The Mysterious Island: The Secret of the Island

Chapter XVIII

Everyone's thoughts—Resuming construction activity—The 1st of January 1868—A trail of smoke at the top of the volcano—First symptoms of an eruption—Ayrton and Cyrus Smith at the corral—Exploration of Dakkar Crypt—What Captain Nemo told the engineer.

At the break of day, the colonists silently reached the entrance of the cavern to which they gave the name “Dakkar Crypt,” in memory of Captain Nemo. The tide was then low and they easily passed under the arcade as the waves beat against the basaltic pier.

The sheet iron boat remained here sheltered from the waves. As an added precaution, Pencroff, Neb and Ayrton hauled it onto a small beach bordering one of the sides of the crypt where it would run no danger.

The storm had abated during the night. The last rumblings of thunder faded away in the west. It was no longer raining but the sky was still cloudy. In short, this month of October, the start of the southern spring, was not beginning in a satisfactory way. The wind had a tendency to skip from one point of the compass to another which would not allow them to count on fine weather.

On leaving Dakkar Crypt, Cyrus Smith and his companions followed the corral road. On the way Neb and Herbert took care to pull up the wire which the captain had put down between the corral and the crypt, which they could use later.

While walking, the colonists spoke little. The various incidents of the night of the 15th to the 16th of October vividly impressed them. This stranger, whose influence protected them so effectively, this man whom their imagination made into a genie, Captain Nemo was no longer alive. His Nautilus and he were buried at the bottom of an abyss. It seemed to everyone that they were more isolated than ever. They were, so to speak, accustomed to count on this powerful intervention which was lacking today and even Gideon Spilett and Cyrus Smith could not escape this impression. All kept a deep silence while following the corral road.

About nine o’clock in the morning the colonists re-entered Granite House.

It had been agreed that the construction of the vessel would be actively pursued and Cyrus Smith gave it his time and attention more than ever. They did not know what was in store for the future. It was a guaranty for the colonists to have a sturdy boat which could take to the sea even in bad weather and which was large enough to attempt a trip of some duration if need be. If, with the boat finished, the colonists still decided not to leave Lincoln Island and reach either some Polynesian archipelago of the Pacific or the coast of New Zealand, they could at least go to Tabor Island as soon as possible in order to leave a note there regarding Ayrton. This was an indispensable precaution to take in the event the Scotch yacht returned to these waters. Nothing must interfere with this task.

The activity was thus resumed. Cyrus Smith, Pencroff and Ayrton, aided by Neb, by Gideon Spilett and by Herbert, worked without respite whenever no other pressing task claimed them. It was necessary that the new boat should be ready in five months, that is to say at the beginning of March, if they wanted to visit Tabor Island before the equinoxial wind storms would render this crossing impractical. The carpenters did not lose a moment. Besides, they did not need to make any rigging because that from the Speedy had been completely saved. Thus the hull of the vessel had to be finished before anything else.

The end of the year 1868 passed in the midst of these important activities, to the exclusion of nearly all others. At the end of two and a half months, the frame had been put in place and the planking begun. They could already see that Cyrus Smith’s design was an excellent one and that the vessel would take well to the sea. Pencroff carried on this work ravenously and he did not hesitate to complain when one or another put down the carpenter’s saw for the hunter’s gun. It was best however to keep up the Granite House reserves in view of the coming winter. But that was not important. The worthy sailor was not content when there was a lack of workmen at the shipyard. On these occasions, while grumbling, he did, in fury, the work of six men.

All of the summer season was bad. For a few days the heat was overpowering and the air, saturated with electricity, would then discharge itself through violent storms which disturbed all levels of the atmosphere. It was rare when they did not hear a distant thunder. It was like a constant muffled murmur which occurs in the equatorial regions of the globe.

The first of January, 1869, was even ushered in by a storm of extreme violence and lightning struck the island several times. Some large trees were hit and broken, among others one of those enormous nettle trees which shaded the poultry yard at the southern end of the lake. Did this weather have some relation to the activity that was going on in the bowels of the earth? Did some connection exist between the disturbances in the air and the disturbances in the interior portions of the globe? Cyrus Smith was led to believe this because the development of these storms was marked by a renewed outbreak of volcanic symptoms.

It was the 3rd of January that Herbert, having ascended to Grand View Plateau at daybreak to saddle one of the onagers, saw an enormous trail of smoke spreading out above the top of the volcano.

