Lost Island/Chapter 19

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Followed by Jim, they scrambled into their boat, and shot the sails up; and in a few minutes the "Nautilus" was bobbing her way out of Shavay Bay on a course almost due southeast, her bow being in a straight line for Fanning Island. From the latter place Tempest intended to take his bearings, and then veer slightly to the south in the direction of the island Joe Flagg had indicated on the chart.

"I 'll tell you what, Tempest," the boy said when the sails were bellying and the waves were flopping against the boat's nose, "if we do happen to have made a mistake in judging Mr. Flagg, and he's only gone to pay visit to some one, he will think us a queer lot to have bolted like this."

"If!" commented Tempest, grimly. "I 've got a good deal of faith in human nature, my lad, but I'd rather believe our friend was 'way back in his precious Dogtooth City than where he is at this minute. Foxy old rascal! He'd have given his ears for a breeze like this during the day. As it is, I don't believe he can be much more than two or three hours' sailing in front of us. Who would have thought of him sneaking off like that? I don't know whether he expected we should smell a rat and come after him quickly, but he reckoned on getting a full day's lead of us anyhow."

"It will be an interesting moment when we do meet him," Dave said with a smile.

"He will be polite, even under those circumstances, and try to work in a few funny stories. I 've met his kind before."

"By the way," said Dave seriously, "does it occur to you to wonder what will happen if Flagg does happen to get there first and collar the platinum?"

"It does n't," replied Tempest. "I know. It is a case of 'finding's keepings.' The first party to grab that treasure has just as much right to it, legally, as he has to his own bank balance. That is why we are not going to stop to gather daisies on the way. As a matter of fact, if only we can find our way without wasting too much time, Mr. Flagg won't have had a chance to do much by the time we arrive on the scene; and then there is likely to be some fun."

"Fun!" Dave exclaimed.

"Well," said Tempest, "as the heads of nations put it, we shall have 'severed diplomatic relations.' In other words, if we find Joe Flagg picking the bones of the old Hatteras, the fat will be in the fire."

"It was a mean trick," Dave commented, gloomily.

"Oh, cheer up!" Tempest laughed. "It's all in the game. If you will come treasure-hunting you must be prepared to hit a snag or two, or a head or two if necessary. I'm rather looking forward to hearing what he has to say on the subject."

A little wisp of spray shot over the side as the Nautilus plunged before the wind, which was increasing as the night wore on.

"That's right, blow!" said Tempest, hanging on to the tiller and gripping the stem of his pipe hard with his teeth. "I'd hate a dead calm just now."

"It looks like a dirty night," said Dave.

"Well, we can't wash it," the other replied, grinning. "It's 'neck or nothing' now. There is no turning back for us, and I give you my word it will have to be a lot dirtier than this before Flagg shortens sail or tries to take shelter. He has a pretty fair idea now that the hounds are at his heels. Is n't she a peach in a strong wind, eh?"

The Nautilus was certainly acquitting herself most creditably. She careened over under the pressure of wind, but shipped nothing except flying spume.

"I only hope that mast is n't rotten," Tempest said, glancing upwards. "We should be properly in the soup if that snapped."

"Are you thinking of taking in a reef?"

"Take in nothing! We 'll nail our colors to the mast, so to speak, Dave. If the thing goes bust we go bust too, so far as getting anywhere is concerned. All the same, I'm glad those halyards are of fairly new manila."

Jim, who did not know precisely what this new game Dave and Tempest were playing was, sat steadying the boat and staring hour after hour over the black expanse of water. He knew they were bound for an island, and that the pair were looking for a wreck; but beyond that he was not concerned. They had all been distressed mariners together, and therefore had a bond of sympathy between them. Moreover, he had nowhere else to go, and might just as well be on the Nautilus as anywhere else.

"Grr," he muttered suddenly about midnight, peering almost straight ahead. "Him light over there."

The others looked but could see nothing.

"Sure?" asked Tempest.

"Him light not there now. Him gone," said the Kanaka.

"That's strange," said Dave. "What do you make of it, Tempest? It could n't have been the Firefly, could it?"

"Can't say. These Kanakas have wonderful sight, but the Firefly must be a mighty long way off."

"But they won't be carrying regulation lights, any more than we are."

"That's true, but I expect they have some sort of a lamp on board like ours, to keep an eye on the compass, and one of them may have been holding it up at that minute. All the same, we have to take our hats off to Jim if he really did see it."

Although the wind continued to blow moderately hard that night, it was steady, and therefore caused no particular anxiety. The Nautilus was eating up the knots like a racer, and Tempest awaited dawn anxiously in the hope of sighting Fanning Island.

"Keep your eyes skinned for land, Jim," he said.

Jim merely nodded. The sky was growing fairly light when he pointed with a brown forefinger away on the starboard bow.

"Him land," he declared.

"Rubbish!" commented Tempest. "That's a bit of a cloud on the horizon."

Dave was levelling the binoculars in the direction.

"He's right, Tempest," he said.

