Facing the Flag
Part 4 out of 4
The winter tempests have set in with a vengeance. The wind howls
though the hole in the roof, and rude gusts sweep through the forest
of pillars producing sonorous sounds, so sonorous, so deep, that one
might sometimes almost fancy they were produced by the firing of the
guns of a squadron. Flocks of seabirds take refuge in the cavern from
the gale, and at intervals, when it lulls, almost deafen us with their
It is to be presumed that in such weather the schooner will make no
attempt to put to sea, for the stock of provisions is ample enough to
last all the season. Moreover, I imagine the Count d'Artigas will not
be so eager in future to show his _Ebba_ along the American
coast, where he risks being received, not, as hitherto, with the
consideration due to a wealthy yachtsman, but in the manner Ker
Karraje so richly merits.
It occurs to me that if the apparition of the _Sword_ was the
commencement of a campaign against the island, a question of great
moment relative to the future of Back Cup arises.
Therefore, one day, prudently, so as not to excite any suspicion, I
ventured to pump Engineer Serko about it.
We were in the neighborhood of Thomas Roch's laboratory, and had
been conversing for some time, when Engineer Serko touched upon the
extraordinary apparition of an English submarine boat in the lagoon.
On this occasion he seemed to incline to the view that it might have
been a premeditated expedition against Ker Karraje.
"That is not my opinion," I replied, in order to bring him to the
question that I wanted to put to him.
"Why?" he demanded.
"Because if your retreat were known a fresh attempt, if not to
penetrate to the cavern, at least to destroy Back Cup, would ere this
have been made."
"Destroy it!" cried Serko. "It would be a dangerous undertaking, in
view of the means of defence of which we now dispose."
"They can know nothing about this matter, Mr. Serko. It is not
imagined, either in the new world or the old, that the abduction from
Healthful House was effected for your especial benefit, or that you
have succeeded in coming to terms with Thomas Roch for his invention."
Engineer Serko made no response to this observation, which, for that
matter, was unanswerable.
"Therefore a squadron sent by the maritime powers who have an interest
in breaking up this island would not hesitate to approach and shell
it. Now, I argue from this that as this squadron has not yet appeared,
it is not likely to come at all, and that nothing is known as to Ker
Karraje's whereabouts, and you must admit that this hypothesis is the
most cheerful one, as far as you are concerned."
"That may be," Engineer Serko replied, "but what is, is. Whether they
are aware of the fact or no, if warships approach within five or six
miles of this island they will be sunk before they have had time to
fire a single shot!"
"Well, and what then?"
"What then? Why the probability is that no others would care to repeat
"That, again, may be. But these warships would invest you beyond the
dangerous zone, and the _Ebba_ would not be able to put in to the
ports she previously visited with the Count d'Artigas. In this event,
how would you be able to provision the island?"
Engineer Serko remained silent.
This argument, which he must already have brooded over, was too
logical to be refuted or dismissed, and I have an idea that the
pirates contemplate abandoning Back Cup.
Nevertheless, not relishing being cornered, he continued:
"We should still have the tug, and what the _Ebba_ could not do, this
"The tug?" I cried. "But if Ker Karraje's secrets are known, do you
suppose the powers are not also aware of the existence of the Count
d'Artigas' submarine boat?"
Engineer Serko looked at me suspiciously.
"Mr. Hart," he said, "you appear to me to carry your deductions rather
"I, Mr. Serko?"
"Yes, and I think you talk about all this like a man who knows more
than he ought to."
This remark brought me up abruptly. It was evident that my arguments
might give rise to the suspicion that I was not altogether
irresponsible for the recent incident. Engineer Serko scrutinized me
sharply as though he would read my innermost thoughts.
"Mr. Serko," I observed, "by profession, as well as by inclination, I
am accustomed to reason upon everything. This is why I communicated to
you the result of my reasoning, which you can take into consideration
or not, as you like."
Thereupon we separate. But I fancy my lack of reserve may have excited
suspicions which may not be easy to allay.
From this interview, however, I gleaned a precious bit of information,
namely, that the dangerous zone of Roch's fulgurator is between five
and six miles off. Perhaps, during the next equinoctial tides,
another notice to this effect in another keg may also reach a safe
But how many weary months to wait before the orifice of the tunnel
will again be uncovered!
