The Mysterious Island: The Abandoned

Chapter XVI

A mystery to clear up—The stranger’s first words—A dozen years on the islet—Admissions which escape him—The disappearance—Cyrus Smith’s confidence—Construction of a mill—The first bread—An act of devotion—Honest hands.

Yes, the unfortunate had cried! Some remembrance doubtless had crossed his mind and, to use Cyrus Smith’s expression, he had become a man again by his tears.

The colonists left him for a while on the plateau and even withdrew a little so that he could feel free; but he no longer thought of profiting from this liberty and Cyrus Smith shortly decided to bring him back to Granite House.

Two days after this scene the stranger seemed to want to mix a little with the community life. It was evident that he heard and that he understood but it was none the less evident that he was strangely obstinate in not speaking to the colonists because one evening Pencroff, putting his ear to the door of his room, heard these words escape from his lips:

“No! here! me! never!”

The sailor related these words to his companions.

“There is some painful mystery here,” said Cyrus Smith.

The stranger began to use some tools and worked in the garden. When he paused in his work, which was often, he remained as if concentrating on himself; but, at the engineer’s recommendation, they respected this isolation which he seemed to want to protect. If one of the colonists approached him he withdrew and sobs came from his chest as if full of them.

Was he overcome by remorse? It seemed so, and Gideon Spilett could not refrain one day from making this observation:

“If he does not speak it is because he has, I believe, things too grave to talk about.”

They would have to be patient and wait.

Several days later, the third of November, the stranger, working on the plateau, stopped and let his spade fall to the ground. Cyrus Smith, who observed him a little distance away, saw the tears flow from his eyes once more. He felt an irresistible pity for him and he gently touched his arms.

“My friend,” he said.

The stranger tried to avoid his gaze, and since Cyrus Smith wanted to take his hand, he withdrew.

“My friend,” said Cyrus Smith in a firm voice, “look at me, I wish it.”

The stranger looked at the engineer and seemed to be under his influence like a hypnotized person under the power of a hypnotist. He wanted to flee. But then his countenance changed. His look emitted a flash. Words tried to escape from his lips. He could no longer hold them in... Finally he crossed his arms; then in a hollow voice:

“Who are you?” he asked Cyrus Smith.

“Who are you?” he asked Cyrus Smith.

“Castaways, like yourself,” replied the engineer, with deep emotion. “We have brought you here to be with your fellow men.”

“My fellow men!... I do not have any.”

“You are among friends...”

“Friends!... me! friends!” The stranger shouted, hiding his head in his hands. “No... never... leave me alone... leave me alone.”

Then he ran to the edge of the plateau which overlooked the sea and remained there immobile for a long time.

Cyrus Smith rejoined his companions and related what had occurred.

“Yes! There is a mystery in this man’s life,” said Gideon Spilett, “and it seems that he will return to humanity only by the path of remorse.”

“I hardly know what kind of a man we have brought here,” said the sailor. “He has secrets...”

“Which we will respect,” replied Cyrus Smith vividly. “If he has committed some mistake he has severely expiated it and in our eyes he is absolved.”

For two hours the stranger remained alone, evidently under the influence of past memories—a disastrous past doubtless—and the colonists, without losing sight of him, did not disturb his privacy.

However, after two hours, he appeared to have come to a decision and he went to find Cyrus Smith. His eyes were red from the tears that had poured forth, but he was no longer crying. He had a look of deep humility. He seemed timid, bashful, very humble and he constantly gazed at the ground.

“Sir,” he said to Cyrus Smith, “your companions and you, are you English?”

“No,” replied the engineer, “we are Americans.”

“Ah!” said the stranger, and he murmured these words:

“I much prefer that.”

“And you, my friend?” asked the engineer.

“English,” he replied hurriedly.

And, as these words were hard to say, he ran to the shore to the area between the cascade and the mouth of the Mercy. He was extremely agitated.

Then, passing near Herbert for a moment he stopped and in a strange voice:

“What month?” he asked him.

“December,” replied Herbert.

“What year?”


“Twelve years! twelve years,” he shouted. Then he left abruptly.

Herbert related to the colonists the questions and answers that had been made.

“This unfortunate,” Gideon Spilett noted, “was no longer aware of months or years,”

“Yes,” added Herbert, “and he was already twelve years on the islet when we found him there.”

