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Chapter 56


CHAPTER 14

Three years had passed away since the escape of the prisoners from
Richmond, and how often during those three years had they spoken of their
country, always present in their thoughts!

They had no doubt that the civil war was at an end, and to them it
appeared impossible that the just cause of the North had not triumphed. But
what had been the incidents of this terrible war? How much blood had it not
cost? How many of their friends must have fallen in the struggle? They
often spoke of these things, without as yet being able to foresee the day
when they would be permitted once more to see their country. To return
thither, were it but for a few days, to renew the social link with the
inhabited world, to establish a communication between their native land and
their island, then to pass the longest, perhaps the best, portion of their
existence in this colony, founded by them, and which would then be
dependent on their country, was this a dream impossible to realize?

There were only two ways of accomplishing it--either a ship must appear
off Lincoln Island, or the colonists must themselves build a vessel strong
enough to sail to the nearest land.

"Unless," said Pencroft, "our good genius, himself provides us with the
means of returning to our country."

And, really, had any one told Pencroft and Neb that a ship of 300 tons
was waiting for them in Shark Gulf or at Port Balloon, they would not even
have made a gesture of surprise. In their state of mind nothing appeared
improbable.

But Cyrus Harding, less confident, advised them to confine themselves to
fact, and more especially so with regard to the building of a vessel--a
really urgent work, since it was for the purpose of depositing, as soon as
possible, at Tabor Island a document indicating Ayrton's new residence.

As the "Bonadventure" no longer existed, six months at least would be
required for the construction of a new vessel. Now winter was approaching,
and the voyage would not be made before the following spring.

"We have time to get everything ready for the fine season," remarked the
engineer, who was consulting with Pencroft about these matters. "I think,
therefore, my friend, that since we have to rebuild our vessel it will be
best to give her larger dimensions. The arrival of the Scotch yacht at
Tabor Island is very uncertain. It may even be that, having arrived several
months ago, she has again sailed after having vainly searched for some
trace of Ayrton. Will it not then he best to build a ship which, if
necessary, could take us either to the Polynesian Archipelago or to New
Zealand? What do you think?"

"I think, captain," answered the sailor; "I think that you are as capable
of building a large vessel as a small one. Neither the wood nor the tools
are wanting. It is only a question of time."

"And how many months would be required to build a vessel of from 250 to
300 tons?" asked Harding.

"Seven or eight months at least," replied Pencroft. "But it must not be
forgotten that winter is drawing near, and that in severe frost wood is
difficult to work. We must calculate on several weeks delay, and if our
vessel is ready by next November we may think ourselves very lucky."

"Well," replied Cyrus Harding, "that will be exactly the most favorable
time for undertaking a voyage of any importance, either to Tabor Island or
to a more distant land."

"So it will, captain," answered the sailor. "Make out your plans then;
the workmen are ready, and I imagine that Ayrton can lend us a good
helping hand."

The colonists, having been consulted, approved the engineer's plan, and
it was, indeed, the best thing to be done. It is true that the construction
of a ship of from two to three hundred tons would be great labor, but the
colonists had confidence in themselves, justified by their previous
success.

Cyrus Harding then busied himself in drawing the plan of the vessel and
making the model. During this time his companions employed themselves in
felling and carting trees to furnish the ribs, timbers, and planks. The
forest of the Far West supplied the best oaks and elms. They took advantage
of the opening already made on their last excursion to form a practicable
road, which they named the Far West Road, and the trees were carried to the
Chimneys, where the dockyard was established. As to the road in question,
the choice of trees had rendered its direction somewhat capricious, but at
the same time it facilitated the access to a large part of the Serpentine
Peninsula.

It was important that the trees should be quickly felled and cut up, for
they could not be used while yet green, and some time was necessary to
allow them to get seasoned. The carpenters, therefore, worked vigorously
during the month of April, which was troubled only by a few equinoctial
gales of some violence. Master Jup aided them dexterously, either by
climbing to the top of a tree to fasten the ropes or by lending his stout
shoulders to carry the lopped trunks.

