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Chapter 57


CHAPTER 15

The colonists, warned by the engineer, left their work and gazed in silence
at the summit of Mount Franklin.

The volcano had awoke, and the vapor had penetrated the mineral layer
heaped at the bottom of the crater. But would the subterranean fires
provoke any violent eruption? This was an event which could not be
foreseen. However, even while admitting the possibility of an eruption, it
was not probable that the whole of Lincoln Island would suffer from it. The
flow of volcanic matter is not always disastrous, and the island had
already undergone this trial, as was shown by the streams of lava hardened
on the northern slopes of the mountain. Besides, from the shape of the
crater--the opening broken in the upper edge--the matter would be thrown to
the side opposite the fertile regions of the island.

However, the past did not necessarily answer for the future. Often, at
the summit of volcanoes, the old craters close and new ones open. This had
occurred in the two hemispheres--at Etna, Popocatepetl, at Orizabaand on
the eve of an eruption there is everything to be feared. In fact, an
earthquake--a phenomenon which often accompanies volcanic eruption--is
enough to change the interior arrangement of a mountain, and to open new
outlets for the burning lava.

Cyrus Harding explained these things to his companions, and, without
exaggerating the state of things, he told them all the pros and cons. After
all, they could not prevent it. It did not appear likely that Granite House
would be threatened unless the ground was shaken by an earthquake. But the
corral would be in great danger should a new crater open in the southern
side of Mount Franklin.

From that day the smoke never disappeared from the top of the mountain,
and it could even be perceived that it increased in height and thickness,
without any flame mingling in its heavy volumes. The phenomenon was still
concentrated in the lower part of the central crater.

However, with the fine days work had been continued. The building of the
vessel was hastened as much as possible, and, by means of the waterfall on
the shore, Cyrus Harding managed to establish an hydraulic sawmill, which
rapidly cut up the trunks of trees into planks and joists. The mechanism of
this apparatus was as simple as those used in the rustic sawmills of
Norway. A first horizontal movement to move the piece of wood, a second
vertical movement to move the saw--this was all that was wanted; and the
engineer succeeded by means of a wheel, two cylinders, and pulleys properly
arranged. Towards the end of the month of September the skeleton of the
vessel, which was to be rigged as a schooner, lay in the dockyard. The ribs
were almost entirely completed, and, all the timbers having been sustained
by a provisional band, the shape of the vessel could already be seen. The
schooner, sharp in the bows, very slender in the after-part, would
evidently be suitable for a long voyage, if wanted; but laying the planking
would still take a considerable time. Very fortunately, the iron work of
the pirate brig had been saved after the explosion. From the planks and
injured ribs Pencroft and Ayrton had extracted the bolts and a large
quantity of copper nails. It was so much work saved for the smiths, but the
carpenters had much to do.

Shipbuilding was interrupted for a week for the harvest, the haymaking,
and the gathering in of the different crops on the plateau. This work
finished, every moment was devoted to finishing the schooner. when night
came the workmen were really quite exhausted. So as not to lose any time
they had changed the hours for their meals; they dined at twelve o'clock,
and only had their supper when daylight failed them. They then ascended to
Granite House, when they were always ready to go to bed.

Sometimes, however, when the conversation bore on some interesting
subject the hour for sleep was delayed for a time. The colonists then spoke
of the future, and talked willingly of the changes which a voyage in the
schooner to inhabited lands would make in their situation. But always, in
the midst of these plans, prevailed the thought of a subsequent return to
Lincoln Island. Never would they abandon this colony, founded with so much
labor and with such success, and to which a communication with America
would afford a fresh impetus. Pencroft and Neb especially hoped to end
their days there.

"Herbert," said the sailor, "you will never abandon Lincoln Island?"

"Never, Pencroft, and especially if you make up your mind to stay there."

"That was made up long ago, my boy," answered Pencroft. "I shall expect
you. You will bring me your wife and children, and I shall make jolly chaps
of your youngsters!"

