“A castaway!” shouted Pencroff, “Abandoned a few hundred miles from us on this Tabor Island! Ah Mister Cyrus, now you will no longer oppose my proposed trip!”
“No, Pencroff,” replied Cyrus Smith, “and you will leave as soon as possible.”
“As soon as tomorrow?”
“As soon as tomorrow.”
The engineer held in his hand the paper which he had taken from the bottle. He meditated for a few moments, then spoke again:
“From this document, my friends,” he said, “and from the very form in which it is composed, we must first conclude this: It is first, that the castaway of Tabor Island is a man having a rather advanced knowledge of navigation, since he gives the latitude and the longitude of the island, confirming to what we have found, and to within a minute of approximation: Second, that he is English or American since the document is written in the English language.”
“That is perfectly logical,” replied Gideon Spilett, “and the presence of this castaway explains the arrival of the case on the shores of our island. There has been a wreck since there is a castaway. As to the latter, whoever he is, it is a lucky thing for him that Pencroff had the idea of constructing this boat and of trying it out this very day because one day later and this bottle would have broken on the reefs.”
“In fact,” said Herbert, “it is a happy chance that the Bonadventure has passed here while the bottle was still floating.”
“And doesn’t that seem strange to you,” Cyrus Smith asked Pencroff.
“It seems fortunate to me, that is all,” replied the sailor. “Do you see something extraordinary in this, Mister Cyrus? This bottle had to go someplace and why not here as well as any place else?”
“Perhaps you are right, Pencroff,” replied the engineer, “and yet...”
“But,” noted Herbert, “there’s nothing to prove that this bottle has been floating long in the sea.”
“Nothing,” replied Gideon Spilett, “and the document itself appears to have been recently written. What do you think, Cyrus?”
“That is difficult to verify and besides we will know,” replied Cyrus Smith.
During this conversation Pencroff had not remained inactive. He had turned the boat around, and the Bonadventure cast off, all sails hoisted, rapidly running toward Cape Claw. Everyone was thinking of this castaway from Tabor Island. Was there still time to save him? This was an important event in the life of the colonists. Even they themselves were castaways but they feared that someone else might not have been as lucky as they and their duty was to run to the unfortunate. Cape Claw was doubled and the Bonadventure was anchored about four o’clock at the mouth of the Mercy.
That very evening the details relative to the new expedition were settled. It appeared expedient that Pencroff and Herbert, who knew how to handle a boat, would undertake this voyage by themselves. By leaving the next day, the 11th of October, they could arrive on the 13th during the day because, with the prevailing wind, not more than forty eight hours were needed to make this crossing of one hundred fifty miles. A day on the island, three or four days to return, they could then count on returning to Lincoln Island by the 17th. The weather was fine, the barometer was rising without shocks, the winds seemed steady. Everything then favored these brave men who were being taken so far from their island by the duties of humanity.
So then, it had been agreed that Cyrus Smith, Neb, and Gideon Spilett would remain at Granite House; but a protest was lodged and Gideon Spilett, not forgetting his duties as a reporter for the New York Herald, having declared that he would rather swim than miss such an occasion, he was admitted to take part in the voyage.
The evening was employed in transporting on board the Bonadventure several objects of bedding, utensils, arms, munitions, a compass, and provisions needed for a journey of eight days, and this loading being quickly accomplished, the colonists went back to Granite House.
The next day, at five o’clock in the morning, they said their goodbyes, not without a certain emotion on everyone’s part, and Pencroff, filling the sails, went toward Cape Claw which he had to double in order to then take a direct southwest route.
The Bonadventure was already a quarter of a mile from the coast when its passengers saw on the heights of Granite House two men making a sign of goodbye. They were Cyrus Smith and Neb.
They were Cyrus Smith and Neb.
“Our friends,” shouted Gideon Spilett. “This is our first separation in eighteen months!...”
Pencroff, the reporter, and Herbert made a final sign of goodbye and Granite House soon disappeared behind the high rocks of the cape.
During the first hours of the day the Bonadventure remained continually in view of the southern coast of Lincoln Island which soon appeared in the form of a wide green basket from which Mount Franklin emerged. The heights, diminished by the distance, gave it an appearance not likely to attract vessels to its shores.
Reptile Promontory was passed at about one o’clock but at ten miles out. At this distance it was no longer possible to distinguish anything on the western coast which extended up to the top of Mount Franklin and three hours later all that was Lincoln Island had disappeared below the horizon.
The Bonadventure conducted itself perfectly. It rose easily with the waves and moved rapidly. Pencroff had rigged his topmast and having everything hoisted he sailed in a straight direction guided by the compass.
From time to time Herbert took his turn at the helm and the lad’s hand was so firm that the sailor could find no error to reproach him with.
Gideon Spilett chatted with one, with the other and, when it was necessary, he took his turn at the helm. Captain Pencroff was absolutely satisfied with his crew and spoke of rewarding them with nothing less than “a quart of wine with which to go on a spree!”
