The next day, the 18th of February, was devoted to the exploration of all that wooded region forming the shore from Reptile End to Falls River. The colonists were able to search this forest thoroughly, for, as it was comprised between the two shores of the Serpentine Peninsula, it was only from three to four miles in breadth. The trees, both by their height and their thick foliage, bore witness to the vegetative power of the soil, more astonishing here than in any other part of the island. One might have said that a corner from the virgin forests of America or Africa had been transported into this temperate zone. This led them to conclude that the superb vegetation found a heat in this soil, damp in its upper layer, but warmed in the interior by volcanic fires, which could not belong to a temperate climate. The most frequently occurring trees were knaries and eucalypti of gigantic dimensions.
But the colonists’ object was not simply to admire the magnificent vegetation. They knew already that in this respect Lincoln Island would have been worthy to take the first rank in the Canary group, to which the first name given was that of the Happy Isles. Now, alas! their island no longer belonged to them entirely; others had taken possession of it, miscreants polluted its shores, and they must be destroyed to the last man.
No traces were found on the western coast, although they were carefully sought for. No more footprints, no more broken branches, no more deserted camps.
“This does not surprise me,” said Cyrus Harding to his companions. “The convicts first landed on the island in the neighborhood of Flotsam Point, and they immediately plunged into the Far West forests, after crossing Tadorn Marsh. They then followed almost the same route that we took on leaving Granite House. This explains the traces we found in the wood. But, arriving on the shore, the convicts saw at once that they would discover no suitable retreat there, and it was then that, going northwards again, they came upon the corral.”
“Where they have perhaps returned,” said Pencroft.
“I do not think so,” answered the engineer, “for they would naturally suppose that our researches would be in that direction. The corral is only a storehouse to them, and not a definitive encampment.”
“I am of Cyrus’ opinion,” said the reporter, “and I think that it is among the spurs of Mount Franklin that the convicts will have made their lair.”
“Then, captain, straight to the corral!” cried Pencroft. “We must finish them off, and till now we have only lost time!”
“No, my friend,” replied the engineer; “you forget that we have a reason for wishing to know if the forests of the Far West do not contain some habitation. Our exploration has a double object, Pencroft. If, on the one hand, we have to chastise crime, we have, on the other, an act of gratitude to perform.”