Lost Island/Chapter 14

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Although those who had gone were naturally very much missed, the trio settled down to their lonely life a good deal more contentedly than they had anticipated. A more ideal camping-ground could not have been found, and, for the present, at least, they had all the necessities of life at their elbows. One of their chief recreations was fishing. The gear was primitive, Tempest fashioning hooks out of wire with the aid of a file, but the sport was excellent and provided a welcome change of diet. They were a little anxious at first about some of their catches, Tempest doubting whether several of the brilliantly hued fish were edible, but the Kanaka came to their rescue, picking out those which were poisonous, and also showing how fish were cooked in native fashion, by baking them in clay in the ground—a process which both Dave and Tempest were forced to admit put the old-fashioned frying pan to shame.

On one occasion a fishing expedition nearly led to disaster. While Tempest was busy ashore the boy went off in the dory with the Kanaka, and the sport was so good that they were tempted to remain at anchor some distance off the shore in spite of a brisk breeze that had sprang up. At last the weather-wise Kanaka, scenting danger, began to heave on the anchor. Instead of coming in puffs, the wind was now steady, dotting the surface of the water everywhere with "white horses."

The two pulled at the oars for ten minutes until Dave, glancing over his shoulder, realized that they were making no progress.

Only then did the gravity of the situation dawn upon him. The Kanaka knew, but he gave no sign. The muscles under his bare arms and back played like ripples of velvet. He seemed to be made of sinew and steel. Toughened though Dave was by months of hard work, the strain began to tell on him before long, but the Kanaka kept plugging away, even when it became apparent that they were losing ground. The little island, from which Tempest was doubtless watching the struggle anxiously, was slowly but surely dropping farther away, and to make matters worse darkness shut down on the dory, swiftly following the sinking of the sun as it always does in the tropics.

They were still more or less under the shelter of the land, but the size of the waves had increased alarmingly, and more than one white crest toppled into the little craft. Soon they were up to their ankles in water, about which the dead fish floated.

"Bail um water out," said the Kanaka, pulling a little harder to make up for the deficiency when Dave shipped his oars.

The boy seized the tin and bailed furiously, but each time he got the dory nearly empty another curling wave hit the prow and hissed its way along the gunwale, slopping over the edge ominously as it went.

The stolid demeanour and dogged perseverance of the Kanaka helped Dave to keep up his spirits, although there were times when he saw no earthly hope of their getting back to the shore, especially when one wave, angrier than the rest, spun the tiny craft half round and left it half full.

"Bail um," the Kanaka urged, heading the boat round again into the teeth of the wind.

"Bail um," indeed, Dave did, for his very life. Had another wave hit them at that moment the dory would have sunk, but the fates were kind, and he got most of the water out before more came in.

When the situation seemed as desperate as it very well could be, the moon began to show a faint gleam, in which Dave could dimly discern the outlines of the island, and a little while later, as though tired of toying with its victims, the wind dropped suddenly. Dave and the Kanaka had about three miles to row to the beach, and both were utterly exhausted by the time the dory grounded.

Tempest, who, naturally, had feared they were both blown out to sea, lectured the pair of them in a fatherly fashion.

"And as for you, Jim," he said, turning to the Kanaka, "I should have thought you had more sense than to take such chances with an off-shore wind like that blowing. If you had n't got back with the dory I'd have pulled your ears off."

Jim grinned.

"Sea she no tell me about her fool tricks," he replied in his curious polyglot English picked up partly from the cosmopolitan crowds in stokeholds and partly in the Philippines.

The Kanaka was by no means an unwelcome member of the party. He had intelligence of an unusual order for his kind and displayed great ingenuity on occasions. What his age was neither Dave nor Tempest could determine, and Jim certainly did not know. Probably he was in the neighborhood of forty. He was not particularly communicative, but piece by piece the other two extracted some of his history. His early boyhood had been spent in the Sandwich Islands; but being by nature a roamer, he left there and became stranded at Tahiti, far to the south of Honolulu. He did not remain there long, however, moving from one place to another, sometimes as a sailor, sometimes picking up a scant subsistence as a fisherman, and sometimes living a life which was more than half savage. His knowledge of the islands in the South Seas was extensive and peculiar; and like Tempest, he had the trick of making himself completely at home wherever fate happened to set him down.

