"Whoever he may be," remarked Gideon Spilett; "whoever he may have been, and whatever he may become, it is our duty to take him with us to Lincoln Island."
"Yes, yes!" replied Herbert; "and perhaps with care we may arouse in him some gleam of intelligence."
"The soul does not die," said the reporter; "and it would be a great satisfaction to rescue one of God's creatures from brutishness."
Pencroft shook his head doubtfully.
"We must try at any rate," returned the reporter; "humanity commands us."
It was indeed their duty as Christians and civilised beings. All three felt this, and they well knew that Cyrus Harding would approve of their acting thus.
"Shall we leave him bound?" asked the sailor.
"Perhaps he would walk if his feet were unfastened," said Herbert.
"Let us try," replied Pencroft.
The cords which shackled the prisoner's feet were cut off, but his arms remained securely fastened. He got up by himself and did not manifest any desire to run away. His hard eyes darted a piercing glance at the three men, who walked near him, but nothing denoted that he recollected being their fellow, or at least having been so. A continual hissing sound issued from his lips, his aspect was wild, but he did not attempt to resist.
By the reporter's advice the unfortunate man was taken to the hut. Perhaps the sight of the things that belonged to him would make some impression on him! Perhaps a spark would be sufficient to revive his obscured intellect, to rekindle his dulled soul. The dwelling was not far off. In a few minutes they arrived there, but the prisoner remembered nothing, and it appeared that he had lost consciousness of everything.
What could they think of the degree of brutishness into which this miserable being had fallen, unless that his imprisonment on the islet dated from a very distant period, and after having arrived there a rational being solitude had reduced him to this condition.
The reporter then thought that perhaps the sight of fire would have some effect on him, and in a moment one of those beautiful flames, that attract even animals, blazed up on the hearth. The sight of the flame seemed at first to fix the attention of the unhappy object, but soon he turned away and the look of intelligence faded. Evidently there was nothing to be done, for the time at least, but to take him on board the Bonadventure. This was done, and he remained there in Pencroft's charge.
Herbert and Spilett returned to finish their work; and some hours after they came back to the shore, carrying the utensils and guns, a store of vegetables, of seeds, some game, and two couple of pigs.
All was embarked, and the Bonadventure was ready to weigh anchor and sail with the morning tide.
The prisoner had been placed in the fore cabin, where he remained quiet, silent, apparently deaf and dumb.
Pencroft offered him something to eat, but he pushed away the cooked meat that was presented to him and which doubtless did not suit him. But on the sailor showing him one of the ducks which Herbert had killed, he pounced on it like a wild beast, and devoured it greedily.
"You think that he will recover his senses?" asked Pencroft. "It is not impossible that our care will have an effect upon him, for it is solitude that has made him what he is, and from this time forward he will be no longer alone."
"The poor man must no doubt have been in this state for a long time," said Herbert.
"Perhaps," answered Gideon Spilett.
"About what age is he?" asked the lad.
"It is difficult to say," replied the reporter; "for it is impossible to see his features under the thick beard which covers his face; but he is no longer young, and I suppose he might be about fifty."
"Have you noticed, Mr. Spilett, how deeply sunk his eyes are?" asked Herbert.
"Yes, Herbert; but I must add that they are more human than one could expect from his appearance."
"However, we shall see," replied Pencroft; "and I am anxious to know what opinion Captain Harding will have of our savage. We went to look for a human creature, and we are bringing back a monster! After all we did what we could."
The night passed, and whether the prisoner slept or not could not be known; but at any rate, although he had been unbound, he did not move. He was like a wild animal, which appears stunned at first by its capture, and becomes wild again afterwards.
At daybreak the next morning, the 15th of October, the change of weather predicted by Pencroft occurred. The wind having shifted to the north-west favoured the return of the Bonadventure, but at the same time it freshened, which would render navigation more difficult.
At five o'clock in the morning the anchor was weighed. Pencroft took a reef in the mainsail, and steered towards the north-east, so as to sail straight for Lincoln Island.
