As to Thomas Roch, he stands with folded arms, and flashing eyes, his face radiant with pride and triumph.
I understand, while I abhor his feelings.
If the other warships approach they will share the same fate as the cruiser. They will inevitably be destroyed. Oh! if they would but give up the struggle and withdraw to safety, even though my last hope would go with them! The nations can consult and arrive at some other plan for destroying the island. They can surround the place with a belt of ships that the pirates cannot break through and starve them to death like so many rats in a hole.
But I know that the warships will not retire, even though they know they are going to certain death. One after the other they will all make the attempt.
And I am right. Signals are exchanged between them. Almost immediately clouds of black smoke arise and the vessels again advance.
One of them, under forced draught, distances the others in her anxiety to bring her big guns quickly into action.
At all risks I issue from my hole, and gaze at the on-coming warship with feverish eyes, awaiting, without being able to prevent it, another catastrophe.
This vessel, which visibly grows larger as it comes nearer, is a cruiser of about the same tonnage as the one that preceded her. No flag is flying and I cannot guess her nationality. She continues steaming at full speed in an effort to pass the zone of danger before other engines can be launched. But how can she escape them since they will swoop back upon her?
Thomas Roch places himself behind the second trestle as the cruiser passes on to the surface of the abysm in which she will in turn soon be swallowed up.
No sound disturbs the stillness.
Suddenly the rolling of drums and the blare of bugles is heard on board the warship.
I know those bugle calls: they are French bugles! Great God! She is one of the ships of my own country’s navy and a French inventor is about to destroy her!
No! it shall not be. I will rush towards Thomas Roch—shout to him that she is a French ship. He does not, cannot, know it.
At a sign from Engineer Serko the inventor has raised the phial.
The bugles sound louder and more strident. It is the salute to the flag. A flag unfurls to the breeze—the tricolor, whose blue, white and red sections stand out luminously against the sky.
Ah! What is this? I understand! Thomas Roch is fascinated at the sight of his national emblem. Slowly he lowers his arm as the flag flutters up to the mast-head. Then he draws back and covers his eyes with his hand.
Heavens above! All sentiment of patriotism is not then dead in his ulcerated heart, seeing that it beats at the sight of his country’s flag!
My emotion is not less than his. At the risk of being seen—and what do I now care if I am seen?—I creep over the rocks. I will be there to sustain Thomas Roch and prevent him from weakening. If I pay for it with my life I will once more adjure him in the name of his country. I will cry to him: