“They’ve blown up!” shouted Herbert.
“Yes! Blown up just as if Ayrton had ignited their powder,” replied Pencroff, throwing himself into the elevator while Neb and the lad were doing likewise.
“But what happened?” asked Gideon Spilett, still stupefied by the unexpected denouement.
“Ah! This time we will know...” replied the engineer vividly.
“What will we know?...”
“Later! later! Come Spilett. The important thing is that these pirates have been exterminated!”
And Cyrus Smith, hurrying the reporter and Ayrton along, joined Pencroff, Neb and Herbert on the beach.
They no longer saw anything of the brig, not even its mast. After having been raised by this waterspout, it was thrown on its side and had foundered in this position, doubtless as a result of some enormous water flooding. But inasmuch as the channel at this point did not measure more than twenty feet in depth, it was certain that the sides of the immersed brig would reappear at low tide.
Some wreckage was floating on the surface of the sea. They saw spare masts and yards, poultry cages with their occupants still living, chests and barrels which little by little rose to the surface after having gotten out through the hatchways; but there was no other drifting debris, neither the planking from the deck nor from the hull—this made the sinking of the Speedy rather inexplicable.
However, the two masts, which had broken a few feet above the partner after having snapped their stays and shrouds, soon rose to the surface of the channel with their sails, some unfurled and others rolled up. But it was best not to wait until the ebb tide carried away all these riches. Ayrton and Pencroff threw themselves into the canoe with the intention of mooring all of the wreckage be it on the shore of the island or on the shore of the islet.
But just as they were about to leave a thought from Gideon Spilett stopped them.
“And what about the six convicts who went ashore on the right bank of the Mercy?” he said.
In fact, they must not forget that the six men whose boat had broken on the rocks had set foot at Flotsom Point.
They looked in that direction. None of the fugitives were visible. It was probable that, after having seen the brig engulfed by the waters of the channel, they had fled into the island’s interior.
“We will concern ourselves with them later,” Cyrus Smith then said. “They could still be dangerous because they are armed, but now with six against six the chances are equal. Let’s attend to the most urgent business first.”
Ayrton and Pencroff got into the boat and vigorously paddled to the wreckage.
The tide was then slack and very high since the moon had been new two days earlier. A full hour at least must pass before the hull of the brig would emerge from the water.
Ayrton and Pencroff used the time to moor down the masts and the spars with ropes whose ends were anchored at the Granite House beach. There the colonists, working together, succeeded in hauling up the wreckage. Then, with the canoe, they collected everything that was floating, poultry cages, barrels, and cases which were immediately transported to the Chimneys.
A few bodies were floating on the surface. Among others, Ayrton recognized that of Bob Harvey and he pointed him out to his companion while saying with an emotional voice:
“That is what I have been, Pencroff!”
“That is what I have been, Pencroff!”
“But what you are no longer, brave Ayrton!” replied the sailor.
It was rather strange that so few bodies were floating. They barely counted five or six which the ebb tide was already beginning to carry out to the open sea. Most likely the convicts, surprised by the engulfment, had not had the time to flee and with the vessel lying on its side, most of them had been caught under the bulwarks. The tide would drag the bodies of these wretches to the high seas and would save the colonists the sad task of burying them in some corner of the island.
For two hours, Cyrus Smith and his companions were only occupied with hauling the spars on to the beach. Then they stretched out the perfectly intact sails to dry out. They spoke little, since their work absorbed them but what thoughts were on their minds! The brig contained a fortune. In fact, a vessel is like a small but complete world and the stores of the colony would be increased by many useful items. It would be, on a large scale, the equivalent of the case found at Flotsom Point.
“And besides,” thought Pencroff, “why would it be impossible to refloat this brig? If it is only a water leak, that can be sealed. A vessel of three or four hundred tons is a real vessel compared to our Bonadventure. And we can go quite a distance with it! It will go wherever we want. Mister Cyrus, Ayrton and I must examine it. It would be worth the trouble.”
In fact, if the brig could be made seaworthy, then the colonists’ chances of returning to their native land would be remarkably increased. But to decide this important question, they must wait for low tide in order to examine every part of the hull.