The rough weather continues, and the squalls are more violent than
ever. Is it the state of the sea that delays another campaign against
Back Cup? Lieutenant Davon certainly assured me that if his expedition
failed, if the _Sword_ did not return to St. George, another attempt
under different conditions would be made with a view to breaking up
this bandits' lair. Sooner or later the work of justice must be
done, and Back Cup be destroyed, even though I may not survive its
Ah! why can I not go and breathe, if only for a single instant, the
vivifying air outside? Why am I not permitted to cast one glance over
the ocean towards the distant horizon of the Bermudas? My whole life
is concentrated in one desire: to get through the tunnel in the wall
and hide myself among the rocks. Perchance I might be the first to
catch sight of the smoke of a squadron heading for the island.
This project, alas! is unrealizable, as sentries are posted day and
night at each extremity of the passage. No one can enter it without
Engineer Serko's authorization. Were I to attempt it, I should risk
being deprived of my liberty to walk about the cavern, and even worse
might happen to me.
Since our last conversation, Engineer Serko's attitude towards me has
undergone a change. His gaze has lost its old-time sarcasm and is
distrustful, suspicious, searching and as stern as Ker Karraje's.
_November 17_.--This afternoon there was a great commotion in the
Beehive, and the men rushed out of their cells with loud cries.
I was reclining on my bed, but immediately rose and hurried out.
All the pirates were making for the passage, in front of which were
Ker Karraje, Engineer Serko, Captain Spade, Boatswain Effrondat,
Engine-driver Gibson and the Count d'Artigas' big Malay attendant.
I soon learn the reason for the tumult, for the sentries rush in with
shouts of alarm.
Several vessels have been sighted to the northwest--warships steaming
at full speed in the direction of Back Cup.
ONLY A FEW MORE HOURS.
What effect this news has upon me, and what emotion it awakens within
my soul! The end, I feel, is at hand. May it be such as civilization
and humanity are entitled to.
Up to the present I have indited my notes day by day. Henceforward
it is imperative that I should inscribe them hour by hour, minute by
minute. Who knows but what Thomas Roch's last secret may be revealed
to me and that I shall have time to commit it to paper! Should I die
during the attack God grant that the account of the five months I have
passed in Back Cup may be found upon my body!
At first Ker Karraje, Engineer Serko, Captain Spade, and several of
their companions took up position on the exterior base of the island.
What would I not give to be able follow to them, and in the friendly
shelter of a rook watch the on-coming warships!
An hour later they return after having left a score of men to keep
watch. As the days at this season of the year are very short there is
nothing to fear before the morrow. It is not likely that the ships
will attempt a night attack and land a storming party, for they must
imagine that the place is in a thorough condition of defence.
All night long the pirates work, installing the trestles at different
points of the coast. Six have been taken through the passage to places
selected in advance.
This done, Engineer Serko joins Thomas Roch in his laboratory. Is he
going to tell him what is passing, that a squadron is in view of Back
Cup, and that his fulgurator will be employed to defend the island?
What is certain is that half a hundred engines, each charged with
several pounds of the explosive and of the substance that ensures a
trajectory superior to that of any other projectile, are ready for
their work of destruction.
As to the deflagrator liquid, Thomas Roch has a certain number of
phials of it, and--I know only too well--will not refuse to help Ker
Karraje's pirates with it.
During these preparations night has come on. Only the lamps of the
Beehive are lighted and a semi-obscurity reigns in the cavern.
I return to my cell. It is to my interest to keep out of the way as
much as possible, for Engineer Serko's suspicions might be revived now
that the squadron is approaching Back Cup.
But will the vessels sighted continue on their course in this
direction? May they not be merely passing on their way to Bermuda? For
an instant this doubt enters my mind. No, no, it cannot be! Besides, I
have just heard Captain Spade declare that they are lying to in view
of the island.
To what nation do they belong? Have the English, desirous of avenging
the destruction of the _Sword_, alone undertaken the expedition? May
not cruisers of other nations be with them? I know not, and it is
impossible to ascertain. And what does it matter, after all, so long
as this haunt is destroyed, even though I should perish in the ruins
like the heroic Lieutenant Davon and his brave crew?
Preparations for defence continue with coolness and method under
Engineer Serko's superintendence. These pirates are obviously certain
that they will be able to annihilate their assailants as soon as the
latter enter the dangerous zone. Their confidence in Roch's fulgurator
is absolute. Absorbed by the idea that these warship are powerless
against them, they think neither of the difficulties nor menaces held
out by the future.
