The night passed without incident. The colonists remained on the alert, not abandoning their post at the Chimneys. On their side, the pirates did not seem to have made any attempt to land. After the last shots had been fired at Ayrton, there were no detonations, not even a noise to reveal the presence of the brig on the approaches to the island. In a strict sense they could have believed that it had raised anchor, thinking that they had to deal with a powerful opponent, and were far from these waters.
But that was not so because at daybreak the colonists were able to catch a glimpse of a confused mass through the morning fog. It was the Speedy.
“Here, my friends,” the engineer then said, “are the arrangements which seem to me to be the best to make before the fog lifts completely. It hides us from the eyes of the pirates so we must act without arousing their attention. What is especially important is to lead the convicts to believe that there are many inhabitants on the island who consequently are capable of resisting them. I therefore propose to you that we divide into three groups, the first posted here at the Chimneys, and the second at the mouth of the Mercy. As to the third, I think that it would be best to place it on the islet in order to repel or at least to delay any attempt to land. We have for our use two carbines and four rifles. Each of us will thus be armed and since we are well provided with powder and shot, we will not spare our ammunition. We have nothing to fear from their rifles nor even from the brig’s cannons. What can they do against these rocks? and since we will not be firing from the windows of Granite House, the pirates will not think of sending any shells there, which could cause irreparable damage. What is to be feared is if hand to hand combat becomes necessary since the convicts have numbers on their side. We must hence resist any attempt to land without revealing ourselves. So do not economize on the ammunition. Fire often but accurately. Each of us has eight or ten enemies to kill and kill them he must.”
Cyrus Smith had sized up the situation clearly, all the while speaking in a calm voice as if he were supervising some job and not directing a battle. His companions approved these arrangements without saying a word. He had no need to tell everyone to go to his post before the fog was completely dissipated.
Neb and Pencroff immediately went to Granite House and brought back sufficient munitions. Gideon Spilett and Ayrton, both good shots, were armed with precision carbines which carried to nearly a mile. The four other guns were distributed to Cyrus Smith, Neb, Pencroff and Herbert.
The posts were assigned as follows.
Cyrus Smith and Herbert remained posted at the Chimneys so as to command the shore at the foot of Granite House over a rather large radius.
Gideon Spilett and Neb went to crouch among the rocks at the mouth of the Mercy—the bridge there as well as the other bridges had been lifted—their purpose to repel any passage by boat and even any landing on the opposite shore.
As to Ayrton and Pencroff, they crossed the channel with the canoe to occupy two separate posts on the islet. In this way there would be firings from four different points and the convicts would think that the island had sufficient people to defend it well.
In the event that they were unable to repel a landing or even if they were at the point of being outflanked by some boat from the brig, Pencroff and Ayrton would return with the canoe, setting foot on shore to go to the most menaced area.
Before going to their posts, the colonists shook hands for a last time. Pencroff succeeded in mastering his emotions when he embraced Herbert, his child!... then they parted.
A few minutes later, Cyrus Smith and Herbert on the one side and the reporter and Neb on the other, had disappeared behind some rocks, and five minutes later Ayrton and Pencroff, having successfully crossed the channel, set foot on the islet and hid themselves behind some windings of the eastern shore.
No one could have been seen because they themselves could still barely distinguish the brig in the fog.
It was six thirty in the morning.
Little by little the fog broke up and the truck of the brig’s mast emerged. For a few moments large volutes still circulated on the surface of the sea; then a breeze rapidly dissipated the haze.
The Speedy appeared in full view, moored with two anchors, its bow pointed north, presenting its portside quarter to the island. Cyrus Smith estimated that it was not more than a mile and a quarter from shore.
The sinister black flag flew from the truck of the mast.
With his telescope, the engineer could see that the four cannons which comprised the vessel’s artillery had been pointed toward the island. It was evidently ready to fire at the first signal.
However the Speedy remained silent. One could see about thirty pirates moving about on the bridge. Several had gone up to the poop deck; two others, posted at the large topgallant and provided with telescopes, were carefully observing the island.
Certainly Bob Harvey and his crew could account for what had happened on board during the night only with great difficulty. This half nude man who came to force the door of the powder storeroom, against whom they had fought, who had discharged his revolver six times, who had killed one of their number and wounded two others, had this man escaped their shots? Had he been able to swim back to shore? Where did he come from? How did he get on board? Was his intent really to blow up the brig as Bob Harvey thought? All this had to be very confusing for the convicts. But this they could no longer doubt, that the unknown island before which the Speedy had thrown anchor, was inhabited and that perhaps there was an entire colony ready to defend it. Nevertheless no one showed himself, neither on shore nor on the heights. The shore appeared to be absolutely deserted. In any event, there was no trace of a dwelling. Had the inhabitants fled to the interior?