All this timber was piled up under a large shed, built near the
Chimneys, and there awaited the time for use.

The month of April was tolerably fine, as October often is in the
northern zone. At the same time other work was actively continued, and soon
all trace of devastation disappeared from the plateau of Prospect Heights.
The mill was rebuilt, and new buildings rose in the poultry-yard. It had
appeared necessary to enlarge their dimensions, for the feathered
population had increased considerably. The stable now contained five
onagers, four of which were well broken, and allowed themselves to be
either driven or ridden, and a little colt. The colony now possessed a
plow, to which the onagers were yoked like regular Yorkshire or Kentucky
oxen. The colonists divided their work, and their arms never tired. Then
who could have enjoyed better health than these workers, and what good
humor enlivened the evenings in Granite House as they formed a thousand
plans for the future!

As a matter of course Ayrton shared the common lot in every respect, and
there was no longer any talk of his going to live at the corral.
Nevertheless he was still sad and reserved, and joined more in the work
than in the pleasures of his companions. But he was a valuable workman at
need--strong, skilful, ingenious, intelligent. He was esteemed and loved by
all, and he could not be ignorant of it.

In the meanwhile the corral was not abandoned. Every other day one of the
settlers, driving the cart or mounted on an onager, went to look after the
flock of musmons and goats and bring back the supply of milk required by
Neb. These excursions at the same time afforded opportunities for hunting.
Therefore Herbert and Gideon Spilett, with Top in front, traversed more
often than their companions the road to the corral, and with the capital
guns which they carried, capybaras, agouties, kangaroos, and wild pigs for
large game, ducks, grouse, jacamars, and snipe for small game, were never
wanting in the house. The produce of the warren, of the oyster-bed, several
turtles which were taken, excellent salmon which came up the Mercy,
vegetables from the plateau, wild fruit from the forest, were riches upon
riches, and Neb, the head cook, could scarcely by himself store them away.

The telegraphic wire between the corral and Granite House had of course
been repaired, and it was worked whenever one or other of the settlers was
at the corral and found it necessary to spend the night there. Besides, the
island was safe now and no attacks were to be feared, at any rate from men.

However, that which had happened might happen again. A descent of
pirates, or even of escaped convicts, was always to be feared. It was
possible that companions or accomplices of Bob Harvey had been in the
secret of his plans, and might be tempted to imitate him. The colonists,
therefore, were careful to observe the sea around the island, and every day
their telescope covered the horizon enclosed by Union and Washington Bays.
when they went to the corral they examined the sea to the west with no less
attention, and by climbing the spur their gaze extended over a large
section of the western horizon.

Nothing suspicious was discerned, but still it was necessary for them to
be on their guard.

The engineer one evening imparted to his friends a plan which he had
conceived for fortifying the corral. It appeared prudent to him to heighten
the palisade and to flank it with a sort of blockhouse, which, if
necessary, the settlers could hold against the enemy. Granite House might,
by its very position, be considered impregnable; therefore the corral with
its buildings, its stores, and the animals it contained, would always be
the object of pirates, whoever they were, who might land on the island, and
should the colonists be obliged to shut themselves up there they ought also
to be able to defend themselves without any disadvantage. This was a
project which might be left for consideration, and they were, besides,
obliged to put off its execution until the next spring.

About the 15th of May the keel of the new vessel lay along the dockyard,
and soon the stem and stern-post, mortised at each of its extremities, rose
almost perpendicularly. The keel, of good oak, measured 110 feet in length,
this allowing a width of five-and-twenty feet to the midship beam. But this
was all the carpenters could do before the arrival of the frosts and bad
weather. During the following week they fixed the first of the stern
timbers, but were then obliged to suspend work.

