Part 8 out of 12
"Poor man!" said Herbert, who had rushed to the door, but returned, having
seen Ayrton slide down the rope on the lift and disappear in the darkness.
"He will come back," said Cyrus Harding.
"Come, now, captain," exclaimed Pencroft, "what does that mean? What!
wasn't it Ayrton who threw that bottle into the sea? Who was it then?"
Certainly, if ever a question was necessary to be made, it was that one!
"It was he," answered Neb, "only the unhappy man was half-mad."
"Yes!" said Herbert, "and he was no longer conscious of what he was
"It can only be explained in that way, my friends," replied Harding
quickly, "and I understand now how Ayrton was able to point out exactly the
situation of Tabor Island, since the events which had preceded his being
left on the island had made it known to him."
"However," observed Pencroft, "if he was not yet a brute when he wrote
that document, and if he threw it into the sea seven or eight years ago,
how is it that the paper has not been injured by damp?"
"That proves," answered Cyrus Harding, "that Ayrton was deprived of
intelligence at a more recent time than he thinks."
"Of course it must be so," replied Pencroft, "without that the fact would
"Unaccountable indeed," answered the engineer, who did not appear
desirous to prolong the conversation.
"But has Ayrton told the truth?" asked the sailor.
"Yes," replied the reporter. "The story which he has told is true in
every point. I remember quite well the account in the newspapers of the
yacht expedition undertaken by Lord Glenarvan, and its result."
"Ayrton has told the truth," added Harding. "Do not doubt it, Pencroft,
for it was painful to him. People tell the truth when they accuse
themselves like that!"
The next day--the 21st of December--the colonists descended to the beach,
and having climbed the plateau they found nothing of Ayrton. He had reached
his house in the corral during the night and the settlers judged it best
not to agitate him by their presence. Time would doubtless perform what
sympathy had been unable to accomplish.
Herbert, Pencroft, and Neb resumed their ordinary occupations. On this
day the same work brought Harding and the reporter to the workshop at the
"Do you know, my dear Cyrus," said Gideon Spilett, "that the explanation
you gave yesterday on the subject of the bottle has not satisfied me at
all! How can it be supposed that the unfortunate man was able to write that
document and throw the bottle into the sea without having the slightest
recollection of it?"
"Nor was it he who threw it in, my dear Spilett."
"You think then--"
"I think nothing, I know nothing!" interrupted Cyrus Harding. "I am
content to rank this incident among those which I have not been able to
explain to this day!"
"Indeed, Cyrus," said Spilett, "these things are incredible! Your rescue,
the case stranded on the sand, Top's adventure, and lastly this bottle...
Shall we never have the answer to these enigmas?"
"Yes!" replied the engineer quickly, "yes, even if I have to penetrate
into the bowels of this island!"
"Chance will perhaps give us the key to this mystery!"
"Chance! Spilett! I do not believe in chance, any more than I believe in
mysteries in this world. There is a reason for everything unaccountable
which has happened here, and that reason I shall discover. But in the
meantime we must work and observe."
The month of January arrived. The year 1867 commenced. The summer
occupations were assiduously continued. During the days which followed,
Herbert and Spilett having gone in the direction of the corral, ascertained
that Ayrton had taken possession of the habitation which had been prepared
for him. He busied himself with the numerous flock confided to his care,
and spared his companions the trouble of coming every two or three days to
visit the corral. Nevertheless, in order not to leave Ayrton in solitude
for too long a time, the settlers often paid him a visit.
It was not unimportant either, in consequence of some suspicions
entertained by the engineer and Gideon Spilett, that this part of the
island should be subject to a surveillance of some sort, and that Ayrton,
if any incident occurred unexpectedly, should not neglect to inform the
inhabitants of Granite House of it.
Nevertheless it might happen that something would occur which it would be
necessary to bring rapidly to the engineer's knowledge. Independently of
facts bearing on the mystery of Lincoln Island, many others might happen,
which would call for the prompt interference of the colonists,--such as the
sighting of a vessel, a wreck on the western coast, the possible arrival of
Therefore Cyrus Harding resolved to put the corral in instantaneous
communication with Granite House.
It was on the 10th of January that he made known his project to his
"Why! how are you going to manage that, captain?" asked Pencroft. "Do you
by chance happen to think of establishing a telegraph?"
"Exactly so," answered the engineer.
"Electric?" cried Herbert.
"Electric," replied Cyrus Harding. "We have all the necessary materials
for making a battery, and the most difficult thing will be to stretch the
wires, but by means of a drawplate I think we shall manage it."
"Well, after that," returned the sailor, "I shall never despair of seeing
ourselves some day rolling along on a railway!"
They then set to work, beginning with the most difficult thing, for, if
they failed in that, it would be useless to manufacture the battery and
The iron of Lincoln Island, as has been said, was of excellent quality,
and consequently very fit for being drawn out. Harding commenced by
manufacturing a drawplate, that is to say, a plate of steel, pierced with
conical holes of different sizes, which would successively bring the wire
to the wished-for tenacity. This piece of steel, after having been
tempered, was fixed in as firm a way as possible in a solid framework
planted in the ground, only a few feet from the great fall, the motive
power of which the engineer intended to utilize. In fact as the fulling-
mill was there, although not then in use, its beam moved with extreme power
would serve to stretch out the wire by rolling it round itself. It was a
delicate operation, and required much care. The iron, prepared previously
in long thin rods, the ends of which were sharpened with the file, having
been introduced into the largest hole of the drawplate, was drawn out by
the beam which wound it round itself, to a length of twenty-five or thirty
feet, then unrolled, and the same operation was performed successively
through the holes of a less size. Finally, the engineer obtained wires from
forty to fifty feet long, which could be easily fastened together and
stretched over the distance of five miles, which separated the corral from
the bounds of Granite House.
It did not take more than a few days to perform this work, and indeed as
soon as the machine had been commenced, Cyrus Harding left his companions
to follow the trade of wiredrawers, and occupied himself with manufacturing
It was necessary to obtain a battery with a constant current. It is known
that the elements of modern batteries are generally composed of retort
coal, zinc, and copper. Copper was absolutely wanting to the engineer, who,
notwithstanding all his researches, had never been able to find any trace
of it in Lincoln Island, and was therefore obliged to do without it. Retort
coal, that is to say, the hard graphite which is found in the retorts of
gas manufactories, after the coal has been dehydrogenized, could have been
obtained, but it would have been necessary to establish a special
apparatus, involving great labor. As to zinc, it may be remembered that the
case found at Flotsam Point was lined with this metal, which could not be
better utilized than for this purpose.
Cyrus Harding, after mature consideration, decided to manufacture a very
simple battery, resembling as nearly as possible that invented by Becquerel
in 1820, and in which zinc only is employed. The other substances, azotic
acid and potash, were all at his disposal.
The way in which the battery was composed was as follows, and the results
were to be attained by the reaction of acid and potash on each other. A
number of glass bottles were made and filled with azotic acid. The engineer
corked them by means of a stopper through which passed a glass tube, bored
at its lower extremity, and intended to be plunged into the acid by means
of a clay stopper secured by a rag. Into this tube, through its upper
extremity, he poured a solution of potash, previously obtained by burning
and reducing to ashes various plants, and in this way the acid and potash
could act on each other through the clay.
Cyrus Harding then took two slips of zinc, one of which was plunged into
azotic acid, the other into a solution of potash. A current was immediately
produced, which was transmitted from the slip of zinc in the bottle to that
in the tube, and the two slips having been connected by a metallic wire the
slip in the tube became the positive pole, and that in the bottle the
negative pole of the apparatus. Each bottle, therefore, produced as many
currents as united would be sufficient to produce all the phenomena of the
electric telegraph. Such was the ingenious and very simple apparatus
constructed by Cyrus Harding, an apparatus which would allow them to
establish a telegraphic communication between Granite House and the corral.
On the 6th of February was commenced the planting along the road to the
corral, of posts furnished with glass insulators, and intended to support
the wire. A few days after, the wire was extended, ready to produce the
electric current at a rate of twenty thousand miles a second.
Two batteries had been manufactured, one for Granite House, the other for
the corral; for if it was necessary the corral should be able to
communicate with Granite House it might also be useful that Granite House
should be able to communicate with the corral.
As to the receiver and manipulator, they were very simple. At the two
stations the wire was wound round a magnet, that is to say, round a piece
of soft iron surrounded with a wire. The communication was thus established
between the two poles; the current, starting from the positive pole,
traversed the wire, passed through the magnet which was temporarily
magnetized, and returned through the earth to the negative pole. If the
current was interrupted, the magnet immediately became unmagnetized. It was
sufficient to place a plate of soft iron before the magnet, which,
attracted during the passage of the current, would fall back when the
current was interrupted. This movement of the plate thus obtained, Harding
could easily fasten to it a needle arranged on a dial, bearing the letters
of the alphabet, and in this way communicate from one station to the other.
All was completely arranged by the 12th of February. On this day,
Harding, having sent the current through the wire, asked if all was going
on well at the corral, and received in a few moments a satisfactory reply
from Ayrton. Pencroft was wild with joy, and every morning and evening he
sent a telegram to the corral, which always received an answer.
This mode of communication presented two very real advantages: firstly,
because it enabled them to ascertain that Ayrton was at the corral; and
secondly, that he was thus not left completely isolated. Besides, Cyrus
Harding never allowed a week to pass without going to see him, and Ayrton
came from time to time to Granite House, where he always found a cordial
The fine season passed away in the midst of the usual work. The resources
of the colony, particularly in vegetables and corn, increased from day to
day, and the plants brought from Tabor Island had succeeded perfectly.
The plateau of Prospect Heights presented an encouraging aspect. The
fourth harvest had been admirable and it may be supposed that no one
thought of counting whether the four hundred thousand millions of grains
duly appeared in the crop. However, Pencroft had thought of doing so, but
Cyrus Harding having told him that even if he managed to count three
hundred grains a minute, or nine thousand an hour, it would take him nearly
five thousand five-hundred years to finish his task, the honest sailor
considered it best to give up the idea.