"That's agreed," replied Herbert, laughing and blushing at the same time.

"And you, Captain Harding," resumed Pencroft enthusiastically, "you will
be still the governor of the island! Ah, how many inhabitants could it
support? Ten thousand at least!"

They talked in this way, allowing Pencroft to run on, and at last the
reporter actually started a newspaper--the New Lincoln Herald!

So is man's heart. The desire to perform a work which will endure, which
will survive him, is the origin of his superiority over all other living
creatures here below. It is this which has established his dominion, and
this it is which justifies it, over all the world.

After that, who knows if Jup and Top had not themselves their little
dream of the future.

Ayrton silently said to himself that he would like to see Lord Glenarvan
again and show himself to all restored.

One evening, on the 15th of October, the conversation was prolonged later
than usual. It was nine o'clock. Already, long badly concealed yawns gave
warning of the hour of rest, and Pencroft was proceeding towards his bed,
when the electric bell, placed in the dining-room, suddenly rang.

All were there, Cyrus Harding, Gideon Spilett, Herbert, Ayrton, Pencroft,
Neb. Therefore none of the colonists were at the corral.

Cyrus Harding rose. His companions stared at each other, scarcely
believing their ears.

"What does that mean?" cried Neb. "Was it the devil who rang it?"

No one answered.

"The weather is stormy," observed Herbert. "Might not its influence of
electricity--"

Herbert did not finish his phrase. The engineer, towards whom all eyes
were turned, shook his head negatively.

"We must wait," said Gideon Spilett. "If it is a signal, whoever it may be
who has made it, he will renew it."

"But who do you think it is?" cried Neb.

"Who?" answered Pencroft, "but he--"

The sailor's sentence was cut short by a new tinkle of the bell.

Harding went to the apparatus, and sent this question to the corral:--

"What do you want?"

A few moments later the needle, moving on the alphabetic dial, gave this
reply to the tenants of Granite House:--

"Come to the corral immediately."

"At last!" exclaimed Harding.

Yes! At last! The mystery was about to be unveiled. The colonists'
fatigue had disappeared before the tremendous interest which was about to
urge them to the corral, and all wish for rest had ceased. Without having
uttered a word, in a few moments they had left Granite House, and were
standing on the beach. Jup and Top alone were left behind. They could do
without them.

The night was black. The new moon had disappeared at the same time as the
sun. As Herbert had observed, great stormy clouds formed a lowering and
heavy vault, preventing any star rays. A few lightning flashes, reflections
from a distant storm, illuminated the horizon.

It was possible that a few hours later the thunder would roll over the
island itself. The night was very threatening.

But however deep the darkness was, it would not prevent them from finding
the familiar road to the corral.

They ascended the left bank of the Mercy, reached the plateau, passed the
bridge over Creek Glycerine, and advanced through the forest.

They walked at a good pace, a prey to the liveliest emotions. There was
no doubt but that they were now going to learn the long-searched-for answer
to the enigma, the name of that mysterious being, so deeply concerned in
their life, so generous in his influence, so powerful in his action! Must
not this stranger have indeed mingled with their existence, have known the
smallest details, have heard all that was said in Granite House, to have
been able always to act in the very nick of time?

Every one, wrapped up in his own reflections, pressed forward. Under the
arch of trees the darkness was such that even the edge of the road could
not be seen. Not a sound in the forest. Both animals and birds, influenced
by the heaviness of the atmosphere, remained motionless and silent. Not a
breath disturbed the leaves. The footsteps of the colonists alone resounded
on the hardened ground.

During the first quarter of an hour the silence was only interrupted by
this remark from Pencroft:--

"We ought to have brought a torch."

And by this reply from the engineer:--

"We shall find one at the corral."

Harding and his companions had left Granite House at twelve minutes past
nine. At forty-seven minutes past nine they had traversed three out of the
five miles which separated the mouth of the Mercy from the corral.

