"It is the wind," said he.
"No," replied Gideon Spilett, listening again, "I thought I heard--"
"The barking of a dog!"
"A dog!" cried Pencroft, springing up.
"It's not possible!" replied the sailor. "And besides, how, in the roaring of the storm--"
"Stop--listen--" said the reporter.
Pencroft listened more attentively, and really thought he heard, during a lull, distant barking.
"Well!" said the reporter, pressing the sailor's hand.
"Yes--yes!" replied Pencroft.
"It is Top! It is Top!" cried Herbert, who had just awoke; and all three rushed towards the opening of the Chimneys. They had great difficulty in getting out. The wind drove them back. But at last they succeeded, and could only remain standing by leaning against the rocks. They looked about, but could not speak. The darkness was intense. The sea, the sky, the land were all mingled in one black mass. Not a speck of light was visible.
The reporter and his companions remained thus for a few minutes, overwhelmed by the wind, drenched by the rain, blinded by the sand.
Then, in a pause of the tumult, they again heard the barking, which they found must be at some distance.
It could only be Top! But was he alone or accompanied? He was most probably alone, for, if Neb had been with him, he would have made his way more directly towards the Chimneys. The sailor squeezed the reporter's hand, for he could not make himself heard, in a way which signified "Wait!" then he reentered the passage.
An instant after he issued with a lighted fagot, which he threw into the darkness, whistling shrilly.
It appeared as if this signal had been waited for; the barking immediately came nearer, and soon a dog bounded into the passage. Pencroft, Herbert, and Spilett entered after him.
An armful of dry wood was thrown on the embers. The passage was lighted up with a bright flame.
"It is Top!" cried Herbert.
It was indeed Top, a magnificent Anglo-Norman, who derived from these two races crossed the swiftness of foot and the acuteness of smell which are the preeminent qualities of coursing dogs. It was the dog of the engineer, Cyrus Harding. But he was alone! Neither Neb nor his master accompanied him!
How was it that his instinct had guided him straight to the Chimneys, which he did not know? It appeared inexplicable, above all, in the midst of this black night and in such a tempest! But what was still more inexplicable was, that Top was neither tired, nor exhausted, nor even soiled with mud or sand!--Herbert had drawn him towards him, and was patting his head, the dog rubbing his neck against the lad's hands.
"If the dog is found, the master will be found also!" said the reporter.
"God grant it!" responded Herbert. "Let us set off! Top will guide us!"
Pencroft did not make any objection. He felt that Top's arrival contradicted his conjectures. "Come along then!" said he.
Pencroft carefully covered the embers on the hearth. He placed a few pieces of wood among them, so as to keep in the fire until their return. Then, preceded by the dog, who seemed to invite them by short barks to come with him, and followed by the reporter and the boy, he dashed out, after having put up in his handkerchief the remains of the supper.
The storm was then in all its violence, and perhaps at its height. Not a single ray of light from the moon pierced through the clouds. To follow a straight course was difficult. It was best to rely on Top's instinct. They did so. The reporter and Herbert walked behind the dog, and the sailor brought up the rear. It was impossible to exchange a word. The rain was not very heavy, but the wind was terrific.
However, one circumstance favored the seaman and his two companions. The wind being southeast, consequently blew on their backs. The clouds of sand, which otherwise would have been insupportable, from being received behind, did not in consequence impede their progress. In short, they sometimes went faster than they liked, and had some difficulty in keeping their feet; but hope gave them strength, for it was not at random that they made their way along the shore.