The weather was splendid, the temperature very warm in the day time, but
in the evening the sea-breezes tempered the heat of the atmosphere and
procured cool nights for the inhabitants of Granite House. There were,
however, a few storms, which, although they were not of long duration,
swept over Lincoln Island with extraordinary fury. The lightning blazed and
the thunder continued to roll for some hours.
At this period the little colony was extremely prosperous.
The tenants of the poultry-yard swarmed, and they lived on the surplus,
but it became necessary to reduce the population to a more moderate number.
The pigs had already produced young, and it may be understood that their
care for these animals absorbed a great part of Neb and Pencroft's time.
The onagers, who had two pretty colts, were most often mounted by Gideon
Spilett and Herbert, who had become an excellent rider under the reporter's
instruction, and they also harnessed them to the cart either for carrying
wood and coal to Granite House, or different mineral productions required
by the engineer.
Several expeditions were made about this time into the depths of the Far
West Forests. The explorers could venture there without having anything to
fear from the heat, for the sun's rays scarcely penetrated through the
thick foliage spreading above their heads. They thus visited all the left
bank of the Mercy, along which ran the road from the corral to the mouth of
But in these excursions the settlers took care to be well armed, for they
met with savage wild boars, with which they often had a tussle. They also,
during this season, made fierce war against the jaguars. Gideon Spilett had
vowed a special hatred against them, and his pupil Herbert seconded him
well. Armed as they were, they no longer feared to meet one of those
beasts. Herbert's courage was superb, and the reporter's sang-froid
astonishing. Already twenty magnificent skins ornamented the dining-room of
Granite House, and if this continued, the jaguar race would soon be extinct
in the island, the object aimed at by the hunters.
The engineer sometimes took part in the expeditions made to the unknown
parts of the island, which he surveyed with great attention. It was for
other traces than those of animals that he searched the thickets of the
vast forest, but nothing suspicious ever appeared. Neither Top nor Jup, who
accompanied him, ever betrayed by their behavior that there was anything
strange there, and yet more than once again the dog barked at the mouth of
the well, which the engineer had before explored without result.
At this time Gideon Spilett, aided by Herbert, took several views of the
most picturesque parts of the island, by means of the photographic
apparatus found in the cases, and of which they had not as yet made any
This apparatus, provided with a powerful object-glass, was very complete.
Substances necessary for the photographic reproduction, collodion for
preparing the glass plate, nitrate of silver to render it sensitive,
hyposulfate of soda to fix the prints obtained, chloride of ammonium in
which to soak the paper destined to give the positive proof, acetate of
soda and chloride of gold in which to immerse the paper, nothing was
wanting. Even the papers were there, all prepared, and before laying in the
printing-frame upon the negatives, it was sufficient to soak them for a few
minutes in the solution of nitrate of silver.
The reporter and his assistant became in a short time very skilful
operators, and they obtained fine views of the country, such as the island,
taken from Prospect Heights with Mount Franklin in the distance, the mouth
of the Mercy, so picturesquely framed in high rocks, the glade and the
corral, with the spurs of the mountain in the background, the curious
development of Claw Cape, Flotsam Point, etc.
Nor did the photographers forget to take the portraits of all the
inhabitants of the island, leaving out no one.
"It multiplies us," said Pencroft.
And the sailor was enchanted to see his own countenance, faithfully
reproduced, ornamenting the walls of Granite House, and he stopped as
willingly before this exhibition as he would have done before the richest
shop-windows in Broadway.
But it must be acknowledged that the most successful portrait was
incontestably that of Master Jup. Master Jup had sat with a gravity not to
be described, and his portrait was lifelike!
"He looks as if he was just going to grin!" exclaimed Pencroft.
And if Master Jup had not been satisfied, he would have been very
difficult to please; but he was quite contented and contemplated his own
countenance with a sentimental air which expressed some small amount of
The summer heat ended with the month of March. The weather was sometimes
rainy, but still warm. The month of March, which corresponds to the
September of northern latitudes, was not so fine as might have been hoped.
Perhaps it announced an early and rigorous winter.
It might have been supposed one morning--the 21 st--that the first snow
had already made its appearance. In fact Herbert looking early from one of
the windows of Granite House, exclaimed,--
"Hallo! the islet is covered with snow!"
"Snow at this time?" answered the reporter, joining the boy.
Their companions were soon beside them, but could only ascertain one
thing, that not only the islet but all the beach below Granite House was
covered with one uniform sheet of white.
"It must be snow!" said Pencroft.
"Or rather it's very like it!" replied Neb.
"But the thermometer marks fifty-eight degrees!" observed Gideon Spilett.
Cyrus Harding gazed at the sheet of white without saying anything, for he
really did not know how to explain this phenomenon, at this time of year
and in such a temperature.
"By Jove!" exclaimed Pencroft, "all our plants will be frozen!"
And the sailor was about to descend, when he was preceded by the nimble
Jup, who slid down to the sand.
But the orang had not touched the ground, when the snowy sheet arose and
dispersed in the air in such innumerable flakes that the light of the sun
was obscured for some minutes.
"Birds!" cried Herbert.
They were indeed swarms of sea-birds, with dazzling white plumage. They
had perched by thousands on the islet and on the shore, and they
disappeared in the distance, leaving the colonists amazed as if they had
been present at some transformation scene, in which summer succeeded winter
at the touch of a fairy's wand. Unfortunately the change had been so
sudden, that neither the reporter nor the lad had been able to bring down
one of these birds, of which they could not recognize the species.
A few days after came the 26th of March, the day on which, two years
before, the castaways from the air had been thrown upon Lincoln Island.
Two years already! and for two years the colonists had had no communication
with their fellow-creatures! They were without news from the civilized
world, lost on this island, as completely as if they had been on the most
minute star of the celestial hemisphere!
What was now happening in their country? The picture of their native land
was always before their eyes, the land torn by civil war at the time they
left it, and which the Southern rebellion was perhaps still staining with
blood! It was a great sorrow to them, and they often talked together of
these things, without ever doubting however that the cause of the North
must triumph, for the honor of the American Confederation.
During these two years not a vessel had passed in sight of the island;
or, at least, not a sail had been seen. It was evident that Lincoln Island
was out of the usual track, and also that it was unknown,--as was besides
proved by the maps,--for though there was no port, vessels might have
visited it for the purpose of renewing their store of water. But the
surrounding ocean was deserted as far as the eye could reach, and the
colonists must rely on themselves for regaining their native land.
However, one chance of rescue existed, and this chance was discussed one
day on the first week of April, when the colonists were gathered together
in the dining-room of Granite House.
They had been talking of America, of their native country, which they had
so little hope of ever seeing again.
"Decidedly we have only one way, said Spilett, "one single way for
leaving Lincoln Island, and that is, to build a vessel large enough to sail
several hundred miles. It appears to me, that when one has built a boat it
is just as easy to build a ship!"
"And in which we might go to the Pomoutous," added Herbert, "just as
easily as we went to Tabor Island."
"I do not say no," replied Pencroft, who had always the casting vote in
maritime questions; "I do not say no, although it is not exactly the same
thing to make a long as a short voyage! If our little craft had been caught
in any heavy gale of wind during the voyage to Tabor Island, we should have
known that land was at no great distance either way; but twelve hundred
miles is a pretty long way, and the nearest land is at least that
"Would you not, in that case, Pencroft, attempt the adventure?" asked the
"I will attempt anything that is desired, Mr. Spilett," answered the
sailor, "and you know well that I am not a man to flinch!"
"Remember, besides, that we number another sailor amongst us now,"
"Who is that?" asked Pencroft.
"If he will consent to come," said Pencroft.
"Nonsense!" returned the reporter; "do you think that if Lord Glenarvan's
yacht had appeared at Tabor Island, while he was still living there, Ayrton
would have refused to depart?"
"You forget, my friends," then said Cyrus Harding, "that Ayrton was not
in possession of his reason during the last years of his stay there. But
that is not the question. The point is to know if we may count among our
chances of being rescued, the return of the Scotch vessel. Now, Lord
Glenarvan promised Ayrton that he would return to take him off from Tabor
Island when he considered that his crimes were expiated, and I believe that
he will return."
"Yes," said the reporter, "and I will add that he will return soon, for
it is twelve years since Ayrton was abandoned."
"Well!" answered Pencroft, "I agree with you that the nobleman will
return, and soon too. But where will he touch? At Tabor Island, and not at
"That is the more certain," replied Herbert, "as Lincoln Island is not
even marked on the map."
"Therefore, my friends," said the engineer, "we ought to take the
necessary precautions for making our presence and that of Ayrton on Lincoln
Island known at Tabor Island."
"Certainly," answered the reporter, "and nothing is easier than to place
in the hut, which was Captain Grant's and Ayrton's dwelling, a notice which
Lord Glenarvan and his crew cannot help finding, giving the position of our
"It is a pity," remarked the sailor, "that we forgot to take that
precaution on our first visit to Tabor Island."
"And why should we have done it?" asked Herbert. "At that time we did not
know Ayrton's history; we did not know that any one was likely to come some
day to fetch him, and when we did know his history, the season was too
advanced to allow us to return then to Tabor Island."
"Yes," replied Harding, "it was too late, and we must put off the voyage
until next spring."
"But suppose the Scotch yacht comes before that," said Pencroft.
"That is not probable," replied the engineer, "for Lord Glenarvan would
not choose the winter season to venture into these seas. Either he has
already returned to Tabor Island, since Ayrton has been with us, that is to
say, during the last five months and has left again; or he will not come
till later, and it will be time enough in the first fine October days to go
to Tabor Island, and leave a notice there."
"We must allow," said Neb, "that it will be very unfortunate if the
'Duncan' has returned to these parts only a few months ago!"
"I hope that it is not so," replied Cyrus Harding, "and that Heaven has
not deprived us of the best chance which remains to us."
"I think," observed the reporter, "that at any rate we shall know what we
have to depend on when we have been to Tabor Island, for if the yacht has
returned there, they will necessarily have left some traces of their
"That is evident," answered the engineer. "So then, my friends, since we
have this chance of returning to our country, we must wait patiently, and
if it is taken from us we shall see what will be best to do."
"At any rate," remarked Pencroft, "it is well understood that if we do
leave Lincoln Island, it will not be because we were uncomfortable there!"
