Part 3 out of 12
necessary that the settlers should return to their dwelling. The little
band retraced their steps, therefore, and by the left bank of the Mercy,
Cyrus Harding and his companions arrived at the Chimneys.
The fire was lighted, and Neb and Pencroft, on whom the functions of
cooks naturally devolved, to the one in his quality of Negro, to the other
in that of sailor, quickly prepared some broiled agouti, to which they did
The repast at length terminated; at the moment when each one was about to
give himself up to sleep, Cyrus Harding drew from his pocket little
specimens of different sorts of minerals, and just said,--
"My friends, this is iron mineral, this a pyrite, this is clay,
this is lime, and this is coal. Nature gives us these things. It is our
business to make a right use of them. To-morrow we will commence
"Well, captain, where are we going to begin?" asked Pencroft next morning
of the engineer.
"At the beginning," replied Cyrus Harding.
And in fact, the settlers were compelled to begin "at the very
beginning." They did not possess even the tools necessary for making tools,
and they were not even in the condition of nature, who, "having time,
husbands her strength." They had no time, since they had to provide for the
immediate wants of their existence, and though, profiting by acquired
experience, they had nothing to invent, still they had everything to make;
their iron and their steel were as yet only in the state of minerals, their
earthenware in the state of clay, their linen and their clothes in the
state of textile material.
It must be said, however, that the settlers were "men" in the complete
and higher sense of the word. The engineer Harding could not have been
seconded by more intelligent companions, nor with more devotion and zeal.
He had tried them. He knew their abilities.
Gideon Spilett, a talented reporter, having learned everything so as to
be able to speak of everything, would contribute largely with his head and
hands to the colonization of the island. He would not draw back from any
task: a determined sportsman, he would make a business of what till then
had only been a pleasure to him.
Herbert, a gallant boy, already remarkably well informed in the natural
sciences, would render greater service to the common cause.
Neb was devotion personified. Clever, intelligent, indefatigable, robust,
with iron health, he knew a little about the work of the forge, and could
not fail to be very useful in the colony.
As to Pencroft, he had sailed over every sea, a carpenter in the
dockyards in Brooklyn, assistant tailor in the vessels of the state,
gardener, cultivator, during his holidays, etc., and like all seamen, fit
for anything, he knew how to do everything.
It would have been difficult to unite five men, better fitted to struggle
against fate, more certain to triumph over it.
"At the beginning," Cyrus Harding had said. Now this beginning of which
the engineer spoke was the construction of an apparatus which would serve
to transform the natural substances. The part which heat plays in these
transformations is known. Now fuel, wood or coal, was ready for immediate
use, an oven must be built to use it.
"What is this oven for?" asked Pencroft.
"To make the pottery which we have need of," replied Harding.
"And of what shall we make the oven?"
"And the bricks?"
"With clay. Let us start, my friends. To save trouble, we will establish
our manufactory at the place of production. Neb will bring provisions, and
there will be no lack of fire to cook the food."
"No," replied the reporter; "but if there is a lack of food for want of
instruments for the chase?"
"Ah, if we only had a knife!" cried the sailor.
"Well?" asked Cyrus Harding.
"Well! I would soon make a bow and arrows, and then there could be plenty
of game in the larder!"
"Yes, a knife, a sharp blade." said the engineer, as if he was speaking
At this moment his eyes fell upon Top, who was running about on the
shore. Suddenly Harding's face became animated.
"Top, here," said he.
The dog came at his master's call. The latter took Top's head between his
hands, and unfastening the collar which the animal wore round his neck, he
broke it in two, saying,--
"There are two knives, Pencroft!"
Two hurrahs from the sailor was the reply. Top's collar was made of a
thin piece of tempered steel. They had only to sharpen it on a piece of
sandstone, then to raise the edge on a finer stone. Now sandstone was
abundant on the beach, and two hours after the stock of tools in the colony
consisted of two sharp blades, which were easily fixed in solid handles.
The production of these their first tools was hailed as a triumph. It was
indeed a valuable result of their labor, and a very opportune one. They set
Cyrus Harding proposed that they should return to the western shore of
the lake, where the day before he had noticed the clayey ground of which he
possessed a specimen. They therefore followed the bank of the Mercy,
traversed Prospect Heights, and alter a walk of five miles or more they
reached a glade, situated two hundred feet from Lake Grant.
On the way Herbert had discovered a tree, the branches of which the
Indians of South America employ for making their bows. It was the crejimba,
of the palm family, which does not bear edible fruit. Long straight
branches were cut, the leaves stripped off; it was shaped, stronger in the
middle, more slender at the extremities, and nothing remained to be done
but to find a plant fit to make the bow-string. This was the "hibiscus
heterophyllus," which furnishes fibers of such remarkable tenacity that
they have been compared to the tendons of animals. Pencroft thus obtained
bows of tolerable strength, for which he only wanted arrows. These were
easily made with straight stiff branches, without knots, but the points
with which they must be armed, that is to say, a substance to serve in lieu
of iron, could not be met with so easily. But Pencroft said, that having
done his part of the work, chance would do the rest.
The settlers arrived on the ground which had been discovered the day
before. Being composed of the sort of clay which is used for making bricks
and tiles, it was very useful for the work in question. There was no great
difficulty in it. It was enough to scour the clay with sand, then to mold
the bricks and bake them by the heat of a wood fire.
Generally bricks are formed in molds, but the engineer contented himself
with making them by hand. All that day and the day following were employed
in this work. The clay, soaked in water, was mixed by the feet and hands of
the manipulators, and then divided into pieces of equal size. A practiced
workman can make, without a machine, about ten thousand bricks in twelve
hours; but in their two days work the five brickmakers on Lincoln Island
had not made more than three thousand, which were ranged near each other,
until the time when their complete desiccation would permit them to be used
in building the oven, that is to say, in three or four days.
It was on the 2nd of April that Harding had employed himself in fixing
the orientation of the island, or, in other words, the precise spot where
the sun rose. The day before he had noted exactly the hour when the sun
disappeared beneath the horizon, making allowance for the refraction. This
morning he noted, no less exactly, the hour at which it reappeared. Between
this setting and rising twelve hours, twenty-four minutes passed. Then, six
hours, twelve minutes after its rising, the sun on this day would exactly
pass the meridian and the point of the sky which it occupied at this moment
would be the north. At the said hour, Cyrus marked this point, and putting
in a line with the sun two trees which would serve him for marks, he thus
obtained an invariable meridian for his ulterior operations.
The settlers employed the two days before the oven was built in
collecting fuel. Branches were cut all round the glade, and they picked up
all the fallen wood under the trees. They were also able to hunt with
greater success, since Pencroft now possessed some dozen arrows armed with
sharp points. It was Top who had famished these points, by bringing in a
porcupine, rather inferior eating, but of great value, thanks to the quills
with which it bristled. These quills were fixed firmly at the ends of the
arrows, the flight of which was made more certain by some cockatoos'
feathers. The reporter and Herbert soon became very skilful archers. Game
of all sorts in consequence abounded at the Chimneys, capybaras, pigeons,
agouties, grouse, etc. The greater part of these animals were killed in the
part of the forest on the left bank of the Mercy, to which they gave the
name of Jacamar Wood, in remembrance of the bird which Pencroft and Herbert
had pursued when on their first exploration.
This game was eaten fresh, but they preserved some capybara hams, by
smoking them above a fire of green wood, after having perfumed them with
sweet-smelling leaves. However, this food, although very strengthening, was
always roast upon roast, and the party would have been delighted to hear
some soup bubbling on the hearth, but they must wait till a pot could be
made, and, consequently, till the oven was built.
During these excursions, which were not extended far from the brick-
field, the hunters could discern the recent passage of animals of a large
size, armed with powerful claws, but they could not recognize the species.
Cyrus Harding advised them to be very careful, as the forest probably
enclosed many dangerous beasts.
And he did right. Indeed, Gideon Spilett and Herbert one day saw an
animal which resembled a jaguar. Happily the creature did not attack them,
or they might not have escaped without a severe wound. As soon as he could
get a regular weapon, that is to say, one of the guns which Pencroft begged
for, Gideon Spilett resolved to make desperate war against the ferocious
beasts, and exterminate them from the island.
The Chimneys during these few days was not made more comfortable, for
the engineer hoped to discover, or build if necessary, a more convenient
dwelling. They contented themselves with spreading moss and dry leaves on
the sand of the passages, and on these primitive couches the tired workers
They also reckoned the days they had passed on Lincoln Island, and from
that time kept a regular account. The 5th of April, which was Wednesday,
was twelve days from the time when the wind threw the castaways on this
On the 6th of April, at daybreak, the engineer and his companions were
collected in the glade, at the place where they were going to perform the
operation of baking the bricks. Naturally this had to be in the open air,
and not in a kiln, or rather, the agglomeration of bricks made an enormous
kiln, which would bake itself. The fuel, made of well-prepared fagots, was
laid on the ground and surrounded with several rows of dried bricks, which
soon formed an enormous cube, to the exterior of which they contrived air-
holes. The work lasted all day, and it was not till the evening that they
set fire to the fagots. No one slept that night, all watching carefully to
keep up the fire.
The operation lasted forty-eight hours, and succeeded perfectly. It then
became necessary to leave the smoking mass to cool, and during this time
Neb and Pencroft, guided by Cyrus Harding, brought, on a hurdle made of
interlaced branches, loads of carbonate of lime and common stones, which
were very abundant, to the north of the lake. These stones, when decomposed
by heat, made a very strong quicklime, greatly increased by slacking, at
least as pure as if it had been produced by the calcination of chalk or
marble. Mixed with sand the lime made excellent mortar.
The result of these different works was, that, on the 9th of April, the
engineer had at his disposal a quantity of prepared lime and some thousands
Without losing an instant, therefore, they began the construction of a
kiln to bake the pottery, which was indispensable for their domestic use.
They succeeded without much difficulty. Five days after, the kiln was
supplied with coal, which the engineer had discovered lying open to the sky
towards the mouth of the Red Creek, and the first smoke escaped from a
chimney twenty feet high. The glade was transformed into a manufactory, and
Pencroft was not far wrong in believing that from this kiln would issue all
the products of modern industry.
