“Only, justice being satisfied, what would have become of the agreement together, which we must have in order to do anything?”
“Of course, captain, it is better that things passed off without violence! But for the future Hearne will have to look out for himself.”
“His companions,” observed the captain, “are now greedy for the prizes that have been promised them. The greed of gain will make them more willing and persevering. The generosity of Mr. Jeorling has succeeded where our entreaties would undoubtedly have failed. I thank him for it.”
Captain Len Guy held out a hand to me, which I grasped cordially.
After some general conversation relating to our purpose, the ship’s course, and the proposed verification of the bearings of the group of islands on the west of Tsalal which is described by Arthur Pym, the captain said,—
“As it is possible that the ravages of the earthquake did not extend to this group, and that it may still be inhabited, we must be on our guard in approaching the bearings.”
“Which cannot bevery far off,” I added. “And then, captain, who knows but that your brother and his sailors might have taken refu ge on one of these islands!”
This was admissible, but not a consoling eventuality, for in that case the poor fellows would have fallen into the hands of those savages of whom they were rid while they remained at Tsalal.
“Jem,” resumed Captain Len Guy, “we are making good way, and no doubt land will be signalled in a few hours. Give orders for the watch to be careful.”
“It’s done, captain.”
“There is a man in the crow’s-nest?”
“Dirk Peters himself, at his own request.” “All right, Jem; we may trust his vigilance.”
“And also his eyes,” I added, “for he is gifted with amazing sight.”
For two hours of very quick sailing not the smallest indication of the group of eight islands was visible.
“It is incomprehensible that we have not come in sight of them,” said the captain. “I reckon that the Halbrane has made sixty miles since this morning, and the islands in question are tolerably close together.”
“Then, captain, we must conclude—and it is not unlikely —that the group to which Tsalal belonged has entirely disappeared in the earthquake.”
“Land ahead !” cried Dirk Peters.
We looked, but could discern nothing on the sea, nor was it until a quarter of an hour had elapsed that our glasses enabled us to recognize the tops of a few scattered islets shining in the oblique rays of the sun, two or three miles to the westward.
What a change! How had it come about? Arthur Pym described spacious islands, but only a small number of tiny islets, half a dozen at most, protruded from the waters.
At this moment the half-breed came sliding down from his lofty perch and jumped to the deck.
“Well, Dirk Peters! Have you recognized the group?” asked the captain.
“The group?” replied the half. breed, shaking his head. “No, I have only seen the tops of five or six islets. There is nothing but stone heaps there—not a single island!”
As the schooner approached we easily recognized these fragments of the group, which had been almost entirely destroyed on its western side. The scattered remains formed dangerous reefs which might seriously injure the keel or the sides of the Halbrane, and there was no intention of risking the ship’s safety among them. We accordingly cast anchor at a safe distance, and a boat was lowered for the reception of Captain Len Guy, the boatswain, Dirk Peters, Holt, two men and myself. The still, transparent water, as Peters steered us skilfully between the projecting edges of the little reefs, allowed us to see, not a bed of sand strewn with shells, but heaps which were overgrown by land vegetation, tufts plants not belonging to the marine flora that floated the surface of the sea. Presently we landed on one of the larger islets which rose to about thirty feet above the sea.
“Do the tides rise sometimes to that height?” I inquired of the captain.
“Never,” he replied, “and perhaps we shall discover some remains of the vegetable kingdom, of habitations, or of an encampment.”
“The best thing we can do,” said the boatswain, “is to follow Dirk Peters, who has already distanced us.