Lost Island/Chapter 1
IN WHICH DAVID HALLARD HEARS THE CALL OF THE SEA
"I dare say you've seen a lot of strange things in the South Seas," said Dave Hallard, a bit wistfully.
"Aye, there's queer sights in them latitudes," agreed the old sailor, pausing in his task of slapping paint on the side of the ship and gazing thoughtfully across the sunlit harbor. "Lots an' lots of 'em," he added after a moment as, lighting his pipe again, he went on with his work. "I suppose you've never been to sea, have you?" he asked, casting a sidelong glance at the boy who for the last half-hour had been perched on the string-piece of the wharf, his legs dangling above the oily water.
"Not yet," answered Dave regretfully.
"An' I guess you're seventeen, eh! Or maybe a bit more."
"Sixteen," the boy replied. He was, however, tall for sixteen, and there was the promise of much strength in his broad shoulders. A keen enthusiasm for outdoor sports had developed his body and, without doubt, fostered the determination apparent in the firm mouth, the square chin, and the steady grey eyes.
"Well, when I was your age," said the mariner, "I was cabin-boy under old Captain Zebalon Pratt He was one of your old-fashioned Yankee skippers, and no mistake, and many's the dose of rope's-end I got, my hearty. Barrin' the rope's-end, though, I liked it all well enough. It's a hard life, but it's the only life for me. It gets a hold over you, but it ain't a bed of roses at any time. We've just finished a rough enough time this last voyage, after we left Honolulu for home, and I won't say there was n't a while when I'd have given a month's pay to feel solid land under my feet. But it's forgotten now."
"Were you ever shipwrecked?" the boy asked.
"Three times. Once off the coast of China, once in the Mediterranean, and once hard by New Guinea."
He paused for a moment, while allowing his memory to dwell upon those vivid moments.
"I don't know, though," he went on, "that any of them shipwrecks ever proved quite so excitin' as the last shakin' up we had in this steamer. When you get an easterly gale blowin' in that part of the Pacific, it suttinly comes good and hard. We were making a course 'most due sou'-east when the wind hit us. It came sudden, cuttin' slices clean off the surface, and the old ship listed over till I thought she was a goner. Her port rail was right under water, and the big waves that broke over us sometimes reached half-way up the funnel. One man must have gone overboard at once, and the mate was knocked senseless against a stanchion. He'd have gone too, but he got entangled in some gear, and after a while we dragged him under shelter.
"It sure was blowin' for about an hour, and then it eased off quick like, but we knew what to expect when it started again. Everything loose had been shot over the side, and one of the boats had been stove in. We just had time to get ready for the next snorter before it arrived, and then the old ship was nearly lifted clean out of water. You've heard of seas runnin' mountains high, p'raps. Well, them seas was like mountains, and we were slidin' down the sides same as the coasters at Coney, only it didn't cost ten cents a time, and we didn't know exactly what was going to happen when we got to the bottom."The sailor put down the paint-brush and recharged his pipe with great care before continuing:
"Give me an old wind-jammer for weatherin' a gale. You never know what's going to happen to these new-fangled steam contraptions. The ship's engines was 'most shook to pieces after two days of it, and we all made up our minds we'd seen the last of New York or anywhere else on dry land. The ship was leakin' enough to scare any one, and it was too rough to use the hand-pumps. We'd drifted some distance out of our course between Fanning and Christmas Islands when the current and wind took us under the lee of another island, and that saved us. Before you could say 'knife' we had the anchor down and were ridin' as comfortable and snug as any man could want.
"We sheltered for three days under that bit of a place. As a rule, you don't get much besides low coral islands in them waters, but there was a hill on this one. I remember that, from where we were lyin', part of the island looked a good deal like a camel's back.
"We were anchored off a little lagoon, and one day the captain sees something that might have been a wreck half buried in the sand. When the gale had spent itself he went ashore in a boat, thinkin' p'raps there might be a chance of a bit of salvage. But there wasn't. It was an old bark that must have been lost some years ago. We reckoned she'd struck a reef of rocks outside the lagoon, drifted over them afterwards, and landed inside the cove where we found her. Only the stumps of her masts were left. I remember her name. We could just make it out on a copper plate where the bell had hung. She was the Hatteras."
"Had the crew been saved!" Dave asked.