Herbert immediately told the colonists who came running to look at the top of Mount Franklin.

“Ah!” shouted Pencroff, “it is not vapor this time! It seems to me that the giant is no longer content to breathe but to smoke!”

This image, used by the sailor, correctly indicated the change that had taken place at the mouth of the volcano. For the last three months, the crater had already emitted more or less intense vapors which still only originated from the interior boiling of the mineral material. This time there was a thick smoke in addition to the vapors, rising in a grayish column more than three hundred feet long at its base and spreading out like a huge mushroom to a height of seven or eight hundred feet above the top of the mountain.

“The fire is in the chimney,” said Gideon Spilett.

“And we cannot extinguish it!” replied Herbert.

“One should be able to sweep out volcanos,” noted Neb, who seemed to speak as if he were serious.

“Good, Neb,” shouted Pencroff. “And will you take on this cleanup?”

And Pencroff laughed heartily.

Cyrus Smith carefully observed this thick smoke coming out of Mount Franklin and he even cocked his ear as if he expected to detect some distant rumbling. Then returning to his companions whom he had left a short distance away:

“In fact, my friends, an important change has occurred which cannot remain hidden. The volcanic materials are no longer only in a boiling state, they have caught fire and very certainly we are menaced by an approaching eruption.”

“Well, Mister Smith, an eruption, we will see about that,” shouted Pencroff, “and if it succeeds, we will applaud it! I do not think that we need concern ourselves with it!”

“No, Pencroff,” replied Cyrus Smith, “because the old lava path is always open and thanks to its inclination, the crater has poured out to the north until now. And yet...”

“And yet, since there is no benefit to be derived from an eruption, it would be better if it did not take place,” said the reporter.

“Who knows?” replied the sailor. “There may perhaps be in this volcano some useful and precious material which it will obligingly vomit out and which we can put to good use.”

Cyrus Smith shook his head like a man who expected nothing good from this phenomenon whose development was so sudden. He did not view the consequences of an eruption as lightly as Pencroff did. If the lava, as a consequence of the orientation of the crater, did not directly menace the wooded and cultivated parts of the island, other complications could present themselves. In fact it is not rare for eruptions to be accompanied by earthquakes and an island of the nature of Lincoln Island, formed of such diverse materials, basalts on one side, granite on the other, lava to the north, soft soil in the middle, materials which in consequence could not be firmly held together, would run the risk of breaking up. If hence, the overflow of volcanic substances did not constitute a very serious danger, any movement of the terrestrial shell which would shake the island could produce extremely serious consequences.

“It seems to me,” said Ayrton, who had put his ear to the ground, “It seems to me that I hear some muffled rumblings like a cart loaded with iron bars.”

The colonists listened carefully and could affirm that Ayrton was not mistaken. At times a whistling sound was mixed with the rumblings, forming a sort of “rinforzando” dying out little by little as if some violent wind had passed through the depths of the globe. But no detonation, properly called, was heard as yet. They could thus conclude that the vapor and the smoke found a free passage through the central chimney and since the valve was rather large, no dislocation would be produced and no explosion was to be feared.

“It seems to me,” said Ayrton, “that I hear...”

“So!” Pencroff then said, “shall we return to work? Let Mount Franklin smoke, brawl, groan and vomit fire and flames as much as it pleases, that is no reason to be idle! Come Ayrton, Neb, Herbert, Mister Cyrus, Mister Spilett, everyone must be at work today! We are ready to put the wales in place and a dozen hands will not be too many. Before two months are over I want our new Bonadventure—because we will use this name, is that not so—to float on the waters of Port Balloon! So there is not an hour to lose.”

All the colonists, whose hands were requisitioned by Pencroff, descended to the shipyard and proceeded to put in place the wales, which are thick planks that form a belt around a boat and firmly tie together the timbers of its frame. It was a long and arduous task in which everyone had to take part.

They worked industriously during the entire day of the 3rd of January without concerning themselves with the volcano, which besides they could not see from the Granite House beach. But once or twice large clouds veiled the sun which, in describing its daily path in an extremely pure sky, indicated that a thick haze of smoke passed between its disk and the island. The wind, blowing in the open, carried all these vapors westward. Cyrus Smith and Gideon Spilett took good note of these passing clouds and during several rest breaks they talked about the progress which the volcanic phenomenon was evidently making, but the work was not interrupted. It was besides, in their best interest from all points of view, that the boat be finished with the briefest delay. Considering the many things that could occur, the security of the colonists could not be better guaranteed. Who could say if the vessel would not one day be their only refuge?