When the wreckage had been secured on shore, Cyrus Smith and his companions devoted a few moments to eating. They were literally dying of hunger. Happily, the pantry was not far away and Neb could pass for a ship’s cook if need be. So they dined near the Chimneys and during this meal they thought about the unexpected event which had so miraculously saved the colony.
“Miraculously is the word,” repeated Pencroff, “because it must be admitted that these rascals were blown up at a most opportune time. Granite House was oddly becoming uninhabitable!”
“And can you imagine, Pencroff,” asked the reporter, “what occurred to bring on the brig’s explosion?”
“Well, Mister Spilett, nothing is more simple,” replied Pencroff. “A pirate ship is not run like a warship. Convicts are not sailors! It is certain that the powder room of the brig was open since they were firing on us without letup and it would suffice for someone imprudent or careless to blow up the works.”
“Mister Cyrus,” said Herbert, “what astonishes me is that this explosion has not produced a greater effect. The detonation was not strong and in short there is little debris or torn planking. It would seem that it foundered rather than that it blew up.”
“Does that astonish you, my child?” asked the engineer.
“Yes, Mister Cyrus.”
“And me too, Herbert,” replied the engineer, “it astonishes me; but when we will visit the brig’s hull we will doubtless find the explanation for this event.”
“So then, Mister Cyrus,” said Pencroff, “you are not going to allege that the Speedy simply foundered like a ship that struck a rock?”
“Why not?” noted Neb, “if there are rocks in the channel.”
“That’s fine, Neb,” replied Pencroff. “You did not have your eyes open at the right moment. An instant before the engulfment, as I saw perfectly, the ship was raised by an enormous wave and fell back on its port side. Now if it had only struck a rock it would have foundered tranquilly like an honest vessel going to the bottom.”
“But it was not an honest vessel, strictly speaking,” replied Neb.
“We will take a good look, Pencroff,” replied the engineer.
“We will take a good look,” added the sailor, “but I will bet my head that there are no rocks in the channel. Look here, Mister Cyrus, to speak frankly, would you say that there was something strange in this event?”
Cyrus Smith did not reply.
“In any case,” said Gideon Spilett, “impact or explosion, you will agree, Pencroff, that it came just in time.”
“Yes!... yes!...” replied the sailor, “...but that is not the question. I ask Mister Smith if he sees anything supernatural in this.”
“I do not know, Pencroff,” said the engineer. “That is all that I can say to you.”
This reply did not satisfy Pencroff. He insisted on “an explosion” and he would not give in. He would not admit that this channel, formed of a bed of sand like the beach itself, and which he had often crossed at low tide, had some unknown rock. And besides, it was high tide when the brig sank, that is to say that there was enough water to cross over, without bumping any rocks that did not appear at low tide. Therefore there could not have been any impact. Therefore the vessel had not collided. Therefore it had blown up.
And it must be admitted that the sailor’s logic did not lack a certain justification.
About one thirty, the colonists got into the canoe and went to the place where the stranding had occurred. It was regrettable that the two boats from the brig had not been salvaged; but as we know one had been broken up at the mouth of the Mercy and was absolutely useless; the other had disappeared when the brig went down and had doubtless been crushed by it since it had not reappeared.
At this moment the Speedy’s hull began to show itself above the water. The brig had done more than fall on its side because after having snapped its masts under the weight of the falling ballast, it had brought its keel almost into the air. It had truly been turned upside down by the inexplicable but frightful submarine action which had at the same time been manifested by the displacement of an enormous waterspout.
The colonists made a tour of the hull and as the tide continued to go down, they were able to discover, if not the cause which had provoked the catastrophe, at least the effect produced.
Up front, on both sides of the keel, seven or eight feet before the beginning of the stem, the sides of the brig had been frightfully torn up for a length of at least twenty feet. There were two large water leaks which would be impossible to plug up. Not only had the copper bottom and the sheathing disappeared, doubtless pulverized to dust, but there was no longer any trace of the framework itself, nor of the iron bolts and treenails which fastened them. Along the entire length of the hull up to the stern, the strakes were torn to shreds, no longer sea worthy. The false keel had been separated with an inexplicable violence and the keel itself, torn from the keelson at several points, was broken along its entire length.
“A thousand devils!” shouted Pencroff. “Here is a vessel which will be difficult to refloat.”
“It will even be impossible,” said Ayrton.
“In any case,” Gideon Spilett said to the sailor, “the explosion, if it was an explosion, has produced strange effects. It has damaged the inside of the hull instead of blowing up the deck and the upper structure. These large openings appear to have been made by a collision with a rock rather than by the explosion of the powder room.”
“There is no rock in the channel” replied the sailor. “I will admit to anything you wish, except a collision with a rock!”
“Let us try to get inside the brig,” said the engineer. “Perhaps we will then know what caused its destruction.”
That was the best thing to do and it was agreed besides to inventory all the riches contained on board and to decide on their disposal.
Access to the brig’s interior was then easy. The tide was low and they reached the lower side of the deck, which had now become the upper side because the hull had turned over. The ballast, composed of heavy pig iron, was smashed in several places. They heard the splashing sea flowing in through several fissures in the hull.
Cyrus Smith and his companions, with ax in hand, advanced along the half broken deck. Cases of all sorts obstructed the deck and since these cases had been in the water for only a limited time, their contents might not be damaged.
They then occupied themselves with putting all of this cargo in a secure place. The water would not return for several hours and this time was used profitably. Ayrton and Pencroff fastened a tackle at a practical opening in the hull which served to hoist the barrels and the cases. The canoe received them and transported them immediately to the beach. They took everything without discrimination, leaving for later the task of sorting out these objects.
In any case the colonists took satisfaction from the very varied cargo which the brig contained, an assortment of articles of all sorts, utensils, manufactured products and tools such as are carried by the ships which trade with Polynesia. It was probable that they would find a little of everything and they agreed that that was precisely what the colony of Lincoln Island needed.
Besides, and Cyrus Smith noted this in astonished silence, not only the brig’s hull, as has been said, had suffered enormously from the collision whatever the cause, but the interior arrangements lay in waste especially toward the bow. Bulkheads and stanchions were broken as if some formidable shell had exploded inside the brig. After having removed the cases as they went along, the colonists could now move easily from bow to stern. These cases were not heavy bales whose removal would have been difficult, but simple packages which were no longer recognizable.
The colonists then reached that part of the brig’s stern which was formerly above the poop deck. It was there that, according to Ayrton’s directions, they must look for the powder room. Cyrus Smith thought that if it had not exploded, it was possible that a few barrels could be salvaged and that the powder, which is ordinarily enclosed in metal envelopes, would not have suffered from contact with the water.
That was in fact, what had occurred. They found, among a large quantity of projectiles, about twenty copper lined barrels which they carefully removed. Pencroff was convinced by his own eyes that the destruction of the Speedy could not be attributed to an explosion. The portion of the hull in which the powder room was situated was precisely the one that had suffered the least.
They found about twenty barrels.
“Possibly,” replied the stubborn sailor, “but as to a rock, there is no rock in the channel.”
“Then what happened?” asked Herbert.
“I don’t know anything about it,” replied Pencroff, “Mister Cyrus doesn’t know anything about it, no one knows about it or will ever know anything about it.”
Several hours passed during these various activities, and the rising tide began to be felt. It was necessary to suspend the salvage work. Besides, they did not need to fear that the remains of the brig would float away to sea because it was already sunk into the mud as firmly as if it had been moored with its anchors.
They could therefore wait without inconvenience for the next ebb tide to resume their operations. But as to the ship itself, it was doomed and it would even be necessary to make haste in salvaging the debris from the hull because it would not be long in disappearing into the shifting sand of the channel.
It was five o’clock in the evening. The day had been a rough one for the laborers. They ate with a good appetite but in spite of their fatigue they could not resist the desire, after dinner, to inspect the cases which comprised the cargo of the Speedy.
For the most part they contained ready made clothing which, as we can imagine, was well received. There was enough to clothe the entire colony, with linen for every usage and shoes for every foot.
“We are rich,” shouted Pencroff. “But what are we going to do with all of this?”
