Part 9 out of 12
The posts were arranged in the following manner:--
Cyrus Harding and Herbert remained in ambush at the Chimneys, thus
commanding the shore to the foot of Granite House.
Gideon Spilett and Neb crouched among the rocks at the mouth of the
Mercy, from which the drawbridges had been raised, so as to prevent any one
from crossing in a boat or landing on the opposite shore.
As to Ayrton and Pencroft, they shoved off in the boat, and prepared to
cross the channel and to take up two separate stations on the islet. In
this way, shots being fired from four different points at once, the
convicts would be led to believe that the island was both largely peopled
and strongly defended.
In the event of a landing being effected without their having been able
to prevent it, and also if they saw that they were on the point of being
cut off by the brig's boat, Ayrton and Pencroft were to return in their
boat to the shore and proceed towards the threatened spot.
Before starting to occupy their posts, the colonists for the last time
wrung each other's hands.
Pencroft succeeded in controlling himself sufficiently to suppress his
emotion when he embraced Herbert, his boy! and then they separated.
In a few moments Harding and Herbert on one side, the reporter and Neb on
the other, had disappeared behind the rocks, and five minutes later Ayrton
and Pencroft, having without difficulty crossed the channel, disembarked on
the islet and concealed themselves in the clefts of its eastern shore.
None of them could have been seen, for they themselves could scarcely
distinguish the brig in the fog.
It was half-past six in the morning.
Soon the fog began to clear away, and the topmasts of the brig issued
from the vapor. For some minutes great masses rolled over the surface of
the sea, then a breeze sprang up, which rapidly dispelled the mist.
The "Speedy" now appeared in full view, with a spring on her cable, her
head to the north, presenting her larboard side to the island. Just as
Harding had calculated, she was not more than a mile and a quarter from the
The sinister black flag floated from the peak.
The engineer, with his telescope, could see that the four guns on board
were pointed at the island. They were evidently ready to fire at a moment's
In the meanwhile the "Speedy" remained silent. About thirty pirates could
be seen moving on the deck. A few more on the poop; two others posted in
the shrouds, and armed with spyglasses, were attentively surveying the
Certainly, Bob Harvey and his crew would not be able easily to give an
account of what had happened during the night on board the brig. Had this
half-naked man, who had forced the door of the powder-magazine, and with
whom they had struggled, who had six times discharged his revolver at them,
who had killed one and wounded two others, escaped their shot? Had he been
able to swim to shore? Whence did he come? What had been his object? Had
his design really been to blow up the brig, as Bob Harvey had thought? All
this must be confused enough to the convicts' minds. But what they could no
longer doubt was that the unknown island before which the "Speedy" had cast
anchor was inhabited, and that there was, perhaps, a numerous colony ready
to defend it. And yet no one was to be seen, neither on the shore, nor on
the heights. The beach appeared to be absolutely deserted. At any rate,
there was no trace of dwellings. Had the inhabitants fled into the
interior? Thus probably the pirate captain reasoned, and doubtless, like a
prudent man, he wished to reconnoiter the locality before he allowed his
men to venture there.
During an hour and a half, no indication of attack or landing could be
observed on board the brig. Evidently Bob Harvey was hesitating. Even with
his strongest telescopes he could not have perceived one of the settlers
crouched among the rocks. It was not even probable that his attention had
been awakened by the screen of green branches and creepers hiding the
windows of Granite House, and showing rather conspicuously on the bare
rock. Indeed, how could he imagine that a dwelling was hollowed out, at
that height, in the solid granite? From Claw Cape to the Mandible Capes, in
all the extent of Union Bay, there was nothing to lead him to suppose that
the island was or could be inhabited.
At eight o'clock, however, the colonists observed a movement on board the
"Speedy." A boat was lowered, and seven men jumped into her. They were
armed with muskets; one took the yoke-lines, four others the oars, and the
two others, kneeling in the bows, ready to fire, reconnoitered the island.
Their object was no doubt to make an examination but not to land, for in
the latter case they would have come in larger numbers. The pirates from
their look-out could have seen that the coast was sheltered by an islet,
separated from it by a channel half a mile in width. However, it was soon
evident to Cyrus Harding, on observing the direction followed by the boat,
that they would not attempt to penetrate into the channel, but would land
on the islet.
Pencroft and Ayrton, each hidden in a narrow cleft of the rock, saw them
coming directly towards them, and waited till they were within range.
The boat advanced with extreme caution. The oars only dipped into the
water at long intervals. It could now be seen that one of the convicts held
a lead-line in his hand, and that he wished to fathom the depth of the
channel hollowed out by the current of the Mercy. This showed that it was
Bob Harvey's intention to bring his brig as near as possible to the coast.
About thirty pirates, scattered in the rigging, followed every movement of
the boat, and took the bearings of certain landmarks which would allow them
to approach without danger. The boat was not more than two cables-lengths
off the islet when she stopped. The man at the tiller stood up and looked
for the best place at which to land.
At that moment two shots were heard. Smoke curled up from among the rocks
of the islet. The man at the helm and the man with the lead-line fell
backwards into the boat. Ayrton's and Pencroft's balls had struck them both
at the same moment.
Almost immediately a louder report was heard, a cloud of smoke issued
from the brig's side, and a ball, striking the summit of the rock which
sheltered Ayrton and Pencroft, made it fly in splinters, but the two
marksmen remained unhurt.
Horrible imprecations burst from the boat, which immediately continued
its way. The man who had been at the tiller was replaced by one of his
comrades, and the oars were rapidly plunged into the water. However,
instead of returning on board as might have been expected, the boat coasted
along the islet, so as to round its southern point. The pirates pulled
vigorously at their oars that they might get out of range of the bullets.
They advanced to within five cables-lengths of that part of the shore
terminated by Flotsam Point, and after having rounded it in a semicircular
line, still protected by the brig's guns, they proceeded towards the mouth
of the Mercy.
Their evident intention was to penetrate into the channel, and cut off
the colonists posted on the islet, in such a way, that whatever their
number might be, being placed between the fire from the boat and the fire
from the brig, they would find themselves in a very disadvantageous
A quarter of an hour passed while the boat advanced in this direction.
Absolute silence, perfect calm reigned in the air and on the water.
Pencroft and Ayrton, although they knew they ran the risk of being cut
off, had not left their post, both that they did not wish to show
themselves as yet to their assailants, and expose themselves to the
"Speedy's" guns, and that they relied on Neb and Gideon Spilett, watching
at the mouth of the river, and on Cyrus Harding and Herbert, in ambush
among the rocks at the Chimneys.
Twenty minutes after the first shots were fired, the boat was less than
two cables-lengths off the Mercy. As the tide was beginning to rise with
its accustomed violence, caused by the narrowness of the straits, the
pirates were drawn towards the river, and it was only by dint of hard
rowing that they were able to keep in the middle of the channel. But, as
they were passing within good range of the mouth of the Mercy, two balls
saluted them, and two more of their number were laid in the bottom of the
boat. Neb and Spilett had not missed their aim.
The brig immediately sent a second ball on the post betrayed by the
smoke, but without any other result than that of splintering the rock.
The boat now contained only three able men. Carried on by the current, it
shot through the channel with the rapidity of an arrow, passed before
Harding and Herbert, who, not thinking it within range, withheld their
fire, then, rounding the northern point of the islet with the two remaining
oars, they pulled towards the brig.
Hitherto the settlers had nothing to complain of. Their adversaries had
certainly had the worst of it. The latter already counted four men
seriously wounded if not dead; they, on the contrary, unwounded, had not
missed a shot. If the pirates continued to attack them in this way, if they
renewed their attempt to land by means of a boat, they could be destroyed
one by one.
It was now seen how advantageous the engineer's arrangements had been.
The pirates would think that they had to deal with numerous and well-armed
adversaries, whom they could not easily get the better of.
Half an hour passed before the boat, having to pull against the current,
could get alongside the "Speedy." Frightful cries were heard when they
returned on board with the wounded, and two or three guns were fired with
But now about a dozen other convicts, maddened with rage, and possibly by
the effect of the evening's potations, threw themselves into the boat. A
second boat was also lowered, in which eight men took their places, and
while the first pulled straight for the islet, to dislodge the colonists
from thence the second maneuvered so as to force the entrance of the Mercy.
The situation was evidently becoming very dangerous for Pencroft and
Ayrton, and they saw that they must regain the mainland.
However, they waited till the first boat was within range, when two well-
directed balls threw its crew into disorder. Then, Pencroft and Ayrton,
abandoning their posts, under fire from the dozen muskets, ran across the
islet at full speed, jumped into their boat, crossed the channel at the
moment the second boat reached the southern end, and ran to hide themselves
in the Chimneys.
They had scarcely rejoined Cyrus Harding and Herbert, before the islet
was overrun with pirates in every direction. Almost at the same moment,
fresh reports resounded from the Mercy station, to which the second boat
was rapidly approaching. Two, out of the eight men who manned her, were
mortally wounded by Gideon Spilett and Neb, and the boat herself, carried
irresistibly onto the reefs, was stove in at the mouth of the Mercy. But
the six survivors, holding their muskets above their heads to preserve them
from contact with the water, managed to land on the right bank of the
river. Then, finding they were exposed to the fire of the ambush there,
they fled in the direction of Flotsam Point, out of range of the balls.
The actual situation was this: on the islet were a dozen convicts, of
whom some were no doubt wounded, but who had still a boat at their
disposal; on the island were six, but who could not by any possibility
reach Granite House, as they could not cross the river, all the bridges
"Hallo," exclaimed Pencroft as he rushed into the Chimneys, "hallo,
captain! What do you think of it, now?"
"I think," answered the engineer, "that the combat will now take a new
form, for it cannot be supposed that the convicts will be so foolish as to
remain in a position so unfavorable for them!"
"They won't cross the channel," said the sailor. "Ayrton and Mr.
Spilett's rifles are there to prevent them. You know that they carry more
than a mile!"
