Copyright
Francis Hall.

The Century, Volume 11 online

. (page 124 of 163)
Online LibraryFrancis HallThe Century, Volume 11 → online text (page 124 of 163)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


magazine itself. Under his vigorous hand
the padlock broke, and the door was open.
At that moment a hand was laid on Ayrton 's
shoulder.

" What are you doing here ? ** asked a tall
man in a harsh voice, who, standing in the
shadow, quickly threw the light of a lantern
on Ayrton's face.

Without replying, Ayrton wrenched him-
self from his grasp* and attempted to rush
into the magazine. A shot fired into the
midst of the powder-casks, and all would be
over!

" Help, lads!" shouted Bob Harvey.

Two or three pirates awoke, jumped up,
and, rushing on Ayrton, endeavored to throw
him down. He soon extricated himself from
their grasp. He fired his revolver, and two
of the convicts fell ; but a blow from a knife
which he could not ward ofi* made a gash in
his shoulder.

Ayrton perceived that he could no longer
hope to carr}' out his project. Bob Harvey
had reclosed the door of the powder-maga-
zine, and a movement on the deck indicated
a general awakening of the pirates. He
rushed on deck in two bounds, and three
seconds later, having discharged his last
barrel in the ^ce of a pirate who was about
to seize him by the throat, he leaped over the
bulwarks into the sea. He had not made
six strokes before shots were splashing around
him like hail.

What were Pencroff *s feelings, sheltered
under a rock on the islet ! What were those
of Smith, the reporter, Harbert, and Neb,
crouched in the Chimneys, when they heard
the reports on board the brig ! They rushed
out upon the beach, and, their guns shoul-
dered, stood ready to repel any attack.

At last, toward half-past twelve, a boat,
carrying two men, touched the beach. It
was Ayrton, slightly wounded in the shoul-
der, and Pencroff, safe and sound.

CHAPTER III.

The night passed without incident The
colonists were on the qui vive^ and did not
leave their post at the Chimneys. The
pirates, on their side, did not appear to have
made any attempt to land, and when day



began to dawn, the settlers could see a con-
fused mass through the morning mist. It
was the " Speedy."

"These, my fiiends," said the engineer,
" are the arrangements which appear to me
best to make before the fog completely clears
away. It hides us itoxxa the eyes of the
pirates, and we can act without attracting
their attention. The most important things
is, that the convicts should believe that the
icJiabitants of the island are numerous^ and
consequently capable of resisting them. I
therefore propose that we divide into three
parties, the first of which shall be posted at
the Chimneys, the second at the mouth of
the Mercy. As to the third, I think it would
be best to place it on the islet, so as to pre-
vent, or at all events delay, any attempt at
landing. We have the use of two rifles and
four muskets. Each of us will be armed,
and, as we are amply provided with powder
and shot, we need not spare our fire. What
is to be feared is the necessity of meeting
hand-to-hand, since the convicts have num-
bers on their side. We must, therefore, try
to prevent them fix>m landing, but without
revealing ourselves. Therefore, do not
economize the ammunition. Fire often, but
with a sure aim. We have each eight or
ten enemies to kill, and they must be killed ! "

The others acquiesced, and the posts were
arranged in the following manner :

Cyrus Smith and Harbert 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 draw-bridges had been raised, so
as to prevent any one from crossing in a boat
or landing on the opposite shore.

As to Ayrton and Pencroff, they shoved
off in the boat, and prepared to cross the
channel and to take up two separate sutions
on the islet In this way, shots being fired
from four different points at once, the con
victs would be led to believe that the island
was both largely peopled and strongly de-
fended.

In the event of a landing being efiected
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 Pencroff" were to return in their
\ boat to the shore and proceed toward the
I threatened spot.

At eight o'clock a boat was lowered fix)m
the " Speedy," and seven men jumped into
her. They were armed with muskets : one
took the yoke-lines, four others the oars, and



Digitized by



Google



THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND.



707



the two others, kneeling in the bows, ready
to fire, reconnoitered the island.

Pencroflf and Ayrton, each hidden in a
narrow cleft of the rock, saw them coming
directly^ toward them, and waited till they
ivere within range.

