Lost Island/Chapter 6

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Justas the spinning dory reached the ortex, a change came over the turbulent water. The fiercest suction seemed to have spent itself. The whirlpool became a dozen smaller eddies, each with its rapidly revolving current, and though the dory danced from one point of danger to another it remained afloat. Loose spars and gear from the derelict began to shoot up to the surface.

"Let her have it now, lads," shouted the bo'sun. "This 'll be our only chance of getting any one who went down."

A minute later both dorys were over the place where the Miriam had sunk, and two unconscious forms were soon lifted out of the water.

"There's two more somewhere," Mr. Quick shouted across, as a number of men in each boat began to apply artificial respiration to the half-drowned victims.

Dave, happening to look a little way from the scene of the tragedy, noticed something awash on the surface for a moment.

"There's a man over there, Mr. Grimes," he yelled to the bo'sun, and the dory was urged across the intervening space.

"Sure enough there is," said Grimes, as they drew near. "You 've got quick eyes, lad. If this chap has any kick left in him he 'll owe his life to you."

The man's form was just sinking again when they got hold of it with a boat hook. He was a deck hand named Hawke, who had gone out of his way on more than one occasion to do an act of kindness to the boy.

For nearly half an hour the dorys cruised about the scene of the disaster, in the hope of picking up the remaining member of the crew, but the sea had claimed her toll; and for some days afterward there brooded over the ship an air of gloom, the missing man having been not only a good sailor but a popular comrade.

The rest of the voyage, until they made their first stop, at New Orleans, was uneventful Dave was bitterly disappointed to find that, as they were only to remain in port a few hours, nobody was allowed ashore, and he left the gate of Louisiana with only a confused memory of docks. The weather remained favourable in the Gulf and the Caribbean Sea; and the boy settled down to ship's routine during the long run to Cape Horn, where the Pacific Queen ran into a furious gale, which battered her for four days. It was Dave's first experience of really bad weather, and with it came more seasickness, for the ship sometimes lay over at an angle of forty-five degrees, or seemed to be trying to stand on her nose as she slid down the mountainous seas. Green waves were shipped, but little damage was done, everything movable having been securely lashed.

The cook had a miraculous faculty of keeping on his feet and manipulating dishes and pans when by all known laws of gravitation he should have been sprawling. The first time Dave was jerked off his legs by a violent roll of the ship Barnes hurled a stream of invective at him, performing wondrous gymnastics with his bushy eyebrows and balancing a stew-pan on the galley stove the while.

"Do you want me to hold you up," he fumed, "as well as do all the work in this galley? This comes of goin' to sea with babies! It's a cradle you ought to have. Me and the mate will take turns rockin' you to sleep. I'd never have come aboard this packet if I'd known you'd be— Come here," he added, softening suddenly, noticing a red stain on Dave's shirt-sleeve. "You 're an idiot, that's what you are. Why did n't you tell me you'd hurt yourself?"

He rolled up the boy's sleeve and found a cut which, while not serious, was causing considerable pain. With a tenderness that even Dave had not suspected Barnes capable of, the cook bathed and bandaged it, leaving the dinner to take care of itself until he had finished.

"Allus keep the dirt out of a cut, kid," he said, "if you have n't got brains enough to keep out of cutting yourself, which you have n't."

As that day wore on the sea grew worse, and Barnes quietly took on to his own shoulders a good many of the boy's duties, for in spite of his incessant, vitriolic grumbling, he knew well enough that Dave was a willing worker, and an exceptionally useful one considering that he was a "first tripper." Moreover it was only with difficulty now, in spite of his many years of experience, that Barnes could move about while the ship was playing such antics.

"You'd better turn in, youngster," he said during the evening. "There's nothing much for you to do."

"Thanks, Mr. Barnes, "Dave said simply, profoundly grateful for the chance of getting to his bunk. He was making his way forward and feeling extremely sick, when he encountered Mr. Quick. The wild sea had aroused all the man-driving quality in the mate, who promptly put the lad to cleaning the chain-locker, which happened to be the most disagreeable task he could think of at the moment.

David Hallard came of stubborn stock, and the situation had to be pretty desperate for him to admit to himself that he was beaten, but by the time he was able to crawl into his berth he had a craving to be home, in his own bed, in the house that did not sway and try to turn somersaults, and where there were no chain-lockers. It was the worst hour of the gale, and Dave, though not actually frightened, was more than a little awed. Added to that, his arm hurt a good deal. And besides the seasickness, which alone was enough to make him intensely miserable, he had the recent memory of Mr. Quick's deliberate unkindness.

The rolling of the steamer kept him awake for hours, during which he made a grim resolution. After that his mind became easier and he dropped off to sleep.

Next morning, to his great joy, the boy found the gale had almost abated, and though a heavy sea was still running, the ship was riding much more easily. His resolution involved one point which puzzled him, and after a while he decided to consult the cook.