"No doubt," replied Herbert; "but what can two rifles do against the
"Well, the brig isn't in the channel yet, I fancy!" said Pencroft.
"But suppose she does come there?" said Harding.
"That's impossible, for she would risk running aground and being lost!"
"It is possible," said Ayrton. "The convicts might profit by the high
tide to enter the channel, with the risk of grounding at low tide, it is
true; but then, under the fire from her guns, our posts would be no longer
"Confound them!" exclaimed Pencroft, "it really seems as if the
blackguards were preparing to weigh anchor."
"Perhaps we shall be obliged to take refuge in Granite House!" observed
"We must wait!" answered Cyrus Harding.
"But Mr. Spilett and Neb?" said Pencroft.
"They will know when it is best to rejoin us. Be ready, Ayrton. It is
yours and Spilett's rifles which must speak now."
It was only too true. The "Speedy" was beginning to weigh her anchor, and
her intention was evidently to approach the islet. The tide would be rising
for an hour and a half, and the ebb current being already weakened, it
would be easy for the brig to advance. But as to entering the channel,
Pencroft, contrary to Ayrton's opinion, could not believe that she would
dare to attempt it.
In the meanwhile, the pirates who occupied the islet had gradually
advanced to the opposite shore, and were now only separated from the
mainland by the channel.
Being armed with muskets alone, they could do no harm to the settlers, in
ambush at the Chimneys and the mouth of the Mercy; but, not knowing the
latter to be supplied with long-range rifles, they on their side did not
believe themselves to be exposed. Quite uncovered, therefore, they surveyed
the islet, and examined the shore.
Their illusion was of short duration. Ayrton's and Gideon Spilett's
rifles then spoke, and no doubt imparted some very disagreeable
intelligence to two of the convicts, for they fell backwards.
Then there was a general helter-skelter. The ten others, not even
stopping to pick up their dead or wounded companions, fled to the other
side of the islet, tumbled into the boat which had brought them, and pulled
away with all their strength.
"Eight less!" exclaimed Pencroft. "Really, one would have thought that
Mr. Spilett and Ayrton had given the word to fire together!"
"Gentlemen," said Ayrton, as he reloaded his gun, "this is becoming more
serious. The brig is making sail!"
"The anchor is weighed!" exclaimed Pencroft.
"Yes, and she is already moving."
In fact, they could distinctly hear the creaking of the windlass. The
"Speedy" was at first held by her anchor; then, when that had been raised,
she began to drift towards the shore. The wind was blowing from the sea;
the jib and the foretopsail were hoisted, and the vessel gradually
approached the island.
From the two posts of the Mercy and the Chimneys they watched her without
giving a sign of life, but not without some emotion. What could be more
terrible for the colonists than to be exposed, at a short distance, to the
brig's guns, without being able to reply with any effect? How could they
then prevent the pirates from landing?
Cyrus Harding felt this strongly, and he asked himself what it would be
possible to do. Before long, he would be called upon for his determination.
But what was it to be? To shut themselves up in Granite House, to be
besieged there, to remain there for weeks, for months even, since they had
an abundance of provisions? So far good! But after that? The pirates would
not the less be masters of the island, which they would ravage at their
pleasure, and in time, they would end by having their revenge on the
prisoners in Granite House.
However, one chance yet remained; it was that Bob Harvey, after all,
would not venture his ship into the channel, and that he would keep outside
the islet. He would be still separated from the coast by half a mile, and
at that distance his shot could not be very destructive.
"Never!" repeated Pencroft, "Bob Harvey will never, if he is a good
seaman, enter that channel! He knows well that it would risk the brig, if
the sea got up ever so little! And what would become of him without his
In the meanwhile the brig approached the islet, and it could be seen that
she was endeavoring to make the lower end. The breeze was light, and as the
current had then lost much of its force, Bob Harvey had absolute command
over his vessel.
The route previously followed by the boats had allowed her to reconnoiter
the channel, and she boldly entered it.
The pirate's design was now only too evident; he wished to bring her
broadside to bear on the Chimneys and from there to reply with shell and
ball to the shot which had till then decimated her crew.
Soon the "Speedy" reached the point of the islet; she rounded it with
ease; the mainsail was braced up, and the brig hugging the wind, stood
across the mouth of the Mercy.
"The scoundrels! they are coming!" said Pencroft.
At that moment, Cyrus Harding, Ayrton, the sailor, and Herbert, were
rejoined by Neb and Gideon Spilett.
The reporter and his companion had judged it best to abandon the post at
the Mercy, from which they could do nothing against the ship, and they had
acted wisely. It was better that the colonists should be together at the
moment when they were about to engage in a decisive action. Gideon Spilett
and Neb had arrived by dodging behind the rocks, though not without
attracting a shower of bullets, which had not, however, reached them.
"Spilett! Neb!" cried the engineer. "You are not wounded?"
"No," answered the reporter, "a few bruises only from the ricochet! But
that cursed brig has entered the channel!"
"Yes," replied Pencroft, "and in ten minutes she will have anchored
before Granite House!"
"Have you formed any plan, Cyrus?" asked the reporter.
"We must take refuge in Granite House while there is still time, and the
convicts cannot see us."
"That is, my opinion, too," replied Gideon Spilett, "but once shut up--"
"We must be guided by circumstances," said the engineer.
"Let us be off, then, and make haste!" said the reporter.
"Would you not wish, captain, that Ayrton and I should remain here?"
asked the sailor.
"What would be the use of that, Pencroft?" replied Harding. "No. We will
There was not a moment to be lost. The colonists left the Chimneys. A
bend of the cliff prevented them from being seen by those in the brig, but
two or three reports, and the crash of bullets on the rock, told them that
the "Speedy" was at no great distance.
To spring into the lift, hoist themselves up to the door of Granite
House, where Top and Jup had been shut up since the evening before, to rush
into the large room, was the work of a minute only.
It was quite time, for the settlers, through the branches, could see the
"Speedy," surrounded with smoke, gliding up the channel. The firing was
incessant, and shot from the four guns struck blindly, both on the Mercy
post, although it was not occupied, and on the Chimneys. The rocks were
splintered, and cheers accompanied each discharge. However, they were
hoping that Granite House would be spared, thanks to Harding's precaution
of concealing the windows when a shot, piercing the door, penetrated into
"We are discovered!" exclaimed Pencroft.
The colonists had not, perhaps, been seen, but it was certain that Bob
Harvey had thought proper to send a ball through the suspected foliage
which concealed that part of the cliff. Soon he redoubled his attack, when
another ball having torn away the leafy screen, disclosed a gaping aperture
in the granite.
The colonists' situation was desperate. Their retreat was discovered.
They could not oppose any obstacle to these missiles, nor protect the
stone, which flew in splinters around them. There was nothing to be done
but to take refuge in the upper passage of Granite House, and leave their
dwelling to be devastated, when a deep roar was heard, followed by
Cyrus Harding and his companions rushed to one of the windows--
The brig, irresistibly raised on a sort of water-spout, had just split in
two, and in less than ten seconds she was swallowed up with all her
"She has blown up!" cried Herbert.
"Yes! blown up, just as if Ayrton had set fire to the powder!" returned
Pencroft, throwing himself into the lift together with Neb and the lad.
"But what has happened?" asked Gideon Spilett, quite stunned by this
"Oh! this time, we shall know--" answered the engineer quickly.
"What shall we know?--"
"Later! later! Come, Spilett. The main point is that these pirates have
And Cyrus Harding, hurrying away the reporter and Ayrton, joined
Pencroft, Neb, and Herbert on the beach.
Nothing could be seen of the brig, not even her masts. After having been
raised by the water-spout, she had fallen on her side, and had sunk in that
position, doubtless in consequence of some enormous leak. But as in that
place the channel was not more than twenty feet in depth, it was certain
that the sides of the submerged brig would reappear at low water.
A few things from the wreck floated on the surface of the water, a raft
could be seen consisting of spare spars, coops of poultry with their
occupants still living, boxes and barrels, which gradually came to the
surface, after having escaped through the hatchways, but no pieces of the
wreck appeared, neither planks from the deck, nor timber from the hull,--
which rendered the sudden disappearance of the "Speedy" perfectly
However, the two masts, which had been broken and escaped from the
shrouds and stays came up, and with their sails, some furled and the others
spread. But it was not necessary to wait for the tide to bring up these
riches, and Ayrton and Pencroft jumped into the boat with the intention of
towing the pieces of wreck either to the beach or to the islet. But just as
they were shoving off, an observation from Gideon Spilett arrested them.
"What about those six convicts who disembarked on the right bank of the
Mercy?" said he.
In fact, it would not do to forget that the six men whose boat had gone
to pieces on the rocks had landed at Flotsam Point.
They looked in that direction. None of the fugitives were visible. It was
probable that, having seen their vessel engulfed in the channel, they had
fled into the interior of the island.
"We will deal with them later," said Harding. "As they are armed, they
will still be dangerous; but as it is six against six, the chances are
equal. To the most pressing business first."
Ayrton and Pencroft pulled vigorously towards the wreck.
The sea was calm and the tide very high, as there had been a new moon but
two days before. A whole hour at least would elapse before the hull of the
brig could emerge from the water of the channel.
Ayrton and Pencroft were able to fasten the masts and spars by means of
ropes, the ends of which were carried to the beach. There, by the united
efforts of the settlers the pieces of wreck were hauled up. Then the boat
picked up all that was floating, coops, barrels, and boxes, which were
immediately carried to the Chimneys.
Several bodies floated also. Among them, Ayrton recognized that of Bob
Harvey, which he pointed out to his companion, saying with some emotion,--
"That is what I have been, Pencroft."
"But what you are no longer, brave Ayrton!" returned the sailor warmly.
