At Herbert’s cry, Pencroff dropped his weapon and ran toward him.
“They have killed him !” he shouted. “He, my child. They have killed him.”
Cyrus Smith and Gideon Spilett ran toward Herbert. The reporter tried to hear if the poor child’s heart was still beating.
“He lives,” he said, “but he must be carried...”
“To Granite House? That is impossible,” replied the engineer.
“To the corral then!” shouted Pencroff.
“One moment,” said Cyrus Smith.
And he ran to the left to get around the corner of the enclosure. There he saw a convict who, aiming at him, sent a ball through his hat. A few seconds later, before he even had time to fire his second round, he fell, struck in the heart by Cyrus Smith’s dagger, still more reliable than his gun.
During this time, Gideon Spilett and the sailor raised themselves up the corners of the palisade, went over the top, removed the stays which shut the inner door, ran to the house which was empty, and soon poor Herbert was lying on Ayrton’s bed.
A few moment’s later, Cyrus Smith was by his side.
On seeing Herbert unconscious, the sailor’s pain was terrible. He sobbed, he cried, he wanted to knock his head against the wall. Neither the engineer nor the reporter could calm him. They themselves were suffocating with emotion. They could not speak.
Nevertheless it was dependent on them to save this poor child who was dying under their eyes. Gideon Spilett, whose life was strewn with incidents such as these, was not without some practical knowledge about current medicine. He knew a little about everything and he had already encountered many a circumstance in which he had been called upon to attend to wounds produced either by bare arms or by firearms. Assisted by Cyrus Smith, he therefore proceeded to give the attention required by Herbert’s condition.
First of all, the reporter was struck by the general stupor which overwhelmed him, a stupor which was due either to hemorrhage or even to shock, if the bullet struck a bone with sufficient force to cause a violent reaction.
Herbert was extremely pale and his pulse was so weak that Gideon Spilett felt it beat only at long intervals, as if it had been on the point of stopping. During this time, he came to a nearly complete conclusion based on his instinct and knowledge. These symptoms were very serious.
Herbert’s chest was bared and, inasmuch as the bleeding had stopped with the aid of handkerchiefs, his chest was washed with cold water.
The contusion, or rather the wound, became visible. An oval hole existed in his chest between the third and fourth ribs. It was there that the bullet had struck Herbert.
Cyrus Smith and Gideon Spilett then turned the poor child over. He groaned so weakly that they thought it was his last sigh.
Another wound had bloodied Herbert’s back and the bullet which had struck Herbert had directly exited.
“God be praised!” said the reporter, “the bullet did not remain in the body and we will not have to extract it.”
“But the heart?...” asked Cyrus Smith.
“The heart has not been touched, otherwise Herbert would be dead!”
“Dead!” shouted Pencroff, with a roar!
The sailor had only heard the reporter’s last word.
“No, Pencroff,” replied Cyrus Smith, “no! He is not dead. His pulse still beats. He has even uttered a sigh. But in the interests of your child, calm yourself. We have need of all our composure. Let us not lose it, my friend.”
Pencroff was silent but a reaction set in and large tears covered his face.
Nevertheless, Gideon Spilett tried to recall what he knew and to proceed methodically. From what he could see, there was no doubt that the bullet had entered from the front and left at the rear. What ravages had this bullet caused in its passage? What vital organs had it reached? A professional surgeon could hardly say at the moment, nor with better reason could the reporter.
However, he knew one thing: it was that he would have to prevent the inflammatory restriction of the injured parts, and then deal with the local inflammation and the fever which would result from this wound, a mortal wound perhaps. Now what topical medications, what antiphlogistics should be used? By what means could he reduce this inflammation?
In any event, one thing was important, it was that the two wounds should be dressed without delay. It did not seem necessary to Gideon Spilett to bring on a new flow of blood by washing the wounds in lukewarm water and by compressing the lips. The hemorrhage had been very abundant and Herbert was very weak from the loss of blood.
The reporter therefore felt that he must be content with washing the two wounds in cold water.
Herbert was placed on his left side and kept in that position.
“It is not necessary for him to move,” said Gideon Spilett. “He is in the best position for his back and chest wounds to suppurate easily, and rest is absolutely necessary.”
“What! Can’t we carry him to Granite House?” asked Pencroff.
“No, Pencroff,” replied the reporter.
“Curses,” shouted the sailor, with his fist turned toward the sky.