During the last days of the month the weather was extremely bad. The wind
blew from the east, sometimes with the violence of a tempest. The engineer
was somewhat uneasy on account of the dockyard shed--which besides, he
could not have established in any other place near to Granite House--for
the islet only imperfectly sheltered the shore from the fury of the open
sea, and in great storms the waves beat against the very foot of the
granite cliff.

But, very fortunately, these fears were not realized. The wind shifted to
the southeast, and there the beach of Granite House was completely covered
by Flotsam Point.

Pencroft and Ayrton, the most zealous workmen at the new vessel, pursued
their labor as long as they could. They were not men to mind the wind
tearing at their hair, nor the rain wetting them to the skin, and a blow
from a hammer is worth just as much in bad as in fine weather. But when a
severe frost succeeded this wet period, the wood, its fibers acquiring the
hardness of iron, became extremely difficult to work, and about the 10th of
June shipbuilding was obliged to be entirely discontinued.

Cyrus Harding and his companions had not omitted to observe how severe
was the temperature during the winters of Lincoln Island. The cold was
comparable to that experienced in the States of New England, situated at
almost the same distance from the equator. In the northern hemisphere, or
at any rate in the part occupied by British America and the north of the
United States, this phenomenon is explained by the flat conformation of the
territories bordering on the pole, and on which there is no intumescence of
the soil to oppose any obstacle to the north winds; here, in Lincoln
Island, this explanation would not suffice.

"It has even been observed," remarked Harding one day to his companions,
"that in equal latitudes the islands and coast regions are less tried by
the cold than inland countries. I have often heard it asserted that the
winters of Lombardy, for example, are not less rigorous than those of
Scotland, which results from the sea restoring during the winter the heat
which it received during the summer. Islands are, therefore, in a better
situation for benefiting by this restitution."

"But then, Captain Harding," asked Herbert, "why does Lincoln Island
appear to escape the common law?"

"That is difficult to explain," answered the engineer. "However, I should
be disposed to conjecture that this peculiarity results from the situation
of the island in the Southern Hemisphere, which, as you know, my boy, is
colder than the Northern Hemisphere."

"Yes," said Herbert, "and icebergs are met with in lower latitudes in the
south than in the north of the Pacific."

"That is true," remarked Pencroft, "and when I have been serving on board
whalers I have seen icebergs off Cape Horn."

"The severe cold experienced in Lincoln Island," said Gideon Spilett,
"may then perhaps be explained by the presence of floes or icebergs
comparatively near to Lincoln Island."

"Your opinion is very admissible indeed, my dear Spilett," answered Cyrus
Harding, "and it is evidently to the proximity of icebergs that we owe our
rigorous winters. I would draw your attention also to an entirely physical
cause, which renders the Southern colder than the Northern Hemisphere. In
fact, since the sun is nearer to this hemisphere during the summer, it is
necessarily more distant during the winter. This explains then the excess
of temperature in the two seasons, for, if we find the winters very cold in
Lincoln Island, we must not forget that the summers here, on the contrary,
are very hot."

"But why, if you please, captain," asked Pencroft, knitting his brows,
"why should our hemisphere, as you say, be so badly divided? It isn't just,
that!"

"Friend Pencroft," answered the engineer, laughing, "whether just or not,
we must submit to it, and here lies the reason for this peculiarity. The
earth does not describe a circle around the sun, but an ellipse, as it must
by the laws of rational mechanics. Now, the earth occupies one of the foci
of the ellipse, and so at one point in its course is at its apogee, that
is, at its farthest from the sun, and at another point it is at its
perigee, or nearest to the sun. Now it happens that it is during the winter
of the southern countries that it is at its most distant point from the
sun, and consequently, in a situation for those regions to feel the
greatest cold. Nothing can be done to prevent that, and men, Pencroft,
however learned they may be, can never change anything of the
cosmographical order established by God Himself."

"And yet," added Pencroft, "the world is very learned. what a big book,
captain, might be made with all that is known!"