I surmise that the trestles have been set up on the northwest coast
with the grooves turned to send the engines to the north, west, and
south. On the east, as already stated, the island is defended by the
chain of reefs that stretches away to the Bermudas.
About nine o'clock I venture out of my cell. They will pay little
attention to me, and perhaps I may escape notice in the obscurity. Ah!
if I could get through that passage and hide behind some rock, so that
I could witness what goes on at daybreak! And why should I not succeed
now that Ker Karraje, Engineer Serko, Captain Spade, and the pirates
have taken their posts outside?
The shores of the lake are deserted, but the entrance to the passage
is kept by Count d'Artigas' Malay. I saunter, without any fixed idea,
towards Thomas Roch's laboratory. This reminds me of my compatriot. I
am, on reflection, disposed to think that he knows nothing about the
presence of a squadron off Back Cup. Probably not until the last
moment will Engineer Serko apprise him of its proximity, not till he
brusquely points out to him the vengeance he can accomplish.
Then I conceive the idea of enlightening Thomas Roch, myself, of the
responsibility he is incurring and of revealing to him in this supreme
hour the character of the men who want him to co-operate in their
Yes, I will, attempt it, and may I succeed in fanning into a flame any
spark of patriotism that may still linger in his rebellious soul!
Roch is shut up in his laboratory. He must be alone, for never does he
allow any one to enter while he is preparing his deflagrator.
As I pass the jetty I notice that the tug is moored in its accustomed
place. Here I judge it prudent to walk behind the first row of pillars
and approach the laboratory laterally--which will enable me to see
whether anybody is with him. When I have gone a short distance along
the sombre avenue I see a bright light on the opposite side of the
lagoon. It is the electric light in Roch's laboratory as seen through
a narrow window in the front.
Except in that particular spot, the southern shore of the lake is in
darkness, whereas, in the opposite direction, the Beehive is lit up to
its extremity at the northern wall. Through the opening in the dome,
over the lake I can see the stars shining. The sky is clear, the
tempest has abated, and the squalls no longer penetrate to the
interior of Back Cup.
When near the laboratory, I creep along the wall and peep in at the
Thomas Roch is there alone. The light shines full on his face. If it
is somewhat drawn, and the lines on the forehead are more
pronounced, his physiognomy, at least, denotes perfect calmness and
self-possession. No, he is no longer the inmate of Pavilion No. 17,
the madman of Healthful House, and I ask myself whether he is not
radically cured, whether there is no further danger of his reason
collapsing in a final paroxysm.
He has just laid two glass phials upon the table, and holds a third in
his hand. He holds it up to the light, and observes the limpidity of
the liquid it contains.
I have half a mind to rush in, seize the tubes and smash them, but I
reflect that he would have time to make some more of the stuff. Better
stick to my first plan.
I push the door open and enter.
"Thomas Roch!" I exclaim.
He has not heard, nor has he seen me.
"Thomas Roch!" I repeat.
He raises his head, turns and gazes at me.
"Ah! it is you, Simon Hart!" he replies calmly, even indifferently.
He knows my name. Engineer Serko must have informed him that it
was Simon Hart, and not Keeper Gaydon who was watching over him at
"You know who I am?" I say.
"Yes, as I know what your object was in undertaking such a position.
You lived in hopes of surprising a secret that they would not pay for
at its just value!"
Thomas Roch knows everything, and perhaps it is just as well, in view
of what I am going to say.
"Well, you did not succeed, Simon Hart, and as far as this is
concerned," he added, flourishing the phial, "no one else has
succeeded, or ever will succeed."
As I conjectured, he has not, then, made known the composition of his
Looking him straight in the face, I reply:
"You know who I am, Thomas Roch, but do you know in whose place you
"In my own place!" he cries.
That is what Ker Karraje has permitted him to believe. The inventor
thinks he is at home in Back Cup, that the riches accumulated in this
cavern are his, and that if an attack is made upon the place, it will
be with the object of stealing what belongs to him! And he will defend
it under the impression that he has the right to do so!
"Thomas Roch," I continue, "listen to me."
"What do you want to say to me, Simon Hart?"
"This cavern into which we have been dragged, is occupied by a band of
Roch does not give me time to complete the sentence--I doubt even
whether he has understood me.