It was singular enough that so few bodies floated. Only five or six were
counted, which were already being carried by the current towards the open
sea. Very probably the convicts had not had time to escape, and the ship
lying over on her side, the greater number of them had remained below. Now
the current, by carrying the bodies of these miserable men out to sea,
would spare the colonists the sad task of burying them in some corner of
For two hours, Cyrus Harding and his companions were solely occupied in
hauling up the spars on to the sand, and then in spreading the sails which
were perfectly uninjured, to dry. They spoke little, for they were absorbed
in their work, but what thoughts occupied their minds!
The possession of this brig, or rather all that she contained, was a
perfect mine of wealth. In fact, a ship is like a little world in
miniature, and the stores of the colony would be increased by a large
number of useful articles. It would be, on a large scale, equivalent to the
chest found at Flotsam Point.
"And besides," thought Pencroft, "why should it be impossible to refloat
the brig? If she has only a leak, that may be stopped up; a vessel from
three to four hundred tons, why she is a regular ship compared to our
'Bonadventure'! And we could go a long distance in her! We could go
anywhere we liked! Captain Harding, Ayrton and I must examine her! She
would be well worth the trouble!"
In fact, if the brig was still fit to navigate, the colonists' chances of
returning to their native land were singularly increased. But, to decide
this important question, it was necessary to wait until the tide was quite
low, so that every part of the brig's hull might be examined.
When their treasures had been safely conveyed on shore, Harding and his
companions agreed to devote some minutes to breakfast. They were almost
famished; fortunately, the larder was not far off, and Neb was noted for
being an expeditious cook. They breakfasted, therefore, near the Chimneys,
and during their repast, as may be supposed, nothing was talked of but the
event which had so miraculously saved the colony.
"Miraculous is the word," repeated Pencroft, "for it must be acknowledged
that those rascals blew up just at the right moment! Granite House was
beginning to be uncomfortable as a habitation!"
"And can you guess, Pencroft," asked the reporter, "how it happened, or
what can have occasioned the explosion?"
"Oh! Mr. Spilett, nothing is more simple," answered Pencroft. "A convict
vessel is not disciplined like a man-of-war! Convicts are not sailors. Of
course the powder-magazine was open, and as they were firing incessantly,
some careless or clumsy fellow just blew up the vessel!"
"Captain Harding," said Herbert, "what astonishes me is that the
explosion has not produced more effect. The report was not loud, and
besides there are so few planks and timbers torn out. It seems as if the
ship had rather foundered than blown up."
"Does that astonish you, my boy?" asked the engineer.
"And it astonishes me also, Herbert," replied he, "but when we visit the
hull of the brig, we shall no doubt find the explanation of the matter."
"Why, captain," said Pencroft, "you don't suppose that the 'Speedy'
simply foundered like a ship which has struck on a rock?"
"Why not," observed Neb, "if there are rocks in the channel?"
"Nonsense, Neb," answered Pencroft, "you did not look at the right
moment. An instant before she sank, the brig, as I saw perfectly well, rose
on an enormous wave, and fell back on her larboard side. Now, if she had
only struck, she would have sunk quietly and gone to the bottom like an
"It was just because she was not an honest vessel!" returned Neb.
"Well, we shall soon see, Pencroft," said the engineer.
"We shall soon see," rejoined the sailor, "but I would wager my head
there are no rocks in the channel. Look here, captain, to speak candidly,
do you mean to say that there is anything marvelous in the occurrence?"
Cyrus Harding did not answer.
"At any rate," said Gideon Spilett, "whether rock or explosion, you will
agree, Pencroft, that it occurred just in the nick of time!"
"Yes! yes!" replied the sailor, "but that is not the question. I ask
Captain Harding if he sees anything supernatural in all this."
"I cannot say, Pencroft," said the engineer. "That is all the answer I
A reply which did not satisfy Pencroft at all. He stuck to "an
explosion," and did not wish to give it up. He would never consent to admit
that in that channel, with its fine sandy bed, just like the beach, which
he had often crossed at low water, there could be an unknown rock.
And besides, at the time the brig foundered, it was high water, that is
to say, there was enough water to carry the vessel clear over any rocks
which would not be uncovered at low tide. Therefore, there could not have
been a collision. Therefore, the vessel had not struck. So she had blown
And it must be confessed that the sailor's arguments were reasonable.
Towards half-past one, the colonists embarked in the boat to visit the
wreck. It was to be regretted that the brig's two boats had not been saved;
but one, as has been said, had gone to pieces at the mouth of the Mercy,
and was absolutely useless; the other had disappeared when the brig went
down, and had not again been seen, having doubtless been crushed.
The hull of the "Speedy" was just beginning to issue from the water. The
brig was lying right over on her side, for her masts being broken, pressed
down by the weight of the ballast displaced by the shock, the keel was
visible along her whole length. She had been regularly turned over by the
inexplicable but frightful submarine action, which had been at the same
time manifested by an enormous water-spout.
The settlers rowed round the hull, and in proportion as the tide went
down, they could ascertain, if not the cause which had occasioned the
catastrophe, at least the effect produced.
Towards the bows, on both sides of the keel, seven or eight feet from the
beginning of the stem, the sides of the brig were frightfully torn. Over a
length of at least twenty feet there opened two large leaks, which would be
impossible to stop up. Not only had the copper sheathing and the planks
disappeared, reduced, no doubt, to powder, but also the ribs, the iron
bolts, and treenalls which united them. From the entire length of the hull
to the stern the false keel had been separated with an unaccountable
violence, and the keel itself, torn from the carline in several places, was
split in all its length.
"I've a notion!" exclaimed Pencroft, "that this vessel will be difficult
to get afloat again."
"It will be impossible," said Ayrton.
"At any rate," observed Gideon Spilett to the sailor, "the explosion, if
there has been one, has produced singular effects! It has split the lower
part of the hull, instead of blowing up the deck and topsides! These great
rents appear rather to have been made by a rock than by the explosion of a
"There is not a rock in the channel!" answered the sailor. "I will admit
anything you like, except the rock."
"Let us try to penetrate into the interior of the brig," said the
engineer; "perhaps we shall then know what to think of the cause of her
This was the best thing to be done, and it was agreed, besides, to take
an inventory of all the treasures on board, and to arrange their
Access to the interior of the brig was now easy. The tide was still going
down and the deck was practicable. The ballast, composed of heavy masses of
iron, had broken through in several places. The noise of the sea could be
heard as it rushed out at the holes in the hull.
Cyrus Harding and his companions, hatchets in hand, advanced along the
shattered deck. Cases of all sorts encumbered it, and, as they had been but
a very short time in the water, their contents were perhaps uninjured.
They then busied themselves in placing all this cargo in safety. The
water would not return for several hours, and these hours must be employed
in the most profitable way. Ayrton and Pencroft had, at the entrance made
in the hull, discovered tackle, which would serve to hoist up the barrels
and chests. The boat received them and transported them to the shore. They
took the articles as they came, intending to sort them afterwards.
At any rate, the settlers saw at once, with extreme satisfaction, that
the brig possessed a very varied cargo--an assortment of all sorts of
articles, utensils, manufactured goods, and tools--such as the ships which
make the great coasting-trade of Polynesia are usually laden with. It was
probable that they would find a little of everything, and they agreed that
it was exactly what was necessary for the colony of Lincoln Island.
However--and Cyrus Harding observed it in silent astonishment--not only, as
has been said, had the hull of the brig enormously suffered from the shock,
whatever it was, that had occasioned the catastrophe, but the interior
arrangements had been destroyed, especially towards the bows. Partitions
and stanchions were smashed, as if some tremendous shell had burst in the
interior of the brig. The colonists could easily go fore and aft, after
having removed the cases as they were extricated. They were not heavy
bales, which would have been difficult to remove, but simple packages, of
which the stowage, besides, was no longer recognizable.
The colonists then reached the stern of the brig--the part formerly
surmounted by the poop. It was there that, following Ayrton's directions,
they must look for the powder-magazine. Cyrus Harding thought that it had
not exploded; that it was possible some barrels might be saved, and that
the powder, which is usually enclosed in metal coverings might not have
suffered from contact with the water.
This, in fact, was just what had happened. They extricated from among a
large number of shot twenty barrels, the insides of which were lined with
copper. Pencroft was convinced by the evidence of his own eyes that the
destruction of the "Speedy" could not be attributed to an explosion. That
part of the hull in which the magazine was situated was, moreover, that
which had suffered least.
"It may be so," said the obstinate sailor; "but as to a rock, there is
not one in the channel!"
"Then, how did it happen?" asked Herbert.
"I don't know," answered Pencroft, "Captain Harding doesn't know, and
nobody knows or ever will know!"
Several hours had passed during these researches, and the tide began to
flow. Work must be suspended for the present. There was no fear of the brig
being carried away by the sea, for she was already fixed as firmly as if
moored by her anchors.
They could, therefore, without inconvenience, wait until the next day to
resume operations; but, as to the vessel itself, she was doomed, and it
would be best to hasten to save the remains of her hull, as she would not
be long in disappearing in the quicksands of the channel.
It was now five o'clock in the evening. It had been a hard day's work for
the men. They ate with good appetite, and notwithstanding their fatigue,
they could not resist, after dinner, their desire of inspecting the cases
which composed the cargo of the "Speedy."
Most of them contained clothes, which, as may be believed, was well
received. There were enough to clothe a whole colony--linen for every one's
use, shoes for every one's feet.
"We are too rich!" exclaimed Pencroft, "But what are we going to do with
And every moment burst forth the hurrahs of the delighted sailor when he
caught sight of the barrels of gunpowder, firearms and sidearms, balls of
cotton, implements of husbandry, carpenter's, joiner's, and blacksmith's
tools, and boxes of all kinds of seeds, not in the least injured by their
short sojourn in the water. Ah, two years before, how these things would
have been prized! And now, even though the industrious colonists had
provided themselves with tools, these treasures would find their use.
There was no want of space in the store-rooms of Granite House, but that
daytime would not allow them to stow away the whole. It would not do also
to forget that the six survivors of the "Speedy's" crew had landed on the
island, for they were in all probability scoundrels of the deepest dye, and
it was necessary that the colonists should be on their guard against them.
