The Mysterious Island: The Abandoned

Chapter XX

Night at sea—Shark Gulf—Confidences—Preparations for winter—An early winter—Intense frost—Interior Work—After six months—A photographic negative—Unexpected incident.

Things happened as Pencroff had anticipated because his forebodings could not be in error. The wind became stronger and from a good wind it changed into a windstorm, that is to say it acquired a velocity of forty to forty five miles per hour and a ship on the high seas would have had its sails reefed and its topgallant sails lowered. Now, since it was about six o’clock when the Bonadventure was at a standstill in the gulf and at this moment the ebb tide was being felt, it was impossible to enter there. They were compelled to remain on the open sea because, even if they wanted to, Pencroff could not even reach the mouth of the Mercy. After having set up his jibsail on the mainmast by way of a storm-jib, he waited while facing his bow toward land.

Very fortunately, if the wind was very strong, the sea, being protected by the coast, did not swell much. They thus had nothing to fear from the waves which are so dangerous to small boats. Doubtless the Bonadventure would not have capsized because it was well ballasted; but enormous blocks of water falling on board could have damaged her if the panels had not resisted. As a skillful sailor, Pencroff was ready for any event. He certainly had much confidence in his boat but none the less he waited for the return of day with a certain anxiety.

During this night, Cyrus Smith and Gideon Spilett had no occasion to speak together but the words pronounced in the reporter’s ear by the engineer well merited further discussion about this mysterious influence which seemed to reign over Lincoln Island. Gideon Spilett did not stop thinking about this new inexplicable incident, about the appearance of fire on the coast of Lincoln Island. He had really seen this fire. His companions, Herbert and Pencroff, had seen it as well as he had. This fire showed them the location of the island on this dark night and they did not doubt that only the hand of the engineer had lit it, and there was Cyrus Smith expressly declaring that he had done no such thing!

Gideon Spilett promised himself that he would discuss this incident after the Bonadventure returned and that he would urge Cyrus Smith to acquaint their companions with these strange events. Perhaps they would then decide to undertake a complete investigation of all parts of Lincoln Island.

Be it as it may, on this evening there was no fire lit on these still unknown shores which formed the entrance to the gulf and the small vessel continued to keep to the open sea during the entire night.

When the first rays of dawn appeared on the eastern horizon, the wind, which went down a little, shifted two points on the compass and allowed Pencroff to enter the narrow entrance to the gulf more easily. About seven o’clock in the morning the Bonadventure, leaving North Mandible Cape behind, carefully entered the pass and chanced upon these waters enclosed by the strangest lava formation.

“There,” said Pencroff, “is a bit of the sea that would make an admirable road where a navy could maneuver at its ease.”

“What is especially curious,” observed Cyrus Smith, “is that this gulf has been formed by two lava flows vomited out by the volcano, which accumulated from successive eruptions. The result is that this gulf is completely protected on all sides and I believe that even in the worst winds the sea is as calm here as on a lake.”

“Doubtless,” replied the sailor, “since the wind only has this narrow between the two capes to get in by, and the north cape protects the south cape in a way that makes it difficult for squalls to enter. In truth, our Bonadventure could remain here from one end of the year to the other without even pulling on its anchors.”

“It is a little too large for it,” noted the reporter.

“Well, Mister Spilett,” replied the sailor, “I agree that it is too large for the Bonadventure, but if the navies of the Union have need of a shelter in the Pacific, I believe that they will never find any better than this road.”

“We are in the shark’s mouth,” Neb then noted, making allusion to the shape of the gulf.

“All the way into the mouth, my brave Neb,” replied Herbert, “but you are not afraid that it will close on us, are you?”

“No, Mister Herbert,” replied Neb, “but nevertheless this gulf does not please me much! It has a wicked look.”

“Fine!” shouted Pencroff, “there is Neb depreciating my gulf just as I was thinking of making a gift of it to America.”

“But at least is the water deep?” asked the engineer, “because what is enough for the hull of the Bonadventure would not suffice for those of our ironclad vessels.”

“That is easy to verify,” replied Pencroff.

And the sailor took the end of a long cord which would serve him as a sounding line, to which was attached an iron block. This line measured about fifty fathoms and it was completely unrolled without reaching bottom.