"No, Pencroft," replied the engineer, "it will be because we are far from
all that a man holds dearest in the world, his family, his friends, his
Matters being thus decided, the building of a vessel large enough to sail
either to the Archipelagoes in the north, or to New Zealand in the west, was
no longer talked of, and they busied themselves in their accustomed
occupations, with a view to wintering a third time in Granite House.
However, it was agreed that before the stormy weather came on, their
little vessel should be employed in making a voyage round the island. A
complete survey of the coast had not yet been made, and the colonists had
but an imperfect idea of the shore to the west and north, from the mouth of
Falls River to the Mandible Capes, as well as of the narrow bay between
them, which opened like a shark's jaws.
The plan of this excursion was proposed by Pencroft, and Cyrus Harding
fully acquiesced in it, for he himself wished to see this part of his
The weather was variable, but the barometer did not fluctuate by sudden
movements, and they could therefore count on tolerable weather. However,
during the first week of April, after a sudden barometrical fall, a renewed
rise was marked by a heavy gale of wind, lasting five or six days; then the
needle of the instrument remained stationary at a height of twenty-nine
inches and nine-tenths, and the weather appeared propitious for an
The departure was fixed for the 16th of April, and the "Bonadventure,"
anchored in Port Balloon, was provisioned for a voyage which might be of
Cyrus Harding informed Ayrton of the projected expedition, and proposed
that he should take part in it, but Ayrton preferring to remain on shore,
it was decided that he should come to Granite House during the absence of
his companions. Master Jup was ordered to keep him company, and made no
On the morning of the 16th of April all the colonists, including Top,
embarked. A fine breeze blew from the south-west, and the "Bonadventure"
tacked on leaving Port Balloon so as to reach Reptile End. Of the ninety
miles which the perimeter of the island measured, twenty included the south
coast between the port and the promontory. The wind being right ahead it
was necessary to hug the shore.
It took the whole day to reach the promontory, for the vessel on leaving
port had only two hours of ebb tide and had therefore to make way for six
hours against the flood. It was nightfall before the promontory was
The sailor then proposed to the engineer that they should continue
sailing slowly with two reefs in the sail. But Harding preferred to anchor
a few cable-lengths from the shore, so as to survey that part of the coast
during the day. It was agreed also that as they were anxious for a minute
exploration of the coast they should not sail during the night, but would
always, when the weather permitted it, be at anchor near the shore.
The night was passed under the promontory, and the wind having fallen,
nothing disturbed the silence. The passengers, with the exception of the
sailor, scarcely slept as well on board the "Bonadventure" as they would
have done in their rooms at Granite House, but they did sleep however.
Pencroft set sail at break of day, and by going on the larboard tack they
could keep close to the shore.
The colonists knew this beautiful wooded coast, since they had already
explored it on foot, and yet it again excited their admiration. They
coasted along as close in as possible, so as to notice everything, avoiding
always the trunks of trees which floated here and there. Several times also
they anchored, and Gideon Spilett took photographs of the superb scenery.
About noon the "Bonadventure" arrived at the mouth of Falls River.
Beyond, on the left bank, a few scattered trees appeared, and three miles
further even these dwindled into solitary groups among the western spurs of
the mountain, whose arid ridge sloped down to the shore.
What a contrast between the northern and southern part of the coast! In
proportion as one was woody and fertile so was the other rugged and barren!
It might have been designated as one of those iron coasts, as they are
called in some countries, and its wild confusion appeared to indicate that
a sudden crystallization had been produced in the yet liquid basalt of some
distant geological sea. These stupendous masses would have terrified the
settlers if they had been cast at first on this part of the island! They
had not been able to perceive the sinister aspect of this shore from the
summit of Mount Franklin, for they overlooked it from too great a height,
but viewed from the sea it presented a wild appearance which could not
perhaps be equaled in any corner of the globe.
The "Bonadventure" sailed along this coast for the distance of half a
mile. It was easy to see that it was composed of blocks of all sizes, from
twenty to three hundred feet in height, and of all shapes, round like
towers, prismatic like steeples, pyramidal like obelisks, conical like
factory chimneys. An iceberg of the Polar seas could not have been more
capricious in its terrible sublimity! Here, bridges were thrown from one
rock to another; there, arches like those of a wave, into the depths of
which the eye could not penetrate; in one place, large vaulted excavations
presented a monumental aspect; in another, a crowd of columns, spires, and
arches, such as no Gothic cathedral ever possessed. Every caprice of
nature, still more varied than those of the imagination, appeared on this
grand coast, which extended over a length of eight or nine miles.
Cyrus Harding and his companions gazed, with a feeling of surprise
bordering on stupefaction. But, although they remained silent, Top, not
being troubled with feelings of this sort, uttered barks which were
repeated by the thousand echoes of the basaltic cliff. The engineer even
observed that these barks had something strange in them, like those which
the dog had uttered at the mouth of the well in Granite House.
"Let us go close in," said he.
And the "Bonadventure" sailed as near as possible to the rocky shore.
Perhaps some cave, which it would be advisable to explore, existed there?
But Harding saw nothing, not a cavern, not a cleft which could serve as a
retreat to any being whatever, for the foot of the cliff was washed by the
surf. Soon Top's barks ceased, and the vessel continued her course at a few
cables-length from the coast.
In the northwest part of the island the shore became again flat and
sandy. A few trees here and there rose above a low, marshy ground, which
the colonists had already surveyed, and in violent contrast to the other
desert shore, life was again manifested by the presence of myriads of
water-fowl. That evening the "Bonadventure" anchored in a small bay to the
north of the island, near the land, such was the depth of water there. The
night passed quietly, for the breeze died away with the last light of day,
and only rose again with the first streaks of dawn.
As it was easy to land, the usual hunters of the colony, that is to say,
Herbert and Gideon Spilett, went for a ramble of two hours or so, and
returned with several strings of wild duck and snipe. Top had done wonders,
and not a bird had been lost, thanks to his zeal and cleverness.
At eight o'clock in the morning the "Bonadventure" set sail, and ran
rapidly towards North Mandible Cape, for the wind was right astern and
"However," observed Pencroft, "I should not be surprised if a gale came
up from the west. Yesterday the sun set in a very red-looking horizon, and
now, this morning, those mares-tails don't forbode anything good."
These mares-tails are cirrus clouds, scattered in the zenith, their
height from the sea being less than five thousand feet. They look like
light pieces of cotton wool, and their presence usually announces some
sudden change in the weather.
"Well," said Harding, "let us carry as much sail as possible, and run for
shelter into Shark Gulf. I think that the 'Bonadventure' will be safe
"Perfectly," replied Pencroft, "and besides, the north coast is merely
sand, very uninteresting to look at."
"I shall not be sorry," resumed the engineer, "to pass not only to-night
but to-morrow in that bay, which is worth being carefully explored."
"I think that we shall be obliged to do so, whether we like it or not,"
answered Pencroft, "for the sky looks very threatening towards the west.
Dirty weather is coming on!"
"At any rate we have a favorable wind for reaching Cape Mandible,"
observed the reporter.
"A very fine wind," replied the sailor; "but we must tack to enter the
gulf, and I should like to see my way clear in these unknown quarters."
"Quarters which appear to be filled with rocks," added Herbert, "if we
judge by what we saw on the south coast of Shark Gulf."
"Pencroft," said Cyrus Harding, "do as you think best, we will leave it
"Don't make your mind uneasy, captain," replied the sailor, "I shall not
expose myself needlessly! I would rather a knife were run into my ribs than
a sharp rock into those of my 'Bonadventure!'"
That which Pencroft called ribs was the pan of his vessel under water,
and he valued it more than his own skin.
"What o'clock is it?" asked Pencroft.
"Ten o'clock," replied Gideon Spilett.
"And what distance is it to the Cape, captain?"
"About fifteen miles," replied the engineer.
"That's a matter of two hours and a half," said the sailor, "and we shall
be off the Cape between twelve and one o'clock. Unluckily, the tide will be
turning at that moment, and will be ebbing out of the gulf. I am afraid
that it will be very difficult to get in, having both wind and tide against
"And the more so that it is a full moon to-day," remarked Herbert, "and
these April tides are very strong."
"Well, Pencroft," asked Harding, "can you not anchor off the Cape?"
"Anchor near land, with bad weather coming on!" exclaimed the sailor.
"What are you thinking of, captain? We should run aground, of a certainty!"
"What will you do then?"
"I shall try to keep in the offing until the flood, that is to say, till
about seven in the evening, and if there is still light enough I will try
to enter the gulf; if not, we must stand off and on during the night, and
we will enter to-morrow at sunrise."
"As I told you, Pencroft, we will leave it to you," answered Harding.
"Ah!" said Pencroft, "if there was only a lighthouse on the coast, it
would be much more convenient for sailors."
"Yes," replied Herbert, "and this time we shall have no obliging engineer
to light a fire to guide us into port!"
"Why, indeed, my dear Cyrus," said Spilett, "we have never thanked you;
but frankly, without that fire we should never have been able--"
"A fire?" asked Harding, much astonished at the reporter's words.
"We mean, captain," answered Pencroft, "that on board the 'Bonadventure'
we were very anxious during the few hours before our return, and we should
have passed to windward of the island, if it had not been for the
precaution you took of lighting a fire the night of the 19th of October, on
"Yes, yes! That was a lucky idea of mine!" replied the engineer.
"And this time," continued the sailor. "unless the idea occurs to Ayrton,
there will be no one to do us that little service!"
"No! No one!" answered Cyrus Harding.
A few minutes after, finding himself alone in the bows of the vessel,
with the reporter, the engineer bent down and whispered,--
"If there is one thing certain in this world, Spilett, it is that I never
lighted any fire during the night of the 19th of October, neither on
Prospect Heights nor on any other part of the island!"
Things happened as Pencroft had predicted, he being seldom mistaken in his
prognostications. The wind rose, and from a fresh breeze it soon increased
to a regular gale; that is to say, it acquired a speed of from forty to
forty-five miles an hour, before which a ship in the open sea would have
run under close-reefed topsails. Now, as it was nearly six o'clock when the
"Bonadventure" reached the gulf, and as at that moment the tide turned, it
was impossible to enter. They were therefore compelled to stand off, for
even if he had wished to do so, Pencroft could not have gained the mouth of
the Mercy. Hoisting the jib to the mainmast by way of a storm-sail, he hove
to, putting the head of the vessel towards the land.