In the meantime what the settlers first manufactured was a common pottery
in which to cook their food. The chief material was clay, to which Harding
added a little lime and quartz. This paste made regular "pipe-clay," with
which they manufactured bowls, cups molded on stones of a proper size,
great jars and pots to hold water, etc. The shape of these objects was
clumsy and defective, but after they had been baked in a high temperature,
the kitchen of the Chimneys was provided with a number of utensils, as
precious to the settlers as the most beautifully enameled china. We must
mention here that Pencroft, desirous to know if the clay thus prepared was
worthy of its name of pipe-clay, made some large pipes, which he thought
charming, but for which, alas! he had no tobacco, and that was a great
privation to Pencroft. "But tobacco will come, like everything else!" he
repeated, in a burst of absolute confidence.
This work lasted till the 15th of April, and the time was well employed.
The settlers, having become potters, made nothing but pottery. When it
suited Cyrus Harding to change them into smiths, they would become smiths.
But the next day being Sunday, and also Easter Sunday, all agreed to
sanctify the day by rest. These Americans were religious men, scrupulous
observers of the precepts of the Bible, and their situation could not but
develop sentiments of confidence towards the Author of all things.
On the evening of the 15th of April they returned to the Chimneys,
carrying with them the pottery, the furnace being extinguished until they
could put it to a new use. Their return was marked by a fortunate incident;
the engineer discovered a substance which replaced tinder. It is known that
a spongy, velvety flesh is procured from a certain mushroom of the genus
polyporous. Properly prepared, it is extremely inflammable, especially when
it has been previously saturated with gunpowder, or boiled in a solution of
nitrate or chlorate of potash. But, till then, they had not found any of
these polypores or even any of the morels which could replace them. On this
day, the engineer, seeing a plant belonging to the wormwood genus, the
principal species of which are absinthe, balm-mint, tarragon, etc.,
gathered several tufts, and, presenting them to the sailor, said,--
"Here, Pencroft, this will please you."
Pencroft looked attentively at the plant, covered with long silky hair,
the leaves being clothed with soft down.
"What's that, captain?" asked Pencroft. "Is it tobacco?"
"No," replied Harding, "it is wormwood; Chinese wormwood to the learned,
but to us it will be tinder."
When the wormwood was properly dried it provided them with a very
inflammable substance, especially afterwards when the engineer had
impregnated it with nitrate of potash, of which the island possessed
several beds, and which is in truth saltpeter.
The colonists had a good supper that evening. Neb prepared some agouti
soup, a smoked capybara ham, to which was added the boiled tubercules of
the "caladium macrorhizum," an herbaceous plant of the arum family. They
had an excellent taste, and were very nutritious, being something similar
to the substance which is sold in England under the name of "Portland
sago"; they were also a good substitute for bread, which the settlers in
Lincoln Island did not yet possess.
When supper was finished, before sleeping, Harding and his companions
went to take the air on the beach. it was eight o'clock in the evening; the
night was magnificent. The moon, which had been full five days before, had
not yet risen, but the horizon was already silvered by those soft, pale
shades which might be called the dawn of the moon. At the southern zenith
glittered the circumpolar constellations, and above all the Southern Cross,
which some days before the engineer had greeted on the summit of Mount
Cyrus Harding gazed for some time at this splendid constellation, which
has at its summit and at its base two stars of the first magnitude, at its
left arm a star of the second, and at its right arm a star of the third
Then, after some minutes thought--
"Herbert," he asked of the lad, "is not this the 15th of April?"
"Yes, captain," replied Herbert.
"Well, if I am not mistaken, to-morrow will be one of the four days in
the year in which the real time is identical with average time; that is to
say, my boy, that to-morrow, to within some seconds, the sun will pass the
meridian just at midday by the clocks. If the weather is fine I think that
I shall obtain the longitude of the island with an approximation of some
"Without instruments, without sextant?" asked Gideon Spilett.
"Yes," replied the engineer. "Also, since the night is clear, I will try,
this very evening, to obtain our latitude by calculating the height of the
Southern Cross, that is, from the southern pole above the horizon. You
understand, my friends, that before undertaking the work of installation in
earnest it is not enough to have found out that this land is an island; we
must, as nearly as possible, know at what distance it is situated, either
from the American continent or Australia, or from the principal
archipelagoes of the Pacific."
"In fact," said the reporter, "instead of building a house it would be
more important to build a boat, if by chance we are not more than a hundred
miles from an inhabited coast."
"That is why," returned Harding, "I am going to try this evening to
calculate the latitude of Lincoln Island, and to-morrow, at midday, I will
try to calculate the longitude."
If the engineer had possessed a sextant, an apparatus with which the
angular distance of objects can be measured with great precision, there
would have been no difficulty in the operation. This evening by the height
of the pole, the next day by the passing of the sun at the meridian, he
would obtain the position of the island. But as they had not one he would
have to supply the deficiency.
Harding then entered the Chimneys. By the light of the fire he cut two
little flat rulers, which he joined together at one end so as to form a
pair of compasses, whose legs could separate or come together. The
fastening was fixed with a strong acacia thorn which was found in the wood
pile. This instrument finished, the engineer returned to the beach, but as
it was necessary to take the height of the pole from above a clear horizon,
that is, a sea horizon, and as Claw Cape hid the southern horizon, he was
obliged to look for a more suitable station. The best would evidently have
been the shore exposed directly to the south; but the Mercy would have to
be crossed, and that was a difficulty. Harding resolved, in consequence, to
make his observation from Prospect Heights, taking into consideration its
height above the level of the sea--a height which he intended to calculate
next day by a simple process of elementary geometry.
The settlers, therefore, went to the plateau, ascending the left bank of
the Mercy, and placed themselves on the edge which looked northwest and
southeast, that is, above the curiously-shaped rocks which bordered the
This part of the plateau commanded the heights of the left bank, which
sloped away to the extremity of Claw Cape, and to the southern side of the
island. No obstacle intercepted their gaze, which swept the horizon in a
semi-circle from the cape to Reptile End. To the south the horizon, lighted
by the first rays of the moon, was very clearly defined against the sky.
At this moment the Southern Cross presented itself to the observer in an
inverted position, the star Alpha marking its base, which is nearer to the
This constellation is not situated as near to the antarctic pole as the
Polar Star is to the arctic pole. The star Alpha is about twenty-seven
degrees from it, but Cyrus Harding knew this and made allowance for it in
his calculation. He took care also to observe the moment when it passed the
meridian below the pole, which would simplify the operation.
Cyrus Harding pointed one leg of the compasses to the horizon, the other
to Alpha, and the space between the two legs gave him the angular distance
which separated Alpha from the horizon. In order to fix the angle obtained,
he fastened with thorns the two pieces of wood on a third placed
transversely, so that their separation should be properly maintained.
That done, there was only the angle to calculate by bringing back the
observation to the level of the sea, taking into consideration the
depression of the horizon, which would necessitate measuring the height of
the cliff. The value of this angle would give the height of Alpha, and
consequently that of the pole above the horizon, that is to say, the
latitude of the island, since the latitude of a point of the globe is
always equal to the height of the pole above the horizon of this point.
The calculations were left for the next day, and at ten o'clock every one
was sleeping soundly.
The next day, the 16th of April, and Easter Sunday, the settlers issued
from the Chimneys at daybreak, and proceeded to wash their linen. The
engineer intended to manufacture soap as soon as he could procure the
necessary materials--soda or potash, fat or oil. The important question of
renewing their wardrobe would be treated of in the proper time and place.
At any rate their clothes would last at least six months longer, for they
were strong, and could resist the wear of manual labor. But all would
depend on the situation of the island with regard to inhabited land. This
would be settled to-day if the weather permitted.
The sun rising above a clear horizon, announced a magnificent day, one of
those beautiful autumn days which are like the last farewells of the warm
It was now necessary to complete the observations of the evening before
by measuring the height of the cliff above the level of the sea.
"Shall you not need an instrument similar to the one which you used
yesterday?" said Herbert to the engineer.
"No, my boy," replied the latter, "we are going to proceed differently,
but in as precise a way."
Herbert, wishing to learn everything he could, followed the engineer to
the beach. Pencroft, Neb, and the reporter remained behind and occupied
themselves in different ways.
Cyrus Harding had provided himself with a straight stick, twelve feet
long, which he had measured as exactly as possible by comparing it with his
own height, which he knew to a hair. Herbert carried a plumb-line which
Harding had given him, that is to say, a simple stone fastened to the end
of a flexible fiber. Having reached a spot about twenty feet from the edge
of the beach, and nearly five hundred feet from the cliff, which rose
perpendicularly, Harding thrust the pole two feet into the sand, and
wedging it up carefully, he managed, by means of the plumb-line, to erect
it perpendicularly with the plane of the horizon.
That done, he retired the necessary distance, when, lying on the sand,
his eye glanced at the same time at the top of the pole and the crest of
the cliff. He carefully marked the place with a little stick.
Then addressing Herbert--"Do you know the first principles of geometry?"
"Slightly, captain," replied Herbert, who did not wish to put himself
"You remember what are the properties of two similar triangles?"
"Yes," replied Herbert; "their homologous sides are proportional."
"Well, my boy, I have just constructed two similar right-angled
triangles; the first, the smallest, has for its sides the perpendicular
pole, the distance which separates the little stick from the foot of the
pole and my visual ray for hypothenuse; the second has for its sides the
perpendicular cliff, the height of which we wish to measure, the distance
which separates the little stick from the bottom of the cliff, and my
visual ray also forms its hypothenuse, which proves to be prolongation of
that of the first triangle."
"Ah, captain, I understand!" cried Herbert. "As the distance from the
stick to the pole is to the distance from the stick to the base of the
cliff, so is the height of the pole to the height of the cliff."
"Just so, Herbert," replied the engineer; "and when we have measured the
two first distances, knowing the height of the pole, we shall only have a
sum in proportion to do, which will give us the height of the cliff, and
will save us the trouble of measuring it directly."
The two horizontal distances were found out by means of the pole, whose
length above the sand was exactly ten feet.
The first distance was fifteen feet between the stick and the place where
the pole was thrust into the sand.
The second distance between the stick and the bottom of the cliff was
five hundred feet.