“So then,” said Pencroff, “our ironclads can come here. They will not be grounded.”

“In fact,” said Cyrus Smith, “this gulf is a real abyss; but taking account of the plutonic origin of the island, it is not astonishing that the bottom of the sea has similar depressions.”

“One would say,” noted Herbert, “that these walls had been cast perpendicularly, and I believe that even with a line five or six times longer, Pencroff would not have found bottom.”

“That is all very good,” the reporter then said, “but I must tell Pencroff that his road lacks one important thing.”

“Which is, Mister Spilett?”

“An opening, any ledge whatever to give access to the interior of the island. I do not see any place on which to set foot.”

And, in fact, the very high sheer lava did not offer a single ledge for disembarking anywhere along the entire perimeter of the gulf. It was an insurmountable curtain which called to mind, but with still more barrenness, the fiords of Norway. The Bonadventure grazed these high walls without finding even a protrusion which would permit the passengers to leave the deck.

Pencroff consoled himself by saying that, with the help of a mine, they would surely know how to make an opening in this wall when that would be necessary but since, decidedly, there was nothing to do in the gulf, he sailed his boat toward the mouth and left it about two o’clock in the afternoon.

“Whew!” said Neb, letting out a sigh of satisfaction.

One could truly say that the worthy negro did not feel at ease in this enormous jaw.

There were barely eight miles between Cape Mandible and the mouth of the Mercy. The bow was then directed toward Granite House and the Bonadventure, with full sails, ran along a mile off shore. The enormous lava rocks were soon succeeded by those capricious dunes where the engineer had been so mysteriously rescued and which the sea birds frequented by the hundreds.

About four o’clock, Pencroff, leaving the point of the islet to his left, entered the channel which separated it from the coast and at five o’clock the Bonadventure’s anchor gripped the sandy bottom at the mouth of the Mercy.

The colonists had been away from their dwelling for three days. Ayrton was waiting for them on the beach and Master Jup was overjoyed, making growls of satisfaction.

An entire exploration of the coasts of the island had thus been made and nothing suspicious had been found. If some mysterious being resided there, he could only be under the cover of the impenetrable woods of Serpentine Peninsula, there where the colonists still had not carried out their investigations.

Gideon Spilett spoke about these things with the engineer and it was agreed that they would draw the attention of their companions to the strange character of certain incidents which had occurred on the island, the last of which was one of the most inexplicable.

Returning again to the incident of a fire lit on the shore by an unknown hand, Cyrus Smith could not restrain himself from saying to the reporter for the twentieth time:

“But are you sure of having seen it? Was it not some partial eruption of the volcano or some meteor?”

“No, Cyrus,” replied the reporter, “it was certainly a fire lit by the hand of man. Besides, question Pencroff and Herbert. They also saw it and they will confirm my words.”

It came to pass then that a few days later, on the evening of the 25th of April, when the colonists were together on Grand View Plateau, that Cyrus Smith said:

“My friends, I feel that I must bring to your attention certain events which have occurred on the island and on the subject of which I should be very glad to have your advice. These events are supernatural so to speak...”

“Supernatural!” shouted the sailor, letting out a puff of smoke. “Can our island be supernatural?”

“No, Pencroff, but surely mysterious,” replied the engineer, “unless you can explain to us that which Spilett and I have not been able to understand up to now.”

“Speak, Mister Cyrus,” replied the sailor.

“Well then, do you understand,” the engineer then said, “how it was that after having fallen into the sea, I was found a quarter of a mile into the interior of the island without remembering being moved there?”

“Perhaps unconsciously...” said Pencroff.

“That is not admissible,” replied the engineer. “But let us pass on. Have you understood how Top was able to discover your retreat, five miles from the grotto where I was lying?”

“A dog’s instinct...” replied Herbert.

“Strange instinct!” noted the reporter, “since in spite of the rain and wind which had been raging during that night, Top arrived at the Chimneys dry and without a speck of mud.”

“Let us pass on,” continued the engineer. “Have you understood how our dog was so strangely thrown out of the water of the lake after his fight with the dugong?”

