Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 43


PART 3

THE SECRET OF THE ISLAND

CHAPTER 1

It was now two years and a half since the castaways from the balloon had
been thrown on Lincoln Island, and during that period there had been no
communication between them and their fellow-creatures. Once the reporter
had attempted to communicate with the inhabited world by confiding to a
bird a letter which contained the secret of their situation, but that was a
chance on which it was impossible to reckon seriously. Ayrton, alone, under
the circumstances which have been related, had come to join the little
colony. Now, suddenly, on this day, the 17th of October, other men had
unexpectedly appeared in sight of the island, on that deserted sea!

There could be no doubt about it! A vessel was there! But would she pass
on, or would she put into port? In a few hours the colonists would
definitely know what to expect.

Cyrus Harding and Herbert having immediately called Gideon Spilett,
Pencroft, and Neb into the dining-room of Granite House, told them what had
happened. Pencroft, seizing the telescope, rapidly swept the horizon, and
stopping on the indicated point, that is to say, on that which had made the
almost imperceptible spot on the photographic negative,--

"I'm blessed but it is really a vessel!" he exclaimed, in a voice which
did not express any great amount of satisfaction.

"Is she coming here?" asked Gideon Spilett.

"Impossible to say anything yet," answered Pencroft, "for her rigging
alone is above the horizon, and not a bit of her hull can be seen."

"What is to be done?" asked the lad.

"Wait," replied Harding.

And for a considerable time the settlers remained silent, given up to all
the thoughts, and the emotions, all the fears, all the hopes, which were
aroused by this incident--the most important which had occurred since their
arrival in Lincoln Island. Certainly, the colonists were not in the
situation of castaways abandoned on a sterile islet, constantly contending
against a cruel nature for their miserable existence, and incessantly
tormented by the longing to return to inhabited countries. Pencroft and
Neb, especially, who felt themselves at once so happy and so rich, would
not have left their island without regret. They were accustomed, besides,
to this new life in the midst of the domain which their intelligence had as
it were civilized. But at any rate this ship brought news from the world,
perhaps even from their native land. It was bringing fellow-creatures to
them, and it may be conceived how deeply their hearts were moved at the
sight!

From time to time Pencroft took the glass and rested himself at the
window. From thence he very attentively examined the vessel, which was at a
distance of twenty miles to the east. The colonists had as yet, therefore,
no means of signalizing their presence. A flag would not have been
perceived; a gun would not have been heard; a fire would not have been
visible. However, it was certain that the island, overtopped by Mount
Franklin, could not escape the notice of the vessel's lookout. But why was
the ship coming there? Was it simple chance which brought it to that part
of the Pacific, where the maps mentioned no land except Tabor Island, which
itself was out of the route usually followed by vessels from the Polynesian
Archipelagoes, from New Zealand, and from the American coast? To this
question, which each one asked himself, a reply was suddenly made by
Herbert.

"Can it be the 'Duncan'?" he cried.

The "Duncan," as has been said, was Lord Glenarvan's yacht, which had
left Ayrton on the islet, and which was to return there someday to fetch
him. Now, the islet was not so far distant from Lincoln Island, but that a
vessel, standing for the one, could pass in sight of the other. A hundred
and fifty miles only separated them in longitude, and seventy in latitude.

"We must tell Ayrton," said Gideon Spilett, "and send for him
immediately. He alone can say if it is the 'Duncan.'"

This was the opinion of all, and the reporter, going to the telegraphic
apparatus which placed the corral in communication with Granite House, sent
this telegram:--"Come with all possible speed."

In a few minutes the bell sounded.

"I am coming," replied Ayrton.

Then the settlers continued to watch the vessel.

"If it is the 'Duncan,' " said Herbert, "Ayrton will recognize her
without difficulty, since he sailed on board her for some time."

"And if he recognizes her," added Pencroft, "it will agitate him
exceedingly!"

"Yes," answered Cyrus Harding; "but now Ayrton is worthy to return on
board the 'Duncan,' and pray Heaven that it is indeed Lord Glenarvan's
yacht, for I should be suspicious of any other vessel. These are ill-famed
seas, and I have always feared a visit from Malay pirates to our island."

"We could defend it,', cried Herbert.

"No doubt, my boy," answered the engineer smiling, "but it would be
better not to have to defend it."

