The engineer went to the gate of the corral and opened it.
“Neb, Top! Neb!” repeated the engineer, again pointing in the direction of Granite House.
Top sprang forwards, then almost immediately disappeared.
“He will get there!” said the reporter.
“Yes, and he will come back, the faithful animal!”
“What o’clock is it?” asked Gideon Spilett.
“In an hour he may be here. We will watch for his return.”
The gate of the corral was closed. The engineer and the reporter re-entered the house. Herbert was still in a sleep. Pencroft kept the compresser always wet. Spilett, seeing there was nothing he could do at that moment, busied himself in preparing some nourishment, while attentively watching that part of the enclosure against the hill, at which an attack might be expected.
The settlers awaited Top’s return with much anxiety. A little before eleven o’clock, Cyrus Harding and the reporter, rifle in hand, were behind the gate, ready to open it at the first bark of their dog.
They did not doubt that if Top had arrived safely at Granite House, Neb would have sent him back immediately.
They had both been there for about ten minutes, when a report was heard, followed by repeated barks.
The engineer opened the gate, and seeing smoke a hundred feet off in the wood, he fired in that direction.
Almost immediately Top bounded into the corral, and the gate was quickly shut.
“Top, Top!” exclaimed the engineer, taking the dog’s great honest head between his hands.
A note was fastened to his neck, and Cyrus Harding read these words, traced in Neb’s large writing:—“No pirates in the neighborhood of Granite House. I will not stir. Poor Mr. Herbert!”
So the convicts were still there, watching the corral, and determined to kill the settlers one after the other. There was nothing to be done but to treat them as wild beasts. But great precautions must be taken, for just now the wretches had the advantage on their side, seeing, and not being seen, being able to surprise by the suddenness of their attack, yet not to be surprised themselves. Harding made arrangements, therefore, for living in the corral, of which the provisions would last for a tolerable length of time. Ayrton’s house had been provided with all that was necessary for existence, and the convicts, scared by the arrival of the settlers, had not had time to pillage it. It was probable, as Gideon Spilett observed, that things had occurred as follows: