Lost Island/Chapter 16

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CHAPTER XVI
ADVENTURES AHEAD

"Three of us," replied Dave. "And all mighty glad to see you."

"What is it? A picnic party? Well, I'm hanged!" said the voice, the owner of which jumped out of the boat. He was a big, broad-shouldered man, with a pleasant ring in his voice.

"Much obliged to you for calling," said Tempest. "Hope we have n't inconvenienced you."

"It's a wonder we 're here at all," said the big man. "I saw your beacon as I was going below. Marooned?"

"Our ship had a bit of an argument with a rock out there," said Tempest, "and the rock won. We'd be glad of a passage out of this. You in a hurry? There's lots of stores worth taking."

"Stores, eh?" said the big man, who proved to be the mate. "Guess I'd better see the skipper about that. It 'll be daylight in a few hours. You come off and see him."

A dozen faces peered curiously over the side of the steamer as they approached it.

"Bless my soul!" said the skipper, when Dave and his companions stepped aboard. "What have we got here?"

Tempest explained briefly, thanked the captain for stopping, and mentioned the stores.

"Why, yes, I 'll be glad to have them," said the skipper. "We 're not over provisioned. Those natives at Fiji wanted too much for their things for my liking, so I only took enough to last till we hit 'Frisco."

As soon as it was light the captain himself went off and inspected the mass of stuff that had been landed from the Manihiki.

"Jer-usalem!" he said, "but this lot is worth a young fortune. Who's the real owner of it?"

"You 'll have to fight that out with the owners of the Manihiki," said Tempest. "May I ask if you 're calling anywhere on the way to San Francisco?"

"A few places in Samoa, then Washington Island and Honolulu," replied the skipper.

Tempest smiled.

"That's funny, *' he said. "I was going to ask you to oblige us with a passage at the expense of the Manihiki's owners, but since you 're bound for Washington Island I think it would be much better if you could sign us on as members of your crew till we get there."

"Why, certainly. I can do that," said the skipper. "What's the idea?"

"Nothing much," Tempest observed, "except that we might have a little—er—business not so far from Washington Island; and though we 're not stuck for funds, a bit of extra cash might come in very handy when we get there."

The captain displayed no further curiosity in the matter. He had knocked about the South Seas too long to be surprised by the mysterious movements of men there. He turned his attention to hustling out to the ship all the miscellaneous articles which had to be got aboard and checked; and long before midday his vessel was again heading for the northeast.

"Do you know where we are going to get off this packet, Dave?" Tempest asked as soon as they got the opportunity for a quiet chat.

"Not exactly," the boy replied. "I heard you saying something about Washington Island, but I never heard of it. What is the scheme?"

"I'm afraid they never taught you your geography very well," said Tempest, stuffing tobacco into his now well-worn pipe with an air of great contentment. "Some people never can see a piece of luck when it comes their way, even if it is sticking out half a yard."

An idea flashed into the boy's mind. Christmas Island was away to the northeast. They were going northeast as fast as their engines could take them.

"Are you thinking about the Hatteras?" Dave said in a low voice. He was conscious of a little thrill even as he put the question. Hitherto, their discussions about the treasure-ship had been more or less vague. True, there had been wagging of wise heads and solemn discussions over charts in smoky cabins, but they had always taken place many thousands of miles from that mysterious island where the semblance of a camel's back loomed up over a lagoon. The subject had been interesting, but intangible. Now, in a flash, it seemed different.

"Tell me what Washington Island has got to do with it?" Dave asked, with a serious light in his grey eyes.

"Only this—that if we get off there, we shall be within something like three hundred miles of the spot where your old mariner says the bones of the Hatteras are sticking up out of the sand," Tempest replied. "Even three hundred miles is a mighty long distance, in a way, but it's better than three thousand, and it looks to me as though Old Man Opportunity was going out of his way to knock at your door a second time. Do you remember that I once told you there comes a time in everybody's life when it's worth while to go full steam ahead whatever effort it costs! Fussy people, who get excited over every blessed thing from sunrise to sunset, have n't got any steam left in 'em when the big chance bobs up. They fuss along just the same as they always have done, but they haven't got any punch to it. Now, it looks to me as though this is where you and I should wake up."

"Well, you know, Tempest, whatever you say, I'm with you." A queer sense of excitement was beginning to creep over the boy. It was only at rare moments that Bruce Tempest dropped the mask of light-hearted carelessness, and he was unquestionably serious now. "What do you suggest?"