"A useless observation," said Spilett. "Lincoln Island is unknown to
navigators, since it is not marked even on the most recent maps. Do you
think, Cyrus, that that is a sufficient motive for a ship, finding herself
unexpectedly in sight of new land, to try and visit rather than avoid it?"

"Certainly," replied Pencroft.

"I think so too," added the engineer. "It may even be said that it is the
duty of a captain to come and survey any land or island not yet known, and
Lincoln Island is in this position."

"Well," said Pencroft, "suppose this vessel comes and anchors there a few
cables-lengths from our island, what shall we do?"

This sudden question remained at first without any reply. But Cyrus
Harding, after some moments' thought, replied in the calm tone which was
usual to him,--

"What we shall do, my friends? What we ought to do is this:--we will
communicate with the ship, we will take our passage on board her, and we
will leave our island, after having taken possession of it in the name of
the United States. Then we will return with any who may wish to follow us
to colonize it definitely, and endow the American Republic with a useful
station in this part of the Pacific Ocean!"

"Hurrah!" exclaimed Pencroft, "and that will be no small present which we
shall make to our country! The colonization is already almost finished;
names are given to every part of the island; there is a natural port, fresh
water, roads, a telegraph, a dockyard, and manufactories; and there will be
nothing to be done but to inscribe Lincoln Island on the maps!"

"But if anyone seizes it in our absence?" observed Gideon Spilett.

"Hang it!" cried the sailor. "I would rather remain all alone to guard
it: and trust to Pencroft, they shouldn't steal it from him, like a watch
from the pocket of a swell!"

For an hour it was impossible to say with any certainty whether the
vessel was or was not standing towards Lincoln Island. She was nearer, but
in what direction was she sailing? This Pencroft could not determine.
However, as the wind was blowing from the northeast, in all probability the
vessel was sailing on the starboard tack. Besides, the wind was favorable
for bringing her towards the island, and, the sea being calm, she would not
be afraid to approach although the shallows were not marked on the chart.

Towards four o'clock--an hour after he had been sent for--Ayrton arrived at
Granite House. He entered the dining-room saying,--

"At your service, gentlemen."

Cyrus Harding gave him his hand, as was his custom to do, and, leading
him to the window,--

"Ayrton," said he, "we have begged you to come here for an important
reason. A ship is in sight of the island."

Ayrton at first paled slightly, and for a moment his eyes became dim;
then, leaning out the window, he surveyed the horizon, but could see
nothing.

"Take this telescope," said Spilett, "and look carefully, Ayrton, for it
is possible that this ship may be the 'Duncan' come to these seas for the
purpose of taking you home again."

"The 'Duncan!'" murmured Ayrton. "Already?" This last word escaped
Ayrton's lips as if involuntarily, and his head drooped upon his hands.

Did not twelve years' solitude on a desert island appear to him a
sufficient expiation? Did not the penitent yet feel himself pardoned,
either in his own eyes or in the eyes of others?

"No," said he, "no! it cannot be the 'Duncan'!"

"Look, Ayrton," then said the engineer, "for it is necessary that we
should know beforehand what to expect."

Ayrton took the glass and pointed it in the direction indicated. During
some minutes he examined the horizon without moving, without uttering a
word. Then,--

"It is indeed a vessel," said he, "but I do not think she is the
'Duncan.'"

"Why do you not think so?" asked Gideon Spilett.

"Because the 'Duncan' is a steam-yacht, and I cannot perceive any trace
of smoke either above or near that vessel."

"Perhaps she is simply sailing," observed Pencroft. "The wind is
favorable for the direction which she appears to be taking, and she may be
anxious to economize her coal, being so far from land."

"It is possible that you may be right, Mr. Pencroft," answered Ayrton,
"and that the vessel has extinguished her fires. We must wait until she is
nearer, and then we shall soon know what to expect."

So saying, Ayrton sat down in a corner of the room and remained silent.
The colonists again discussed the strange ship, but Ayrton took no part in
the conversation. All were in such a mood that they found it impossible to
continue their work. Gideon Spilett and Pencroft were particularly nervous,
going, coming, not able to remain still in one place. Herbert felt more
curiosity. Neb alone maintained his usual calm manner. Was not his country
that where his master was? As to the engineer, he remained plunged in deep
thought, and in his heart feared rather than desired the arrival of the
ship. In the meanwhile, the vessel was a little nearer the island. With the
aid of the glass, it was ascertained that she was a brig, and not one of
those Malay proas, which are generally used by the pirates of the Pacific.
It was, therefore, reasonable to believe that the engineer's apprehensions
would not be justified, and that the presence of this vessel in the
vicinity of the island was fraught with no danger.