That was the question asked by the pirate chief and doubtless, as a prudent man, he would explore the neighborhood before engaging his forces.
For an hour and a half there was no indication on board the brig of preparations for an attack or a landing. It was evident that Bob Harvey was hesitating. His best telescopes doubtless, would not allow him to perceive any of the colonists crouching among the rocks. It was not even likely that his attention had been directed to the covering of green branches and creepers which hid the windows of Granite House cut into the bare wall. In fact, how could he imagine that a dwelling had been hollowed out, at this height, into the block of granite? From Cape Claw to the Mandible Capes, over the entire perimeter of Union Bay, there was nothing to indicate that the island could be occupied.
At eight o’clock however, the colonists saw some activity on board the Speedy. They hauled out the tackle and a boat was put to sea. Seven men descended. They were armed; one of them placed himself at the tiller, four at the oars and the other two, crouching up front, ready to fire, examined the island. Their purpose doubtless, was to perform a preliminary reconnaissance, but not to land, because in the latter case they would have come in greater numbers.
The pirates, perched in the topgallant mast, had evidently been able to see that an islet protected the coast and was separated from it by a channel about a half mile wide. By observing the direction followed by the boat, Cyrus Smith soon realized that they would not move first into the channel but would draw alongside the islet, which was besides a justified measure of prudence.
Pencroff and Ayrton, each hidden separately among the narrow windings of the rocks, saw them coming directly toward them and they waited for the right moment.
The boat advanced carefully. The oars dipped into the water only at long intervals. They could also see that one of the convicts in front held a sounding line in his hand and that he was trying to discover the channel hollowed out by the Mercy’s current. This indicated that Bob Harvey intended to bring his brig as close to shore as he could. About thirty pirates, dispersed in the shrouds, did not lose sight of the boat and took the bearings of certain landmarks which would allow them to land without danger.
The boat was not more than two cables from the islet when it stopped. The man at the helm, standing up, was looking for the best point at which to land on the islet.
In an instant two gunshots were heard. Some smoke twirled above the rocks on the islet. The man at the tiller and the man with the sounding line fell back into the boat. Ayrton’s and Pencroff’s bullets had struck both at the same instant.
Almost immediately a more violent detonation was heard. A bright jet of vapor spread from the brig’s broadside and a ball struck the tops of the rocks which sheltered Ayrton and Pencroff, making them fly into splinters, but not touching the two marksmen.
Immediately, a more violent detonation...
Horrible curses escaped from the boat which quickly resumed its movement. The man at the tiller was immediately replaced by one of his comrades and the oars vigorously plunged into the water.
Nevertheless, instead of returning on board, as one would have expected, the boat continued along the shore of the islet, so as to turn its southern point. The pirates were working the oars hard in order to put themselves outside the range of the weapons.
They advanced in this way until they were within five cables from that part of the shore which ended at Flotsom Point. Following a semi-circular path, they went toward the mouth of the Mercy, all the while protected by the brig’s cannons.
Their evident intention was to penetrate the channel so as to get to the rear of the colonists posted on the islet. The latter, whatever their number, would be then caught between the weapons of the boat and the weapons of the brig and would find themselves in a very disadvantageous position.
A quarter of a hour passed during which time the boat advanced in this direction. There was absolute silence, and complete calm in the air and on water.
Pencroff and Ayrton well understood that they risked being surrounded, but they did not leave their post, not wanting to show themselves to their assailants nor to expose themselves to the Speedy’s cannons. They counted on Neb and Gideon Spilett, on guard at the mouth of the river, and on Cyrus Smith and Herbert, posted among the rocks at the Chimneys.
Twenty minutes after the first gunshots, the boat was at least two cables off from the Mercy’s entrance. Since the tide began to rise with its usual violence, which was increased by the narrow opening, the convicts felt themselves drawn toward the river and it was only the pull of the oars which kept them in the channel. But as they passed within easy range of the mouth of the Mercy, two shots saluted them in passing, and two others of their number were again thrown back into the boat. Neb and Spilett had not wasted their rounds.
Immediately the brig sent a second ball to the post betrayed by the smoke from the firearms but without any result other than breaking the corners of some rocks.
At this moment, the boat held only three able bodied men. Carried by the current, it moved through the channel with the rapidity of an arrow, passed in front of Cyrus Smith and Herbert who, not judging it to be within easy range, remained silent; then it turned the northern point of the islet with the two remaining oars, placing itself in line to return to the brig.
Up to that point the colonists had no cause to complain. The engagement had gone badly for their adversaries. The latter already counted four men seriously wounded, dead perhaps; while they, on the contrary, with no casualties, had not wasted a shot. If the pirates continued to attack them in this way, if they continued to attempt to land by the use of boats, they would destroy them one by one.