"I repeat," he interrupts vehemently, "that the treasures stored here
are the price of my invention. They have paid me what I asked for
my fulgurator--what I was everywhere else refused--even in my own
country--which is also yours--and I will not allow myself to be
What can I reply to such insensate assertions? I, however, go on:
"Thomas Roch, do you remember Healthful House?"
"Healthful House, where I was sequestrated after Warder Gaydon had
been entrusted with the mission of spying upon me in order to rob me
of my secret? I do, indeed."
"I never dreamed of depriving you of the benefit of your secret,
Thomas Roch. I would never have accepted such a mission. But you were
ill, your reason was affected, and your invention was too valuable to
be lost. Yes, had you disclosed the secret during one of your fits you
would have preserved all the benefit and all the honor of it."
"Really, Simon Hart!" Roch replies disdainfully. "Honor and benefit!
Your assurances come somewhat late in the day. You forget that on
the pretext of insanity, I was thrown into a dungeon. Yes, it was a
pretext; for my reason has never left me, even for an hour, as you can
see from what I have accomplished since I am free."
"Free! Do you imagine you are free, Thomas Roch? Are you not more
closely confined within the walls of this cavern than you ever were at
"A man who is in his own home," he replies angrily, "goes out as he
likes and when he likes. I have only to say the word and all the doors
will open before me. This place is mine. Count d'Artigas gave it to me
with everything it contains. Woe to those who attempt to attack it.
I have here the wherewithal to annihilate them, Simon Hart!" The
inventor waves the phial feverishly as he speaks."
"The Count d'Artigas has deceived you," I cry, "as he has deceived so
many others. Under this name is dissembled one of the most formidable
monsters who ever scoured the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. He is a
bandit steeped in crime--he is the odious Ker Karraje!"
"Ker Karraje!" echoes Thomas Roch.
And I wonder if this name has not impressed him, if he remembers
who the man is who bears it. If it did impress him, it was only
"I do not know this Ker Karraje," he says, pointing towards the door
to order me out. "I only know the Count d'Artigas."
"Thomas Roch," I persist, in a final effort, "the Count d'Artigas and
Ker Karraje are one and the same person. If this man has purchased
your secret, it is with the intention of ensuring impunity for his
crimes and facilities for committing fresh ones. He is the chief of
"Pirates!" cries Roch, whose irritation increases the more I press
him. "The real pirates are those who dare to menace me even in this
retreat, who tried it on with the _Sword_--for Serko has told me
everything--who sought to steal in my own home what belongs to me,
what is but the just price of my discovery."
"No, Thomas Roch, the pirates are those who have imprisoned you in
this cavern of Back Cup, who will utilize your genius to defend it,
and who will get rid of you when they are in entire possession of your
Thomas Roch here interrupts me. He does not appear to listen to what I
say. He has a fixed idea, that of vengeance, which has been skilfully
worked upon by Engineer Serko, and in which his hatred is concentrated
to the exclusion of everything else.
"The bandits," he hisses, "are those who spurned me without a hearing,
who heaped injustice and ignominy upon me, who drove me from country
to country, whereas I offered them superiority, invincibleness,
It is the eternal story of the unappreciated inventor, to whom the
indifferent or envious refuse the means of testing his inventions, to
pay him the value he sets upon them. I know it well--and also know all
the exaggeration that has been written upon this subject.
It is clearly no time for reasoning with Thomas Roch. My arguments
are entirely lost upon the hapless dupe of Ker Karraje and his
accomplices. In revealing to him the real name of the Count d'Artigas,
and denouncing to him this band and their chief I had hoped to wean
him from their influence and make him realize the criminal end they
have in view. My hope was vain. He does not believe me. And then what
does he care whether the brigand's name is Count 'd'Artigas or Ker
Karraje? Is not he, Thomas Roch, master of Back Cup? Is he not the
owner of these riches accumulated by twenty years of murder and
Disarmed before such moral degeneracy, knowing not how I can touch
his ulcerated, irresponsible heart, I turn towards the door. It only
remains for me to withdraw. What is to be, will be, since it is out of
my power to prevent the frightful _denouement_ that will occur in a
Thomas Roch takes no more notice of me. He seems to have forgotten
that I am here. He has resumed his manipulations without realizing
that he is not alone.
