Part 3: The Secret of the Island - Chapter XX
An isolated rock, thirty feet in length, twenty in breadth, scarcely ten from the water’s edge, such was the only solid point which the waves of the Pacific had not engulfed.
It was all that remained of the structure of Granite House! The wall had fallen headlong and been then shattered to fragments, and a few of the rocks of the large room were piled one above another to form this point. All around had disappeared in the abyss; the inferior cone of Mount Franklin, rent asunder by the explosion; the lava jaws of Shark Gulf, the plateau of Prospect Heights, Safety Islet, the granite rocks of Port Balloon, the basalts of Dakkar Grotto, the long Serpentine Peninsula, so distant nevertheless from the center of the eruption. All that could now be seen of Lincoln Island was the narrow rock which now served as a refuge to the six colonists and their dog Top.
The animals had also perished in the catastrophe; the birds, as well as those representing the fauna of the island—all either crushed or drowned, and the unfortunate Jup himself had, alas! found his death in some crevice of the soil.
If Cyrus Harding, Gideon Spilett, Herbert, Pencroft, Neb, and Ayrton had survived, it was because, assembled under their tent, they had been hurled into the sea at the instant when the fragments of the island rained down on every side.
When they reached the surface they could only perceive, at half a cable’s length, this mass of rocks, towards which they swam and on which they found footing.
On this barren rock they had now existed for nine days. A few provisions taken from the magazine of Granite House before the catastrophe, a little fresh water from the rain which had fallen in a hollow of the rock, was all that the unfortunate colonists possessed. Their last hope, the vessel, had been shattered to pieces. They had no means of quitting the reef; no fire, nor any means of obtaining it. It seemed that they must inevitably perish.
This day, the 18th of March, there remained only provisions for two days, although they limited their consumption to the bare necessaries of life. All their science and intelligence could avail them nothing in their present position. They were in the hand of God.
Cyrus Harding was calm, Gideon Spilett more nervous, and Pencroft, a prey to sullen anger, walked to and fro on the rock. Herbert did not for a moment quit the engineer’s side, as if demanding from him that assistance he had no power to give. Neb and Ayrton were resigned to their fate.
“Ah, what a misfortune! what a misfortune!” often repeated Pencroft. “If we had but a walnut-shell to take us to Tabor Island! But we have nothing, nothing!”
“Captain Nemo did right to die,” said Neb.
During the five ensuing days Cyrus Harding and his unfortunate companions husbanded their provisions with the most extreme care, eating only what would prevent them from dying of starvation. Their weakness was extreme. Herbert and Neb began to show symptoms of delirium.
Under these circumstances was it possible for them to retain even the shadow of a hope? No! What was their sole remaining chance? That a vessel should appear in sight of the rock? But they knew only too well from experience that no ships ever visited this part of the Pacific. Could they calculate that, by a truly providential coincidence, the Scotch yacht would arrive precisely at this time in search of Ayrton at Tabor Island? It was scarcely probable; and, besides, supposing she should come there, as the colonists had not been able to deposit a notice pointing out Ayrton’s change of abode, the commander of the yacht, after having explored Tabor Island without results, would again set sail and return to lower latitudes.
No! no hope of being saved could be retained, and a horrible death, death from hunger and thirst, awaited them upon this rock.
Already they were stretched on the rock, inanimate, and no longer conscious of what passed around them. Ayrton alone, by a supreme effort, from time to time raised his head, and cast a despairing glance over the desert ocean.
But on the morning of the 24th of March Ayrton’s arms were extended toward a point in the horizon; he raised himself, at first on his knees, then upright, and his hand seemed to make a signal.
A sail was in sight off the rock. She was evidently not without an object. The reef was the mark for which she was making in a direct line, under all steam, and the unfortunate colonists might have made her out some hours before if they had had the strength to watch the horizon.
“The ‘Duncan’!” murmured Ayrton—and fell back without sign of life.
When Cyrus Harding and his companions recovered consciousness, thanks to the attention lavished upon them, they found themselves in the cabin of a steamer, without being able to comprehend how they had escaped death.
A word from Ayrton explained everything.
“The ‘Duncan’!” he murmured.
“The ‘Duncan’!” exclaimed Cyrus Harding. And raising his hand to Heaven, he said, “Oh! Almighty God! mercifully hast Thou preserved us!”
