The midday meal over we all return on deck--all with the exception of Thomas Roch, who has not quitted his cabin.
Towards one o'clock land is sighted by the lookout man on the foretop cross-tree. Inasmuch as the _Elba_ is bowling along at great speed I shall soon be able to make out the coast line.
In effect, two hours later a vague semicircular line that curves outward is discernible about eight miles off. As the schooner approaches it becomes more distinct. It is a mountain, or at all events very high ground, and from its summit a cloud of smoke ascends.
What! A volcano in these parts? It must then be----
In my opinion the _Ebba_ could have struck no other group of islands but the Bermudas in this part of the Atlantic. This is clear from the distance covered from the American coast and the direction sailed in since we issued from Pamlico Sound. This direction has constantly been south-southeast, and the distance, judging from the _Ebba's_ rate of speed, which has scarcely varied, is approximately seven hundred and fifty miles.
Still, the schooner does not slacken speed. The Count d'Artigas and Engineer Serko remain aft, by the man at the wheel. Captain Spade has gone forward.
Are we not going to leave this island, which appears to be isolated, to the west?
It does not seem likely, since it is still broad daylight, and the hour at which the _Ebba_ was timed to arrive.
All the sailors are drawn up on deck, awaiting orders, and Boatswain Effrondat is making preparations to anchor.
Ere a couple of hours have passed I shall know all about it. It will be the first answer to one of the many questions that have perplexed me since the schooner put to sea.
And yet it is most unlikely that the port to which the _Ebba_ belongs is situated on one of the Bermuda islands, in the middle of an English archipelago--unless the Count d'Artigas has kidnapped Thomas Roch for the British government, which I cannot believe.
I become aware that this extraordinary man is gazing at me with singular persistence. Although he can have no suspicion that I am Simon Hart, the engineer, he must be asking himself what I think of this adventure. If Warder Gaydon is but a poor devil, this poor devil will manifest as much unconcern as to what is in store for him as any gentleman could--even though he were the proprietor of this queer pleasure yacht. Still I am a little uneasy under his gaze.
I dare say that if the Count d'Artigas could guess how certain things have suddenly become clear to me, he would not hesitate to have me thrown overboard.
Prudence therefore commands me to be more circumspect than ever.
Without giving rise to any suspicion--even in the mind of Engineer Serko--I have succeeded in raising a corner of the mysterious veil, and I begin to see ahead a bit.
As the _Ebba_ draws nearer, the island, or rather islet, towards which she is speeding shows more sharply against the blue background of the sky. The sun which has passed the zenith, shines full upon the western side. The islet is isolated, or at any rate I cannot see any others of the group to which it belongs, either to north or south.
This islet, of curious contexture, resembles as near as possible a cup turned upside down, from which a fuliginous vapor arises. Its summit--the bottom of the cup, if you like--is about three hundred feet above the level of the sea, and its flanks, which are steep and regular, are as bare as the sea-washed rocks at its base.
There is another peculiarity about it which must render the islet easily recognizable by mariners approaching it from the west, and this is a rock which forms a natural arch at the base of the mountain--the handle of the cup, so to speak--and through which the waves wash as freely as the sunshine passes. Seen this way the islet fully justifies the name of Back Cup given to it.
Well, I know and recognize this islet! It is situated at the extremity of the archipelago of the Bermudas. It is the "reversed cup" that I had occasion to visit a few years ago--No, I am not mistaken.