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Their Island Home, Page 2

Jules Verne

  The canoe sped like an arrow over the surface of the water. Fritz had not hoisted the little sail which it carried when the wind was favourable, because the breeze was blowing off the sea. On the return journey the mast would be stepped, and it would not be necessary to use the paddles to make the mouth of Jackal River.

  Nothing happened to catch the attention of the two brothers during their short voyage of a couple of miles. To the east, the arid, desert shore showed only a long succession of yellowish dunes. To the west, the verdant coast extended from the mouth of Jackal River to the mouth of Flamingo River and beyond that to False Hope Point.

  "There is no doubt," said Fritz, "that our New Switzerland does not lie in the course of any ships, and this Indian Ocean is pretty well deserted."

  "Well," said Jack, "I am not so very keen upon their discovering our New Switzerland! A ship which touched at it would not lose any time in taking possession of it. And if it planted its flag here, what would become of ours? You may be quite sure it would not be a Swiss flag, seeing that it isn't exactly over the seas that Switzerland carries her flag, so we should run a considerable risk of not feeling ourselves at home any more."

  "And the future, Jack: what about the future?" Fritz replied.

  "The future?" Jack made answer; "the future will be a continuation of the present, and if you are not satisfied—"

  "All of us are, perhaps," said Fritz. "But you forget Jenny; and her father who believes that she was lost in the wreck of the Dorcas. Must she not be longing to be restored to him? She knows that he is over there, in England, and how is she ever to join him there unless a ship arrives some day?"

  "Quite so," said Jack with a smile, for he guessed what was going on within his brother's heart.

  In about three quarters of an hour the canoe reached the low-lying rocks of Shark's Island.

  Fritz and Jack's first business was to visit the interior and then to make a circuit of the island. It was important to ascertain the condition of the plantations made some years ago round the battery hill.

  These plantations were much exposed to the winds from the north and north-east, which lashed the island with their full force before rushing down the funnellike entrance into Deliverance Bay. At this point there were actually atmospheric backwaters, or eddies, of dangerous strength, which more than once already had torn the roofing off the hangar under which the two guns were placed.

  Fortunately the plantations had not suffered excessively. A few trees were lying on the beach on the north side of the island, and these would be sawn up to be stored at Rock Castle.

  The enclosures in which the antelopes were penned had been so solidly constructed that Fritz and Jack detected no damage done to them. The animals had abundant pasture there throughout the year. The herd now numbered fifty head, and was bound to go on increasing.

  "What shall we do with all these animals?" Fritz asked, as he watched them frolicking between the quickset hedges of the enclosures.

  "Sell them," was Jack's answer.

  "Then you do admit that some day or another ships will come to which it will be possible to sell them?" Fritz enquired.

  "Not a bit of it," Jack replied; "when we sell them it will be in open market in New Switzerland."

  "Open market, Jack! From the way you talk one would suppose it won't be very long before New Switzerland has open markets."

  "No doubt about it, Fritz; or that it will have villages and little towns, cities, and even a capital, which, naturally, will be Rock Castle."

  "And when will that be?"

  "When the provinces of New Switzerland have several thousand inhabitants." "Foreigners?"

  "No, no, Fritz," Jack declared; "Swiss: none but Swiss. Our native land has enough people to be able to send us a few hundred families."

  "But it never has had any colonies, and I don't suppose it ever will, Jack."

  "Well, it will have one, at any rate, Fritz."

  "But our countrymen don't seem to show any inclination to emigrate."

  "What about ourselves?" Jack exclaimed. "Didn't we develop the liking for colonisation—and not without, some advantage?"

  "Because we were obliged to," Fritz answered. "No, if ever New Switzerland is to be populated, I am very much afraid she won't continue to justify her name, and that the large majority of her inhabitants will be Anglo-Saxon."

  Fritz was right, and Jack knew it so well that he could not refrain from making a grimace.

  For at this period Great Britain was still frequently acquiring new possessions. Bit by bit, the Indian Ocean was always giving her fresh domains. So the great probability was that if a ship ever did come in sight, the British flag would be flying at her peak and her captain would take possession of New Switzerland and hoist the British flag on the summit of Prospect Hill.

  When they had finished their inspection of the island the two brothers climbed the hill and went to the hangar where the battery stood.

  Standing upon the edge of the upper terrace they swept with their telescopes the whole vast segment of sea contained between False Hope Point and the cape which shut in Deliverance Bay to the east.

  Nothing but a desert waste of water! Right out to the extreme horizon, where sky and ocean met, nothing was to be seen except, three or four miles away to the north-east, the reef on which the Landlord had run aground.

  Turning their eyes towards False Hope Point, Fritz and Jack perceived between the trees upon the hill the belvidere of the villa at Prospect Hill. The summer dwelling was still standing—which would be a satisfaction to M. Zermatt, who was constantly afraid that it might be destroyed by some of the sudden squalls of the rainy season.