These measurements finished, Cyrus Harding and the lad returned to the
The engineer then took a flat stone which he had brought back from one of
his previous excursions, a sort of slate, on which it was easy to trace
figures with a sharp shell. He then proved the following proportions:--
500 x 10 = 5000
5000 / 15 = 333.3
From which it was proved that the granite cliff measured 333 feet in
Cyrus Harding then took the instrument which he had made the evening
before, the space between its two legs giving the angular distance between
the star Alpha and the horizon. He measured, very exactly, the opening of
this angle on a circumference which he divided into 360 equal parts. Now,
this angle by adding to it the twenty-seven degrees which separated Alpha
from the antarctic pole, and by reducing to the level of the sea the height
of the cliff on which the observation had been made, was found to be fifty-
three degrees. These fifty-three degrees being subtracted from ninety
degrees--the distance from the pole to the equator--there remained thirty-
seven degrees. Cyrus Harding concluded, therefore, that Lincoln Island was
situated on the thirty-seventh degree of the southern latitude, or taking
into consideration through the imperfection of the performance, an error of
five degrees, that it must be situated between the thirty-fifth and the
There was only the longitude to be obtained, and the position of the
island would be determined, The engineer hoped to attempt this the same
day, at twelve o'clock, at which moment the sun would pass the meridian.
It was decided that Sunday should be spent in a walk, or rather an
exploring expedition, to that side of the island between the north of the
lake and Shark Gulf, and if there was time they would push their
discoveries to the northern side of Cape South Mandible. They would
breakfast on the downs, and not return till evening.
At half-past eight the little band was following the edge of the channel.
On the other side, on Safety Islet, numerous birds were gravely strutting.
They were divers, easily recognized by their cry, which much resembles the
braying of a donkey. Pencroft only considered them in an eatable point of
view, and learnt with some satisfaction that their flesh, though blackish,
is not bad food.
Great amphibious creatures could also be seen crawling on the sand;
seals, doubtless, who appeared to have chosen the islet for a place of
refuge. It was impossible to think of those animals in an alimentary point
of view, for their oily flesh is detestable; however, Cyrus Harding
observed them attentively, and without making known his idea, he announced
to his companions that very soon they would pay a visit to the islet. The
beach was strewn with innumerable shells, some of which would have rejoiced
the heart of a conchologist; there were, among others, the phasianella, the
terebratual, etc. But what would be of more use, was the discovery, by Neb,
at low tide, of a large oysterbed among the rocks, nearly five miles from
"Neb will not have lost his day," cried Pencroft, looking at the spacious
"It is really a fortunate discovery," said the reporter, "and as it is
said that each oyster produces yearly from fifty to sixty thousand eggs, we
shall have an inexhaustible supply there."
"Only I believe that the oyster is not very nourishing," said Herbert.
"No," replied Harding. "The oyster contains very little nitrogen, and if
a man lived exclusively on them, he would have to eat not less than fifteen
to sixteen dozen a day."
"Capital!" replied Pencroft. "We might swallow dozens and dozens without
exhausting the bed. Shall we take some for breakfast?"
And without waiting for a reply to this proposal, knowing that it would
be approved of, the sailor and Neb detached a quantity of the molluscs.
They put them in a sort of net of hibiscus fiber, which Neb had
manufactured, and which already contained food; they then continued to
climb the coast between the downs and the sea.
From time to time Harding consulted his watch, so as to be prepared in
time for the solar observation, which had to be made exactly at midday.
All that part of the island was very barren as far as the point which
closed Union Bay, and which had received the name of Cape South Mandible.
Nothing could be seen there but sand and shells, mingled with debris of
lava. A few sea-birds frequented this desolate coast, gulls, great
albatrosses, as well as wild duck, for which Pencroft had a great fancy. He
tried to knock some over with an arrow, but without result, for they seldom
perched, and he could not hit them on the wing.
This led the sailor to repeat to the engineer,--
"You see, captain, so long as we have not one or two fowling-pieces, we
shall never get anything!"
"Doubtless, Pencroft," replied the reporter, "but it depends on you.
Procure us some iron for the barrels, steel for the hammers, saltpeter.
coal and sulphur for powder, mercury and nitric acid for the fulminate, and
lead for the shot, and the captain will make us first-rate guns."
"Oh!" replied the engineer, "we might, no doubt, find all these
substances on the island, but a gun is a delicate instrument, and needs
very particular tools. However, we shall see later!"
"Why," cried Pencroft, "were we obliged to throw overboard all the
weapons we had with us in the car, all our implements, even our pocket-
"But if we had not thrown them away, Pencroft, the balloon would have
thrown us to the bottom of the sea!" said Herbert.
"What you say is true, my boy," replied the sailor.
Then passing to another idea,--"Think," said he, "how astounded Jonathan
Forster and his companions must have been when, next morning, they found
the place empty, and the machine flown away!"
"I am utterly indifferent about knowing what they may have thought," said
"It was all my idea, that!" said Pencroft, with a satisfied air.
"A splendid idea, Pencroft!" replied Gideon Spilett, laughing, "and which
has placed us where we are."
"I would rather be here than in the hands of the Southerners," cried the
sailor, "especially since the captain has been kind enough to come and join
"So would I, truly!" replied the reporter. "Besides, what do we want?
"If that is not--everything!" replied Pencroft, laughing and shrugging
his shoulders. "But, some day or other, we shall find means of going away!"
"Sooner, perhaps, than you imagine, my friends," remarked the engineer,
"if Lincoln Island is but a medium distance from an inhabited island, or
from a continent. We shall know in an hour. I have not a map of the
Pacific, but my memory has preserved a very clear recollection of its
southern part. The latitude which I obtained yesterday placed New Zealand
to the west of Lincoln Island, and the coast of Chile to the east. But
between these two countries, there is a distance of at least six thousand
miles. It has, therefore, to be determined what point in this great space
the island occupies, and this the longitude will give us presently, with a
sufficient approximation, I hope."
"Is not the archipelago of the Pomoutous the nearest point to us in
latitude?" asked Herbert.
"Yes," replied the engineer, "but the distance which separates us from it
is more than twelve hundred miles."
"And that way?" asked Neb, who followed the conversation with extreme
interest, pointing to the south.
"That way, nothing," replied Pencroft.
"Nothing, indeed," added the engineer.
"Well, Cyrus," asked the reporter, "if Lincoln Island is not more than
two or three thousand miles from New Zealand or Chile?"
"Well," replied the engineer, "instead of building a house we will build
a boat, and Master Pencroft shall be put in command--"
"Well then," cried the sailor, "I am quite ready to be captain--as soon
as you can make a craft that's able to keep at sea!"
"We shall do it, if it is necessary," replied Cyrus Harding.
But while these men, who really hesitated at nothing, were talking, the
hour approached at which the observation was to be made. What Cyrus Harding
was to do to ascertain the passage of the sun at the meridian of the
island, without an instrument of any sort, Herbert could not guess.
The observers were then about six miles from the Chimneys, not far from
that part of the downs in which the engineer had been found after his
enigmatical preservation. They halted at this place and prepared for
breakfast, for it was half-past eleven. Herbert went for some fresh water
from a stream which ran near, and brought it back in a jug, which Neb had
During these preparations Harding arranged everything for his
astronomical observation. He chose a clear place on the shore, which the
ebbing tide had left perfectly level. This bed of fine sand was as smooth
as ice, not a grain out of place. It was of little importance whether it
was horizontal or not, and it did not matter much whether the stick six
feet high, which was planted there, rose perpendicularly. On the contrary,
the engineer inclined it towards the south, that is to say, in the
direction of the coast opposite to the sun, for it must not be forgotten
that the settlers in Lincoln Island, as the island was situated in the
Southern Hemisphere, saw the radiant planet describe its diurnal arc above
the northern, and not above the southern horizon.
Herbert now understood how the engineer was going to proceed to ascertain
the culmination of the sun, that is to say its passing the meridian of the
island or, in other words, determine due south. It was by means of the
shadow cast on the sand by the stick, a way which, for want of an
instrument, would give him a suitable approach to the result which he
wished to obtain.
In fact, the moment when this shadow would reach its minimum of length
would be exactly twelve o'clock, and it would be enough to watch the
extremity of the shadow, so as to ascertain the instant when, alter having
successively diminished, it began to lengthen. By inclining his stick to
the side opposite to the sun, Cyrus Harding made the shadow longer, and
consequently its modifications would be more easily ascertained. In fact,
the longer the needle of a dial is, the more easily can the movement of its
point be followed. The shadow of the stick was nothing but the needle of a
dial. The moment had come, and Cyrus Harding knelt on the sand, and with
little wooden pegs, which he stuck into the sand, he began to mark the
successive diminutions of the stick's shadow. His companions, bending over
him, watched the operation with extreme interest. The reporter held his
chronometer in his hand, ready to tell the hour which it marked when the
shadow would be at its shortest. Moreover, as Cyrus Harding was working on
the 16th of April, the day on which the true and the average time are
identical, the hour given by Gideon Spilett would be the true hour then at
Washington, which would simplify the calculation. Meanwhile as the sun
slowly advanced, the shadow slowly diminished, and when it appeared to
Cyrus Harding that it was beginning to increase, he asked, "What o'clock is
"One minute past five," replied Gideon Spilett directly. They had now
only to calculate the operation. Nothing could be easier. It could be seen
that there existed, in round numbers, a difference of five hours between
the meridian of Washington and that of Lincoln Island, that is to say, it
was midday in Lincoln Island when it was already five o'clock in the
evening in Washington. Now the sun, in its apparent movement round the
earth, traverses one degree in four minutes, or fifteen degrees an hour.
Fifteen degrees multiplied by five hours give seventy-five degrees.
Then, since Washington is 77deg 3' 11" as much as to say seventy-seven
degrees counted from the meridian of Greenwich which the Americans take for
their starting-point for longitudes concurrently with the English--it
followed that the island must be situated seventy-seven and seventy-five
degrees west of the meridian of Greenwich, that is to say, on the hundred
and fifty-second degree of west longitude.
Cyrus Harding announced this result to his companions, and taking into
consideration errors of observation, as he had done for the latitude, he
believed he could positively affirm that the position of Lincoln Island was
between the thirty-fifth and the thirty-seventh parallel, and between the
hundred and fiftieth and the hundred and fifty-fifth meridian to the west
of the meridian of Greenwich.
The possible fault which he attributed to errors in the observation was,
it may be seen, of five degrees on both sides, which, at sixty miles to a
degree, would give an error of three hundred miles in latitude and
longitude for the exact position.
But this error would not influence the determination which it was
necessary to take. It was very evident that Lincoln Island was at such a
distance from every country or island that it would be too hazardous to
attempt to reach one in a frail boat.
