Journey to the Coast – Troops of Monkeys – A new River – The Reason the Tide was not felt – A woody Shore – Reptile Promontory – Herbert envies Gideon Spilett – Explosion of Bamboos.
It was six o'clock in the morning when the settlers, after a hasty breakfast, set out to reach by the shortest way the western coast of the island. And how long would it take to do this? Cyrus Harding had said two hours, but of course that depended on the nature of the obstacles they might meet with. As it was probable that they would have to cut a path through the grass, shrubs, and creepers, they marched axe in hand, and with guns also ready, wisely taking warning from the cries of the wild beasts heard in the night.
The exact position of the encampment could be determined by the bearing of Mount Franklin, and as the volcano arose in the north at a distance of less than three miles, they had only to go straight towards the south-west to reach the western coast. They set out, having first carefully secured the canoe. Pencroft and Neb carried sufficient provisions for the little band for at least two days. It would not thus be necessary to hunt. The engineer advised his companions to refrain from firing, that their presence might not be betrayed to any one near the shore. The first hatchet blows were given among the brushwood in the midst of some mastick-trees, a little above the cascade; and his compass in his hand, Cyrus Harding led the way.
The forest here was composed for the most part of trees which had already been met with near the lake and on Prospect Heights. There were deodars, Douglas firs, casuarinas, gum-trees, eucalypti, hibiscus, cedars, and other trees, generally of a moderate size, for their number prevented their growth.
Since their departure, the settlers had descended the slopes which constituted the mountain system of the island, on to a dry soil, but the luxuriant vegetation of which indicated it to be watered either by some subterranean marsh or by some stream. However, Cyrus Harding did not remember to have seen, at the time of his excursion to the crater, any other watercourses but the Red Creek and the Mercy.
During the first part of their excursion, they saw numerous troops of monkeys who exhibited great astonishment at the sight of men, whose appearance was so new to them. Gideon Spilett jokingly asked whether these active and merry quadrupeds did not consider him and his companions as degenerate brothers.
And certainly, pedestrians, hindered at each step by bushes, caught by creepers, barred by trunks of trees, did not shine beside those supple animals, who, bounding from branch to branch, were hindered by nothing on their course. The monkeys were numerous, but happily they did not manifest any hostile disposition.
Several pigs, agoutis, kangaroos, and other rodents were seen, also two or three kaolas, at which Pencroft longed to have a shot.
"But," said he, "you may jump and play just now; we shall have one or two words to say to you on our way back!"
At half-past nine the way was suddenly found to be barred by an unknown stream, from thirty to forty feet broad, whose rapid current dashed foaming over the numerous rocks which interrupted its course. This creek was deep and clear, but it was absolutely unnavigable.
"We are cut off!" cried Neb.
"No," replied Herbert, "it is only a stream, and we can easily swim over."
"What would be the use of that?" returned Harding. "This creek evidently runs to the sea. Let us remain on this side and follow the bank, and I shall be much astonished if it does not lead us very quickly to the coast. Forward!"
"One minute," said the reporter. "The name of this creek, my friends? Do not let us leave our geography incomplete."
"All right!" said Pencroft.
"Name it, my boy," said the engineer, addressing the lad.
"Will it not be better to wait until we have explored it to its mouth?" answered Herbert.
"Very well," replied Cyrus Harding. "Let us follow it as fast as we can without stopping."
"Still another minute!" said Pencroft.
"What's the matter?" asked the reporter.
"Though hunting is forbidden, fishing is allowed, I suppose," said the sailor.
"We have no time to lose," replied the engineer.
"Oh! five minutes!" replied Pencroft, "I only ask for five minutes to use in the interest of our breakfast!"
And Pencroft, lying down on the bank, plunged his arm into the water, and soon pulled up several dozen of fine crayfish from among the stores.
"These will be good!" cried Neb, going to the sailor's aid.
"As I said, there is everything in this island, except tobacco!" muttered Pencroft with a sigh.
The fishing did not take five minutes for the crayfish were swarming in the creek. A bag was filled with the crustaceæ, whose shells were of a cobalt blue. The settlers then pushed on.