Although the bridges over the Mercy were raised, the convicts would not be
stopped by a river or a stream and, rendered desperate, these wretches
would be capable of anything.
They would see later what plan it would be best to follow; but in the
meantime it was necessary to mount guard over cases and packages heaped up
near the Chimneys, and thus the settlers employed themselves in turn during
The morning came, however, without the convicts having attempted any
attack. Master Jup and Top, on guard at the foot of Granite House, would
have quickly given the alarm. The three following day--the 19th, 20th, and
21st of October--were employed in saving everything of value, or of any use
whatever, either from the cargo or rigging of the brig. At low tide they
overhauled the hold--at high tide they stowed away the rescued articles. A
great part of the copper sheathing had been torn from the hull, which every
day sank lower. But before the sand had swallowed the heavy things which
had fallen through the bottom, Ayrton and Pencroft, diving to the bed of
the channel, recovered the chains and anchors of the brig, the iron of her
ballast, and even four guns, which, floated by means of empty casks, were
brought to shore.
It may be seen that the arsenal of the colony had gained by the wreck, as
well as the storerooms of Granite House. Pencroft, always enthusiastic in
his projects, already spoke of constructing a battery to command the
channel and the mouth of the river. With four guns, he engaged to prevent
any fleet, "however powerful it might be," from venturing into the waters
of Lincoln Island!
In the meantime, when nothing remained of the brig but a useless hulk,
bad weather came on, which soon finished her. Cyrus Harding had intended to
blow her up, so as to collect the remains on the shore, but a strong gale
from the northeast and a heavy sea compelled him to economize his powder.
In fact, on the night of the 23rd, the hull entirely broke up, and some
of the wreck was cast up on the beach.
As to the papers on board, it is useless to say that, although he
carefully searched the lockers of the poop, Harding did not discover any
trace of them. The pirates had evidently destroyed everything that
concerned either the captain or the owners of the "Speedy," and, as the
name of her port was not painted on her counter, there was nothing which
would tell them her nationality. However, by the shape of her boats Ayrton
and Pencroft believed that the brig was of English build.
A week after the castrophe--or, rather, after the fortunate, though
inexplicable, event to which the colony owed its preservation--nothing more
could be seen of the vessel, even at low tide. The wreck had disappeared,
and Granite House was enriched by nearly all it had contained.
However, the mystery which enveloped its strange destruction would
doubtless never have been cleared away if, on the 30th of November, Neb,
strolling on the beach, had not found a piece of a thick iron cylinder,
bearing traces of explosion. The edges of this cylinder were twisted and
broken, as if they had been subjected to the action of some explosive
Neb brought this piece of metal to his master, who was then occupied with
his companions in the workshop of the Chimneys.
Cyrus Harding examined the cylinder attentively, then, turning to
"You persist, my friend," said he, "in maintaining that the 'Speedy' was
not lost in consequence of a collision?"
"Yes, captain," answered the sailor. "You know as well as I do that there
are no rocks in the channel."
"But suppose she had run against this piece of iron?" said the engineer,
showing the broken cylinder.
"What, that bit of pipe!" exclaimed Pencroft in a tone of perfect
"My friends," resumed Harding, "you remember that before she foundered
the brig rose on the summit of a regular waterspout?"
"Yes, captain," replied Herbert.
"Well, would you like to know what occasioned that waterspout? It was
this," said the engineer, holding up the broken tube.
"That?" returned Pencroft.
"Yes! This cylinder is all that remains of a torpedo!"
"A torpedo!" exclaimed the engineer's companions.
"And who put the torpedo there?" demanded Pencroft, who did not like to
"All that I can tell you is, that it was not I," answered Cyrus Harding;
"but it was there, and you have been able to judge of its incomparable
So, then, all was explained by the submarine explosion of this torpedo.
Cyrus Harding could not be mistaken, as, during the war of the Union, he
had had occasion to try these terrible engines of destruction. It was under
the action of this cylinder, charged with some explosive substance, nitro-
glycerine, picrate, or some other material of the same nature, that the
water of the channel had been raised like a dome, the bottom of the brig
crushed in, and she had sunk instantly, the damage done to her hull being so
considerable that it was impossible to refloat her. The "Speedy" had not
been able to withstand a torpedo that would have destroyed an ironclad as
easily as a fishing-boat!
Yes! all was explained, everything--except the presence of the torpedo in
the waters of the channel!
"My friends, then," said Cyrus Harding, "we can no longer be in doubt as
to the presence of a mysterious being, a castaway like us, perhaps,
abandoned on our island, and I say this in order that Ayrton may be
acquainted with all the strange events which have occurred during these two
years. Who this beneficent stranger is, whose intervention has, so
fortunately for us, been manifested on many occasions, I cannot imagine.
What his object can be in acting thus, in concealing himself after
rendering us so many services, I cannot understand: But his services are
not the less real, and are of such a nature that only a man possessed of
prodigious power, could render them. Ayrton is indebted to him as much as
we are, for, if it was the stranger who saved me from the waves after the
fall from the balloon, evidently it was he who wrote the document, who
placed the bottle in the channel, and who has made known to us the
situation of our companion. I will add that it was he who guided that
chest, provided with everything we wanted, and stranded it on Flotsam
Point; that it was he who lighted that fire on the heights of the island,
which permitted you to land; that it was he who fired that bullet found in
the body of the peccary; that it was he who plunged that torpedo into the
channel, which destroyed the brig; in a word, that all those inexplicable
events, for which we could not assign a reason, are due to this mysterious
being. Therefore, whoever he may be, whether shipwrecked, or exiled on our
island, we shall be ungrateful, if we think ourselves freed from gratitude
towards him. We have contracted a debt, and I hope that we shall one day
"You are right in speaking thus, my dear Cyrus," replied Gideon Spilett.
"Yes, there is an almost all-powerful being, hidden in some part of the
island, and whose influence has been singularly useful to our colony. I
will add that the unknown appears to possess means of action which border
on the supernatural, if in the events of practical life the supernatural
were recognizable. Is it he who is in secret communication with us by the
well in Granite House, and has he thus a knowledge of all our plans? Was it
he who threw us that bottle, when the vessel made her first cruise? Was it
he who threw Top out of the lake, and killed the dugong? Was it he, who as
everything leads us to believe, saved you from the waves, and that under
circumstances in which any one else would not have been able to act? If it
was he, he possesses a power which renders him master of the elements."
The reporter's reasoning was just, and every one felt it to be so.
"Yes," rejoined Cyrus Harding, "if the intervention of a human being is
not more questionable for us, I agree that he has at his disposal means of
action beyond those possessed by humanity. There is a mystery still, but if
we discover the man, the mystery will be discovered also. The question,
then, is, ought we to respect the incognito of this generous being, or
ought we to do everything to find him out? What is your opinion on the
"My opinion," said Pencroft, "is that, whoever he may be, he is a brave
man, and he has my esteem!"
"Be it so," answered Harding, "but that is not an answer, Pencroft."
"Master," then said Neb, "my idea is, that we may search as long as we
like for this gentleman whom you are talking about, but that we shall not
discover him till he pleases."
"That's not bad, what you say, Neb," observed Pencroft.
"I am of Neb's opinion," said Gideon Spilett, "but that is no reason for
not attempting the adventure. Whether we find this mysterious being or not,
we shall at least have fulfilled our duty towards him."
"And you, my boy, give us your opinion," said the engineer, turning to
"Oh," cried Herbert, his countenance full of animation, "how I should
like to thank him, he who saved you first, and who has now saved us!"
"Of course, my boy," replied Pencroft, "so would I and all of us. I am
not inquisitive, but I would give one of my eyes to see this individual
face to face! It seems to me that he must be handsome, tall, strong, with a
splendid beard, radiant hair, and that he must be seated on clouds, a great
ball in his hands!"
"But, Pencroft," answered Spilett, "you are describing a picture of the
"Possibly, Mr. Spilett," replied the sailor, "but that is how I imagine
"And you, Ayrton?" asked the engineer.
"Captain Harding," replied Ayrton, "I can give you no better advice in
this matter. Whatever you do will be best; when you wish me to join you in
your researches, I am ready to follow you.
"I thank you, Ayrton," answered Cyrus Harding, "but I should like a more
direct answer to the question I put to you. You are our companion; you have
already endangered your life several times for us, and you, as well as the
rest, ought to be consulted in the matter of any important decision. Speak,
"Captain Harding," replied Ayrton, "I think that we ought to do
everything to discover this unknown benefactor. Perhaps he is alone.
Perhaps he is suffering. Perhaps he has a life to be renewed. I, too, as
you said, have a debt of gratitude to pay him. It was he, it could be only
he who must have come to Tabor Island, who found there the wretch you knew,
and who made known to you that there was an unfortunate man there to be
saved. Therefore it is, thanks to him, that I have become a man again. No,
I will never forget him!"
"That is settled, then," said Cyrus Harding. "We will begin our
researches as soon as possible. We will not leave a corner of the island
unexplored. We will search into its most secret recesses, and will hope
that our unknown friend will pardon us in consideration of our intentions!"
For several days the colonists were actively employed in haymaking and
the harvest. Before putting their project of exploring the yet unknown
parts of the island into execution, they wished to get all possible work
finished. It was also the time for collecting the various vegetables from
the Tabor Island plants. All was stowed away, and happily there was no want
of room in Granite House, in which they might have housed all the treasures
of the island. The products of the colony were there, methodically
arranged, and in a safe place, as may be believed, sheltered as much from
animals as from man.
There was no fear of damp in the middle of that thick mass of granite.
Many natural excavations situated in the upper passage were enlarged either
by pick-axe or mine, and Granite House thus became a general warehouse,
containing all the provisions, arms, tools, and spare utensils--in a word,
all the stores of the colony.
