But Dingo had returned, and, beginning the same performance again, it seized another cube, and went to lay it near the first.
This second cube was a large V.
This time Jack gave a cry.
At this cry, Mrs. Weldon, Captain Hull, and the young novice, who were walking on the deck, assembled. Little Jack then told them what had just passed.
Dingo knew its letters; Dingo knew how to read! That was very certain, that! Jack had seen it!
Dick Sand wanted to go and take the two cubes, to restore them to his friend Jack, but Dingo showed him its teeth.
However, the novice succeeded in gaining possession of the two cubes, and he replaced them in the set.
Dingo advanced again, seized again the same two letters, and carried them to a distance. This time its two paws lay on them; it seemed decided to guard them at all hazards. As to the other letters of the alphabet, it did not seem as if it had any knowledge of them.
"That is a curious thing," said Mrs. Weldon.
"It is, in fact, very singular," replied Captain Hull, who was looking attentively at the two letters.
"S. V.," said Mrs. Weldon.
"S. V.," repeated Captain Hull. "But those are precisely the letters which are on Dingo's collar!"
Then, all at once, turning to the old black: "Tom," he asked, "have you not told me that this dog only belonged to the captain of the 'Waldeck' for a short time?"
"In fact, sir," replied Tom, "Dingo was only on board two years at the most."
"And have you not added that the captain of the 'Waldeck' had picked up this dog on the western coast of Africa?"
"Yes, sir, in the neighborhood of the mouth of the Congo. I have often heard the captain say so."
"So," asked Captain Hull, "it has never been known to whom this dog had belonged, nor whence it came?"
"Never, sir. A dog found is worse than a child! That has no papers, and, more, it cannot explain."
Captain Hull was silent, and reflected.
"Do those two letters, then, awake some remembrance?" Mrs. Weldon asked Captain Hull, after leaving him to his reflections for some moments.
"Yes, Mrs. Weldon, a remembrance, or rather a coincidence at least singular."
"Those two letters might well have a meaning, and fix for us the fate of an intrepid traveler."
"What do you mean?" demanded Mrs. Weldon.
"Here is what I mean, Mrs. Weldon. In 1871--consequently two years ago--a French traveler set out, under the auspices of the Paris Geographical Society, with the intention of crossing Africa from the west to the east. His point of departure was precisely the mouth of the Congo. His point of arrival would be as near as possible to Cape Deldago, at the mouths of the Rovuma, whose course he would descend. Now, this French traveler was named Samuel Vernon."
"Samuel Vernon!" repeated Mrs. Weldon.
"Yes, Mrs. Weldon; and those two names begin precisely by those two letters which Dingo has chosen among all the others, and which are engraved on its collar."
"Exactly," replied Mrs. Weldon. "And that traveler----"
"That traveler set out," replied Captain Hull, "and has not been heard of since his departure."
"Never?" said the novice.
"Never," repeated Captain Hull.
"What do you conclude from it?" asked Mrs. Weldon.
"That, evidently, Samuel Vernon has not been able to reach the eastern coast of Africa, whether he may have been made prisoner by the natives, whether death may have struck him on the way."
"And then this dog?"
"This dog would have belonged to him; and, more fortunate than its master, if my hypothesis is true, it would have been able to return to the Congo coast, because it was there, at the time when these events must have taken place, that it was picked up by the captain of the 'Waldeck.'"
"But," observed Mrs. Weldon, "do you know if this French traveler was accompanied on his departure by a dog? Is it not a mere supposition on your part?"
"It is only a supposition, indeed, Mrs. Weldon," replied Captain Hull. "But what is certain is, that Dingo knows these two letters S and V, which are precisely the initials of the two names of the French traveler.