Lost Island/Chapter 20
SHOTS FROM THE BEACH
It was Jim, as usual, who first caught sight of it, and Dave looked at it for a long time through the binoculars, full of wonder and hope. Either they were doomed to disappointment or this was the mysterious place that they had struggled so persistently to reach.
"I'd give something to know just what happened to the Firefly in that gale," he said, turning to Tempest.
"So would I," was the reply. "They had their full share of it, you may be certain, but, as we weathered it, it's most likely that they did the same unless an unlucky wave flopped on board and foundered them."
"If that is Lost Island, I suppose we shall soon have a fair idea what happened to Joe Flagg," said Dave.
"You can wager your last cent on that. If they have n't got ashore there by now they never will step ashore anywhere on this earth. It 'll be a comical situation, anyway, to meet them. I can almost hear Flagg already saying 'Dear me, what a surprise! Now, when I was in Dogtooth City—"
Another hour brought the Nautilus so close that it was possible to get a fair notion of the island's appearance through the glasses. Both Dave and Tempest were filled with suppressed excitement. There certainly was a prominent hill there, which might have been cast up by volcanic action, but from where they lay it bore no resemblance to either a camel or any other animal.
Dave spoke of that fact in disappointed tones.
"Shucks! What of it?" said Tempest encouragingly. "You don't know where the lagoon is yet, if there is one there. Probably you can't see the resemblance except from that side. Patience, sonny. It is early yet to give up hope. Wait till we get closer in and then we will make a little trip right round the place on the look-out for zoological specimens like camels."
There were many dangerous rocks, some of them only half submerged when they got within a mile of the coast, making navigation a hazardous business. Tempest placed Jim in the bow on the look-out for snags, and decided to beat his way round the northern point of the island. More than once a warning shout from the Kanaka only just saved them from tearing out the bottom of the Nautilus on a jagged peak; and it was a relief when they got round to the western side to find the water there clear of such death-traps.
All the time Dave's eyes were glued on the crag-strewn hill, on which he sought feverishly to distinguish something remotely resembling a camel.
"Gee," exclaimed Tempest at last, "If there is n't a lagoon down there I 'll eat my hat! We shall be able to make sure on that point soon, anyway."
"The camel, Tempest! The camel!" Dave shouted a few minutes later as they got farther to the south. "Don't you see it?"
"It's a funny sort of camel," the other commented with a dry smile. "Wait till we get a bit down the coast. It may show up a little clearer then."
"It is the camel, Tempest. Look! Look!" Dave cried as the formation of the hill gradually resolved itself into the shape he was looking for. The resemblance was by no means perfect. Its most noticeable feature was the lump in the middle. Further behind there was a rising sweep which might roughly be spoken of as the hind quarters of the animal. The shoulders were fairly distinct, and also the rise of the neck, but there was no head.
"Great guns and little fishes, Dave, but you 're right! We 're there at last. Now, where the dickens is the entrance to this lagoon? We don't want a smash up now after all our trouble. Jim, you tinted heathen, how do you reckon we can get in?"
The Kanaka stood up and surveyed the reef of rocks which formed the lagoon.
"Maybe p'raps over there," he said, pointing. "Go easy."
The islander's instinct proved right. He directed Tempest to the only channel leading into the calm water beyond the reef.
"You 've never seen this place before, I suppose, have you, Jim?" Tempest asked.
The Kanaka nodded.
"Never been on him though. He called Tai-o-Vai. Used to sail past sometimes long time ago"
"Tai-o-Vai, eh?" said Dave. "Why did n't you tell us so before?"
"You did n't ask him, idiot," laughed Tempest. "Probably he's never seen a camel in his life, so it's no use pulling off that stunt. Jiminy but is n't this one pretty lagoon?"
Dave did not answer. They were just rounding a bend and the boy put one hand on Tempest's shoulder, pointing with the other.
"As I live," Tempest exclaimed, "it's the remains of the old Hatteras after all!"
The wreck lay embedded in the sand, just as the ancient mariner had described it in Brooklyn so long ago. She was not in an excellent state of preservation, but the mere sight of her gladdened the hearts of the adventurers.
Tempest pulled the tiller over and turned the nose of the Nautilus straight towards the remains of the old barque. They were within about four hundred yards of her when the sharp crack of a rifle echoed over the water, and a bullet skimmed the surface uncomfortably near.
