The Mysterious Island: The Castaways from the Sky

Chapter XIX

Cyrus Smith's plan—The front of Granite House—The cord ladder—Pencroff's daydreams—Aromatic herbs—A natural warren—Diverting the water for the needs of the new dwelling—The view from the windows of Granite House.

The next day, the 22nd of May, they began working on the special arrangements for the new dwelling. In fact, the exchange of their insufficient shelter at the Chimneys for this vast and sound retreat cut into solid rock and sheltered from the waters of sea and sky, was long overdue. The Chimneys, however, would not be entirely abandoned and it was the engineer’s plan to make it into a workshop for heavier work.

Cyrus Smith’s first concern was to discover the precise position of Granite House from the outside. He went to the beach, to the foot of the enormous wall and, as the pick on escaping from the reporter’s hands had to fall perpendicularly, it sufficed to recover the pick in order to discover the place where the hole had been pierced in the granite.

The pick was easily found and in fact there was an opening about eighty feet perpendicularly above the point on the shore where it had been driven into the sand. Some rock pigeons were already entering and leaving by this narrow opening. It really seemed that Granite House was discovered just for them.

It was the engineer’s intention to divide the right side of the cavern into several rooms, preceded by an entrance corridor, and to light it by means of five windows and a door pierced in the facade. Pencroff readily admitted the need for five windows but he could not understand the need for the door since the old passageway offered a natural staircase by which it would always be easy to have access into Granite House.

“My friend,” Cyrus Smith replied to him, “if it will be easy for us to reach our dwelling by the passageway, it will be equally easy for others to do so. I intend, on the contrary, to obstruct the passageway at its opening, to seal it hermetically and, if necessary, to completely conceal the entrance by raising the water of the lake with a dam.”

“And how will we enter?” asked the sailor.

“By an outside ladder,” replied Cyrus Smith, “a cord ladder, which once drawn up will render access to our dwelling impossible.”

“But why so many precautions?” said Pencroff. “So far, the animals don’t seem to be very formidable. As to natives, the island has none.”

“Are you sure of it, Pencroff?” asked the engineer, looking at the sailor.

“We will evidently be sure of it when we have explored all its parts,” replied Pencroff.

“Yes,” said Cyrus Smith, “we still know only a small portion of it. But in any case, if we have no enemies from within, they can come from outside because these parts of the Pacific are dangerous parts. Let us therefore take precautions against all eventualities.”

Cyrus Smith spoke wisely and without making any further objection Pencroff prepared to execute his orders.

The front of Granite House would thus be lighted by means of five windows and a door to serve what constituted “the apartment” properly called. A large bay window and a “bull’s eye” window would permit light to enter profusely into this marvellous nave which would serve as a large hall. This front, at eighty feet above the ground, was exposed to the east and the rising sun greeted it with its first rays. It was situated on that portion of the facade between the salient forming corner at the mouth of the Mercy and a line drawn perpendicularly above the pile of rocks which formed the Chimneys. Thus the strong winds, that is to say those from the northeast, would only strike it aslant because it was protected by the orientation of the salient. However, until the window frames were made, the engineer intended to close the openings with thick shutters which would allow neither the wind nor the rain to pass through and which could be concealed if need be.

The first job consisted of hollowing out these openings. Using a pick on this hard rock would have been very slow and it is known that Cyrus Smith was a man of spectacular methods. He still had a certain quantity of nitroglycerin and he put it to good use. The effect of the explosive was properly localized and under its force the granite was broken at the very places chosen by the engineer. Then the pick and the pickaxe completed the ogival design of the five windows, the spacious bay window, the bull’s eye window and the door. They straightened out the frames, whose profiles were rather capricious and, several days after the beginning of these works, Granite House was generously lighted by the light of the rising sun which penetrated its most secret recesses.

Following the plan devised by Cyrus Smith, the apartment would be divided into five compartments having a view of the sea. To the right, an entrance served by a door to which the ladder was attached, then a main kitchen thirty feet wide, a dining room measuring forty feet, a dormitory of equal size, and finally a “guest room”, called for by Pencroff, which was at the edge of the Grand Hall.

These rooms, or rather this suite of rooms which formed the apartment of Granite House, would not occupy all the space of the cavern. There would be a central corridor and a large storehouse into which utensils, provisions and reserves would easily find a place. All the products gathered on the island, the flora as well as the fauna, would be there in an excellent condition of conservation, and completely sheltered from the dampness. There was no lack of space and each item would be placed methodically. Beyond that, the colonists still had the small grotto situated above the large cavern, which would be like the garret of the new dwelling.

This plan decided on, it remained only to put it into execution. The miners became bricklayers once again. The bricks were carried and placed at the foot of Granite House.

