The Wizard of the Sea/Chapter 21

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CHAPTER XXI.

ON LAND ONCE MORE.


The party were allowed to go on shore without even promising to return, and the heart of each beat high with the prospect of liberty before them.

Professor Woddle explained that they might traverse the country nearby, and so get to some port, but the journey would be perilous in the extreme.

His advice was to camp in the wood, obtain fresh provisions, and await the course of events.

Stump alone was in doubt.

"The captain," he remarked, "is a wonderful man, and knows perfectly well what he is about. He has told us we shall never again set our feet on civilized ground, has he not?"

"Yes. Everyone knows that," answered the professor.

"He'll keep his word, and I'll bet a new hat we are on board again to-morrow, or perhaps to-day."

"I'll take you," replied Mont, "though how the bet is to be paid I don't know, as there are no hat shops on board the boat."

"I'd give something to find out all about our skipper," said Carl. "He is the most curious beggar I ever met. All four of us are not a match for him."

"Speak for yourself, my young but still intelligent friend," answered the professor. "Time will show."

"We'll have some fresh meat soon," observed Stump, "and if you'll trust the cooking to me, Master Mont, you shall have a dinner fit for a king in half an hour after running down the game."

"A little venison or wild boar, which is pork, would be very acceptable," answered the professor; "and my knowledge of natural history enables me to tell you that we shall find both on this island which we are about to visit."

"Roast pork—lovely! It makes my mouth water," said Stump.

"Do you want to have the jaw all to yourself?" asked Mont. "Go and ask when the boat will be ready to take us ashore."

Stump departed on his errand and found the boat already prepared for them.

It was made of various pieces of wood, which were easily put together when it was wanted and taken apart when it was not required.

It would hold half a dozen men, and floated by the side of the Searcher.

Each of the four companions was provided with an electric gun containing the usual twenty shots.

"A pleasant excursion, gentlemen," said the captain, as they emerged on the platform; "I hope you do not intend to deprive me for any length of time of the pleasure of your society."

"Wouldn't do such a thing for worlds, sir," answered our hero.

"You needn't return to-night, if you prefer camping out."

"We didn't mean to," replied Mont.

A peculiar smile crossed Captain Vindex's expressive face, as if he guessed what was passing in the youth's mind.

"Remember one thing," he said; "be very careful of your ammunition."

"Why?"

"You will find out in time. All I have to say is, recollect my advice," was the answer.

They got into the boat and rowed ashore, picking their way carefully through the coral reefs, and in five minutes the bottom of the boat grated upon a sandy beach.

"Hurrah!" cried Mont, throwing up his cap; "land once more!"

Stump, who was thoroughly familiar with all the tricks of boys, put down his hands and "turned a wheel," after which he stood on his head, to give expression to his delight.

Huge forests stretched far inland, and raised their mighty heads a hundred feet from the earth.

Palms, shrubs, and creepers were mingled with the trees in grand confusion, and this scene, in the glowing sunshine, was indescribably beautiful.

The professor saw a cocoanut palm, and, knocking off some of the fruit, gave it to the boys, who pronounced it delicious.

"Now," he said, "we will shoot something and dine as we have not dined for a long time."

"I've some salt in my pocket, and Stump has knives," remarked Carl.

"It looks to me," said Mont, "as if we were likely to have a sirloin of tiger for dinner; that forest ought to be full of wild beasts."

"No matter," answered Carl, "anything's better than fish. Come on."

They skirted the forest, fearing to enter it lest they might lose themselves in its dense interior.

Keeping their guns ready for instant action, they proceeded about half a mile, when the professor held up his hand.

In front of them was a large breadfruit tree, and under its branches was a wild boar, engaged in eating the tender fruit which had fallen to the ground.

"Approach gently, and fire all together," said the professor.

They did so, and four shots were discharged at the same time.

The wild boar uttered a ferocious grunt, ran a few paces, and fell down dead.

"What is it, sir?" asked Carl.

"A wild boar; do you not see his tusks? Now, Stumpton, set to work, and cut a leg of pork off piggy. You, Folsom, make a fire with the dry wood; it will kindle when I rub two sticks together. You, Barnaby, gather some of this fruit."

"Is it good to eat, sir?"

"You will find it excellent. I recognize it as the breadfruit of the tropics, and, cut up in slices and toasted over the fire, nothing could be better for us with our roast pork," answered the professor.

They were quickly at work. The fire was lighted, the leg of pork cut off and fixed to a tripod, the breadfruit toasted, and plates supplied by large palm leaves. Presently a delicious odor of roast pork spread itself around.

After living so long on the peculiar fare provided by Captain Vindex, they enjoyed their dinner immensely; and, when they had satisfied their appetites, they sat down under the shade of a tree, sheltered from the noontide heat.

"Now, sir," said Mont, "what are we to do?"

"I have no wish to return to our floating prison," replied the professor. "The question is, shall we go back, or shall we try to make our way to some port, risking the dangers of the way, the chances of starvation?"

"That does not appear likely," answered Mont, thinking of the roast pork and the breadfruit.

"When our guns are empty, we may not find it so easy to kill game, however abundant it may be. The savages are another danger."

"Put it to the vote, sir," said our hero.

"Certainly; all you who wish to make an effort to escape from the thralldom in which we are held, hold up your hands."

Every hand was extended.

"To the contrary?"

There was no response.

"Not a hand," said the professor. "I may, then, conclude, that we are unanimous in our wish for freedom, and it is decided that we do not return to the Searcher."

"Hurrah!" cried Stump, proceeding to stand on his head again.

"If you don't stop those street-arab tricks," remarked Mont, "you'll have a fit, after such a meal as you've had."

Stump resumed his natural position.

"There's no lie, sir, about my having had a filler of pork," he replied. "But though I'm only an odd boy, I've got my feelings, and I'd as soon be a convict as in that there prison ship."

"The youth is right," observed the professor mildly; "to live and die in that ship is an awful prospect, and I would rather herd with savages in their wilds than do it."

And as if it was intended as an answer to his speech, an arrow flew over his head.

Fortunately it missed its mark, and stuck quivering into the bark of the tree under which they were sitting.

Everyone sprang to his feet, and stood, gun in hand, on the defensive.

"Savages, by George!" exclaimed Mont.

"Where?" asked the professor.

"To the right, sir. Fire away, and chance it, or we shall all be killed."

There was an instant discharge of firearms, and a scuffling was heard behind some cactus and mimosa bushes.

A dozen savages, nearly naked, armed with spears and bows and arrows, were seen in a state of hesitation, whether to fly or stand their ground.

Three of their number had fallen from the discharge, and one, who was mortally wounded, was crawling, in a slow, labored manner, into the bush to die.