As to the guns obtained from the brig, they were pretty pieces of
ordnance, which, at Pencroft's entreaty, were hoisted by means of tackle
and pulleys, right up into Granite House; embrasures were made between the
windows, and the shining muzzles of the guns could soon be seen through the
granite cliff. From this height they commanded all Union Bay. It was like a
little Gibraltar, and any vessel anchored off the islet would inevitably be
exposed to the fire of this aerial battery.
"Captain," said Pencroft one day, it was the 8th of November, "now that
our fortifications are finished, it would be a good thing if we tried the
range of our guns."
"Do you think that is useful?" asked the engineer.
"It is more than useful, it is necessary! Without that how are we to know
to what distance we can send one of those pretty shot with which we are
"Try them, Pencroft," replied the engineer. "However, I think that in
making the experiment, we ought to employ, not the ordinary powder, the
supply of which, I think, should remain untouched, but the pyroxyle which
will never fail us."
"Can the cannon support the shock of the pyroxyle?" asked the reporter,
who was not less anxious than Pencroft to try the artillery of Granite
"I believe so. However," added the engineer, "we will be prudent."
The engineer was right in thinking that the guns were of excellent make.
Made of forged steel, and breech-loaders, they ought consequently to be
able to bear a considerable charge, and also have an enormous range. In
fact, as regards practical effect, the transit described by the ball ought
to be as extended as possible, and this tension could only be obtained
under the condition that the projectile should be impelled with a very
great initial velocity.
"Now," said Harding to his companions, "the initial velocity is in
proportion to the quantity of powder used. In the fabrication of these
pieces, everything depends on employing a metal with the highest possible
power of resistance, and steel is incontestably that metal of all others
which resists the best. I have, therefore, reason to believe that our guns
will bear without risk the expansion of the pyroxyle gas, and will give
"We shall be a great deal more certain of that when we have tried them!"
It is unnecessary to say that the four cannons were in perfect order.
Since they had been taken from the water, the sailor had bestowed great
care upon them. How many hours he had spent, in rubbing, greasing, and
polishing them, and in cleaning the mechanism! And now the pieces were as
brilliant as if they had been on board a frigate of the United States Navy.
On this day, therefore, in presence of all the members of the colony,
including Master Jup and Top, the four cannon were successively tried. They
were charged with pyroxyle, taking into consideration its explosive power,
which, as has been said, is four times that of ordinary powder: the
projectile to be fired was cylindroconic.
Pencroft, holding the end of the quick-match, stood ready to fire.
At Harding's signal, he fired. The shot, passing over the islet, fell
into the sea at a distance which could not be calculated with exactitude.
The second gun was pointed at the rocks at the end of Flotsam Point, and
the shot striking a sharp rock nearly three miles from Granite House, made
it fly into splinters. It was Herbert who had pointed this gun and fired
it, and very proud he was of his first shot. Pencroft only was prouder than
he! Such a shot, the honor of which belonged to his dear boy.
The third shot, aimed this time at the downs forming the upper side of
Union Bay, struck the sand at a distance of four miles, then having
ricocheted: was lost in the sea in a cloud of spray.
For the fourth piece Cyrus Harding slightly increased the charge, so as
to try its extreme range. Then, all standing aside for fear of its
bursting, the match was lighted by means of a long cord.
A tremendous report was heard, but the piece had held good, and the
colonists rushing to the windows, saw the shot graze the rocks of Mandible
Cape, nearly five miles from Granite House, and disappear in Shark Gulf.
"Well, captain," exclaimed Pencroft, whose cheers might have rivaled the
reports themselves, "what do you say of our battery? All the pirates in the
Pacific have only to present themselves before Granite House! Not one can
land there now without our permission!"
"Believe me, Pencroft," replied the engineer, "it would be better not to
have to make the experiment."
"Well," said the sailor, "what ought to be done with regard to those six
villains who are roaming about the island? Are we to leave them to overrun
our forests, our fields, our plantations? These pirates are regular
jaguars, and it seems to me we ought not to hesitate to treat them as such!
What do you think, Ayrton?" added Pencroft, turning to his companion.
Ayrton hesitated at first to reply, and Cyrus Harding regretted that
Pencroft had so thoughtlessly put this question. And he was much moved when
Ayrton replied in a humble tone,--
"I have been one of those jaguars, Mr. Pencroft. I have no right to
And with a slow step he walked away.
"What a brute I am!" he exclaimed. "Poor Ayrton! He has as much right to
speak here as any one!"
"Yes," said Gideon Spilett, "but his reserve does him honor, and it is
right to respect the feeling which he has about his sad past."
"Certainly, Mr. Spilett," answered the sailor, "and there is no fear of
my doing so again. I would rather bite my tongue off than cause Ayrton any
pain! But to return to the question. It seems to me that these ruffians
have no right to any pity, and that we ought to rid the island of them as
soon as possible."
"Is that your opinion, Pencroft?" asked the engineer.
"Quite my opinion."
"And before hunting them mercilessly, you would not wait until they had
committed some fresh act of hostility against us?"
"Isn't what they have done already enough?" asked Pencroft, who did not
understand these scruples.
"They may adopt other sentiments!" said Harding, "and perhaps repent."
"They repent!" exclaimed the sailor, shrugging his shoulders.
"Pencroft, think of Ayrton!" said Herbert, taking the sailor's hand. "He
became an honest man again!"
Pencroft looked at his companions one after the other. He had never
thought of his proposal being met with any objection. His rough nature
could not allow that they ought to come to terms with the rascals who had
landed on the island with Bob Harvey's accomplices, the murderers of the
crew of the "Speedy," and he looked upon them as wild beasts which ought to
be destroyed without delay and without remorse.
"Come!" said be. "Everybody is against me! You wish to be generous to
those villains! Very well; I hope we mayn't repent it!"
"What danger shall we run," said Herbert, "if we take care to be always
on our guard?"
"Hum!" observed the reporter, who had not given any decided opinion.
"They are six and well armed. If they each lay hid in a corner, and each
fired at one of us, they would soon be masters of the colony!"
"Why have they not done so?" said Herbert. "No doubt because it was not
their interest to do it. Besides, we are six also."
"Well, well!" replied Pencroft, whom no reasoning could have convinced.
"Let us leave these good people to do what they like, and don't think
anything more about them!"
"Come, Pencroft," said Neb, "don't make yourself out so bad as all that!
Suppose one of these unfortunate men were here before you, within good
range of your guns, you would not fire."
"I would fire on him as I would on a mad dog, Neb," replied Pencroft
"Pencroft," said the engineer, "you have always shown much deference to
my advice; will you, in this matter, yield to me?"
"I will do as you please, Captain Harding," answered the sailor, who was
not at all convinced.
"Very well, wait, and we will not attack them unless we are attacked
Thus their behavior towards the pirates was agreed upon, although
Pencroft augured nothing good from it. They were not to attack them, but
were to be on their guard. After all, the island was large and fertile. If
any sentiment of honesty yet remained in the bottom of their hearts, these
wretches might perhaps be reclaimed. Was it not their interest in the
situation in which they found themselves to begin a new life? At any rate,
for humanity's sake alone, it would be right to wait. The colonists would
no longer as before, be able to go and come without fear. Hitherto they had
only wild beasts to guard against, and now six convicts of the worst
description, perhaps, were roaming over their island. It was serious,
certainly, and to less brave men, it would have been security lost! No
matter! At present, the colonists had reason on their side against
Pencroft. Would they be right in the future? That remained to be seen.
However, the chief business of the colonists was to make that complete
exploration of the island which had been decided upon, and which would have
two objects: to discover the mysterious being whose existence was now
indisputable, and at the same time to find out what had become of the
pirates, what retreat they had chosen, what sort of life they were leading,
and what was to be feared from them. Cyrus Harding wished to set out
without delay; but as the expedition would be of some days duration, it
appeared best to load the cart with different materials and tools in order
to facilitate the organization of the encampments. One of the onagers,
however, having hurt its leg, could not be harnessed at present, and a few
days' rest was necessary. The departure was, therefore, put off for a week,
until the 20th of November. The month of November in this latitude
corresponds to the month of May in the northern zones. It was, therefore,
the fine season. The sun was entering the tropic of Capricorn, and gave the
longest days in the year. The time was, therefore, very favorable for the
projected expedition, which, if it did not accomplish its principal object,
would at any rate be fruitful in discoveries, especially of natural
productions, since Harding proposed to explore those dense forests of the
Far West, which stretched to the extremity of the Serpentine Peninsula.
During the nine days which preceded their departure, it was agreed that
the work on Prospect Heights should be finished off.
Moreover, it was necessary for Ayrton to return to the corral, where the
domesticated animals required his care. It was decided that he should spend
two days there, and return to Granite House after having liberally supplied
As he was about to start, Harding asked him if he would not like one of
them to accompany him, observing that the island was less safe than
formerly. Ayrton replied that this was unnecessary, as he was enough for
the work, and that besides he apprehended no danger. If anything occurred
at the corral, or in the neighborhood, he could instantly warn the
colonists by sending a telegram to Granite House.
Ayrton departed at dawn on the 9th, taking the cart drawn by one onager,
and two hours after, the electric wire announced that he had found all in
order at the corral.
During these two days Harding busied himself in executing a project which
would completely guard Granite House against any surprise. It was necessary
to completely conceal the opening of the old outlet, which was already
walled up and partly hidden under grass and plants, at the southern angle
of Lake Grant. Nothing was easier, since if the level of the lake was
raised two or three feet, the opening would be quite beneath it. Now, to
raise this level they had only to establish a dam at the two openings made
by the lake, and by which were fed Creek Glycerine and Falls River.
The colonists worked with a will, and the two dams which besides did not
exceed eight feet in width by three in height, were rapidly erected by
means of well-cemented blocks of stone.
This work finished, it would have been impossible to guess
that at that part of the lake, there existed a subterranean passage
through which the overflow of the lake formerly escaped.