That evening, after supper, Cyrus Smith, Gideon Spilett and Herbert again ascended Grand View Plateau. Night had already come on and the darkness would permit them to determine if the vapors and the smoke accumulating at the mouth of the crater were mixed either with flames or with incandescent material thrown out by the volcano.

“The crater is on fire,” shouted Herbert who, being more nimble than his companions, was the first to reach the plateau.

Mount Franklin, about six miles away, appeared then like a gigantic torch on top of which some fuliginous flames were twirling about. There was so much smoke and slag and ashes perhaps mixed in, that their very feeble glare did not keenly affect the darkness of the night. But a sort of fawn colored glimmer diffused over the island and the nearby woods vaguely stood out. An immense cloud covered the sky through which several stars twinkled.

“The progress is rapid!” said the engineer.

“That is not astonishing,” replied the reporter. “The awakening of the volcano has already been going on for some time. You will recall, Cyrus, that the first vapors appeared about the time we were searching the buttresses of the mountain to discover Captain Nemo’s retreat. That was, if I am not mistaken, about the 15th of October.”

“Yes!” replied Herbert, “which is already two and a half months!”

“The subterranean fires have thus been incubating for ten weeks,” continued Gideon Spilett, “and it is not astonishing that they are now so violent.”

“Don’t you feel certain vibrations in the ground?” asked Cyrus Smith.

“Quite so,” replied Gideon Spilett, “but that will not lead to an earthquake...”

“I do not say that we are menaced by an earthquake,” replied Cyrus Smith, “and may God save us from that! No. These vibrations are due to the agitation of the central fire. The terrestrial shell is nothing more than the wall of a boiler and you know that the wall of a boiler, under gas pressure, vibrates like a sounding board. It is this effect which is produced at this moment.”

“What magnificent sprays of fire!” shouted Herbert.

At this moment, a sort of cluster of fireworks spurt out from the crater which the vapors could not conceal. Thousands of luminous fragments and fiery sparks went in all directions. Some reached above the smoke, bursting in sudden sprays and leaving behind them a real incandescent cloud. This illumination was accompanied by successive detonations, like the splitting noise from an artillery battery.

Cyrus Smith, the reporter and the lad, after having passed an hour on Grand View Plateau, redescended to the beach and reached Granite House. The engineer was pensive, even preoccupied to the point that Gideon Spilett felt that he should ask him if he had a foreboding of some approaching danger of which the eruption would be the direct or indirect cause.

“Yes and no,” replied Cyrus Smith.

“Nevertheless,” continued the reporter, “isn’t the greatest misfortune which could overtake us, an earthquake which would overturn the island? Now I do not feel that this is to be feared since the vapors and the lava have found a free passage to overflow to the outside.”

“I also,” replied Cyrus Smith, “do not fear an earthquake in the sense that is ordinarily given, of convulsions of the ground provoked by the expansion of subterranean vapors. But other causes can bring on great disasters.”

“Such as, my dear Cyrus?”

“I do not know enough... it is necessary that I see... that I visit the mountain... Before a few days are over I will have made up my mind.”

Gideon Spilett did not insist and soon, in spite of the detonations of the volcano whose intensity increased and were repeated in the echoes of the island, the hosts of Granite House were in a deep sleep.

Three days passed, the 4th, 5th and 6th of January. They always worked on the construction of the boat and without otherwise giving any explanation, the engineer accelerated the work with all his power. Mount Franklin was then wrapped in a sinister dark cloud and with the flames it vomited incandescent rocks, some of which fell back into the crater itself. Pencroff only wanted to consider the phenomenon from an amusing point of view and said:

“Look! The giant who plays at cup-and-ball! The giant who juggles!”

And in fact, the vomited material fell back into the abyss and it did not seem that the lava, pumped up by the interior pressure, was any higher than the orifice of the crater. In any event, the northwest outlet, which was partly visible, did not discharge any torrent on the northern slope of the mountain.

