This Neb knew, and he wished to see his master again for the last time.
"I went along the coast for another two miles, carefully examining the beach, both at high and low water, and I had despaired of finding anything, when yesterday, above five in the evening, I saw footprints on the sand."
"Footprints?" exclaimed Pencroft.
"Yes!" replied Neb.
"Did these footprints begin at the water's edge?" asked the reporter.
"No," replied Neb, "only above high-water mark, for the others must have been washed out by the tide."
"Go on, Neb," said Spilett.
"I went half crazy when I saw these footprints. They were very clear and went towards the downs. I followed them for a quarter of a mile, running, but taking care not to destroy them. Five minutes after, as it was getting dark, I heard the barking of a dog. It was Top, and Top brought me here, to my master!"
Neb ended his account by saying what had been his grief at finding the inanimate body, in which he vainly sought for the least sign of life. Now that he had found him dead he longed for him to be alive. All his efforts were useless! Nothing remained to be done but to render the last duties to the one whom he had loved so much! Neb then thought of his companions. They, no doubt, would wish to see the unfortunate man again. Top was there. Could he not rely on the sagacity of the faithful animal? Neb several times pronounced the name of the reporter, the one among his companions whom Top knew best.
Then he pointed to the south, and the dog bounded off in the direction indicated to him.
We have heard how, guided by an instinct which might be looked upon almost as supernatural, Top had found them.
Neb's companions had listened with great attention to this account.
It was unaccountable to them how Cyrus Harding, after the efforts which he must have made to escape from the waves by crossing the rocks, had not received even a scratch. And what could not be explained either was how the engineer had managed to get to this cave in the downs, more than a mile from the shore.
"So, Neb," said the reporter, "it was not you who brought your master to this place."
"No, it was not I," replied the Negro.
"It's very clear that the captain came here by himself," said Pencroft.
"It is clear in reality," observed Spilett, "but it is not credible!"
The explanation of this fact could only be produced from the engineer's own lips, and they must wait for that till speech returned. Rubbing had re-established the circulation of the blood. Cyrus Harding moved his arm again, then his head, and a few incomprehensible words escaped him.
Neb, who was bending over him, spoke, but the engineer did not appear to hear, and his eyes remained closed. Life was only exhibited in him by movement, his senses had not as yet been restored.
Pencroft much regretted not having either fire, or the means of procuring it, for he had, unfortunately, forgotten to bring the burnt linen, which would easily have ignited from the sparks produced by striking together two flints. As to the engineer's pockets, they were entirely empty, except that of his waistcoat, which contained his watch. It was necessary to carry Harding to the Chimneys, and that as soon as possible. This was the opinion of all.
Meanwhile, the care which was lavished on the engineer brought him back to consciousness sooner than they could have expected. The water with which they wetted his lips revived him gradually. Pencroft also thought of mixing with the water some moisture from the titra's flesh which he had brought. Herbert ran to the beach and returned with two large bivalve shells. The sailor concocted something which he introduced between the lips of the engineer, who eagerly drinking it opened his eyes.
Neb and the reporter were leaning over him.
"My master! my master!" cried Neb.
The engineer heard him. He recognized Neb and Spilett, then his other two companions, and his hand slightly pressed theirs.
A few words again escaped him, which showed what thoughts were, even then, troubling his brain.