In the two and a half years since the castaways of the balloon had been thrown on Lincoln Island, there had been no communication between them and their fellow men. Once the reporter had attempted to put himself in touch with the inhabited world by confiding to a bird a letter which contained the secret of their situation but this was a chance which it was impossible to take seriously. Ayrton alone, under circumstances which we know, had come to join the members of the small colony. Now, here on this very day—the 17th of October—other men appeared unexpectedly in sight of the island on this sea that was always deserted.
There could be no doubt about it! A vessel was there! But would she pass out to sea or would she put into port? In several hours the colonists would evidently know what to expect.
Cyrus Smith and Herbert immediately called Gideon Spilett, Pencroff and Neb into the large hall of Granite House and told them what had happened. Pencroff, seizing the telescope, rapidly scanned the horizon and stopped on the indicated point, that is to say on that which had made the imperceptible blemish on the photographic negative:
“I’ll be damned if it isn’t really a vessel,” he said in a voice that did not denote extraordinary satisfaction.
“Is she coming toward us?” asked Gideon Spilett.
“It’s impossible to say anything yet,” replied Pencroff, “because only her masts appear above the horizon and not a bit of her hull can be seen.”
“What should we do?” asked the lad.
“Wait,” replied Cyrus Smith.
And during this rather long time the colonists remained silent, devoting themselves to all the thoughts, to all the emotions, to all the fears, to all the hopes that this incident could give rise to—the most serious to occur since their arrival on Lincoln Island.
Certainly the colonists were not in the situation of abandoned castaways on a sterile island, who dispute their miserable existence with a cruel nature and are incessantly devoured by this need to see civilization again. Pencroff and Neb especially, who found themselves at this time so happy and so prosperous, would not have left their island without regret. Moreover, they were suited to this new life in the midst of this domain that their intelligence had, so to speak, civilized! In any event this vessel brought news of the world. It was perhaps a fragment of their country coming to meet them! It brought other human beings to them and one can understand that their hearts thrilled at this prospect!
From time to time, Pencroff took the telescope and positioned himself at the window. There he carefully examined the ship which was at a distance of twenty miles to the east. Thus the colonists still had no way to signal their presence. A flag would not have been perceived; an explosion would not have been heard; a fire would not be visible.
However, it was certain that the island, dominated by Mount Franklin, could not escape the attention of the vessel’s lookout. But why was this ship stopping here? Was it simply chance that had brought it to this part of the Pacific, where the maps only mentioned Tabor Island, which was itself outside the routes ordinarily followed by ocean going vessels from the Polynesian archipelagoes, from New Zealand and from the American coast?
To this question which each one asked himself, a response was suddenly made by Herbert.
“Can it be the Duncan?” he cried.
The Duncan, we must not forget, was Lord Glenarvan’s yacht, which had abandoned Ayrton on the islet and which had the duty to return one day to find him there. Now the islet was not so far from Lincoln Island that a ship enroute to one could not pass in view of the other. Only one hundred fifty miles separated them in longitude and seventy five miles in latitude.
“Let us call Ayrton,” said Gideon Spilett, “and tell him immediately. He alone will be able to tell us if it is the Duncan.”
This was everyone’s opinion, and the reporter, going to the telegraphic apparatus which placed the corral and Granite House in communication, sent this telegram.
“Come with all possible speed.”
Several moments later the bell rang.
“I am coming,” replied Ayrton.
Then the colonists continued to watch the vessel.
“If it is the Duncan,” said Herbert, “Ayrton will easily recognize it since he sailed on it for a while.”
“And if he recognizes it,” Pencroff added, “it will make him very emotional!”
“Yes,” replied Cyrus Smith, “but now Ayrton is worthy to return on board the Duncan and may Heaven grant that it is Lord Glenarvan’s yacht because all other vessels would make me suspicious! These are ill used seas and I am always afraid of a visit to our island from some of these evil pirates.”
“We will defend it,” cried Herbert.
“No doubt, my child,” replied the engineer smiling, “but it would be better not to have to defend it.”