"Have you ever been to Christmas Island?" Dave once asked him, wonderingly.

"Lived there two summers," Jim explained. "Nice place. Not many people."

"I should judge not," Tempest commented. "Did you ever get to Fanning Island?"

"Know um; not lived there," the Kanaka said.

"Ha! Ha! The plot thickens," said Tempest. "You know some of the other islands round about there perhaps, eh?"

"Some," said Jim. "Lived in Philippines since then. Lot of years ago."

"It seems to me that Jim would be a mighty useful man to take along with us if ever we go hunting for your treasure-ship, Dave," said Tempest. "He is n't a bad old sort, and he might be able to pilot us around a bit."

"That's a good idea," the boy agreed. "I suppose we are n't so very far off the place now, are we?"

"No-o," replied Tempest, "if you don't reckon two or three thousand miles far, and add to that that we 're marooned on an island for an extremely indefinite period. Outside of that, you can fairly count on the treasure being ours and make a few inquiries as to to-day's market price of platinum to, see how much you 're worth."

"You 're laughing now," Dave said, "but you won't laugh once you see me sitting on the deck of the good ship Hatteras counting up a fortune."

"She has n't any deck left. It's all been washed away."

"How do you know? You have n't seen it. Jim, are you coming with us to Christmas Island?"

The Kanaka shrugged his shoulders. He thought it was some silly joke.

"I expect we 'll have to bribe him," Tempest said. "Jim, what would you like best of all in the world?"

The Kanaka was squatting with crossed legs on the sand, screwing his eyes into the sun to watch the graceful flight of a gull. He was wearing all that remained of just two garments—a shirt, the sleeves of which he had removed by main force, and a pair of cotton trousers rolled above his knees. Back on one of his beloved islands, where there was no coal to shovel into greedy furnaces and where time was a word that had almost ceased to have any meaning, he was fast reverting to nature. He looked like a person whose highest ambition would be to lie on his back and bask in the sunshine for ever and ever.

As the gull seemed to disappear in the burning sun Jim turned round slowly with a lazy smile.

"More than all the other things in the world, um?" he repeated, looking at Tempest, who nodded.

"One time," Jim said with quaint gravity, "I sailed on a big ship round Cape Horn to a place where all the ships come from, bigger 'n Manila, bigger 'n Iquique, called Hobroken."

"Hobroken?" Tempest queried, wrinkling his brows in perplexity. "Where in the name of fortune is that?"

"Great big place," declared Jim, extending his arms wide as though to indicate the size. "Hobroken up a river."

"You don't happen to mean Hoboken, by any chance, do you, Jim?" Dave asked.

"Hobroken—dat's um, Hobroken," the Kanaka said, hugely pleased.

Dave rolled backward and roared with laughter.

"That's almost a part of a place called New York City, Jim," he said at last. "Did n't you ever hear of New York?"

The Kanaka nodded, but looked puzzled. He saw no cause for mirth.

"New York somewhere near there," he said.

"Well, what about Hoboken, Jim?" Tempest asked.

"One time I'd lika go to Hobroken again," was the reply, uttered impressively, "with two three dollars."

"Funny thing," said Tempest, blowing rings of smoke; "you 're not the first person I 've heard express the desire to go to New York with dollars, but 'two three' would n't carry you very far there, Jim."

The Kanaka, who had worked wonders on that sum in Manila, was coldly incredulous.

"What would you do when you got there?" Dave asked.

Again Jim smiled happily. The prospect was evidently one which he had treasured in his moments of leisure while basking on various islands in the South Seas.

"Wear clothes like um other peoples," he said, "and ride in um trolley-cars."

"And stop there always?" Tempest suggested.

The Kanaka shook his head slowly, now watching another gull skim the water.

