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L'île mystérieuse. English

Jules Verne

  Produced by Anthony Matonak, and Trevor Carlson


  by Jules Verne



  Chapter 1

  "Are we rising again?" "No. On the contrary." "Are we descending?""Worse than that, captain! we are falling!" "For Heaven's sake heave outthe ballast!" "There! the last sack is empty!" "Does the balloon rise?""No!" "I hear a noise like the dashing of waves. The sea is below thecar! It cannot be more than 500 feet from us!" "Overboard with everyweight! ... everything!"

  Such were the loud and startling words which resounded through the air,above the vast watery desert of the Pacific, about four o'clock in theevening of the 23rd of March, 1865.

  Few can possibly have forgotten the terrible storm from the northeast,in the middle of the equinox of that year. The tempest raged withoutintermission from the 18th to the 26th of March. Its ravages wereterrible in America, Europe, and Asia, covering a distance of eighteenhundred miles, and extending obliquely to the equator from thethirty-fifth north parallel to the fortieth south parallel. Towns wereoverthrown, forests uprooted, coasts devastated by the mountains ofwater which were precipitated on them, vessels cast on the shore, whichthe published accounts numbered by hundreds, whole districts leveledby waterspouts which destroyed everything they passed over, severalthousand people crushed on land or drowned at sea; such were the tracesof its fury, left by this devastating tempest. It surpassed in disastersthose which so frightfully ravaged Havana and Guadalupe, one on the 25thof October, 1810, the other on the 26th of July, 1825.

  But while so many catastrophes were taking place on land and at sea, adrama not less exciting was being enacted in the agitated air.

  In fact, a balloon, as a ball might be carried on the summit of awaterspout, had been taken into the circling movement of a column ofair and had traversed space at the rate of ninety miles an hour, turninground and round as if seized by some aerial maelstrom.

  Beneath the lower point of the balloon swung a car, containing fivepassengers, scarcely visible in the midst of the thick vapor mingledwith spray which hung over the surface of the ocean.

  Whence, it may be asked, had come that plaything of the tempest? Fromwhat part of the world did it rise? It surely could not have startedduring the storm. But the storm had raged five days already, and thefirst symptoms were manifested on the 18th. It cannot be doubted thatthe balloon came from a great distance, for it could not have traveledless than two thousand miles in twenty-four hours.

  At any rate the passengers, destitute of all marks for their guidance,could not have possessed the means of reckoning the route traversedsince their departure. It was a remarkable fact that, although in thevery midst of the furious tempest, they did not suffer from it. Theywere thrown about and whirled round and round without feeling therotation in the slightest degree, or being sensible that they wereremoved from a horizontal position.

  Their eyes could not pierce through the thick mist which had gatheredbeneath the car. Dark vapor was all around them. Such was the densityof the atmosphere that they could not be certain whether it was day ornight. No reflection of light, no sound from inhabited land, no roaringof the ocean could have reached them, through the obscurity, whilesuspended in those elevated zones. Their rapid descent alone hadinformed them of the dangers which they ran from the waves. However,the balloon, lightened of heavy articles, such as ammunition, arms, andprovisions, had risen into the higher layers of the atmosphere, to aheight of 4,500 feet. The voyagers, after having discovered that the seaextended beneath them, and thinking the dangers above less dreadful thanthose below, did not hesitate to throw overboard even their most usefularticles, while they endeavored to lose no more of that fluid, the lifeof their enterprise, which sustained them above the abyss.

  The night passed in the midst of alarms which would have been death toless energetic souls. Again the day appeared and with it the tempestbegan to moderate. From the beginning of that day, the 24th of March,it showed symptoms of abating. At dawn, some of the lighter clouds hadrisen into the more lofty regions of the air. In a few hours the windhad changed from a hurricane to a fresh breeze, that is to say, the rateof the transit of the atmospheric layers was diminished by half. Itwas still what sailors call "a close-reefed topsail breeze," but thecommotion in the elements had none the less considerably diminished.

  Towards eleven o'clock, the lower region of the air was sensiblyclearer. The atmosphere threw off that chilly dampness which is feltafter the passage of a great meteor. The storm did not seem to have gonefarther to the west. It appeared to have exhausted itself. Could it havepassed away in electric sheets, as is sometimes the case with regard tothe typhoons of the Indian Ocean?

  But at the same time, it was also evident that the balloon was againslowly descending with a regular movement. It appeared as if it were,little by little, collapsing, and that its case was lengthening andextending, passing from a spherical to an oval form. Towards midday theballoon was hovering above the sea at a height of only 2,000 feet. Itcontained 50,000 cubic feet of gas, and, thanks to its capacity, itcould maintain itself a long time in the air, although it should reach agreat altitude or might be thrown into a horizontal position.

  Perceiving their danger, the passengers cast away the last articleswhich still weighed down the car, the few provisions they had kept,everything, even to their pocket-knives, and one of them, having hoistedhimself on to the circles which united the cords of the net, tried tosecure more firmly the lower point of the balloon.

  It was, however, evident to the voyagers that the gas was failing, andthat the balloon could no longer be sustained in the higher regions.They must infallibly perish!

  There was not a continent, nor even an island, visible beneath them.The watery expanse did not present a single speck of land, not a solidsurface upon which their anchor could hold.