At that moment sheets of lightning spread over the island and illumined
the dark trees. The flashes dazzled and almost blinded them. Evidently the
storm would not be long in bursting forth.

The flashes gradually became brighter and more rapid. Distant thunder
growled in the sky. The atmosphere was stifling.

The colonists proceeded as if they were urged onwards by some
irresistible force.

At ten o'clock a vivid flash showed them the palisade, and as they
reached the gate the storm burst forth with tremendous fury.

In a minute the corral was crossed, and Harding stood before the hut.

Probably the house was occupied by the stranger, since it was from thence
that the telegram had been sent. However, no light shone through the
window.

The engineer knocked at the door.

No answer.

Cyrus Harding opened the door, and the settlers entered the room, which
was perfectly dark. A light was struck by Neb, and in a few moments the
lantern was lighted and the light thrown into every corner of the room.

There was no one there. Everything was in the state in which it had been
left.

"Have we been deceived by an illusion?" murmured Cyrus Harding.

No! that was not possible! The telegram had clearly said,--

"Come to the corral immediately."

They approached the table specially devoted to the use of the wire.
Everything was in order--the pile on the box containing it, as well as all
the apparatus.

"Who came here the last time?" asked the engineer.

"I did, captain," answered Ayrton.

"And that was-'

"Four days ago."

"Ah! a note!" cried Herbert, pointing to a paper lying on the table.

On this paper were written these words in English:--

"Follow the new wire."

"Forward!" cried Harding, who understood that the despatch had not been
sent from the corral, but from the mysterious retreat, communicating
directly with Granite House by means of a supplementary wire joined to the
old one.

Neb took the lighted lantern, and all left the corral. The storm then
burst forth with tremendous violence. The interval between each lightning-
flash and each thunder-clap diminished rapidly. The summit of the volcano,
with its plume of vapor, could be seen by occasional flashes.

There was no telegraphic communication in any part of the corral between
the house and the palisade; but the engineer, running straight to the first
post, saw by the light of a flash a new wire hanging from the isolator to
the ground.

"There it is!" said he.

This wire lay along the ground, and was surrounded with an isolating
substance like a submarine cable, so as to assure the free transmission of
the current. It appeared to pass through the wood and the southern spurs of
the mountain, and consequently it ran towards the west.

"Follow it!" said Cyrus Harding.

And the settlers immediately pressed forward, guided by the wire.

The thunder continued to roar with such violence that not a word could be
heard. However, there was no occasion for speaking, but to get forward as
fast as possible.

Cyrus Harding and his companions then climbed the spur rising between
the corral valley and that of Falls River, which they crossed at its
narrowest part. The wire, sometimes stretched over the lower branches of
the trees, sometimes lying on the ground, guided them surely. The engineer
had supposed that the wire would perhaps stop at the bottom of the valley,
and that the stranger's retreat would be there.

Nothing of the sort. They were obliged to ascend the south-western spur,
and re-descend on that arid plateau terminated by the strangely-wild basalt
cliff. From time to time one of the colonists stooped down and felt for the
wire with his hands; but there was now no doubt that the wire was running
directly towards the sea. There, to a certainty, in the depths of those
rocks, was the dwelling so long sought for in vain.

The sky was literally on fire. Flash succeeded flash. Several struck the
summit of the volcano in the midst of the thick smoke. It appeared there as
if the mountain was vomiting flame. At a few minutes to eleven the
colonists arrived on the high cliff overlooking the ocean to the west. The
wind had risen. The surf roared 500 feet below.

Harding calculated that they had gone a mile and a half from the corral.

At this point the wire entered among the rocks, following the steep side
of a narrow ravine. The settlers followed it at the risk of occasioning a
fall of the slightly-balanced rocks, and being dashed into the sea. The
descent was extremely perilous, but they did not think of the danger; they
were no longer masters of themselves, and an irresistible attraction drew
them towards this mysterious place as the magnet draws iron.