Of course the little stream which fed the reservoir of Granite House and
worked the lift, had been carefully preserved, and the water could not
fail. The lift once raised, this sure and comfortable retreat would be safe
from any surprise.
This work had been so quickly done, that Pencroft, Gideon Spilett, and
Herbert found time to make an expedition to Port Balloon, The sailor was
very anxious to know if the little creek in which the "Bonadventure" was
moored, had been visited by the convicts.
"These gentlemen," he observed, "landed on the south coast, and if they
followed the shore, it is to be feared that they may have discovered the
little harbor, and in that case, I wouldn't give half-a-dollar for our
Pencroft's apprehensions were not without foundation, and a visit to Port
Balloon appeared to be very desirable. The sailor and his companions set
off on the 10th of November, after dinner, well armed. Pencroft,
ostentatiously slipping two bullets into each barrel of his rifle, shook
his head in a way which betokened nothing good to any one who approached
too near him, whether "man or beast," as he said. Gideon Spilett and
Herbert also took their guns, and about three o'clock all three left
Neb accompanied them to the turn of the Mercy, and after they had
crossed, he raised the bridge. It was agreed that a gunshot should announce
the colonists' return, and that at the signal Neb should return and
reestablish the communication between the two banks of the river.
The little band advanced directly along the road which led to the
southern coast of the island. This was only a distance of three miles and a
half, but Gideon Spilett and his companions took two hours to traverse it.
They examined all the border of the road, the thick forest, as well as
Tabor Marsh. They found no trace of the fugitives who, no doubt, not having
yet discovered the number of the colonists, or the means of defense which
they had at their disposal, had gained the less accessible parts of the
Arrived at Port Balloon, Pencroft saw with extreme satisfaction that the
"Bonadventure" was tranquilly floating in the narrow creek. However, Port
Balloon was so well hidden among high rocks, that it could scarcely be
discovered either from the land or the sea.
"Come," said Pencroft, "the blackguards have not been there yet. Long
grass suits reptiles best, and evidently we shall find them in the Far
"And it's very lucky, for if they had found the 'Bonadventure'," added
Herbert, "they would have gone off in her, and we should have been
prevented from returning to Tabor Island."
"Indeed," remarked the reporter, "it will be important to take a document
there which will make known the situation of Lincoln Island, and Ayrton's
new residence, in case the Scotch yacht returns to fetch him."
"Well, the 'Bonadventure' is always there, Mr. Spilett," answered the
sailor. "She and her crew are ready to start at a moment's notice!"
"I think, Pencroft, that that is a thing to be done after our exploration
of the island is finished. It is possible after all that the stranger, if
we manage to find him, may know as much about Tabor Island as about Lincoln
Island. Do not forget that he is certainly the author of the document, and
he may, perhaps, know how far we may count on the return of the yacht!"
"But!" exclaimed Pencroft, "who in the world can he be? The fellow knows
us and we know nothing about him! If he is a simple castaway, why should he
conceal himself! We are honest men, I suppose, and the society of honest
men isn't unpleasant to any one. Did he come here voluntarily? Can he leave
the island if he likes? Is he here still? Will he remain any longer?"
Chatting thus, Pencroft, Gideon Spilett, and Herbert got on board and
looked about the deck of the "Bonadventure." All at once, the sailor having
examined the bitts to which the cable of the anchor was secured,--
"Hallo," he cried, "this is queer!"
"What is the matter, Pencroft?" asked the reporter.
"The matter is, that it was not I who made this knot!"
And Pencroft showed a rope which fastened the cable to the bitt itself.
"What, it was not you?" asked Gideon Spilett.
"No! I can swear to it. This is a reef knot, and I always make a running
"You must be mistaken, Pencroft."
"I am not mistaken!" declared the sailor. "My hand does it so naturally,
and one's hand is never mistaken!"
"Then can the convicts have been on board?" asked Herbert.
"I know nothing about that," answered Pencroft, "but what is certain, is
that some one has weighed the 'Bonadventure's' anchor and dropped it again!
And look here, here is another proof! The cable of the anchor has been run
out, and its service is no longer at the hawse-hole. I repeat that some one
has been using our vessel!"
"But if the convicts had used her, they would have pillaged her, or
rather gone off with her."
"Gone off! where to--to Tabor Island?" replied Pencroft. "Do you think,
they would risk themselves in a boat of such small tonnage?"
"We must, besides, be sure that they know of the islet," rejoined the
"However that may be," said the sailor, "as sure as my name is
Bonadventure Pencroft, of the Vineyard, our 'Bonadventure' has sailed
The sailor was positive that neither Gideon Spilett nor Herbert could
dispute his statement. It was evident that the vessel had been moved, more
or less, since Pencroft had brought her to Port Balloon. As to the sailor,
he had not the slightest doubt that the anchor had been raised and then
dropped again. Now, what was the use of these two maneuvers, unless the
vessel had been employed in some expedition?
"But how was it we did not see the 'Bonadventure' pass in the sight of
the island?" observed the reporter, who was anxious to bring forward every
"Why, Mr. Spilett," replied the sailor, "they would only have to start in
the night with a good breeze, and they would be out of sight of the island
in two hours."
"Well," resumed Gideon Spilett, "I ask again, what object could the
convicts have had in using the 'Bonadventure,' and why, after they had made
use of her, should they have brought her back to port?"
"Why, Mr. Spilett," replied the sailor, "we must put that among the
unaccountable things, and not think anything more about it. The chief thing
is that the 'Bonadventure' was there, and she is there now. Only,
unfortunately, if the convicts take her a second time, we shall very likely
not find her again in her place!"
"Then, Pencroft," said Herbert, "would it not be wisest to bring the
'Bonadventure' off to Granite House?"
"Yes and no," answered Pencroft, "or rather no. The mouth of the Mercy is
a bad place for a vessel, and the sea is heavy there."
"But by hauling her up on the sand, to the foot of the Chimneys?"
"Perhaps yes," replied Pencroft. "At any rate, since we must leave
Granite House for a long expedition, I think the 'Bonadventure' will be
safer here during our absence, and we shall do best to leave her here until
the island is rid of these blackguards."
"That is exactly my opinion," said the reporter. "At any rate in the
event of bad weather, she will not be exposed here as she would be at the
mouth of the Mercy."
"But suppose the convicts pay her another visit," said Herbert.
"Well, my boy," replied Pencroft, "not finding her here, they would not
be long in finding her on the sands of Granite House, and, during our
absence, nothing could hinder them from seizing her! I agree, therefore,
with Mr. Spilett, that she must be left in Port Balloon. But, if on our
return we have not rid the island of those rascals, it will be prudent to
bring our boat to Granite House, until the time when we need not fear any
"That's settled. Let us be off," said the reporter.
Pencroft, Herbert, and Gideon Spilett, on their return to Granite House,
told the engineer all that had passed, and the latter approved of their
arrangements both for the present and the future. He also promised the
sailor that he would study that part of the channel situated between the
islet and the coast, so as to ascertain if it would not be possible to make
an artificial harbor there by means of dams. In this way, the
"Bonadventure" would be always within reach, under the eyes of the
colonists, and if necessary, under lock and key.
That evening a telegram was sent to Ayrton, requesting him to bring from
the corral a couple of goats, which Neb wished to acclimatize to the
plateau. Singularly enough, Ayrton did not acknowledge the receipt of the
despatch, as he was accustomed to do. This could not but astonish the
engineer. But it might be that Ayrton was not at that moment in the corral,
or even that he was on his way back to Granite House. In fact, two days had
already passed since his departure, and it had been decided that on the
evening of the 10th or at the latest the morning of the 11th, he should
return. The colonists waited, therefore, for Ayrton to appear on Prospect
Heights. Neb and Herbert even watched at the bridge so as to be ready to
lower it the moment their companion presented himself.
But up to ten in the evening, there were no signs of Ayrton. It was,
therefore, judged best to send a fresh despatch, requiring an immediate
The bell of the telegraph at Granite House remained mute.
The colonists' uneasiness was great. What had happened? Was Ayrton no
longer at the corral, or if he was still there, had he no longer control
over his movements? Could they go to the corral in this dark night?
They consulted. Some wished to go, the others to remain.
"But," said Herbert, "perhaps some accident has happened to the
telegraphic apparatus, so that it works no longer?"
"That may be," said the reporter.
"Wait till to-morrow," replied Cyrus Harding. "It is possible, indeed,
that Ayrton has not received our despatch, or even that we have not
They waited, of course not without some anxiety.
At dawn of day, the 11th of November, Harding again sent the electric
current along the wire and received no reply.
He tried again: the same result.
"Off to the corral," said he.
"And well armed!" added Pencroft.
It was immediately decided that Granite House should not be left alone
and that Neb should remain there. After having accompanied his friends to
Creek Glycerine, he raised the bridge; and waiting behind a tree he watched
for the return of either his companions or Ayrton.
In the event of the pirates presenting themselves and attempting to force
the passage, he was to endeavor to stop them by firing on them, and as a
last resource he was to take refuge in Granite House, where, the lift once
raised, he would be in safety.
Cyrus Harding, Gideon Spilett, Herbert, and Pencroft were to repair to the
corral, and if they did not find Ayrton, search the neighboring woods.
At six o'clock in the morning, the engineer and his three companions had
passed Creek Glycerine, and Neb posted himself behind a small mound crowned
by several dragon trees, on the left bank of the stream.
The colonists, after leaving the plateau of Prospect Heights, immediately
took the road to the corral. They shouldered their guns, ready to fire on
the slightest hostile demonstration. The two rifles and the two guns had
been loaded with ball.
The wood was thick on each side of the road and might easily have
concealed the convicts, who owing to their weapons would have been really
The colonists walked rapidly and in silence. Top preceded them, sometimes
running on the road, sometimes taking a ramble into the wood, but always
quiet and not appearing to fear anything unusual. And they could be sure
that the faithful dog would not allow them to be surprised, but would bark
at the least appearance of danger.
