The sailor undoubtedly felt much greater anxiety than does the fisherman, for he does not see his prey coming through the water. The jerks attracted the attention of the gallinaceae, and they attacked the hooks with their beaks. Three voracious grouse swallowed at the same moment bait and hook. Suddenly with a smart jerk, Pencroft “struck” his line, and a flapping of wings showed that the birds were taken.
“Hurrah!” he cried, rushing towards the game, of which he made himself master in an instant.
Herbert clapped his hands. It was the first time that he had ever seen birds taken with a line, but the sailor modestly confessed that it was not his first attempt, and that besides he could not claim the merit of invention.
“And at any rate,” added he, “situated as we are, we must hope to hit upon many other contrivances.”
The grouse were fastened by their claws, and Pencroft, delighted at not having to appear before their companions with empty hands, and observing that the day had begun to decline, judged it best to return to their dwelling.
The direction was indicated by the river, whose course they had only to follow, and, towards six o’clock, tired enough with their excursion, Herbert and Pencroft arrived at the Chimneys.
Gideon Spilett was standing motionless on the shore, his arms crossed, gazing over the sea, the horizon of which was lost towards the east in a thick black cloud which was spreading rapidly towards the zenith. The wind was already strong, and increased with the decline of day. The whole sky was of a threatening aspect, and the first symptoms of a violent storm were clearly visible.
Herbert entered the Chimneys, and Pencroft went towards the reporter. The latter, deeply absorbed, did not see him approach.
“We are going to have a dirty night, Mr. Spilett!” said the sailor: “Petrels delight in wind and rain.”
The reporter, turning at the moment, saw Pencroft, and his first words were,—
“At what distance from the coast would you say the car was, when the waves carried off our companion?”
The sailor had not expected this question. He reflected an instant and replied,—
“Two cables lengths at the most.”
“But what is a cable’s length?” asked Gideon Spilett.
“About a hundred and twenty fathoms, or six hundred feet.”
“Then,” said the reporter, “Cyrus Harding must have disappeared twelve hundred feet at the most from the shore?”
“About that,” replied Pencroft.
“And his dog also?”
“What astonishes me,” rejoined the reporter, “while admitting that our companion has perished, is that Top has also met his death, and that neither the body of the dog nor of his master has been cast on the shore!”
“It is not astonishing, with such a heavy sea,” replied the sailor. “Besides, it is possible that currents have carried them farther down the coast.”