"Just for a bit while," he said, "then p'raps come back here or some other place."

"He's got the New York fever," Tempest laughed, "but it is the most comical case I ever heard of. I expect New York would soon cure him, especially when his two three dollars were gone, and then he'd begin to pine for something really exciting again, like the fight he had with that twelve-pound fish yesterday."

"Never mind him, Jim," Dave said. "You come to Christmas Island with us, and after that I 'll take you to Hoboken, where you can ride about in trolley-cars in a tall silk hat with feathers in it if you like. Will you come?"

Jim shrugged his shoulders and extended his hands—a gesture with which he always expressed agreement.

As the days drifted on, and Dave and Tempest grew to know their island home better, they came to the conclusion that there were worse things than being shipwrecked under such conditions. As a rule the cooking was done by Dave, he being the accepted expert, but in the hunting and fishing they all three joined, and they obtained much excellent sport. Jim, with a native's cunning in the chase, devised various methods of catching birds as a change for their food, but their best sport was the hunting of pigs. The little wild animals were by no means easy to catch, and this was only done occasionally, neither Dave nor Tempest liking the idea of killing them. Excepting the creatures with gorgeous plumage which still made strident noises when any one approached them, the birds were remarkably tame, no doubt because the hand of man had never been raised against them. There were boatswain birds, wideawake tern, puffins by the thousand, and white-cap noddys, besides others which Tempest could not name, though the Kanaka had an unpronounceable name for every kind. Some of the birds were so unused to fear that they merely strutted out of the way when any one passed.

On one occasion Jim, with great pride, prepared a special dish which was evidently a sort of islanders' omelette. It consisted largely of sea-birds' eggs and tasted rather like cod-liver oil. Rather than hurt Jim's feelings, Tempest and the boy gulped down their share and congratulated him on his skill, but after that they were careful not to encourage him in a repetition of the experiment.

Dave's greatest joy was a pig-hunt The little wild animals were by no means easy to catch, but they formed a delicious dish which rewarded the hunters for their trouble. The chief difficulty in capturing them was the natural shelter they sought in the thick, tangled undergrowth. Fully half the island's surface was covered with impenetrable bush, intertwined with a fearsome form of cactus whose leaves were like saws. It was utterly impossible to force an entry into this natural fortress, through which the small hogs had beaten innumerable run-ways but little wider than their own bodies. Once a pig got into the maze of run-ways it was as safe as though in the heart of a jungle, but occasionally the hunters were able to surprise their quarry in some of the isolated clumps of bushes. In this the Kanaka's assistance proved of the utmost value. Like most other men who have lived in a semi-wild state, his hearing was extraordinarily acute.

"I'll get um li'le pig," he said once when they had tried several times to make a capture and failed utterly.

"What are you going to do?" asked Tempest. "Make a noise like a sweet potato and bang 'em on the head while they 're standing still trying to scent it?"

Jim did not deign to make any reply, but occupied himself during the greater part of the next few days in making a number of strong nets from twine, each about five feet square, with small lengths of twine attached to the corners. While this operation was in progress the other two, considerably mystified, submitted the Kanaka to good natured joking.

"I know," said Dave, "he's going to fish for them."

"Great," commented Tempest. "I hear that pig fishing is one of the chief sports in the Sandwich Islands. What do you use for bait, Jim?"

Jim, however, worked on stolidly, finally surveying the crude nets he had constructed, with much satisfaction.

"Now I show you how to catch um li'le pig," he observed with a grim smile.

With an ax he cut three formidable looking clubs from a tree, and then leading the way to a clump of bushes some distance from their camp he tied the nets loosely across the entrances to the various runways.

"Lie still," he ordered. "Bimeby we hear him say 'grump-grump' maybe p'raps."

Each holding one of the murderous clubs, they squatted on the ground. There seemed to be perfect stillness, such as one can find on an isle in the Pacific on a calm day. Not even the soft soothing sound of a ripple on the sea shore reached them. Once or twice the melancholy call of a distant gull reached their ears, otherwise they were in a soundless world.