Fortunately, although the wind was strong the sea, being sheltered by the
land, did not run very high. They had then little to fear from the waves,
which always endanger small craft. The "Bonadventure" would doubtlessly not
have capsized, for she was well ballasted, but enormous masses of water
falling on the deck might injure her if her timbers could not sustain them.
Pencroft, as a good sailor, was prepared for anything. Certainly, he had
great confidence in his vessel, but nevertheless he awaited the return of
day with some anxiety.
During the night, Cyrus Harding and Gideon Spilett had no opportunity for
talking together, and yet the words pronounced in the reporter's ear by the
engineer were well worth being discussed, together with the mysterious
influence which appeared to reign over Lincoln Island. Gideon Spilett did
not cease from pondering over this new and inexplicable incident, the
appearance of a fire on the coast of the island. The fire had actually been
seen! His companions, Herbert and Pencroft, had seen it with him! The fire
had served to signalize the position of the island during that dark night,
and they had not doubted that it was lighted by the engineer's hand; and
here was Cyrus Harding expressly declaring that he had never done anything
of the sort! Spilett resolved to recur to this incident as soon as the
"Bonadventure" returned, and to urge Cyrus Harding to acquaint their
companions with these strange facts. Perhaps it would be decided to make in
common a complete investigation of every part of Lincoln Island.
However that might be, on this evening no fire was lighted on these yet
unknown shores, which formed the entrance to the gulf, and the little
vessel stood off during the night.
When the first streaks of dawn appeared in the western horizon, the wind,
which had slightly fallen, shifted two points, and enabled Pencroft to
enter the narrow gulf with greater ease. Towards seven o'clock in the
morning, the "Bonadventure," weathering the North Mandible Cape, entered
the strait and glided on to the waters, so strangely enclosed in the frame
"Well," said Pencroft, "this bay would make admirable roads, in which a
whole fleet could lie at their ease!"
"What is especially curious," observed Harding, "is that the gulf has
been formed by two rivers of lava, thrown out by the volcano, and
accumulated by successive eruptions. The result is that the gulf is
completely sheltered on all sides, and I believe that even in the stormiest
weather, the sea here must be as calm as a lake."
"No doubt," returned the sailor, "since the wind has only that narrow
entrance between the two capes to get in by, and, besides, the north cape
protects that of the south in a way which would make the entrance of gusts
very difficult. I declare our 'Bonadventure' could stay here from one end
of the year to the other, without even dragging at her anchor!"
"It is rather large for her!" observed the reporter.
"Well! Mr. Spilett," replied the sailor, "I agree that it is too large
for the 'Bonadventure,' but if the fleets of the Union were in want of a
harbor in the Pacific, I don't think they would ever find a better place
"We are in the shark's mouth," remarked Nab, alluding to the form of the
"Right into its mouth, my honest Nab!" replied Herbert, "but you are not
afraid that it will shut upon us, are you?"
"No, Mr. Herbert," answered Neb, "and yet this gulf here doesn't please
me much! It has a wicked look!"
"Hallo!" cried Pencroft, "here is Neb turning up his nose at my gulf,
just as I was thinking of presenting it to America!"
"But, at any rate, is the water deep enough?" asked the engineer, "for a
depth sufficient for the keel of the 'Bonadventure' would not be enough for
those of our iron-clads."
"That is easily found out," replied Pencroft.
And the sailor sounded with a long cord, which served him as a lead-line,
and to which was fastened a lump of iron. This cord measured nearly fifty
fathoms, and its entire length was unrolled without finding any bottom.
"There," exclaimed Pencroft, "our iron-clads can come here after all! They
would not run aground!"
"Indeed," said Gideon Spilett, "this gulf is a regular abyss, but, taking
into consideration the volcanic origin of the island, it is not astonishing
that the sea should offer similar depressions."
"One would say too," observed Herbert, "that these cliffs were perfectly
perpendicular; and I believe that at their foot, even with a line five or
six times longer, Pencroft would not find bottom."
"That is all very well," then said the reporter, "but I must point out to
Pencroft that his harbor is wanting in one very important respect!"
"And what is that, Mr. Spilett?"
"An opening, a cutting of some sort, to give access to the interior of
the island. I do not see a spot on which we could land." And, in fact, the
steep lava cliffs did not afford a single place suitable for landing. They
formed an insuperable barrier, recalling, but with more wildness, the
fiords of Norway. The "Bonadventure," coasting as close as possible along
the cliffs, did not discover even a projection which would allow the
passengers to leave the deck.
Pencroft consoled himself by saying that with the help of a mine they
could soon open out the cliff when that was necessary, and then, as there
was evidently nothing to be done in the gulf, he steered his vessel towards
the strait and passed out at about two o'clock in the afternoon.
"Ah!" said Nab, uttering a sigh of satisfaction.
One might really say that the honest Negro did not feel at his ease in
those enormous jaws.
The distance from Mandible Cape to the mouth of the Mercy was not more
than eight miles. The head of the "Bonadventure" was put towards Granite
House, and a fair wind filling her sails, she ran rapidly along the coast.
To the enormous lava rocks succeeded soon those capricious sand dunes,
among which the engineer had been so singularly recovered, and which
seabirds frequented in thousands.
About four o'clock, Pencroft leaving the point of the islet on his left,
entered the channel which separated it from the coast, and at five o'clock
the anchor of the "Bonadventure" was buried in the sand at the mouth of
The colonists had been absent three days from their dwelling. Ayrton was
waiting for them on the beach, and Jup came joyously to meet them, giving
vent to deep grunts of satisfaction.
A complete exploration of the coast of the island had now been made, and
no suspicious appearances had been observed. If any mysterious being
resided on it, it could only be under cover of the impenetrable forest of
the Serpentine Peninsula, to which the colonists had not yet directed their
Gideon Spilett discussed these things with the engineer, and it was
agreed that they should direct the attention of their companions to the
strange character of certain incidents which had occurred on the island,
and of which the last was the most unaccountable.
However, Harding, returning to the fact of a fire having been kindled on
the shore by an unknown hand, could not refrain from repeating for the
twentieth time to the reporter,--
"But are you quite sure of having seen it? Was it not a partial eruption
of the volcano, or perhaps some meteor?"
"No, Cyrus," answered the reporter, "it was certainly a fire lighted by
the hand of man. Besides; question Pencroft and Herbert. They saw it as I
saw it myself, and they will confirm my words."
In consequence, therefore, a few days after, on the 25th of April, in the
evening, when the settlers were all collected on Prospect Heights, Cyrus
Harding began by saying,--
"My friends, I think it my duty to call your attention to certain
incidents which have occurred in the island, on the subject of which I
shall be happy to have your advice. These incidents are, so to speak,
"Supernatural!" exclaimed the sailor, emitting a volume of smoke from his
mouth. "Can it be possible that our island is supernatural?"
"No, Pencroft, but mysterious, most certainly," replied the engineer;
"unless you can explain that which Spilett and I have until now failed to
"Speak away, captain," answered the sailor.
"Well, have you understood," then said the engineer, "how was it that
after falling into the sea, I was found a quarter of a mile into the
interior of the island, and that, without my having any consciousness of my
"Unless, being unconscious--" said Pencroft.
"That is not admissible," replied the engineer. "But to continue. Have
you understood how Top was able to discover your retreat five miles from
the cave in which I was lying?"
"The dog's instinct--" observed Herbert.
"Singular instinct!" returned the reporter, "since notwithstanding the
storm of rain and wind which was raging during that night, Top arrived at
the Chimneys, dry and without a speck of mud!"
"Let us continue," resumed the engineer. "Have you understood how our dog
was so strangely thrown up out of the water of the lake, after his struggle
with the dugong?"
"No! I confess, not at all," replied Pencroft, "and the wound which the
dugong had in its side, a wound which seemed to have been made with a sharp
instrument; that can't be understood, either."
"Let us continue again," said Harding. "Have you understood, my friends,
how that bullet got into the body of the young peccary; how that case
happened to be so fortunately stranded, without there being any trace of a
wreck; how that bottle containing the document presented itself so
opportunely, during our first sea-excursion; how our canoe, having broken
its moorings, floated down the current of the Mercy and rejoined us at the
very moment we needed it; how after the ape invasion the ladder was so
obligingly thrown down from Granite House; and lastly, how the document,
which Ayrton asserts was never written by him, fell into our hands?"
As Cyrus Harding thus enumerated, without forgetting one, the singular
incidents which had occurred in the island, Herbert, Neb, and Pencroft
stared at each other, not knowing what to reply, for this succession of
incidents, grouped thus for the first time, could not but excite their
surprise to the highest degree.
"'Pon my word," said Pencroft at last, "you are right, captain, and it is
difficult to explain all these things!"
"Well, my friends," resumed the engineer, "a last fact has just been
added to these, and it is no less incomprehensible than the others!"
"What is it, captain?" asked Herbert quickly.
"When you were returning from Tabor Island, Pencroft," continued the
engineer, "you said that a fire appeared on Lincoln Island?"
"Certainly," answered the sailor.
"And you are quite certain of having seen this fire?"
"As sure as I see you now."
"You also, Herbert?"
"Why, captain," cried Herbert, "that fire was blazing like a star of the
"But was it not a star?" urged the engineer.
"No," replied Pencroft, "for the sky was covered with thick clouds, and
at any rate a star would not have been so low on the horizon. But Mr.
Spilett saw it as well as we, and he will confirm our words."
"I will add," said the reporter, "that the fire was very bright, and that
it shot up like a sheet of lightning."
"Yes, yes! exactly," added Herbert, "and it was certainly placed on the
heights of Granite House."
"Well, my friends," replied Cyrus Harding, "during the night of the 19th
of October, neither Neb nor I lighted any fire on the coast."
"You did not!" exclaimed Pencroft, in the height of his astonishment, not
being able to finish his sentence.
"We did not leave Granite House," answered Cyrus Harding, "and if a fire
appeared on the coast, it was lighted by another hand than ours!"