“Pencroff!” said Cyrus Smith.
Gideon Spilett again examined the wounded child carefully. Herbert was so frightfully pale that the reporter was troubled.
“Cyrus,” he said, “I am not a doctor... I am terribly perplexed... You must help me with your advice and your experience...”
“Keep your calm..., my friend,” replied the engineer, seizing the reporter’s hand. “Judge coolly... Think only of this: Herbert must be saved!”
With these words, Gideon Spilett regained possession of himself, which he had lost in a moment of discouragement. He sat down beside the bed. Cyrus Smith remained standing. Pencroff tore his shirt and was mechanically making bandages.
Gideon Spilett then explained to Cyrus Smith that he felt that, before anything else, he must stop the hemorrhage, but not to close the two wounds, nor to encourage their immediate cicatrization, because he had had an interior perforation and he must not let the pus accumulate in the chest.
Cyrus Smith approved completely and it was decided that they would dress the two wounds without trying to close them with immediate coaptation. Very fortunately, it did not seem that an incision was necessary.
And now, did the colonists possess any effective agent to react against the inflammation which would follow?
Yes! They had one, because nature had generously provided it. They had cold water, that is to say the most powerful sedative that can be used against the inflammation of wounds, the most effective therapeutic agent in these serious cases and which is now used by all doctors. Moreover, cold water has the advantage of leaving the wound at absolute rest and to protect it from any premature dressing, a considerable advantage, since it has been demonstrated by experience that contact with air is disastrous during the first few days.
Gideon Spilett and Cyrus Smith reasoned thus with their simple good sense and they acted as the best surgeon would have. Cloth compresses were applied to poor Herbert’s two wounds and they were constantly soaked in cold water.
The sailor had, from the first, lit a fire in the fireplace of the dwelling which did not lack the things necessary for life. Some maple sugar and medicinal herbs—the very ones that the lad had gathered on the banks of Lake Grant—allowed them to make some refreshing drinks and they made him take it without his being aware of it. His fever was extremely high and the entire day and night passed without his regaining consciousness. Herbert’s life hung by a thread and that thread could break at any moment.
The next day, the 12th of November, Cyrus Smith and his companions recovered some hope. Herbert came out of his long stupor. He opened his eyes and recognized Cyrus Smith, the reporter and Pencroff. He said two or three words. He knew nothing of what had happened. They told him and Gideon Spilett asked him to remain absolutely at rest, telling him that his life was not in danger and that his wounds would cicatrize in a few days. Besides, Herbert did not suffer nearly as much and this cold water, which was sprinkled on continually, prevented any inflammation of the wounds. The suppuration established itself in a regular way, the fever did not go higher and they could hope that this terrible wound would not become a catastrophe. Pencroff felt his heart inflate little by little. He was like a sister of charity, like a mother at the bed of her child.
Hebert opened his eyes.
Herbert became drowsy again but his sleep seemed to be better.
“Tell me again that you are hopeful, Mister Spilett!” said Pencroff. “Tell me again that you will save Herbert.”
“Yes, we will save him!” replied the reporter. “The wound is serious and perhaps the bullet has even gone through the lung but the perforation of this organ is not fatal.”
“God has heard you,” repeated Pencroff.
As one can well imagine, during the twenty four hours that they were at the corral, the colonists had no other thought than to care for Herbert. They did not concern themselves either with the danger which could menace them if the convicts returned or with precautions to take for the future.
But on this day, while Pencroff watched at the bed of the patient, Cyrus Smith and the reporter spoke to each other about what it would be best to do.
First of all, they ran through the corral. There was no trace of Ayrton. Had the unfortunate been dragged away by his former accomplices? Had they surprised him in the corral? Had he fought back and succumbed in battle? This last hypothesis was only too likely. When Gideon Spilett had scaled the palisade enclosure, he perfectly saw one of the convicts fleeing from Top by the southern buttress of Mount Franklin. He was among those whose boat had broken up on the rocks at the mouth of the Mercy. Moreover, the one that Cyrus Smith had killed, and whose body was found outside the enclosure, certainly belonged to Bob Harvey’s gang.
As to the corral, it had not been subjected to any devastation. The doors being closed, the domestic animals had not been able to disperse into the forest. They no longer saw any trace of a battle, nor any damage either in the dwelling or at the palisade. Only the munitions with which Ayrton had been provided had disappeared with him.