At sunset the crescent of the moon, which would not be in the first quarter until the 16th, appeared in the twilight and soon disappeared. The night was dark but full of stars which promised a fine day for the morrow.
Pencroff prudently lowered the topmast not wanting to be surprised by some gust of wind with a sail at the top of the mast. It was perhaps too much caution on so calm a night, but Pencroff was a prudent sailor and one could not blame him.
The reporter slept a part of the night. Pencroff and Herbert took turns at the helm every two hours. The sailor trusted Herbert as he would himself and his confidence was justified by the coolness and intelligence of the lad. Pencroff gave him directions like a commander to his helmsman and Herbert did not allow the Bonadventure to deviate a line.
The night passed well and the day of October 12th passed under the same conditions. The southwesterly direction was strictly maintained during the entire day and if the Bonadventure was not subjected to some unknown current, Tabor Island would be in its path.
As to the sea in which the boat was then sailing it was absolutely deserted. At times some large bird, an albatross or a frigate, passed within gun range and Gideon Spilett asked himself if one of these powerful flyers was not the one to whom he had confined his last dispatch addressed to the New York Herald. These birds appeared to be the only ones frequenting this part of the ocean between Tabor Island and Lincoln Island.
“However,” Herbert noted, “this is the season when the whalers ordinarily head toward the southern part of the Pacific. In truth, I do not believe that there is a more deserted sea than this one!”
“It is not as deserted as all that,” replied Pencroff.
“What do you mean by that?” asked the reporter.
“But we are here! Do you take our boat for a wreck and us for porpoises.”
And Pencroff laughed at his joke.
By evening, according to their estimate, they reckoned that the Bonadventure had covered a distance of one hundred twenty miles since its departure from Lincoln Island, that is to say in thirty six hours which gave a speed of three and a third miles per hour. The breeze was weak and tended to become calmer. Nevertheless they could hope that the next day, at daybreak, if the estimate was correct and the direction had been true, they would sight Tabor Island.
Neither Gideon Spilett, nor Herbert, nor Pencroff slept during this night of the 12th to the 13th of October. During this wait for the next day, they could not restrain their emotions. There was so much uncertainty in this enterprise that they had attempted. Were they near Tabor Island? Was the island still inhabited by this castaway to whose rescue they were coming? Who was this man? Wouldn’t his presence bring trouble to the small colony so united until then? Besides, would he consent to change his prison for another? All these questions, which would doubtless be answered the next day, kept them awake and at the first rays of dawn they cast their glances on all points of the western horizon.
“Land!” shouted Pencroff about six o’clock in the morning.
“Land!” shouted Pencroff.
And since it was inadmissible that Pencroff was mistaken, it was evident that land was there.
One can judge the joy of the small crew of the Bonadventure. In a few hours they would be on the shore of the island.
Tabor Island had a low coast, hardly emerging from the waves. It was not more than fifteen miles away. The bow of the Bonadventure, which was a little to the south of the island, was put in direct line with it and as the sun rose in the east, several high points appeared here and there.
“This island is much less important than Lincoln Island,” Herbert noted, “and like it, it probably resulted from some submarine convulsion.”
At eleven o’clock in the morning the Bonadventure was only two miles away and Pencroff, looking for a passage to shore, sailed very prudently through these unknown waters.
Their view then embraced the entire islet. Clusters of verdant gum trees and other large trees of the kind that grew on Lincoln Island, stood out. But the thing that was astonishing was that there was no rising smoke to indicate that the islet was inhabited. No signal appeared at any point whatsoever of the shore.
And yet the document had been precise: there was a castaway there and the castaway should have been on the watch.
Nevertheless the Bonadventure ventured among the rather capricious passes through the reefs. Pencroff paid careful attention to the least meandering. He placed Herbert at the helm, and posted in front, he examined the water, halyard in hand, ready to drop sail. Gideon Spilett swept his eyes over the shore with the telescope but saw nothing.
Finally, about noon, the keel of the Bonadventure struck the sandy beach. The anchor was thrown out, the sails lowered, and the crew of the small boat set foot on land.
And there was no doubt that this was really Tabor Island since, according to the most recent maps, no other island existed in this portion of the Pacific between New Zealand and the American Coast.
The boat was firmly moored so that the ebbing tide could not carry it off; then Pencroff and his two companions, well armed, went up the shore in order to get to a kind of cone, two hundred fifty to three hundred feet high, which rose a half mile away.
“From the top of this hill,” said Gideon Spilett, “we will doubtless have a bird’s eye view of the islet, which will facilitate our search.”
“Which is what Mister Cyrus first did on Lincoln Island,” said Herbert, “by climbing Mount Franklin.”
“Exactly,” replied the reporter, “and it is the best way to proceed.”