"Somebody is at home!" said Tempest with a puzzled expression. "I suppose that is just to show us how pleased they are to see us."
He jibed the boat, which then lay with her sails flapping.
"It's Flagg," Dave suggested.
"Dear old Joe Flagg, late of Dogtooth City," Tempest muttered. "And he sent that bullet as a present. The old villain was n't drowned in that gale, Dave."
"What are you going to do now?" the boy asked. "We 're not going to turn tail at this stage."
"If Mr. Flagg imagines that one shot from a pop-gun is going to keep us off he never made a bigger mistake in his life," Tempest said. "But as it is a question of life and death, when people are throwing lead around, we'd better come to an understanding. I know you 're no coward, Dave, but I don't want to take chances without you agreeing. What do you say?"
"I'm game for anything," said the boy. "Perhaps he only intended to frighten us off. He would hardly be likely to shoot us in cold blood when we got near, would he?"
"Jim, your skin is as precious to you as ours is to us," Tempest said. "Are you agreeable to running the risk of looking like a sieve?"
"Sieve?" the Kanaka repeated without understanding.
"There's a kindly disposed gentleman over there who wants to make little holes in us with a gun, and he may do so if we go much nearer. But we particularly do want to go nearer. Do you mind?"
Jim shrugged his shoulders.
"Good enough," said Tempest. "Now, Joe Flaggy we 'll just see a little further into this matter. I 'll have a word with you if it kills me."
He brought the boat round and she moved once more towards the wreck. There was no sign of any human being ashore. The Nautilus ran another hundred yards without interruption before the crack of another shot rang out, and there was a splash sixty feet ahead of them.
"Keep your heads ducked well down, boys," said Tempest. "He could n't shoot a haystack in a passage. If only we can get ashore we may be all right."
They were twenty yards from the beach when a bullet crashed through the side of the Nautilus just above her water line, and grazed Jim's leg.
At the same moment the form of Joe Flagg emerged from the trees. Holding his rifle up menacingly he advanced to meet the incoming boat.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Flagg," greeted Tempest. "You 're looking very well. Pretty scenery about here, is n't it?"
"If you come any nearer I 'll shoot the lot of you," snarled the fat man. There was nothing urbane about his manner. The mask was off now.
"You 're not feeling very well, Mr. Flagg," said Tempest. "Perhaps you had a bad night's rest. I'm afraid you 've had a long journey and you must be tired."
"This island is private property," snapped Flagg. "It's mine, see? And I don't allow any trespassing. Keep off, or there 'll be a quick funeral."
"You 've bought it in a mighty hurry," replied Tempest. "You don't happen to have the title-deeds about you, do you? Now, don't try to be funny," he added sharply. "We 're a long way from civilization, but even in the middle of the Pacific you can't kill people with impunity. There's a law against it, you know, Mr. Flagg."
"Dead men don't tell tales," Flagg snapped, "and I warn you you 'll be as dead as mutton if you land here. It's my island, and I won't have any one on it."
"I hate to argue with you under the circumstances," said Tempest, "but I'm afraid I don't believe that yarn. Now, listen, I 'll make you a little business proposition."
"What is it?" asked Flagg.
"We will assume that we are all here for the same purpose."
"I'm not here for my health," said Flagg ungraciously.
"Precisely. You came after our treasure."
"That's my business."
"And it is mine too, Mr. Flagg," said Tempest. "If I had a gun I should n't feel inclined to be so amiable about it, either. However, I 'll make you a sporting offer, to save further unpleasantness. You 've been very good to us at your home, even if you did finish up with a sneaking trick by trying to steal a march on us. Look here, I 'll agree to give you a third of anything we may find."
"Nothing doing," replied Flagg without a moment's hesitation. He was perfectly aware that he held the trump card in his hand, and moreover he was not in the mood to accept anything less than the lot.
"Now be reasonable," Tempest urged. "We may have an awful lot of trouble before we get it, anyway, even if we ever do get it, and so we might just as well be friends instead of enemies. Because you don't think we 're going to slip away quietly and leave you in possession of the field, do you?"
"I neither know nor care. Clear out."
"But I told you we were not going to clear out."
"That's up to you," said Flagg in level tones. "I'm tired of this. If you like getting shot that's your own affair."
Without further warning he pulled the trigger again, and a splinter jumped into the air from the gunwale of the Nautilus.