There is only one means of preventing the imminent catastrophe. Throw
myself upon Roch, place him beyond the power of doing harm--strike
him--kill him--yes, kill him! It is my right--it is my duty!
I have no arms, but on a near-by shelf I see some tools--a chisel and
a hammer. What is to prevent me from knocking his brains out? Once he
is dead I have but to smash the phials and his invention dies with
him. The warships can approach, land their men upon the island,
demolish Back Cup with their shells. Ker Karraje and his band will be
killed to a man. Can I hesitate at a murder that will bring about the
chastisement of so many crimes?
I advance to the shelf and stretch forth my hand to seize the chisel.
As I do so, Thomas Roch turns round.
It is too late to strike. A struggle would ensue. The noise and his
cries would be heard, for there are still some pirates not far off, I
can even now hear some one approaching, and have only just time to fly
if I would not be seen.
Nevertheless, I make one last attempt to awaken the sentiment of
patriotism within him.
"Thomas Roch," I say, "warships are in sight. They have come to
destroy this lair. Maybe one of them flies the French flag!"
He gazes at me. He was not aware that Back Cup is going to be
attacked, and I have just apprised him of the fact. His brow darkens
and his eyes flash.
"Thomas Roch, would you dare to fire upon your country's flag--the
He raises his head, shakes it nervously, and with a disdainful
"What do you mean by 'your country?' I no longer have any country,
Simon Hart. The inventor spurned no longer has a country. Where he
finds an asylum, there is his fatherland! They seek to take what is
mine. I will defend it, and woe, woe to those who dare to attack me!"
Then rushing to the door of the laboratory and throwing it violently
open he shouts so loudly that he must be heard at the Beehive:
"Go! Get you gone!"
I have not a second to lose, and I dash out.
ONE AGAINST FIVE.
For a whole hour I wander about among Back Cup's dark vaults, amid the
stone trees, to the extreme limit of the cavern. It is here that I
have so often sought an issue, a crevice, a crack through which I
might squeeze to the shore of the island.
My search has been futile. In my present condition, a prey to
indefinable hallucinations it seems to me that these walls are thicker
than ever, that they are gradually closing in upon and will crush me.
How long this mental trouble lasts I cannot say. But I afterwards find
myself on the Beehive side, opposite the cell in which I cannot hope
for either repose or sleep. Sleep, when my brain is in a whirl
of excitement? Sleep, when I am near the end of a situation that
threatened to be prolonged for years and years?
What will the end be as far as I am personally concerned? What am I to
expect from the attack upon Back Cup, the success of which I have been
unable to assure by placing Thomas Roch beyond the possibility of
doing harm? His engines are ready to be launched, and as soon as the
vessels have reached the dangerous zone they will be blown to atoms.
However this may be, I am condemned to pass the remaining hours of the
night in my cell. The time has come for me to go in. At daybreak I
shall see what is best for me to do. Meanwhile, for aught I know I
may hear the thunder of Roch's fulgurator as it destroys the ships
approaching to make a night attack.
I take a last look round. On the opposite side a light, a single
light, is burning. It is the lamp in Roch's laboratory and it casts
its reflection upon the waters of the lake.
No one is about, and it occurs to me that the pirates must have taken
up their lighting positions outside and that the Beehive is empty.
Then, impelled by an irresistible instinct, instead of returning to my
cell, I creep along the wall, listening, spying, ready to hide if I
hear voices or footsteps.
I at length reach the passage.
God in heaven! No one is on guard there--the passage is free!
Without giving myself time to reflect I dart into the dark hole, and
grope my way along it. Soon I feel a fresher air--the salt, vivifying
air of the sea, that I have not breathed for five months. I inspire it
with avidity, with all the power of my lungs.
The outer extremity of the passage appears against the star-studded
sky. There is not even a shadow in the way. Perhaps I shall be able to
I lay down, and crawl along noiselessly to the orifice and peer out.
Not a soul is in sight!
By skirting the rocks towards the east, to the side which cannot be
approached from the sea on account of the reefs and which is not
likely to be watched, I reach a narrow excavation about two hundred
and twenty-five yards from where the point of the coast extends
towards the northwest.
At last I am out of the cavern. I am not free, but it is the beginning
On the point the forms of a few sentries stand out against the clear
sky, so motionless that they might be mistaken for pieces of the rock.
On the horizon to the west the position lights of the warship show in
a luminous line.