“No, not really, I admit,” replied Pencroff, “and the wound which the dugong had in its side, a wound which seemed to have been made with a sharp instrument, that also cannot be understood.”

“Let us continue then,” replied Cyrus Smith. “Have you understood, my friends, how that lead bullet was found in the body of the young peccary, how the case was so fortunately stranded without there being any trace of a wreck, how the bottle which enclosed the document was in so convenient a place during our first sea excursion, how our canoe, having broken its mooring, was moved by the Mercy’s current and rejoined us precisely at the moment when we needed it, how after the ape’s invasion, the ladder was so opportunely thrown down to us from Granite House, and finally how the document which Ayrton maintains he never wrote, fell into our hands?”

Cyrus Smith had enumerated the strange events that had occurred on the island, without forgetting a single one. Herbert, Pencroff and Neb looked at each other, not knowing what to say because the succession of these incidents, grouped this way for the first time, surprised them to the highest pitch.

“On my word,” Pencroff finally said, “you are right, Mister Cyrus, and it is difficult to explain these things.”

“Well, my friends,” continued the engineer, “a last fact has been added to these and it is just as incomprehensible as the others.”

“What, Mr. Cyrus,” Herbert asked vividly.

“When you returned from Tabor Island, Pencroff,” continued the engineer, “you said that you saw a fire on Lincoln Island?”

“Certainly,” replied the sailor.

“And are you certain that you saw this fire?”

“Just as I see you.”

“You also, Herbert?”

“Ah! Mister Cyrus,” shouted Herbert, “this fire shone like a star of the first magnitude.”

“But was it not a star?” asked the engineer insistently.

“No,” replied Pencroff, “because the sky was covered with thick clouds and a star, in any case, would not have been so low on the horizon. But Mister Spilett also saw it and he can confirm our words.”

“I will add,” said the reporter, “that this fire was very vivid and that it projected like an electric flame.”

“Yes! yes! exactly...” replied Herbert, “and it was certainly placed on the Granite House heights.”

“Well, my friends,” replied Cyrus Smith, “during the night of the 19th to the 20th of October, neither Neb nor I lit any fire on the coast.”

“You did not?...” shouted Pencroff, full of astonishment, not even able to finish his sentence.

“We did not leave Granite House,” replied Cyrus Smith, “and if a fire appeared on shore, it was lit by another hand than ours.”

Pencroff, Herbert and Neb were stupefied. No illusion was possible. They had really seen a fire during the night of the 19th to the 20th of October.

Yes! They had to agree that a mystery existed. An inexplicable influence, evidently favorable to the colonists, but irritating to their curiosity, was making itself felt at the right moment on Lincoln Island. Was there some being hidden in the deepest retreats? They must know this at any price.

Cyrus Smith also reminded his companions about the strange behavior of Top and Jup around the opening of the well which put Granite House in communication with the sea and he told them that he had explored this well without discovering anything suspicious there. Finally, the conclusion of this conversation was a determination taken by all members of the colony to search the entire island at the return of the fine season.

But from this day on, Pencroff seemed to become anxious. This island that he had made his personal property seemed to no longer belong to him entirely. He felt that he shared it with another master to whom, for better or worse, he was subject to. Neb and he often spoke of these inexplicable things and both, by their very nature, being prone to believing in miracles, were not very far from thinking that Lincoln Island was under the influence of some supernatural power.

The bad weather came on with the month of May—the November of the northern zones. It seemed that the winter would be harsh and premature. Winter activities were undertaken without delay.

Besides, the colonists were well prepared to endure this winter, however hard it might be. There was no lack of felt clothing and the numerous sheep very abundantly furnished the wool needed for making this warm material.

It goes without saying that Ayrton had been provided with these comfortable clothes. Cyrus Smith invited him to come and pass the bad season at Granite House where he would be better lodged than at the corral and Ayrton promised to do so as soon as the final work at the corral would be completed. This he did about mid-April. From this time on, Ayrton shared in the common life and made himself useful on every occasion; but, always humble and sad, he never took part in his companions’ pleasures.

