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"Yes, captain; but one, only one!"
"Well, my boy," said Pencroft, laughing, "we're getting on capitally, upon my word! What shall we make with one grain of corn?"
"We will make bread of it," replied Cyrus Harding.
"Bread, cakes, tarts!" replied the sailor. "Come, the bread that this grain of corn will make won't choke us very soon!"
Herbert, not attaching much importance to his discovery, was going to throw away the grain in question; but Harding took it, examined it, found that it was in good condition, and looking the sailor full in the face-- "Pencroft," he asked quietly, "do you know how many ears one grain of corn can produce?"
"One, I suppose!" replied the sailor, surprised at the question.
"Ten, Pencroft! And do you know how many grains one ear bears?"
"No, upon my word."
"About eighty!" said Cyrus Harding. "Then, if we plant this grain, at the first crop we shall reap eight hundred grains which at the second will produce six hundred and forty thousand; at the third, five hundred and twelve millions; at the fourth, more than four hundred thousands of millions! There is the proportion."
Harding's companions listened without answering. These numbers astonished them. They were exact, however.
"Yes, my friends," continued the engineer, "such are the arithmetical progressions of prolific nature; and yet what is this multiplication of the grain of corn, of which the ear only bears eight hundred grains, compared to the poppy-plant, which bears thirty-two thousand seeds; to the tobacco- plant, which produces three hundred and sixty thousand? In a few years, without the numerous causes of destruction, which arrests their fecundity, these plants would overrun the earth."
But the engineer had not finished his lecture.
"And now, Pencroft," he continued, "do you know how many bushels four hundred thousand millions of grains would make?"
"No," replied the sailor; "but what I do know is, that I am nothing better than a fool!"
"Well, they would make more than three millions, at a hundred and thirty thousand a bushel, Pencroft."
"Three millions!" cried Pencroft.
"In four years?"
"In four years," replied Cyrus Harding, "and even in two years, if, as I hope, in this latitude we can obtain two crops a year."
At that, according to his usual custom, Pencroft could not reply otherwise than by a tremendous hurrah.
"So, Herbert," added the engineer, "you have made a discovery of great importance to us. Everything, my friends, everything can serve us in the condition in which we are. Do not forget that, I beg of you."
"No, captain, no, we shan't forget it," replied Pencroft; "and if ever I find one of those tobacco-seeds, which multiply by three hundred and sixty thousand, I assure you I won't throw it away! And now, what must we do?"
"We must plant this grain," replied Herbert.
"Yes," added Gideon Spilett, "and with every possible care, for it bears in itself our future harvests."
"Provided it grows!" cried the sailor.
"It will grow," replied Cyrus Harding.
This was the 20th of June. The time was then propitious for sowing this single precious grain of corn. It was first proposed to plant it in a pot, but upon reflection it was decided to leave it to nature, and confide it to the earth. This was done that very day, and it is needless to add, that every precaution was taken that the experiment might succeed.
The weather having cleared, the settlers climbed the height above Granite House. There, on the plateau, they chose a spot, well sheltered from the wind, and exposed to all the heat of the midday sun. The place was cleared, carefully weeded, and searched for insects and worms; then a bed of good earth, improved with a little lime, was made; it was surrounded by a railing; and the grain was buried in the damp earth.
Did it not seem as if the settlers were laying the first stone of some edifice? It recalled to Pencroft the day on which he lighted his only match, and all the anxiety of the operation. But this time the thing was more serious. In fact, the castaways would have been always able to procure fire, in some mode or other, but no human power could supply another grain of corn, if unfortunately this should be lost!
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The Mysterious Island -by- Jules Verne