When the engineer had reached the last rounds he came upon the water, which was then perfectly calm. Neither at its level nor in any other part of the well, did any passage open, which could lead to the interior of the cliff. The wall which Harding struck with the hilt of his cutlass sounded solid. It was compact granite, through which no living being could force a way. To arrive at the bottom of the well and then climb up to its mouth it was necessary to pass through the channel under the rocky subsoil of the beach, which placed it in communication with the sea, and this was only possible for marine animals. As to the question of knowing where this channel ended, at what point of the shore, and at what depth beneath the water, it could not be answered.
Then Cyrus Harding, having ended his survey, re-ascended, drew up the ladder, covered the mouth of the well, and returned thoughtfully to the diningroom, saying to himself,—
“I have seen nothing, and yet there is something there!”
In the evening the hunters returned, having enjoyed good sport, and being literally loaded with game; indeed, they had as much as four men could possibly carry. Top wore a necklace of teal and Jup wreaths of snipe round his body.
“Here, master,” cried Neb; “here’s something to employ our time! Preserved and made into pies we shall have a welcome store! But I must have some one to help me. I count on you, Pencroft.”
“No, Neb,” replied the sailor; “I have the rigging of the vessel to finish and to look after, and you will have to do without me.”
“And you, Mr. Herbert?”
“I must go to the corral to-morrow, Neb,” replied the lad.
“It will be you then, Mr. Spilett, who will help me?”
“To oblige you, Neb, I will,” replied the reporter; “but I warn you that if you disclose your receipts to me, I shall publish them.”
“Whenever you like, Mr. Spilett,” replied Neb; “whenever you like.”
And so the next day Gideon Spilett became Neb’s assistant and was installed in his culinary laboratory. The engineer had previously made known to him the result of the exploration which he had made the day before, and on this point the reporter shared Harding’s opinion, that although he had found nothing, a secret still remained to be discovered!
The frost continued for another week, and the settlers did not leave Granite House unless to look after the poultry-yard. The dwelling was filled with appetizing odors, which were emitted from the learned manipulation of Neb and the reporter. But all the results of the chase were not made into preserved provisions; and as the game kept perfectly in the intense cold, wild duck and other fowl were eaten fresh, and declared superior to all other aquatic birds in the known world.