During the greater part of this third winter that the colonists passed on Lincoln Island, they remained confined to Granite House. There were large storms and terrible squalls which seemed to shake the rocks from their foundations. Immense menacing tidal waves covered large parts of the islet and certainly any vessel anchored on shore would have been lost, crew and all. Twice during one of these storms, the Mercy swelled to the point of making them fear that the bridges would not hold and it was even necessary to strengthen the ones on shore which disappeared under the layers of water when the sea beat against the beach.

One would think that such windstorms, comparable to waterspouts mixed with rain and snow, would cause damage to Grand View Plateau. The mill and the poultry yard particularly suffered. The colonists often had to make urgent repairs without which the existence of the birds would have been seriously menaced.

During this bad weather, several jaguars and bands of quadrumanes ventured to the edge of the plateau and it was always to be feared that the stronger and more audacious, driven by hunger, would succeed in crossing the brook which would moreover offer them easy passage when it was frozen. But for continual surveillance, plantations and domestic animals would have been destroyed without fail and they often had to fire their guns to keep these dangerous visitors at a respectable distance. There was no lack of winter activities. Without counting outdoor duties, there were always a thousand things to do at Granite House.

During these severe frosts, there were several good hunts on the vast Tadorn marshes. Gideon Spilett and Herbert, aided by Top and Jup, did not waste a shot among the myriads of duck, snipe, teal, pintail and plovers. Besides, access to the game of this territory was easy and whether they took the road to Port Balloon by crossing over the Mercy bridge or if they doubled the rocks at Flotsom Point, the hunters were never far from Granite House.

So passed the four months of winter which were really rigorous, that is to say June, July, August and September. But in short, Granite House did not suffer much from the bad weather and it was the same at the corral, which being less exposed than the plateau and protected in large part by Mount Franklin, only received what remained of the wind already broken up by the forests and the high rocks on shore. The damage was less significant there and Ayrton’s skill and energy were sufficient to repair it promptly when he returned to pass a few days at the corral during the second half of October.

During this winter, there were no new inexplicable incidents. Nothing strange occurred even though Pencroff and Neb watched for the most insignificant event to which they could ascribe a mysterious cause. Top and Jup themselves no longer prowled around the well nor gave any sign of uneasiness. There seemed to be an interruption in this series of supernatural incidents even though they often spoke of them during the evenings at Granite House and it was fully agreed that the island should be searched even in those parts most difficult to explore. But an event of the greatest gravity and whose consequences could be disastrous, momentarily distracted Cyrus Smith and his companions from their plans.

It was the month of October. The fine season had returned in full measure. Nature was renewing itself under the rays of the sun. Among the evergreen foliage of the conifers which formed the border of the woods, there already appeared the new foliage of nettle trees, banksias and deodars.

It will be recalled that Gideon Spilett and Herbert had taken several photographs of Lincoln Island at various times.

Now on the 17th of October, about three o’clock in the afternoon, Herbert, fascinated by the clearness of the sky, had a notion to photograph all of Union Bay facing Grand View Plateau from Mandible Cape to Cape Claw.

The horizon was admirably delineated and the sea, undulating under a gentle breeze, seemed as still as the waters of a lake, broken here and there with a white spray.

The objective was placed at one of the windows of the large hall in Granite House and consequently it overlooked the beach and the bay. Herbert proceeded in his usual way. After he obtained the negative, he went to fix it by means of substances which were stored in an obscure retreat in Granite House.

Returning to full light, Herbert examined it carefully. He saw a small imperceptible blemish on the sea’s horizon. He tried to make it disappear by washing it a few times but he did not succeed.

“It is a defect in the lens,” he thought.

And then he had the curiosity to examine this imperfection with a strong lens that he removed from one of the telescopes.

But he had barely looked at it when he uttered a cry and the negative almost fell from his hands.

Running immediately to the room where Cyrus Smith was, he held out the negative and the lens to the engineer, indicating to him the small speck.

Cyrus Smith examined this spot; then seizing the telescope he ran toward the window.

Cyrus Smith examined this spot.

The telescope, after slowly sweeping the horizon, finally stopped at the suspicious point and Cyrus Smith, putting it down, merely said, “a vessel.”

And in fact, a vessel was in sight of Lincoln Island!


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