We soon found that Pym’s description was trustworthy. The general colour of the plains was black, as though the clay were made of lava-dust; nowhere was anything white to be seen. At a hundred paces distance Hunt began to run towards an enormous mass of rock, climbed on it with great agility, and looked out overa wide extent of space like a man who ought to recognize the place he is in, but does not.
“What is the matter with him?” asked Captain Len Guy, who was observing Hunt attentively.
“I don’t know what is the matter with him, captain. But, as you are aware, everything about this man is odd: his ways are inexplicable, and on certain sides of him he seems to belong to those strange beings whom Arthur Pym asserts that he found on this island. One would even say that—”
“That—” repeated the captain.
And then, without finishing my sentence, I said,—
“Captain, are you sure that you made a good observation when you took the altitude yesterday?”
“So that your point—”
“Gave 83° 20’ of latitude and 43° 5’ of longitude.”
“There is, then, no doubt that we are on Tsalal Island?”
“None, Mr. Jeorling, if Tsalal Island lies where Arthur Pym places it.”
This was quite true, there could be no doubt on the point, and yet of all that Arthur Pym described nothing existed, or rather, nothing was any longer to be seen. Not a tree, not a shrub, not a plant was visible in the landscape. There was no sign of the wooded hills between which the village of Klock-Klock ought to lie, or of the streams from which the crew of the fane had not ventured to drink. There was no water anywhere; but everywhere absolute, awful drought.
Nevertheless, Hunt walked on rapidly, without showing any hesitation. It seemed as though he was led by a natural instinct, “a bee’s flight,” as we say in America. I know not what presentiment induced us to follow him as the best of guides, a Chingachgook, a Renard-Subtil. And why not? Was not he the fellow-countryman of Fenlmore Coopet’s heroes?
But, I must repeat that we had not before our eyes that fabulous land which Arthur Pym described. The soil we were treading had been ravaged, wrecked, torn by convulsion. It was black, a cindery black, as though it had been vomited from the earth under the action of Plutonian forces; it suggested that some appalling and irresistible cataclysm had overturned the whole of its surface.
Not one of the animals mentioned in the narrative was to be seen, and even the penguins which abound in the Antarctic regions had fled from this uninhabitable land. Its stern silence and solitude made it a hideous desert. No human being was to be seen either on the coast or in the interior. Did any chance of finding William Guy and the survivors of the fane exist in the midst of this scene of desolation?
I looked at Captain Len Guy. His pale face, dim eyes, and knit brow told too plainly that hope was beginning to die within his breast.
And then the population of Tsalal Island, the almost naked men, armed with clubs and lances, the tall, well-made, upstanding women, endowed with grace and freedom of bearing not to be found in a civilized society—those are the expressions of Arthur Pym—and the crowd of children accompanying them, what had become of all these? Where were the multitude of natives, with black skins, black hair, black teeth, who regarded white colour with deadly terror?
All of a sudden a light flashed upon me. “An earthquake!” I exclaimed. “Yes, two or three of those terrible shocks, so common in these regions where the sea penetrates by infiltration, and a day comes when the quantity of accumulated vapour makes its way out and destroys everything on the surface.”
“Could an earthquake have changed Tsalal Island to such an extent?” asked Len Guy, musingly.
“Yes, captain, an earthquake has done this thing; it has destroyed every trace of all that Arthur Pym saw here.”
Hunt, who had drawn nigh to us, and was listening, nodded his head in approval of my words.
“Are not these countries of the southern seas volcanic?” I resumed; “If the Halbrane were to transport us to Victoria Land, we might find the Erebus and the Terror in the midst of an eruption.”
“And yet,” observed Martin Holt, “if there had been an eruption here, we should find lava beds.”
“I do not say that there has been an eruption,” I replied, “but I do say the soil has been convulsed by an earthquake.”
On reflection it will be seen that the explanation given by me deserved to be admitted.