Pencroft, Herbert, and Neb were stupefied. No illusion could be possible,
and a fire had actually met their eyes during the night of the 19th of
October. Yes! they had to acknowledge it, a mystery existed! An
inexplicable influence, evidently favorable to the colonists, but very
irritating to their curiosity, was executed always in the nick of time on
Lincoln Island. Could there be some being hidden in its profoundest
recesses? It was necessary at any cost to ascertain this.
Harding also reminded his companions of the singular behavior of Top and
Jup when they prowled round the mouth of the well, which placed Granite
House in communication with the sea, and he told them that he had explored
the well, without discovering anything suspicious. The final resolve taken,
in consequence of this conversation, by all the members of the colony, was
that as soon as the fine season returned they would thoroughly search the
whole of the island.
But from that day Pencroft appeared to be anxious. He felt as if the
island which he had made his own personal property belonged to him entirely
no longer, and that he shared it with another master, to whom, willing or
not, he felt subject. Neb and he often talked of those unaccountable
things, and both, their natures inclining them to the marvelous, were not
far from believing that Lincoln Island was under the dominion of some
In the meanwhile, the bad weather came with the month of May, the
November of the northern zones. It appeared that the winter would be severe
and forward. The preparations for the winter season were therefore
commenced without delay.
Nevertheless, the colonists were well prepared to meet the winter,
however hard it might be. They had plenty of felt clothing, and the
musmons, very numerous by this time, had furnished an abundance of wool
necessary for the manufacture of this warm material.
It is unnecessary to say that Ayrton had been provided with this
comfortable clothing. Cyrus Harding proposed that he should come to spend
the bad season with them in Granite House, where he would be better lodged
than at the corral, and Ayrton promised to do so, as soon as the last work
at the corral was finished. He did this towards the middle of April. From
that time Ayrton shared the common life, and made himself useful on all
occasions; but still humble and sad, he never took part in the pleasures of
For the greater part of this, the third winter which the settlers passed
in Lincoln Island, they were confined to Granite House. There were many
violent storms and frightful tempests, which appeared to shake the rocks to
their very foundations. Immense waves threatened to overwhelm the island,
and certainly any vessel anchored near the shore would have been dashed to
pieces. Twice, during one of these hurricanes, the Mercy swelled to such a
degree as to give reason to fear that the bridges would be swept away, and
it was necessary to strengthen those on the shore, which disappeared under
the foaming waters, when the sea beat against the beach.
It may well be supposed that such storms, comparable to water-spouts in
which were mingled rain and snow, would cause great havoc on the plateau of
Prospect Heights. The mill and the poultry-yard particularly suffered. The
colonists were often obliged to make immediate repairs, without which the
safety of the birds would have been seriously threatened.
During the worst weather, several jaguars and troops of quadrumana
ventured to the edge of the plateau, and it was always to be feared that
the most active and audacious would, urged by hunger, manage to cross the
stream, which besides, when frozen, offered them an easy passage.
Plantations and domestic animals would then have been infallibly destroyed,
without a constant watch, and it was often necessary to make use of the
guns to keep those dangerous visitors at a respectful distance. Occupation
was not wanting to the colonists, for without reckoning their out-door
cares, they had always a thousand plans for the fitting up of Granite
They had also some fine sporting excursions, which were made during the
frost in the vast Tadorn Marsh. Gideon Spilett and Herbert, aided by Jup
and Top, did not miss a shot in the midst of myriads of wild-duck, snipe,
teal, and others. The access to these hunting-grounds was easy; besides,
whether they reached them by the road to Port Balloon, after having passed
the Mercy Bridge, or by turning the rocks from Flotsam Point, the hunters
were never distant from Granite House more than two or three miles.
Thus passed the four winter months, which were really rigorous, that is
to say, June, July, August, and September. But, in short, Granite House did
not suffer much from the inclemency of the weather, and it was the same
with the corral, which, less exposed than the plateau, and sheltered partly
by Mount Franklin, only received the remains of the hurricanes, already
broken by the forests and the high rocks of the shore. The damages there
were consequently of small importance, and the activity and skill of Ayrton
promptly repaired them, when some time in October he returned to pass a few
days in the corral.
During this winter, no fresh inexplicable incident occurred. Nothing
strange happened, although Pencroft and Neb were on the watch for the most
insignificant facts to which they attached any mysterious cause. Top and
Jup themselves no longer growled round the well or gave any signs of
uneasiness. It appeared, therefore, as if the series of supernatural
incidents was interrupted, although they often talked of them during the
evenings in Granite House, and they remained thoroughly resolved that the
island should be searched, even in those parts the most difficult to
explore. But an event of the highest importance, and of which the
consequences might be terrible, momentarily diverted from their projects
Cyrus Harding and his companions.
It was the month of October. The fine season was swiftly returning.
Nature was reviving; and among the evergreen foliage of the coniferae which
formed the border of the wood, already appeared the young leaves of the
banksias, deodars, and other trees.
It may be remembered that Gideon Spilett and Herbert had, at different
times, taken photographic views of Lincoln Island.
Now, on the 17th of this month of October, towards three o'clock in the
afternoon, Herbert, enticed by the charms of the sky, thought of
reproducing Union Bay, which was opposite to Prospect Heights, from Cape
Mandible to Claw Cape.
The horizon was beautifully clear, and the sea, undulating under a soft
breeze, was as calm as the waters of a lake, sparkling here and there under
the sun's rays.
The apparatus had been placed at one of the windows of the dining-room at
Granite House, and consequently overlooked the shore and the bay. Herbert
proceeded as he was accustomed to do, and the negative obtained, he went
away to fix it by means of the chemicals deposited in a dark nook of
Returning to the bright light, and examining it well, Herbert perceived
on his negative an almost imperceptible little spot on the sea horizon. He
endeavored to make it disappear by reiterated washing, but could not
"It is a flaw in the glass," he thought.
And then he had the curiosity to examine this flaw with a strong
magnifier which he unscrewed from one of the telescopes.
But he had scarcely looked at it, when he uttered a cry, and the glass
almost fell from his hands.
Immediately running to the room in which Cyrus Harding then was, he
extended the negative and magnifier towards the engineer, pointing out the
Harding examined it; then seizing his telescope he rushed to the window.
The telescope, after having slowly swept the horizon, at last stopped on
the looked-for spot, and Cyrus Harding, lowering it, pronounced one word
And in fact a vessel was in sight, off Lincoln Island!
THE SECRET OF THE ISLAND
It was now two years and a half since the castaways from the balloon had
been thrown on Lincoln Island, and during that period there had been no
communication between them and their fellow-creatures. Once the reporter
had attempted to communicate with the inhabited world by confiding to a
bird a letter which contained the secret of their situation, but that was a
chance on which it was impossible to reckon seriously. Ayrton, alone, under
the circumstances which have been related, had come to join the little
colony. Now, suddenly, on this day, the 17th of October, other men had
unexpectedly appeared in sight of the island, on that deserted sea!
There could be no doubt about it! A vessel was there! But would she pass
on, or would she put into port? In a few hours the colonists would
definitely know what to expect.
Cyrus Harding and Herbert having immediately called Gideon Spilett,
Pencroft, and Neb into the dining-room of Granite House, told them what had
happened. Pencroft, seizing the telescope, rapidly swept the horizon, and
stopping on the indicated point, that is to say, on that which had made the
almost imperceptible spot on the photographic negative,--
"I'm blessed but it is really a vessel!" he exclaimed, in a voice which
did not express any great amount of satisfaction.
"Is she coming here?" asked Gideon Spilett.
"Impossible to say anything yet," answered Pencroft, "for her rigging
alone is above the horizon, and not a bit of her hull can be seen."
"What is to be done?" asked the lad.
"Wait," replied Harding.
And for a considerable time the settlers remained silent, given up to all
the thoughts, and the emotions, all the fears, all the hopes, which were
aroused by this incident--the most important which had occurred since their
arrival in Lincoln Island. Certainly, the colonists were not in the
situation of castaways abandoned on a sterile islet, constantly contending
against a cruel nature for their miserable existence, and incessantly
tormented by the longing to return to inhabited countries. Pencroft and
Neb, especially, who felt themselves at once so happy and so rich, would
not have left their island without regret. They were accustomed, besides,
to this new life in the midst of the domain which their intelligence had as
it were civilized. But at any rate this ship brought news from the world,
perhaps even from their native land. It was bringing fellow-creatures to
them, and it may be conceived how deeply their hearts were moved at the
From time to time Pencroft took the glass and rested himself at the
window. From thence he very attentively examined the vessel, which was at a
distance of twenty miles to the east. The colonists had as yet, therefore,
no means of signalizing their presence. A flag would not have been
perceived; a gun would not have been heard; a fire would not have been
visible. However, it was certain that the island, overtopped by Mount
Franklin, could not escape the notice of the vessel's lookout. But why was
the ship coming there? Was it simple chance which brought it to that part
of the Pacific, where the maps mentioned no land except Tabor Island, which
itself was out of the route usually followed by vessels from the Polynesian
Archipelagoes, from New Zealand, and from the American coast? To this
question, which each one asked himself, a reply was suddenly made by
"Can it be the 'Duncan'?" he cried.
The "Duncan," as has been said, was Lord Glenarvan's yacht, which had
left Ayrton on the islet, and which was to return there someday to fetch
him. Now, the islet was not so far distant from Lincoln Island, but that a
vessel, standing for the one, could pass in sight of the other. A hundred
and fifty miles only separated them in longitude, and seventy in latitude.
"We must tell Ayrton," said Gideon Spilett, "and send for him
immediately. He alone can say if it is the 'Duncan.'"
This was the opinion of all, and the reporter, going to the telegraphic
apparatus which placed the corral in communication with Granite House,
sent this telegram:--"Come with all possible speed."
In a few minutes the bell sounded.
"I am coming," replied Ayrton.
Then the settlers continued to watch the vessel.
"If it is the 'Duncan,'" said Herbert, "Ayrton will recognize her
without difficulty, since he sailed on board her for some time."
"And if he recognizes her," added Pencroft, "it will agitate him
"Yes," answered Cyrus Harding; "but now Ayrton is worthy to return on
board the 'Duncan,' and pray Heaven that it is indeed Lord Glenarvan's
yacht, for I should be suspicious of any other vessel. These are ill-famed
seas, and I have always feared a visit from Malay pirates to our island."
