There was no longer any question of the convicts or the dangers which menaced Granite House or the ruins which covered the plateau. Herbert’s condition dominated everything. Had the trip been disastrous for him by provoking some internal injury? The reporter could not say but his companions and he were driven to despair.
The cart was brought to the bend in the river. There a few branches were arranged in the form of a stretcher which received the mattress on which Herbert was lying unconsciousness. Ten minutes later Cyrus Smith, Gideon Spilett and Pencroff were at the foot of the wall, leaving to Neb the task of bringing the cart back to Grand View Plateau.
The elevator was put in motion and soon Herbert was lying on his bed in Granite House.
The elevator was put in motion.
The cares which were lavished on him brought him back to life. He smiled for a moment on finding himself once again in his room but he could barely murmur a few words because he was so feeble.
Gideon Spilett examined his wounds. He feared that they had opened since they had cicatrized imperfectly... that had not happened. From whence came this prostration? Why had Herbert’s condition grown worse?
The lad lapsed into a sort of feverish sleep and the reporter and Pencroff remained near his bed.
During this time Cyrus Smith brought Neb up to date on what had occurred at the corral and Neb related to his master those events in which the plateau had been the theater.
It was only during the preceding night that the convicts had shown themselves at the edge of the forest at the approaches to Glycerin Creek. Neb, who was on the watch near the poultry yard, had not hesitated to fire on one of these pirates who was about to cross the watercourse; but the night was obscure and he did not know if he had shot the wretch. In any case, this was not sufficient to scatter the gang and Neb had only enough time to get back to Granite House where he was at least safe.
But what could he do then? How could he prevent the devastations which the convicts threatened for the plateau? Did Neb have some means of warning his master? And moreover, in what situation would the hosts of the corral find themselves?
Cyrus Smith and his companions had been gone since the 11th of November and it was now the 29th. It was therefore nineteen days since Neb had had any news other than that which Top had brought him, disastrous news: Ayrton disappeared, Herbert seriously wounded, the engineer, the reporter, the sailor so to speak imprisoned in the corral!
What could he do, poor Neb asked himself? For himself personally he had nothing to fear because the convicts could not get into Granite House. But the constructions, the plantations and these developments would all be at the mercy of the pirates! Shouldn’t he let Cyrus Smith judge what it would be best to do by warning him at least of the menacing danger?
Neb then thought of using Jup by entrusting him with a note. He knew of the orang’s extreme intelligence, which had often been put to the test. Jup knew the word corral, which had often been mentioned in his presence, and he remembered that Jup had often driven the cart there in Pencroff’s company. Day had still not appeared. The agile orang well knew how to pass through the woods unnoticed. Besides, the convicts would think that he was one of the natural inhabitants.
Neb did not hesitate. He wrote the note, he attached it to Jup’s neck, he escorted the ape to the Granite House door and unrolled a long cord to the ground; then he repeated these words several times:
“Jup! Jup! corral! corral!”
The animal understood, seized the cord, quickly let himself down to the beach and disappeared into the darkness without arousing the attention of the convicts.
“You did well, Neb,” replied Cyrus Smith, “but if you had not warned us perhaps you would have acted even better.”
And on saying this, Cyrus Smith was thinking of Herbert since the trip seemed to have so seriously compromised his convalescence.
Neb finished his recital. The convicts had not shown themselves on the beach. Not knowing the number of inhabitants on the island, they could suppose that Granite House was defended by a large troop. They would have remembered that during the brig’s attack, many gunshots had greeted them as much from low level rocks as higher ones and doubtless they did not wish to expose themselves. But Grand View Plateau was open to them and not in the line of fire from Granite House. They therefore gave in to their instinct for plundering, pillaging and arson, heaping destruction upon destruction and leaving only a half hour before the arrival of the colonists who they thought were still confined at the corral.
Neb rushed out of his retreat. He ascended the plateau and at the risk of being shot, he tried to extinguish the fire which was burning over the poultry yard. He fought a losing battle against the fire until the moment when the cart appeared at the edge of the woods.
Such had been the serious events. The presence of the convicts constituted a permanent menace to the Lincoln Island colonists, so fortunate until now. They could expect still more serious misfortunes.
Gideon Spilett and Pencroff remained at Granite House near Herbert, while Cyrus Smith, accompanied by Neb, went to judge for himself the extent of the disaster.
It was fortunate that the convicts had not advanced to the foot of Granite House. The workshop at the Chimneys would not have escaped destruction. But perhaps this damage would have been easier to repair than the ruins on Grand View Plateau.
Cyrus Smith and Neb went toward the Mercy and ascended the left bank without encountering any trace of the passage of the convicts. On the other side of the river, they saw nothing suspicious in the thick woods.
In all probability they must suppose that either the convicts knew about the return of the colonists to Granite House because they had seen them pass on the road from the corral, or else, following the course of the Mercy, they had driven into Jacamar Woods after the devastation of the plateau, and they were ignorant of their return.
In the first case, they would return to the corral now without defenders, which contained precious resources for them.
In the second, they would go back to their encampment and wait there for some occasion to renew the attack.
They must forestall this; but any enterprise intended to rid them from the island was still subordinate to Herbert’s condition. In fact, Cyrus Smith did not have too many hands and no one could leave Granite House at the moment.
The engineer and Neb reached the plateau. Desolation was everywhere. The fields had been trampled on. The ears of corn, which were going to be harvested, were lying on the ground. The other plantations had not suffered less. The kitchen garden was wrecked. Fortunately Granite House possessed a reserve of seed which would allow the damage to be repaired.
As to the mill, the construction at the poultry yard and the onager’s stable, the fire had destroyed everything. Several animals were roaming in a fright across the plateau. The birds, who had taken refuge during the fire on the waters of the lake, were already returning to their usual places on the banks. Everything must be redone.
