Lost Island/Chapter 18

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CHAPTER XVIII
IN WHICH THE FIREFLY DISAPPEARS

In spite of his obvious disappointment, Joe Flagg remained as suave and courteous to his two guests as ever. Both Tempest and Dave, however, began to grow restless as time slipped along. There was still no sign of a vessel calling to take them to Christmas Island, and they felt they could not impose on Mr. Flagg's generous hospitality much longer.

When Mr. Flagg was engaged with affairs connected with his plantation, the other two often went for a long hike together. It was seven miles from one end of the island to the other. There were few houses except those near Invisible Bay, where the chief settlement was situated. The idea of hiring another boat had already occurred to Tempest, but unfortunately there was not one that appeared to be suitable for the purpose. A good many of the island's residents owned small craft, but Tempest was not inclined to trust his own life and that of Dave to such cockle-shells.

During one of their rambles they heard that there was an Englishman named Cresswell living near the north shore who had a fairly useful sailing-boat called the Nautilus, and the pair promptly started off on a tour of inspection. Cresswell, they found, was a taciturn soul, who spent most of his life nursing a grouch and a bad leg. He could only hobble about with the aid of a stick, and his boat was lying far up on the beach, exposed to the merciless glare of the tropic sun. The paint on its side was blistered, and the heat was fast reducing it to the condition of a sieve.

Tempest examined it carefully before bearding Cresswell, and though far from pleased with the craft, he decided it might be made seaworthy.

The task of putting the matter before Cresswell, however, was a somewhat delicate one, for their funds were not in a flourishing condition, and all the money they possessed would be needed for provisions, unless they were to run the risk of starving to death out of sight of land.

"We want to make a little trip on the water, sir," said Tempest, "and we thought perhaps you might loan your boat to us, for a consideration."

Cresswell glared from one to the other.

"And who told you I'd lend it?" he asked acidly.

"Nobody," replied Tempest. "But we need it rather badly, and as you were n't using it just now we thought you perhaps might—"

"What are you doing on the island, anyway?" interrupted Cresswell. "You don't live here. We get too many strangers prowling about these days."

"We 're waiting for a steamer to take us off, sir," said Tempest in his most affable tones. "Now, about the boat. She's just getting ruined
 
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"Who told you I'd lend it?" he asked, acidly

 
by lying there in the sun. If you would be so kind as to allow us to use her for a while, I 'll make her seaworthy for you."

"Don't know as I want her made seaworthy," the man replied. "She's comfortable enough lying where she is."

"I'm sorry we can't offer to pay for it in advance, Mr. Cresswell," Dave said, "but I 'll give you my word that the money shall be sent to you sooner or later."

Cresswell laughed. Something about the notion seemed to amuse him. He scrutinized the boy carefully for a few moments.

"Hang me if I don't put you to the test, youngster," he said. "Ten dollars a day is what I 'll charge you, and you 're to make good anything that gets broken. And if you find she's sinking and you 're going to drown, don't annoy me by throwing farewell messages overboard in bottles."

Before Dave or Tempest had time to thank him properly Mr. Cresswell hobbled back into his house.

"He's a queer sort," Dave said.

"Never mind, we have a boat now," commented Tempest, with a new flash of enthusiasm. "She is n't exactly the sort of craft I should have chosen for monkeying about with in the Pacific, but she's better than nothing. Now, my lad, off with that coat of yours. We have a nice little job ahead of us to fix the tub."

Near the boat was a shed in which the sails were stored. They were in passable condition. Some of the lanyards were rotten, but there was other rope that could be utilized for the purpose. The first thing they did was to haul the boat down to the water's edge and half sink her to swell her timbers. They put in the rest of that day repairing the gear.

Next morning they found their boat considerably improved. They hauled her high and dry, and set to work caulking the leaky cracks. Before nightfall Tempest nodded approvingly as he surveyed the result of their labors.

"I'm satisfied," he said. "If only we have fairly decent weather, there is n't the least cause for us to feel anxious. Come on, Dave. Let's take her for a spin."

When afloat, the Nautilus exceeded Tempest's expectations. They tried her both before the wind and tacking, and their spirits rose joyously when they found how handy she was.

Up to the present they had said nothing to Joe Flagg about their acquisition of the Nautilus, out of consideration for that individual's feelings, but now it was necessary to mention the matter, as all that remained to be done before they could start was to lay in the necessary stock of food and water.

"I hope he won't feel sore about it," said Dave, as they walked back. "I believe he thought we should change our minds eventually and take him into partnership."

"He certainly has been mighty good to us," Tempest replied, "and I would n't do anything to make him feel peeved if I could help it, bless his heart. But business is business, Dave, and we should be foolish to let sentiment interfere with an affair of this kind."

Joe Flagg was awaiting them on the veranda, beaming as usual and working diligently with the handkerchief upon his moist brow.

"I thought you'd deserted me," he said. "What have you two rascals been up to all day?"