In fact, this calculation placed it at least twelve hundred miles from
Tahiti and the islands of the archipelago of the Pomoutous, more than
eighteen hundred miles from New Zealand, and more than four thousand five
hundred miles from the American coast!
And when Cyrus Harding consulted his memory, he could not remember in any
way that such an island occupied, in that part of the Pacific, the
situation assigned to Lincoln Island.
The next day, the 17th of April, the sailor's first words were addressed to
"Well, sir," he asked, "what shall we do to-day?"
"What the captain pleases," replied the reporter.
Till then the engineer's companions had been brickmakers and potters,
now they were to become metallurgists.
The day before, after breakfast, they had explored as far as the point of
Mandible Cape, seven miles distant from the Chimneys. There, the long
series of downs ended, and the soil had a volcanic appearance. There were
no longer high cliffs as at Prospect Heights, but a strange and capricious
border which surrounded the narrow gulf between the two capes, formed of
mineral matter, thrown up by the volcano. Arrived at this point the
settlers retraced their steps, and at nightfall entered the Chimneys; but
they did not sleep before the question of knowing whether they could think
of leaving Lincoln Island or not was definitely settled.
The twelve hundred miles which separated the island from the Pomoutous
Island was a considerable distance. A boat could not cross it, especially
at the approach of the bad season. Pencroft had expressly declared this.
Now, to construct a simple boat even with the necessary tools, was a
difficult work, and the colonists not having tools they must begin by
making hammers, axes, adzes, saws, augers, planes, etc., which would take
some time. It was decided, therefore, that they would winter at Lincoln
Island, and that they would look for a more comfortable dwelling than the
Chimneys, in which to pass the winter months.
Before anything else could be done it was necessary to make the iron ore,
of which the engineer had observed some traces in the northwest part of the
island, fit for use by converting it either into iron or into steel.
Metals are not generally found in the ground in a pure state. For the
most part they are combined with oxygen or sulphur. Such was the case with
the two specimens which Cyrus Harding had brought back, one of magnetic
iron, not carbonated, the other a pyrite, also called sulphuret of iron. It
was, therefore the first, the oxide of iron, which they must reduce with
coal, that is to say, get rid of the oxygen, to obtain it in a pure state.
This reduction is made by subjecting the ore with coal to a high
temperature, either by the rapid and easy Catalan method, which has the
advantage of transforming the ore into iron in a single operation, or by
the blast furnace, which first smelts the ore, then changes it into iron,
by carrying away the three to four per cent. of coal, which is combined
Now Cyrus Harding wanted iron, and he wished to obtain it as soon as
possible. The ore which he had picked up was in itself very pure and rich.
It was the oxydulous iron, which is found in confused masses of a deep gray
color; it gives a black dust, crystallized in the form of the regular
octahedron. Native lodestones consist of this ore, and iron of the first
quality is made in Europe from that with which Sweden and Norway are so
abundantly supplied. Not far from this vein was the vein of coal already
made use of by the settlers. The ingredients for the manufacture being
close together would greatly facilitate the treatment of the ore. This is
the cause of the wealth of the mines in Great Britain, where the coal aids
the manufacture of the metal extracted from the same soil at the same time
"Then, captain," said Pencroft, "we are going to work iron ore?"
"Yes, my friend," replied the engineer, "and for that--something which
will please you--we must begin by having a seal hunt on the islet."
"A seal hunt!" cried the sailor, turning towards Gideon Spilett. "Are
seals needed to make iron?"
"Since Cyrus has said so!" replied the reporter.
But the engineer had already left the Chimneys, and Pencroft prepared for
the seal hunt, without having received any other explanation.
Cyrus Harding, Herbert, Gideon Spilett, Neb, and the sailor were soon
collected on the shore, at a place where the channel left a ford passable
at low tide. The hunters could therefore traverse it without getting wet
higher than the knee.
Harding then put his foot on the islet for the first, and his companions
for the second time.
On their landing some hundreds of penguins looked fearlessly at them. The
hunters, armed with sticks, could have killed them easily, but they were
not guilty of such useless massacre, as it was important not to frighten
the seals, who were lying on the sand several cable lengths off. They also
respected certain innocent-looking birds, whose wings were reduced to the
state of stumps, spread out like fins, ornamented with feathers of a scaly
appearance. The settlers, therefore, prudently advanced towards the north
point, walking over ground riddled with little holes, which formed nests
for the sea-birds. Towards the extremity of the islet appeared great black
heads floating just above the water, having exactly the appearance of rocks
These were the seals which were to be captured. It was necessary,
however, first to allow them to land, for with their close, short hair, and
their fusiform conformation, being excellent swimmers, it is difficult to
catch them in the sea, while on land their short, webbed feet prevent their
having more than a slow, waddling movement.
Pencroft knew the habits of these creatures, and he advised waiting till
they were stretched on the sand, when the sun, before long, would send them
to sleep. They must then manage to cut off their retreat and knock them on
The hunters, having concealed themselves behind the rocks, waited
An hour passed before the seals came to play on the sand. They could
count half a dozen. Pencroft and Herbert then went round the point of the
islet, so as to take them in the rear, and cut off their retreat. During
this time Cyrus Harding, Spilett, and Neb, crawling behind the rocks,
glided towards the future scene of combat.
All at once the tall figure of the sailor appeared. Pencroft shouted. The
engineer and his two companions threw themselves between the sea and the
seals. Two of the animals soon lay dead on the sand, but the rest regained
the sea in safety.
"Here are the seals required, captain!" said the sailor, advancing
towards the engineer.
"Capital," replied Harding. "We will make bellows of them!"
"Bellows!" cried Pencroft. "Well! these are lucky seals!"
It was, in fact, a blowing-machine, necessary for the treatment of the
ore that the engineer wished to manufacture with the skins of the
amphibious creatures. They were of a medium size, for their length did not
exceed six feet. They resembled a dog about the head.
As it was useless to burden themselves with the weight of both the
animals, Neb and Pencroft resolved to skin them on the spot, while Cyrus
Harding and the reporter continued to explore the islet.
The sailor and the Negro cleverly performed the operation, and three
hours afterwards Cyrus Harding had at his disposal two seals' skins, which
he intended to use in this state, without subjecting them to any tanning
The settlers waited till the tide was again low, and crossing the channel
they entered the Chimneys.
The skins had then to be stretched on a frame of wood and sewn by means
of fibers so as to preserve the air without allowing too much to escape.
Cyrus Harding had nothing but the two steel blades from Top's collar, and
yet he was so clever, and his companions aided him with so much
intelligence, that three days afterwards the little colony's stock of tools
was augmented by a blowing-machine, destined to inject the air into the
midst of the ore when it should be subjected to heat--an indispensable
condition to the success of the operation.
On the morning of the 20th of April began the "metallic period," as the
reporter called it in his notes. The engineer had decided, as has been
said, to operate near the veins both of coal and ore. Now, according to his
observations, these veins were situated at the foot of the northeast spurs
of Mount Franklin, that is to say, a distance of six miles from their home.
It was impossible, therefore, to return every day to the Chimneys, and it
was agreed that the little colony should camp under a hut of branches, so
that the important operation could be followed night and day.
This settled, they set out in the morning. Neb and Pencroft dragged the
bellows on a hurdle; also a quantity of vegetables and animals, which they
besides could renew on the way.
The road led through Jacamar Wood, which they traversed obliquely from
southeast to northwest, and in the thickest part. It was necessary to beat
a path, which would in the future form the most direct road to Prospect
Heights and Mount Franklin. The trees, belonging to the species already
discovered, were magnificent. Herbert found some new ones, among others
some which Pencroft called "sham leeks"; for, in spite of their size, they
were of the same liliaceous family as the onion, chive, shallot, or
asparagus. These trees produce ligneous roots which, when cooked, are
excellent; from them, by fermentation, a very agreeable liquor is made.
They therefore made a good store of the roots.
The journey through the wood was long; it lasted the whole day, and so
allowed plenty of time for examining the flora and fauna. Top, who took
special charge of the fauna, ran through the grass and brushwood, putting
up all sorts of game. Herbert and Gideon Spilett killed two kangaroos with
bows and arrows, and also an animal which strongly resembled both a
hedgehog and an ant-eater. It was like the first because it rolled itself
into a ball, and bristled with spines, and the second because it had sharp
claws, a long slender snout which terminated in a bird's beak, and an
extendible tongue, covered with little thorns which served to hold the
"And when it is in the pot," asked Pencroft naturally, "what will it be
"An excellent piece of beef," replied Herbert.
"We will not ask more from it," replied the sailor,
During this excursion they saw several wild boars, which however, did not
offer to attack the little band, and it appeared as if they would not meet
with any dangerous beasts; when, in a thick part of the wood, the reporter
thought he saw, some paces from him, among the lower branches of a tree, an
animal which he took for a bear, and which he very tranquilly began to
draw. Happily for Gideon Spilett, the animal in question did not belong to
the redoubtable family of the plantigrades. It was only a koala, better
known under the name of the sloth, being about the size of a large dog, and
having stiff hair of a dirty color, the paws armed with strong claws, which
enabled it to climb trees and feed on the leaves. Having identified the
animal, which they did not disturb, Gideon Spilett erased "bear" from the
title of his sketch, putting koala in its place, and the journey was
At five o'clock in the evening, Cyrus Harding gave the signal to halt.
They were now outside the forest, at the beginning of the powerful spurs
which supported Mount Franklin towards the west. At a distance of some
hundred feet flowed the Red Creek, and consequently plenty of fresh water
was within their reach.
The camp was soon organized. In less than an hour, on the edge of the
forest, among the trees, a hut of branches interlaced with creepers, and
pasted over with clay, offered a tolerable shelter. Their geological
researches were put off till the next day. Supper was prepared, a good fire
blazed before the hut, the roast turned, and at eight o'clock, while one of
the settlers watched to keep up the fire, in case any wild beasts should
prowl in the neighborhood, the others slept soundly.