"I can't say," Tempest replied with a light laugh, seeing how intent the boy had suddenly become. "Don't let this make an old man of you. We may be on a wild-goose chase all the time—but then again we might not. And what we 've got to do is to assume that it is n't a wild-goose chase. We 've got to try this thing out, somehow or other."

"Well, there's one thing," Dave commented. "One might go to sea for a hundred years and never get as near as three hundred miles to Lost Island again."

"That's just my point," said Tempest. "To tell you the truth, I can't see very far ahead at the moment. If we had a private yacht and plenty of money, the thing would be simplified; but we have n't too much money between us, and our yacht is now rotting at the bottom of the Pacific. That is as far as the Mud Turtle ever got. Anyway, we 've got arms and legs, and Jim is going to stick with us."

"By the way, Tempest," Dave said, "has it ever occurred to you to wonder whether that treasure really would be ours if we did happen to find it?"

"It has, and it would," the other replied. "I know what you mean—the man who mined it turning up and claiming it and all that sort of thing. Yes, I have thought of that, and I should think it's about a million to one that nothing of the sort could possibly happen after all these years. I talked that over with old Lightning Grummitt, and he took the same view that I do. No, laddie, put that right out of your mind. Never cross your bridges before you get to them. The man who dug that platinum up is as dead as mutton; and though I'm sure I should be only too pleased to let him have his share if he did bob up, it just won't happen. If he were alive, don't you think he would have moved heaven and earth to get back to the wreck of the Hatteras and rescue his blessed stuff?"

"I suppose he would," Dave agreed. "But if it comes to that, how do we know that he never did go back to the Hatteras and get it, the same way that we propose to do now?"

"How do you know that pigs can't fly when you are n't watching 'em?" Tempest expostulated. "How do you know the earth is n't flat? How do you know the moon is n't made of green cheese? You 've never been up to see. The only thing we shall know definitely, if ever we do handle the treasure, is that that platinum miner was too dead to go for it himself."

"There's no getting away from that," Dave agreed, now satisfied on the subject.

During his watch below, Dave spent some time during the run to the Samoan Islands writing to his father, knowing that Captain Hallard must be growing anxious. He told how they had been cast away, and wrote cheerfully about all the adventures he had had since leaving Australia, Of the immediate future, however, he said very little, not being sure himself of what was likely to happen.

"I am leaving this ship," he added, "at Washington Island, with my friend Bruce Tempest, and we may stop a week or two in that neighborhood."

Dave nibbled the end of his pen thoughtfully for a while. He was wondering whether his father would look Washington Island up on the map and connect his making a stop there with the old Hatteras.

"After that," he went on, "I am surely coming home, as I want to see you both again very much. I started out for just one trip away and back, but it seems to have got mixed up somehow, does n't it? Ask Aunt Martha to be ready to make me some flapjacks, as I have n't had any since I left Brooklyn."

Knowing nothing of what was in store, Dave thought the time was not far distant when he would be eating those flapjacks and proudly relating his own stories of the sea to his father.

Tempest, however, did not seem to share that view. For him, he was growing curiously serious. He rarely lost his old, bantering way, but there were moments when he was unusually thoughtful. He was wrestling with the problem of how one man, one boy, and one Kanaka were to perform the prodigious feat they had set themselves on an extremely limited capital with the best possible chance of success. It was not an easy problem. It would be galling to get so far and not be able to get any farther. And yet Tempest had the conviction that they would find a solution to some of their difficulties. As to the treasure, his mind was perfectly open on that point. To him the matter was merely an interesting possibility. There were a dozen reasons why, even if they ever did reach the end of this curious journey they were planning, they would never find what they were seeking at the end of it; but the bare possibility of success made it worth trying. And when Tempest did find anything in life that he considered worth going after, he went after it very hard.

The steamer made one or two calls on her way, and Dave was surprised to find such signs of civilization in remote places like Apia, where a trim little mail boat was just arriving, crowded with tourists. Even here, Tempest was not unfamiliar with the sights. Once before he had landed at Apia for a few hours, and now was able to show Dave around.

But the boy's interest was not in the beautiful home of the Samoans for the moment. The adventures that lay ahead filled him with suppressed excitement. That they might be pretty desperate he knew: exactly how desperate he could only conjecture. He was all agog to sight Washington, from which point they would have to start shaping their course in real earnest, and when the steamer cleared Apia at last for that island he stared ahead at the blue, tumbled ocean as though trying to read the riddle of the future.