One can understand how advantageous were the arrangements made by the engineer. The pirates were lead to believe that they had to deal with numerous as well as with armed adversaries whom they would not easily rout.
A half hour passed before the boat, which had to struggle against the current from the open sea, rejoined the Speedy. Strong cries were heard when it returned on board with the wounded, and the cannons were fired three or four times to no avail.
But then about twelve other convicts, filled with anger and perhaps still drunk from the previous evening, threw themselves into the boat. A second boat was also thrown into the sea into which eight men took their place and while the first one moved straight for the islet to flush out the colonists, the second went to force the entrance to the Mercy.
The situation had evidently become very perilous for Pencroff and Ayrton, and they realized that they must get back to the mainland.
However, they still waited for the first boat to come within easy range and two skilful shots produced a turmoil among its crew. Then Pencroff and Ayrton abandoned their post, not without being exposed to a dozen or so shots, crossed the islet as fast as their limbs could carry them, threw themselves into the canoe, crossed the channel and ran to hide at the Chimneys just as the second boat reached the southern point. They had hardly rejoined Cyrus Smith and Herbert when the islet was completely overrun by the pirates from the first boat.
At nearly the same moment, new detonations burst forth from the post at the Mercy which was rapidly approached by the second boat. Two of the eight men which it carried were mortally wounded by Gideon Spilett and Neb and the boat itself, not being able to avoid the reef, broke up at the mouth of the Mercy. But the six survivors, raising their weapons above their heads so as to preserve them from contact with the water, succeeded in setting foot on the right bank of the river. Then, finding themselves exposed to almost excessive fire from the post, they fled out of range with all possible speed in the direction of Flotsom Point.
The actual situation was as follows: on the islet there were a dozen convicts, some doubtless wounded but still having a boat available to them; on the island, six had landed but without any chance of reaching Granite House because they could not cross the river whose bridges were raised.
“What now!” said Pencroff rushing into the Chimneys, “what now, Mister Cyrus! What do you think?”
“I think,” replied the engineer, “that the battle will take a new turn because we cannot assume that the convicts will be so stupid as to continue under conditions which are so unfavorable for them.”
“Anyhow, they won’t get across the channel,” said the sailor. “Ayrton’s and Mister Spilett’s carbines are there to hold them in check. You know that they have a range of more than a mile.”
“Doubtless,” replied Herbert, “but what can two carbines do against the brig’s cannons?”
“Well, the brig is not yet in the channel, I imagine,” replied Pencroff.
“And if it comes there?” asked Cyrus Smith.
“That is impossible because it will risk stranding itself there and it will become lost.”
“It is possible,” Ayrton replied. “The convicts could profit from the high tide to enter the channel and leave before the low tide strands it. Then, under fire from their cannons, our posts would no longer be tenable.”
“By the thousand devils of hell,” shouted Pencroff, “it really seems that the scoundrels are getting ready to raise anchor.”
“Perhaps we will be forced to seek refuge in Granite House,” noted Herbert.
“Let us wait,” replied Cyrus Smith.
“But Neb and Mister Spilett?...” said Pencroff.
“They will know enough to rejoin us at the right time. Get ready, Ayrton. It is your carbine and that of Spilett which must speak now.”
It was only too true. The Speedy began to lift anchor with the intention of approaching the islet. The tide would still be high for an hour and a half, and with the current at a standstill, it would be easy to maneuver the brig. But as to entering the channel, Pencroff, contrary to Ayrton’s opinion, would not admit that they would dare to attempt it.
During this time, the pirates who occupied the islet moved over to the opposite bank little by little and it was only the channel which separated them from the mainland. They were armed with simple weapons which could not harm the colonists lying in wait at the Chimneys and at the mouth of the Mercy. Not realizing that the colonists had long range carbines, they did not think that they were exposed. They were surveying the islet and rambling along the shore.
Their illusion was of short duration. Ayrton’s and Gideon Spilett’s carbines then spoke and doubtless said some disagreeable things to two convicts, because they fell backward.
There was a general helter-skelter. The other ten did not even take the time to pick up their companions, wounded or dead. They ran with all possible speed to the other side of the islet, threw themselves into the boat which had brought them there and got back on board under oar power.
“Eight down,” shouted Pencroff. “One could truly say that Mister Spilett and Ayrton were told to fire simultaneously.”
“Gentlemen,” replied Ayrton, reloading his carbine, “this is becoming most serious. The brig is getting under weigh.”
“The anchor is apeak!...” shouted Pencroff.
“Yes, and she is already atrip.”