The first day of the voyage was not marked by any incident. The prisoner remained quiet in the fore-cabin, and as he had been a sailor it appeared that the motion of the vessel might produce on him a salutary reaction. Did some recollection of his former calling return to him? However that might be he remained tranquil, astonished rather than depressed.
The next day the wind increased, blowing more from the north, consequently in a less favourable direction for the Bonadventure. Pencroft was soon obliged to sail close-hauled, and without saying anything about it he began to be uneasy at the state of the sea, which frequently broke over the bows. Certainly, if the wind did not moderate, it would take a longer time to reach Lincoln Island than it had taken to make Tabor Island.
Indeed, on the morning of the 17th, the Bonadventure had been forty-eight hours at sea, and nothing showed that she was near the island. It was impossible, besides, to estimate the distance traversed, or to trust to the reckoning for the direction, as the speed had been very irregular.
Twenty-four hours after there was yet no land in sight. The wind was right ahead and the sea very heavy. The sails were close-reefed, and they tacked frequently. On the 18th, a wave swept completely over the Bonadventure; and if the crew had not taken the precaution of lashing themselves to the deck, they would have been carried away.
On this occasion Pencroft and his companions, who were occupied with loosing themselves, received unexpected aid from the prisoner, who emerged from the hatchway as if his sailor's instinct had suddenly returned, broke a piece out of the bulwarks with a spar so as to let the water which filled the deck escape. Then the vessel being clear, he descended to his cabin without having uttered a word. Pencroft, Gideon Spilett, and Herbert, greatly astonished, let him proceed.
Their situation was truly serious, and the sailor had reason to fear that he was lost on the wide sea without any possibility of recovering his course.
The night was dark and cold. However, about eleven o'clock, the wind fell, the sea went down, and the speed of the vessel, as she laboured less, greatly increased.
Neither Pencroft, Spilett, nor Herbert thought of taking an hour's sleep. They kept a sharp look-out, for either Lincoln Island could not be far distant and would be sighted at daybreak, or the Bonadventure, carried away by currents, had drifted so much that it would be impossible to rectify her course. Pencroft, uneasy to the last degree, yet did not despair, for he had a gallant heart, and grasping the tiller he anxiously endeavoured to pierce the darkness which surrounded them.
About two o'clock in the morning he started forward, —
"A light! a light!" he shouted.
Indeed, a bright light appeared twenty miles to the north-east. Lincoln Island was there, and this fire, evidently lighted by Cyrus Harding, showed them the course to be followed. Pencroft, who was bearing too much to the north, altered his course and steered towards the fire, which burned brightly above the horizon like a star of the first magnitude.
The Return – Discussion – Cyrus Harding and the Stranger – Port Balloon – The Engineer's Devotion – A touching Incident – Tears flow.
The next day, the 20th of October, at seven o'clock in the morning, after a voyage of four days, the Bonadventure gently glided up to the beach at the mouth of the Mercy.
Cyrus Harding and Neb, who had become very uneasy at the bad weather and the prolonged absence of their companions, had climbed at daybreak to the plateau of Prospect Heights, and they had at last caught sight of the vessel which had been so long in returning.
"God be praised! there they are!" exclaimed Cyrus Harding.
As to Neb in his joy, he began to dance, to twirl round, clapping his hands and shouting, "Oh! my master!" A more touching pantomime than the finest discourse.
The engineer's first idea, on counting the people on the deck of the Bonadventure, was that Pencroft had not found the castaway of Tabor Island, or at any rate that the unfortunate man had refused to leave his island and change one prison for another.
Indeed Pencroft, Gideon Spilett, and Herbert were alone on the deck of the Bonadventure.
The moment the vessel touched, the engineer and Neb were waiting on the beach, and before the passengers had time to leap on to the sand, Harding said: "We have been very uneasy at your delay, my friends! Did you meet with any accident?"
"No," replied Gideon Spilett; "on the contrary, everything went wonderfully well. We will tell you all about it."