  The two brothers went into the hangar, which the storms had spared, although there had been more than enough thunderstorms and squalls during the two and a half months that the winter had lasted.

  Their next business was to run up to the head of the mast near the hangar the red and white flag which would wave there until the end of autumn, and to honour it with the annual salute of two guns.

  While Jack was busy taking the flag out of its case and fastening it by the corners to the halyard, Fritz examined the two carronades that were pointed towards the open sea. They were both in good condition, and only required to be loaded. In order to economise powder, Fritz was careful to use a wad of damped sod, as it was his practice to do, which increased the intensity of the discharge. Then he fixed in the touch-hole the quick match which would fire the gun the instant the flag reached the top of the mast.

  It was then half past seven in the morning. The sky, cleared now of the mists of early dawn, was absolutely serene. Only towards the west a few wisps of cloud rose in delicate spirals. The breeze seemed dying down. The bay, glittering beneath the streaming rays of the sun, was almost dead calm.

  As soon as he had finished, Fritz asked his brother if he was ready.

  "When you like, Fritz," Jack answered, satisfying himself that the halyard would run without catching on the roof of the hangar.

  "Number one, fire! Number two, fire!" cried Fritz, who took himself very seriously as artilleryman.

  The two shots rang out one after the other while the red and white bunting fluttered out in the breeze.

  Fritz busied himself reloading the two guns. But he had hardly put the cartridge in the second cannon when he jumped upright.

  A distant detonation had just struck upon his ear.

  At once Jack and he rushed out of the hangar.

  "A gun!" cried Jack.

  "No!" said Fritz. "It isn't possible. We are mistaken."

  "Listen!" answered Jack, scarcely breathing.

  A second detonation rang through the air, and then after an interval of a minute a third resounded.

  "Yes, yes!" Jack insisted. "Those are cannon shots all right."

  "And they came from the east," Fritz added.

  Was it really a ship, passing within sight of New Switzerland, that had replied to the double discharge from Shark's Island,
and would that ship steer her course for Deliverance Bay?


  DIRECTLY the double report rang out from the battery on Shark's Island the echoes of Rock Castle repeated it from cliff to cliff. M. Zermatt and his wife, Jenny, Ernest, and Frank, running down at once to the beach, could see the whitish smoke of the two guns drifting slowly in the direction of Falconhurst. Waving their handkerchiefs, they answered with a cheer.

  Then all were preparing to resume their several occupations when Jenny, who was looking towards the island through her telescope, exclaimed: "Fritz and Jack are coming back." "Already?" said Ernest. "Why, they have barely had time to reload the guns. Why are they in such a hurry to get back to us?"

  "They certainly do seem to be in a hurry," M. Zermatt replied.

  There could be no doubt that the moving speck revealed by the telescope a little to the right of the island was the frail boat being lifted swiftly along by the paddles.

  "It is certainly odd," said Mme. Zermatt. "Can they have any news for us—important news?" "I think they have," Jenny answered.

  Would the news be good or bad? That was the question each one asked himself without attempting to answer it.

  All eyes were fastened on the canoe which was growing larger to the sight. In a quarter of an hour it was halfway between Shark's Island and the mouth of Jackal River. Fritz had not hoisted his little sail, for the breeze was dropping, and by paddling the two brothers travelled faster than the wind over the almost unruffled waters of Deliverance Bay.

  It occurred to M. Zermatt's mind that this hurried return might be a flight, and he wondered whether there would appear in chase some canoe full of savages, or even a pirate vessel from the open sea. But he did not communicate this highly alarming idea to anyone else. Followed by Betsy, Jenny, Ernest and Frank, he hurried to the far end of the creek, in haste to question Fritz and Jack.

  A quarter of an hour later the canoe stopped by the nearest rocks, which served as landing stage, at the end of the creek.

  "What is the matter?" M. Zermatt cried.

  Fritz and Jack jumped out onto the beach. Quite out of breath, their faces bathed in perspiration and their arms worn out with exertion, they could only answer with gestures at first, pointing to the coast east of Deliverance Bay.

  "What is the matter?" Frank repeated, grasping Fritz's arm.

  "Didn't you hear?" Fritz asked at last when he had recovered his breath.

  "Yes: you mean the two guns you fired from the Shark's battery?" said Ernest.

  "No," Jack answered; "not ours; those that answered!"

  "What?" M. Zermatt exclaimed. "Reports?" "It isn't possible! It isn't possible!" Mme. Zermatt repeated.

  Jenny had drawn near Fritz, and, pale with excitement, she asked in her turn:

  "Did you hear reports near here?"

  "Yes, Jenny," Fritz answered; "three guns fired at regular intervals."

  Fritz spoke so positively that it was impossible to believe he had made a mistake. Besides, Jack confirmed what his brother said, adding:

  "There can't be any doubt a ship is off New Switzerland and that her attention has been caught by the discharge of our two cannon."

  "A ship! A ship!" whispered Jenny.