"We could defend it,', cried Herbert.
"No doubt, my boy," answered the engineer smiling, "but it would be
better not to have to defend it."
"A useless observation," said Spilett. "Lincoln Island is unknown to
navigators, since it is not marked even on the most recent maps. Do you
think, Cyrus, that that is a sufficient motive for a ship, finding herself
unexpectedly in sight of new land, to try and visit rather than avoid it?"
"Certainly," replied Pencroft.
"I think so too," added the engineer. "It may even be said that it is the
duty of a captain to come and survey any land or island not yet known, and
Lincoln Island is in this position."
"Well," said Pencroft, "suppose this vessel comes and anchors there a few
cables-lengths from our island, what shall we do?"
This sudden question remained at first without any reply. But Cyrus
Harding, after some moments' thought, replied in the calm tone which was
usual to him,--
"What we shall do, my friends? What we ought to do is this:--we will
communicate with the ship, we will take our passage on board her, and we
will leave our island, after having taken possession of it in the name of
the United States. Then we will return with any who may wish to follow us
to colonize it definitely, and endow the American Republic with a useful
station in this part of the Pacific Ocean!"
"Hurrah!" exclaimed Pencroft, "and that will be no small present which we
shall make to our country! The colonization is already almost finished;
names are given to every part of the island; there is a natural port, fresh
water, roads, a telegraph, a dockyard, and manufactories; and there will be
nothing to be done but to inscribe Lincoln Island on the maps!"
"But if anyone seizes it in our absence?" observed Gideon Spilett.
"Hang it!" cried the sailor. "I would rather remain all alone to guard
it: and trust to Pencroft, they shouldn't steal it from him, like a watch
from the pocket of a swell!"
For an hour it was impossible to say with any certainty whether the
vessel was or was not standing towards Lincoln Island. She was nearer, but
in what direction was she sailing? This Pencroft could not determine.
However, as the wind was blowing from the northeast, in all probability the
vessel was sailing on the starboard tack. Besides, the wind was favorable
for bringing her towards the island, and, the sea being calm, she would not
be afraid to approach although the shallows were not marked on the chart.
Towards four o'clock--an hour after he had been sent for--Ayrton arrived at
Granite House. He entered the dining-room saying,--
"At your service, gentlemen."
Cyrus Harding gave him his hand, as was his custom to do, and, leading
him to the window,--
"Ayrton," said he, "we have begged you to come here for an important
reason. A ship is in sight of the island."
Ayrton at first paled slightly, and for a moment his eyes became dim;
then, leaning out the window, he surveyed the horizon, but could see
"Take this telescope," said Spilett, "and look carefully, Ayrton, for it
is possible that this ship may be the 'Duncan' come to these seas for the
purpose of taking you home again."
"The 'Duncan!'" murmured Ayrton. "Already?" This last word escaped
Ayrton's lips as if involuntarily, and his head drooped upon his hands.
Did not twelve years' solitude on a desert island appear to him a
sufficient expiation? Did not the penitent yet feel himself pardoned,
either in his own eyes or in the eyes of others?
"No," said he, "no! it cannot be the 'Duncan'!"
"Look, Ayrton," then said the engineer, "for it is necessary that we
should know beforehand what to expect."
Ayrton took the glass and pointed it in the direction indicated. During
some minutes he examined the horizon without moving, without uttering a
"It is indeed a vessel," said he, "but I do not think she is the
"Why do you not think so?" asked Gideon Spilett.
"Because the 'Duncan' is a steam-yacht, and I cannot perceive any trace
of smoke either above or near that vessel."
"Perhaps she is simply sailing," observed Pencroft. "The wind is
favorable for the direction which she appears to be taking, and she may be
anxious to economize her coal, being so far from land."
"It is possible that you may be right, Mr. Pencroft," answered Ayrton,
"and that the vessel has extinguished her fires. We must wait until she is
nearer, and then we shall soon know what to expect."
So saying, Ayrton sat down in a corner of the room and remained silent.
The colonists again discussed the strange ship, but Ayrton took no part in
the conversation. All were in such a mood that they found it impossible to
continue their work. Gideon Spilett and Pencroft were particularly nervous,
going, coming, not able to remain still in one place. Herbert felt more
curiosity. Neb alone maintained his usual calm manner. Was not his country
that where his master was? As to the engineer, he remained plunged in deep
thought, and in his heart feared rather than desired the arrival of the
ship. In the meanwhile, the vessel was a little nearer the island. With the
aid of the glass, it was ascertained that she was a brig, and not one of
those Malay proas, which are generally used by the pirates of the Pacific.
It was, therefore, reasonable to believe that the engineer's apprehensions
would not be justified, and that the presence of this vessel in the
vicinity of the island was fraught with no danger.
Pencroft, after a minute examination, was able positively to affirm that
the vessel was rigged as a brig, and that she was standing obliquely
towards the coast, on the starboard tack, under her topsails and top-
gallant-sails. This was confirmed by Ayrton. But by continuing in this
direction she must soon disappear behind Claw Cape, as the wind was from
the southwest, and to watch her it would be then necessary to ascend the
height of Washington Bay, near Port Balloon--a provoking circumstance, for
it was already five o'clock in the evening, and the twilight would soon
make any observation extremely difficult.
"What shall we do when night comes on?" asked Gideon Spilett. "Shall we
light a fire, so as to signal our presence on the coast?"
This was a serious question, and yet, although the engineer still
retained some of his presentiments, it was answered in the affirmative.
During the night the ship might disappear and leave for ever, and, this
ship gone, would another ever return to the waters of Lincoln Island? Who
could foresee what the future would then have in store for the colonists?
"Yes," said the reporter, "we ought to make known to that vessel, whoever
she may be, that the island is inhabited. To neglect the opportunity which
is offered to us might be to create everlasting regrets."
It was therefore decided that Neb and Pencroft should go to Port Balloon,
and that there, at nightfall, they should light an immense fire, the blaze
of which would necessarily attract the attention of the brig.
But at the moment when Neb and the sailor were preparing to leave Granite
House, the vessel suddenly altered her course, and stood directly for Union
Bay. The brig was a good sailer, for she approached rapidly. Neb and
Pencroft put off their departure, therefore, and the glass was put into
Ayrton's hands, that he might ascertain for certain whether the ship was or
was not the "Duncan." The Scotch yacht was also rigged as a brig. The
question was, whether a chimney could be discerned between the two masts of
the vessel, which was now at a distance of only five miles.
The horizon was still very clear. The examination was easy, and Ayrton
soon let the glass fall again, saying--
"It is not the 'Duncan'! It could not be!"
Pencroft again brought the brig within the range of the telescope, and
could see that she was of between three and four hundred tons burden,
wonderfully narrow, well-masted, admirably built, and must be a very rapid
sailer. But to what nation did she belong? That was difficult to say.
"And yet," added the sailor, "a flag is floating from her peak, but I
cannot distinguish the colors of it."
"In half an hour we shall be certain about that," answered the reporter.
"Besides, it is very evident that the intention of the captain of this ship
is to land, and, consequently, if not today, to-morrow at the latest, we
shall make his acquaintance."
"Never mind!" said Pencroft. "It is best to know whom we have to deal
with, and I shall not be sorry to recognize that fellow's colors!"
And, while thus speaking, the sailor never left the glass. The day began
to fade, and with the day the breeze fell also. The brig's ensign hung in
folds, and it became more and more difficult to observe it.
"It is not the American flag," said Pencroft from time to time, "nor the
English, the red of which could be easily seen, nor the French or German
colors, nor the white flag of Russia, nor the yellow of Spain. One would
say it was all one color. Let's see: in these seas, what do we generally
meet with? The Chilean flag?--but that is tri-color. Brazilian?--it is
green. Japanese?--it is yellow and black, while this--"
At that moment the breeze blew out the unknown flag. Ayrton seizing the
telescope which the sailor had put down, put it to his eye, and in a hoarse
"The black flag!" he exclaimed.
And indeed the somber bunting was floating from the mast of the brig, and
they had now good reason for considering her to be a suspicious vessel!
Had the engineer, then, been right in his presentiments? Was this a
pirate vessel? Did she scour the Pacific, competing with the Malay proas
which still infest it? For what had she come to look at the shores of
Lincoln Island? Was it to them an unknown island, ready to become a
magazine for stolen cargoes? Had she come to find on the coast a sheltered
port for the winter months? Was the settlers' honest domain destined to be
transformed into an infamous refuge--the headquarters of the piracy of the
All these ideas instinctively presented themselves to the colonists'
imaginations. There was no doubt, besides, of the signification which must
be attached to the color of the hoisted flag. It was that of pirates! It
was that which the "Duncan" would have carried, had the convicts succeeded
in their criminal design! No time was lost before discussing it.
"My friends," said Cyrus Harding, "perhaps this vessel only wishes to
survey the coast of the island. Perhaps her crew will not land. There is a
chance of it. However that may be, we ought to do everything we can to hide
our presence here. The windmill on Prospect Heights is too easily seen. Let
Ayrton and Neb go and take down the sails. We must also conceal the windows
of Granite House with thick branches. All the fires must be extinguished,
so that nothing may betray the presence of men on the island."
"And our vessel?" said Herbert.
"Oh," answered Pencroft, "she is sheltered in Port Balloon, and I defy
any of those rascals there to find her!"
The engineer's orders were immediately executed. Neb and Ayrton ascended
the plateau, and took the necessary precautions to conceal any indication
of a settlement. While they were thus occupied, their companions went to
the border of Jacamar Wood, and brought back a large quantity of branches
and creepers, which would at some distance appear as natural foliage, and
thus disguise the windows in the granite cliff. At the same time, the
ammunition and guns were placed ready so as to be at hand in case of an
When all these precautions had been taken,--
"My friends," said Harding, and his voice betrayed some emotion, "if the
wretches endeavor to seize Lincoln Island, we shall defend it--shall we
"Yes, Cyrus," replied the reporter, "and if necessary we will die to
The engineer extended his hand to his companions, who pressed it warmly.