Pencroft, after a minute examination, was able positively to affirm that
the vessel was rigged as a brig, and that she was standing obliquely
towards the coast, on the starboard tack, under her topsails and top-
gallant-sails. This was confirmed by Ayrton. But by continuing in this
direction she must soon disappear behind Claw Cape, as the wind was from
the southwest, and to watch her it would be then necessary to ascend the
height of Washington Bay, near Port Balloon--a provoking circumstance, for it
was already five o'clock in the evening, and the twilight would soon make
any observation extremely difficult.

"What shall we do when night comes on?" asked Gideon Spilett. "Shall we
light a fire, so as to signal our presence on the coast?"

This was a serious question, and yet, although the engineer still
retained some of his presentiments, it was answered in the affirmative.
During the night the ship might disappear and leave for ever, and, this
ship gone, would another ever return to the waters of Lincoln Island? Who
could foresee what the future would then have in store for the colonists?

"Yes," said the reporter, "we ought to make known to that vessel, whoever
she may be, that the island is inhabited. To neglect the opportunity which
is offered to us might be to create everlasting regrets."

It was therefore decided that Neb and Pencroft should go to Port Balloon,
and that there, at nightfall, they should light an immense fire, the blaze
of which would necessarily attract the attention of the brig.

But at the moment when Neb and the sailor were preparing to leave Granite
House, the vessel suddenly altered her course, and stood directly for Union
Bay. The brig was a good sailer, for she approached rapidly. Neb and
Pencroft put off their departure, therefore, and the glass was put into
Ayrton's hands, that he might ascertain for certain whether the ship was or
was not the "Duncan." The Scotch yacht was also rigged as a brig. The
question was, whether a chimney could be discerned between the two masts of
the vessel, which was now at a distance of only five miles.

The horizon was still very clear. The examination was easy, and Ayrton
soon let the glass fall again, saying--

"It is not the 'Duncan'! It could not be!"

Pencroft again brought the brig within the range of the telescope, and
could see that she was of between three and four hundred tons burden,
wonderfully narrow, well-masted, admirably built, and must be a very rapid
sailer. But to what nation did she belong? That was difficult to say.

"And yet," added the sailor, "a flag is floating from her peak, but I
cannot distinguish the colors of it."

"In half an hour we shall be certain about that," answered the reporter.
"Besides, it is very evident that the intention of the captain of this ship
is to land, and, consequently, if not today, to-morrow at the latest, we
shall make his acquaintance."

"Never mind!" said Pencroft. "It is best to know whom we have to deal
with, and I shall not be sorry to recognize that fellow's colors!"

And, while thus speaking, the sailor never left the glass. The day began
to fade, and with the day the breeze fell also. The brig's ensign hung in
folds, and it became more and more difficult to observe it.

"It is not the American flag," said Pencroft from time to time, "nor the
English, the red of which could be easily seen, nor the French or German
colors, nor the white flag of Russia, nor the yellow of Spain. One would
say it was all one color. Let's see: in these seas, what do we generally
meet with? The Chilean flag?--but that is tri-color. Brazilian?--it is
green. Japanese?--it is yellow and black, while this--"

At that moment the breeze blew out the unknown flag. Ayrton seizing the
telescope which the sailor had put down, put it to his eye, and in a hoarse
voice, --

"The black flag!" he exclaimed.

And indeed the somber bunting was floating from the mast of the brig, and
they had now good reason for considering her to be a suspicious vessel!

Had the engineer, then, been right in his presentiments? Was this a
pirate vessel? Did she scour the Pacific, competing with the Malay proas
which still infest it? For what had she come to look at the shores of
Lincoln Island? Was it to them an unknown island, ready to become a
magazine for stolen cargoes? Had she come to find on the coast a sheltered
port for the winter months? Was the settlers' honest domain destined to be
transformed into an infamous refuge--the headquarters of the piracy of the
Pacific?