“One simple observation,” said Gideon Spilett. “Lincoln Island is unknown to navigators since it is not even noted on the most recent maps. Wouldn’t you say, Cyrus, that it is enough of a reason for a vessel, finding itself unexpectedly in sight of a new land, to visit it rather than to run from it?”
“Certainly,” replied Pencroff.
“I also think that,” added the engineer. “One could even say that it is the duty of a captain to note and consequently to discover all lands or islands that are not already catalogued, and that is the case with Lincoln Island.”
“Well,” Pencroff then said, “let us suppose that this vessel will land and anchor there, several cables from our island, what will we do?”
This blunt question remained at first without an answer. Then, after reflection, Cyrus Smith replied with his usual calm tone:
“This is what we will do, my friends, this is what we ought to do, it is this: We will communicate with the vessel, we will take passage on board, and we will leave our island after having taken possession of it in the name of the States of the Union. Then we will return here with all those who wish to follow us, to colonize it and to present to the American Republic a useful station in this part of the Pacific Ocean.”
“Hurrah,” shouted Pencroff, “and it will be no small gift which we will make to our country! The colonization is almost completed, names have already been given to all parts of the island, it has a natural port, fresh water, roads, a telegraph line, a foundry, and a factory. Nothing has to be done except to inscribe Lincoln Island on the maps!”
“But if someone takes it from us during our absence?” Gideon Spilett asked.
“Damn it,” cried the sailor, “I will stay here all alone to guard it and trust Pencroff, no one will steal it from me like a watch in the pocket of an idler.”
For an hour it was impossible to say with a certainty if the ship was or was not going directly toward Lincoln Island. It was getting closer to it but in what direction was it sailing? This Pencroff could not determine. However, since the wind was blowing from the northeast it was likely that the vessel was sailing on starboard tack. Moreover, the wind was a good one for driving her to the shores of the island and with this calm sea it need not fear to approach even though the soundings were not listed on the map.
About four o’clock—a hour after he had been summoned—Ayrton arrived at Granite House. He entered the large hall and said:
“At your service, gentlemen.”
Cyrus Smith took his hand, as was his custom, and led him to the window:
“Ayrton,” he said to him, “we have asked you to come for an important reason. A ship is in sight of the island.”
At first Ayrton paled slightly and his eyes seemed perplexed for a moment. Then he leaned outside the window and surveyed the horizon but he saw nothing.
“Take this telescope,” said Gideon Spilett, “and look carefully, Ayrton, because it is possible that this vessel is the Duncan coming to these waters to take you home.”
“The Duncan,” murmured Ayrton. “Already!”
This last word escaped Ayrton’s lips involuntarily and his head fell into his hands.
Did not twelve years of abandonment on a desert islet seem to him to be sufficient expiation? Could it be that the repentant criminal still did not feel pardoned neither in his own eyes nor in the eyes of others?
“No,” he said, “no! it cannot be the Duncan.”
“Look, Ayrton,” the engineer then said, “because it is important that we know in advance what we have to contend with.”
Ayrton took the telescope and pointed it in the indicated direction. For a few minutes he observed the horizon without fidgeting, without saying a word. Then:
“It is a vessel in fact,” he said, “but I do not believe that it is the Duncan.”
“It is a vessel in fact,” said Ayrton.
“Why not?” asked Gideon Spilett.
“Because the Duncan is a steam yacht, and I do not see any trace of steam either above or near this ship.”
“Perhaps they are using the sails only?” noted Pencroff. “The wind is right for the direction they seem to be going in, and it would be in their interest to conserve their coal being so far from all land.”
“It is possible that you are right, Mister Pencroff,” replied Ayrton, “and that this vessel has extinguished its fire. Let it come closer to shore and we will soon know what to expect.”
That said, Ayrton sat down in a corner of the large hall and remained silent. The colonists continued their discussion with respect to the unknown vessel, but Ayrton took no part in it.
All found themselves in a mood that would not permit them to continue their work. Gideon Spilett and Pencroff were especially nervous, coming and going and not standing still. Herbert felt curious. Neb alone maintained his usual calm. Wasn’t his country wherever his master was? As to the engineer, he remained absorbed in his thoughts and deep down he feared rather than desired the arrival of this vessel.