  "And you are sure it was to the eastward?" M. Zermatt insisted.

  "Yes, to the eastward," Fritz declared; "and I am sure now that Deliverance Bay can only be a few miles from the main sea."

  This was very likely the case; but no one knew, as no exploration had yet been carried out along that coast.

  Great was the emotion of the inhabitants of New Switzerland after the first moment of surprise, almost of stupefaction.

  A ship—there really was a ship within sight, a ship, the report of whose guns had been borne by the breeze to Shark's Island! It was a connecting link by which this unknown land, where for eleven years the survivors of the wreck of the Landlord had lived, was united once more to the rest of the inhabited world! The cannon is the deep voice of ships that make long voyages, and that voice had just been heard for the first time since the battery on Shark's Island welcomed the returning dry season! It was almost as if this happening, on which they had ceased to count, took M. Zermatt and his people unprepared, as if this ship spoke a tongue which they had forgotten.

  However, they pulled themselves together and only thought of the bright side of this new situation. This distant sound which had reached them was not one of those sounds of nature to which they had been so long accustomed, the snapping of trees by the violence of the gale, the roar of the sea broken by the tempest, the crash of the thunder in the mighty storms of this intertropical zone. No! This sound was caused by the hand of man! The captain and the crew of the ship which was passing by at sea could no longer suppose that this land was uninhabited. If they should come to anchor in the bay their flag would salute the flag of New Switzerland!

  There was none of them but saw there the certainty of an impending deliverance. Mme. Zermatt felt herself freed from fears of the future; Jenny thought of her father, whom she had despaired of ever seeing again; M. Zermatt and his sons found themselves once more among their kind.

  So the first emotion felt by this family was that caused by the realisation of their dearest wishes. Thinking only of the happy side of this great event, they were all full of hope and of gratitude to heaven.

  "It is right that we should first give thanks to God, Whose protection has never failed us," said Frank. "It is to Him that our thanks ought to ascend and to Him that our prayers should be given."

  It was natural for Frank to express himself so. His religious feelings had always been deep, and had become even deeper as he grew older. His was an upright, tranquil character, full of affection for his people, that is to say for what had been all human kind to him hitherto. Although the youngest of the brothers, he was yet their counsellor in the very-few disputes that arose between the members of this most united family.

  What would his vocation have been if he had lived in his native land? No doubt he would have sought in medicine, or the law, or the priesthood to satisfy the devotional need which was the basis of his being, as physical activity was in the case of Fritz and Jack, and intellectual activity in the case of Ernest. And so he sent up a fervent prayer to Providence, in which he was joined by his father and mother, his brothers, and Jenny.

  It was necessary to act without delay. The ship, of whose presence no one would any longer admit a doubt, was probably anchored in one of the little bays along the coast, and was not passing by off New Switzerland. Would the sound of the guns to which it had replied induce it to set about the exploration of this land? Would it even try, perhaps, to make its entry into Deliverance Bay, after doubling the cape which closed it in to the east?

  That was what Fritz maintained, and he wound up his argument by saying:

  "The only thing we have to do is to go and meet this ship, following along the eastern coast, which must run from north to south."

  "Perhaps we have waited too long as it is," said Jenny.

  "I don't think so," Ernest answered. "It is out of the question that the captain of this ship, whatever it is, won't try to find out all about it."

  "What is the good of all this talk, talk!" cried Jack. "Let us go!"

  "Give us time to get the launch ready," said M. Zermatt.

  "It would take too long," Fritz declared, "and the canoe will serve."

  "Very well," said M. Zermatt. Then he added: "The important point is to behave with the utmost caution. I do not think it likely that any Malay or Australian savages have landed on the eastern coast, but the Indian Ocean is infested by pirates, and we should have everything to fear from them."

  "Yes," said Mme. Zermatt, "and it would be better for this ship to go away if—"

  "I will go myself," M. Zermatt declared. "Before we get into communication with these strangers we must know with whom we have to deal."

  This decision was a wise one. It only rema
ined to put it into execution. But as ill luck would have it, the weather had changed since the early morning. After having dropped, the wind had now veered to the west and was freshening perceptibly. The canoe could not have ventured into the bay, even if it had only been a matter of getting to Shark's Island. The sky was covered with clouds which were rising out of the west, squall clouds of which a sailor is always mistrustful.

  But, failing the canoe, and although it might involve a delay of an hour or two in getting her ready, was it not possible to use the launch, heavy as the swell might be outside the mouth of the bay?

  Hugely to his disappointment, M. Zermatt was obliged to abandon the idea. Before midday a veritable tempest was tossing the waters of Deliverance Bay, rendering them unnavigable. Even if this sudden change of weather could not last at this time of the year, at least it thwarted all their plans, and if the storm endured only twenty-four hours it might still be too late for them to find the ship. Besides, if its anchorage did not offer it absolute protection, it would almost certainly leave, and, with this wind blowing from the west, it would speedily be out of sight of New Switzerland.