“Twelve years!” replied Cyrus Smith. “Ah! twelve years of isolation after a cursed existence perhaps could deprive any man of his sanity.”

“I am led to believe,” Pencroff then said, “that this man did not reach Tabor Island as a castaway but that he was abandoned there as a result of some crime.”

“You may be right, Pencroff,” replied the reporter, “and if that is so, it is not impossible that those who left him there will return to look for him one day.”

“And they will no longer find him,” said Herbert.

“But then,” replied Pencroff, “they must leave again and...”

“My friends,” said Cyrus Smith, “let us not consider this question before we know what we have to contend with. I believe that this unfortunate has suffered, that he has harshly expiated his mistakes, whatever they be, and that he has the need to unburden himself. Let us not provoke him to tell us his story. He will doubtless tell it to us and when we have learned it, we will see what course it is best to follow. Besides, he alone can tell us if he still hopes to he rescued one day, but I doubt it!”

“And why?” asked the reporter.

“Because in the event that he had been assured of being delivered within a certain time, he would have waited for the hour of his deliverance and he would not have thrown this document into the sea. No, it is rather probable that he was condemned to die on this islet and that he would never be able to see his fellow beings again.”

“But,” noted the sailor, “there is one thing that I have been unable to explain to myself.”

“Which is?”

“If it is twelve years since this man has been abandoned on Tabor Island, then we may surely suppose that he was already for several years in the savage state in which we found him.”

“That is probable,” replied Cyrus Smith.

“It would consequently be several years since he had written this document.”

“Doubtless... and yet the document seems to have been recently written!...”

“Besides, wouldn’t the bottle which enclosed the document have taken several years to go from Tabor Island to Lincoln Island?”

“That is not absolutely impossible,” replied the reporter. “Could it not already have been a long time in the vicinity of the island?”

“No,” replied Pencroff, “because it was still floating. We cannot even assume that after having remained on the beach for a longer or a shorter time it was returned to the sea because there are so many rocks on the southern coast that it would surely have broken.”

“Right,” replied Cyrus Smith, who remained absorbed in thought.

“So,” added the sailor, “if the document was written several years ago, if it was enclosed in this bottle for several years, it would have been damaged by the dampness. Now, there is nothing of the sort, and we find it in perfect condition.”

The sailor was right. It was an incomprehensible fact, because when the colonists found the document in the bottle, it seemed to have been recently written. In addition, it gave the position of Tabor Island in latitude and in longitude with precision which implied that its author had a rather complete knowledge of hydrography which a simple sailor could not have.

“Once again we have here something inexplicable,” said the engineer, “but let us not provoke our new companion to speak. When he wishes it, my friends, we will be ready to listen to him.”

During the days which followed, the stranger did not say a word nor did he at any time leave the confines of the plateau. He worked the ground, without losing a moment, without taking a moment’s rest, but always in solitude. At mealtimes he did not go to Granite House although invited several times to do so and he was content to eat some raw vegetables. When night came, he did not go back to the room which had been assigned to him but he remained there under some cluster of trees or, when the weather was bad he crouched in some cavity among the rocks. Thus he still lived like the time when there was no other shelter than the forests of Tabor Island and, since any attempt to get him to change his life was in vain, the colonists waited patiently. But the time had to come when his conscience would force him to reveal his terrible crimes.

On the 10th of November, at about eight o’clock in the evening, when night was coming on, the stranger unexpectedly presented himself to the colonists who were gathered under the veranda. His eyes were blazing strangely and his entire person had taken on the fierce aspect of his former days.

Cyrus Smith and his companions were taken aback on seeing him under the influence of this terrible emotion, his teeth clacking like someone in a fever. What was this about? Was the sight of his fellow men unbearable? Had he had enough of this honest existence? Did he have a nostalgia for his brutish life? They were led to think this on hearing him express these incoherent phrases:

“Why am I here?... What right did you have to drag me from my islet?... Is there any bond between you and me?... Do you know who I am... what I have done... why I was there... alone? And how do you know that I wasn’t abandoned there... that I wasn’t condemned to die there?... Do you know my past?... How do you know that I am not a thief, an assassin... that I am not worthless... a wretch... fit to live like a wild beast... away from everyone... speak... do you know this?”