They advanced more rapidly and easily along the bank of the river than in the forest. From time to time they came upon the traces of animals of a large size who had come to quench their thirst at the stream but none were actually seen and it was evidently not in this part of the forest that the peccary had received the bullet which had cost Pencroft a grinder.
In the meanwhile, considering the rapid current Harding was led to suppose that he and his companions were much farther from the western coast than they had at first supposed. In fact, at this hour, the rising tide would have turned back the current of the creek if its mouth had only been a few miles distant. Now, this effect was not produced, and the water pursued its natural course. The engineer was much astonished at this, and frequently consulted his compass to assure himself that some turn of the river was not leading them again into the Far West.
However, the creek gradually widened and its waters became less tumultuous. The trees on the right bank were as close together as on the left bank, and it was impossible to distinguish anything beyond them, but these masses of wood were evidently uninhabited, for Top did not bark, and the intelligent animal would not have failed to signal the presence of any stranger in the neighbourhood.
At half past ten, to the great surprise of Cyrus Harding, Herbert, who was a little in front, suddenly stopped and exclaimed —
In a few minutes more, the whole western shore of the island lay extended before the eyes of the settlers.
But what a contrast between this and the eastern coast, upon which chance had first thrown them. No granite cliff, no rocks, not even a sandy beach. The forest reached the shore, and the tall trees bending over the water were beaten by the waves. It was not such a shore as is usually formed by nature, either by extending a vast carpet of sand, or by grouping masses of rock, but a beautiful border consisting of the most splendid trees. The bank was raised a little above the level of the sea, and on this luxuriant soil supported by a granite base, the fine forest trees seemed to be as firmly planted as in the interior of the island.
The colonists were then on the shore of an unimportant little harbour, which would scarcely have contained even two or three fishing boats. It served as a neck to the new creek of which the curious thing was that its waters, instead of joining the sea by a gentle slope, fell from a height of more than forty feet, which explained why the rising tide was not felt up the stream. In fact, the tides of the Pacific, even at their maximum of elevation, could never reach the level of the river, and, doubtless millions of years would pass before the water would have worn away the granite and hollowed a practicable mouth.
It was settled that the name of Falls River should be given to this stream. Beyond, towards the north, the forest border was prolonged for a space of nearly two miles, then the trees became scarcer, and beyond that again the picturesque heights described a nearly straight line which ran north and south. On the contrary, all the part of the shore between Falls River and Reptile End was a mass of wood, magnificent trees, some straight, others bent, so that the long sea swell bathed their roots. Now, it was this coast, that is, all the Serpentine peninsula, that was to be explored, for this part of the shore offered a refuge to castaways, which the other wild and barren side must have refused.
The weather was fine and clear, and from the height of a hillock on which Neb and Pencroft had arranged breakfast, a wide view was obtained. There was, however, not a sail in sight; nothing could be seen along the shore as far as the eye could reach. But the engineer would take nothing for granted until he had explored the coast to the very extremity of the Serpentine peninsula.
Breakfast was soon despatched, and at half-past eleven the captain gave the signal for departure. Instead of proceeding over the summit of a cliff or along a sandy beach, the settlers were obliged to remain under cover of the trees so that they might continue on the shore.
The distance which separated Falls River from Reptile End was about twelve miles. It would have taken the settlers four hours to do this, on a clear ground and without hurrying themselves; but as it was they needed double the time, for what with trees to go round, bushes to cut down, and creepers to chop away, they were impeded at every step, these obstacles greatly lengthening their journey.
There was, however, nothing to show that a shipwreck had taken place recently. It is true that, as Gideon Spilett observed, any remains of it might have drifted out to sea, and they must not take it for granted that because they could find no traces of it, a ship had not been cast away on the coast.
The reporter's argument was just, and besides, the incident of the bullet proved that a shot must have been fired in Lincoln Island within three months.
It was already five o'clock, and there were still two miles between the settlers and the extremity of the Serpentine peninsula. It was evident that after having reached Reptile End, Harding and his companions would not have time to return before dark to their encampment near the source of the Mercy. It would therefore be necessary to pass the night on the promontory. But they had no lack of provisions, which was lucky, for there were no animals on the shore, though birds, on the contrary, abounded – jacamars, couroucoos, tragopans, grouse, lories, parrots, cockatoos, pheasants, pigeons, and a hundred others. There was not a tree without a nest, and not a nest which was not full of flapping wings.