"And what a much bigger book still with all that is not known!" answered
Harding.

At last, for one reason or another, the month of June brought the cold
with its accustomed intensity, and the settlers were often confined to
Granite House. Ah! how wearisome this imprisonment was to them, and more
particularly to Gideon Spilett.

"Look here," said he to Neb one day, "I would give you by notarial deed
all the estates which will come to me some day, if you were a good enough
fellow to go, no matter where, and subscribe to some newspaper for me!
Decidedly the thing that is most essential to my happiness is the knowing
every morning what has happened the day before in other places than this!"

Neb began to laugh.

"'Pon my word," he replied, "the only thing I think about is my daily
work!"

The truth was that indoors as well as out there was no want of work.

The colony of Lincoln Island was now at its highest point of prosperity,
achieved by three years of continued hard work. The destruction of the brig
had been a new source of riches. Without speaking of the complete rig which
would serve for the vessel now on the stocks, utensils and tools of all
sorts, weapons and ammunition, clothes and instruments, were now piled in
the storerooms of Granite House. It had not even been necessary to resort
again to the manufacture of the coarse felt materials. Though the colonists
had suffered from cold during their first winter, the bad season might now
come without their having any reason to dread its severity. Linen was
plentiful also, and besides, they kept it with extreme care. From chloride
of sodium, which is nothing else than sea salt, Cyrus Harding easily
extracted the soda and chlorine. The soda, which it was easy to change into
carbonate of soda, and the chlorine, of which he made chloride of lime,
were employed for various domestic purposes, and especially in bleaching
linen. Besides, they did not wash more than four times a year, as was done
by families in the olden times, and it may be added, that Pencroft and
Gideon Spilett, while waiting for the postman to bring him his newspaper,
distinguished themselves as washermen.

So passed the winter months, June, July, and August. They were severe,
and the average observations of the thermometer did not give more than
eight degrees of Fahrenheit. It was therefore lower in temperature than the
preceding winter. But then, what splendid fires blazed continually on the
hearths of Granite House, the smoke marking the granite wall with long,
zebra-like streaks! Fuel was not spared, as it grew naturally a few steps
from them. Besides, the chips of the wood destined for the construction of
the ship enabled them to economize the coal, which required more trouble to
transport.

Men and animals were all well. Master Jup was a little chilly, it must be
confessed. This was perhaps his only weakness, and it was necessary to make
him a well-padded dressing-gown. But what a servant he was, clever,
zealous, indefatigable, not indiscreet, not talkative, and he might have
been with reason proposed as a model for all his biped brothers in the Old
and New Worlds!

"As for that," said Pencroft, "when one has four hands at one's service,
of course one's work ought to be done so much the better!"

And indeed the intelligent creature did it well.

During the seven months which had passed since the last researches made
round the mountain, and during the month of September, which brought back
fine weather, nothing was heard of the genius of the island. His power was
not manifested in any way. It is true that it would have been superfluous,
for no incident occurred to put the colonists to any painful trial.

Cyrus Harding even observed that if by chance the communication between
the unknown and the tenants of Granite House had ever been established
through the granite, and if Top's instinct had as it were felt it, there
was no further sign of it during this period. The dog's growling had
entirely ceased, as well as the uneasiness of the orang. The two friends--
for they were such--no longer prowled round the opening of the inner well,
nor did they bark or whine in that singular way which from the first the
engineer had noticed. But could he be sure that this was all that was to be
said about this enigma, and that he should never arrive at a solution?
Could he be certain that some conjuncture would not occur which would bring
the mysterious personage on the scene? who could tell what the future might
have in reserve?

At last the winter was ended, but an event, the consequences of which
might be serious occurred in the first days of the returning spring.

On the 7th of September, Cyrus Harding, having observed the crater, saw
smoke curling round the summit of the mountain, its first vapors rising in
the air.


Jules Verne