It was, in fact, the “Duncan,” Lord Glenarvan’s yacht, now commanded by Robert, son of Captain Grant, who had been despatched to Tabor Island to find Ayrton, and bring him back to his native land after twelve years of expiation.
The colonists were not only saved, but already on the way to their native country.
“Captain Grant,” asked Cyrus Harding, “who can have suggested to you the idea, after having left Tabor Island, where you did not find Ayrton, of coming a hundred miles farther northeast?”
“Captain Harding,” replied Robert Grant, “it was in order to find, not only Ayrton, but yourself and your companions.”
“My companions and myself?”
“Doubtless, at Lincoln Island.”
“At Lincoln Island!” exclaimed in a breath Gideon Spilett, Herbert, Neb, and Pencroft, in the highest degree astonished.
“How could you be aware of the existence of Lincoln Island?” inquired Cyrus Harding, “it is not even named in the charts.”
“I knew of it from a document left by you on Tabor Island,” answered Robert Grant.
“A document!” cried Gideon Spilett.
“Without doubt, and here it is,” answered Robert Grant, producing a paper which indicated the longitude and latitude of Lincoln Island, “the present residence of Ayrton and five American colonists.”
“It is Captain Nemo!” cried Cyrus Harding, after having read the notice, and recognized that the handwriting was similar to that of the paper found at the corral.
“Ah!” said Pencroft, “it was then he who took our ‘Bonadventure’ and hazarded himself alone to go to Tabor Island!”
“In order to leave this notice,” added Herbert.
“I was then right in saying,” exclaimed the sailor, “that even after his death the captain would render us a last service.”
“My friends,” said Cyrus Harding, in a voice of the profoundest emotion, “may the God of mercy have had pity on the soul of Captain Nemo, our benefactor.”
The colonists uncovered themselves at these last words of Cyrus Harding, and murmured the name of Captain Nemo.
Then Ayrton, approaching the engineer, said simply, “Where should this coffer be deposited?”
It was the coffer which Ayrton had saved at the risk of his life, at the very instant that the island had been engulfed, and which he now faithfully handed to the engineer.
“Ayrton! Ayrton!” said Cyrus Harding, deeply touched. Then, addressing Robert Grant, “Sir,” he added, “you left behind you a criminal; you find in his place a man who has become honest by penitence, and whose hand I am proud to clasp in mine.”
Robert Grant was now made acquainted with the strange history of Captain Nemo and the colonists of Lincoln Island. Then, observation being taken of what remained of this shoal, which must henceforward figure on the charts of the Pacific, the order was given to make all sail.
A few weeks afterwards the colonists landed in America, and found their country once more at peace after the terrible conflict in which right and justice had triumphed.
Of the treasures contained in the coffer left by Captain Nemo to the colonists of Lincoln Island, the larger portion was employed in the purchase of a vast territory in the State of Iowa. One pearl alone, the finest, was reserved from the treasure and sent to Lady Glenarvan in the name of the castaways restored to their country by the “Duncan.”
There, upon this domain, the colonists invited to labor, that is to say, to wealth and happiness, all those to whom they had hoped to offer the hospitality of Lincoln Island. There was founded a vast colony to which they gave the name of that island sunk beneath the waters of the Pacific. A river there was called the Mercy, a mountain took the name of Mount Franklin, a small lake was named Lake Grant, and the forests became the forests of the Far West. It might have been an island on terra firma.
There, under the intelligent hands of the engineer and his companions, everything prospered. Not one of the former colonists of Lincoln Island was absent, for they had sworn to live always together. Neb was with his master; Ayrton was there ready to sacrifice himself for all; Pencroft was more a farmer than he had ever been a sailor; Herbert, who completed his studies under the superintendence of Cyrus Harding, and Gideon Spilett, who founded the New Lincoln Herald, the best-informed journal in the world.
There Cyrus Harding and his companions received at intervals visits from Lord and Lady Glenarvan, Captain John Mangles and his wife, the sister of Robert Grant, Robert Grant himself, Major McNab, and all those who had taken part in the history both of Captain Grant and Captain Nemo.
There, to conclude, all were happy, united in the present as they had been in the past; but never could they forget that island upon which they had arrived poor and friendless, that island which, during four years had supplied all their wants, and of which there remained but a fragment of granite washed by the waves of the Pacific, the tomb of him who had borne the name of Captain Nemo.