From a few gray patches discernable in the east, I calculate that it
must be about five o'clock in the morning.
_November 18_.--It is now light enough for me to be able to
complete my notes relating the details of my visit to Thomas Roch's
laboratory--the last lines my hand will trace, perhaps.
I have begun to write, and shall dot down the incidents of the attack
as they occur.
The light damp mist that hangs over the water soon lifts under the
influence of the breeze, and at last I can distinguish the warships.
There are five of them, and they are lying in a line about six miles
off, and consequently beyond the range of Roch's engines.
My fear that after passing in sight of the Bermudas the squadron would
continue on its way to the Antilles or Mexico was therefore unfounded.
No, there it is, awaiting broad daylight in order to attack Back Cup.
There is a movement on the coast. Three or four pirates emerge from
the rocks, the sentries are recalled and draw in, and the entire band
is soon assembled. They do not seek shelter inside the cavern, knowing
full well that the ships can never get near enough for the shells of
the big guns to reach, the island.
I run no risk of being discovered, for only my head protrudes above
the hole in the rock and no one is likely to come this way. The only
thing that worries me is that Serko, or somebody else may take it into
his head to see if I am in my cell, and if necessary to lock me in,
though what they have to fear from me I cannot conceive.
At twenty-five minutes past seven: Ker Karraje, Engineer Serko and
Captain Spade advance to the extremity of the point, where they sweep
the north-western horizon with their telescopes. Behind them the
six trestles are installed, in the grooves of which are Roch's
Thirty-five minutes past seven: Smoke arises from the stacks of the
warships, which are getting under way and will soon be within range of
Horrible cries of joy, salvos of hurrahs--howls of wild beasts I might
more appropriately say--arise from the pirate horde.
At this moment Engineer Serko quits Ker Karraje, whom he leaves with
Captain Spade, and enters the cavern, no doubt to fetch Thomas Roch.
When Ker Karraje orders the latter to launch his engines against the
ships will he remember what I told him? Will not his crime appear
to him in all its horror? Will he refuse to obey? No, I am only too
convinced of the contrary. It is useless to entertain any illusion on
the subject. The inventor believes he is on his own property. They are
going to attack it. He will defend it.
The five warships slowly advance, making for the point. Perhaps they
imagine on board that Thomas Roch has not given up his last and
greatest secret to the pirates--and, as a matter of fact, he had
not done so when I threw the keg into the lagoon. If the commanders
propose to land storming parties and the ships advance into the
zone of danger there will soon be nothing left of them but bits of
shapeless floating wreckage.
Here comes Thomas Roch accompanied by Engineer Serko. On issuing
from the passage both go to the trestle that is pointing towards the
Ker Karraje and Captain Spade are awaiting them.
As far as I am able to judge, Roch is calm. He knows what he is going
to do. No hesitation troubles the soul of the hapless man whom hatred
has led astray.
Between his fingers shines the glass phial containing the deflagrator
He then gazes towards the nearest ship, which is about five miles'
She is a cruiser of about two thousand five hundred tons--not more.
She flies no flag, but from her build I take her to belong to a nation
for which no Frenchman can entertain any particular regard.
The four other warships remain behind.
It is this cruiser which is to begin the attack.
Let her use her guns, then, since the pirates allow her to approach,
and may the first of her projectiles strike Thomas Roch!
While Engineer Serko is estimating the distance, Roch places himself
behind the trestle. Three engines are resting on it, charged with
the explosive, and which are assured a long trajectory by the fusing
matter without it being necessary to impart a gyratory movement to
them--as in the case of Inventor Turpin's gyroscopic projectiles.
Besides, if they drop within a few hundred yards of the vessel, they
will be quite near enough to utterly destroy it.
The time has come.
"Thomas Roch!" Engineer Serko cries, and points to the cruiser.
The latter is steaming slowly towards the northwestern point of the
island and is between four and five miles off.
Roch nods assent, and waves them back from the trestle.
Ker Karraje, Captain Spade and the others draw back about fifty paces.
Thomas Roch then takes the stopper from the phial which he holds in
his right hand, and successively pours into a hole in the rear-end of
each engine a few drops of the liquid, which mixes with the fusing
Forty-five seconds elapse--the time necessary for the combination to
be effected--forty-five seconds during which it seems to me that my
heart ceases to beat.
