They were not more than half a mile from the coast, and it was necessary to tack to beat against the wind. The “Bonadventure” was then going at a very moderate rate, as the breeze, partly intercepted by the high land, scarcely swelled her sails, and the sea, smooth as glass, was only rippled now and then by passing gusts.
Herbert had stationed himself in the bows that he might indicate the course to be followed among the channels, when all at once he shouted,—
“Luff, Pencroft, luff!”
“What’s the matter,” replied the sailor; “a rock?”
“No—wait,” said Herbert; “I don’t quite see. Luff again—right—now.”
So saying, Herbert, leaning over the side, plunged his arm into the water, and pulled it out, exclaiming,—
He held in his hand a corked bottle which he had just seized a few cables’ length from the shore.
Cyrus Harding took the bottle. Without uttering a single word he drew the cork, and took from it a damp paper, on which were written these words:—
“Castaway . . . . Tabor island: 153deg W. long., 37deg 11’ S. lat.”
“A castaway!” exclaimed Pencroft; “left on this Tabor Island not two hundred miles from us! Ah, Captain Harding, you won’t now oppose my going.”
“No, Pencroft,” replied Cyrus Harding; “and you shall set out as soon as possible.”
The engineer still held in his hand the paper which he had taken from the bottle. He contemplated it for some instants, then resumed,
“From this document, my friends, from the way in which it is worded, we may conclude this: first, that the castaway on Tabor Island is a man possessing a considerable knowledge of navigation, since he gives the latitude and longitude of the island exactly as we ourselves found it, and to a second of approximation; secondly, that he is either English or American, as the document is written in the English language.”
“That is perfectly logical,” answered Spilett; “and the presence of this castaway explains the arrival of the case on the shores of our island. There must have been a wreck, since there is a castaway. As to the latter, whoever he may be, it is lucky for him that Pencroft thought of building this boat and of trying her this very day, for a day later and this bottle might have been broken on the rocks.”
“Indeed,” said Herbert, “it is a fortunate chance that the ‘Bonadventure’ passed exactly where the bottle was still floating!”
“Does not this appear strange to you?” asked Harding of Pencroft.
“It appears fortunate, that’s all,” answered the sailor. “Do you see anything extraordinary in it, captain? The bottle must go somewhere, and why not here as well as anywhere else?”
“Perhaps you are right, Pencroft,” replied the engineer; “and yet—”