The settlers hastened on, their hearts oppressed with anxiety. They were sincerely attached to their new companion. Were they to find him struck down by the hands of those of whom he was formerly the leader?
Soon they arrived at the place where the road led along the side of the little stream which flowed from the Red Creek and watered the meadows of the corral. They then moderated their pace so that they should not be out of breath at the moment when a struggle might be necessary. Their guns were in their hands ready cocked. The forest was watched on every side. Top uttered sullen groans which were rather ominous.
At last the palisade appeared through the trees. No trace of any damage could be seen. The gate was shut as usual. Deep silence reigned in the corral. Neither the accustomed bleating of the sheep nor Ayrton’s voice could be heard.
“Let us enter,” said Cyrus Harding.
And the engineer advanced, while his companions, keeping watch about twenty paces behind him, were ready to fire at a moment’s notice.
Harding raised the inner latch of the gate and was about to push it back, when Top barked loudly. A report sounded and was responded to by a cry of pain.
Herbert, struck by a bullet, lay stretched on the ground.
At Herbert’s cry, Pencroft, letting his gun fall, rushed towards him.
“They have killed him!” he cried. “My boy! They have killed him!”
Cyrus Harding and Gideon Spilett ran to Herbert.
The reporter listened to ascertain if the poor lad’s heart was still beating.
“He lives,” said he, “but he must be carried—”
“To Granite House? that is impossible!” replied the engineer.
“Into the corral, then!” said Pencroft.
“In a moment,” said Harding.
And he ran round the left corner of the palisade. There he found a convict, who aiming at him, sent a ball through his hat. In a few seconds, before he had even time to fire his second barrel, he fell, struck to the heart by Harding’s dagger, more sure even than his gun.
During this time, Gideon Spilett and the sailor hoisted themselves over the palisade, leaped into the enclosure, threw down the props which supported the inner door, ran into the empty house, and soon, poor Herbert was lying on Ayrton’s bed. In a few moments, Harding was by his side.
On seeing Herbert senseless, the sailor’s grief was terrible.
He sobbed, he cried, he tried to beat his head against the wall.
Neither the engineer nor the reporter could calm him. They themselves were choked with emotion. They could not speak.
However, they knew that it depended on them to rescue from death the poor boy who was suffering beneath their eyes. Gideon Spilett had not passed through the many incidents by which his life had been checkered without acquiring some slight knowledge of medicine. He knew a little of everything, and several times he had been obliged to attend to wounds produced either by a sword-bayonet or shot. Assisted by Cyrus Harding, he proceeded to render the aid Herbert required.