The figure of Cyrus Smith, more pale than usual, denoted an interior anger which he could hardly control but he did not say a word. One last time he looked at the devastated fields, the smoke still rising from the ruins, and then he returned to Granite House.
The days which followed were the saddest that the colonists had ever passed on the island. Herbert’s weakness was obviously increasing. It seemed that a most serious illness, the consequence of the deep physiological disorder that he had undergone, was threatening to erupt, and Gideon Spilett sensed that he would be powerless against such an aggravation of his condition.
In fact, Herbert remained in an almost continuous stupor and symptoms of delirium began to manifest themselves. The medicinal beverages were the only remedies available to the colonists. The fever was still not very high but it seemed that before long it would come on through regular attacks.
Gideon Spilett recognized it on the 6th of December. The poor lad, whose fingers, nose and ears became extremely pale, was first seized by active shivers, horripilations, and trembling. His pulse was weak and irregular, his skin dry and his thirst intense. This episode was soon succeeded by a period of high temperature; his face became animated, his skin red and his pulse accelerated; then he sweated profusely after which the fever appeared to diminish. The attack had lasted about five hours.
Gideon Spilett had not left Herbert, who was now subject to an intermittent fever. It was only too obvious that at any cost they must reduce this fever before it became more serious.
“And to reduce it,” said Gideon Spilett to Cyrus Smith, “we need a febrifuge.”
“A febrifuge!...” replied the engineer. “We have neither Peruvian bark nor sulphate of quinine!”
“No,” said Gideon Spilett, “but there are willows on the borders of the lake and willow bark can sometimes replace quinine.”
“Let us try it then without losing a moment!” replied Cyrus Smith.
In fact willow bark as well as the horse chestnut, the leaf of the holly and the snake root are justly considered substitutes for Peruvian bark. Evidently they must try this substance even though it was not as effective as Peruvian bark and to use it in its natural state since they lacked the means to extract the alkaloid, that is to say the salicin.
Cyrus Smith went himself to cut off some pieces of bark from the trunk of a species of black willow; he took it to Granite House, he reduced it to a powder and this powder was administered to Herbert that very evening.
The night passed without serious incidents. Herbert had some delirium but the fever did not reappear during the night and did not return on the following day.
Pencroff began to take hope. Gideon Spilett said nothing. It could be that the intermittent character of the fever was not a daily one but a three day one, in a word, that it would return the next day. They awaited the next day with the greatest anxiety.
It must besides be noted that during the apyretic period, Herbert remained fatigued with his head feeling heavy and giddy. Another symptom which frightened the reporter to the last extremity; Herbert’s liver became congested and soon a very intense delirium showed that his brain was also affected.
Gideon Spilett was overwhelmed by this new complication. He drew the engineer aside.
“It is a pernicious fever!” he told him.
“A pernicious fever!” cried Cyrus Smith. “You are mistaken, Spilett. A pernicious fever does not declare itself spontaneously. There must be a germ!...”
“I am not mistaken,” replied the reporter. “Herbert may have contracted this germ in the marshes of the island and that would suffice. He has already experienced a first attack. If a second attack follows and if we do not succeed in preventing the third... he is lost!...”
“But this willow bark?...”
“It is insufficient,” replied the reporter, “and a third attack of pernicious fever that is not treated with quinine is always fatal!”
Fortunately Pencroff heard nothing of this conversation or he would have gone mad.
One can understand the engineer’s and the reporter’s anxieties during this day of the 7th of December and during the night which followed.
About the middle of the day, the second attack came on. The crisis was terrible. Herbert felt that he was lost! He held out his arms to Cyrus Smith, to Spilett and to Pencroff. He did not want to die!... This scene was heart rending. They had to send Pencroff away.
The attack lasted five hours. It was evident that Herbert would not withstand a third.
The night was frightful. In his delirium, Herbert said heart breaking things to his companions. He rambled on, he fought against the convicts, he called to Ayrton! He entreated this mysterious being, this now disappeared protector whose image obsessed him... Then he fell back in a deep prostration which overwhelmed him completely... Several times Gideon Spilett thought that the poor boy was dead!
The next day, the 8th of December, was a succession of fainting fits. Herbert’s emaciated hands clenched the bedsheets. They administered additional doses of powdered bark but the reporter expected no result from it.
“If before tomorrow morning we have not given him a more energetic febrifuge,” said the reporter, “Herbert will die!”
Night came on—the last night doubtless of this good, intelligent, courageous lad, so superior for his age, and whom everyone loved like their son! The only remedy that existed to counter this terrible pernicious fever, the only specific which could defeat it, was not to be found on Lincoln Island!
During this night of the 8th to the 9th of December, Herbert was again seized by a very intense delirium. His liver was horribly congested, his brain affected and already it was impossible for him to recognize anyone.
Would he live to the next day until the third attack which would certainly carry him off? That was no longer likely. His strength was exhausted and during intervals in the crises he was like dead.
About three o’clock in the morning, Herbert let out a frightful cry. He seemed to writhe with a supreme convulsion. Neb, who was near him, was frightened and rushed into the next room where his companions were watching.
At this moment Top barked in a strange way.
Everyone soon went over and they succeeded in holding down the dying lad who wanted to throw himself off his bed, while Gideon Spilett felt his pulse growing weaker little by little.
It was five o’clock in the morning. The rays of the rising sun began to shine into the rooms of Granite House. It promised to be a fine day and this day would be poor Herbert’s last...
A ray shown on the table which was near the bed.
Suddenly Pencroff uttered a cry and pointed to an object placed on the table...
Pencroff pointed to an object placed on the table...
It was a small oblong box with these words on it:
Sulphate of Quinine.