The next day, the 21st of April, Cyrus Harding accompanied by Herbert,
went to look for the soil of ancient formation, on which he had already
discovered a specimen of ore. They found the vein above ground, near the
source of the creek, at the foot of one of the northeastern spurs. This
ore, very rich in iron, enclosed in its fusible veinstone, was perfectly
suited to the mode of reduction which the engineer intended to employ; that
is, the Catalan method, but simplified, as it is used in Corsica. In fact,
the Catalan method, properly so called, requires the construction of kilns
and crucibles, in which the ore and the coal, placed in alternate layers,
are transformed and reduced, But Cyrus Harding intended to economize these
constructions, and wished simply to form, with the ore and the coal, a
cubic mass, to the center of which he would direct the wind from his
bellows. Doubtless, it was the proceeding employed by Tubalcain, and the
first metallurgists of the inhabited world. Now that which had succeeded
with the grandson of Adam, and which still yielded good results in
countries which in ore and fuel, could not but succeed with the settlers in
The coal, as well as the ore, was collected without trouble on the
surface of the ground. They first broke the ore into little pieces, and
cleansed them with the hand from the impurities which soiled their surface.
Then coal and ore were arranged in heaps and in successive layers, as the
charcoal-burner does with the wood which he wishes to carbonize. In this
way, under the influence of the air projected by the blowing-machine, the
coal would be transformed into carbonic acid, then into oxide of carbon,
its use being to reduce the oxide of iron, that is to say, to rid it of the
Thus the engineer proceeded. The bellows of sealskin, furnished at its
extremity with a nozzle of clay, which had been previously fabricated in
the pottery kiln, was established near the heap of ore. Using the mechanism
which consisted of a frame, cords of fiber and counterpoise, he threw into
the mass an abundance of air, which by raising the temperature also
concurred with the chemical transformation to produce in time pure iron.
The operation was difficult. All the patience, all the ingenuity of the
settlers was needed; but at last it succeeded, and the result was a lump of
iron, reduced to a spongy state, which it was necessary to shingle and
fagot, that is to say, to forge so as to expel from it the liquefied
veinstone. These amateur smiths had, of course, no hammer; but they were in
no worse a situation than the first metallurgist, and therefore did what,
no doubt, he had to do.
A handle was fixed to the first lump, and was used as a hammer to forge
the second on a granite anvil, and thus they obtained a coarse but useful
metal. At length, after many trials and much fatigue, on the 25th of April
several bars of iron were forged, and transformed into tools, crowbars,
pincers, pickaxes, spades, etc., which Pencroft and Neb declared to be real
jewels. But the metal was not yet in its most serviceable state, that is,
of steel. Now steel is a combination of iron and coal, which is extracted,
either from the liquid ore, by taking from it the excess of coal, or from
the iron by adding to it the coal which was wanting. The first, obtained by
the decarburation of the metal, gives natural or puddled steel; the second,
produced by the carburation of the iron, gives steel of cementation.
It was the last which Cyrus Harding intended to forge, as he possessed
iron in a pure state. He succeeded by heating the metal with powdered coal
in a crucible which had previously been manufactured from clay suitable for
He then worked this steel, which is malleable both when hot or cold, with
the hammer. Neb and Pencroft, cleverly directed, made hatchets, which,
heated red-hot, and plunged suddenly into cold water, acquired an excellent
Other instruments, of course roughly fashioned, were also manufactured;
blades for planes, axes, hatchets, pieces of steel to be transformed into
saws, chisels; then iron for spades, pickaxes, hammers, nails, etc. At
last, on the 5th of May, the metallic period ended, the smiths returned to
the Chimneys, and new work would soon authorize them to take a fresh title.
It was the 6th of May, a day which corresponds to the 6th of November in
the countries of the Northern Hemisphere. The sky had been obscured for
some days, and it was of importance to make preparations for the winter.
However, the temperature was not as yet much lower, and a centigrade
thermometer, transported to Lincoln Island, would still have marked an
average of ten to twelve degrees above zero. This was not surprising, since
Lincoln Island, probably situated between the thirty-fifth and fortieth
parallel, would be subject, in the Southern Hemisphere, to the same climate
as Sicily or Greece in the Northern Hemisphere. But as Greece and Sicily
have severe cold, producing snow and ice, so doubtless would Lincoln Island
in the severest part of the winter and it was advisable to provide against
In any case if cold did not yet threaten them, the rainy season would
begin, and on this lonely island, exposed to all the fury of the elements,
in mid-ocean, bad weather would be frequent, and probably terrible. The
question of a more comfortable dwelling than the Chimneys must therefore be
seriously considered and promptly resolved on.
Pencroft, naturally, had some predilection for the retreat which he had
discovered, but he well understood that another must be found. The Chimneys
had been already visited by the sea, under circumstances which are known,
and it would not do to be exposed again to a similar accident.
"Besides," added Cyrus Harding, who this day was talking of these things
with his companions, "we have some precautions to take."
"Why? The island is not inhabited," said the reporter.
"That is probable," replied the engineer, "although we have not yet
explored the interior; but if no human beings are found, I fear that
dangerous animals may abound. It is necessary to guard against a possible
attack, so that we shall not be obliged to watch every night, or to keep up
a fire. And then, my friends, we must foresee everything. We are here in a
part of the Pacific often frequented by Malay pirates--"
"What!" said Herbert, "at such a distance from land?"
"Yes, my boy," replied the engineer. "These pirates are bold sailors as
well as formidable enemies, and we must take measures accordingly."
"Well," replied Pencroft, "we will fortify ourselves against savages with
two legs as well as against savages with four. But, captain, will it not be
best to explore every part of the island before undertaking anything else?"
"That would be best," added Gideon Spilett.
"Who knows if we might not find on the opposite side one of the caverns
which we have searched for in vain here?"
"That is true," replied the engineer, "but you forget, my friends, that
it will be necessary to establish ourselves in the neighborhood of a
watercourse, and that, from the summit of Mount Franklin, we could not see
towards the west, either stream or river. Here, on the contrary, we are
placed between the Mercy and Lake Grant, an advantage which must not be
neglected. And, besides, this side, looking towards the east, is not
exposed as the other is to the trade-winds, which in this hemisphere blow
from the northwest."
"Then, captain," replied the sailor, "let us build a house on the edge of
the lake. Neither bricks nor tools are wanting now. After having been
brickmakers, potters, smelters, and smiths, we shall surely know how to be
"Yes, my friend; but before coming to any decision we must consider the
matter thoroughly. A natural dwelling would spare us much work, and would
be a surer retreat, for it would be as well defended against enemies from
the interior as those from outside."
"That is true, Cyrus," replied the reporter, "but we have already
examined all that mass of granite, and there is not a hole, not a cranny!"
"No, not one!" added Pencroft. "Ah, if we were able to dig out a dwelling
in that cliff, at a good height, so as to be out of the reach of harm, that
would be capital! I can see that on the front which looks seaward, five or
"With windows to light them!" said Herbert, laughing.
"And a staircase to climb up to them!" added Neb.
"You are laughing," cried the sailor, "and why? What is there impossible
in what I propose? Haven't we got pickaxes and spades? Won't Captain
Harding be able to make powder to blow up the mine? Isn't it true, captain,
that you will make powder the very day we want it?"
Cyrus Harding listened to the enthusiastic Pencroft developing his
fanciful projects. To attack this mass of granite, even by a mine, was
Herculean work, and it was really vexing that nature could not help them at
their need. But the engineer did not reply to the sailor except by
proposing to examine the cliff more attentively, from the mouth of the
river to the angle which terminated it on the north.
They went out, therefore, and the exploration was made with extreme care,
over an extent of nearly two miles. But in no place in the bare, straight
cliff, could any cavity be found. The nests of the rock pigeons which
fluttered at its summit were only, in reality, holes bored at the very top,
and on the irregular edge of the granite.
It was a provoking circumstance, and as to attacking this cliff, either
with pickaxe or with powder, so as to effect a sufficient excavation, it
was not to be thought of. It so happened that, on all this part of the
shore, Pencroft had discovered the only habitable shelter, that is to say,
the Chimneys, which now had to be abandoned.
The exploration ended, the colonists found themselves at the north angle
of the cliff, where it terminated in long slopes which died away on the
shore. From this place, to its extreme limit in the west, it only formed a
sort of declivity, a thick mass of stones, earth, and sand, bound together
by plants, bushes, and grass inclined at an angle of only forty-five
degrees. Clumps of trees grew on these slopes, which were also carpeted
with thick grass. But the vegetation did not extend far, and a long, sandy
plain, which began at the foot of these slopes, reached to the beach.
Cyrus Harding thought, not without reason, that the overplus of the lake
must overflow on this side. The excess of water furnished by the Red Creek
must also escape by some channel or other. Now the engineer had not yet
found this channel on any part of the shore already explored, that is to
say, from the mouth of the stream on the west of Prospect Heights.
The engineer now proposed to his companions to climb the slope, and to
return to the Chimneys by the heights, while exploring the northern and
eastern shores of the lake. The proposal was accepted, and in a few minutes
Herbert and Neb were on the upper plateau. Cyrus Harding, Gideon Spilett,
and Pencroft followed with more sedate steps.
The beautiful sheet of water glittered through the trees under the rays
of the sun. In this direction the country was charming. The eye feasted on
the groups of trees. Some old trunks, bent with age, showed black against
the verdant grass which covered the ground. Crowds of brilliant cockatoos
screamed among the branches, moving prisms, hopping from one bough to
The settlers instead of going directly to the north bank of the lake,
made a circuit round the edge of the plateau, so as to join the mouth of
the creek on its left bank. It was a detour of more than a mile and a half.
Walking was easy, for the trees widely spread, left a considerable space
between them. The fertile zone evidently stopped at this point, and
vegetation would be less vigorous in the part between the course of the
Creek and the Mercy.
Cyrus Harding and his companions walked over this new ground with great
care. Bows, arrows, and sticks with sharp iron points were their only
weapons. However, no wild beast showed itself, and it was probable that
these animals frequented rather the thick forests in the south; but the
settlers had the disagreeable surprise of seeing Top stop before a snake of
great size, measuring from fourteen to fifteen feet in length. Neb killed
it by a blow from his stick. Cyrus Harding examined the reptile, and
declared it not venomous, for it belonged to that species of diamond
serpents which the natives of New South Wales rear. But it was possible
that others existed whose bite was mortal such as the deaf vipers with
forked tails, which rise up under the feet, or those winged snakes,
furnished with two ears, which enable them to proceed with great rapidity.
Top, the first moment of surprise over, began a reptile chase with such
eagerness, that they feared for his safety. His master called him back
The mouth of the Red Creek, at the place where it entered into the lake,
was soon reached. The explorers recognized on the opposite shore the point
which they had visited on their descent from Mount Franklin. Cyrus Harding
ascertained that the flow of water into it from the creek was considerable.