"However," returned the engineer, "your search has been unsuccessful, since you are only three just as you went!"
"Excuse me, captain," replied the sailor, "we are four."
"You have found the castaway?"
"And you have brought him?"
"Where is he? Who is he?"
"He is," replied the reporter, "or rather he was, a man! There, Cyrus, that is all we can tell you!"
The engineer was then informed of all that had passed during the voyage, and under what conditions the search had been conducted; how the only dwelling in the island had long been abandoned; how at last a castaway had been captured, who appeared no longer to belong to the human species.
"And that's just the point," added Pencroft, "I don't know if we have done right to bring him here."
"Certainly you have, Pencroft," replied the engineer quickly.
"But the wretched creature has no sense!"
"That is possible at present," replied Cyrus Harding; "but only a few months ago the wretched creature was a man like you and me. And who knows what will become of the survivor of us after a long solitude on this island? It is a great misfortune to be alone, my friends; and it must be believed that solitude can quickly destroy reason, since you have found this poor creature in such a state!"
"But, captain," asked Herbert, "what leads you to think that the brutishness of the unfortunate man began only a few months back?"
"Because the document we found had been recently written," answered the engineer, "and the castaway alone can have written it."
"Always supposing," observed Gideon Spilett, "that it had not been written by a companion of this man, since dead."
"That is impossible, my dear Spilett."
"Why so?" asked the reporter.
"Because the document would then have spoken of two castaways," replied Harding, "and it mentioned only one."
Herbert then in a few words related the incidents of the voyage, and dwelt on the curious fact of the sort of passing gleam in the prisoner's mind, when for an instant in the height of the storm he had become a sailor.
"Well, Herbert," replied the engineer, "you are right to attach great importance to this fact. The unfortunate man cannot be incurable, and despair has made him what he is; but here he will find his fellow-men, and since there is still a soul in him, this soul we shall save!"
The castaway of Tabor Island, to the great pity of the engineer and the great astonishment of Neb, was then brought from the cabin which he occupied in the fore part of the Bonadventure; when once on land he manifested a wish to run away.
But Cyrus Harding approaching, placed his hand on his shoulder with a gesture full of authority, and looked at him with infinite tenderness. Immediately the unhappy man, submitting to a superior will, gradually became calm, his eyes fell, his head bent, and he made no more resistance.
"Poor fellow!" murmured the engineer.
Cyrus Harding had attentively observed him. To judge by his appearance this miserable being had no longer anything human about him, and yet Harding, as had the reporter already, observed in his look an indefinable trace of intelligence.
It was decided that the castaway, or rather the stranger, as he was thenceforth termed by his companions, should live in one of the rooms of Granite House, from which, however, he could not escape. He was led there without difficulty; and with careful attention, it might, perhaps, be hoped that some day he would be a companion to the settlers in Lincoln Island.
Cyrus Harding, during breakfast, which Neb had hastened to prepare, as the reporter, Herbert, and Pencroft were dying of hunger, heard in detail all the incidents which had marked the voyage of exploration to the islet. He agreed with his friends on this point, that the stranger must be either English or American, the name Britannia leading them to suppose this, and, besides, through the bushy beard, and under the shaggy, matted hair, the engineer thought he could recognise the characteristic features of the Anglo-Saxon.
"But, by the bye," said Gideon Spilett, addressing Herbert, "you never told us how you met this savage, and we know nothing, except that you would have been strangled, if we had not happened to come up in time to help you!"
"Upon my word," answered Herbert, "it is rather difficult to say how it happened. I was, I think, occupied in collecting my plants, when I heard a noise like an avalanche falling from a very tall tree. I scarcely had time to look round. This unfortunate man, who was without doubt concealed in a tree, rushed upon me in less time than I take to tell you about it, and unless Mr. Spilett and Pencroft – "
"My boy!" said Cyrus Harding, "you ran a great danger, but, perhaps, without that, the poor creature would have still hidden himself from your search, and we should not have had a new companion."
"You hope, then, Cyrus, to succeed in reforming the man?" asked the reporter.