Until then Cyrus Smith and his companions had access to the cavern only through the old passageway. This mode of communication obliged them first to climb to Grand View Plateau after making a detour at the bank of the river, to descend two hundred feet by the corridor and then to climb up again when they wanted to return to the plateau. That way time was lost with considerable fatigue. Cyrus Smith hence resolved without delay to make a sturdy cord ladder which, once drawn up, would render the entrance to Granite House completely inaccessible.

This ladder was made with extreme care. Its sides, which were formed of juncus fibers and woven with a wheel, had the strength of a thick cable. As to its rungs, they were made of the light but tough branches of the red cedar. The apparatus was made by the master hand of Pencroff.

Other cords were made with vegetable fibers in the same way and a sort of large pulleyblock was installed at the door. In this way the bricks could be easily lifted to the level of Granite House. The transport of material was very simplified and the interior arrangements, properly called, soon began. There was no lack of lime and several thousand bricks were there, ready to be used. They easily set up the woodwork of the partitions, in a very rudimentary way of course, and in a very short time the apartment was divided into rooms and into a storehouse according to the plan agreed upon.

These various works proceeded rapidly under the direction of the engineer, who himself handled the hammer and the trowel. No manual activity was a stranger to Cyrus Smith, who thereby gave an example to his intelligent and zealous companions. They worked with confidence, even merrily, Pencroff always with a funny word, sometimes as a carpenter, sometimes as a rope maker, sometimes mason, and communicating his good humor to all of this small colony. His faith in the engineer was absolute. Nothing could shake it. He believed him capable of undertaking everything and succeeding at everything. The question of clothing and shoes—assuredly a serious question—that of light during the winter nights, the exploitation of the fertile portions of the island, the transformation of this wild vegetation into cultivated vegetation, everything seemed easy to him, Cyrus Smith helping, and everything would be done in its time. He daydreamt of canals to facilitate the transport of the soil’s riches, of exploiting quarries and working mines, of machines suitable for every industrial practice, of railroads, yes, of railroads whose network would certainly cover Lincoln Island one day.

The engineer let Pencroff speak. He did not contradict the exaggerations of this brave heart. He well knew that confidence is catching. He even smiled to hear him speak and said nothing about the anxieties he sometimes had about the future. In fact, in this part of the Pacific, outside the ship lanes, he feared that they would never be rescued. It was thus on themselves, on themselves alone that the colonists must count, because the distance from Lincoln Island to any other land was such that to risk themselves in a boat of necessarily mediocre construction would be a serious and perilous thing.

But, as the sailor said, they had accomplished a hundred times more than the Robinsons of a bygone time, for whom everything was done miraculously.

And, in fact, they had knowledge, and the man who had knowledge would succeed where others would vegetate and inevitably perish.

During these activities Herbert distinguished himself. He was intelligent and active, he learned quickly, worked well, and Cyrus Smith attached himself more and more to this lad. Herbert had a vivid and respectful regard for the engineer. Pencroff saw the close sympathy that formed between these two beings but he was not jealous of it.

Neb was Neb. He was what he would always be, courageous, zealous, devoted, abnegation personified. He had the same faith in his master as Pencroff but he manifested it less noisily. When the sailor was enthusiastic, Neb always took an attitude as if to say “but nothing is more natural.” Pencroff and he liked each other and were not long in becoming friends.

As to Gideon Spilett, he took part in the common work and he was not the most awkward one which always astonished the sailor a little. “A clever ‘journalist’ who not only understands everything, but can do everything!”

The ladder was finally installed on the 28th of May. There were no less than a hundred rungs for this perpendicular height of eighty feet. Fortunately, Cyrus Smith had been able to divide it into two parts, profiting from an overhang in the wall which made a ledge forty feet above the ground. This ledge, carefully leveled with a pick, became a sort of landing on which they fixed the first ladder, whose swinging was thus diminished by half, and a cord permitted it to be raised to the level of Granite House. As to the second ladder, its lower end was also attached to the ledge, but its upper end was connected to the door itself. In this way, getting up was notably easier. Besides, Cyrus Smith counted on later installing a hydraulic lift, which would do away with all fatigue and all time lost by the inhabitants of Granite House.

The ladder was finally installed.

The colonists promptly became accustomed to the use of this ladder. They were nimble and skillful and Pencroff, since he was a sailor, accustomed to climbing the ratlines of the shrouds, was able to give them lessons. But it was necessary to give Top lessons also. The poor dog, with his four feet, was not made for this exercise. But Pencroff was so zealous a teacher that Top ended by being able to climb the ladder as well as his peers in the circus. It need not be said that the sailor was proud of his pupil. Nevertheless, more than once Pencroff put him on his back for which Top never complained.