Towards seven o'clock the weary explorers arrived at Reptile End. Here the seaside forest ended, and the shore resumed the customary appearance of a coast, with rocks, reefs, and sands. It was possible that something might be found here, but darkness came on, and the further exploration had to be put off to the next day.
Pencroft and Herbert hastened on to find a suitable place for their camp. Amongst the last trees of the forest of the Far West, the boy found several thick clumps of bamboos.
"Good," said he; "this is a valuable discovery."
"Valuable?" returned Pencroft.
"Certainly," replied Herbert. "I may say, Pencroft, that the bark of the bamboo cut into flexible laths, is used for making baskets; that this bark, mashed into a paste, is used for the manufacture of Chinese paper; that the stalks furnish, according to their size, canes and pipes, and are used for conducting water; that large bamboos make excellent material for building, being light and strong, and being never attacked by insects. I will add that by sawing the bamboo in two at the joint, keeping for the bottom the part of the transverse film which forms the joint, useful cups are obtained, which are much in use among the Chinese. No! you don't care for that. But – "
"But I can tell you, if you are ignorant of it, that in India these bamboos are eaten like asparagus."
"Asparagus thirty feet high!" exclaimed the sailor. "And are they good?"
"Excellent," replied Herbert. "Only it is not the stems of thirty feet high which are eaten, but the young shoots."
"Perfect, my boy, perfect!" replied Pencroft.
"I will also add that the pith of the young stalks, preserved in vinegar, makes a good pickle."
"Better and better, Herbert!"
"And lastly, that the bamboos exude a sweet liquor which can be made into a very agreeable drink."
"Is that all?" asked the sailor.
"That is all!"
"And they don't happen to do for smoking?"
"No, my poor Pencroft."
Herbert and the sailor had not to look long for a place in which to pass the night. The rocks, which must have been violently beaten by the sea under the influence of the winds of the south west, presented many cavities in which shelter could be found against the night air. But just as they were about to enter one of these caves a loud roaring arrested them.
"Back!" cried Pencroft. "Our guns are only loaded with small shot, and beasts which can roar as loud as that would care no more for it than for grams of salt!". And the sailor, seizing Herbert by the arm, dragged him behind a rock, just as a magnificent animal showed itself at the entrance of the cavern.
It was a jaguar of a size at least equal to its Asiatic congeners, that is to say, it measured five feet from the extremity of its head to the beginning of its tail. The yellow colour of its hair was relieved by streaks and regular oblong spots of black, which contrasted with the white of its chest. Herbert recognised it as the ferocious rival of the tiger, as formidable as the puma, which is the rival of the largest wolf!
The jaguar advanced and gazed around him with blazing eyes, his hair bristling as if this was not the first time he had scented man.
At this moment the reporter appeared round a rock, and Herbert, thinking that he had not seen the jaguar, was about to rush towards him, when Gideon Spilett signed to him to remain where he was. This was not his first tiger, and advancing to within ten feet of the animal he remained motionless, his gun to his shoulder, without moving a muscle. The jaguar collected itself for a spring, but at that moment a shot struck it in the eyes, and it fell dead.
Herbert and Pencroft rushed towards the jaguar. Neb and Harding also ran up, and they remained for some instants contemplating the animal as it lay stretched on the ground, thinking that its magnificent skin would be a great ornament to the hall at Granite House.
"Oh, Mr. Spilett, how I admire and envy you!" cried Herbert, in a fit of very natural enthusiasm.
"Well, my boy," replied the reporter, "you could have done the same."
"I! with such coolness! – "
"Imagine to yourself, Herbert, that the jaguar is only a hare, and you would fire as quietly as possible."
"That is," rejoined Pencroft, "it is not more dangerous than a hare!"
"And now," said Gideon Spilett, "since the jaguar has left its abode, I do not see, my friends, why we should not take possession of it for the night."
"But others may come," said Pencroft.
"It will be enough to light a fire at the entrance of the cavern," said the reporter, "and no wild beasts will dare to cross the threshold."