The colonists listened without interrupting the unfortunate who was half confessing in spite of himself. Cyrus Smith, wanting to calm him, approached, but he drew back.

“No!, no!” he shouted. “One word only... am I free?”

“You are free,” replied the engineer.

“Goodbye then!” he shouted, and fled like a madman.

Neb, Pencroff and Herbert immediately ran to the edge of the forest... but they returned alone.

“He needs to get away,” said Cyrus Smith.

“He will never return...” shouted Pencroff.

“He will return,” replied the engineer.

And the days passed; but Cyrus Smith—was it a sort of premonition?—persisted in the firm idea that the unfortunate would return sooner or later.

“It is the last revolt of his wild nature,” he said, “which is affected by remorse and which a new seclusion will terrify.”

However various activities of all sorts were continued. Cyrus Smith intended to build a farm either at Grand View Plateau or at the corral. It goes without saying that the seed collected by Herbert on Tabor Island had been carefully planted. The plateau then became a large kitchen garden, well arranged and well maintained which the colonists did not cease to work. They were always laboring there. As the vegetables multiplied, they had to enlarge the simple squares which tended to develop into real fields and replace the prairie. But forage was plentiful in other parts of the island and the onagers never had to fear any rationing. Besides, it was better to transform Grand View Plateau into a kitchen garden shielded as it was by a deep belt of creeks and to leave to the outside the prairies which had no need to be protected against the depredations of quadrumanes and quadrupeds.

On November 15th they had the third harvest. The area had grown in the eighteen months since the first grain of corn had been planted. The second harvest of six hundred thousand grains this time produced four thousand bushels which is more than five hundred million grains. The colony was rich in corn because it would suffice to sow about ten bushels each year to assure a harvest from which every one, man and beast, could be nourished.

The harvest was then completed and they devoted the last half of the month of November to making it into bread.

In fact, they had the grain but not the flour so the installation of a mill was necessary. Cyrus Smith could have used the second fall which overflowed into the Mercy for his motor power, the first being already used to drive the rammers of the fulling mill; but after discussion it was decided that they would establish a simple windmill on the heights of Grand View. The construction of one did not offer any more difficulty than the construction of the other, and they were sure, on the other hand, that there would be no lack of wind on this plateau exposed as it was to the open sea.

“Without counting,” said Pencroff, “that this windmill would be pretty and would have a good effect on the landscape.”

They began the work by choosing timber for the framework of the cage and for the mechanism of the mill. Several large sandstones found to the north of the lake were easily transformed into grindstones and as to the arms, the inexhaustible envelope of the balloon furnished the necessary cloth.

Cyrus Smith made his plans and the location for the mill was chosen a little to the right of the poultry yard, near the banks of the lake. The entire cage rested on a pivot supported by the main framework so as to be able to turn with the entire mechanism which it contained, according to the demands of the wind.

This work was quickly accomplished. Neb and Pencroff had become very skilful carpenters and they had only to follow the model furnished by the engineer. A sort of cylindrical turret, topped by a roof, soon rose at the designated place. The four frames which formed the arms were firmly implanted into a shaft so as to make a certain angle with it and were fixed to it by means of iron bolts. As to the various parts of the internal mechanism, the box destined to contain the two grindstones, the stationary stone and the turning stone, the hopper which was a sort of square spout, large on top and narrow at the base, which would permit the grains to fall on the grindstones, the oscillating spout designed to regulate the flow of grain and to which its perpetual tic-tac would give it the name of “blabbermouth,” and finally the sieve which, by the operation of the sifter, separated the bran from the flour, all these were made without difficulty. The tools were good and the work presented little difficulty because, in short, the mechanism of a mill is very simple. It is only a question of time.

Everyone worked on the construction of the mill and on the 1st of December it was finished.

As always, Pencroff was enchanted with his work and he did not doubt but that his apparatus was perfect.

Pencroff was enchanted with his work.

“Now for a good wind,” he said, “and we will merrily grind our first harvest.”

“A good wind, so be it,” replied the engineer, “but not too much wind, Pencroff.”

“Bah! our mill will only turn faster”

“It is not necessary that it turn so fast,” replied Cyrus Smith. “It is known from experience that the greatest amount of work is produced by a mill when the number of rotations of the arms per minute is six times the speed of the wind in feet per second. With a moderate breeze which gives a speed of twenty four feet per second, it will impart sixteen revolutions per minute to the arms which is no more than we need.”

