The downs, the extent of which was large, were composed of hillocks and even of hills, very irregularly distributed. They resembled a Switzerland modeled in sand, and only an amazing instinct could have possibly recognized the way.
Five minutes after having left the beach, the reporter and his two companions arrived at a sort of excavation, hollowed out at the back of a high mound. There Top stopped, and gave a loud, clear bark. Spilett, Herbert, and Pencroft dashed into the cave.
Neb was there, kneeling beside a body extended on a bed of grass.
The body was that of the engineer, Cyrus Harding.
Neb did not move. Pencroft only uttered one word.
“Living?” he cried.
Neb did not reply. Spilett and the sailor turned pale. Herbert clasped his hands, and remained motionless. The poor Negro, absorbed in his grief, evidently had neither seen his companions nor heard the sailor speak.
The reporter knelt down beside the motionless body, and placed his ear to the engineer’s chest, having first torn open his clothes.
A minute—an age!—passed, during which he endeavored to catch the faintest throb of the heart.
Neb had raised himself a little and gazed without seeing. Despair had completely changed his countenance. He could scarcely be recognized, exhausted with fatigue, broken with grief. He believed his master was dead.
Gideon Spilett at last rose, after a long and attentive examination.
“He lives!” said he.
Pencroft knelt in his turn beside the engineer, he also heard a throbbing, and even felt a slight breath on his cheek.
Herbert at a word from the reporter ran out to look for water. He found, a hundred feet off, a limpid stream, which seemed to have been greatly increased by the rains, and which filtered through the sand; but nothing in which to put the water, not even a shell among the downs. The lad was obliged to content himself with dipping his handkerchief in the stream, and with it hastened back to the grotto.
Happily the wet handkerchief was enough for Gideon Spilett, who only wished to wet the engineer’s lips. The cold water produced an almost immediate effect. His chest heaved and he seemed to try to speak.
“We will save him!” exclaimed the reporter.
At these words hope revived in Neb’s heart. He undressed his master to see if he was wounded, but not so much as a bruise was to be found, either on the head, body, or limbs, which was surprising, as he must have been dashed against the rocks; even the hands were uninjured, and it was difficult to explain how the engineer showed no traces of the efforts which he must have made to get out of reach of the breakers.
But the explanation would come later. When Cyrus was able to speak he would say what had happened. For the present the question was, how to recall him to life, and it appeared likely that rubbing would bring this about; so they set to work with the sailor’s jersey.