Pencroft’s first care, after unloading the raft, was to render the cave habitable by stopping up all the holes which made it draughty. Sand, stones, twisted branches, wet clay, closed up the galleries open to the south winds. One narrow and winding opening at the side was kept, to lead out the smoke and to make the fire draw. The cave was thus divided into three or four rooms, if such dark dens with which a donkey would scarcely have been contented deserved the name. But they were dry, and there was space to stand upright, at least in the principal room, which occupied the center. The floor was covered with fine sand, and taking all in all they were well pleased with it for want of a better.
“Perhaps,” said Herbert, while he and Pencroft were working, “our companions have found a superior place to ours.”
“Very likely,” replied the seaman; “but, as we don’t know, we must work all the same. Better to have two strings to one’s bow than no string at all!”
“Oh!” exclaimed Herbert, “how jolly it will be if they were to find Captain Harding and were to bring him back with them!”
“Yes, indeed!” said Pencroft, “that was a man of the right sort.”
“Was!” exclaimed Herbert, “do you despair of ever seeing him again?”
“God forbid!” replied the sailor. Their work was soon done, and Pencroft declared himself very well satisfied.
“Now,” said he, “our friends can come back when they like. They will find a good enough shelter.”
They now had only to make a fireplace and to prepare the supper—an easy task. Large flat stones were placed on the ground at the opening of the narrow passage which had been kept. This, if the smoke did not take the heat out with it, would be enough to maintain an equal temperature inside. Their wood was stowed away in one of the rooms, and the sailor laid in the fireplace some logs and brushwood. The seaman was busy with this, when Herbert asked him if he had any matches.
“Certainly,” replied Pencroft, “and I may say happily, for without matches or tinder we should be in a fix.”
“Still we might get fire as the savages do,” replied Herbert, “by rubbing two bits of dry stick one against the other.”
“All right; try, my boy, and let’s see if you can do anything besides exercising your arms.”
“Well, it’s a very simple proceeding, and much used in the islands of the Pacific.”
“I don’t deny it,” replied Pencroft, “but the savages must know how to do it or employ a peculiar wood, for more than once I have tried to get fire in that way, but I could never manage it. I must say I prefer matches. By the bye, where are my matches?”
Pencroft searched in his waistcoat for the box, which was always there, for he was a confirmed smoker. He could not find it; he rummaged the pockets of his trousers, but, to his horror, he could nowhere discover the box.