"Into the jaguar's house, then!" replied the sailor, dragging after him the body of the animal.
Whilst Neb skinned the jaguar, his companions collected an abundant supply of dry wood from the forest, which they heaped up at the cave.
Cyrus Harding, seeing the clump of bamboos, cut a quantity, which he mingled with the other fuel.
This done, they entered the grotto, of which the floor was strewn with bones, the guns were carefully loaded, in case of a sudden attack, they had supper, and then just before they lay down to rest, the heap of wood piled at the entrance was set fire to. Immediately, a regular explosion, or rather, a series of reports, broke the silence! The noise was caused, by the bamboos, which, as the flames reached them, exploded like fireworks. The noise was enough to terrify even the boldest of wild beasts.
It was not the engineer who had invented this way of causing loud explosions, for, according to Marco Polo, the Tartars have employed it for many centuries to drive away from their encampments the formidable wild beasts of Central Asia.
Proposal to return by the Southern Shore – Configuration of the Coast – Searching for the supposed Wreck – A Wreck in the Air – Discovery of a small Natural Port – At Midnight on the Banks of the Mercy – The Canoe Adrift.
Cyrus Harding and his companions slept like innocent marmots in the cave which the jaguar had so politely left at their disposal.
At sunrise all were on the shore at the extremity of the promontory, and their gaze was directed towards the horizon, of which two-thirds of the circumference were visible. For the last time the engineer could ascertain that not a sail nor the wreck of a ship was on the sea, and even with the telescope nothing suspicious could be discovered.
There was nothing either on the shore, at least, in the straight line of three miles which formed the south side of the promontory, for beyond that, rising ground hid the rest of the coast, and even from the extremity of the Serpentine Peninsula Cape Claw could not be seen.
The southern coast of the island still remained to be explored. Now should they undertake it immediately, and devote this day to it?
This was not included in their first plan. In fact, when the boat was abandoned at the sources of the Mercy, it had been agreed that after having surveyed the west coast, they should go back to it, and return to Granite House by the Mercy. Harding then thought that the western coast would have offered refuge, either to a ship in distress, or to a vessel in her regular course; but now, as he saw that this coast presented no good anchorage, he wished to seek on the south what they had not been able to find on the west.
Gideon Spilett proposed to continue the exploration, that the question of the supposed wreck might be completely settled, and he asked at what distance Claw Cape might be from the extremity of the peninsula.
"About thirty miles," replied the engineer, "if we take into consideration the curvings of the coast."
"Thirty miles!" returned Spilett. "That would be a long day's march. Nevertheless, I think that we should return to Granite House by the south coast."
"But," observed Herbert, "from Claw Cape to Granite House there must be at least another ten miles."
"Make it forty miles in all," replied the engineer, "and do not hesitate to do it. At least we should survey the unknown shore, and then we shall not have to begin the exploration again."
"Very good," said Pencroft. "But the boat?"
"The boat has remained by itself for one day at the sources of the Mercy," replied Gideon Spilett; "it may just as well stay there two days! As yet, we have had no reason to think that the island is infested by thieves!"
"Yet," said the sailor, "when I remember the history of the turtle, I am far from confident of that."
"The turtle! the turtle!" replied the reporter. "Don't you know that the sea turned it over?"
"Who knows?" murmured the engineer.
"But – " said Neb.
Neb had evidently something to say, for he opened his mouth to speak and yet said nothing.
"What do you want to say, Neb?" asked the engineer.
"If we return by the shore to Claw Cape," replied Neb, "after having doubled the Cape, we shall be stopped – "
"By the Mercy! of course," replied Herbert, "and we shall have neither bridge nor boat by which to cross."
"But, captain," added Pencroft, "with a few floating trunks we shall have no difficulty in crossing the river."
"Never mind," said Spilett, "it will be useful to construct a bridge if we wish to have an easy access to the Far West!"
"A bridge!" cried Pencroft. "Well, is not the captain the best engineer in his profession? He will make us a bridge when we want one. As to transporting you this evening to the other side of the Mercy, and that without wetting one thread of your clothes, I will take care of that. We have provisions for another day, and besides we can get plenty of game. Forward!"