"You murderous old crook," shouted Dave.
"That's nothing. I'm only finding the range," Flagg said with a mirthless laugh, as the rifle spoke once more.
"It's no use committing suicide," muttered Tempest, swinging the boat round. "Good afternoon, Mr. Flagg. I hope you will take great care of your health until I see you again. I'm afraid you 're not exactly in training, so I shall anticipate the pleasure of giving you the biggest walloping you ever had when I wade into you."
Flagg's reply, as the Nautilus began to gather speed, was another shot which ricochetted past.
"All right," Tempest shouted back over his shoulder. "You 're only storing up trouble for yourself."
"Is n't he a nice, kind-hearted gentleman?" commented Dave. "Let's try to land somewhere on the other side of the island."
"We can try," said Tempest, "but to tell you the truth I don't think we shall stand a dog's chance. That brute does n't mean to stop at anything. I believe he would polish the lot of us off without the slightest scruple. There was nothing playful about the way he handled that gun of his, you must remember. And I do hate being shot on a Tuesday. This is Tuesday, isn't it? The blooming island is so small that he can dodge round as fast as we can. However, we 'll fool him if we can. Here goes."
Tempest ran the boat straight out to sea until the sun dipped under the horizon. It was far from dark, for the stars were aggravatingly bright, and a full moon was soon due to appear on the scene.
"It's a chance," Tempest said, as he headed once more for Tai-o-Vai, "but an extremely rotten chance. We 'll see what we can do at the back of the island now. I doubt whether we could land there anyhow because of the surf."
A slight haze partly obscured the moon when it rose, but there was far too much light to please Dave and Tempest, who would have liked a coal-black night for such work as they had on hand. Trusting to memory to avoid the dangerous patch of rocks through which they had threaded their way earlier in the day, they made a wide detour, and then headed straight for the surf. The thunderous roar of it reached them when they were still a quarter of a mile off.
"That sounds lively, does n't it?" Dave commented. "There's no earthly hope of making the beach in that without smashing the Nautilus up and probably ourselves too."
"Jim," said Tempest, "you can see like a cat in the dark. Can you tell us how we 're going to get ashore?"
The Kanaka shook his head. That was a problem beyond him.
"Maybe p'raps there's a li'le cove somewhere along here," he suggested. "Try bit furth'r down."
"All right," said Tempest. "It's rocky along here, and we can't see where we are going, so don't be surprised if we have to swim for it all of a sudden."
More by good fortune than by good management they escaped piling the boat up, and, sure enough, Jim piloted them to a sheltered cove.
"'Pon my word, I believe we 've caught him napping, Dave," Tempest said as they approached the beach.
"There's no sign of anybody," agreed the boy, eagerly scanning the shore.
They were within fifty yards—forty—thirty.
A little spurt of light flashed out and a bullet sang its way over their heads.
Tempest ground his teeth. Had he been alone he would have made a dash for it. Reluctantly he put the helm over and swung the boat away again.
"That is one extra thump in the ribs he will get from me when we do meet," he said bitterly. "Hang me if I know what we are going to do now! We can't mess about like this indefinitely."
"He certainly has got us in a corner," said the boy.
"It is a corner we have got to wriggle out of, somehow," observed Tempest. "I think I 've got a scheme that will work, though. It seems to me the only way. Desperate situations demand desperate measures. Dave, I want you to stop in the Nautilus whatever happens until I tell you to come ashore. I'm going to swim to the beach."
"And what then?"
"I 'll deal with Flagg once I get on dry land with him. We 'll go round to the lagoon, where the wreck is. That is the best place."
"But he 'll shoot you the moment he sets eyes on you."
"He 'll probably try to, but I'm going to take the risk. I may be able to take him off his guard."
"Um rain pretty soon, pretty hard," said the Kanaka, sniffing the air as they ran round to the lagoon. Clouds were already gathering.
"Tempest, let's wait a while and see exactly what is going to happen. I 've got an idea that we might be able to land after all, without your running an almost certain chance of getting hit with a bullet."
A few heavy drops were beginning to fall, and the light was failing.
"If a regular tropical shower does come down, that will work the trick," Tempest said.
Almost as he spoke the patter of the rain drops increased. They got through the channel into the lagoon just in time before the shower became a drenching storm, blotting everything out of sight.
"Now for it!" said Tempest "Not a sound, boys!"