Cyrus Harding and his companions followed beside the road the wire which
connected the corral with Granite House. After walking for nearly two
miles, they had not as yet discovered any explanation of the difficulty.
The posts were in good order, the wire regularly extended. However, at that
moment the engineer observed that the wire appeared to be slack, and on
arriving at post No. 74, Herbert, who was in advance stopped, exclaiming,--
"The wire is broken!"
His companions hurried forward and arrived at the spot where the lad was
standing. The post was rooted up and lying across the path. The unexpected
explanation of the difficulty was here, and it was evident that the
despatches from Granite House had not been received at the corral, nor
those from the corral at Granite House.
"It wasn't the wind that blew down this post," observed Pencroft.
"No," replied Gideon Spilett. "The earth has been dug up round its foot,
and it has been torn up by the hand of man."
"Besides, the wire is broken," added Herbert, showing that the wire had
"Is the fracture recent?" asked Harding.
"Yes," answered Herbert, "it has certainly been done quite lately."
"To the corral! to the corral!" exclaimed the sailor.
The colonists were now half way between Granite House and the corral,
having still two miles and a half to go. They pressed forward with
Indeed, it was to be feared that some serious accident had occurred in
the corral. No doubt, Ayrton might have sent a telegram which had not
arrived, but this was not the reason why his companions were so uneasy,
for, a more unaccountable circumstance, Ayrton, who had promised to return
the evening before, had not reappeared. In short, it was not without a
motive that all communication had been stopped between the corral and
Granite House, and who but the convicts could have any interest in
interrupting this communication?
The settlers hastened on, their hearts oppressed with anxiety. They were
sincerely attached to their new companion. Were they to find him struck
down by the hands of those of whom he was formerly the leader?
Soon they arrived at the place where the road led along the side of the
little stream which flowed from the Red Creek and watered the meadows of
the corral. They then moderated their pace so that they should not be out
of breath at the moment when a struggle might be necessary. Their guns were
in their hands ready cocked. The forest was watched on every side. Top
uttered sullen groans which were rather ominous.
At last the palisade appeared through the trees. No trace of any damage
could be seen. The gate was shut as usual. Deep silence reigned in the
corral. Neither the accustomed bleating of the sheep nor Ayrton's voice
could be heard.
"Let us enter," said Cyrus Harding.
And the engineer advanced, while his companions, keeping watch about
twenty paces behind him, were ready to fire at a moment's notice.
Harding raised the inner latch of the gate and was about to push it back,
when Top barked loudly. A report sounded and was responded to by a cry of
Herbert, struck by a bullet, lay stretched on the ground.
At Herbert's cry, Pencroft, letting his gun fall, rushed towards him.
"They have killed him!" he cried. "My boy! They have killed him!"
Cyrus Harding and Gideon Spilett ran to Herbert.
The reporter listened to ascertain if the poor lad's heart was still
"He lives," said he, "but he must be carried--"
"To Granite House? that is impossible!" replied the engineer.
"Into the corral, then!" said Pencroft.
"In a moment," said Harding.
And he ran round the left corner of the palisade. There he found a
convict, who aiming at him, sent a ball through his hat. In a few seconds,
before he had even time to fire his second barrel, he fell, struck to the
heart by Harding's dagger, more sure even than his gun.
During this time, Gideon Spilett and the sailor hoisted themselves over
the palisade, leaped into the enclosure, threw down the props which
supported the inner door, ran into the empty house, and soon, poor Herbert
was lying on Ayrton's bed. In a few moments, Harding was by his side.
On seeing Herbert senseless, the sailor's grief was terrible.
He sobbed, he cried, he tried to beat his head against the wall.
Neither the engineer nor the reporter could calm him. They themselves
were choked with emotion. They could not speak.
However, they knew that it depended on them to rescue from death the poor
boy who was suffering beneath their eyes. Gideon Spilett had not passed
through the many incidents by which his life had been checkered without
acquiring some slight knowledge of medicine. He knew a little of
everything, and several times he had been obliged to attend to wounds
produced either by a sword-bayonet or shot. Assisted by Cyrus Harding, he
proceeded to render the aid Herbert required.
The reporter was immediately struck by the complete stupor in which
Herbert lay, a stupor owing either to the hemorrhage, or to the shock, the
ball having struck a bone with sufficient force to produce a violent
Herbert was deadly pale, and his pulse so feeble that Spilett only felt it
beat at long intervals, as if it was on the point of stopping.
These symptoms were very serious.
Herbert's chest was laid bare, and the blood having been stanched with
handkerchiefs, it was bathed with cold water.
The contusion, or rather the contused wound appeared,--an oval below the
chest between the third and fourth ribs. It was there that Herbert had been
hit by the bullet.
Cyrus Harding and Gideon Spilett then turned the poor boy over; as they
did so, he uttered a moan so feeble that they almost thought it was his
Herberts back was covered with blood from another contused wound, by
which the ball had immediately escaped.
"God be praised!" said the reporter, "the ball is not in the body, and we
shall not have to extract it."
"But the heart?" asked Harding.
"The heart has not been touched; if it had been, Herbert would be dead!"
"Dead!" exclaimed Pencroft, with a groan.
The sailor had only heard the last words uttered by the reporter.
"No, Pencroft," replied Cyrus Harding, "no! He is not dead. His pulse
still beats. He has even uttered a moan. But for your boy's sake, calm
yourself. We have need of all our self-possession."
"Do not make us lose it, my friend."
Pencroft was silent, but a reaction set in, and great tears rolled down
In the meanwhile, Gideon Spilett endeavored to collect his ideas, and
proceed methodically. After his examination he had no doubt that the ball,
entering in front, between the seventh and eighth ribs, had issued behind
between the third and fourth. But what mischief had the ball committed in
its passage? What important organs had been reached? A professional surgeon
would have had difficulty in determining this at once, and still more so
However, he knew one thing, this was that he would have to prevent the
inflammatory strangulation of the injured parts, then to contend with the
local inflammation and fever which would result from the wound, perhaps
mortal! Now, what styptics, what antiphiogistics ought to be employed? By
what means could inflammation be prevented?
At any rate, the most important thing was that the two wounds should be
dressed without delay. It did not appear necessary to Gideon Spilett that a
fresh flow of blood should be caused by bathing them in tepid water, and
compressing their lips. The hemorrhage had been very abundant, and Herbert
was already too much enfeebled by the loss of blood.
The reporter, therefore, thought it best to simply bathe the two wounds
with cold water.
Herbert was placed on his left side, and was maintained in that position.
"He must not be moved." said Gideon Spilett. "He is in the most favorable
position for the wounds in his back and chest to suppurate easily, and
absolute rest is necessary."
"What! can't we carry him to Granite House?" asked Pencroft.
"No, Pencroft," replied the reporter.
"I'll pay the villains off!" cried the sailor, shaking his fist in a
"Pencroft!" said Cyrus Harding.
Gideon Spilett had resumed his examination of the wounded boy. Herbert
was still so frightfully pale, that the reporter felt anxious.
"Cyrus," said he, "I am not a surgeon. I am in terrible perplexity. You
must aid me with your advice, your experience!"
"Take courage, my friend," answered the engineer, pressing the reporter's
hand. "Judge coolly. Think only of this: Herbert must be saved!"
These words restored to Gideon Spilett that self-possession which he had
lost in a moment of discouragement on feeling his great responsibility. He
seated himself close to the bed. Cyrus Harding stood near. Pencroft had
torn up his shirt, and was mechanically making lint.
Spilett then explained to Cyrus Harding that he thought he ought first of
all to stop the hemorrhage, but not close the two wounds, or cause their
immediate cicatrization, for there had been internal perforation, and the
suppuration must not be allowed to accumulate in the chest.
Harding approved entirely, and it was decided that the two wounds should
be dressed without attempting to close them by immediate coaptation.
And now did the colonists possess an efficacious agent to act against the
inflammation which might occur?
Yes. They had one, for nature had generously lavished it. They had cold
water, that is to say, the most powerful sedative that can be employed
against inflammation of wounds, the most efficacious therapeutic agent in
grave cases, and the one which is now adopted by all physicians. Cold water
has, moreover, the advantage of leaving the wound in absolute rest, and
preserving it from all premature dressing, a considerable advantage, since
it has been found by experience that contact with the air is dangerous
during the first days.
Gideon Spilett and Cyrus Harding reasoned thus with their simple good
sense, and they acted as the best surgeon would have done. Compresses of
linen were applied to poor Herbert's two wounds, and were kept constantly
wet with cold water.
The sailor had at first lighted a fire in the hut, which was not wanting
in things necessary for life. Maple sugar, medicinal plants, the same which
the lad had gathered on the banks of Lake Grant, enabled them to make some
refreshing drinks, which they gave him without his taking any notice of it.
His fever was extremely high, and all that day and night passed without his
Herbert's life hung on a thread, and this thread might break at any
moment. The next day, the 12th of November, the hopes of Harding and his
companions slightly revived. Herbert had come out of his long stupor. He
opened his eyes, he recognized Cyrus Harding, the reporter, and Pencroft.
He uttered two or three words. He did not know what had happened. They told
him, and Spilett begged him to remain perfectly still, telling him that his
life was not in danger, and that his wounds would heal in a few days.
However, Herbert scarcely suffered at all, and the cold water with which
they were constantly bathed, prevented any inflammation of the wounds. The
suppuration was established in a regular way, the fever did not increase,
and it might now be hoped that this terrible wound would not involve any
catastrophe. Pencroft felt the swelling of his heart gradually subside. He
was like a sister of mercy. like a mother by the bed of her child.
Herbert dozed again, but his sleep appeared more natural.
"Tell me again that you hope, Mr. Spilett," said Pencroft. "Tell me again
that you will save Herbert!"
"Yes, we will save him!" replied the reporter. "The wound is serious,
and, perhaps, even the ball has traversed the lungs, but the perforation of
this organ is not fatal."
