“And now, Pencroft,” he continued, “do you know how many bushels four hundred thousand millions of grains would make?”
“No,” replied the sailor; “but what I do know is, that I am nothing better than a fool!”
“Well, they would make more than three millions, at a hundred and thirty thousand a bushel, Pencroft.”
“Three millions!” cried Pencroft.
“In four years?”
“In four years,” replied Cyrus Harding, “and even in two years, if, as I hope, in this latitude we can obtain two crops a year.”
At that, according to his usual custom, Pencroft could not reply otherwise than by a tremendous hurrah.
“So, Herbert,” added the engineer, “you have made a discovery of great importance to us. Everything, my friends, everything can serve us in the condition in which we are. Do not forget that, I beg of you.”
“No, captain, no, we shan’t forget it,” replied Pencroft; “and if ever I find one of those tobacco-seeds, which multiply by three hundred and sixty thousand, I assure you I won’t throw it away! And now, what must we do?”
“We must plant this grain,” replied Herbert.
“Yes,” added Gideon Spilett, “and with every possible care, for it bears in itself our future harvests.”
“Provided it grows!” cried the sailor.
“It will grow,” replied Cyrus Harding.
This was the 20th of June. The time was then propitious for sowing this single precious grain of corn. It was first proposed to plant it in a pot, but upon reflection it was decided to leave it to nature, and confide it to the earth. This was done that very day, and it is needless to add, that every precaution was taken that the experiment might succeed.
The weather having cleared, the settlers climbed the height above Granite House. There, on the plateau, they chose a spot, well sheltered from the wind, and exposed to all the heat of the midday sun. The place was cleared, carefully weeded, and searched for insects and worms; then a bed of good earth, improved with a little lime, was made; it was surrounded by a railing; and the grain was buried in the damp earth.
Did it not seem as if the settlers were laying the first stone of some edifice? It recalled to Pencroft the day on which he lighted his only match, and all the anxiety of the operation. But this time the thing was more serious. In fact, the castaways would have been always able to procure fire, in some mode or other, but no human power could supply another grain of corn, if unfortunately this should be lost!
From this time Pencroft did not let a single day pass without going to visit what he gravely called his “corn-field.” And woe to the insects which dared to venture there! No mercy was shown them.