Thus they almost unconsciously descended this ravine, which even in broad
daylight would have been considered impracticable.

The stones rolled and sparkled like fiery balls when they crossed through
the gleams of light. Harding was first--Ayrton last. On they went, step by
step. Now they slid over the slippery rock; then they struggled to their
feet and scrambled on.

At last the wire touched the rocks on the beach. The colonists had
reached the bottom of the basalt cliff.

There appeared a narrow ridge, running horizontally and parallel with the
sea. The settlers followed the wire along it. They had not gone a hundred
paces when the ridge by a moderate incline sloped down to the level of the
sea.

The engineer seized the wire and found that it disappeared beneath the
waves.

His companions were stupefied.

A cry of disappointment, almost a cry of despair, escaped them! Must they
then plunge beneath the water and seek there for some submarine cavern? In
their excited state they would not have hesitated to do it.

The engineer stopped them.

He led his companions to a hollow in the rocks, and there--

"We must wait," said he. "The tide is high. At low water the way will be
open."

"But what can make you think-" asked Pencroft.

"He would not have called us if the means had been wanting to enable us
to reach him!"

Cyrus Harding spoke in a tone of such thorough conviction that no
objection was raised. His remark, besides, was logical. It was quite
possible that an opening, practicable at low water, though hidden now by
the high tide, opened at the foot of the cliff.

There was some time to wait. The colonists remained silently crouching in
a deep hollow. Rain now began to fall in torrents. The thunder was re-
echoed among the rocks with a grand sonorousness.

The colonists' emotion was great. A thousand strange and extraordinary
ideas crossed their brains, and they expected some grand and superhuman
apparition, which alone could come up to the notion they had formed of the
mysterious genius of the island.

At midnight, Harding carrying the lantern, descended to the beach to
reconnoiter.

The engineer was not mistaken. The beginning of an immense excavation
could be seen under the water. There the wire, bending at a right angle,
entered the yawning gulf.

Cyrus Harding returned to his companions, and said simply,--

"In an hour the opening will be practicable."

"It is there, then?" said Pencroft.

"Did you doubt it?" returned Harding.

"But this cavern must be filled with water to a certain height," observed
Herbert.

"Either the cavern will be completely dry," replied Harding, "and in that
case we can traverse it on foot, or it will not be dry, and some means of
transport will be put at our disposal."

An hour passed. All climbed down through the rain to the level of the
sea. There was now eight feet of the opening above the water. It was like
the arch of a bridge, under which rushed the foaming water.

Leaning forward, the engineer saw a black object floating on the water.
He drew it towards him. It was a boat, moored to some interior projection
of the cave. This boat was iron-plated. Two oars lay at the bottom.

"Jump in!" said Harding.

In a moment the settlers were in the boat. Neb and Ayrton took the oars,
Pencroft the rudder. Cyrus Harding in the bows, with the lantern, lighted
the way.

The elliptical roof, under which the boat at first passed, suddenly rose;
but the darkness was too deep, and the light of the lantern too slight, for
either the extent, length, height, or depth of the cave to be ascertained.
Solemn silence reigned in this basaltic cavern. Not a sound could penetrate
into it, even the thunder peals could not pierce its thick sides.

Such immense caves exist in various parts of the world, natural crypts
dating from the geological epoch of the globe. Some are filled by the sea;
others contain entire lakes in their sides. Such is Fingal's Cave, in the
island of Staffa, one of the Hebrides; such are the caves of Morgat, in the
bay of Douarnenez, in Brittany, the caves of Bonifacio, in Corsica, those
of Lyse-Fjord, in Norway; such are the immense Mammoth caverns in Kentucky,
500 feet in height, and more than twenty miles in length! In many parts of
the globe, nature has excavated these caverns, and preserved them for the
admiration of man.

