"Luff, Pencroft, luff!"
"What's the matter," replied the sailor, "a rock?"
"No – wait," said Herbert, "I don't quite see. Luff again – right – now."
So saying, Herbert leaning over the side, plunged his arm into the water and pulled it out, exclaiming, —
He held in his hand a corked bottle which he had just seized a few cables' length from the shore.
Cyrus Harding took the bottle Without uttering a single word he drew the cork, and took from it a damp paper, on which were written these words: —
"Castaway … Tabor Island: 153° W long, 37° 11´ S lat."
Departure decided upon – Conjectures – Preparations – The three Passengers – First Night – Second Night – Tabor Island – Searching the Shore – Searching the Wood – No one – Animals – Plants – A Dwelling – Deserted.
"A castaway!" exclaimed Pencroft; "left on this Tabor Island not two hundred miles from us! Ah, Captain Harding, you won't now oppose my going."
"No, Pencroft," replied Cyrus Harding; "and you shall set out as soon as possible."
The engineer still held in his hand the paper which he had taken from the bottle. He contemplated it for some instants, then resumed, —
"From this document, my friends, from the way in which it is worded, we may conclude this: first, that the castaway on Tabor Island is a man possessing a considerable knowledge of navigation, since he gives the latitude and longitude of the island exactly as we ourselves found it, and to a second of approximation; secondly, that he is either English or American, as the document is written in the English language."
"That is perfectly logical," answered Spilett; "and the presence of this castaway explains the arrival of the case on the shores of our island. There must have been a wreck, since there is a castaway. As to the latter, whoever he may be, it is lucky for him that Pencroft thought of building this boat and of trying her this very day, for a day later and this bottle might have been broken on the rocks."
"Indeed," said Herbert, "it is a fortunate chance that the Bonadventure passed exactly where the bottle was still floating!"
"Does not this appear strange to you?" asked Harding of Pencroft.
"It appears fortunate, that's all," answered the sailor. "Do you see anything extraordinary in it, captain. The bottle must go somewhere, and why not here as well as anywhere else?"
"Perhaps you are right, Pencroft," replied the engineer; "and yet – "
"But," observed Herbert, "there's nothing to prove that this bottle has been floating long in the sea."
"Nothing," replied Gideon Spilett; "and the document appears even to have been recently written. What do you think about it, Cyrus?"
"It is difficult to say, and besides we shall soon know," replied Harding.
During this conversation Pencroft had not remained in-active. He had put the vessel about, and the Bonadventure, all sails set, was running rapidly towards Claw Cape.
Every one was thinking of the castaway on Tabor Island. Should they be in time to save him? This was a great event in the life of the colonists! They themselves were but castaways, but it was to be feared that another might not have been so fortunate, and their duty was to go to his succour.
Claw Cape was doubled, and about four o'clock the Bonadventure dropped her anchor at the mouth of the Mercy.
That same evening the arrangements for the new expedition were made. It appeared best that Pencroft and Herbert, who knew how to work the vessel, should undertake the voyage alone. By setting out the next day, the 10th of October, they would arrive on the 13th, for with the present wind it would not take more than forty-eight hours to make this passage of a hundred and fifty miles. One day in the island, three or four to return, they might hope therefore that on the 17th they would again reach Lincoln Island. The weather was fine, the barometer was rising, the wind appeared settled, everything then was in favour of these brave men whom an act of humanity was taking far from their island.
Thus it had been agreed that Cyrus Harding, Neb, and Gideon Spilett, should remain at Granite House, but an objection was raised, and Spilett, who had not forgotten his business as reporter to the New York Herald, having declared that he would go by swimming rather than lose such an opportunity, he was admitted to take a part in the voyage.
The evening was occupied in transporting on board the Bonadventure articles of bedding, utensils, arms, ammunition, a compass, provisions for a week, and this business being rapidly accomplished the colonists ascended to Granite House.
The next day, at five o'clock in the morning, the farewells were said, not without some emotion on both sides, and Pencroft setting sail made towards Claw Cape, which had to be doubled in order to proceed to the south-west.
The Bonadventure was already a quarter of a mile from the coast, when the passengers perceived on the heights of Granite House two men waving their farewells; they were Cyrus Harding and Neb.