“Right!” shouted Herbert. “A jolly breeze is blowing from the northeast which will do our work.”

There was no reason to delay the inauguration of the mill because the colonists were in a hurry to taste the first piece of bread from Lincoln Island. On this day then, in the afternoon, two or three bushels of corn were ground and the next day at lunch a magnificent loaf, a bit compact perhaps even though raised with brewer’s yeast, appeared on the table of Granite House. Everyone bit off huge chunks and with what pleasure as one can imagine.

However the stranger had not reappeared. Several times Gideon Spilett and Herbert had gone to the forest in the neighborhood of Granite House without encountering him and without finding any trace of him. This prolonged disappearance made them very anxious. Certainly the old savage from Tabor Island would have no difficulty keeping alive in these forests of the Far West so full of game, but wasn’t it to be feared that he would return to his old habits and that this independence would revive his wild instincts? By a sort of premonition, Cyrus Smith always persisted in saying that, without doubt, the fugitive would return.

“Yes, he will return,” he repeated with a confidence which his companions could not share. “When this unfortunate was on Tabor Island he knew himself to be alone. Here he knows that his fellow beings await him. Since he has half spoken of his past life, he has repented, and he will return to tell us the entire story and from that day on he will be one of us.”

The event showed that Cyrus Smith was right.

On the 3rd of December, Herbert had left Grand View Plateau to go fishing on the southern bank of the lake. He was without weapons and until then there had never been any precaution to take since dangerous animals had not shown themselves on this part of the island.

During this while, Pencroff and Neb were working at the poultry yard while Cyrus Smith and the reporter were occupied at the Chimneys making soda, the supply of soap being exhausted.

Suddenly these shouts resounded:

“Help me!”

Cyrus Smith and the reporter, being too far away, could not hear these shouts. Pencroff and Neb, quickly abandoning the poultry yard, ran toward the lake.

But as they arrived they saw the stranger, whose presence in this neighborhood no one suspected, crossing Glycerin Creek which separated the plateau from the forest and jump to the opposite bank.

There, Herbert was face to face with a formidable jaguar which resembled the one that had been killed at Reptile Promontory. Suddenly surprised, he stood against a tree while the animal was getting ready to leap upon him... But the stranger, without any weapon other than a knife, hurled himself on the redoubtable beast who turned toward this new adversary.

The battle was a short one. The stranger had strength and prodigious skill. With one hand, as powerful as a shear, he seized the jaguar by the throat without bothering with the beast’s claws which penetrated into his flesh, and with the other hand he dug his knife into the animal’s heart.

He seized the jaguar by the throat.

The jaguar fell. The stranger kicked it aside and was about to flee just as the colonists reached the field of battle. Herbert held him back shouting:

“No! No! You will not go!”

Cyrus Smith went toward the stranger who frowned when he saw him approach. The blood was flowing under his torn shirt but he took no notice of it.

“My friend,” Cyrus Smith said to him, “we are indebted to you. You risked your life to save our child.”

“My life!” murmured the stranger. “What is it worth? Less than nothing.”

“You are wounded.”

“That’s of little importance.”

“Will you give me your hand?”

And as Herbert tried to grasp the hand that had saved him, the stranger crossed his arms, swelled up his chest, his look became clouded and he seemed to want to flee; but making a violent effort to control himself and in an abrupt tone:

“Who are you,” he asked, “and what do you claim to be to me?”

It was the colonists’ story that he was thus asking for, and for the first time. Perhaps, if this story was related, would he tell his own?

In a few words, Cyrus Smith related all that had occurred since their departure from Richmond, how they had managed their affairs, and what resources were now available to them.

The stranger listened carefully.

The engineer spoke for everyone, for Gideon Spilett, Herbert, Pencroff, Neb and himself and added that the greatest joy that they had experienced since their arrival on Lincoln Island was their return from the islet when they had been able to count an additional companion.

At these words the latter blushed, lowered his head on his chest and became confused.

“And now that you know about us,” added Cyrus Smith, “will you give us your hand?”

“No,” replied the stranger in a hollow voice, “no! You are honest men, you! and I!...”

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Translation Copyright © 1992 Sidney Kravitz
Copyright © Zvi Har’El
$Date: 2007/12/23 17:44:41 $