However, much as they pressed on with the construction, other cares claimed the presence of the colonists at various places on the island. Before anything else, someone had to go to the corral where the flock of sheep and goats were enclosed, to renew the fodder for these animals. It was therefore agreed that Ayrton would return there the next day, the 7th of January, and since he could do this task by himself as was his custom, Pencroff and the others manifested a certain surprise when they heard the engineer say to Ayrton:

“Since you are going to the corral tomorrow, I will accompany you there.”

“Well, Mister Cyrus,” shouted the sailor, “our work days are limited and if you also leave, we will have four hands less!”

“We will return the next day,” replied Cyrus Smith, “but I must go to the corral... I want to see how the eruption is coming along.”

“The eruption! The eruption!” replied Pencroff with little satisfaction. “This eruption is of no importance and it hardly concerns me.”

In spite of what the sailor said, the exploration planned by the engineer was kept for the next day. Herbert wanted to accompany Cyrus Smith but he did not want to go contrary to Pencroff by absenting himself.

The next day at dawn, Cyrus Smith and Ayrton climbed into the cart drawn by the two onagers. They took to the corral road at a good trot.

Above the forest passed large clouds to which Mount Franklin continually furnished sooty matter. These clouds, which weighed heavily in the sky, were evidently composed of heterogeneous substances. It was not only the smoke from the volcano which made them so strangely opaque and heavy. Slag in the form of dust with pulverized pozzuolana and grey cinders as fine as the finest cereal, were held in suspension in thick spirals. These cinders are so fine that they are sometimes seen in the sky for months. After the eruption in 1783 in Iceland, the atmosphere was so full of volcanic dust that the rays of the sun could barely pierce through for over a year.

But most often these pulverized materials fall down and that is what happened on this occasion. Cyrus Smith and Ayrton had barely arrived at the corral when a sort of black snow, resembling a light gun powder, fell and instantly changed the appearance of the ground. Trees, prairies, everything disappeared under a layer measuring several inches in thickness. But very fortunately the wind blew from the northeast and the largest part of the cloud dissolved itself over the sea .

“That is strange, Mister Smith,” said Ayrton.

“That is serious,” replied the engineer. “This pozzuolana, these pulverized pumice rocks, all this mineral dust in a word, shows how acute is the turmoil in the lower layers of the volcano.”

“But is there nothing to be done?”

“Nothing but to record the progress of the phenomenon. Occupy yourself then, Ayrton, with the needs of the corral. During this time I will ascend to the sources of Red Creek and I will examine the condition of the mountain on its northern slope. Then...”

“Then... Mister Smith.”

“Then we will pay a visit to Dakkar Crypt... I want to see... In short I will return for you in two hours.”

Ayrton then went inside the corral and while waiting for the return of the engineer he occupied himself with the sheep and the goats who seemed to experience a certain uneasiness at the first symptoms of an eruption.

Cyrus Smith ventured to the top of the eastern buttresses, rounded Red Creek and reached the place where his companions and he had discovered a sulphur source at the time of their first expedition.

How things had changed. In place of a single column of smoke, he counted thirteen bursting out of the ground as if they were violently propelled by some piston. It was evident that the terrestrial crust was subject to a frightful pressure at this point of the globe. The atmosphere was saturated with sulphur gas, with hydrogen and with carbonic acid mixed with humid vapors. Cyrus Smith felt vibrations from some volcanic tuffs which were scattered over the plain. They were only pulverulent cinders which in time would become hard blocks, but he still did not see any trace of new lava.

How things had changed.

The engineer was able to affirm this better when he saw the northern side of Mount Franklin. Eddies of smoke and flame escaped from the crater; a shower of slag fell on the ground; but no overflow of lava was seen from the neck of the crater, which proved that the level of the volcanic materials had still not reached the upper opening of the central chimney.

“And I would much prefer that it did!” said Cyrus Smith to himself. “At least I would be certain that the lava had taken its usual path. Who knows if it will not overflow by some new opening? But that is not the danger! Captain Nemo foresaw it well! No! The danger is not there.”

Cyrus Smith advanced up to the enormous embankment which extended to the border of the narrow Shark Gulf. He could then adequately examine the face of the old streaks of lava. He had no doubt that the last eruption dated back a long time.

Then he retraced his steps, listening to the subterranean rumblings which sounded like a continual thunder and from which loud detonations let loose. At nine o’clock in the morning he returned to the corral.

Ayrton was waiting for him.