It should be noted here that during these works, which were actively carried on because the bad season was approaching, the question of food had not been neglected. The reporter and Herbert definitely became purveyors to the colony, devoting several hours every day to hunting. They still only exploited Jacamar Woods on the left of the river because they still could not cross the Mercy without a bridge or a boat. All of these immense forests to which they had given the name of Forests of the Far West, had not at all been explored. They reserved this important excursion for the first good days of the coming spring. But Jacamar Woods was full of game; kangaroos and wild boar abounded and the hunters did wonders with the iron tipped spears and the bow and arrows. In addition, Herbert discovered a natural warren near the southwest corner of the lagoon, a sort of slightly wet meadow covered with willows and aromatic herbs which perfumed the air, herbs such as thyme, serpolet, basil, savory, and all fragrant species of the labiate family which rabbits are so fond of.

The reporter noted that since the table was served with things for rabbits, it would be astonishing if there were no rabbits. The two hunters carefully explored this warren. In any case, it produced an abundance of useful plants and a naturalist would have had a good opportunity there to study specimens of the vegetable kingdom. Herbert therefore collected a certain quantity of basil shoots, rosemary, melissa, betony, etc., which possessed various therapeutic properties for use as cough mixtures, astringents, antifebriles, others antispasmodics, or antirhumatics. And when later, Pencroff asked about this collection of herbs:

“To take care of us,” replied the lad, “to treat us when we are ill.”

“Since there are no doctors on the island, why should we be sick?” replied Pencroff, very seriously.

To this there was nothing to reply but the lad nonetheless made his collection, which was very well received at Granite House. He was able to add to this stock of medicinal plants a quantity of didymous monardas which are known in North America under the name of “Oswego Tea,” producing an excellent beverage.

Finally that day, on looking carefully, the two hunters arrived at the true location of the warren. The ground was riddled with holes.

“Burrows!” cried Herbert.

“Yes,” replied the reporter, “I see them well.”

“But are they inhabited?”

“That is the question.”

The question was not long in resolving itself. Almost at once, hundreds of small animals resembling rabbits fled in all directions, and with such speed that even Top could not overtake them. Hunters and dog were soon out of breath and these rodents easily escaped them. But the reporter resolved not to leave the place before having captured at least half a dozen of these quadrupeds. He wanted first to supply the pantry and then to domesticate those which they would take later. With several nooses spread at the openings of the burrows, the operation could not fail to succeed. But at the moment they had neither nooses nor a way to make them. They hence had to resign themselves to visiting each refuge, to pry with a stick and to do with patience what they could not do in any other way.

Hundreds of small animals...

Finally, after an hour of digging, four rodents were taken. They were rabbits resembling their European congeners and who are commonly known under the name of “American Rabbits.”

The result of the hunt was brought to Granite House and was a part of the evening meal. The hosts of this warren were not scorned because they were delicious. This was a precious resource for the colony, one which seemed to be inexhaustible.

On the 31st of May, the partitions were completed. Nothing remained but to furnish the rooms, which would be the work for the long winter. A chimney was built in the first room which served as the kitchen. The tube, designed to conduct the smoke outside, gave some work for the improvised chimney makers. It seemed simpler to Cyrus Smith to make it out of brick clay. Since he could not dream of making an opening to the upper plateau, they excavated a hole through the granite above the window of the aforementioned kitchen and it was through this hole that the pipe was obliquely placed with a top like that of an iron stove. Perhaps, even doubtless, the chimney would smoke when the strong winds would beat directly against the facade, but these winds were rare and besides, Master Neb, the cook, did not mind it.

When these interior arrangements had been finished, the engineer occupied himself with closing the opening of the old passageway which ended at the lake, in a way to prevent any access by this means. Lumps of rocks were hauled to the opening and firmly cemented. Cyrus Smith still had not begun the project of drowning this orifice under the water of the lake by returning them to their former level with a dam. He contented himself with concealing the obstruction with grass, bushes and brushwood which were planted in the crevices of the rocks and which would develop exuberantly next spring.

Nevertheless, he used the overflow in a way to bring a stream of sweet water into the new dwelling. A small groove, made below level, produced this result, and this diversion of a pure and inexhaustible source gave an output of twenty five to thirty gallons a day.1 Water would never be lacking at Granite House.

A small groove...

Finally, everything was completed and it was time because the bad season arrived. Thick shutters allowed them to close the windows of the facade while waiting for the time when the engineer could make plate glass.

Gideon Spilett, being artistically inclined, planted various species of plants and long flowing grass on the rock ledges and around the windows. In this fashion the openings were enclosed in a picturesque greenery producing a charming effect.

The inhabitants of this solid, safe and secure dwelling could only be enchanted with their work. The windows gave them a view which extended on a limitless horizon from the two Mandible Capes in the north to Cape Claw in the south. All of Union Bay was magnificently unfolded before them. Yes, these brave colonists had grounds for being satisfied and Pencroff spared no praise of what he humorously called his “apartment on the fifth floor above the mezzanine.”

  1. The gallon equals about 4½ liters.

[prev] [up] [next]
Translation Copyright © 1992 Sidney Kravitz
Copyright © Zvi Har’El
$Date: 2007/12/23 17:44:40 $