"Bless you, I dunno," replied the mariner. "There's hundreds and hundreds of ships breakin' to pieces off the track of regular traffic, and only the sea knows what became of the men on 'em; and she don't tell. No, siree! she holds her secrets fast."
"But didn't the people on the island know?" the boy queried.
There was a comical look in the old man's eyes as he regarded his questioner.
"Say, sonny," he said, "you don't think there's trolley-cars runnin' and department stores on every little two-by-four dump in the South Seas!"
"I thought there might be a few natives," Dave suggested.
"Well, sometimes you find a bunch of them stoppin' on an island, but we didn't see anything livin' there except a few turtles and sea-birds that knew nothing and cared less about how the Hatteras got there. You never know what luck is comin' your way when you're a sailor. It might be our turn to get piled up on a rock after we leave here to-night at high water."
Somebody on deck called to the mariner. Dave, with a curious feeling, watched him clamber over the side and disappear. At high water the old salt was to begin a new series of adventures, all with the smack of the sea in them. In his imagination the boy depicted the mariner undergoing hairbreadth escapes and encountering perils of every description, all of which he would overcome so that when the ship reached port he could sit contentedly in a swinging cradle, painting the hull, and applying innumerable matches to a most obstinate pipe.
Dave came of sea-going stock, the Hallards having followed the sea for generations. Dave's father created a record in his early manhood by driving a clipper from Hong Kong to San Francisco in thirty-three days; and old Phineas Hallard, David's grandfather, had been a pioneer in the copra trade with the West Indies.
From one window of his home in Brooklyn the boy could obtain a panoramic view of the ceaseless traffic in the harbor to and from New York—big, stately mail-boats with tugs puffing fussily at their side; mysterious, bird-like sailing-ships with crowded canvas; strings of barges in tow; rusty and lazy tramp steamers homeward bound after wonderful voyages to foreign lands. The sight of these messengers of the deep stirred something in the blood of Dave Hallard. He liked to go down to the wharf on his way home from school and drift into conversation, just as he had done to-day, with men who had sailed to distant ports. On this occasion he had been lucky. The old mariner with the paint-brush had been full of reminiscences; and for the first time, Dave, as he walked home, felt that the glamour of the sea was something real to him—something that was bound to have a vital influence over him. Hitherto his life had been wrapped up in school, sports, and his home; but now it was dawning on him that there was a great world outside that in which he had moved so far, a world in which he would, sooner or later, take his place. Some day he, too, might stand on a ship scudding before the breeze, under the wonderful Southern Cross where flying-fish skimmed the water and turtles lived on desert islands. He threw out his chest a little and sniffed the crisp air of early spring straight from the broad Atlantic. It seemed good. He felt a vague regret that he was not with the old mariner on the tramp steamer, learning the mysteries of sails and halyards and hovering on the brink of great unknown adventures. Dave was quiet when he entered the house.
His Aunt Martha, who had been a mother to him ever since he could remember, glanced at him curiously several times, thinking something was worrying the boy, for he was usually bubbling over with good spirits.
"What's amiss, Dave?" she asked at last, while preparing supper. "You're not sick, are you?"
"I'm all right," he said, coming out of a reverie with a start. "I was only thinking, Aunt Martha, what do people do when—when they want to be sailors?"
"For the land's sake, this boy has got it too!" she exclaimed, with a touch of pathos in her voice. "All the Hallards go the same way, and there's no stopping them as soon as they get out of short pants."
Dave's thoughts were far away. The sting of salt air on his cheeks that afternoon, and the sailor's reminiscences, had stirred him strangely. Hitherto he had not been directly thrown into association much with sailors. True, there were in his home a dozen distinctive signs that his father had spent many years at sea—a full-rigged four-master careening over on a painted ocean, under a glass case, in the parlor; two assagais and a knobkerrie picked up at some South African port; a compass and an old brass sextant kept in a sacred place; a pair of powerful binoculars; strangely carved figures which might at one time have been idols in some heathenish land. But these relics had been collected years before. Andrew Hallard gave np the sea soon after Dave was born.
"Supper is ready," said Aunt Martha, resignedly. "Go and tell your dad."
Dave obeyed mechanically.
"The sea is calling this boy already," Miss Hallard said a little later as she served their frugal meal. "He's puzzling how to get afloat now."
Captain Hallard cast an uneasy glance at his son. He had always expected this eventually, but somehow the possibility of the wrench had seemed a long way off.