"Getting ready to desert you, Mr. Flagg," said Tempest. "We have changed our program a little instead of going to Christmas Island. I'm afraid we have almost overstayed our welcome as it is."

"What's this—what's this?" puffed their host. "What d' you mean about overstaying your welcome? Wait till I say anything like that. I know of no vessel coming here for a week or more yet."

"That is so," said Tempest. "Fortunately we have been able to hire a small sailing-boat that will do for our purpose."

Mr. Flagg did not speak for a moment.

"All right, my lads," he said at last. "You know your own affairs best. But don't get any crazy notion into your heads that I'm wanting to turn you out. Under my roof you can stop as long as you have a mind to, see?"

Mr. Flagg was so amiable about the matter, and treated his guests with such marked affability during the rest of the evening that Tempest almost found it in his heart to relent. Only the fact that the trim little Nautilus was lying snugly at anchor caused him to refrain. After an early breakfast next morning Dave and his companion started out for the north shore to take possession of their boat and bid its owner a more or less fond farewell.

"Don't bother me!" Cresswell snapped. "I want nothing from you but ten dollars a day. And mind you, no messages in bottles as you 're sinking. Ouch!" he added, putting a hand to his lame leg and turning his back on them.

Five minutes later the Nautilus was heading round the bend toward Shavay Bay, both her occupants feeling more than a little pleased with themselves.

"Hello, Flagg's boat is out, I see," Dave said when they reached their destination.

"I suppose he has gone fishing," Tempest observed.

"No, he said he was going to be very busy on the plantation all day. He will kick up a nice rumpus with his two Kanakas if they have taken the Firefly."

For some hours Tempest and Dave were exceedingly busy. It was probable that their very lives would depend on what they took on board, so they laid out their scant capital with the utmost care at the island's solitary store. A couple of axes, shovels, and a few simple cooking utensils were placed on board.

"I'm afraid we have n't got much in the way of navigating instruments," Tempest said, "but Jim will help us to worry through. This pocket-compass of mine is fairly accurate, and with our old chart we ought to manage all right. Heigho! I 've known amateur yachtsmen who'd be scared to death at the idea of making the trip that is in front of us without a sextant, chronometer, patent log, barometer, dividers, and parallel rulers, besides compass and charts. Never mind, it's a comfort to reflect that you can only be drowned once. Dave, my son, we 're in for it now. A life on the ocean wave, eh? In my time I 've done some funny things, but I never before set out in a cockle-shell like ours, with one boy and a Kanaka, looking for lost treasure. Well, we 're ready now," he added, as they placed the last beaker of fresh water in the Nautilus. I only want to see the wind shift round a bit and then we will start."

"It's due east now, is n't it?" Dave said.

"Pretty near, and a nice job we should have beating up against it. I should regard it as a good omen if the fates sent us a gentle breeze from the northwest to start us nicely on our journey. Let's go up to the bungalow and say good-by to old Flagg, bless him! He has been a real friend to us."

But Flagg was not there, nor did he put in an appearance when the sun was dipping in a crimson sky to the westward.

"Bother him!" Tempest said. "We can't very well slide off without wagging his paw and saying a few nice things. I wish he'd come. The breeze is dodging round more to the westward, and we should get a fine start now."

After darkness had fallen Tempest began to grow anxious about Flagg. The men employed on the plantation reported that they had seen nothing of him all day, and his scraggy pony was securely tethered in its stable.

"This is beginning to get mysterious," Dave said.

"I think perhaps we ought to organize a search-party and hunt for him," Tempest suggested. "He may be lying injured somewhere."

Dave was looking out over the darkened sea. He said nothing for several minutes.

"I wonder whether a search-party would find him," he observed after a lengthy pause.

"Why, what do you mean?" Tempest asked quickly. His own nerves were almost on edge.

"I mean," said Dave, slowly, "do you really think he is on Washington Island at the present minute?"

"Great Mackerel, Dave, but I'm glad you 've said it! Do you know, the same idea has been worrying me ever since sunset, and yet I hated to put it into words."

"Well, since we have put it into words, what about it?"

There was a steely glitter in the boy's eyes which Tempest had never seen there. The same glitter had come once or twice before, when Dave suddenly found himself in danger or when faced with apparently insurmountable obstacles, just as it had come into the eyes of his father and his grandfather on similar occasions.

"There is no sign of the Firefly," agreed Tempest. "I wonder if the old villain is trying to beat us to it."

"Now I come to think of it,*' said Dave, "he never could look one straight in the face. Tempest, I 've got my suspicions!"

"And so have I, Dave," Tempest replied, now thoroughly strung up. "The longer we hang around here, the better start he has. Fortunately, the wind has n't been in the right quarter to please him all day. Come on, Dave," he added, already hurrying in the direction of their boat. "I don't know what speed Flagg can knock out of the Firefly, but we 'll give him a run for his money in the Nautilus."