  It was the open sea, whose waves were still dashing with tremendousviolence! It was the ocean, without any visible limits, even for thosewhose gaze, from their commanding position, extended over a radius offorty miles. The vast liquid plain, lashed without mercy by the storm,appeared as if covered with herds of furious chargers, whose white anddisheveled crests were streaming in the wind. No land was in sight, nota solitary ship could be seen. It was necessary at any cost to arresttheir downward course, and to prevent the balloon from being engulfed inthe waves. The voyagers directed all their energies to this urgent work.But, notwithstanding their efforts, the balloon still fell, and at thesame time shifted with the greatest rapidity, following the direction ofthe wind, that is to say, from the northeast to the southwest.

  Frightful indeed was the situation of these unfortunate men. They wereevidently no longer masters of the machine. All their attempts wereuseless. The case of the balloon collapsed more and more. The gasescaped without any possibility of retaining it. Their descent wasvisibly accelerated, and soon after midday the car hung within 600 feetof the ocean.

  It was impossible to prevent the escape of gas, which rushed through alarge rent in the silk. By lightening the car of all the articles whichit contained, the passengers had been able to prolong their suspensionin the air for a few hours. But the inevitable catastrophe could onlybe retarded, and if land did not appear before night, voyagers, car, andballoon must to a certainty vanish beneath the waves.

  They now resorted to the only remaining expedient. They were trulydauntless men, who knew how to look death in the face. Not a singlemurmur escaped from their lips. They were determined to struggle to thelast minute, to do anything to retard their fall. The car was only asort of willow basket, unable to float, and there was not the slightestpossibility of maintaining it on the surface of the se

  Two more hours passed and the balloon was scarcely 400 feet above thewater.

  At that moment a loud voice, the voice of a man whose heart wasinaccessible to fear, was heard. To this voice responded others notless determined. "Is everything thrown out?" "No, here are still 2,000dollars in gold." A heavy bag immediately plunged into the sea. "Doesthe balloon rise?" "A little, but it will not be long before it fallsagain." "What still remains to be thrown out?" "Nothing." "Yes! thecar!" "Let us catch hold of the net, and into the sea with the car."

  This was, in fact, the last and only mode of lightening the balloon.The ropes which held the car were cut, and the balloon, after its fall,mounted 2,000 feet. The five voyagers had hoisted themselves into thenet, and clung to the meshes, gazing at the abyss.

  The delicate sensibility of balloons is well known. It is sufficient tothrow out the lightest article to produce a difference in its verticalposition. The apparatus in the air is like a balance of mathematicalprecision. It can be thus easily understood that when it is lightened ofany considerable weight its movement will be impetuous and sudden. Soit happened on this occasion. But after being suspended for an instantaloft, the balloon began to redescend, the gas escaping by the rentwhich it was impossible to repair.

  The men had done all that men could do. No human efforts could save themnow.

  They must trust to the mercy of Him who rules the elements.

  At four o'clock the balloon was only 500 feet above the surface of thewater.

  A loud barking was heard. A dog accompanied the voyagers, and was heldpressed close to his master in the meshes of the net.

  "Top has seen something," cried one of the men. Then immediately a loudvoice shouted,--

  "Land! land!" The balloon, which the wind still drove towards thesouthwest, had since daybreak gone a considerable distance, which mightbe reckoned by hundreds of miles, and a tolerably high land had, infact, appeared in that direction. But this land was still thirty milesoff. It would not take less than an hour to get to it, and then therewas the chance of falling to leeward.

  An hour! Might not the balloon before that be emptied of all the fluidit yet retained?

  Such was the terrible question! The voyagers could distinctly see thatsolid spot which they must reach at any cost. They were ignorant of whatit was, whether an island or a continent, for they did not know to whatpart of the world the hurricane had driven them. But they must reachthis land, whether inhabited or desolate, whether hospitable or not.

  It was evident that the balloon could no longer support itself! Severaltimes already had the crests of the enormous billows licked the bottomof the net, making it still heavier, and the balloon only half rose,like a bird with a wounded wing. Half an hour later the land was notmore than a mile off, but the balloon, exhausted, flabby, hanging ingreat folds, had gas in its upper part alone. The voyagers, clinging tothe net, were still too heavy for it, and soon, half plunged into thesea, they were beaten by the furious waves. The balloon-case bulged outagain, and the wind, taking it, drove it along like a vessel. Might itnot possibly thus reach the land?

  But, when only two fathoms off, terrible cries resounded from four pairsof lungs at once. The balloon, which had appeared as if it would neveragain rise, suddenly made an unexpected bound, after having been struckby a tremendous sea. As if it had been at that instant relieved of a newpart of its weight, it mounted to a height of 1,500 feet, and here itmet a current of wind, which instead of taking it directly to the coast,carried it in a nearly parallel direction.

  At last, two minutes later, it reproached obliquely, and finally fell ona sandy beach, out of the reach of the waves.

  The voyagers, aiding each other, managed to disengage themselves fromthe meshes of the net. The balloon, relieved of their weight, was takenby the wind, and like a wounded bird which revives for an instant,disappeared into space.

  But the car had contained five passengers, with a dog, and the balloononly left four on the shore.

  The missing person had evidently been swept off by the sea, which hadjust struck the net, and it was owing to this circumstance that thelightened balloon rose the last time, and then soon after reached theland. Scarcely had the four castaways set foot on firm ground, than theyall, thinking of the absent one, simultaneously exclaimed, "Perhaps hewill try to swim to land! Let us save him! let us save him!"