"Our friends," exclaimed Spilett, "this is our first separation for fifteen months."
Pencroft, the reporter, and Herbert waved in return, and Granite House soon disappeared behind the high rocks of the Cape.
During the first part of the day the Bonadventure was still in sight of the southern coast of Lincoln Island, which soon appeared just like a green basket, with Mount Franklin rising from the centre. The heights, diminished by distance, did not present an appearance likely to tempt vessels to touch there. Reptile End was passed in about an hour, though at a distance of about ten miles.
At this distance it was no longer possible to distinguish anything of the Western Coast, which stretched away to the ridges of Mount Franklin, and three hours after the last of Lincoln Island sank below the horizon.
The Bonadventure behaved capitally. Bounding over the waves she proceeded rapidly on her course. Pencroft had hoisted the foresail, and steering by the compass followed a rectilinear direction. From time to time Herbert relieved him at the helm, and the lad's hand was so firm that the sailor had not a point to find fault with.
Gideon Spilett chatted sometimes with one, sometimes with the other, if wanted he lent a hand with the ropes, and Captain Pencroft was perfectly satisfied with his crew.
In the evening the crescent moon, which would not be in its first quarter until the 16th, appeared in the twilight and soon set again. The night was dark but starry, and the next day again promised to be fine.
Pencroft prudently lowered the foresail, not wishing to be caught by a sudden gust while carrying too much canvas; it was perhaps an unnecessary precaution on such a calm night, but Pencroft was a prudent sailor and cannot be blamed for it.
The reporter slept part of the night. Pencroft and Herbert took turns for a spell of two hours each at the helm. The sailor trusted Herbert as he would himself, and his confidence was justified by the coolness and judgment of the lad. Pencroft gave him his directions as a commander to his steersman, and Herbert never allowed the Bonadventure to swerve even a point. The night passed quietly, as did the day of the 12th of October. A south-easterly direction was strictly maintained, unless the Bonadventure fell in with some unknown current she would come exactly within sight of Tabor Island.
As to the sea over which the vessel was then sailing, it was absolutely deserted. Now and then a great albatross or frigate bird passed within gun-shot, and Gideon Spilett wondered if it was to one of them that he had confided his last letter addressed to the New York Herald. These birds were the only beings that appeared to frequent this part of the ocean between Tabor and Lincoln Island.
"And yet," observed Herbert, "this is the time that whalers usually proceed towards the southern part of the Pacific. Indeed I do not think there could be a more deserted sea than this."
"It is not quite so deserted as all that," replied Pencroft.
"What do you mean," asked the reporter.
"We are on it. Do you take our vessel for a wreck and us for porpoises?"
And Pencroft laughed at his joke.
By the evening, according to calculation, it was thought that the Bonadventure had accomplished a distance of a hundred and twenty miles since her departure from Lincoln Island, that is to say in thirty-six hours, which would give her a speed of between three and four knots an hour. The breeze was very slight and might soon drop altogether. However it was hoped that the next morning by break of day, if the calculation had been correct and the course true, they would sight Tabor Island.
Neither Gideon Spilett, Herbert, nor Pencroft slept that night. In the expectation of the next day they could not but feel some emotion. There was so much uncertainty in their enterprise! Were they near Tabor Island? Was the island still inhabited by the castaway to whose succour they had come. Who was this man? Would not his presence disturb the little colony till then so united? Besides, would he be content to exchange his prison for another? All these questions, which would no doubt be answered the next day, kept them in suspense, and at the dawn of day they all fixed their gaze on the western horizon.
"Land!" shouted Pencroft at about six o'clock in the morning.
And it was impossible that Pencroft should be mistaken, it was evident that land was there. Imagine the joy of the little crew of the Bonadventure. In a few hours they would land on the beach of the island!
The low coast of Tabor Island, scarcely emerging from the sea, was not more than fifteen miles distant.
The head of the Bonadventure, which was a little to the south of the island, was set directly towards it, and as the sun mounted in the east, his rays fell upon one or two headlands.
"This is a much less important isle than Lincoln Island," observed Herbert, "and is probably due like ours to some submarine convulsion."
