This time he was understood. Undoubtedly they were the same words he had before attempted to utter.
"Island or continent?" he murmured.
"Bother the continent," cried Pencroft hastily; "there is time enough to see about that, captain! we don't care for anything, provided you are living."
The engineer nodded faintly, and then appeased to sleep.
They respected this sleep, and the reporter began immediately to make arrangements for transporting Harding to a more comfortable place. Neb, Herbert, and Pencroft left the cave and directed their steps towards a high mound crowned with a few distorted trees. On the way the sailor could not help repeating,--
"Island or continent! To think of that, when at one's last gasp! What a man!"
Arrived at the summit of the mound, Pencroft and his two companions set to work, with no other tools than their hands, to despoil of its principal branches a rather sickly tree, a sort of marine fir; with these branches they made a litter, on which, covered with grass and leaves, they could carry the engineer.
This occupied them nearly forty minutes, and it was ten o'clock when they returned to Cyrus Harding whom Spilett had not left.
The engineer was just awaking from the sleep, or rather from the drowsiness, in which they had found him. The color was returning to his cheeks, which till now had been as pale as death. He raised himself a little, looked around him, and appeared to ask where he was.
"Can you listen to me without fatigue, Cyrus?" asked the reporter.
"Yes," replied the engineer.
"It's my opinion," said the sailor, "that Captain Harding will be able to listen to you still better, if he will have some more grouse jelly,--for we have grouse, captain," added he, presenting him with a little of this jelly, to which he this time added some of the flesh.
Cyrus Harding ate a little of the grouse, and the rest was divided among his companions, who found it but a meager breakfast, for they were suffering extremely from hunger.
"Well!" said the sailor, "there is plenty of food at the Chimneys, for you must know, captain, that down there, in the south, we have a house, with rooms, beds, and fireplace, and in the pantry, several dozen of birds, which our Herbert calls couroucous. Your litter is ready, and as soon as you feel strong enough we will carry you home."
"Thanks, my friend," replied the engineer; "wait another hour or two, and then we will set out. And now speak, Spilett."
The reporter then told him all that had occurred. He recounted all the events with which Cyrus was unacquainted, the last fall of the balloon, the landing on this unknown land, which appeared a desert (whatever it was, whether island or continent), the discovery of the Chimneys, the search for him, not forgetting of course Neb's devotion, the intelligence exhibited by the faithful Top, as well as many other matters.
"But," asked Harding, in a still feeble voice, "you did not, then, pick me up on the beach?"
"No," replied the reporter.
"And did you not bring me to this cave?"
"At what distance is this cave from the sea?"
"About a mile," replied Pencroft; "and if you are astonished, captain, we are not less surprised ourselves at seeing you in this place!"
"Indeed," said the engineer, who was recovering gradually, and who took great interest in these details, "indeed it is very singular!"
"But," resumed the sailor, "can you tell us what happened after you were carried off by the sea?"
Cyrus Harding considered. He knew very little. The wave had torn him from the balloon net. He sank at first several fathoms. On returning to the surface, in the half light, he felt a living creature struggling near him. It was Top, who had sprung to his help. He saw nothing of the balloon, which, lightened both of his weight and that of the dog, had darted away like an arrow.
There he was, in the midst of the angry sea, at a distance which could not be less than half a mile from the shore. He attempted to struggle against the billows by swimming vigorously.