In fact, they distinctly heard the clicking of the pawl on the windlass as it was turned by the ship’s crew. At first the Speedy was held by its anchor; then when that had been wrenched from the bottom, it began to drift toward land. The wind blew from the open sea; the large jib and the small topsail were hoisted and little by little the vessel came nearer.
At the two posts at the Mercy and at the Chimneys they saw it maneuver, without giving any signs of life but not without a certain emotion. It would be a terrible situation for the colonists if they were exposed to the fire from the brig’s cannons at short range, without being able to respond in kind. How then could they prevent the pirates from landing?
Cyrus Smith knew this and he asked himself if there was anything to be done. Before long he would be called upon to make a decision. But what? Enclose themselves in Granite House, let themselves be besieged for weeks, months even, since supplies abounded there. Good! But afterwards? The pirates would none the less be masters of the island, they would ravage it as they saw fit and in the end they would overcome the prisoners of Granite House.
However one chance still remained: it was that Bob Harvey would not hazard his vessel into the channel and that he would keep it away from the islet. A half mile still separated it from shore and at this distance his fire would not be extremely harmful.
“Never,” repeated Pencroff, “if this Bob Harvey is a good sailor, he will never enter the channel. He well knows that he risks the brig because it takes only a little for the sea to become rough. And what would he become without his ship?”
However, the brig approached the islet and they could see that it was looking to reach the lower extremity. There was a light breeze and since the current had then lost much of its force, Bob Harvey could maneuver his vessel pretty much as he wanted.
The path previously followed by the boats had allowed him to familiarize himself with the channel and he imprudently entered. His plan was quite clear: he wanted to bring the vessel broadside in front of the Chimneys and from there reply with shell and cannon balls to the shot which had decimated his crew.
Soon the Speedy reached the islet’s point; it turned it with ease; the spanker sail was then full and the brig, propelled by the wind, found itself facing the Mercy.
“The bandits! They came!” shouted Pencroff.
At this moment, Cyrus Smith, Ayrton, the sailor and Herbert were joined by Neb and Gideon Spilett.
The reporter and his companion had judged it best to abandon the post at the Mercy where they could no longer do anything against the vessel and they were wise to do so. It was better for the colonists to be together at the moment when a decisive action was about to take place. Gideon Spilett and Neb had moved behind the rocks but not without sustaining a hail of shot which had not harmed them.
“Spilett! Neb!” shouted the engineer. “You are not wounded?”
“No,” replied the reporter, “a few bruises only from the ricochet! But the damn brig has entered the channel.”
“Yes,” replied Pencroff, “and before ten minutes are over it will have anchored in front of Granite House.”
“Do you have a 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 also my opinion,” replied Gideon Spilett, “but once inside...”
“We will consider the circumstances,” replied the engineer.
“Let’s get going then and hurry!” said the reporter.
“Would you want Ayrton and me to remain here, Mister Cyrus?” asked the sailor.
“For what good, Pencroff?” replied Cyrus Smith. “No, we will not separate!”
There was not an instant to lose. The colonists left the Chimneys. A small turn in the facade prevented them from being seen from the brig; but two or three detonations and the shattering of shells against the rocks informed them that the Speedy was only a short distance away.
The shattering of shells against the rocks...
To throw themselves into the elevator, hoist themselves to the door of Granite House where Top and Jup had been shut up since the previous evening and run into the large hall was the affair of a moment.
It was just in time because the colonists, through the branches, saw the Speedy moving through the channel, surrounded by gunsmoke. The firing was incessant and the balls from four cannons struck blindly either at the post at the Mercy which was no longer occupied, or at the Chimneys. Rocks were shattered and hurrahs accompanied each detonation.
However, they could hope that Granite House would be spared thanks to the precaution that Cyrus Smith had taken of concealing the windows, when a cannon ball grazed the doorway, penetrating inside.
“Curses! We are discovered,” shouted Pencroff.
Perhaps the colonists had not been seen but it was certain that Bob Harvey had judged it appropriate to send a projectile through the suspicious foliage that covered this portion of the high wall. He soon increased his fire when a ball nicked the screen of foliage and brought to view a gaping opening in the granite.
The situation of the colonists was desperate. Their retreat had been discovered. They had nothing to oppose these projectiles nor to prevent damage to the stone whose splinters were flying all around them like grape-shot. Nothing remained except to take refuge in the upper passageway of Granite House and to abandon their dwelling to complete destruction when a rumbling sound was heard followed by terror stricken cries.
Cyrus Smith and his companions ran to one of the windows.
The brig, irresistibly raised by a sort of waterspout, split in two and in less than ten seconds it was engulfed with its criminal crew.
The brig, raised by a sort of waterspout.