Nature must therefore have provided some place for the escape of the
overplus. This doubtless formed a fall, which, if it could be discovered,
would be of great use.
The colonists, walking apart, but not straying far from each other, began
to skirt the edge of the lake, which was very steep. The water appeared to
be full of fish, and Pencroft resolved to make some fishing-rods, so as to
try and catch some.
The northeast point was first to be doubled. It might have been supposed
that the discharge of water was at this place, for the extremity of the
lake was almost on a level with the edge of the plateau. But no signs of
this were discovered, and the colonists continued to explore the bank,
which, after a slight bend, descended parallel to the shore.
On this side the banks were less woody, but clumps of trees, here and
there, added to the picturesqueness of the country. Lake Grant was viewed
from thence in all its extent, and no breath disturbed the surface of its
waters. Top, in beating the bushes, put up flocks of birds of different
kinds, which Gideon Spilett and Herbert saluted with arrows. One was hit
by the lad, and fell into some marshy grass. Top rushed forward, and
brought a beautiful swimming bird, of a slate color, short beak, very
developed frontal plate, and wings edged with white. It was a "coot," the
size of a large partridge, belonging to the group of macrodactyls which
form the transition between the order of wading birds and that of
palmipeds. Sorry game, in truth, and its flavor is far from pleasant. But
Top was not so particular in these things as his masters, and it was agreed
that the coot should be for his supper.
The settlers were now following the eastern bank of the lake, and they
would not be long in reaching the part which they already knew. The
engineer was much surprised at not seeing any indication of the discharge
of water. The reporter and the sailor talked with him, and he could not
conceal his astonishment.
At this moment Top, who had been very quiet till then, gave signs of
agitation. The intelligent animal went backwards and forwards on the shore,
stopped suddenly, and looked at the water, one paw raised, as if he was
pointing at some invisible game; then he barked furiously, and was suddenly
Neither Cyrus Harding nor his companions had at first paid any attention
to Top's behavior; but the dog's barking soon became so frequent that the
engineer noticed it.
"What is there, Top?" he asked.
The dog bounded towards his master, seeming to be very uneasy, and then
rushed again towards the bank. Then, all at once, he plunged into the lake.
"Here, Top!" cried Cyrus Harding, who did not like his dog to venture
into the treacherous water.
"What's happening down there?" asked Pencroft, examining the surface of
"Top smells some amphibious creature," replied Herbert.
"An alligator, perhaps," said the reporter.
"I do not think so," replied Harding. "Alligators are only met with in
regions less elevated in latitude."
Meanwhile Top had returned at his master's call, and had regained the
shore: but he could not stay quiet; he plunged in among the tall grass, and
guided by instinct, he appeared to follow some invisible being which was
slipping along under the surface of the water. However the water was calm;
not a ripple disturbed its surface. Several times the settlers stopped on
the bank, and observed it attentively. Nothing appeared. There was some
The engineer was puzzled.
"Let us pursue this exploration to the end," said he.
Half an hour after they had all arrived at the southeast angle of the
lake, on Prospect Heights. At this point the examination of the banks of
the lake was considered finished, and yet the engineer had not been able to
discover how and where the waters were discharged. "There is no doubt this
overflow exists," he repeated, and since it is not visible it must go
through the granite cliff at the west!"
"But what importance do you attach to knowing that, my dear Cyrus?" asked
"Considerable importance," replied the engineer; "for if it flows through
the cliff there is probably some cavity, which it would be easy to render
habitable after turning away the water."
"But is it not possible, captain, that the water flows away at the bottom
of the lake," said Herbert, "and that it reaches the sea by some
"That might be," replied the engineer, "and should it be so we shall be
obliged to build our house ourselves, since nature has not done it for us."
The colonists were about to begin to traverse the plateau to return to
the Chimneys, when Top gave new signs of agitation. He barked with fury,
and before his master could restrain him, he had plunged a second time into
All ran towards the bank. The dog was already more than twenty feet off,
and Cyrus was calling him back, when an enormous head emerged from the
water, which did not appear to be deep in that place.
Herbert recognized directly the species of amphibian to which the
tapering head, with large eyes, and adorned with long silky mustaches,
"A lamantin!" he cried.
It was not a lamantin, but one of that species of the order of cetaceans,
which bear the name of the "dugong," for its nostrils were open at the
upper part of its snout. The enormous animal rushed on the dog, who tried
to escape by returning towards the shore. His master could do nothing to
save him, and before Gideon Spilett or Herbert thought of bending their
bows, Top, seized by the dugong, had disappeared beneath the water.
Neb, his iron-tipped spear in his hand, wished to go to Top's help, and
attack the dangerous animal in its own element.
"No, Neb," said the engineer, restraining his courageous servant.
Meanwhile, a struggle was going on beneath the water, an inexplicable
struggle, for in his situation Top could not possibly resist; and judging
by the bubbling of the surface it must be also a terrible struggle, and
could not but terminate in the death of the dog! But suddenly, in the
middle of a foaming circle, Top reappeared. Thrown in the air by some
unknown power, he rose ten feet above the surface of the lake, fell again
into the midst of the agitated waters, and then soon gained the shore,
without any severe wounds, miraculously saved.
Cyrus Harding and his companions could not understand it. What was not
less inexplicable was that the struggle still appeared to be going on.
Doubtless, the dugong, attacked by some powerful animal, after having
released the dog, was fighting on its own account. But it did not last
long. The water became red with blood, and the body of the dugong, emerging
from the sheet of scarlet which spread around, soon stranded on a little
beach at the south angle of the lake. The colonists ran towards it. The
dugong was dead. It was an enormous animal, fifteen or sixteen feet long,
and must have weighed from three to four thousand pounds. At its neck was a
wound, which appeared to have been produced by a sharp blade.
What could the amphibious creature have been, who, by this terrible blow
had destroyed the formidable dugong? No one could tell, and much interested
in this incident, Harding and his companions returned to the Chimneys.
The next day, the 7th of May, Harding and Gideon Spilett, leaving Neb to
prepare breakfast, climbed Prospect Heights, while Herbert and Pencroft
ascended by the river, to renew their store of wood.
The engineer and the reporter soon reached the little beach on which the
dugong had been stranded. Already flocks of birds had attacked the mass of
flesh, and had to be driven away with stones, for Cyrus wished to keep the
fat for the use of the colony. As to the animal's flesh it would furnish
excellent food, for in the islands of the Malay Archipelago and elsewhere,
it is especially reserved for the table of the native princes. But that was
At this moment Cyrus Harding had other thoughts. He was much interested
in the incident of the day before. He wished to penetrate the mystery of
that submarine combat, and to ascertain what monster could have given the
dugong so strange a wound. He remained at the edge of the lake, looking,
observing; but nothing appeared under the tranquil waters, which sparkled
in the first rays of the rising sun.
At the beach, on which lay the body of the dugong, the water was
tolerably shallow, but from this point the bottom of the lake sloped
gradually, and it was probable that the depth was considerable in the
center. The lake might be considered as a large center basin, which was
filled by the water from the Red Creek.
"Well, Cyrus," said the reporter, "there seems to be nothing suspicious
in this water."
"No, my dear Spilett," replied the engineer, "and I really do not know how
to account for the incident of yesterday."
"I acknowledge," returned Spilett, "that the wound given this creature
is, at least, very strange, and I cannot explain either how Top was so
vigorously cast up out of the water. One could have thought that a powerful
arm hurled him up, and that the same arm with a dagger killed the dugong!"
"Yes," replied the engineer, who had become thoughtful; "there is
something there that I cannot understand. But do you better understand
either, my dear Spilett, in what way I was saved myself--how I was drawn
from the waves, and carried to the downs? No! Is it not true? Now, I feel
sure that there is some mystery there, which, doubtless, we shall discover
some day. Let us observe, but do not dwell on these singular incidents
before our companions. Let us keep our remarks to ourselves, and continue
It will be remembered that the engineer had not as yet been able to
discover the place where the surplus water escaped, but he knew it must
exist somewhere. He was much surprised to see a strong current at this
place. By throwing in some bits of wood he found that it set towards the
southern angle. He followed the current, and arrived at the south point of
There was there a sort of depression in the water, as if it was suddenly
lost in some fissure in the ground.
Harding listened; placing his ear to the level of the lake, he very
distinctly heard the noise of a subterranean fall.
"There," said he, rising, "is the discharge of the water; there,
doubtless, by a passage in the granite cliff, it joins the sea, through
cavities which we can use to our profit. Well, I can find it!"
The engineer cut a long branch, stripped it of its leaves, and plunging
it into the angle between the two banks, he found that there was a large
hole one foot only beneath the surface of the water. This hole was the
opening so long looked for in vain, and the force of the current was such
that the branch was torn from the engineer's hands and disappeared.
"There is no doubt about it now," repeated Harding. "There is the outlet,
and I will lay it open to view!"
"How?" asked Gideon Spilett.
"By lowering the level of the water of the lake three feet." "And how
will you lower the level?"
"By opening another outlet larger than this."
"At what place, Cyrus?"
"At the part of the bank nearest the coast."
"But it is a mass of granite!" observed Spilett.
"Well," replied Cyrus Harding, "I will blow up the granite, and the water
escaping, will subside, so as to lay bare this opening--"
"And make a waterfall, by falling on to the beach," added the reporter.
"A fall that we shall make use of!" replied Cyrus. "Come, come!"
The engineer hurried away his companion, whose confidence in Harding was
such that he did not doubt the enterprise would succeed. And yet, how was
this granite wall to be opened without powder, and with imperfect
instruments? Was not this work upon which the engineer was so bent above
When Harding and the reporter entered the Chimneys, they found Herbert
and Pencroft unloading their raft of wood.
"The woodmen have just finished, captain." said the sailor, laughing, "and
when you want masons--"
"Masons,--no, but chemists," replied the engineer.
"Yes," added the reporter, "we are going to blow up the island--"
"Blow up the island?" cried Pencroft.
"Part of it, at least," replied Spilett.
"Listen to me, my friends," said the engineer. And he made known to them
the result of his observations.
According to him, a cavity, more or less considerable, must exist in the
mass of granite which supported Prospect Heights, and he intended to
penetrate into it. To do this, the opening through which the water rushed
must first be cleared, and the level lowered by making a larger outlet.
Therefore an explosive substance must be manufactured, which would make a
deep trench in some other part of the shore. This was what Harding was
going to attempt with the minerals which nature placed at his disposal.
