, therefore, a few days after, on the 25th of April, in the
evening, when the settlers were all collected on Prospect Heights, Cyrus
Harding began by saying,--

"My friends, I think it my duty to call your attention to certain
incidents which have occurred in the island, on the subject of which I
shall be happy to have your advice. These incidents are, so to speak,
supernatural--"

"Supernatural!" exclaimed the sailor, emitting a volume of smoke from his
mouth. "Can it be possible that our island is supernatural?"

"No, Pencroft, but mysterious, most certainly," replied the engineer;
"unless you can explain that which Spilett and I have until now failed to
understand."

"Speak away, captain," answered the sailor.

"Well, have you understood," then said the engineer, "how was it that
after falling into the sea, I was found a quarter of a mile into the
interior of the island, and that, without my having any consciousness of my
removal there?"

"Unless, being unconscious--" said Pencroft.

"That is not admissible," replied the engineer. "But to continue. Have
you understood how Top was able to discover your retreat five miles from
the cave in which I was lying?"

"The dog's instinct--" observed Herbert.

"Singular instinct!" returned the reporter, "since notwithstanding the
storm of rain and wind which was raging during that night, Top arrived at
the Chimneys, dry and without a speck of mud!"

"Let us continue," resumed the engineer. "Have you understood how our dog
was so strangely thrown up out of the water of the lake, after his struggle
with the dugong?"

"No! I confess, not at all," replied Pencroft, "and the wound which the
dugong had in its side, a wound which seemed to have been made with a sharp
instrument; that can't be understood, either."

"Let us continue again,'  said Harding. "Have you understood, my friends,
how that bullet got into the body of the young peccary; how that case
happened to be so fortunately stranded, without there being any trace of a
wreck; how that bottle containing the document presented itself so
opportunely, during our first sea-excursion; how our canoe, having broken
its moorings, floated down the current of the Mercy and rejoined us at the
very moment we needed it; how after the ape invasion the ladder was so
obligingly thrown down from Granite House; and lastly, how the document,
which Ayrton asserts was never written by him, fell into our hands?"

As Cyrus Harding thus enumerated, without forgetting one, the singular
incidents which had occurred in the island, Herbert, Neb, and Pencroft
stared at each other, not knowing what to reply, for this succession of
incidents, grouped thus for the first time, could not but excite their
surprise to the highest degree.

"'Pon my word," said Pencroft at last, "you are right, captain, and it is
difficult to explain all these things!"

"Well, my friends," resumed the engineer, "a last fact has just been
added to these, and it is no less incomprehensible than the others!"

"What is it, captain?" asked Herbert quickly.

"When you were returning from Tabor Island, Pencroft," continued the
engineer, "you said that a fire appeared on Lincoln Island?"

"Certainly," answered the sailor.

"And you are quite certain of having seen this fire?"

"As sure as I see you now."

"You also, Herbert?"

"Why, captain," cried Herbert, "that fire was blazing like a star of the
first magnitude!"

"But was it not a star?" urged the engineer.

"No," replied Pencroft, "for the sky was covered with thick clouds, and
at any rate a star would not have been so low on the horizon. But Mr.
Spilett saw it as well as we, and he will confirm our words."

"I will add," said the reporter, "that the fire was very bright, and that
it shot up like a sheet of lightning."

"Yes, yes! exactly," added Herbert, "and it was certainly placed on the
heights of Granite House."

"Well, my friends," replied Cyrus Harding, "during the night of the 19th
of October, neither Neb nor I lighted any fire on the coast."

"You did not!" exclaimed Pencroft, in the height of his astonishment, not
being able to finish his sentence.

"We did not leave Granite House," answered Cyrus Harding, "and if a fire
appeared on the coast, it was lighted by another hand than ours!"

Pencroft, Herbert, and Neb were stupefied. No illusion could be possible,
and a fire had actually met their eyes during the night of the 19th of
October. Yes! they had to acknowledge it, a mystery existed! An
inexplicable influence, evidently favorable to the colonists, but very
irritating to their curiosity, was executed always in the nick of time on
Lincoln Island. Could there be some being hidden in its profoundest
recesses? It was necessary at any cost to ascertain this.

Harding also reminded his companions of the singular behavior of Top and
Jup when they prowled round the mouth of the well, which placed Granite
House in communication with the sea, and he told them that he had explored
the well, without discovering anything suspicious. The final resolve taken,
in consequence of this conversation, by all the members of the colony, was
that as soon as the fine season returned they would thoroughly search the
whole of the island.

But from that day Pencroft appeared to be anxious. He felt as if the
island which he had made his own personal property belonged to him entirely
no longer, and that he shared it with another master, to whom, willing or
not, he felt subject. Neb and he often talked of those unaccountable
things, and both, their natures inclining them to the marvelous, were not
far from believing that Lincoln Island was under the dominion of some
supernatural power.

In the meanwhile, the bad weather came with the month of May, the
November of the northern zones. It appeared that the winter would be severe
and forward. The preparations for the winter season were therefore
commenced without delay.

Nevertheless, the colonists were well prepared to meet the winter,
however hard it might be. They had plenty of felt clothing, and the
musmons, very numerous by this time, had furnished an abundance of wool
necessary for the manufacture of this warm material.