"God bless you!" answered Pencroft.
As may be believed, during the four-and-twenty hours they had been in the
corral, the colonists had no other thought than that of nursing Herbert.
They did not think either of the danger which threatened them should the
convicts return, or of the precautions to be taken for the future.
But on this day, while Pencroft watched by the sick-bed, Cyrus Harding
and the reporter consulted as to what it would be best to do.
First of all they examined the corral. There was not a trace of Ayrton.
Had the unhappy man been dragged away by his former accomplices? Had he
resisted, and been overcome in the struggle? This last supposition was only
too probable. Gideon Spilett, at the moment he scaled the palisade, had
clearly seen some one of the convicts running along the southern spur of
Mount Franklin, towards whom Top had sprung. It was one of those whose
object had been so completely defeated by the rocks at the mouth of the
Mercy. Besides, the one killed by Harding, and whose body was found outside
the enclosure, of course belonged to Bob Harvey's crew.
As to the corral, it had not suffered any damage. The gates were closed,
and the animals had not been able to disperse in the forest. Nor could they
see traces of any struggle, any devastation, either in the hut, or in the
palisade. The ammunition only, with which Ayrton had been supplied, had
disappeared with him.
"The unhappy man has been surprised," said Harding, "and as he was a man
to defend himself, he must have been overpowered."
"Yes, that is to be feared!" said the reporter. "Then, doubtless, the
convicts installed themselves in the corral where they found plenty of
everything, and only fled when they saw us coming. It is very evident, too,
that at this moment Ayrton, whether living or dead, is not here!"
"We shall have to beat the forest," said the engineer, "and rid the
island of these wretches. Pencroft's presentiments were not mistaken, when
he wished to hunt them as wild beasts. That would have spared us all these
"Yes," answered the reporter, "but now we have the right to be
"At any rate," said the engineer, "we are obliged to wait some time, and
to remain at the corral until we can carry Herbert without danger to
"But Neb?" asked the reporter.
"Neb is in safety."
"But if, uneasy at our absence, he would venture to come?"
"He must not come!" returned Cyrus Harding quickly. "He would be murdered
on the road!"
"It is very probable, however, that he will attempt to rejoin us!"
"Ah, if the telegraph still acted, he might be warned! But that is
impossible now! As to leaving Pencroft and Herbert here alone, we could not
do it! Well, I will go alone to Granite House."
"No, no! Cyrus," answered the reporter, "you must not expose yourself!
Your courage would be of no avail. The villains are evidently watching the
corral, they are hidden in the thick woods which surround it, and if you go
we shall soon have to regret two misfortunes instead of one!"
"But Neb?" repeated the engineer. "It is now four-and-twenty hours since
he has had any news of us! He will be sure to come!"
"And as he will be less on his guard than we should be ourselves," added
Spilett, "he will be killed!"
"Is there really no way of warning him?"
While the engineer thought, his eyes fell on Top, who, going backwards
and forwards seemed to say,--
"Am not I here?"
"Top!" exclaimed Cyrus Harding.
The animal sprang at his master's call.
"Yes, Top will go," said the reporter, who had understood the engineer.
"Top can go where we cannot! He will carry to Granite House the news of
the corral, and he will bring back to us that from Granite House!"
"Quick!" said Harding. "Quick!"
Spilett rapidly tore a leaf from his note-book, and wrote these words:--
"Herbert wounded. We are at the corral. Be on your guard. Do not leave
Granite House. Have the convicts appeared in the neighborhood? Reply by
This laconic note contained all that Neb ought to know, and at the same
time asked all that the colonists wished to know. It was folded and
fastened to Top's collar in a conspicuous position.
"Top, my dog," said the engineer, caressing the animal, "Neb, Top! Neb!
Top bounded at these words. He understood, he knew what was expected of
him. The road to the corral was familiar to him. In less than an hour he
could clear it, and it might be hoped that where neither Cyrus Harding nor
the reporter could have ventured without danger, Top, running among the
grass or in the wood, would pass unperceived.
The engineer went to the gate of the corral and opened it.
"Neb, Top! Neb!" repeated the engineer, again pointing in the direction
of Granite House.
Top sprang forwards, then almost immediately disappeared.
"He will get there!" said the reporter.
"Yes, and he will come back, the faithful animal!"
"What o'clock is it?" asked Gideon Spilett.
"In an hour he may be here. We will watch for his return."
The gate of the corral was closed. The engineer and the reporter
re-entered the house. Herbert was still in a sleep. Pencroft kept the
compresser always wet. Spilett, seeing there was nothing he could do at
that moment, busied himself in preparing some nourishment, while
attentively watching that part of the enclosure against the hill, at which
an attack might be expected.
The settlers awaited Top's return with much anxiety. A little before
eleven o'clock, Cyrus Harding and the reporter, rifle in hand, were behind
the gate, ready to open it at the first bark of their dog.
They did not doubt that if Top had arrived safely at Granite House, Neb
would have sent him back immediately.
They had both been there for about ten minutes, when a report was heard,
followed by repeated barks.
The engineer opened the gate, and seeing smoke a hundred feet off in the
wood, he fired in that direction.
Almost immediately Top bounded into the corral, and the gate was quickly
"Top, Top!" exclaimed the engineer, taking the dog's great honest head
between his hands.
A note was fastened to his neck, and Cyrus Harding read these words,
traced in Neb's large writing:--"No pirates in the neighborhood of Granite
House. I will not stir. Poor Mr. Herbert!"
So the convicts were still there, watching the corral, and determined to
kill the settlers one after the other. There was nothing to be done but to
treat them as wild beasts. But great precautions must be taken, for just
now the wretches had the advantage on their side, seeing, and not being
seen, being able to surprise by the suddenness of their attack, yet not to
be surprised themselves. Harding made arrangements, therefore, for living
in the corral, of which the provisions would last for a tolerable length of
time. Ayrton's house had been provided with all that was necessary for
existence, and the convicts, scared by the arrival of the settlers, had not
had time to pillage it. It was probable, as Gideon Spilett observed, that
things had occurred as follows:
The six convicts, disembarking on the island, had followed the southern
shore, and after having traversed the double shore of the Serpentine
Peninsula, not being inclined to venture into the Far West woods, they had
reached the mouth of Falls River. From this point, by following the right
bank of the watercourse, they would arrive at the spurs of Mount Franklin,
among which they would naturally seek a retreat, and they could not have
been long in discovering the corral, then uninhabited. There they had
regularly installed themselves, awaiting the moment to put their abominable
schemes into execution. Ayrton's arrival had surprised them, but they had
managed to overpower the unfortunate man, and--the rest may be easily
Now, the convicts,--reduced to five, it is true, but well armed,--were
roaming the woods, and to venture there was to expose themselves to their
attacks, which could be neither guarded against nor prevented.
"Wait! There is nothing else to be done!" repeated Cyrus Harding. "When
Herbert is cured, we can organize a general battle of the island, and have
satisfaction of these convicts. That will be the object of our grand
expedition at the same time--"
"As the search for our mysterious protector," added Gideon Spilett,
finishing the engineer's sentence. "An, it must be acknowledged, my dear
Cyrus, that this time his protection was wanting at the very moment when it
was most necessary to us!"
"Who knows?" replied the engineer.
"What do you mean?" asked the reporter.
"That we are not at the end of our trouble yet, my dear Spilett, and that
his powerful intervention may have another opportunity of exercising
itself. But that is not the question now. Herbert's life before
This was the colonists' saddest thought. Several days passed, and the
poor boy's state was happily no worse. Cold water, always kept at a
suitable temperature, had completely prevented the inflammation of the
wounds. It even seemed to the reporter that this water, being slightly
sulphurous,--which was explained by the neighborhood of the volcano, had a
more direct action on the healing. The suppuration was much less abundant,
and thanks to the incessant care by which he was surrounded!--Herbert
returned to life, and his fever abated. He was besides subjected to a
severe diet, and consequently his weakness was and would be extreme; but
there was no want of refreshing drinks, and absolute rest was of the
greatest benefit to him. Cyrus Harding, Gideon Spilett, and Pencroft had
become very skilful in dressing the lad's wounds. All the linen in the
house had been sacrificed. Herbert's wounds, covered with compresses and
lint, were pressed neither too much nor too little, so as to cause their
cicatrization without effecting any inflammatory reaction. The reporter
used extreme care in the dressing, knowing well the importance of it, and
repeating to his companions that which most surgeons willingly admit, that
it is perhaps rarer to see a dressing well done than an operation well
In ten days, on the 22nd of November, Herbert was considerably better. He
had begun to take some nourishment.
The color was returning to his cheeks, and his bright eyes smiled at his
nurses. He talked a little, notwithstanding Pencroft's efforts, who talked
incessantly to prevent him from beginning to speak, and told him the most
improbable stories. Herbert had questioned him on the subject of Ayrton,
whom he was astonished not to see near him, thinking that he was at the
corral. But the sailor, not wishing to distress Herbert, contented himself
by replying that Ayrton had rejoined Neb, so as to defend Granite House.
"Humph!" said Pencroft, "these pirates! they are gentlemen who have no
right to any consideration! And the captain wanted to win them by kindness!
I'll send them some kindness, but in the shape of a good bullet!"
"And have they not been seen again?" asked Herbert.
"No, my boy," answered the sailor, "but we shall find them, and when you
are cured we shall see if the cowards who strike us from behind will dare
to meet us face to face!"
"I am still very weak, my poor Pencroft!"
"Well! your strength will return gradually! What's a ball through the
chest? Nothing but a joke! I've seen many, and I don't think much of them!"
At last things appeared to be going on well, and if no complication
occurred, Herbert's recovery might be regarded as certain. But what would
have been the condition of the colonists if his state had been aggravated,
--if, for example, the ball had remained in his body, if his arm or his leg
had had to be amputated?
"No," said Spilett more than once, "I have never thought of such a
contingency without shuddering!"