The Mysterious Island HTML version

Chapter 2
Those whom the hurricane had just thrown on this coast were neither aeronauts
by profession nor amateurs. They were prisoners of war whose boldness had
induced them to escape in this extraordinary manner.
A hundred times they had almost perished! A hundred times had they almost
fallen from their torn balloon into the depths of the ocean. But Heaven had
reserved them for a strange destiny, and after having, on the 20th of March,
escaped from Richmond, besieged by the troops of General Ulysses Grant, they
found themselves seven thousand miles from the capital of Virginia, which was
the principal stronghold of the South, during the terrible War of Secession. Their
aerial voyage had lasted five days.
The curious circumstances which led to the escape of the prisoners were as
That same year, in the month of February, 1865, in one of the coups de main by
which General Grant attempted, though in vain, to possess himself of Richmond,
several of his officers fell into the power of the enemy and were detained in the
town. One of the most distinguished was Captain Cyrus Harding. He was a
native of Massachusetts, a first-class engineer, to whom the government had
confided, during the war, the direction of the railways, which were so important at
that time. A true Northerner, thin, bony, lean, about forty-five years of age; his
close-cut hair and his beard, of which he only kept a thick mustache, were
already getting gray. He had one-of those finely-developed heads which appear
made to be struck on a medal, piercing eyes, a serious mouth, the physiognomy
of a clever man of the military school. He was one of those engineers who began
by handling the hammer and pickaxe, like generals who first act as common
soldiers. Besides mental power, he also possessed great manual dexterity. His
muscles exhibited remarkable proofs of tenacity. A man of action as well as a
man of thought, all he did was without effort to one of his vigorous and sanguine
temperament. Learned, clear-headed, and practical, he fulfilled in all
emergencies those three conditions which united ought to insure human
success--activity of mind and body, impetuous wishes, and powerful will. He
might have taken for his motto that of William of Orange in the 17th century: "I
can undertake and persevere even without hope of success." Cyrus Harding was
courage personified. He had been in all the battles of that war. After having
begun as a volunteer at Illinois, under Ulysses Grant, he fought at Paducah,
Belmont, Pittsburg Landing, at the siege of Corinth, Port Gibson, Black River,
Chattanooga, the Wilderness, on the Potomac, everywhere and valiantly, a
soldier worthy of the general who said, "I never count my dead!" And hundreds of
times Captain Harding had almost been among those who were not counted by
the terrible Grant; but in these combats where he never spared himself, fortune