The reporter's proposal, so strongly seconded by the sailor, received general approbation, for each wished to have their doubts set at rest, and by returning by Claw Cape the exploration would be ended. But there was not an hour to lose, for forty miles was a long march, and they could not hope to reach Granite House before night.
At six o'clock in the morning the little band set out. As a precaution the guns were loaded with ball, and Top, who led the van, received orders to beat about the edge of the forest.
From the extremity of the promontory which formed the tail of the peninsula the coast was rounded for a distance of five miles, which was rapidly passed over, without even the most minute investigations bringing to light the least trace of any old or recent landings; no debris, no mark of an encampment, no cinders of a fire, nor even a footprint!
From the point of the peninsula on which the settlers now were their gaze could extend along the south-west. Twenty-five miles off the coast terminated in the Claw Cape, which loomed dimly through the morning mists, and which, by the phenomenon of the mirage, appeared as if suspended between land and water.
Between the place occupied by the colonists and the other side of the immense bay, the shore was composed, first, of a tract of low land, bordered in the background by trees; then the shore became more irregular, projecting sharp points into the sea, and finally ended in the black rocks which, accumulated in picturesque disorder, formed Claw Cape.
Such was the development of this part of the island, which the settlers took in at a glance, whilst stopping for an instant.
"If a vessel ran in here," said Pencroft, "she would certainly be lost. Sandbanks and reefs everywhere! Bad quarters!"
"But at least something would be left of the ship," observed the reporter.
"There might be pieces of wood on the rocks, but nothing on the sands," replied the sailor.
"Because the sands are still more dangerous than the rocks, for they swallow up everything that is thrown on them. In a few days the hull of a ship of several hundred tons would disappear entirely in there!"
"So, Pencroft," asked the engineer, "if a ship has been wrecked on these banks, is it not astonishing that there is now no trace of her remaining?"
"No, captain, with the aid of time and tempest. However, it would be surprising, even in this case, that some of the masts or spars should not have been thrown on the beach, out of reach of the waves."
"Let us go on with our search, then," returned Cyrus Harding.
At one o'clock the colonists arrived at the other side of Washington Bay, they having now gone a distance of twenty miles.
They then halted for breakfast.
Here began the irregular coast, covered with lines of rocks and sandbanks. The long sea-swell could be seen breaking over the rocks in the bay, forming a foamy fringe. From this point to Claw Cape the beach was very narrow between the edge of the forest and the reefs.
Walking was now more difficult, on account of the numerous rocks which encumbered the beach. The granite cliff also gradually increased in height, and only the green tops of the trees which crowned it could be seen.
After half an hour's rest, the settlers resumed their journey, and not a spot among the rocks was left unexamined. Pencroft and Neb even rushed into the surf whenever any object attracted their attention. But they found nothing, some curious formations of the rocks having deceived them. They ascertained, however, that eatable shell-fish abounded there, but these could not be of any great advantage to them until some easy means of communication had been established between the two banks of the Mercy, and until the means of transport had been perfected.
Nothing therefore which threw any light on the supposed wreck could be found on this shore, yet an object of any importance, such as the hull of a ship, would have been seen directly, or any of her masts and spars would have been washed on shore, just as the chest had been, which was found twenty miles from here. But there was nothing.
Towards three o'clock Harding and his companions arrived at a snug little creek. It formed quite a natural harbour, invisible from the sea, and was entered by a narrow channel. At the back of this creek some violent convulsion had torn up the rocky border, and a cutting, by a gentle slope, gave access to an upper plateau, which might be situated at least ten miles from Claw Cape, and consequently four miles in a straight line from Prospect Heights. Gideon Spilett proposed to his companions that they should make a halt here. They agreed readily, for their walk had sharpened their appetites; and although it was not their usual dinner-hour, no one refused to strengthen himself with a piece of venison. This luncheon would sustain them till their supper, which they intended to take at Granite House. In a few minutes the settlers, seated under a clump of fine sea-pines, were devouring the provisions which Neb produced from his bag.
This spot was raised from fifty to sixty feet above the level of the sea. The view was very extensive, but beyond the cape it ended in Union Bay. Neither the islet nor Prospect Heights were visible, and could not be from thence, for the rising ground and the curtain of trees closed the northern horizon.