At eleven o'clock the Bonadventure was not more than two miles off, and Pencroft, whilst looking for a suitable place at which to land, proceeded very cautiously through the unknown waters. The whole of the island could now be surveyed, and on it could be seen groups of gum and other large trees, of the same species as those growing on Lincoln Island. But the astonishing thing was that no smoke arose to show that the island was inhabited, not a signal appeared on any point of the shore whatever!
And yet the document was clear enough; there was a castaway, and this castaway should have been on the watch.
In the meanwhile the Bonadventure entered the winding channels among the reefs, and Pencroft observed every turn with extreme care. He had put Herbert at the helm, posting himself in the bows, inspecting the water, whilst he held the halliard in his hand, ready to lower the sail at a moment's notice. Gideon Spilett with his glass eagerly scanned the shore, though without perceiving anything.
However at about twelve o'clock the keel of the Bonadventure grated on the bottom. The anchor was let go, the sails furled, and the crew of the little vessel landed.
And there was no reason to doubt that this was Tabor Island, since according to the most recent charts there was no island in this part of the Pacific between New Zealand and the American coast.
The vessel was securely moored, so that there should be no danger of her being carried away by the receding tide; then Pencroft and his companions, well armed, ascended the shore, so as to gain an elevation of about two hundred and fifty or three hundred feet which rose at a distance of half a mile.
"From the summit of that hill," said Spilett, "we can no doubt obtain a complete view of the island, which will greatly facilitate our search."
"So as to do here," replied Herbert, "that which Captain Harding did the very first thing on Lincoln Island, by climbing Mount Franklin."
"Exactly so," answered the reporter; "and it is the best plan of proceeding."
Whilst thus talking the explorers had advanced along a clearing which terminated at the foot of the hill. Flocks of rock-pigeons and sea-swallows, similar to those of Lincoln Island, fluttered around them. Under the woods which skirted the glade on the left they could hear the bushes rustling and see the grass waving, which indicated the presence of timid animals, but still nothing to show that the island was inhabited.
Arrived at the foot of the hill, Pencroft, Spilett, and Herbert climbed it in a few minutes, and gazed anxiously round the horizon.
They were on an islet which did not measure more than six miles in circumference, its shape not much bordered by capes or promontories, bays or creeks, being a lengthened oval. All around, the lonely sea extended to the limits of the horizon. No land nor even a sail was in sight.
This woody islet did not offer the varied aspects of Lincoln Island, arid and wild in one part, but fertile and rich in the other. On the contrary this was a uniform mass of verdure, out of which rose two or three hills of no great height. Obliquely to the oval of the island ran a stream through a wide meadow falling into the sea on the west by a narrow mouth.
"The domain is limited," said Herbert.
"Yes," rejoined Pencroft. "It would have been too small for us."
"And moreover," said the reporter, "it appears to be uninhabited."
"Indeed," answered Herbert, "nothing here betrays the presence of man."
"Let us go down," said Pencroft, "and search."
The sailor and his two companions returned to the shore, to the place where they had left the Bonadventure.
They had decided to make the tour of the island on foot, before exploring the interior, so that not a spot should escape their investigations. The beach was easy to follow, and only in some places was their way barred by large rocks, which, however, they easily passed round. The explorers proceeded towards the south, disturbing numerous flocks of sea-birds and herds of seals, which threw themselves into the sea as soon as they saw the strangers at a distance.
"Those beasts yonder," observed the reporter, "do not see men for the first time. They fear them, therefore they must know them."
An hour after their departure they arrived on the southern point of the islet, terminated by a sharp cape, and proceeded towards the north along the western coast, equally formed by sand and rocks, the background bordered with thick woods.
There was not a trace of a habitation in any part, not the print of a human foot on the shore of the island, which after four hours' walking had been gone completely round.
It was to say the least very extraordinary, and they were compelled to believe that Tabor Island was not or was no longer inhabited. Perhaps, after all, the document was already several months or several years old, and it was possible in this case, either that the castaway had been enabled to return to his country, or that he had died of misery.
Pencroft, Spilett, and Herbert, forming more or less probable conjectures, dined rapidly on board the Bonadventure, so as to be able to continue their excursion until nightfall. This was done at five o'clock in the evening, at which hour they entered the wood.
