Letourneur and his son that we shall together explore the reef on which we are stranded. It is not very probable that we shall be able to discover much about the origin of this strange accumula- tion of rocks, yet the attempt will at least occupy us for some hours, and will relieve us from the monotony of our confinement on board. Besides, as the reef is not marked in any of the maps, I could not but believe that it would be rendering a service to hydrography if we were to take an accurate plan of the rocks, of which Curtis could afterward verify the true position by a second observation made with a closer precision than the one he has already taken.
M. Letourneur agrees to my proposal, Curtis has promised to let us have the boat and some sounding-lines, and to allow one of the sailors to accompany us; so to-morrow morning, we hope to make our little voyage of investigation.
CHAPTER XVIII WE EXPLORE THE REEF
OCTOBER 31 to November 5. -- Our first proceeding on the morning of the 31st was to make the proposed tour of the reef, which is about a quarter of a mile long. With the aid of our sounding-lines we found that the water was deep, right up to the very rocks, and that no shelving shores prevented us coasting along them. There was not a shadow of doubt as to the rock being of purely volcanic origin, up- heaved by some mighty subterranean convulsion. It is formed of blocks of basalt, arranged in perfect order, of which the regular prisms give the whole mass the effect of being one gigantic crystal; and the remarkable transparency of the sea enabled us plainly to observe the curious shafts of the prismatic columns that support the marvelous sub- structure.
"This is indeed a singular island," said M. Letourneur; "evidently it is of quite recent origin."
"Yes, father," said Andre, "and I should think it has been caused by a phenomenon similar to those which pro- duced the Julia Island, off the coast of Sicily, or the group of the Santorini, in the Grecian Archipelago. One could almost fancy that it had been created expressly for the Chan- cellor to strand upon."
"It is very certain," I observed, "that some upheaving has lately taken place. This is by no means an unfrequented part of the Atlantic, so that it is not at all likely that it could have escaped the notice of sailors if it had been always in existence; yet it is not marked even in the most modern charts. We must try and explore it thoroughly and give future navigators the benefit of our observations."
"But, perhaps, it will disappear as it came," said Andre. "You are no doubt aware, Mr. Kazallon, that these volcanic islands sometimes have a very transitory existence. Not im- possibly, by the time it gets marked upon the maps it may no longer be here."
"Never mind, my boy," answered his father, "it is bet- ter to give warning of a danger that does not exist than overlook one that does. I dare say the sailors will not grumble much, if they don't find a reef where we have marked one."
"No, I dare say not, father," said Andre, "and after all this island is very likely as firm as a continent. However, if it is to disappear, I expect Captain Curtis would be glad to see it take its departure as soon as possible after he has finished his repairs; it would save him a world of trouble in getting his ship afloat."
"Why, what a fellow you are, Andre!" I said, laugh- ing; "I believe you would like to rule Nature with a magic wand, first of all, you would call up a reef from the depth of the ocean to give the Chancellor time to extinguish her flames, and then you would make it disappear just that the ship might be free again."
Andre smiled; then, in a more serious tone, he expressed his gratitude for the timely help that had been vouchsafed us in our hour of need.
The more we examined the rocks that formed the base of the little island, the more we became convinced that its formation was quite recent. Not a mollusk, not a tuft of seaweed was found clinging to the sides of the rocks; not a germ had the wind carried to its surface, not a bird had taken refuge amid the crags upon its summits.