His companions looked at him without speaking. Then, feeling somewhat refreshed, Cyrus Harding crossed his arms, and said,--
"So, my friends, you do not know yet whether fate has thrown us on an island, or on a continent?"
"No, captain," replied the boy.
"We shall know to-morrow," said the engineer; "till then, there is nothing to be done."
"Yes," replied Pencroft.
"Fire," said the sailor, who, also, had a fixed idea.
"We will make it, Pencroft," replied Harding.
"While you were carrying me yesterday, did I not see in the west a mountain which commands the country?"
"Yes," replied Spilett, "a mountain which must be rather high--"
"Well," replied the engineer, "we will climb to the summit to-morrow, and then we shall see if this land is an island or a continent. Till then, I repeat, there is nothing to be done."
"Yes, fire!" said the obstinate sailor again.
"But he will make us a fire!" replied Gideon Spilett, "only have a little patience, Pencroft!"
The seaman looked at Spilett in a way which seemed to say, "If it depended upon you to do it, we wouldn't taste roast meat very soon"; but he was silent.
Meanwhile Captain Harding had made no reply. He appeared to be very little troubled by the question of fire. For a few minutes he remained absorbed in thought; then again speaking,--
"My friends," said he, "our situation is, perhaps, deplorable; but, at any rate, it is very plain. Either we are on a continent, and then, at the expense of greater or less fatigue, we shall reach some inhabited place, or we are on an island. In the latter case, if the island is inhabited, we will try to get out of the scrape with the help of its inhabitants; if it is desert, we will try to get out of the scrape by ourselves."
"Certainly, nothing could be plainer," replied Pencroft.
"But, whether it is an island or a continent," asked Gideon Spilett, "whereabouts do you think, Cyrus, this storm has thrown us?"
"I cannot say exactly," replied the engineer, "but I presume it is some land in the Pacific. In fact, when we left Richmond, the wind was blowing from the northeast, and its very violence greatly proves that it could not have varied. If the direction has been maintained from the northeast to the southwest, we have traversed the States of North Carolina, of South Carolina, of Georgia, the Gulf of Mexico, Mexico, itself, in its narrow part, then a part of the Pacific Ocean. I cannot estimate the distance traversed by the balloon at less than six to seven thousand miles, and, even supposing that the wind had varied half a quarter, it must have brought us either to the archipelago of Mendava, either on the Pomotous, or even, if it had a greater strength than I suppose, to the land of New Zealand. If the last hypothesis is correct, it will be easy enough to get home again. English or Maoris, we shall always find some one to whom we can speak. If, on the contrary, this is the coast of a desert island in some tiny archipelago, perhaps we shall be able to reconnoiter it from the summit of that peak which overlooks the country, and then we shall see how best to establish ourselves here as if we are never to go away."
"Never?" cried the reporter. "You say 'Never,' my dear Cyrus?"
"Better to put things at the worst at first," replied the engineer, "and reserve the best for a surprise."
"Well said," remarked Pencroft. "It is to be hoped, too, that this island, if it be one, is not situated just out of the course of ships; that would be really unlucky!"
"We shall not know what we have to rely on until we have first made the ascent of the mountain," replied the engineer.
"But to-morrow, captain," asked Herbert, "shall you be in a state to bear the fatigue of the ascent?"
"I hope so," replied the engineer, "provided you and Pencroft, my boy, show yourselves quick and clever hunters."
"Captain," said the sailor, "since you are speaking of game, if on my return, I was as certain of roasting it as I am of bringing it back--"
"Bring it back all the same, Pencroft," replied Harding.