Numerous animals fled at their approach, being principally, one might say, only goats and pigs, which it was easy to see belonged to European species.
Doubtless some whaler had landed them on the island, where they had rapidly increased. Herbert resolved to catch one or two living, and take them back to Lincoln Island.
It was no longer doubtful that men at some period or other had visited this islet, and this became still more evident when paths appeared trodden through the forest, felled trees, and everywhere traces of the hand of man; but the trees were becoming rotten, and had been felled many years ago; the marks of the axe were velveted with moss, and the grass grew long and thick on the paths, so that it was difficult to find them.
"But," observed Gideon Spilett, "this not only proves that men have landed on the island, but also that they lived on it for some time. Now, who were these men? How many of them remain?"
"The document," said Herbert, "only spoke of one castaway."
"Well, if he is still on the island," replied Pencroft, "it is impossible but that we shall find him."
The exploration was continued. The sailor and his companions naturally followed the route which cut diagonally across the island, and they were thus obliged to follow the stream which flowed towards the sea.
If the animals of European origin, if works due to a human hand, showed incontestably that men had already visited the island, several specimens of the vegetable kingdom did not prove it less. In some places, in the midst of clearings, it was evident that the soil had been planted with culinary plants, at probably the same distant period.
What, then, was Herbert's joy, when he recognised potatoes, chicory, sorrel, carrots, cabbages, and turnips, of which it was sufficient to collect the seed to enrich the soil of Lincoln Island.
"Capital, jolly!" exclaimed Pencroft. "That will suit Neb as well as us. Even if we do not find the castaway, at least our voyage will not have been useless, and God will have rewarded us."
"Doubtless," replied Gideon Spilett; "but to see the state in which we find these plantations, it is to be feared that the island has not been inhabited for some time."
"Indeed," answered Herbert, "an inhabitant, whoever he was, could not have neglected such an important culture!"
"Yes," said Pencroft, "the castaway has gone."
"We must suppose so."
"It must then be admitted that the document has already a distant date?"
"And that the bottle only arrived at Lincoln Island after having floated in the sea a long time."
"Why not," returned Pencroft. "But night is coming on," added he, "and I think that it will be best to give up the search for the present."
"Let us go on board, and to-morrow we will begin again," said the reporter.
This was the wisest course, and it was about to be followed when Herbert, pointing to a confused mass among the trees, exclaimed, —
All three immediately ran towards the dwelling. In the twilight it was just possible to see that it was built of planks and covered with a thick tarpaulin.
The half-closed door was pushed open by Pencroft, who entered with a rapid step.
The hut was empty!
The Inventory – Night – A few Letters – Continuation of the Search – Plants and Animals – Herbert in great Danger – On Board – The Departure – Bad Weather – A Gleam of Reason – Lost on the Sea – A timely Light.
Pencroft, Herbert, and Gideon Spilett remained silent in the midst of the darkness.
Pencroft shouted loudly.
No reply was made.
The sailor then struck a light and set fire to a twig. This lighted for a minute a small room, which appeared perfectly empty. At the back was a rude fireplace, with a few cold cinders, supporting an armful of dry wood. Pencroft threw the blazing twig on it, the wood cracked and gave forth a bright light.
The sailor and his two companions then perceived a disordered bed, of which the damp and yellow coverlets proved that it had not been used for a long time. In the corner of the fireplace were two kettles, covered with rust, and an overthrown pot. A cupboard, with a few mouldy sailor's clothes; on the table a tin plate and a Bible, eaten away by damp; in a corner a few tools, a spade, pickaxe, two fowling-pieces, one of which was broken; on a plank, forming a shelf, stood a barrel of powder, still untouched, a barrel of shot, and several boxes of caps, all thickly covered with dust, accumulated, perhaps, by many long years.
"There is no one here," said the reporter.
"No one," replied Pencroft.
"It is a long time since this room has been inhabited," observed Herbert.
"Yes, a very long time!" answered the reporter.
"Mr. Spilett," then said Pencroft, "instead of returning on board, I think that it would be well to pass the night in this hut."
"You are right, Pencroft," answered Gideon Spilett, "and if its owner returns, well! perhaps he will not be sorry to find the place taken possession of."
