The next day, the 20th of October, at seven o’clock in the morning, after a voyage of four days, the “Bonadventure” gently glided up to the beach at the mouth of the Mercy.
Cyrus Harding and Neb, who had become very uneasy at the bad weather and the prolonged absence of their companions, had climbed at daybreak to the plateau of Prospect Heights, and they had at last caught sight of the vessel which had been so long in returning.
“God be praised! there they are!” exclaimed Cyrus Harding.
As to Neb in his joy, he began to dance, to twirl round, clapping his hands and shouting, “Oh! my master!” A more touching pantomime than the finest discourse.
The engineer’s first idea, on counting the people on the deck of the “Bonadventure,” was that Pencroft had not found the castaway of Tabor Island, or at any rate that the unfortunate man had refused to leave his island and change one prison for another.
Indeed Pencroft, Gideon Spilett, and Herbert were alone on the deck of the “Bonadventure.”
The moment the vessel touched, the engineer and Neb were waiting on the beach, and before the passengers had time to leap on to the sand, Harding said: “We have been very uneasy at your delay, my friends! Did you meet with any accident?”
“No,” replied Gideon Spilett; “on the contrary, everything went wonderfully well. We will tell you all about it.”
“However,” returned the engineer, “your search has been unsuccessful, since you are only three, just as you went!”
“Excuse me, captain,” replied the sailor, “we are four.”
“You have found the castaway?”
“And you have brought him?”
“Where is he? Who is he?”
“He is,” replied the reporter, “or rather he was a man! There, Cyrus, that is all we can tell you!”
The engineer was then informed of all that had passed during the voyage, and under what conditions the search had been conducted; how the only dwelling in the island had long been abandoned; how at last a castaway had been captured, who appeared no longer to belong to the human species.
“And that’s just the point,” added Pencroft, “I don’t know if we have done right to bring him here.”
“Certainly you have, Pencroft,” replied the engineer quickly.
“But the wretched creature has no sense!”
“That is possible at present,” replied Cyrus Harding, “but only a few months ago the wretched creature was a man like you and me. And who knows what will become of the survivor of us after a long solitude on this island? It is a great misfortune to be alone, my friends; and it must be believed that solitude can quickly destroy reason, since you have found this poor creature in such a state!”
“But, captain,” asked Herbert, “what leads you to think that the brutishness of the unfortunate man began only a few months back?”