"There's time enough to think about that, lad," he declared; but even as he said it he knew the boy's days ashore must be numbered now. Once, long ago, he, and generations of his menfolk, had passed through the same phase.
Dave was Captain Hallard's only son, and there was a strong affinity between them. The man dreaded the moment when his boy must go, only to return occasionally between long voyages, but he knew the power with which the sea must be calling Dave.
There had been a time when a business career had seemed probable for Dave. That was when Andrew Hallard first gave up the sea. He had made a considerable fortune by sea trading and wise investment. Everything appeared rosy in those days, and if Captain Hallard had rested on his laurels, all would have been well. He was a true sailor and knew his work thoroughly, but success had made him ambitious for greater things. The business of underwriting ships is one which needs not only a close knowledge of shipping, but also considerable skill in the world of finance. It appeared, however, to Andrew Hallard to offer excellent opportunities, and he launched forth into it. For a while luck went with him, but one or two of his speculations came to grief. In order to recoup himself of these losses he plunged a shade deeper, taking risks about which more experienced men would have hesitated. At this critical moment two vessels were lost, and in order to pay the insurance he had to raise a mortgage on his own property which left him financially crippled. It did not take him long to discover that without the power of money behind him his position in business amounted to nothing, and he had to hunt for the command of another ship. On his first voyage, however, rheumatism, brought on by long exposure in bad weather, left him unfit for the one profession he had at his finger-tips. Then he was compelled to settle down ashore and share his home with his sister Martha.
Aunt Martha had a very small income and few relatives. She was a prim, elderly lady with a profound distrust of anything in the way of speculation. Several times before Andrew Hallard's crash arrived she warned him that a bird in the hand was safer than ten in a bush, but when he came back, almost a physical wreck, to his motherless boy, her heart softened, and she threw in her lot with his. It was sometimes a struggle for them to make ends meet, but her brother Andrew had been good to her in his successful days, so it gave her additional pleasure to help him now.
The bitterest blow was when his little estate on Long Island went—the home he had worked for during so many years. It was just the sort of place a sea-captain might picture, during his travels, as that in which he could spend the autumn of his life contentedly. When it was built, and he went to live there, he called the house "Journey's End." It was perched high on a cliff, facing the sea he loved, and while he lived there he spent many hours watching the distant ships through a telescope. Once or twice in recent years he had taken Dave with him to look at the old place, drawn to it by happy memories, but the visit always made him unhappy.
"Journey's End" was now occupied by Stephen Strong, an old friend of Captain Hallard, who had come to the rescue when the mortgage was foreclosed. Mr. Strong was a New Englander, and when the time came for him to take possession he did so regretfully, declaring that at any time the fortunes of the Hallards changed once more he would be willing to leave the house.
"I'm a wanderer, anyway," he said, "so I guess this won't be the end of my journey. Besides, I was bred and born in Gloucester, and when I drop my anchor the last time it ought to be there. Cheer up, Hallard, you'll be heaving me out of this place yet."
Mr. Strong often made some similar remark when Captain Hallard revisited the house on the cliff, and Captain Hallard laughed at such cheery optimism, for he knew his days of fortune-hunting were over. Dave, however, was imbued with a youthful notion of retrieving the family fortunes, and he realized that as it must be many years before he could obtain command of a ship himself, the sooner be got to work the better. A few days after his encounter with the ancient mariner he spoke to his father on the subject.
"Tush, lad, what's put such notions into your head?" Andrew Hallard asked, anxious to draw from the boy his real feelings.
"I don't think I should like to be anything but a sailor, Dad," the boy said. Then he told his father of his talk with the old salt. Captain Hallard listened, and nodded. It came to him as an echo of his own boyhood. Thus encouraged, Dave warmed up, and repeated some of the sailor's stories. When he came to the discovery of the Hatteras on a desert island his father turned quickly in his chair.
"Hatteras, Hatteras," he repeated, wrinkling his brows. "I seem to remember something about a ship called the Hatteras, years ago, but I don't recall exactly what for the moment."
He drummed his finger-tips on the edge of the chair and looked up at the ceiling.
"Why!" he exclaimed after a pause; "wasn't there a ship called the Hatteras disappeared once? I think I've got something about it in my book of newspaper cuttings. Let me see."
He foraged in a drawer, fished out an old collection of clippings, and turned over the leaves.