"He will not return," said the sailor, shaking his head.
"You think that he has quitted the island?" asked the reporter.
"If he had quitted the island he would have taken away his weapons and his tools," replied Pencroft. "You know the value which castaways set on such articles as these, the last remains of a wreck? No! no!" repeated the sailor, in a tone of conviction, "no, he has not left the island! If he had escaped in a boat made by himself, he would still less have left these indispensable and necessary articles. No! he is on the island!"
"Living?" asked Herbert.
"Living or dead. But if he is dead, I suppose he has not buried himself, and so we shall at least find his remains!"
It was then agreed that the night should be passed in the deserted dwelling, and a store of wood found in a corner was sufficient to warm it. The door closed, Pencroft, Herbert, and Spilett remained there, seated on a bench, talking little but wondering much. They were in a frame of mind to imagine anything or expect anything. They listened eagerly for sounds outside. The door might have opened suddenly, and a man presented himself to them without their being in the least surprised, notwithstanding all that the hut revealed of abandonment, and they had their hands ready to press the hands of this man, this castaway, this unknown friend, for whom friends were waiting.
But no voice was heard, the door did not open. The hours thus passed away.
How long the night appeared to the sailor and his companions! Herbert alone slept for two hours, for at his age sleep is a necessity. They were all three anxious to continue their exploration of the day before, and to search the most secret recesses of the islet! The inferences deduced by Pencroft were perfectly reasonable, and it was nearly certain that, as the hut was deserted, and the tools, utensils, and weapons were still there, the owner had succumbed. It was agreed, therefore, that they should search for his remains, and give them at least Christian burial.
Day dawned; Pencroft and his companions immediately proceeded to survey the dwelling. It had certainly been built in a favourable situation, at the back of a little hill, sheltered by five or six magnificent gum trees. Before its front and through the trees the axe had prepared a wide clearing, which allowed the view to extend to the sea. Beyond a lawn, surrounded by a wooden fence falling to pieces, was the shore, on the left of which was the mouth of the stream.
The hut had been built of planks, and it was easy to see that these planks had been obtained from the hull or deck of a ship. It was probable that a disabled vessel had been cast on the coast of the island, that one at least of the crew had been saved, and that by means of the wreck this man, having tools at his disposal, had built the dwelling.
And this became still more evident when Gideon Spilett, after having walked round the hut, saw on a plank, probably one of those which had formed the armour of the wrecked vessel, these letters already half effaced: —
"Britannia," exclaimed Pencroft, whom the reporter had called; "it is a common name for ships, and I could not say if she was English or American!"
"It matters very little, Pencroft!"
"Very little indeed," answered the sailor; "and we will save the survivor of her crew if he is still living, to whatever country he may belong. But before beginning our search again let us go on board the Bonadventure."
A sort of uneasiness had seized Pencroft upon the subject of his vessel. Should the island be inhabited after all, and should some one have taken possession of her? But he shrugged his shoulders at such an unreasonable supposition. At any rate the sailor was not sorry to go to breakfast on board. The road already trodden was not long, scarcely a mile. They set out on their walk, gazing into the wood and thickets through which goats and pigs fled in hundreds.
Twenty minutes after leaving the hut Pencroft and his companions reached the western coast of the island, and saw the Bonadventure held fast by her anchor, which was buried deep in the sand.
Pencroft could not restrain a sigh of satisfaction. After all this vessel was his child, and it is the right of fathers to be often uneasy when there is no occasion for it.
They returned on board, breakfasted, so that it should not be necessary to dine until very late; then the repast being ended, the exploration was continued and conducted with the most minute care. Indeed, it was very probable that the only inhabitant of the island had perished. It was therefore more for the traces of a dead than of a living man that Pencroft and his companions searched. But their searches were vain, and during the half of that day they sought to no purpose among the thickets of trees which covered the islet. There was then scarcely any doubt that, if the castaway was dead, no trace of his body now remained, but that some wild beast had probably devoured it to the last bone.
"We will set off to-morrow at daybreak," said Pencroft to his two companions, as about two o'clock they were resting for a few minutes under the shade of a clump of firs.
"I should think that we might without scruple take the utensils which belonged to the castaway," added Herbert.