“The animals are attended to, Mister Smith,” said Ayrton.

“Good, Ayrton.”

“They seem uneasy, Mr. Smith.”

“Yes, instinct speaks in them, and instinct is not mistaken.”

“When do you wish...”

“Take a lantern and a flint, Ayrton,” replied the engineer, “and let us leave.”

Ayrton did as he was commanded. The onagers were unharnessed and wandered off into the corral. The door was closed from the outside and Cyrus Smith, preceding Ayrton, took the narrow path which led to the western coast.

Both walked on soil padded by pulverized material fallen from the clouds. No quadruped appeared in the woods. The birds themselves had fled. At times a passing breeze lifted the layer of cinder and the two colonists, caught in an opaque eddy, could no longer see. They then had to take care to apply a handkerchief to their eyes and their mouths because they then ran the risk of being blinded and suffocated.

Under these conditions, Cyrus Smith and Ayrton could not move quickly. Besides, the air was heavy as if its oxygen had been partly burnt and this made breathing difficult. Every hundred feet they had to stop to catch their breath. Thus it was after ten o’clock when the engineer and his companion reached the crest of this enormous heap of basaltic and porphyritic rocks which formed the northwest coast of the island.

Ayrton and Cyrus Smith began to descend this abrupt coast following very nearly the difficult road which had led them to Dakkar Crypt during that night of the storm. In full daylight this descent was less perilous and besides, a layer of cinders covered the polished rocks, assuring them a firmer footing on the sloping surfaces.

The shoulder which extended along the shore at a height of about forty feet was soon reached. Cyrus Smith remembered that this shoulder descended with a gentle slope to the level of the sea. Although the tide was low at the moment, no beach was visible and the waves, dirtied by the volcanic dust, struck directly against the basalts of the coast.

Cyrus Smith and Ayrton again found the opening to Dakkar Crypt without difficulty and they stopped at the last rock which formed the lower floor of the shoulder.

“The iron plated boat should be there,” said the engineer.

“It is there, Mister Smith,” replied Ayrton, pulling toward him the light boat which was sheltered under the arch of the arcade.

“Let us embark, Ayrton.”

The two colonists got into the boat. A gentle ondulation of the waves propelled it further under the very low arch of the crypt and there Ayrton struck the flint and lit the lantern. Then he took to the oars. The lantern was placed at the bow of the boat with its rays projecting ahead. Cyrus Smith took the rudder and went into the darkness of the crypt.

The Nautilus was no longer there to illuminate this somber cavern with its lights. Perhaps the electrical radiation, constantly nourished by its powerful furnace, was still shining at the bottom of the water but no light left the abyss where Captain Nemo reposed.

The light from the lantern, although insufficient, nevertheless permitted the engineer to advance following the right wall of the crypt. A deadly silence reigned under this vault, at least in its anterior portion. But soon Cyrus Smith heard distinct rumblings which came from the bowels of the mountain.

“It is the volcano,” he said.

Soon, with the noise, chemical combinations were betrayed by a vivid odor and the sulphurous vapors seized the engineer and his companion by the throat.

“That is what Captain Nemo feared!” murmured Cyrus Smith, whose face paled slightly. Nevertheless he had to go to the end.

“Let us go!” replied Ayrton, who bent over his oars and moved the boat toward the back of the crypt.

Twenty five minutes after having crossed the opening, the boat reached the terminal wall and stopped.

Cyrus Smith, getting up from his seat, passed the lantern over the various parts of the wall which separated the crypt from the central chimney of the volcano. How thick was this wall? Was it a hundred feet or ten. That could not be said. But the subterranean noises were too perceptible for it to be very thick.

The engineer, after having explored the wall along a horizontal line, placed the lantern at the extremity of an oar and he passed it anew over the basaltic wall at a greater height.

There, at barely visible fissures, through badly jointed prisms, a pungent odor perspired which infected the atmosphere of the cavern. Fractures streaked over the wall and some more vividly delineated ones reached down to within a mere two or three feet from the water level of the crypt.

There, at barely visible fissures...

Cyrus Smith at first remained pensive. Then he again murmured these words:

“Yes! The captain was right! There is the danger and a terrible danger!”

Ayrton said nothing but at a sign from Cyrus Smith he again took to the oars and a half hour later the engineer and he left Dakkar Crypt.

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