"I want to ask your advice, Mr. Barnes," he said. "I 've made up my mind to do something."

"What d' you take me for?" snapped Barnes, bustling about the galley. "Do I look like a walkin' encyclopedia? I'm too busy to fiddle about with kids, anyway."

The boy did not answer but went on steadily with his work.

Barnes continued to bustle, making perhaps a trifle more noise than was absolutely necessary with his pans, and glancing occasionally in the direction of his youthful assistant. At last he coughed awkwardly.

"What's worryin' you, Dave?" he asked, puffing out his red cheeks. He liked the boy more than he was aware of, and took a fatherly pride in giving him advice.

"Oh, only this, I 've decided to leave the ship when we get to Auckland."

Barnes stared and blinked his queer-looking eyes.

"Pity to do that," he said. "By rights you ought to take the ship with you. Is n't the steam heat to your satisfaction, or is it 'cos you have n't got a private bath-room?"

Dave knew Barnes well enough by now to ignore his sarcasm.

"I 'll be real sorry to go and leave you, Mr. Barnes," the lad went on, "but Mr. Quick has never forgotten me upsetting that soup over his legs, and he's got it in for me."

"I know," the cook said. "That's one of his playful little habits. It's the vinegar in him. But don't forget, sonny, you might go further an' fare worse."

"Maybe," Dave agreed ruefully, "but if I have my way, I 'll try to be under a mate whose legs I have n't upset hot soup over. Here is what I want to know, though. This boat goes on to Australian ports and the crew are paid off at Brisbane, are n't they?"

"If we ever get there."

"Well, how can I get my pay at Auckland?"

"You want some new clothes, don't you?" Barnes said. "There's nothing in the slop-chest for kids. I 'll put in a word for you, and they 'll advance you as much money as you 've earned up to the time we hit New Zealand."

This relieved Dave's mind considerably, because all the cash he possessed was one dime, one nickel and four cents; and though he had sufficient confidence to leave the ship at Auckland and find another berth, he very naturally disliked the notion of finding himself in a strange land, many thousands of miles from Aunt Martha's flapjacks, with a large appetite and only nineteen cents in his pocket.

Realizing that the more he knew about his new profession the more easily he would be, likely to obtain another ship in New Zealand, Dave learnt all he could during the next few weeks, and here he found a valuable tutor in Hawke. The sailor spent many hours of his watch below teaching the boy some of the simpler arts of his craft, including splicing and the tying of those baffling knots which form such an important part of a nautical education. Hawke would also have pressed some of his possessions on Dave as a mark of gratitude for what the boy had done when he was in the water, but these Dave firmly refused, accepting only Hawke's clasp knife as a souvenir.

Very little occurred to relieve the monotony of the voyage through the Southern Pacific. Dave, however, had not been at sea long enough to get over the novelty of it all. They had left Cape Horn about four thousand miles astern when the look-out one day reported a sail on the port bow. An hour later Captain Chisholm altered his course, observing that the ship was flying a signal for assistance. As the Pacific Queen drew near it was seen that the distressed vessel was a bark named the Polly E. Perkins, with every stitch of canvas set. There was very little wind and the sails flapped lazily. The Polly E. Perkins reported that she had been nearly two months beating her way from New Zealand against adverse winds, and was now running out of water. The crew was already on short rations. Captain Chisholm sent a supply of the precious liquid and then, on learning that he could render no further assistance, steamed once more westward, leaving the bark to resume her trying trip.

"Take my tip and never sign on an old wind-jammer," Barnes said to Dave as the other vessel dropped astern. "It's a dog's life on a steamer, anyway, but I'd hate to tell you what it 's like on them floatin' coffins."

Dave smiled, remembering that the old mariner with the paint brush at Brooklyn had spoken disparagingly of the "new-fangled steam contraptions."

"Hang you for a lubber," spluttered the cook, "laughin' at me that's old enough to be teaching your grandfather. If you don't hop off this ship when we touch Auckland I 'll report you to the cap'n and have you fired for impidence."

"I was only thinking of another sea-going man, older than you, who said he preferred sailing craft," said Dave, whereupon the cook proceeded to tell some horrifying stories of wind-jammers that had drifted into that strange region known as the Sargasso Sea and remained there helpless for years until the starving crew fought among one another, even for the rats in the hold, before they perished miserably.

"But if they all died how do you know they fought for the rats?" Dave asked.

"The cap'n has to enter such things in the log," replied Barnes acidly, determined not to be beaten. "I remember the time, when I was a youngster at sea, when people who asked half as many silly questions as you do would have been put in irons and fed on salt water."

As the Pacific Queen neared Auckland, Dave wound up a long letter which he had been writing to his father, bit by bit, ever since he left Brooklyn. It was characteristic of the lad that he said very little of such hardships as he had encountered. He explained that he was going to join another ship, and added hopefully that he would find one homeward bound if possible, little dreaming of the strange adventures that were before him ere he could cross the threshold of his home again.