Immediately the door was forced rather than opened, and the colonists rushed into the room.
Ayrton appeared to be asleep. His countenance showed that he had long and cruelly suffered. On his wrists and ankles could be seen great bruises.
Harding bent over him.
“Ayrton!” cried the engineer, seizing the arm of the man whom he had just found again under such unexpected circumstances.
At this exclamation Ayrton opened his eyes, and, gazing at Harding, then at the others,—
“You!” he cried, “you?”
“Ayrton! Ayrton!” repeated Harding.
“Where am I?”
“In the house in the corral!”
“But they will come back!” cried Ayrton. “Defend yourselves! defend yourselves!”
And he fell back exhausted.
“Spilett,” exclaimed the engineer, “we may be attacked at any moment. Bring the cart into the corral. Then, barricade the door, and all come back here.”
Pencroft, Neb, and the reporter hastened to execute the engineer’s orders. There was not a moment to be lost. Perhaps even now the cart was in the hands of the convicts!
In a moment the reporter and his two companions had crossed the corral and reached the gate of the palisade behind which Top was heard growling sullenly.
The engineer, leaving Ayrton for an instant, came out ready to fire. Herbert was at his side. Both surveyed the crest of the spur overlooking the corral. If the convicts were lying in ambush there, they might knock the settlers over one after the other.
At that moment the moon appeared in the east, above the black curtain of the forest, and a white sheet of light spread over the interior of the enclosure. The corral, with its clumps of trees, the little stream which watered it, its wide carpet of grass, was suddenly illuminated. From the side of the mountain, the house and a part of the palisade stood out white in the moonlight. On the opposite side towards the door, the enclosure remained dark. A black mass soon appeared. This was the cart entering the circle of light, and Cyrus Harding could hear the noise made by the door, as his companions shut it and fastened the interior bars.
But, at that moment, Top, breaking loose, began to bark furiously and rush to the back of the corral, to the right of the house.
“Be ready to fire, my friends!” cried Harding.
The colonists raised their pieces and waited the moment to fire.
Top still barked, and Jup, running towards the dog, uttered shrill cries.
The colonists followed him, and reached the borders of the little stream, shaded by large trees. And there, in the bright moonlight, what did they see? Five corpses, stretched on the bank!
They were those of the convicts who, four months previously, had landed on Lincoln Island!