However, the ship came a little closer to the island. With the help of the telescope they could see that it was an ocean going ship and not one of these Malayan proas that are usually used by the pirates of the Pacific. They could then allow themselves to believe that the engineer’s apprehensions were not justified and that the presence of this ship in the waters of Lincoln Island did not constitute any danger. After a careful look, Pencroff thought that this vessel was rigged as a brig and that it was sailing obliquely to the coast on a starboard tack, under its lower sails, its topsails and its topgallant sails. This was confirmed by Ayrton.
But if it continued in this direction, it would soon disappear behind Cape Claw because it was sailing to the southwest, and if they wanted to observe it, they must go to Washington Bay heights near Port Balloon. This was an unfortunate circumstance because it was already five o’clock in the afternoon and twilight would soon make all observation difficult.
“What shall we do when night comes?” asked Gideon Spilett. “Shall we light a fire in order to signal our presence on this shore?”
It was a grave question but nevertheless it could not be resolved affirmatively because of the engineer’s misgivings. During the night the vessel could disappear forever and with this vessel gone, would another ever come to Lincoln Island? Who could tell what was in store for the colonists in the future?
“Yes,” said the reporter, “we should let this vessel know, whatever it may be, that the island is inhabited. There will be regrets in the future if we neglect the chance that is offered to us.”
It was thus decided that Neb and Pencroff would go to Port Balloon and that when night came they would light a large fire to attract the attention of the ship’s crew.
But just as Neb and the sailor were preparing to leave Granite House, the ship changed its direction, sailing directly toward Union Bay. This brig was a fast sailer and approached rapidly.
Neb and Pencroff put off their departure and the telescope was put into Ayrton’s hands in order that he could say for sure whether or not this vessel was the Duncan. The Scottish yacht was also rigged as a brig as was this one. The question was then to know if there was a chimney between the two masts of this ship which was then no more than ten miles away.
The horizon was still very clear. The verification was easy and Ayrton soon put the telescope down saying:
“It is not the Duncan. It cannot be it!...”
Pencroff again brought the brig within the field of view of the telescope and he saw that this brig of three to four hundred tons burden was well shaped and firmly masted. It had to be a fast sailer of the seas. But to which nation did it belong? That was difficult to say.
“However,” added the sailor, “a flag is flying from the truck of the mast but I cannot distinguish its colors.”
“In a half-hour we will know this,” replied the reporter. “Besides, it is rather evident that the captain of this vessel intends to land and consequently we will make his acquaintance if not today then tomorrow at the latest.”
“Never mind,” said Pencroff. “It is better to know whom we are dealing with and I will not be sorry to know his colors, particularly this one.”
And, while speaking, the sailor did not leave his telescope.
Day began to fall and with the day the wind from the open sea also fell. The brig’s flag, attached to the halyard, was less unfurled and it became more and more difficult to see it.
“It is not the American flag,” Pencroff said from time to time, “nor the English whose red could easily be seen, nor the French colors nor the German, nor the white flag of Russia, nor the yellow of Spain... One would say that it is of a uniform color... Let us see... in these seas... what does one usually find?... the Chilean flag? but it is tricolor... Brazilian? it is green... Japanese? it is black and yellow... while this one...”
At that moment a breeze unfurled the unknown flag. Ayrton seized the telescope that the sailor had put down, applied it to his eye, and in a hollow voice:
“The black flag,” he shouted.
“The black flag,” shouted Ayrton.
In fact, a dark cloth unfolded from the truck of the brig’s mast and now they had best assume it to be a suspicious vessel.
Were the engineer’s misgivings justified? Was it a pirate ship? Did it scour these lower seas of the Pacific in competition with the Malayan proas that still infested it? What were they seeking on the shores of Lincoln Island? Did they see in this ignored unknown land a hiding place for their stolen cargoes? Had they come looking for a port of refuge for the winter months? Would the colonist’s honest domain be transformed into an infamous refuge—a sort of capital for the pirates of the Pacific?
Instinctively these thoughts occurred to the colonists. Besides, there was no doubt about the significance to be attached to the color of the hoisted flag. It certainly was one of these scourers of the sea. This is what would have become of the Duncan if the convicts had succeeded with their criminal projects.
They lost no time in discussing it.
“My friends,” said Cyrus Smith, “perhaps this vessel only wishes to observe the shore of the island. Perhaps its crew will not land. There is a chance of that. Be it as it may, we must do everything to conceal our presence here. The windmill on Grand View Plateau is easy to recognize. Let Ayrton and Neb take down the arms. Let us also hide the windows of Granite House under thick branches. Let all fires be extinguished. Nothing must betray the presence of man on this island.”
“And our boat?” said Herbert.
“Oh!” replied Pencroff, “she is sheltered in Port Balloon and I defy these scoundrels to find her there.”
The engineer’s orders were immediately executed. Neb and Ayrton climbed the plateau and took the necessary measures to conceal any indications of human presence. While they were occupied with this task, their companions went to the border of Jacamar Woods and brought back a large quantity of branches and creepers which, from a distance, would look like natural foliage, to conceal the windows in the granite wall. At the same time, the munitions and the weapons were placed so they could be used at a moment’s notice in case of an unexpected attack.
When all these precautions had been taken:
“My friends,” said Cyrus Smith—and they sensed the emotion in his voice—“if these wretches attempt to seize Lincoln Island, we will defend it, is that not so?”
“Yes, Cyrus,” replied the reporter, “and if need be, we will all die to defend it.”
The engineer shook the hands of his companions who pressed his effusively.
Ayrton alone remained in his corner, not joining the colonists. Perhaps the former convict still felt unworthy.
Cyrus Smith understood what was passing in Ayrton’s soul and he went to him.
“And you, Ayrton,” he asked him, “what will you do?”
“My duty,” replied Ayrton.
Then he stationed himself near the window and looked through the foliage.
It was then seven thirty. The sun had already set about twenty minutes ago behind Granite House. Consequently the eastern horizon would become darker little by little. Nevertheless the brig continued to advance toward Union Bay. It was now not more than eight miles away and exactly opposite Grand View Plateau because, after having changed direction off Cape Claw, it had gone north taking advantage of the current produced by the rising tide. One could even say that at this distance it had already entered the vast bay because its starboard quarter was to the west of a straight line drawn from Cape Claw to Cape Mandible.
Would the brig go well into the bay? That was the first question. Once in the bay, would it anchor there? That was the second. Would they merely be content to observe the shore and return to sea without landing the crew? This they would know in an hour. The colonists could only wait.
Cyrus Smith had not seen the suspicious vessel unfurl its black flag without a deep anxiety. Was it not a direct menace against the work that his companions and he had accomplished so well up to that time? The pirates—there could be no doubt that such was the crew of the brig—had they already frequented this island, since they had raised their colors upon coming within sight of land? Had they been here previously, which would explain certain peculiarities that were still without explanation? Did there exist some accomplice in the still unexplored portions who was ready to enter into communication with them?
Cyrus Smith did not know how to reply to all these questions that he asked himself silently; but he sensed that the colony’s situation could only be gravely compromised by the arrival of this brig.
Nevertheless, his companions and he had decided to resist them to the end. Were these pirates numerous and better armed than the colonists? It would be very important to know this! But how could they get this information?
It was night. The new moon, carried away by the solar rays, had disappeared. A deep obscurity enveloped the island and the sea. Heavy clouds had accumulated on the horizon, allowing no light to filter through. The wind had fallen completely with the twilight. Not a branch stirred among the trees and not a wave murmured on the beach. They saw nothing of the vessel, its fires being restrained, and if it was still in view of the island, they did not even know where it was.
“Well, what do you know?” Pencroff then said. “Perhaps this damn ship will have gone on its way during the night and we will no longer find it at daybreak.”
As if in response to the sailor’s remark, a bright flash appeared at sea and a cannon resounded.
The vessel was still there and it had artillery pieces on board.
Six seconds elapsed between the flash and the roar.
Therefore the brig was approximately a mile and a quarter from shore.
And at the same time they heard the noise of chains grating through the hawse-holes.
The vessel had anchored in sight of Granite House!