It is useless to add that notwithstanding the wide extent of sea which the explorers could survey, and though the engineer swept the horizon with his glass, no vessel could be found.
The shore was of course examined with the same care from the edge of the water to the cliff, and nothing could be discovered even with the aid of the instrument.
"Well," said Gideon Spilett, "it seems we must make up our minds to console ourselves with thinking that no one will come to dispute with us the possession of Lincoln Island!"
"But the bullet," cried Herbert. "That was not imaginary, I suppose!"
"Hang it, no!" exclaimed Pencroft, thinking of his absent tooth.
"Then what conclusion may be drawn?" asked the reporter.
"This," replied the engineer, "that three months or more ago, a vessel, either voluntarily or not, came here."
"What! then you admit, Cyrus, that she was swallowed up without leaving any trace?" cried the reporter.
"No, my dear Spilett, but you see that if it is certain that a human being set foot on the island, it appears no less certain that he has now left it."
"Then, if I understand you right, captain," said Herbert, "the vessel has left again?"
"And we have lost an opportunity to get back to our country?" said Neb.
"I fear so."
"Very well, since the opportunity is lost, let us go on, it can't be helped," said Pencroft, who felt home sickness for Granite House.
But just as they were rising, Top was heard loudly barking; and the dog issued from the wood, holding in his mouth a rag soiled with mud.
Neb seized it. It was a piece of strong cloth!
Top still barked, and by his going and coming, seemed to invite his master to follow him into the forest.
"Now there's something to explain the bullet!" exclaimed Pencroft.
"A castaway!" replied Herbert.
"Wounded, perhaps!" said Neb.
"Or dead!" added the reporter.
All ran after the dog, among the tall pines on the border of the forest. Harding and his companions made ready their fire-arms, in case of an emergency.
They advanced some way into the wood, but to their great disappointment, they as yet saw no signs of any human being having passed that way. Shrubs and creepers were uninjured, and they had even to cut them away with the axe, as they had done in the deepest recesses of the forest. It was difficult to fancy that any human creature had ever passed there, but yet Top went backwards and forwards, not like a dog who searches at random, but like a being endowed with a mind, who is following up an idea.
In about seven or eight minutes Top stopped in a glade surrounded with tall trees. The settlers gazed around them, but saw nothing, neither under the bushes nor among the trees.
"What is the matter, Top?" said Cyrus Harding.
Top barked louder, bounding about at the foot of a gigantic pine. All at once Pencroft shouted, —
"Ho, splendid! capital!"
"What is it?" asked Spilett
"We have been looking for a wreck at sea or on land!"
"Well, and here we've found one in the air!"
And the sailor pointed to a great white rag, caught in the top of a pine, a fallen scrap of which the dog had brought to them.
"But that is not a wreck!" cried Gideon Spilett.
"I beg your pardon!" returned Pencroft.
"Why? is it – ?"
"It is all that remains of our airy boat, of our balloon, which has been caught up aloft there, at the top of that tree!"
Pencroft was not mistaken, and he gave vent to his feelings in a tremendous hurrah, adding, —
"There is good cloth! There is what will furnish us with linen for years. There is what will make us handkerchiefs and shirts! Ha, ha, Mr Spilett, what do you say to an island where shirts grow on the trees?"
It was certainly a lucky circumstance for the settlers in Lincoln Island that the balloon, after having made its last bound into the air, had fallen on the island and thus given them the opportunity of finding it again, whether they kept the case under its present form, or whether they wished to attempt another escape by it, or whether they usefully employed the several hundred yards of cotton, which was of fine quality. Pencroft's joy was therefore shared by all.
But it was necessary to bring down the remains of the balloon from the tree, to place it in security, and this was no slight task. Neb, Herbert, and the sailor, climbing to the summit of the tree, used all their skill to disengage the now reduced balloon.
The operation lasted two hours, and then not only the case, with its valve, its springs, its brasswork, lay on the ground, but the net, that is to say a considerable quantity of ropes and cordage, and the circle and the anchor. The case, except for the fracture, was in good condition, only the lower portion being torn.