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Chapter 5


CHAPTER 5

Pencroft's first care, after unloading the raft, was to render the cave
habitable by stopping up all the holes which made it draughty. Sand,
stones, twisted branches, wet clay, closed up the galleries open to the
south winds. One narrow and winding opening at the side was kept, to lead
out the smoke and to make the fire draw. The cave was thus divided into
three or four rooms, if such dark dens with which a donkey would scarcely
have been contented deserved the name. But they were dry, and there was
space to stand upright, at least in the principal room, which occupied the
center. The floor was covered with fine sand, and taking all in all they
were well pleased with it for want of a better.

"Perhaps," said Herbert, while he and Pencroft were working, "our
companions have found a superior place to ours."

"Very likely," replied the seaman; "but, as we don't know, we must work
all the same. Better to have two strings to one's bow than no string at
all!"

"Oh!" exclaimed Herbert, "how jolly it will be if they were to find
Captain Harding and were to bring him back with them!"

"Yes, indeed!" said Pencroft, "that was a man of the right sort."

"Was!" exclaimed Herbert, "do you despair of ever seeing him again?"

"God forbid!" replied the sailor. Their work was soon done, and Pencroft
declared himself very well satisfied.

"Now," said he, "our friends can come back when they like. They will find
a good enough shelter."

They now had only to make a fireplace and to prepare the supper--an easy
task. Large flat stones were placed on the ground at the opening of the
narrow passage which had been kept. This, if the smoke did not take the
heat out with it, would be enough to maintain an equal temperature inside.
Their wood was stowed away in one of the rooms, and the sailor laid in the
fireplace some logs and brushwood. The seaman was busy with this, when
Herbert asked him if he had any matches.

"Certainly," replied Pencroft, "and I may say happily, for without
matches or tinder we should be in a fix."

"Still we might get fire as the savages do," replied Herbert, "by rubbing
two bits of dry stick one against the other."

"All right; try, my boy, and let's see if you can do anything besides
exercising your arms."

"Well, it's a very simple proceeding, and much used in the islands of the
Pacific."

"I don't deny it," replied Pencroft, "but the savages must know how to do
it or employ a peculiar wood, for more than once I have tried to get fire
in that way, but I could never manage it. I must say I prefer matches. By
the bye, where are my matches?"

Pencroft searched in his waistcoat for the box, which was always there,
for he was a confirmed smoker. He could not find it; he rummaged the
pockets of his trousers, but, to his horror, he could nowhere discover the
box.

"Here's a go!" said he, looking at Herbert. "The box must have fallen out
of my pocket and got lost! Surely, Herbert, you must have something--a
tinder-box--anything that can possibly make fire!"

"No, I haven't, Pencroft."

The sailor rushed out, followed by the boy. On the sand, among the rocks,
near the river's bank, they both searched carefully, but in vain. The box
was of copper, and therefore would have been easily seen.

"Pencroft," asked Herbert, "didn't you throw it out of the car?"

"I knew better than that," replied the sailor; "but such a small article
could easily disappear in the tumbling about we have gone through. I would
rather even have lost my pipe! Confound the box! Where can it be?"

"Look here, the tide is going down," said Herbert; "let's run to the
place where we landed."

It was scarcely probable that they would find the box, which the waves
had rolled about among the pebbles, at high tide, but it was as well to
try. Herbert and Pencroft walked rapidly to the point where they had landed
the day before, about two hundred feet from the cave. They hunted there,
among the shingle, in the clefts of the rocks, but found nothing. If the
box had fallen at this place it must have been swept away by the waves. As
the sea went down, they searched every little crevice with no result. It
was a grave loss in their circumstances, and for the time irreparable.
Pencroft could not hide his vexation; he looked very anxious, but said not
a word. Herbert tried to console him by observing, that if they had found
the matches, they would, very likely, have been wetted by the sea and
useless.

"No, my boy," replied the sailor; "they were in a copper box which shut
very tightly; and now what are we to do?"

"We shall certainly find some way of making a fire," said Herbert.
"Captain Harding or Mr. Spilett will not be without them."

"Yes," replied Pencroft; "but in the meantime we are without fire, and
our companions will find but a sorry repast on their return."

"But," said Herbert quickly, "do you think it possible that they have no
tinder or matches?"

