There was no wind, and she was making no progress. Doubtless there was no one on board with strength enough left to work the oars. In the boat were five men asleep or helpless, if they were not dead.
The "Albatross" had arrived above them, and slowly descended. On the boat's stern was the name of the ship to which she belonged--the "Jeannette" of Nantes.
"Hallo, there!" shouted Turner, loud enough for the men to hear, for the boat was only eighty feet below him.
There was no answer. "Fire a gun!" said Robur.
The gun was fired and the report rang out over the sea.
One of the men looked up feebly. His eyes were haggard and his face was that of a skeleton. As he caught sight of the "Albatross" he made a gesture as of fear.
"Don't be afraid," said Robur in French, "we have come to help you. Who are you?"
"We belong to the barque "Jeannette," and I am the mate. We left her a fortnight ago as she was sinking. We have no water and no food."
The four other men had now sat up. Wan and exhausted, in a terrible state of emaciation, they lifted their hands towards the "Albatross."
"Look-out!" shouted Robur.
A line was let down, and a pail of fresh water was lowered into the boat. The men snatched at it and drank it with an eagerness awful to see.
"Bread, bread!" they exclaimed.
Immediately a basket with some food and five pints of coffee descended towards them. The mate with difficulty restrained them in their ravenousness.
"Where are we?" asked the mate at last.
"Fifty miles from the Chili coast and the Chonos Archipelago," answered Robur.
"Thanks. But we are becalmed, and--?"
"We are going to tow you."
"Who are you?"
"People who are glad to be of assistance to you," said Robur.
The mate understood that the incognito was to be respected. But had the flying machine sufficient power to tow them through the water?
Yes; and the boat, attached to a hundred feet of rope, began to move off towards the east. At ten o'clock at night the land was sighted-- or rather they could see the lights which indicated its position. This rescue from the sky had come just in time for the survivors of the "Jeannette," and they had good reason to believe it miraculous.
When they had been taken to the mouth of the channel leading among the Chonos Islands, Robur shouted to them to cast off the tow-line. This, with many a blessing to those who had saved them, they did, and the "Albatross" headed out to the offing.
Certainly there was some good in this aeronef, which could thus help those who were lost at sea! What balloon, perfect as it might be, would be able to perform such a service? And between themselves Uncle Prudent and Phil Evans could not but admire it, although they were quite disposed to deny the evidence of their senses.
OVER THE VOLCANO
The sea was as rough as ever, and the symptoms became alarming. The barometer fell several millimeters. The wind came in violent gusts, and then for a moment or so failed altogether. Under such circumstances a sailing vessel would have had to reef in her topsails and her foresail. Everything showed that the wind was rising in the northwest. The storm-glass became much troubled and its movements were most disquieting.
At one o'clock in the morning the wind came on again with extreme violence. Although the aeronef was going right in its teeth she was still making progress at a rate of from twelve to fifteen miles an hour. But that was the utmost she could do.
Evidently preparations must be made for a cyclone, a very rare occurrence in these latitudes. Whether it be called a hurricane, as in the Atlantic, a typhoon, as in Chinese waters a simoom, as in the Sahara, or a tornado, as on the western coast, such a storm is always a gyratory one, and most dangerous for any ship caught in the current which increases from the circumference to the center, and has only one spot of calm, the middle of the vortex.
Robur knew this. He also knew it was best to escape from the cyclone and get beyond its zone of attraction by ascending to the higher strata.