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Chapter 46


CHAPTER 4

"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
unexpected catastrophe.

"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
been exterminated!"

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
inexplicable.

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
their island.

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.

"Yes, captain."

"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
honest vessel."

"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
can make."

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
up.

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
powder-magazine."

"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
destruction."

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
preservation.

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
all this?"

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 night.

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
substance.

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
Pencroft,--

"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
incredulity.

"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
yield.

"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
power!"


Jules Verne