A frightful whistling is then heard, and the three engines tear
through the air, describing a prolonged curve at a height of three
hundred feet, and pass the cruiser.
Have they missed it? Is the danger over?
No! the engines, after the manner of Artillery Captain Chapel's
discoid projectile, return towards the doomed vessel like an
The next instant the air is shaken with a violence comparable to that
which would be caused by the explosion of a magazine of melinite or
dynamite, Back Cup Island trembles to its very foundations.
The cruiser has disappeared,--blown to pieces. The effect is that of
the Zalinski shell, but centupled by the infinite power of Roch's
What shouts the bandits raise as they rush towards the extremity of
the point! Ker Karraje, Engineer Serko, and Captain Spade remain
rooted to the spot, hardly able to credit the evidence of their own
As to Thomas Roch, he stands with folded arms, and flashing eyes, his
face radiant with pride and triumph.
I understand, while I abhor his feelings.
If the other warships approach they will share the same fate as the
cruiser. They will inevitably be destroyed. Oh! if they would but give
up the struggle and withdraw to safety, even though my last hope would
go with them! The nations can consult and arrive at some other plan
for destroying the island. They can surround the place with a belt of
ships that the pirates cannot break through and starve them to death
like so many rats in a hole.
But I know that the warships will not retire, even though they know
they are going to certain death. One after the other they will all
make the attempt.
And I am right. Signals are exchanged between them. Almost immediately
clouds of black smoke arise and the vessels again advance.
One of them, under forced draught, distances the others in her anxiety
to bring her big guns quickly into action.
At all risks I issue from my hole, and gaze at the on-coming warship
with feverish eyes, awaiting, without being able to prevent it,
This vessel, which visibly grows larger as it comes nearer, is a
cruiser of about the same tonnage as the one that preceded her. No
flag is flying and I cannot guess her nationality. She continues
steaming at full speed in an effort to pass the zone of danger before
other engines can be launched. But how can she escape them since they
will swoop back upon her?
Thomas Roch places himself behind the second trestle as the cruiser
passes on to the surface of the abysm in which she will in turn soon
be swallowed up.
No sound disturbs the stillness.
Suddenly the rolling of drums and the blare of bugles is heard on
board the warship.
I know those bugle calls: they are French bugles! Great God! She is
one of the ships of my own country's navy and a French inventor is
about to destroy her!
No! it shall not be. I will rush towards Thomas Roch--shout to him
that she is a French ship. He does not, cannot, know it.
At a sign from Engineer Serko the inventor has raised the phial.
The bugles sound louder and more strident. It is the salute to the
flag. A flag unfurls to the breeze--the tricolor, whose blue, white
and red sections stand out luminously against the sky.
Ah! What is this? I understand! Thomas Roch is fascinated at the sight
of his national emblem. Slowly he lowers his arm as the flag flutters
up to the mast-head. Then he draws back and covers his eyes with his
Heavens above! All sentiment of patriotism is not then dead in his
ulcerated heart, seeing that it beats at the sight of his country's
My emotion is not less than his. At the risk of being seen--and what
do I now care if I am seen?--I creep over the rocks. I will be there
to sustain Thomas Roch and prevent him from weakening. If I pay for it
with my life I will once more adjure him in the name of his country. I
will cry to him:
"Frenchman, it is the tricolor that flies on yonder ship! Frenchman,
it is a very part of France that is approaching you! Frenchman, would
you be so criminal as to strike it?"
But my intervention will not be necessary. Thomas Roch is not a prey
to one of the fits to which he was formerly subject. He is perfectly
When he found himself facing the flag he understood--and drew back.
A few pirates approach to lead him to the trestle again. He struggles
and pushes them from him.
Ker Karraje and Engineer Serko run up. They point to the rapidly
advancing ship. They order him to launch his engines.
Thomas Roch refuses.
Captain Spade and the others, mad with rage, menace him--curse
him--strike him--try to wrest the phial from him.
Roch throws it on the ground and crushes it under foot.
Then panic seizes upon the crowd of wretches. The cruiser has passed
the zone and they cannot return her fire. Shells begin to rain all
over the island, bursting the rocks in every direction.
But where is Thomas Roch? Has he been killed by one of the
projectiles? No, I see him for the last time as he dashes into the
Ker Karraje, Engineer Serko and the others follow him to seek shelter
inside of Back Cup.