“The unlucky fellow had been surprised,” said Cyrus Smith, “and since he was a man to defend himself, he succumbed.”
“Yes! That is to be feared,” replied the reporter. “Then doubtless, the convicts installed themselves at the corral where they found everything in abundance and they took to flight when they saw us coming. It is also quite evident that at this moment Ayrton, dead or alive, is no longer here.”
“We must search the forest,” said the engineer, “and rid the island of these scoundrels. Pencroff was not mistaken in his forebodings when he wanted us to hunt them like wild beasts. That would certainly have spared us these misfortunes.”
“Yes,” replied the reporter, “but now we have the right to act without pity.”
“In any case,” said the engineer, “we are forced to wait and to remain at the corral until such time as we can carry Herbert to Granite House without danger.”
“But Neb?” asked the reporter.
“Neb is secure.”
“And if, uneasy at our absence, he risks coming?”
“He must not come!” replied Cyrus Smith vividly. “He will be assassinated en route!”
“It is very likely that he will try to join us.”
“Ah! If the telegraph were still working, we could warn him. But now that is impossible. As to letting Pencroff and Herbert stay here alone, we cannot do that!... Oh well, I will go to Granite House alone.”
“No, no! Cyrus,” replied the reporter, “you must not expose yourself! Your courage will accomplish nothing. These wretches are evidently watching the corral, they are lying in wait in the thick woods which surround it and if you leave, we will soon have two misfortunes to regret instead of one.”
“But Neb?” repeated the engineer. “It is twenty four hours since he has had any news from us. He will want to come.”
“And since he will be less on his guard than we ourselves would be,” replied Gideon Spilett, “he will be struck down...”
“Isn’t there any way to prevent it?”
While the engineer was thinking, his attention fell on Top who, by his going to and fro, seemed to say:
“Am I not here?”
“Top!” shouted Cyrus Smith.
The animal rushed forward at his master’s call.
“Yes, Top will go,” said the reporter, who understood the engineer. “Top can go where we cannot go. He will carry news from the corral to Granite House and he will bring it back to us from Granite House.”
“Quickly!” replied Cyrus Smith. “Quickly!”
Gideon Spilett rapidly tore out a page from his notebook and he wrote these lines:
“Herbert wounded. We are at the corral. Be on your guard. Do not leave Granite House. Have the convicts appeared in the neighborhood? Reply by Top.”
This laconic note contained all Neb had to know and at the same time asked him all that the colonists had an interest in knowing. It was folded and attached to Top’s collar so as to be plainly visible.
“Top! my dog,” the engineer then said, caressing the animal. “Neb, Top! Neb! Go! go!”
Top dashed forward at these words. He understood what was required of him. He was familiar with the road to the corral. In less than a half-hour, he could make this trip which neither Cyrus Smith nor the reporter could chance without danger. Top, running among the tall grass or at the edge of the wood, would pass unnoticed.
The engineer went to the doors of the corral and opened one.
“Neb! Top, Neb,” the engineer repeated once more, extending his hand in the direction of Granite House.
“Neb! Top, Neb,” repeated the engineer.
Top dashed out and disappeared almost immediately.
“He will get there!” said the reporter.
“Yes, and the faithful animal will return.”
“What time is it?” asked Gideon Spilett.
“In an hour he will be here perhaps. Let us be on the lookout for his return.”
The door of the corral was closed again. The engineer and the reporter returned to the house. Herbert was then in a deep stupor. Pencroff continually kept his compresses wet. Gideon Spilett, seeing that he had nothing to do at the moment, occupied himself with preparing some nourishment, all the while carefully watching that part of the enclosure facing the buttress, from which an attack could come.
The colonists waited for Top’s return not without anxiety. A little after eleven o’clock, Cyrus Smith and the reporter, with carbine in hand, were behind the door ready to open it at the first bark from their dog. They had no doubt that if Top had fortunately been able to arrive at Granite House, Neb would immediately send him back.
They were both there for about ten minutes when a detonation was heard which was soon followed by repeated barking.
The engineer opened the door and, seeing the remains of smoke a hundred feet into the woods, he fired in that direction.
Almost immediately Top rushed into the corral whose door was quickly closed again.
“Top, Top!” shouted the engineer, taking the fine large head of the dog into his arms.
A note was attached to his neck and Cyrus Smith read these words, written out in Neb’s large handwriting:
“No pirates in the neighborhood of Granite House. I will not stir. Poor Mister Herbert.”