The boat advanced with extreme caution.
The oars dipped into the water only at long
intervals. It could now be seen that one
of the convicts held a lead-line in his hand.
The boat was not more than two cable-
lengths off the islet when she stopped. The
man at the tiller stood up and looked for the
best place 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 backward into
the boat. Ayrton's and Pencroflfs 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
Pencroff, made it fly into splinters, but the
two marksmen remained unhurt. Instead
of returning on board, as might have been
expected, tihe 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,
and proceeded toward the mouth of the
Mercy. Their evident intention was to cut
off the colonists posted on the islet.

But, suddenly, 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 bot-
tom 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 splint-
ering the rock.

llie boat now contained only three able
men, who pulled rapidly to the brig.

About a dozen other convicts now
threw themselves into the boat. A second
boat was also lowered, in which eight men
took their places, and whilst the first pulled
straight for the islet, to dislodge the colo-
nists there, the second maneuvered so as to
force the entrance of the Mercy.

The situation was evidently becoming
very dangerous for Pencroff 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,
Pencroff 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 mo-
ment the second boat reached the southern
end, and ran to hide in the Chimneys.

They had scarcely rejoined Cyrus Smith
and Harbert, before the islet was overrun
with pirates in every direction. Almost at
the same moment, fresh reports resounded
from the Mercy station, which the second
boat was rapidly approaching. Two out of
the eight men who manned her were mor-
tally wounded by Gideon Spilett and Neb,
and the boat herself, carried irresistibly upon
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 direc-
tion 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,
who could not by any possibility reach
Granite House, as they could not cross the
river, all the bridges being raised.

The "Speedy," it was now seen, 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,
Pencroff, contrary to Ayrton's opinion, could
not believe that she would dare attempt it

In the meanwhile, the pirates who occu-
pied the islet had exposed tliemselves, and
their number had been lessened by two.

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.

The pirate's design was now only too evi-
dent : he wished to bring her broadside to
bear on the Chimneys.

"The scoundrels ! they are coming ! " said
Pencroff

At that moment, Cyrus Smith, Ayrton, the
sailor, and Harbert were rejoined by Neb
and Gideon Spilett.

The reporter and his companion had



Digitized by



Google



7o8



THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND,



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.

There was not a moment to be lost. The
colonists left the Chimneys and soon reached
Granite House. A bend of the cliff pre-
vented them from being seen by those in
the brig : but *wo or three reports, and the
crash of bullets on the rock told them that
the " Speedy" was near.

It was quite time ; for the setders, through
the branches, could see the " Speedy," sur-
rounded with smoke, gliding up the chan-
nel. The firing was incessant, and shot
from the four guns struck blindly, both on
the Mercy post, and on the Chimneys.
However, they were hoping that Granite
House would be spared, thanks to Smith's
precaution of concealing the windows, when
a shot, piercing the door, penetrated into
the passage.

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. Another ball, having torn away the
leafy screen, disclosed a gaping aperture in
the granite.

All at once a deep roar was heard, fol-
lowed by frightful cries ! Cyrus Smith and
his companions rushed to one of the win-
dows. 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 criminal crew!

CHAPTER IV.

Nothing could be seen of the brig, not
even he'r masts. After having been raised
by the water-spout, she had fallen on her
side, and had sunk in that position, doubt-
less in consequence of some enormous leak.
But as in that place the channel was not
more than twenty feet in depth, it was cer-
tain that the sides of the submerged brig
would reapp)ear at low water. A few things
fix)m the wreck floated on the surface of the
water.

Ayrton and Pencroff 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, Gideon
Spilett said :

" What about those six convicts who dis-
embarked on the right bank of the Mercy ? "

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
Smith. "As they are armed, they will still
be dangerous ; but, as it is six against six,
the chances are equal. To the most press-
ing business first."

Ayrton and Pencroff pulled vigorously
toward the wreck.

They were able to fasten the masts and
spars by means of ropes, the ends of which
were carried to the beach. Then the boat
picked up all that was floating, coops, bar-
rels, and boxes, which were immediately
carried to the Chimneys.

For two hoius, Cyrus Smith and his com-
panions were solely occupied in hauling up
the spars on the sand, and then in spreading^
the sails, which were perfectiy uninjured, to
dry.