"Yes," replied the engineer.
Breakfast over, Harding and his companions left Granite House and returned to the beach. They there occupied themselves in unloading the Bonadventure, and the engineer, having examined the arms and tools, saw nothing which could help them to establish the identity of the stranger.
The capture of pigs, made on the islet, was looked upon as being very profitable to Lincoln Island, and the animals were led to the sty, where they soon became at home.
The two barrels, containing the powder and shot, as well as the box of caps, were very welcome. It was agreed to establish a small powder-magazine, either outside Granite House or in the Upper Cavern, where there would be no fear of explosion. However, the use of pyroxyle was to be continued, for this substance giving excellent results, there was no reason for substituting ordinary powder.
When the unloading of the vessel was finished, —
"Captain," said Pencroft, "I think it would be prudent to put our Bonadventure in a safe place."
"Is she not safe at the mouth of the Mercy?" asked Cyrus Harding.
"No, captain," replied the sailor. "Half of the time she is stranded on the sand, and that works her. She is a famous craft, you see, and she behaved admirably during the squall which struck us on our return."
"Could she not float in the river?"
"No doubt, captain, she could; but there is no shelter there, and in the east winds, I think that the Bonadventure would suffer much from the surf."
"Well, where would you put her, Pencroft?"
"In Port Balloon," replied the sailor. "That little creek, shut in by rocks, seems to me to be just the harbour we want."
"Is it not rather far?"
"Pooh! it is not more than three miles from Granite House, and we have a fine straight road to take us there!"
"Do it then, Pencroft, and take your Bonadventure there," replied the engineer, "and yet I would rather have her under our more immediate protection. When we have time, we must make a little harbour for her."
"Famous!" exclaimed Pencroft. "A harbour with a lighthouse, a pier, and a dock! Ah! really with you, captain, everything becomes easy."
"Yes, my brave Pencroft," answered the engineer, "but on condition, however, that you help me, for you do as much as three men in all our work."
Herbert and the sailor then re-embarked on board the Bonadventure, the anchor was weighed, the sail hoisted, and the wind drove her rapidly towards Claw Cape. Two hours after, she was reposing on the tranquil waters of Port Balloon.
During the first days passed by the stranger in Granite House, had he already given them reason to think that his savage nature was becoming tamed? Did a brighter light burn in the depths of that obscured mind? In short, was the soul returning to the body?
Yes, to a certainty, and to such a degree, that Cyrus Harding and the reporter wondered if the reason of the unfortunate man had ever been totally extinguished. At first, accustomed to the open air, to the unrestrained liberty which he had enjoyed on Tabor Island, the stranger manifested a sullen fury, and it was feared that he might throw himself on to the beach, out of one of the windows of Granite House. But gradually he became calmer, and more freedom was allowed to his movements.
They had reason to hope, and to hope much. Already, forgetting his carnivorous instincts, the stranger accepted a less bestial nourishment than that on which he fed on the islet, and cooked meat did not produce in him the same sentiment of repulsion which he had showed on board the Bonadventure. Cyrus Harding had profited by a moment when he was sleeping, to cut his hair and matted beard, which formed a sort of mane, and gave him such a savage aspect. He had also been clothed more suitably, after having got rid of the rag which covered him. The result was that, thanks to these attentions, the stranger resumed a more human appearance, and it even seemed as if his eyes had become milder. Certainly, when formerly lighted up by intelligence, this man's face must have had a sort of beauty.
Every day, Harding imposed on himself the task of passing some hours in his company. He came and worked near him, and occupied himself in different things, so as to fix his attention. A spark, indeed, would be sufficient to reillumine that soul, a recollection crossing that brain to recall reason. That had been seen, during the storm, on board the Bonadventure! The engineer did not neglect either to speak aloud, so as to penetrate at the same time by the organs of hearing and sight the depths of that torpid intelligence. Sometimes one of his companions, sometimes another, sometimes all joined him. They spoke most often of things belonging to the navy, which must interest a sailor.
