However, the mystery which enveloped its strange destruction would doubtless never have been cleared away if, on the 30th of November, Neb, strolling on the beach, had not found a piece of a thick iron cylinder, bearing traces of explosion. The edges of this cylinder were twisted and broken, as if they had been subjected to the action of some explosive substance.
Neb brought this piece of metal to his master, who was then occupied with his companions in the workshop of the Chimneys.
Cyrus Harding examined the cylinder attentively, then, turning to Pencroft,—
“You persist, my friend,” said he, “in maintaining that the ‘Speedy’ was not lost in consequence of a collision?”
“Yes, captain,” answered the sailor. “You know as well as I do that there are no rocks in the channel.”
“But suppose she had run against this piece of iron?” said the engineer, showing the broken cylinder.
“What, that bit of pipe!” exclaimed Pencroft in a tone of perfect incredulity.
“My friends,” resumed Harding, “you remember that before she foundered the brig rose on the summit of a regular waterspout?”
“Yes, captain,” replied Herbert.
“Well, would you like to know what occasioned that waterspout? It was this,” said the engineer, holding up the broken tube.
“That?” returned Pencroft.
“Yes! This cylinder is all that remains of a torpedo!”
“A torpedo!” exclaimed the engineer’s companions.
“And who put the torpedo there?” demanded Pencroft, who did not like to yield.
“All that I can tell you is, that it was not I,” answered Cyrus Harding; “but it was there, and you have been able to judge of its incomparable power!”
So, then, all was explained by the submarine explosion of this torpedo. Cyrus Harding could not be mistaken, as, during the war of the Union, he had had occasion to try these terrible engines of destruction. It was under the action of this cylinder, charged with some explosive substance, nitro-glycerine, picrate, or some other material of the same nature, that the water of the channel had been raised like a dome, the bottom of the brig crushed in, and she had sunk instantly, the damage done to her hull being so considerable that it was impossible to refloat her. The “Speedy” had not been able to withstand a torpedo that would have destroyed an ironclad as easily as a fishing-boat!
Yes! all was explained, everything—except the presence of the torpedo in the waters of the channel!