When their treasures had been safely con-
veyed on shore. Smith 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 sup-
posed, nothing was talked of but the unex-
pected event which had so miraculously
saved the colony.

Harbert thought the ship had foundered,
while Pencroff laughed at the suggestion
that there were rocks in the channel, and
the matter was left unsetded.

Toward half-past one, the colonists em-
barked in the boat to visit the wreck.

The hull of the " Speedy " was just begin-
ning 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.

Toward the bows, on both sides of the
keel, seven or eight feet fi-om the beginning
of the stem, the sides of the brig were fiight-
fuUy torn. Over a length of at least twenty
feet there opened two large leaks, which it



' Digitized by



Google





THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, 709



standing 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, were well received.
There were enough to clothe a whole



would be impossible to stop up. From the
entire length of the hull to the stem the false
keel had been separated with unaccountable
violence, and the keel itself, torn from the
carline in several places, was split in all its
length.

Entrance to the interior of the brig was now
easy. The tide was still
going down, and the deck
was now accessible.

The settlers saw at
once, with extreme satis-
faction, that the brig pos-
sessed 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 Polyne-
sia 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.

The colonists could

easily go fore and aft,

after having removed the

cases as they were extri-
cated. They were not

heavy bales, which would

have been difficult to

remove, but simple pack-
ages, of which the stow-
age, besides, was no

longer recognizable,
Tlie powder-magazine

was found untouched.

They extricated from

amongst a large number

of shot twenty barrels,

the insides of which were

lined with copper. Pen-

croff was convinced bv the

'^^T, "; . •'^ "HE RKCXXJNIZED IT AS A PIECE OK TORPEDO.

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 1 '*

It was now five o'clock in the evening.
It had been a hard day's work for the men.
lliey ate with good appetite, and, notwith-



colony — ^linen for every one's use, shoes for
every one's feet There were gunpowder,
fire-arms and side-arras, bales of cotton,
implements of husbandry, carpenter's, join-
er's, and blacksmith's tools, and boxes of
all kinds of seeds, not in the least injured
by their short sojourn in the water.

The three following days — the 19th, 20th,
and 2ist of October — were employed in
saving everything of value, either from the
cargo or rigging. At low tide they over-



Digitized by



Google



7IO



THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND.



hauled 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 Pencroflf, 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.

In fact, on the night of the 23d, the hull
entirely broke up, and some of the wreck
was cast up on the beach.

However, the mystery which enveloped
Its strange destruction would doubdess 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 substance. As soon as the
engineer saw it, he recognized it as a piece
of a torpedo I

CHAPTER V,

As to the guns obtained from the brig,
they were pretty pieces of ordnance, which,
at Pencroff*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
diflf. From this height they commanded all
Union Bay.

Their behavior toward the pirates was
next agreed upon. 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.

On the 9th of November Ayrton departed
to do some work at the corral, taking the
cart drawn by one onaga, and two hours
af^er, the electric wire announced that he
had found all in order at the corral.

On the evening of the nth 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 acknowl-
edge the receipt of Uie dispatch, 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 cor-
ral, or even that he was on his way back to
Granite House. In fact, two days had



afready passed since his departure, and k
had been decided that on the eveoiiig<f
the tenth, or at the latest the monung of the
eleventh, he should return. The colonKs
waited, therefore, for Ayrton to appear ie
Prospect Heights. Neb and Harbaterc:
watched at the bridge, so as to be readj d
lower it the moment their compamoo {H^
sented himself.

Dispatches were sent during the mgk.
but no reply was received. It was ica
agreed that Cyrus Smith, ^ilett, Haibot,
and Pencroff were to repair to the cornl
and if they did not find Ayrton, to search dx
neighboring woods. Neb was to be Id
in charge at Granite House, and, in the
event of the pirates presenting thcmsdre*
and attempting to force the passtge, be
was to endeavor to stop them by firmg cq
them, and, as a last resource, he was to take
refuge in Granite House.

Tne colonists followed the wire along 4e
road which connected the corral with Grao-
ite House. Ailer walking for ncaiiy two
miles, Harbert, who was in advance, stopped,
exclaiming :

"The wire is broken!"

His companions . hurried forwaid iwl
arrived at the spot where the lad was stand-
ing. The post was rooted up and lying
across the path. The wire had been snip-
ped, and the ends were lying dose to the
ground. The unexpected explanation 01
die difficulty was here, and it was eridflK
that the dispatches firom Granite Hoi« had
not been received at the corral, nor tbo«
from the corral at Granite House.

The colonists were now half way betweff
Granite House and the corral, havingfil
two miles and a half to go. They prtsed
forward with redoubled speed.

Soon they anived at the place where the
road led along the side of the little stieaa
which flowed fh)m the Red Ciedt and
watered Jthe meadows of the corral They
then moderated their pace, so that they
should not be out of breath at die roooe*
when a struggle might be necessary.

At last the palisade appeared through ffl«
trees. No trace of any damage cooW^
seen. The gate was shut as usual W
silence reigned in the corral

Cyrus Smith raised the inner latdi o(d«
gate, and was about to push it back, wbJ
Top barked loudly. A report sounded,
and was responded to by a ay of P*^^^

Harbert. struck by a bullet, lay stretdie-
on the ground.

The engineer ran round the left comtf *



Digitized by



Google



THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND.



711



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 Cyrus
Smith's dagger, more sure
even than his gun.

During this time, Gideon
Spilett and the sailor hoisted
themselves over the palis-
ade, leaped into the inclos-
ure, threw down the props
which supported the inner
door, ran into the empty
house, and soon poor Har-
bert was lying on Ayrton's
bed. In a few moments
Cyrus Smith was by his
side.

Harbert was deadly pale,
and his pulse so feeble that
Spilett only felt it beat at
long intervals. His chest
was laid bare, and, the
blood having been stanch-
ed with handkerchiefs, was
bathed with cold water.
The contusion, or rather
the contused wound, ap-
peared, — an oval below the
chest between the third and
fourth ribs.

Cyrus Smith and Gideon
Spilett then tirnied the poor
boy over; as they did so,
he uttered a moan so feeble
that they almost thought it
was his last sign.

Harbert's "back was cov-
ered with blood from an-
other contused wound,
where the ball had imme-
diately escaped.

From day to day the -
colonists bestowed all their
attention upon the poor boy. His wounds
were bathed in cold water and compresses
of linen were applied. Through hours of
watching and of anxiety they were ever at
his side with all the resources that their
experience and intelligence could supply.

An examination of the corral revealed no
trace of Ayrton.

The corral itself had not suffered any
damage, nor could they see traces of any
struggle, any devastation, either in the hut
or in the palisade. Only the ammunition
with which Ayrton had been supplied had
disappeared with him.



They now bethought themselves of Neb.
How should they communicate with him?
The five villains were doubtiess watching
the corraL All at once the engineer, calling



THE POST WAS ROOTBD UP AKD LYING ACROSS THE PATH."

Top, tore a leaf ft-om his note-book, and
wrote these words :

" Harbert wounded. We are at the cor-
ral. Be on your guard. Do not leave
Granite House. Have the convicts appeared
in th^ neighborhood ? Reply by Top."

This was folded and fastened to Top's
collar in a conspicuous position, and when
the gate was opened he disappeared in the
forest.

" Top, my dog," said the engineer, caress-
ing the animal, "Neb, Topi Neb! Go,



go!



Top bounded at these words. The road



Digitized by



Google



712



REVOLUTIONARY LETTERS,



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 Smith
nor the reporter could have ventured with-
out danger, Top, running along the grass
or in the wood, would pass unperceived.

The engineer went to the gate of the cor-
ral and opened it.

"Neb, Top! Neb!" repeated he, again
pointing in the direction of Granite House.

Top sprang forward, and almost immedi-
ately disappeared.

" He will get there," said the reporter.

" Yes ; and he will come back, the faith-
ful animal."

"What o'clock is it?" asked Gideon
Spilett.



"Ten."

" In an hour he may be here. We will
watch for his return."

The gate of the corral was closed. The
engineer and tfie reporter re-entered the
house. Harbert was still in a sleep. Pen-
crofT kept the compresser always wet.
Spilett, seeing there was nothing he could
do at that moment, busied himself in pre-



Online LibraryFrancis HallThe Century, Volume 11 → online text (page 124 of 163)