"I doubt it," replied the sailor, shaking his head, "for neither Neb nor
Captain Harding smoke, and I believe that Mr. Spilett would rather keep his
note-book than his match-box."

Herbert did not reply. The loss of the box was certainly to be regretted,
but the boy was still sure of procuring fire in some way or other.
Pencroft, more experienced, did not think so, although he was not a man to
trouble himself about a small or great grievance. At any rate, there was
only one thing to be done--to await the return of Neb and the reporter; but
they must give up the feast of hard eggs which they had meant to prepare,
and a meal of raw flesh was not an agreeable prospect either for themselves
or for the others.

Before returning to the cave, the sailor and Herbert, in the event of
fire being positively unattainable, collected some more shell-fish, and
then silently retraced their steps to their dwelling.

Pencroft, his eyes fixed on the ground, still looked for his box. He even
climbed up the left bank of the river from its mouth to the angle where the
raft had been moored. He returned to the plateau, went over it in every
direction, searched among the high grass on the border of the forest, all
in vain.

It was five in the evening when he and Herbert re-entered the cave. It is
useless to say that the darkest corners of the passages were ransacked
before they were obliged to give it up in despair. Towards six o'clock,
when the sun was disappearing behind the high lands of the west, Herbert,
who was walking up and down on the strand, signalized the return of Neb and
Spilett.

They were returning alone!... The boy's heart sank; the sailor had not
been deceived in his forebodings; the engineer, Cyrus Harding, had not been
found!

The reporter, on his arrival, sat down on a rock, without saying
anything. Exhausted with fatigue, dying of hunger, he had not strength to
utter a word.

As to Neb, his red eyes showed how he had cried, and the tears which he
could not restrain told too clearly that he had lost all hope.

The reporter recounted all that they had done in their attempt to recover
Cyrus Harding. He and Neb had surveyed the coast for a distance of eight
miles and consequently much beyond the place where the balloon had fallen
the last time but one, a fall which was followed by the disappearance of
the engineer and the dog Top. The shore was solitary; not a vestige of a
mark. Not even a pebble recently displaced; not a trace on the sand; not a
human footstep on all that part of the beach. It was clear that that
portion of the shore had never been visited by a human being. The sea was
as deserted as the land, and it was there, a few hundred feet from the
coast, that the engineer must have found a tomb.

As Spilett ended his account, Neb jumped up, exclaiming in a voice which
showed how hope struggled within him, "No! he is not dead! he can't be
dead! It might happen to any one else, but never to him! He could get out
of anything!" Then his strength forsaking him, "Oh! I can do no more!" he
murmured.

"Neb," said Herbert, running to him, "we will find him! God will give him
back to us! But in the meantime you are hungry, and you must eat
something."

So saying, he offered the poor Negro a few handfuls of shell-fish, which
was indeed wretched and insufficient food. Neb had not eaten anything for
several hours, but he refused them. He could not, would not live without
his master.

As to Gideon Spilett, he devoured the shell-fish, then he laid himself
down on the sand, at the foot of a rock. He was very weak, but calm.
Herbert went up to him, and taking his hand, "Sir," said he, "we have found
a shelter which will be better than lying here. Night is advancing. Come
and rest! To-morrow we will search farther."

The reporter got up, and guided by the boy went towards the cave. On the
way, Pencroft asked him in the most natural tone, if by chance he happened
to have a match or two.

The reporter stopped, felt in his pockets, but finding nothing said, "I
had some, but I must have thrown them away."

The seaman then put the same question to Neb and received the same
answer.

"Confound it!" exclaimed the sailor.

The reporter heard him and seizing his arm, "Have you no matches?" he
asked.

"Not one, and no fire in consequence."

"Ah!" cried Neb, "if my master was here, he would know what to do!"

The four castaways remained motionless, looking uneasily at each other.
Herbert was the first to break the silence by saying, "Mr. Spilett, you are
a smoker and always have matches about you; perhaps you haven't looked
well, try again, a single match will be enough!"

The reporter hunted again in the pockets of his trousers, waistcoat, and
great-coat, and at last to Pencroft's great joy, no less to his extreme
surprise, he felt a tiny piece of wood entangled in the lining of his
waistcoat. He seized it with his fingers through the stuff, but he could
not get it out. If this was a match and a single one, it was of great
importance not to rub off the phosphorus.