Ayrton remained in his corner, not joining the colonists. Perhaps he, the
former convict, still felt himself unworthy to do so!
Cyrus Harding understood what was passing in Ayrton's mind, and going to
"And you, Ayrton," he asked, "what will you do?"
"My duty," answered Ayrton.
He then took up his station near the window and gazed through the
It was now half-past seven. The sun had disappeared twenty minutes ago
behind Granite House. Consequently the Eastern horizon was becoming
obscured. In the meanwhile the brig continued to advance towards Union Bay.
She was now not more than two miles off, and exactly opposite the plateau
of Prospect Heights, for after having tacked off Claw Cape, she had drifted
towards the north in the current of the rising tide. One might have said
that at this distance she had already entered the vast bay, for a straight
line drawn from Claw Cape to Cape Mandible would have rested on her
Was the brig about to penetrate far into the bay? That was the first
question. When once in the bay, would she anchor there? That was the
second. Would she not content herself with only surveying the coast, and
stand out to sea again without landing her crew? They would know this in an
hour. The colonists could do nothing but wait.
Cyrus Harding had not seen the suspected vessel hoist the black flag
without deep anxiety. Was it not a direct menace against the work which he
and his companions had till now conducted so successfully? Had these
pirates--for the sailors of the brig could be nothing else--already visited
the island, since on approaching it they had hoisted their colors. Had they
formerly invaded it, so that certain unaccountable peculiarities might be
explained in this way? Did there exist in the as yet unexplored parts some
accomplice ready to enter into communication with them?
To all these questions which he mentally asked himself, Harding knew not
what to reply; but he felt that the safety of the colony could not but be
seriously threatened by the arrival of the brig.
However, he and his companions were determined to fight to the last gasp.
It would have been very important to know if the pirates were numerous and
better armed than the colonists. But how was this information to he
Night fell. The new moon had disappeared. Profound darkness enveloped the
island and the sea. No light could pierce through the heavy piles of clouds
on the horizon. The wind had died away completely with the twilight. Not a
leaf rustled on the trees, not a ripple murmured on the shore. Nothing
could be seen of the ship, all her lights being extinguished, and if she
was still in sight of the island, her whereabouts could not be discovered.
"Well! who knows?" said Pencroft. "Perhaps that cursed craft will stand
off during the night, and we shall see nothing of her at daybreak."
As if in reply to the sailor's observation, a bright light flashed in the
darkness, and a cannon-shot was heard.
The vessel was still there and had guns on board.
Six seconds elapsed between the flash and the report.
Therefore the brig was about a mile and a quarter from the coast.
At the same time, the chains were heard rattling through the hawse-holes.
The vessel had just anchored in sight of Granite House!
There was no longer any doubt as to the pirates' intentions. They had
dropped anchor at a short distance from the island, and it was evident that
the next day by means of their boats they purposed to land on the beach!
Cyrus Harding and his companions were ready to act, but, determined
though they were, they must not forget to be prudent. Perhaps their
presence might still be concealed in the event of the pirates contenting
themselves with landing on the shore without examining the interior of the
island. It might be, indeed, that their only intention was to obtain fresh
water from the Mercy, and it was not impossible that the bridge, thrown
across a mile and a half from the mouth, and the manufactory at the
Chimneys might escape their notice.
But why was that flag hoisted at the brig's peak? What was that shot
fired for? Pure bravado doubtless, unless it was a sign of the act of
taking possession. Harding knew now that the vessel was well armed. And
what had the colonists of Lincoln Island to reply to the pirates' guns? A
few muskets only.
"However," observed Cyrus Harding, "here we are in an impregnable
position. The enemy cannot discover the mouth of the outlet, now that it is
hidden under reeds and grass, and consequently it would be impossible for
them to penetrate into Granite House."
"But our plantations, our poultry-yard, our corral, all, everything!"
exclaimed Pencroft, stamping his foot. "They may spoil everything, destroy
everything in a few hours!"
"Everything, Pencroft," answered Harding, "and we have no means of
"Are they numerous? that is the question," said the reporter. "If they
are not more than a dozen, we shall be able to stop them, but forty, fifty,
"Captain Harding," then said Ayrton, advancing towards the engineer,
"will you give me leave?"
"For what, my friend?"
"To go to that vessel to find out the strength of her crew."
"But Ayrton--" answered the engineer, hesitating, "you will risk your
"Why not, sir?"
"That is more than your duty."
"I have more than my duty to do," replied Ayrton.
"Will you go to the ship in the boat?" asked Gideon Spilett.
"No, sir, but I will swim. A boat would be seen where a man may glide
between wind and water."
"Do you know that the brig is a mile and a quarter from the shore?" said
"I am a good swimmer, Mr. Herbert."
"I tell you it is risking your life," said the engineer.
"That is no matter," answered Ayrton. "Captain Harding, I ask this as a
favor. Perhaps it will be a means of raising me in my own eyes!"
"Go, Ayrton," replied the engineer, who felt sure that a refusal would
have deeply wounded the former convict, now become an honest man.
"I will accompany you," said Pencroft.
"You mistrust me!" said Ayrton quickly.
Then more humbly,--
"No! no!" exclaimed Harding with animation, "no, Ayrton, Pencroft does
not mistrust you. You interpret his words wrongly."
"Indeed," returned the sailor, "I only propose to accompany Ayrton as far
as the islet. It may be, although it is scarcely possible, that one of
these villains has landed, and in that case two men will not be too many to
hinder him from giving the alarm. I will wait for Ayrton on the islet, and
he shall go alone to the vessel, since he has proposed to do so." These
things agreed to, Ayrton made preparations for his departure. His plan was
bold, but it might succeed, thanks to the darkness of the night. Once
arrived at the vessel's side, Ayrton, holding on to the main chains, might
reconnoiter the number and perhaps overhear the intentions of the pirates.
Ayrton and Pencroft, followed by their companions, descended to the
beach. Ayrton undressed and rubbed himself with grease, so as to suffer
less from the temperature of the water, which was still cold. He might,
indeed, be obliged to remain in it for several hours.
Pencroft and Neb, during this time, had gone to fetch the boat, moored a
few hundred feet higher up, on the bank of the Mercy, and by the time they
returned, Ayrton was ready to start. A coat was thrown over his shoulders,
and the settlers all came round him to press his hand.
Ayrton then shoved off with Pencroft in the boat.
It was half-past ten in the evening when the two adventurers disappeared
in the darkness. Their companions returned to wait at the Chimneys.
The channel was easily traversed, and the boat touched the opposite shore
of the islet. This was not done without precaution, for fear lest the
pirates might be roaming about there. But after a careful survey, it was
evident that the islet was deserted. Ayrton then, followed by Pencroft,
crossed it with a rapid step, scaring the birds nestled in the holes of the
rocks; then, without hesitating, he plunged into the sea, and swam
noiselessly in the direction of the ship, in which a few lights had
recently appeared, showing her exact situation. As to Pencroft, he crouched
down in a cleft of the rock, and awaited the return of his companion.
In the meanwhile, Ayrton, swimming with a vigorous stroke, glided through
the sheet of water without producing the slightest ripple. His head just
emerged above it and his eyes were fixed on the dark hull of the brig, from
which the lights were reflected in the water. He thought only of the duty
which he had promised to accomplish, and nothing of the danger which he
ran, not only on board the ship, but in the sea, often frequented by
sharks. The current bore him along and he rapidly receded from the shore.
Half an hour afterwards, Ayrton, without having been either seen or
heard, arrived at the ship and caught hold of the main-chains. He took
breath, then, hoisting himself up, he managed to reach the extremity of the
cutwater. There were drying several pairs of sailors' trousers. He put on a
pair. Then settling himself firmly, he listened. They were not sleeping on
board the brig. On the contrary, they were talking, singing, laughing. And
these were the sentences, accompanied with oaths, which principally struck
"Our brig is a famous acquisition."
"She sails well, and merits her name of the 'Speedy.'"
"She would show all the navy of Norfolk a clean pair of heels."
"Hurrah for her captain!"
"Hurrah for Bob Harvey!"
What Ayrton felt when he overheard this fragment of conversation may be
understood when it is known that in this Bob Harvey he recognized one of
his old Australian companions, a daring sailor, who had continued his
criminal career. Bob Harvey had seized, on the shores of Norfolk Island
this brig, which was loaded with arms, ammunition, utensils, and tools of
all sorts, destined for one of the Sandwich Islands. All his gang had gone
on board, and pirates after having been convicts, these wretches, more
ferocious than the Malays themselves, scoured the Pacific, destroying
vessels, and massacring their crews.
The convicts spoke loudly, they recounted their deeds, drinking deeply at
the same time, and this is what Ayrton gathered. The actual crew of the
"Speedy" was composed solely of English prisoners, escaped from Norfolk
Here it may be well to explain what this island was. In 29deg 2' south
latitude, and 165deg 42' east longitude, to the east of Australia, is found
a little island, six miles in circumference, overlooked by Mount Pitt, which
rises to a height of 1,100 feet above the level of the sea. This is Norfolk
Island, once the seat of an establishment in which were lodged the most
intractable convicts from the English penitentiaries. They numbered 500,
under an iron discipline, threatened with terrible punishments, and were
guarded by 150 soldiers, and 150 employed under the orders of the governor.
It would be difficult to imagine a collection of greater ruffians.
Sometimes,--although very rarely,--notwithstanding the extreme surveillance
of which they were the object, many managed to escape, and seizing vessels
which they surprised, they infested the Polynesian Archipelagoes.
Thus had Bob Harvey and his companions done. Thus had Ayrton formerly
wished to do. Bob Harvey had seized the brig "Speedy," anchored in sight of
Norfolk Island; the crew had been massacred; and for a year this ship had
scoured the Pacific, under the command of Harvey, now a pirate, and well
known to Ayrton!
The convicts were, for the most part, assembled under the poop; but a
few, stretched on the deck, were talking loudly.
The conversation still continued amid shouts and libations. Ayrton
learned that chance alone had brought the "Speedy" in sight of Lincoln
Island; Bob Harvey had never yet set foot on it; but, as Cyrus Harding had
conjectured, finding this unknown land in his course, its position being
marked on no chart, he had formed the project of visiting it, and, if he
found it suitable, of making it the brig's headquarters.