Did the cavern which the settlers were now exploring extend to the center
of the island? For a quarter of an hour the boat had been advancing, making
detours, indicated to Pencroft by the engineer in short sentences, when all
at once,--

"More to the right!" he commanded.

The boat, altering its course, came up alongside the right wall. The
engineer wished to see if the wire still ran along the side.

The wire was there fastened to the rock.

"Forward!" said Harding.

And the two oars, plunging into the dark waters, urged the boat onwards.

On they went for another quarter of an hour, and a distance of half-a-
mile must have been cleared from the mouth of the cave, when Harding's
voice was again heard.

"Stop!" said he.

The boat stopped, and the colonists perceived a bright light illuminating
the vast cavern, so deeply excavated in the bowels of the island, of which
nothing had ever led them to suspect the existence.

At a height of a hundred feet rose the vaulted roof, supported on basalt
shafts. Irregular arches, strange moldings, appeared on the columns erected
by nature in thousands from the first epochs of the formation of the globe.
The basalt pillars, fitted one into the other, measured from forty to fifty
feet in height, and the water, calm in spite of the tumult outside, washed
their base. The brilliant focus of light, pointed out by the engineer,
touched every point of rocks, and flooded the walls with light.

By reflection the water reproduced the brilliant sparkles, so that the
boat appeared to be floating between two glittering zones. They could not
be mistaken in the nature of the irradiation thrown from the glowing
nucleus, whose clear rays were shattered by all the angles, all the
projections of the cavern. This light proceeded from an electric source,
and its white color betrayed its origin. It was the sun of this cave, and
it filled it entirely.

At a sign from Cyrus Harding the oars again plunged into the water,
causing a regular shower of gems, and the boat was urged forward towards
the light, which was now not more than half a cable's length distant.

At this place the breadth of the sheet of water measured nearly 350 feet,
and beyond the dazzling center could be seen an enormous basaltic wall,
blocking up any issue on that side. The cavern widened here considerably,
the sea forming a little lake. But the roof, the side walls, the end cliff,
all the prisms, all the peaks, were flooded with the electric fluid, so
that the brilliancy belonged to them, and as if the light issued from them.

In the center of the lake a long cigar-shaped object floated on the
surface of the water, silent, motionless. The brilliancy which issued from
it escaped from its sides as from two kilns heated to a white heat. This
apparatus, similar in shape to an enormous whale, was about 250 feet long,
and rose about ten or twelve above the water.

The boat slowly approached it, Cyrus Harding stood up in the bows. He
gazed, a prey to violent excitement. Then, all at once, seizing the
reporter's arm,--

"It is he! It can only be he!" he cried, "he!--"

Then, falling back on the seat, he murmured a name which Gideon Spilett
alone could hear.

The reporter evidently knew this name, for it had a wonderful
effect upon him, and he answered in a hoarse voice,--

"He! an outlawed man!"

"He!" said Harding.

At the engineer's command the boat approached this singular floating
apparatus. The boat touched the left side, from which escaped a ray of
light through a thick glass.

Harding and his companions mounted on the platform. An open hatchway was
there. All darted down the opening.

At the bottom of the ladder was a deck, lighted by electricity. At the
end of this deck was a door, which Harding opened.

A richly-ornamented room, quickly traversed by the colonists, was joined
to a library, over which a luminous ceiling shed a flood of light.

At the end of the library a large door, also shut, was opened by the
engineer.

An immense saloon--a sort of museum, in which were heaped up, with all
the treasures of the mineral world, works of art, marvels of industry--
appeared before the eyes of the colonists, who almost thought themselves
suddenly transported into a land of enchantment.

Stretched on a rich sofa they saw a man, who did not appear to notice
their presence.

Then Harding raised his voice, and to the extreme surprise of his
companions, he uttered these words,--

"Captain Nemo, you asked for us! We are here.--"


Jules Verne