“Yes,” said Pencroft, “the castaway has gone.”
“We must suppose so.”
“It must then be admitted that the document has already a distant date?”
“And that the bottle only arrived at Lincoln Island after having floated in the sea a long time.”
“Why not?” returned Pencroft. “But night is coming on,” added he, “and I think that it will be best to give up the search for the present.”
“Let us go on board, and to-morrow we will begin again,” said the reporter.
This was the wisest course, and it was about to be followed when Herbert, pointing to a confused mass among the trees, exclaimed,—
All three immediately ran towards the dwelling. In the twilight it was just possible to see that it was built of planks and covered with a thick tarpaulin.
The half-closed door was pushed open by Pencroft, who entered with a rapid step.
The hut was empty!
Pencroft, Herbert, and Gideon Spilett remained silent in the midst of the darkness.
Pencroft shouted loudly.
No reply was made.
The sailor then struck a light and set fire to a twig. This lighted for a minute a small room, which appeared perfectly empty. At the back was a rude fireplace, with a few cold cinders, supporting an armful of dry wood. Pencroft threw the blazing twig on it, the wood crackled and gave forth a bright light.
The sailor and his two companions then perceived a disordered bed, of which the damp and yellow coverlets proved that it had not been used for a long time. In the corner of the fireplace were two kettles, covered with rust, and an overthrown pot. A cupboard, with a few moldy sailor’s clothes; on the table a tin plate and a Bible, eaten away by damp; in a corner a few tools, a spade, pickaxe, two fowling-pieces, one of which was broken; on a plank, forming a shelf, stood a barrel of powder, still untouched, a barrel of shot, and several boxes of caps, all thickly covered with dust, accumulated, perhaps, by many long years.
“There is no one here,” said the reporter.
“No one,” replied Pencroft.
“It is a long time since this room has been inhabited,” observed Herbert.
“Yes, a very long time!” answered the reporter.
“Mr. Spilett,” then said Pencroft, “instead of returning on board, I think that it would be well to pass the night in this hut.”
“You are right, Pencroft,” answered Gideon Spilett, “and if its owner returns, well! perhaps he will not be sorry to find the place taken possession of.”
“He will not return,” said the sailor, shaking his head.
“You think that he has quitted the island?” asked the reporter.
“If he had quitted the island he would have taken away his weapons and his tools,” replied Pencroft. “You know the value which castaways set on such articles as these the last remains of a wreck. No! no!” repeated the sailor, in a tone of conviction; “no, he has not left the island! If he had escaped in a boat made by himself, he would still less have left these indispensable and necessary articles. No! he is on the island!”