As to the black flag hoisted at the "Speedy's" peak, and the gun which
had been fired, in imitation of men-of-war when they lower their colors, it
was pure piratical bravado. It was in no way a signal, and no communication
yet existed between the convicts and Lincoln Island.
The settlers' domain was now menaced with terrible danger. Evidently the
island, with its water, its harbor, its resources of all kinds so increased
in value by the colonists, and the concealment afforded by Granite House,
could not but be convenient for the convicts; in their hands it would
become an excellent place of refuge, and, being unknown, it would assure
them, for a long time perhaps, impunity and security. Evidently, also, the
lives of the settlers would not be respected, and Bob Harvey and his
accomplices' first care would be to massacre them without mercy. Harding
and his companions had, therefore, not even the choice of flying and hiding
themselves in the island, since the convicts intended to reside there, and
since, in the event of the "Speedy" departing on an expedition, it was
probable that some of the crew would remain on shore, so as to settle
themselves there. Therefore, it would be necessary to fight, to destroy
every one of these scoundrels, unworthy of pity, and against whom any means
would be right. So thought Ayrton, and he well knew that Cyrus Harding
would be of his way of thinking.
But was resistance and, in the last place, victory possible? That would
depend on the equipment of the brig, and the number of men which she
This Ayrton resolved to learn at any cost, and as an hour after his
arrival the vociferations had begun to die away, and as a large number of
the convicts were already buried in a drunken sleep, Ayrton did not
hesitate to venture onto the "Speedy's" deck, which the extinguished
lanterns now left in total darkness. He hoisted himself onto the cutwater,
and by the bowsprit arrived at the forecastle. Then, gliding among the
convicts stretched here and there, he made the round of the ship, and found
that the "Speedy" carried four guns, which would throw shot of from eight
to ten pounds in weight. He found also, on touching them that these guns
were breech-loaders. They were therefore, of modern make, easily used, and
of terrible effect.
As to the men lying on the deck, they were about ten in number, but it
was to be supposed that more were sleeping down below. Besides, by
listening to them, Ayrton had understood that there were fifty on board.
That was a large number for the six settlers of Lincoln Island to contend
with! But now, thanks to Ayrton's devotion, Cyrus Harding would not be
surprised, he would know the strength of his adversaries, and would make
his arrangements accordingly.
There was nothing more for Ayrton to do but to return, and render to his
companions an account of the mission with which he had charged himself, and
he prepared to regain the bows of the brig, so that he might let himself
down into the water. But to this man, whose wish was, as he had said, to do
more than his duty, there came an heroic thought. This was to sacrifice his
own life, but save the island and the colonists. Cyrus Harding evidently
could not resist fifty ruffians, all well armed, who, either by penetrating
by main force into Granite House, or by starving out the besieged, could
obtain from them what they wanted. And then he thought of his
preservers--those who had made him again a man, and an honest mm, those to
whom he owed all--murdered without pity, their works destroyed, their island
turned into a pirates' den! He said to himself that he, Ayrton, was the
principal cause of so many disasters, since his old companion, Bob Harvey,
had but realized his own plans, and a feeling of horror took possession of
him. Then he was seized with an irresistible desire to blow up the brig and
with her, all whom she had on board. He would perish in the explosion, but
he would have done his duty.
Ayrton did not hesitate. To reach the powder-room, which is always
situated in the after-part of a vessel, was easy. There would be no want of
powder in a vessel which followed such a trade, and a spark would be enough
to destroy it in an instant.
Ayrton stole carefully along the between-decks, strewn with numerous
sleepers, overcome more by drunkenness than sleep. A lantern was lighted
at the foot of the mainmast, round which was hung a gun-rack, furnished
with weapons of all sorts.
Ayrton took a revolver from the rack, and assured himself that it was
loaded and primed. Nothing more was needed to accomplish the work of
destruction. He then glided towards the stern, so as to arrive under the
brig's poop at the powder-magazine.
It was difficult to proceed along the dimly lighted deck without
stumbling over some half-sleeping convict, who retorted by oaths and kicks.
Ayrton was, therefore, more than once obliged to halt. But at last he
arrived at the partition dividing the aftercabin, and found the door
opening into the magazine itself.
Ayrton, compelled to force it open, set to work. It was a difficult
operation to perform without noise, for he had to break a padlock. But
under his vigorous hand, the padlock broke, and the door was open.
At that moment a hand was laid on Ayrton's shoulder.
"What are you doing here?" asked a tail man, in a harsh voice, who,
standing in the shadow, quickly threw the light of a lantern in Ayrton's
Ayrton drew beck. In the rapid flash of the lantern, he had recognized
his former accomplice, Bob Harvey, who could not have known him, as he must
have thought Ayrton long since dead.
"What are you doing here?" again said Bob Harvey, seizing Ayrton by the
But Ayrton, without replying, wrenched himself from his grasp and
attempted to rush into the magazine. A shot fired into the midst of the
powder-casks, and all would be over!
"Help, lads!" shouted Bob Harvey.
At his shout two or three pirates awoke, jumped up, and, rushing on
Ayrton, endeavored to throw him down. He soon extricated himself from their
grasp. He fired his revolver, and two of the convicts fell, but a blow from
a knife which he could not ward off made a gash in his shoulder.
Ayrton perceived that he could no longer hope to carry out his project.
Bob Harvey had reclosed the door of the powder-magazine, and a movement on
the deck indicated a general awakening of the pirates. Ayrton must reserve
himself to fight at the side of Cyrus Harding. There was nothing for him
But was flight still possible? It was doubtful, yet Ayrton resolved to
dare everything in order to rejoin his companions.
Four barrels of the revolver were still undischarged. Two were fired--
one, aimed at Bob Harvey, did not wound him, or at any rate only slightly,
and Ayrton, profiting by the momentary retreat of his adversaries, rushed
towards the companion-ladder to gain the deck. Passing before the lantern,
he smashed it with a blow from the butt of his revolver. A profound
darkness ensued, which favored his flight. Two or three pirates, awakened
by the noise, were descending the ladder at the same moment.
A fifth shot from Ayrton laid one low, and the others drew back, not
understanding what was going on. Ayrton was on deck in two bounds, and
three seconds later, having discharged his last barrel in the face of a
pirate who was about to seize him by the throat, he leaped over the
bulwarks into the sea.
Ayrton had not made six strokes before shots were splashing around him
What were Pencroft's feelings, sheltered under a rock on the islet! What
were those of Harding, the reporter, Herbert, and Neb, crouched in the
Chimneys, when they heard the reports on board the brig! They rushed out on
to the beach, and, their guns shouldered, they stood ready to repel any
They had no doubt about it themselves! Ayrton, surprised by the pirates,
had been murdered, and, perhaps, the wretches would profit by the night to
make a descent on the island!
Half an hour was passed in terrible anxiety. The firing had ceased, and
yet neither Ayrton nor Pencroft had reappeared. Was the islet invaded?
Ought they not to fly to the help of Ayrton and Pencroft? But how? The tide
being high at that time, rendered the channel impassable. The boat was not
there! We may imagine the horrible anxiety which took possession of Harding
and his companions!
At last, towards half-past twelve, a boat, carrying two men, touched the
beach. It was Ayrton, slightly wounded in the shoulder, and Pencroft, safe
and sound, whom their friends received with open arms.
All immediately took refuge in the Chimneys. There Ayrton recounted all
that had passed, even to his plan for blowing up the brig, which he had
attempted to put into execution.
All hands were extended to Ayrton, who did not conceal from them that
their situation was serious. The pirates had been alarmed. They knew that
Lincoln Island was inhabited. They would land upon it in numbers and well
armed. They would respect nothing. Should the settlers fall into their
hands, they must expect no mercy!
"Well, we shall know how to die!" said the reporter.
"Let us go in and watch," answered the engineer.
"Have we any chance of escape, captain?" asked the sailor.
"Hum! six against fifty!"
"Yes! six! without counting--"
"Who?" asked Pencroft.
Cyrus did not reply, but pointed upwards.
The night passed without incident. The colonists were on the qui vive, and
did not leave their post at the Chimneys. The pirates, on their side, did
not appear to have made any attempt to land. Since the last shots fired at
Ayrton not a report, not even a sound, had betrayed the presence of the
brig in the neighborhood of the island. It might have been fancied that she
had weighed anchor, thinking that she had to deal with her match, and had
left the coast.
But it was no such thing, and when day began to dawn the settlers could
see a confused mass through the morning mist. It was the "Speedy."
"These, my friends," said the engineer, "are the arrangements which
appear to me best to make before the fog completely clears away. It hides
us from the eyes of the pirates, and we can act without attracting their
attention. The most important thing is, that the convicts should believe
that the inhabitants of the island are numerous, and consequently capable
of resisting them. I therefore propose that we divide into three parties.
The first of which shall be posted at the Chimneys, the second at the mouth
of the Mercy. As to the third, I think it would be best to place it on the
islet, so as to prevent, or at all events delay, any attempt at landing. We
have the use of two rifles and four muskets. Each of us will be armed, and,
as we are amply provided with powder and shot, we need not spare our fire.
We have nothing to fear from the muskets nor even from the guns of the
brig. What can they do against these rocks? And, as we shall not fire from
the windows of Granite House, the pirates will not think of causing
irreparable damage by throwing shell against it. What is to be feared is,
the necessity of meeting hand-to-hand, since the convicts have numbers on
their side. We must therefore try to prevent them from landing, but without
discovering ourselves. Therefore, do not economize the ammunition. Fire
often, but with a sure aim. We have each eight or ten enemies to kill, and
they must be killed!"
Cyrus Harding had clearly represented their situation, although he spoke
in the calmest voice, as if it was a question of directing a piece of work
and not ordering a battle. His companions approved these arrangements
without even uttering a word. There was nothing more to be done but for
each to take his place before the fog should be completely dissipated. Neb
and Pencroft immediately ascended to Granite House and brought back a
sufficient quantity of ammunition. Gideon Spilett and Ayrton, both very
good marksmen, were armed with the two rifles, which carried nearly a mile.
The four other muskets were divided among Harding, Neb, Pencroft, and