I will not return to the cavern at any price, even if I get killed by
staying where I am.
I will jot down my final notes and when the French sailors land on the
point I will go--
END OF ENGINEER SIMON HART'S NOTES.
ON BOARD THE "TONNANT."
After the failure of Lieutenant Davon's mission with the _Sword_, the
English authorities waited in vain for the expedition to return, and
the conviction at length gained ground that the bold sailors had
perished; but whether the _Sword_ had been lost by striking against
a rock or had been destroyed by Ker Karraje's pirates, could not, of
course, be ascertained.
The object of the expedition, based upon the indications of the
document found in the keg that was thrown up on the shore at St.
George, was to carry off Thomas Roch ere his engines were completed.
The French inventor having been recovered--without forgetting Engineer
Simon Hart--he was to be handed over to the care of the Bermudan
authorities. That done, there would be nothing to fear from his
fulgurator when the island was attacked.
When, however, the _Sword_ had been given up for lost, another
expedition of a different kind, was decided upon.
The time that had elapsed--nearly eight weeks--from the date of the
document found in the keg, had to be taken into consideration. It
was thought that during the interval, Ker Karraje might have gained
possession of Roch's secrets.
An _entente_ concluded between the maritime powers, resulted in the
sending of five warships to Bermudan waters. As there was a vast
cavern inside Back Cup mountain, it was decided to attempt to bring
the latter down like the walls of a bastion, by bombarding it with
powerful modern artillery.
The squadron assembled at the entrance to the Chesapeake, in Virginia,
and sailed for the archipelago, which was sighted on the evening of
The next morning the vessel selected for the first attack, steamed
forward. It was about four and a half miles from the island, when
three engines, after passing the vessel, swerved round and exploded
about sixty yards from her. She sank immediately.
The effect of the explosion, which was superior to any previously
obtained by new explosives, was instantaneous. Even at the distance
they were from the spot where it occurred, the four remaining ships
felt the shock severely.
Two things were to be deduced from this sudden catastrophe:
1.--The pirate Ker Karraje was in possession of Roch's fulgurator.
2.--The new engine possessed the destructive power attributed to it by
After the disappearance of the unfortunate cruiser, the other vessels
lowered boats to pick up a few survivors who were clinging to the
Then it was that the signals were exchanged and the warships started
towards the island.
The swiftest of them, the _Tonnant_, a French cruiser, forged ahead
while the others forced their draught in an effort to catch up with
The _Tonnant_, at the risk of being blown to pieces in turn,
penetrated the danger zone half a mile, and then ran up her flag while
manoeuvring to bring her heavy guns into action.
From the bridge the officers could see Ker Karraje's band scattered on
the rocks of the island.
The occasion was an excellent one for getting a shot at them before
the bombardment of their retreat was begun, and fire was opened with
the result that the pirates made a rush to get into the cavern.
A few minutes later there was a shock terrific enough to shake the sky
Where the mountain had been, naught but a heap of smoking, crumbling
rocks was to be seen. Back Cup had become a group of jagged reefs
against which the sea, that had been thrown back like a gigantic tidal
wave, was beating and frothing.
What was the cause of the explosion?
Had it been voluntarily caused by the pirates when they realized that
escape was impossible?
The _Tonnant_ had not been seriously damaged by the flying rocks. Her
boats were lowered and made towards all that was left of Back Cup.
The landing parties explored the ruins, and found a few horribly
mangled corpses. Not a vestige of the cavern was to be seen.
One body, and one only, was found intact. It was lying on the
northeast side of the reefs. In one hand, tightly clasped, was a
note-book, the last line of which was incomplete.
A close examination showed that the man was still breathing. He
was conveyed on board the _Tonnant_, where it was learned from the
note-book that he was Simon Hart.
For some time his life was despaired of, but he was eventually brought
round, and from the answers made to the questions addressed to him the
following conclusion was reached:
Moved to his very soul at the sight of the tricolor flag, being at
last conscious of the crime of _lese-patrie_ he was about to commit,
Thomas Roch rushed through the passage to the magazine where a
considerable quantity of his explosive was stored. Then, before
he could be prevented, brought about the terrible explosion which
destroyed the island of Back Cup.
And now Ker Karraje and his pirates have disappeared--and with them
Thomas Roch and the secret of his invention.
End of the Voyage Extraordinaire
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