At times the stranger gave some slight attention to what was said, and the settlers were soon convinced that he partly understood them. Sometimes the expression of his countenance was deeply sorrowful, a proof that he suffered mentally, for his face could not be mistaken; but he did not speak, although at different times, however, they almost thought that words were about to issue from his lips. At all events, the poor creature was quite quiet and sad!
But was not his calm only apparent? Was not his sadness only the result of his seclusion? Nothing could yet be ascertained. Seeing only certain objects and in a limited space, always in contact with the colonists, to whom he would soon become accustomed, having no desires to satisfy, better fed, better clothed, it was natural that his physical nature should gradually improve; but was he penetrated with the sense of a new life? or rather, to employ a word, which would be exactly applicable to him, was he not becoming tamed, like an animal in company with his master? This was an important question, which Cyrus Harding was anxious to answer, and yet he did not wish to treat his invalid roughly! would he ever be a convalescent?
How the engineer observed him every moment! How he was on the watch for his soul, if one may use the expression! How he was ready to grasp it! The settlers followed with real sympathy all the phases of the cure undertaken by Harding. They aided him also in this work of humanity, and all, except perhaps the incredulous Pencroft, soon shared both his hope and his faith.
The calm of the stranger was deep, as has been said, and he even showed a sort of attachment for the engineer, whose influence he evidently felt. Cyrus Harding resolved then to try him, by transporting him to another scene, from that ocean which formerly his eyes had been accustomed to contemplate, to the border of the forest, which might perhaps recall those where so many years of his life had been passed!
"But," said Gideon Spilett, "can we hope that he will not escape, if once set at liberty?"
"The experiment must be tried," replied the engineer.
"Well!" said Pencroft. "When that fellow is outside, and feels the fresh air, he will be off as fast as his legs can carry him!"
"I do not think so," returned Harding.
"Let us try," said Spilett.
"We will try," replied the engineer.
This was on the 30th of October, and consequently the castaway of Tabor Island had been a prisoner in Granite House for nine days. It was warm, and a bright sun darted his rays on the island. Cyrus Harding and Pencroft went to the room occupied by the stranger, who was found lying near the window and gazing at the sky.
"Come, my friend," said the engineer to him.
The stranger rose immediately. His eyes were fixed on Cyrus Harding, and he followed him, whilst the sailor marched behind them, little confident as to the result of the experiment.
Arrived at the door, Harding and Pencroft made him take his place in the lift, whilst Neb, Herbert, and Gideon Spilett waited for them before Granite House. The lift descended, and in a few moments all were united on the beach.
The settlers went a short distance from the stranger, so as to leave him at liberty.
He then made a few steps towards the sea, and his look brightened with extreme animation, but he did not make the slightest attempt to escape. He was gazing at the little waves, which broken by the islet rippled on the sand.
"This is only the sea," observed Gideon Spilett, "and possibly it does not inspire him with any wish to escape!"
"Yes," replied Harding, "we must take him to the plateau, on the border of the forest. There the experiment will be more conclusive."
"Besides, he could not run away," said Neb, "since the bridge is raised."
"Oh!" said Pencroft, "that isn't a man to be troubled by a stream like Creek Glycerine! He could cross it directly, at a single bound!"
"We shall soon see," Harding contented himself with replying, his eyes not quitting those of his patient.
The latter was then led towards the mouth of the Mercy, and all climbing the left bank of the river, reached Prospect Heights.
Arrived at the spot on which grew the first beautiful trees of the forest, their foliage slightly agitated by the breeze, the stranger appeared greedily to drink in the penetrating odour which filled the atmosphere, and a long sigh escaped from his chest.
The settlers kept behind him, ready to seize him if he made any movement to escape!
And, indeed, the poor creature was on the point of springing into the creek which separated him from the forest, and his legs were bent for an instant as if for a spring, but almost immediately he stepped back, half sank down, and a large tear fell from his eyes.
"Ah!" exclaimed Cyrus Harding, "you have become a man again, for you can weep!"