And at each instant hurrahs burst forth from the happy sailor when he recognized barrels of rum, cases of tobacco, firearms and bladed weapons, bales of cotton, laborer’s tools and tools for the carpenter, the cabinet maker and the blacksmith, and boxes of seed of all varieties. Their short stay in the water had not damaged them. Ah! If these things had come only two years earlier. But even now that these industrious colonists had tools of their own, these riches would find use.
There was no lack of space in the storerooms of Granite House but on this day they did not have enough time to store everything. They must not forget that six survivors of the Speedy’s crew had set foot on the island, that they were truly scamps of the first order, and that they must guard against them. Even though the bridge across the Mercy and the smaller bridges were raised, the convicts would not be inconvenienced by a river or a brook, and driven by despair, rascals such as these could be formidable.
They would see later what steps it would be best to take in this matter; but in the meantime they must keep watch over the cases and packages piled up near the Chimneys, and that is what the colonists took turns in doing during the night.
The night however passed without the convicts attempting any attack. Master Jup and Top, on guard at the foot of Granite House, would have given some signal.
The three days which followed, the 19th, 20th and 21th of October, were used to salvage everything that could have any value or use whatsoever, either from the cargo or from the rigging of the brig. At low tide they removed everything from the hold. At high tide they stored what they had salvaged. A large part of the copper lining had been torn off the hull which each day, sunk further into the sand. But before the sand had engulfed the heavy objects that had sunk to the bottom, Ayrton and Pencroff had several times plunged down to the bed of the channel to recover the chains and anchors of the brig, the pig iron of its ballast and even four cannons which, lightened by empty barrels, they were able to bring to land.
As we can see, the colony’s arsenal gained as much from the salvage as the pantry and storerooms of Granite House. Pencroff, always enthusiastic about his projects, already spoke of constructing a battery which would command the channel and the mouth of the river. With four cannons they could prevent any navy “however powerful it might be” from venturing into the waters of Lincoln Island.
Nothing now remained of the brig but a useless carcass. Bad weather completed its destruction. Cyrus Smith had intended to blow it up in order to recover the debris on the shore but a strong northeast wind and a strong sea allowed him to economize his powder.
In fact, on the night of the 23rd to the 24th, the hull of the brig was completely dismantled and a part of the wreckage was stranded on the beach.
As to any papers on board, needless to say, Cyrus Smith could find no trace however carefully he searched the closets of the poop deck. The pirates had evidently destroyed every reference to the captain and to the ownership of the Speedy, and since the homeport was not given on any aft nameplate, they had no clue as to its nationality. However, from the forward shape of the vessel, Ayrton and Pencroff thought that the brig was of English construction.
Eight days after the catastrophe, or rather after the fortunate but inexplicable denouement to which the colony owed its salvation, they could no longer see anything of the vessel, not even at low tide. Its debris had been dispersed and Granite House was enriched by nearly all that it had contained.
However, the mystery of its strange destruction would doubtless have never been cleared up if on the 30th of November Neb, while roaming about the beach, had not found a thick piece of an iron cylinder which bore the traces of an explosion. This cylinder was twisted and broken as if it had been subjected to the action of an explosive substance.
Neb brought this piece of metal to his master who was then occupied with his companions at the Chimneys workshop.
Cyrus Smith examined this cylinder carefully and then turning to Pencroff:
“You persist, my friend,” he said to him, “in maintaining that the Speedy did not perish as a result of a collision?”
“Yes, Mister Cyrus,” replied the sailor, “you know as well as I do that there are no rocks in the channel.”
“But if it had run up against this piece of iron?” said the engineer, showing him the broken cylinder.
“What, this stump of pipe?” shouted Pencroff, with a completely incredulous tone.
“My friends,” replied Cyrus Smith, “do you recall that before foundering, the brig was raised to the summit of a real waterspout?”
“Yes, Mister Cyrus,” replied Herbert.
“Well, do you want to know what brought on this waterspout? It was this,” said the engineer, showing the broken tube.
“This?” replied Pencroff.
“This?” replied Pencroff.
“Yes! This cylinder is all that remains of a torpedo.”
“A torpedo!” shouted the engineer’s companions.
“And who put this torpedo there?” asked Pencroff, not wanting to yield.
“All that I can tell you is that it wasn’t I,” replied Cyrus Smith, “but it was there, and you were able to judge its incomparable power!”