Suddenly the Kanaka raised a warning finger. The porker had betrayed its presence to him, though neither of the other two had detected it. He motioned Tempest and Dave to the place where the animal was most likely to break away. Once he saw they were ready at their stations he went round to the other side of the bushes and set up an unearthly din that was calculated to drive any self-respecting hog out of its senses.

Yelling himself hoarse, and beating on the tangled branches like a mad thing with his club, he kept up a running fire of warning to the others, sometimes lapsing into a heathenish tongue in his excitement.

At last, without the slightest warning, an alarmed pig, squealing as though a pack of hounds were at its trotters, bolted at full gallop.

Full tilt, it went at a net near which the boy and his companion were waiting in breathless suspense. The net came away from its moorings, as Jim had intended it to, with one or more of the porker's legs hopelessly entangled in the meshes; and there ascended heavenwards a squealing the like of which had probably never been heard on the island. Over and over the pig rolled, struggling frantically to free itself. Both Dave and Tempest were rushing towards it, with clubs upraised, when confusion was added to the situation by another pig bolting into a second net.

Dave spun round, leaving Tempest to deal with the first animal, and knocked his captive out with a lucky blow just as the Kanaka came rushing round the edge of the bushes.

"Hoo-la! hoo-la!" Jim yelled in ecstasy; and rather than take any chances he despatched the little hog quickly.

Tempest, meanwhile, was in difficulties. Before he could reach his pig it had extricated all but one foot from the net, and was careering madly away, dragging the net with it. Tempest tore after the quarry which was making instinctively for a run-way in the main jungle, but after he had run a dozen yards he caught his foot in the root of a tree. By the time he had picked himself up again the porker had bolted like a rabbit up the tunnel, shedding the net at the entrance as it went.

He went back to the others and offered his congratulations to the boy.

"That's one to you, Dave," he said. "He looks a nice young one, too. If I'm any judge he'd make a supper for the gods. I don't believe I could stop a tortoise in a passage."

"Never mind," Dave said. "It will be your turn next time, and anyway we could n't eat two pigs at once, even if we are starving shipwrecked mariners with only the stores off one ship to keep us alive."

The prize was conveyed back to the camp, where a heated discussion took place as to how it should be cooked. Tempest, who confessed he knew nothing about such matters, argued that it should be done one way, Dave, whose experience in the galley gave his word a certain degree of authority, protested that it should be cooked another way. Jim, on the other hand, declared it should be baked whole, in the ground, native fashion; and finally the other two gave in to him. They watched the process with great interest, and when it was ready to eat they unanimously decided that whatever Jim's omelettes were like, no Fifth Avenue chef had anything on the Kanaka when it came to roast pork.

On the morning following the pig hunt Tempest announced that, while the others were out fishing, he was off on a little exploration tour. Although the island was so small, there were many parts of it which they had not yet reached. In places it was difficult to get down to the beach, and at the northern end there were rugged peaks in a trackless district, where one had to climb laboriously.

Dave and the Kanaka returned to the shore soon after noon, and were surprised when Tempest did not arrive for the midday meal. Not until the swift setting of the sun, however, did Dave grow anxious, and then he began to realize that something untoward must have happened, for Tempest had taken no food with him and the boy could think of no reason why his friend should remain away until after dark.

He and Jim ascended the nearest hill and shouted continually, but no reply came from the silent jungle nor beyond.

"Come on, let's get some lanterns," said the boy at length. "I'm going to make a search."

Leaving a light burning at the camp, for there was no moon and the stars were almost obscured by clouds, they set out in the darkness, Dave feeling distinctly uneasy. He racked his brain to think of some plausible explanation of Tempest's failure to return. Until after midnight the two searched and called in vain. Then, with a heavy heart, the boy returned to the camp, to toss about uneasily, fully dressed, until dawn.

Tempest had disappeared, and Dave was alone now, but for the half-savage Kanaka. The boy, however, did not think of his own position. It was the thought of his friend which kept him awake.