It is useless to say with what enthusiasm all, especially Pencroft,
received this project. To employ great means, open the granite, create a
cascade, that suited the sailor. And he would just as soon be a chemist as
a mason or bootmaker, since the engineer wanted chemicals. He would be all
that they liked, "even a professor of dancing and deportment," said he to
Neb, if that was ever necessary.
Neb and Pencroft were first of all told to extract the grease from the
dugong, and to keep the flesh, which was destined for food. Such perfect
confidence had they in the engineer, that they set out directly, without
even asking a question. A few minutes after them, Cyrus Harding, Herbert,
and Gideon Spilett, dragging the hurdle, went towards the vein of coals,
where those shistose pyrites abound which are met with in the most recent
transition soil, and of which Harding had already found a specimen. All the
day being employed in carrying a quantity of these stones to the Chimneys,
by evening they had several tons.
The next day, the 8th of May, the engineer began his manipulations. These
shistose pyrites being composed principally of coal, flint, alumina, and
sulphuret of iron--the latter in excess--it was necessary to separate the
sulphuret of iron, and transform it into sulphate as rapidly as possible.
The sulphate obtained, the sulphuric acid could then be extracted.
This was the object to be attained. Sulphuric acid is one of the agents
the most frequently employed, and the manufacturing importance of a nation
can be measured by the consumption which is made of it. This acid would
later be of great use to the settlers, in the manufacturing of candles,
tanning skins, etc., but this time the engineer reserved it for another
Cyrus Harding chose, behind the Chimneys, a site where the ground was
perfectly level. On this ground he placed a layer of branches and chopped
wood, on which were piled some pieces of shistose pyrites, buttressed one
against the other, the whole being covered with a thin layer of pyrites,
previously reduced to the size of a nut.
This done, they set fire to the wood, the heat was communicated to the
shist, which soon kindled, since it contains coal and sulphur. Then new
layers of bruised pyrites were arranged so as to form an immense heap, the
exterior of which was covered with earth and grass, several air-holes being
left, as if it was a stack of wood which was to be carbonized to make
They then left the transformation to complete itself, and it would not
take less than ten or twelve days for the sulphuret of iron to be changed
to sulphate of iron and the alumina into sulphate of alumina, two equally
soluble substances, the others, flint, burnt coal, and cinders, not being
While this chemical work was going on, Cyrus Harding proceeded with other
operations, which were pursued with more than zeal,--it was eagerness.
Neb and Pencroft had taken away the fat from the dugong, and placed it in
large earthen pots. It was then necessary to separate the glycerine from
the fat by saponifying it. Now, to obtain this result, it had to be treated
either with soda or lime. In fact, one or other of these substances, after
having attacked the fat, would form a soap by separating the glycerine, and
it was just this glycerine which the engineer wished to obtain. There was
no want of lime, only treatment by lime would give calcareous soap,
insoluble, and consequently useless, while treatment by soda would furnish,
on the contrary, a soluble soap, which could be put to domestic use. Now, a
practical man, like Cyrus Harding, would rather try to obtain soda. Was
this difficult? No; for marine plants abounded on the shore, glass-wort,
ficoides, and all those fucaceae which form wrack. A large quantity of
these plants was collected, first dried, then burnt in holes in the open
air. The combustion of these plants was kept up for several days, and the
result was a compact gray mass, which has been long known under the name of
This obtained, the engineer treated the fat with soda, which gave both a
soluble soap and that neutral substance, glycerine.
But this was not all. Cyrus Harding still needed, in view of his future
preparation, another substance, nitrate of potash, which is better known
under the name of salt niter, or of saltpeter.
Cyrus Harding could have manufactured this substance by treating the
carbonate of potash, which would be easily extracted from the cinders of
the vegetables, by azotic acid. But this acid was wanting, and he would
have been in some difficulty, if nature had not happily furnished the
saltpeter, without giving them any other trouble than that of picking it
up. Herbert found a vein of it at the foot of Mount Franklin, and they had
nothing to do but purify this salt.
These different works lasted a week. They were finished before the
transformation of the sulphuret into sulphate of iron had been
accomplished. During the following days the settlers had time to construct
a furnace of bricks of a particular arrangement, to serve for the
distillation of the sulphate or iron when it had been obtained. All this
was finished about the 18th of May, nearly at the time when the chemical
transformation terminated. Gideon Spilett, Herbert, Neb, and Pencroft,
skillfully directed by the engineer, had become most clever workmen. Before
all masters, necessity is the one most listened to, and who teaches the
When the heap of pyrites had been entirely reduced by fire, the result of
the operation, consisting of sulphate of iron, sulphate of alumina, flint,
remains of coal, and cinders was placed in a basinful of water. They
stirred this mixture, let it settle, then decanted it, and obtained a clear
liquid containing in solution sulphate of iron and sulphate of alumina, the
other matters remaining solid, since they are insoluble. Lastly, this
liquid being partly evaporated, crystals of sulphate of iron were
deposited, and the not evaporated liquid, which contained the sulphate of
alumina, was thrown away.
Cyrus Harding had now at his disposal a large quantity of these sulphate
of iron crystals, from which the sulphuric acid had to be extracted. The
making of sulphuric acid is a very expensive manufacture. Considerable
works are necessary--a special set of tools, an apparatus of platina,
leaden chambers, unassailable by the acid, and in which the transformation
is performed, etc. The engineer had none of these at his disposal, but he
knew that, in Bohemia especially, sulphuric acid is manufactured by very
simple means, which have also the advantage of producing it to a superior
degree of concentration. It is thus that the acid known under the name of
Nordhausen acid is made.
To obtain sulphuric acid, Cyrus Harding had only one operation to make,
to calcine the sulphate of iron crystals in a closed vase, so that the
sulphuric acid should distil in vapor, which vapor, by condensation, would
produce the acid.
The crystals were placed in pots, and the heat from the furnace would
distil the sulphuric acid. The operation was successfully completed, and on
the 20th of May, twelve days after commencing it, the engineer was the
possessor of the agent which later he hoped to use in so many different
Now, why did he wish for this agent? Simply to produce azotic acid; and
that was easy, since saltpeter, attacked by sulphuric acid, gives azotic,
or nitric, acid by distillation.
But, after all, how was he going to employ this azotic acid? His
companions were still ignorant of this, for he had not informed them of the
result at which he aimed.
However, the engineer had nearly accomplished his purpose, and by a last
operation he would procure the substance which had given so much trouble.
Taking some azotic acid, he mixed it with glycerine, which had been
previously concentrated by evaporation, subjected to the water-bath, and he
obtained, without even employing a refrigerant mixture, several pints of an
oily yellow mixture.
This last operation Cyrus Harding had made alone, in a retired place, at
a distance from the Chimneys, for he feared the danger of an explosion, and
when he showed a bottle of this liquid to his friends, he contented himself
"Here is nitro-glycerine!"
It was really this terrible production, of which the explosive power is
perhaps tenfold that of ordinary powder, and which has already caused so
many accidents. However, since a way has been found to transform it into
dynamite, that is to say, to mix with it some solid substance, clay or
sugar, porous enough to hold it, the dangerous liquid has been used with
some security. But dynamite was not yet known at the time when the settlers
worked on Lincoln Island.
"And is it that liquid that is going to blow up our rocks?" said Pencroft
"Yes, my friend," replied the engineer, "and this nitro-glycerine will
produce so much the more effect, as the granite is extremely hard, and will
oppose a greater resistance to the explosion."
"And when shall we see this, captain?"
"To-morrow, as soon as we have dug a hole for the mine, replied the
The next day, the 21st of May, at daybreak, the miners went to the point
which formed the eastern shore of Lake Grant, and was only five hundred
feet from the coast. At this place, the plateau inclined downwards from the
waters, which were only restrained by their granite case. Therefore, if
this case was broken, the water would escape by the opening and form a
stream, which, flowing over the inclined surface of the plateau, would rush
on to the beach. Consequently, the level of the lake would be greatly
lowered, and the opening where the water escaped would be exposed, which
was their final aim.
Under the engineer's directions, Pencroft, armed with a pickaxe, which he
handled skillfully and vigorously, attacked the granite. The hole was made
on the point of the shore, slanting, so that it should meet a much lower
level than that of the water of the lake. In this way the explosive force,
by scattering the rock, would open a large place for the water to rush out.
The work took some time, for the engineer, wishing to produce a great
effect, intended to devote not less than seven quarts of nitro-glycerine to
the operation. But Pencroft, relieved by Neb, did so well, that towards
four o'clock in the evening, the mine was finished.
Now the question of setting fire to the explosive substance was raised.
Generally, nitro-glycerine is ignited by caps of fulminate, which in
bursting cause the explosion. A shock is therefore needed to produce the
explosion, for, simply lighted, this substance would burn without
Cyrus Harding could certainly have fabricated a percussion cap. In
default of fulminate, he could easily obtain a substance similar to
guncotton, since he had azotic acid at his disposal. This substance,
pressed in a cartridge, and introduced among the nitro-glycerine, would
burst by means of a fuse, and cause the explosion.
But Cyrus Harding knew that nitro-glycerine would explode by a shock. He
resolved to employ this means, and try another way, if this did not
In fact, the blow of a hammer on a few drops of nitro-glycerine, spread
out on a hard surface, was enough to create an explosion. But the operator
could not be there to give the blow, without becoming a victim to the
operation. Harding, therefore, thought of suspending a mass of iron,
weighing several pounds, by means of a fiber, to an upright just above the
mine. Another long fiber, previously impregnated with sulphur, was attached
to the middle of the first, by one end, while the other lay on the ground
several feet distant from the mine. The second fiber being set on fire, it
would burn till it reached the first. This catching fire in its turn, would
break, and the mass of iron would fall on the nitro-glycerine. This
apparatus being then arranged, the engineer, after having sent his
companions to a distance, filled the hole, so that the nitro-glycerine was
on a level with the opening; then he threw a few drops of it on the surface
of the rock, above which the mass of iron was already suspended.
This done, Harding lit the end of the sulphured fiber, and leaving the
place, he returned with his companions to the Chimneys.
The fiber was intended to burn five and twenty minutes, and, in fact,
five and twenty minutes afterwards a most tremendous explosion was heard.
The island appeared to tremble to its very foundation. Stones were
projected in the air as if by the eruption of a volcano. The shock produced
by the displacing of the air was such, that the rocks of the Chimneys
shook. The settlers, although they were more than two miles from the mine,
were thrown on the ground.