"I think so too," returned Gideon Spilett; "and these arms and tools will make up the stores of Granite House. The supply of powder and shot is also most important."
"Yes," replied Pencroft; "but we must not forget to capture a couple or two of those pigs, of which Lincoln Island is destitute – "
"Nor to gather those seeds," added Herbert, "which will give us all the vegetables of the Old and the New Worlds."
"Then perhaps it would be best," said the reporter, "to remain a day longer on Tabor Island, so as to collect all that may be useful to us."
"No, Mr. Spilett," answered Pencroft, "I will ask you to set off to-morrow at daybreak. The wind seems to me to be likely to shift to the west, and after having had a fair wind for coming we shall have a fair wind for going back."
"Then do not let us lose time," said Herbert, rising.
"We won't waste time," returned Pencroft. "You, Herbert, go and gather the seeds, which you know better than we do. Whilst you do that, Mr. Spilett and I will go and have a pig hunt, and even without Top I hope we shall manage to catch a few!"
Herbert accordingly took the path which led towards the cultivated part of the islet, whilst the sailor and the reporter entered the forest.
Many specimens of the porcine race fled before them, and these animals, which were singularly active, did not appear to be in a humour to allow themselves to be approached.
However, after an hour's chase, the hunters had just managed to get hold of a couple lying in a thicket, when cries were heard resounding from the north part of the island. With the cries were mingled terrible yells, in which there was nothing human.
Pencroft and Gideon Spilett were at once on their feet, and the pigs by this movement began to run away, at the moment when the sailor was getting ready the rope to bind them.
"That's Herbert's voice," said the reporter.
"Run!" exclaimed Pencroft.
And the sailor and Spilett immediately ran at full speed towards the spot from whence the cries proceeded.
They did well to hasten, for at a turn of the path near a clearing they saw the lad thrown on the ground and in the grasp of a savage being, apparently a gigantic ape, who was about to do him some great harm.
To rush on this monster, throw him on the ground in his turn, snatch Herbert from him, then bind him securely, was the work of a minute for Pencroft and Gideon Spilett. The sailor was of Herculean strength, the reporter also very powerful, and in spite of the monster's resistance he was firmly tied so that he could not even move.
"You are not hurt, Herbert," asked Spilett.
"Oh, if this ape had wounded him!" exclaimed Pencroft.
"But he is not an ape," answered Herbert.
At these words Pencroft and Gideon Spilett looked at the singular being who lay on the ground. Indeed it was not an ape, it was a human being, a man. But what a man! A savage in all the horrible acceptation of the word, and so much the more frightful that he seemed fallen to the lowest degree of brutishness!
Shaggy hair, untrimmed beard descending to the chest, the body almost naked except a rag round the waist, wild eyes, enormous hands with immensely long nails, skin the colour of mahogany, feet as hard as if made of horn, – such was the miserable creature who yet had a claim to be called a man. But it might justly be asked if there were yet a soul in this body, or if the brute instinct alone survived in it!
"Are you quite sure that this is a man, or that he has ever been one?" said Pencroft to the reporter.
"Alas! there is no doubt about it," replied Spilett.
"Then this must be the castaway?" asked Herbert.
"Yes," replied Gideon Spilett, "but the unfortunate man has no longer anything human about him!"
The reporter spoke the truth. It was evident that if the castaway had ever been a civilised being, solitude had made him a savage, or worse, perhaps a regular man of the woods. Hoarse sounds issued from his throat between his teeth, which were sharp as the teeth of a wild beast made to tear raw flesh.
Memory must have deserted him long before, and for a long time also he had forgotten how to use his gun and tools, and he no longer knew how to make a fire! It could be seen that he was active and powerful, but the physical qualities had been developed in him to the injury of the moral qualities. Gideon Spilett spoke to him. He did not appear to understand or even to hear. And yet on looking into his eyes, the reporter thought he could see that all reason was not extinguished in him. However, the prisoner did not struggle, nor even attempt to break his bonds. Was he overwhelmed by the presence of men whose fellow he had once been? Had he found in some corner of his brain a fleeting remembrance which recalled him to humanity? If free, would he attempt to fly, or would he remain? They could not tell, but they did not make the experiment; and after gazing attentively at the miserable creature, —