"Gee, but that's fine!" said Tempest. "I hardly expected to hit it off quite as near as that, not knowing anything about the currents. Allow me to remark, Dave, that that was some feat of seamanship on my part. Jim, you bottle-nosed squab, glue your eyes to these glasses and tell me if you see anything of a sailing boat in the offing. There's a friend of mine in it, and I particularly want to say 'good morning' to him."

Jim obeyed instructions, and searched in every direction without success.

"I guess they 've taken a short cut," Tempest observed. "Flagg did n't have to make Fanning Island first. Well, well, that's a point in his favor. It puts him another hour, or maybe two, ahead. I hope one of his sails splits, and that's the most charitable thing I can say for him."

As the breeze remained steady and there was no indication of any change in the weather, Tempest gave the tiller to Dave during the morning, and snatched a couple of hours' sleep, curled up in the bottom of the boat. It was afternoon when the boy aroused him. He would not have done so then, but for the unexpected happening. Within the space of twenty minutes the wind developed a chilly tang, and ominous clouds gathered overhead.

The weather-wise Kanaka constantly glanced upwards, but made no comment until a sudden rain squall hit them.

"We 'll have um sea get up pretty soon," he said then, without any change of expression.

"You 're right, I believe, Jim," Dave agreed. "This is where we rouse the skipper, I guess."

Tempest frowned as he took the tiller again. He did not like the look of things. They had taken a chance in a small open boat, and if a real storm broke they would be entirely at its mercy, for they were many miles from the nearest shelter. Three minutes later the wind dropped to a dead calm and the sails hung limp, while a curious yellow tinge developed in the northern sky.

"Now we 're in for it!" Tempest muttered. "Here Jim, you hang on to this rudder. Dave, the mainsail, quick," he added, letting go the sheet. "That's right. Now the jib—stop! It's too late. Hang on for your life. Here she comes."

A furious blast struck the Nautilus on the starboard quarter. The little craft quivered and then wallowed in a welter of seething water. The jib gave a crack like a mighty whip, one rope tore away, and the canvas flapped madly as it hung over the side. Tempest gave one glance at it, decided nothing could be done to make it secure in such an emergency, and crawled to the Kanaka's side. At all costs they had to keep the boat running before the wind. She was slewing round desperately, spun by the corkscrew action of the growing waves. In an incredibly short space of time the whole surface of the ocean had become a smother of white, boiling crests, with yawning valleys of water between them. At one moment the trim little Nautilus was buried down, down, with great swirling walls on every side. Then she climbed, stern first, up the side of an endless hill of green, pausing dizzily at the crest and careening over perilously under the pressure of wind.

Instead of moderating, the gale grew steadily worse, and both Dave and Tempest thought their end was approaching. There seemed no possible hope of the Nautilus keeping afloat. A dozen times she was on the verge of being swamped but always struggled bravely to right herself.

"It's my fault, lad," Tempest said, gripping the boy's hand. "I ought to have had more sense."

Dave's face was white. He looked a little older at that fearful moment. It was terribly hard to have to lie there, braced up against a seat, and do nothing but wait.

"Nobody could have known this was coming," he said quietly.

For about half an hour the storm lashed the surface of the sea with unbridled fury, and then, with startling suddenness, the wind dropped. Tempest did not trust this latest antic of the gale. There was something majestic and awe-inspiring about the turbulent water without a breath of wind blowing. He cast an eye at the jib, which now swung like a pendulum as the Nautilus rocked. At any minute the storm might smash down on them again.

"You stop there," he said to the boy; and made his way forward to save the sail while the chance lasted. He had barely accomplished this when the treacherous wind struck the Nautilus once more. It seemed, however, to have spent most of its energy. Warily Tempest made his way to a locker and began fumbling in it for a sea-anchor which he remembered was there.

"We may win out yet," he said to Dave, with a return of his old optimism, as he attached a few yards of rope to the canvas bag and heaved it over the bow. The steadying effect of the dragging bag was noticeable immediately, keeping the craft head on with its resistance.

After that there remained nothing to do but let the gale wear itself out. It was impossible to get anything to eat or drink, for the little craft never stopped dancing crazily. It was very near sunset when there came a marked moderation of the wind.

"Put um sail up bimeby," commented Jim.

"You 've said it," agreed Tempest. "The worst is over, and it's getting better all the time. This is where we thank our lucky stars, if we have any. I don't mind admitting now that I did n't expect to be alive by night. What do you say, Jim?"

Jim shrugged his shoulders. Whatever his feelings were he was not in the habit of exhibiting them.

"We have some grub now, eh?" he said. With this practical suggestion the others heartily agreed. Now that immediate danger was past they felt half starved.

During the day Tempest had constantly kept an eye on his compass, and he calculated that they must have been blown a dozen or more miles off their course. The first thing to do was to take a reef in the main sail and get back in the proper direction. A tremendous groundswell was running, but the water was no longer broken. The Nautilus bumped and thudded her way through it heavily, shaking her occupants like peas in a pan; but Tempest was able to keep her running until dawn, by which time he considered they must be arriving somewhere near their destination. Two islands loomed up during the forenoon, and after a careful consultation of the chart it was decided that these probably lay to the north of the one which they were seeking.

Tempest bent his course south accordingly, and was greatly elated a few hours later to pick up the outline of land.