It is unnecessary to say that Ayrton had been provided with this
comfortable clothing. Cyrus Harding proposed that he should come to spend
the bad season with them in Granite House, where he would be better lodged
than at the corral, and Ayrton promised to do so, as soon as the last work
at the corral was finished. He did this towards the middle of April. From
that time Ayrton shared the common life, and made himself useful on all
occasions; but still humble and sad, he never took part in the pleasures of
his companions.

For the greater part of this, the third winter which the settlers passed
in Lincoln Island, they were confined to Granite House. There were many
violent storms and frightful tempests, which appeared to shake the rocks to
their very foundations. Immense waves threatened to overwhelm the island,
and certainly any vessel anchored near the shore would have been dashed to
pieces. Twice, during one of these hurricanes, the Mercy swelled to such a
degree as to give reason to fear that the bridges would be swept away, and
it was necessary to strengthen those on the shore, which disappeared under
the foaming waters, when the sea beat against the beach.

It may well be supposed that such storms, comparable to water-spouts in
which were mingled rain and snow, would cause great havoc on the plateau of
Prospect Heights. The mill and the poultry-yard particularly suffered. The
colonists were often obliged to make immediate repairs, without which the
safety of the birds would have been seriously threatened.

During the worst weather, several jaguars and troops of quadrumana
ventured to the edge of the plateau, and it was always to be feared that
the most active and audacious would, urged by hunger, manage to cross the
stream, which besides, when frozen, offered them an easy passage.
Plantations and domestic animals would then have been infallibly destroyed,
without a constant watch, and it was often necessary to make use of the
guns to keep those dangerous visitors at a respectful distance. Occupation
was not wanting to the colonists, for without reckoning their out-door
cares, they had always a thousand plans for the fitting up of Granite
House.

They had also some fine sporting excursions, which were made during the
frost in the vast Tadorn Marsh. Gideon Spilett and Herbert, aided by Jup
and Top, did not miss a shot in the midst of myriads of wild-duck, snipe,
teal, and others. The access to these hunting-grounds was easy; besides,
whether they reached them by the road to Port Balloon, after having passed
the Mercy Bridge, or by turning the rocks from Flotsam Point, the hunters
were never distant from Granite House more than two or three miles.

Thus passed the four winter months, which were really rigorous, that is
to say, June, July, August, and September. But, in short, Granite House did
not suffer much from the inclemency of the weather, and it was the same
with the corral, which, less exposed than the plateau, and sheltered partly
by Mount Franklin, only received the remains of the hurricanes, already
broken by the forests and the high rocks of the shore. The damages there
were consequently of small importance, and the activity and skill of Ayrton
promptly repaired them, when some time in October he returned to pass a few
days in the corral.

During this winter, no fresh inexplicable incident occurred. Nothing
strange happened, although Pencroft and Neb were on the watch for the most
insignificant facts to which they attached any mysterious cause. Top and
Jup themselves no longer growled round the well or gave any signs of
uneasiness. It appeared, therefore, as if the series of supernatural
incidents was interrupted, although they often talked of them during the
evenings in Granite House, and they remained thoroughly resolved that the
island should be searched, even in those parts the most difficult to
explore. But an event of the highest importance, and of which the
consequences might be terrible, momentarily diverted from their projects
Cyrus Harding and his companions.

It was the month of October. The fine season was swiftly returning.
Nature was reviving; and among the evergreen foliage of the coniferae which
formed the border of the wood, already appeared the young leaves of the
banksias, deodars, and other trees.

It may be remembered that Gideon Spilett and Herbert had, at different
times, taken photographic views of Lincoln Island.

Now, on the 17th of this month of October, towards three o'clock in the
afternoon, Herbert, enticed by the charms of the sky, thought of
reproducing Union Bay, which was opposite to Prospect Heights, from Cape
Mandible to Claw Cape.

The horizon was beautifully clear, and the sea, undulating under a soft
breeze, was as calm as the waters of a lake, sparkling here and there under
the sun's rays.

The apparatus had been placed at one of the windows of the dining-room at
Granite House, and consequently overlooked the shore and the bay. Herbert
proceeded as he was accustomed to do, and the negative obtained, he went
away to fix it by means of the chemicals deposited in a dark nook of
Granite House.

Returning to the bright light, and examining it well, Herbert perceived
on his negative an almost imperceptible little spot on the sea horizon. He
endeavored to make it disappear by reiterated washing, but could not
accomplish it.

"It is a flaw in the glass," he thought.

And then he had the curiosity to examine this flaw with a strong
magnifier which he unscrewed from one of the telescopes.

But he had scarcely looked at it, when he uttered a cry, and the glass
almost fell from his hands.

Immediately running to the room in which Cyrus Harding then was, he
extended the negative and magnifier towards the engineer, pointing out the
little spot.

Harding examined it; then seizing his telescope he rushed to the window.

The telescope, after having slowly swept the horizon, at last stopped on
the looked-for spot, and Cyrus Harding, lowering it, pronounced one word
only,--

"A vessel!"

And in fact a vessel was in sight, off Lincoln Island!


Jules Verne