They rose, climbed the plateau, and ran towards the place where the bank
of the lake must have been shattered by the explosion.
A cheer escaped them! A large rent was seen in the granite! A rapid
stream of water rushed foaming across the plateau and dashed down a height
of three hundred feet on to the beach!
Cyrus Harding's project had succeeded, but, according to his usual habit he
showed no satisfaction; with closed lips and a fixed look, he remained
motionless. Herbert was in ecstasies, Neb bounded with joy, Pencroft nodded
his great head, murmuring these words,--
"Come, our engineer gets on capitally!"
The nitro-glycerine had indeed acted powerfully. The opening which it had
made was so large that the volume of water which escaped through this new
outlet was at least treble that which before passed through the old one.
The result was, that a short time after the operation the level of the lake
would be lowered two feet, or more.
The settlers went to the Chimneys to take some pickaxes, iron-tipped
spears, string made of fibers, flint and steel; they then returned to the
plateau, Top accompanying them.
On the way the sailor could not help saying to the engineer,--
"Don't you think, captain, that by means of that charming liquid you have
made, one could blow up the whole of our island?"
"Without any doubt, the island, continents, and the world itself,"
replied the engineer. "It is only a question of quantity."
"Then could you not use this nitro-glycerine for loading firearms?" asked
"No, Pencroft; for it is too explosive a substance. But it would be easy
to make some guncotton, or even ordinary powder, as we have azotic acid,
saltpeter, sulphur, and coal. Unhappily, it is the guns which we have not
"Oh, captain," replied the sailor, "with a little determination--"
Pencroft had erased the word "impossible" from the dictionary of Lincoln
The settlers, having arrived at Prospect Heights, went immediately
towards that point of the lake near which was the old opening now
uncovered. This outlet had now become practicable, since the water no
longer rushed through it, and it would doubtless be easy to explore the
In a few minutes the settlers had reached the lower point of the lake,
and a glance showed them that the object had been attained.
In fact, in the side of the lake, and now above the surface of the water,
appeared the long-looked-for opening. A narrow ridge, left bare by the
retreat of the water, allowed them to approach it. This orifice was nearly
twenty feet in width, but scarcely two in height. It was like the mouth of
a drain at the edge of the pavement, and therefore did not offer an easy
passage to the settlers; but Neb and Pencroft, taking their pickaxes, soon
made it of a suitable height.
The engineer then approached, and found that the sides of the opening, in
its upper part at least, had not a slope of more than from thirty to
thirty-five degrees. It was therefore practicable, and, provided that the
declivity did not increase, it would be easy to descend even to the level
of the sea. If then, as was probable, some vast cavity existed in the
interior of the granite, it might, perhaps, be of great use.
"Well, captain, what are we stopping for?" asked the sailor, impatient to
enter the narrow passage. You see Top has got before us!"
"Very well," replied the engineer. "But we must see our way. Neb, go and
cut some resinous branches."
Neb and Herbert ran to the edge of the lake, shaded with pines and other
green trees, and soon returned with some branches, which they made into
torches. The torches were lighted with flint and steel, and Cyrus Harding
leading, the settlers ventured into the dark passage, which the overplus of
the lake had formerly filled.
Contrary to what might have been supposed, the diameter of the passage
increased as the explorers proceeded, so that they very soon were able to
stand upright. The granite, worn by the water for an infinite time, was
very slippery, and falls were to be dreaded. But the settlers were all
attached to each other by a cord, as is frequently done in ascending
mountains. Happily some projections of the granite, forming regular steps,
made the descent less perilous. Drops, still hanging from the rocks, shone
here and there under the light of the torches, and the explorers guessed
that the sides were clothed with innumerable stalactites. The engineer
examined this black granite. There was not a stratum, not a break in it.
The mass was compact, and of an extremely close grain. The passage dated,
then, from the very origin of the island. It was not the water which little
by little had hollowed it. Pluto and not Neptune had bored it with his own
hand, and on the wall traces of an eruptive work could be distinguished,
which all the washing of the water had not been able totally to efface.
The settlers descended very slowly. They could not but feel a certain
awe, in this venturing into these unknown depths, for the first time
visited by human beings. They did not speak, but they thought; and the
thought came to more than one, that some polypus or other gigantic
cephalopod might inhabit the interior cavities, which were in communication
with the sea. However, Top kept at the head of the little band, and they
could rely on the sagacity of the dog, who would not fail to give the alarm
if there was any need for it.
After having descended about a hundred feet, following a winding road,
Harding who was walking on before, stopped, and his companions came up with
him. The place where they had halted was wider, so as to form a cavern of
moderate dimensions. Drops of water fell from the vault, but that did not
prove that they oozed through the rock. They were simply the last traces
left by the torrent which had so long thundered through this cavity, and
the air there was pure though slightly damp, but producing no mephitic
"Well, my dear Cyrus," said Gideon Spilett, "here is a very secure
retreat, well hid in the depths of the rock, but it is, however,
"Why uninhabitable?" asked the sailor.
"Because it is too small and too dark."
"Couldn't we enlarge it, hollow it out, make openings to let in light and
air?" replied Pencroft, who now thought nothing impossible.
"Let us go on with our exploration," said Cyrus Harding. "Perhaps lower
down, nature will have spared us this labor."
"We have only gone a third of the way," observed Herbert.
"Nearly a third," replied Harding, "for we have descended a hundred feet
from the opening, and it is not impossible that a hundred feet farther
"Where is Top?" asked Neb, interrupting his master.
They searched the cavern, but the dog was not there.
"Most likely he has gone on," said Pencroft.
"Let us join him," replied Harding.
The descent was continued. The engineer carefully observed all the
deviations of the passage, and notwithstanding so many detours, he could
easily have given an account of its general direction, which went towards
The settlers had gone some fifty feet farther, when their attention was
attracted by distant sounds which came up from the depths. They stopped and
listened. These sounds, carried through the passage as through an acoustic
tube, came clearly to the ear.
"That is Top barking!" cried Herbert.
"Yes," replied Pencroft, "and our brave dog is barking furiously!"
"We have our iron-tipped spears," said Cyrus Harding. "Keep on your
guard, and forward!"
"It is becoming more and more interesting," murmured Gideon Spilett in
the sailor's ear, who nodded. Harding and his companions rushed to the help
of their dog. Top's barking became more and more perceptible, and it seemed
strangely fierce. Was he engaged in a struggle with some animal whose
retreat he had disturbed? Without thinking of the danger to which they
might be exposed, the explorers were now impelled by an irresistible
curiosity, and in a few minutes, sixteen feet lower they rejoined Top.
There the passage ended in a vast and magnificent cavern.
Top was running backwards and forwards, barking furiously. Pencroft and
Neb, waving their torches, threw the light into every crevice; and at the
same time, Harding, Gideon Spilett, and Herbert, their spears raised, were
ready for any emergency which might arise. The enormous cavern was empty.
The settlers explored it in every direction. There was nothing there, not
an animal, not a human being; and yet Top continued to bark. Neither
caresses nor threats could make him be silent.
"There must be a place somewhere, by which the waters of the lake reached
the sea," said the engineer.
"Of course," replied Pencroft, "and we must take care not to tumble into
"Go, Top, go!" cried Harding.
The dog, excited by his master's words, ran towards the extremity of the
cavern, and there redoubled his barking.
They followed him, and by the light of the torches, perceived the mouth
of a regular well in the granite. It was by this that the water escaped;
and this time it was not an oblique and practicable passage, but a
perpendicular well, into which it was impossible to venture.
The torches were held over the opening: nothing could be seen. Harding
took a lighted branch, and threw it into the abyss. The blazing resin,
whose illuminating power increased still more by the rapidity of its fall,
lighted up the interior of the well, but yet nothing appeared. The flame
then went out with a slight hiss, which showed that it had reached the
water, that is to say, the level of the sea.
The engineer, calculating the time employed in its fall, was able to
calculate the depth of the well, which was found to be about ninety feet.
The floor of the cavern must thus be situated ninety feet above the level
of the sea.
"Here is our dwelling," said Cyrus Harding.
"But it was occupied by some creature," replied Gideon Spilett, whose
curiosity was not yet satisfied.
"Well, the creature, amphibious or otherwise, has made off through this
opening," replied the engineer, "and has left the place for us."
"Never mind," added the sailor, "I should like very much to be Top just
for a quarter of an hour, for he doesn't bark for nothing!"
Cyrus Harding looked at his dog, and those of his companions who were
near him might have heard him murmur these words,--
"Yes, I believe that Top knows more than we do about a great many
However, the wishes of the settlers were for the most part satisfied.
Chance, aided by the marvelous sagacity of their leader, had done them
great service. They had now at their disposal a vast cavern, the size of
which could not be properly calculated by the feeble light of their
torches, but it would certainly be easy to divide it into rooms, by means
of brick partitions, or to use it, if not as a house, at least as a
spacious apartment. The water which had left it could not return. The place
Two difficulties remained; firstly, the possibility of lighting this
excavation in the midst of solid rock; secondly, the necessity of rendering
the means of access more easy. It was useless to think of lighting it from
above, because of the enormous thickness of the granite which composed the
ceiling; but perhaps the outer wall next the sea might be pierced. Cyrus
Harding, during the descent, had roughly calculated its obliqueness, and
consequently the length of the passage, and was therefore led to believe
that the outer wall could not be very thick. If light was thus obtained, so
would a means of access, for it would be as easy to pierce a door as
windows, and to establish an exterior ladder.
Harding made known his ideas to his companions.
"Then, captain, let us set to work!" replied Pencroft. "I have my
pickaxe, and I shall soon make my way through this wall. Where shall I
"Here," replied the engineer, showing the sturdy sailor a considerable
recess in the side, which would much diminish the thickness.
Pencroft attacked the granite, and for half an hour, by the light of the
torches, he made the splinters fly around him. Neb relieved him, then
Spilett took Neb's place.
This work had lasted two hours, and they began to fear that at this spot
the wall would not yield to the pickaxe, when at a last blow given by
Gideon Spilett, the instrument, passing through the rock, fell outside.
"Hurrah! hurrah!" cried Pencroft.
The wall only measured there three feet in thickness.
Harding applied his eye to the aperture, which overlooked the ground from
a height of eighty feet. Before him was extended the sea-coast, the islet,
and beyond the open sea.