All these ideas instinctively presented themselves to the colonists'
imaginations. There was no doubt, besides, of the signification which must
be attached to the color of the hoisted flag. It was that of pirates! It
was that which the "Duncan" would have carried, had the convicts succeeded
in their criminal design! No time was lost before discussing it.

"My friends," said Cyrus Harding, "perhaps this vessel only wishes to
survey the coast of the island. Perhaps her crew will not land. There is a
chance of it. However that may be, we ought to do everything we can to hide
our presence here. The windmill on Prospect Heights is too easily seen. Let
Ayrton and Neb go and take down the sails. We must also conceal the windows
of Granite House with thick branches. All the fires must be extinguished,
so that nothing may betray the presence of men on the island."

"And our vessel?" said Herbert.

"Oh," answered Pencroft, "she is sheltered in Port Balloon, and I defy
any of those rascals there to find her!"

The engineer's orders were immediately executed. Neb and Ayrton ascended
the plateau, and took the necessary precautions to conceal any indication
of a settlement. While they were thus occupied, their companions went to
the border of Jacamar Wood, and brought back a large quantity of branches
and creepers, which would at some distance appear as natural foliage, and
thus disguise the windows in the granite cliff. At the same time, the
ammunition and guns were placed ready so as to be at hand in case of an
unexpected attack.

When all these precautions had been taken,--

"My friends," said Harding, and his voice betrayed some emotion, "if the
wretches endeavor to seize Lincoln Island, we shall defend it--shall we
not?"

"Yes, Cyrus," replied the reporter, "and if necessary we will die to
defend it!"

The engineer extended his hand to his companions, who pressed it warmly.
Ayrton remained in his corner, not joining the colonists. Perhaps he, the
former convict, still felt himself unworthy to do so!

Cyrus Harding understood what was passing in Ayrton's mind, and going to
him--

"And you, Ayrton," he asked, "what will you do?"

"My duty," answered Ayrton.

He then took up his station near the window and gazed through the
foliage.

It was now half-past seven. The sun had disappeared twenty minutes ago
behind Granite House. Consequently the Eastern horizon was becoming
obscured. In the meanwhile the brig continued to advance towards Union Bay.
She was now not more than two miles off, and exactly opposite the plateau
of Prospect Heights, for after having tacked off Claw Cape, she had drifted
towards the north in the current of the rising tide. One might have said
that at this distance she had already entered the vast bay, for a straight
line drawn from Claw Cape to Cape Mandible would have rested on her
starboard quarter.

Was the brig about to penetrate far into the bay? That was the first
question. When once in the bay, would she anchor there? That was the
second. Would she not content herself with only surveying the coast, and
stand out to sea again without landing her crew? They would know this in an
hour. The colonists could do nothing but wait.

Cyrus Harding had not seen the suspected vessel hoist the black flag
without deep anxiety. Was it not a direct menace against the work which he
and his companions had till now conducted so successfully? Had these
pirates--for the sailors of the brig could be nothing else--already visited
the island, since on approaching it they had hoisted their colors. Had they
formerly invaded it, so that certain unaccountable peculiarities might be
explained in this way? Did there exist in the as yet unexplored parts some
accomplice ready to enter into communication with them?

To all these questions which he mentally asked himself, Harding knew not
what to reply; but he felt that the safety of the colony could not but be
seriously threatened by the arrival of the brig.

However, he and his companions were determined to fight to the last gasp.
It would have been very important to know if the pirates were numerous and
better armed than the colonists. But how was this information to he
obtained?

Night fell. The new moon had disappeared. Profound darkness enveloped the
island and the sea. No light could pierce through the heavy piles of clouds
on the horizon. The wind had died away completely with the twilight. Not a
leaf rustled on the trees, not a ripple murmured on the shore. Nothing
could be seen of the ship, all her lights being extinguished, and if she
was still in sight of the island, her whereabouts could not be discovered.

"Well! who knows?" said Pencroft. "Perhaps that cursed craft will stand
off during the night, and we shall see nothing of her at daybreak."

As if in reply to the sailor's observation, a bright light flashed in the
darkness, and a cannon-shot was heard.

The vessel was still there and had guns on board.

Six seconds elapsed between the flash and the report.

Therefore the brig was about a mile and a quarter from the coast.

At the same time, the chains were heard rattling through the hawse-holes.

The vessel had just anchored in sight of Granite House!


Jules Verne