"Will you let me try?" said the boy, and very cleverly, without breaking
it, he managed to draw out the wretched yet precious little bit of wood
which was of such great importance to these poor men. It was unused.

"Hurrah!" cried Pencroft; "it is as good as having a whole cargo!" He
took the match, and, followed by his companions, entered the cave.

This small piece of wood, of which so many in an inhabited country are
wasted with indifference and are of no value, must here be used with the
greatest caution.

The sailor first made sure that it was quite dry; that done, "We must
have some paper," said he.

"Here," replied Spilett, after some hesitation tearing a leaf out of his
note-book.

Pencroft took the piece of paper which the reporter held out to him, and
knelt down before the fireplace. Some handfuls of grass, leaves, and dry
moss were placed under the fagots and disposed in such a way that the air
could easily circulate, and the dry wood would rapidly catch fire.

Pencroft then twisted the piece of paper into the shape of a cone, as
smokers do in a high wind, and poked it in among the moss. Taking a small,
rough stone, he wiped it carefully, and with a beating heart, holding his
breath, he gently rubbed the match. The first attempt did not produce any
effect. Pencroft had not struck hard enough, fearing to rub off the
phosphorus.

"No, I can't do it," said he, "my hand trembles, the match has missed
fire; I cannot, I will not!" and rising, he told Herbert to take his place.

Certainly the boy had never in all his life been so nervous. Prometheus
going to steal the fire from heaven could not have been more anxious. He
did not hesitate, however, but struck the match directly.

A little spluttering was heard and a tiny blue flame sprang up, making a
choking smoke. Herbert quickly turned the match so as to augment the flame,
and then slipped it into the paper cone, which in a few seconds too caught
fire, and then the moss.

A minute later the dry wood crackled and a cheerful flame, assisted by
the vigorous blowing of the sailor, sprang up in the midst of the darkness.

"At last!" cried Pencroft, getting up; "I was never so nervous before in
all my life!"

The flat stones made a capital fireplace. The smoke went quite easily out
at the narrow passage, the chimney drew, and an agreeable warmth was not
long in being felt.

They must now take great care not to let the fire go out, and always to
keep some embers alight. It only needed care and attention, as they had
plenty of wood and could renew their store at any time.

Pencroft's first thought was to use the fire by preparing a more
nourishing supper than a dish of shell-fish. Two dozen eggs were brought by
Herbert. The reporter leaning up in a corner, watched these preparations
without saying anything. A threefold thought weighed on his mind. Was Cyrus
still alive? If he was alive, where was he? If he had survived from his
fall, how was it that he had not found some means of making known his
existence? As to Neb, he was roaming about the shore. He was like a body
without a soul.

Pencroft knew fifty ways of cooking eggs, but this time he had no choice,
and was obliged to content himself with roasting them under the hot
cinders. In a few minutes the cooking was done, and the seaman invited the
reporter to take his share of the supper. Such was the first repast of the
castaways on this unknown coast. The hard eggs were excellent, and as eggs
contain everything indispensable to man's nourishment, these poor people
thought themselves well off, and were much strengthened by them. Oh! if
only one of them had not been missing at this meal! If the five prisoners
who escaped from Richmond had been all there, under the piled-up rocks,
before this clear, crackling fire on the dry sand, what thanksgiving must
they have rendered to Heaven! But the most ingenious, the most learned, he
who was their unquestioned chief, Cyrus Harding, was, alas! missing, and
his body had not even obtained a burial-place.

Thus passed the 25th of March. Night had come on. Outside could be heard
the howling of the wind and the monotonous sound of the surf breaking on
the shore. The waves rolled the shingle backwards and forwards with a
deafening noise.

The reporter retired into a dark corner after having shortly noted down
the occurrences of the day; the first appearance of this new land, the loss
of their leader, the exploration of the coast, the incident of the matches,
etc.; and then overcome by fatigue, he managed to forget his sorrows in
sleep. Herbert went to sleep directly. As to the sailor, he passed the
night with one eye on the fire, on which he did not spare fuel. But one of
the castaways did not sleep in the cave. The inconsolable, despairing Neb,
notwithstanding all that his companions could say to induce him to take
some rest, wandered all night long on the shore calling on his master.


Jules Verne