While chatting the explorers advanced, following the edge of a prairie which ended at the very foot of the cone. Bands of rock pigeons and sea swallows, resembling those of Lincoln Island, flew before them. Under the woods which lined the prairie on the left, they heard rustlings in the brushwood and caught glimpses of movement in the grass which indicated the presence of fleeing animals; but nothing until then indicated that the islet was inhabited.
Arriving at the foot of the cone, Pencroff, Herbert and Gideon Spilett climbed it and in a few moments their gaze surveyed the various points on the horizon.
It was really an islet which did not measure more than six miles all around. Its perimeter was barely fringed by any capes or promontories, or any coves or creeks. It presented the form of an elongated oval. All around was the absolutely deserted sea extending to the limits of the horizon. There was no land nor any sail in view.
This islet, wooded over all its surface, did not offer the diversity of Lincoln Island, arid and wild on one part but fertile and rich on the other. Here it was a uniform mass of verdure dominated by two or three slightly elevated hills. Oblique to the oval of the islet a creek flowed across a large prairie, reaching the sea on the western coast through a narrow mouth.
“The domain is limited,” said Herbert.
“Yes,” replied Pencroff, “it would have been a little small for us.”
“And what’s more,” replied the reporter, “it seems uninhabited.”
“In fact,” replied Herbert, “nothing reveals the presence of man.”
“Let us descend,” said Pencroff, “and let us search.”
The sailor and his two companions returned to the shore where they had left the Bonadventure. They decided to walk around the islet before venturing into the interior so that no point would escape their attention.
The shore was easy to follow except for a few places blocked by large rocks which they easily went around. The explorers went southward causing the flight of numerous waterfowl and seals who dashed into the water when they saw them from afar.
“These animals,” the reporter noted, “do not see men for the first time. They fear them, therefore they know them.”
An hour after their departure, all three arrived at the southern point of the islet, terminated by a sharp cape, and they ascended toward the north, walking along the western shore which was also made up of sand and rocks with thick woods bordering to the rear.
Nowhere was there any trace of a dwelling, nowhere a human footprint all around the perimeter of the island which they had covered in four hours.
This was at 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 in that event it was possible that the castaway had been repatriated or had died of misery.
Pencroff, Gideon Spilett and Herbert, forming more or less plausible hypotheses, dined rapidly on board the Bonadventure so as to be able to continue their excursion until evening.
It was five o’clock in the evening when they ventured into the woods.
Numerous animals fled at their approach, principally, they could even say only, goats and pigs which, it was easy to see, were of the European species. Doubtless some whaler had landed them on the island where they rapidly multiplied. Herbert promised himself that he would capture one or two living couples in order to bring them to Lincoln Island.
There was then no longer any doubt that men at some time had visited this islet. And this appeared to be still more evident when, on crossing the forest, they saw traces of footpaths, of tree trunks felled with an axe, and everywhere the mark of the human hand; but these trees, which were rotting, had been cut down several years ago, the notches made by the axe were velvety with moss, and long thick grass overran the footpaths which were difficult to recognize.
“But,” noted Gideon Spilett, “this proves that men not only landed on this islet, but that they lived here for a certain period of time. Now, who were these men? How many were there? How many are left?”
“The document,” said Herbert, “spoke only of a single castaway.”
“Well, if he is still on the island,” replied Pencroff, “it is impossible that we will not find him.”
The exploration was therefore continued. The sailor and his companions followed naturally the route that cut diagonally across the islet. They then found themselves walking along the creek that ran to the sea.
If the animals of European origin and the works of the human hand proved incontestably that man had already come to this islet, several specimens from the vegetable kingdom proved it no less. In certain places among clearings, they saw that the land had been cultivated with garden vegetables at some rather distant time.
What was Herbert’s joy when he recognized potatoes, chicory, sorrel, carrots, cabbage, and turnips. It was sufficient to collect the seeds so as to enrich the soil of Lincoln Island.
“Good, well done!” replied Pencroff. “This will be a happy affair for Neb and ourselves. If we do not find the castaway at least our voyage will not have been in vain, and God will have rewarded us.”
“Doubtless,” replied Gideon Spilett, “but to look at the state in which we find these plantations, one is led to believe that the islet has not been inhabited for a long time.”
“In fact,” replied Herbert, “an inhabitant, whoever he was, would not have neglected so important a culture.”
“Yes,” said Pencroff, “the castaway has left!... We must assume that...”
“It must then be admitted that the document is already an old one?”
“And that this bottle arrived at Lincoln Island only after having floated on the sea for a long time?”
“Why not?” replied Pencroff. “But night is coming on,” he added, “and I think that it would be best to suspend our search.”
“Let us return on board and tomorrow we will begin again,” said the reporter.
This was very wise and the advice was about to be followed when Herbert, pointing to a confused mass among the trees, shouted:
Herbert pointed among the trees to a dwelling.
All three went to the dwelling at once. In the twilight it was possible to see that it had been constructed of planks covered with a thick tar canvas.
The half closed door was pushed open by Pencroff, who quickly entered...
The dwelling was empty.