Under Dewey at Manila/Chapter 16

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CHAPTER XVI


CAST ASHORE ON AN ISLAND


"Not a bit of land nor a sail in sight!"

Such were the disheartening words which escaped Larry's lips when the morning had dawned, and he had taken a long and careful look around, as one wave and another lifted him up to the level of the dark green mountains shifting around him.

The long stretches of the night, coupled with the fury of the elements, had thoroughly exhausted him, and it took all the little will-power left to keep from dropping over into a sleep which would surely have ended in death.

The morning sun glinted over the waves, flashing and flaring in his eyes, and then began to mount the skies and pour down those scorching rays upon his uncovered head. Soon this brought to him the first of the added perils of which he had thought—that of thirst. Never was he so dry before—with millions of tons of water around him! He was almost tempted to drink of the salty water, but resisted, knowing full well that if he did so, his thirst would be tenfold increased.

Where would it end?

Over and over again he asked himself that question without being able to devise an answer. Would not some friendly sail appear, or some tiny coral island—one of those many of which the missionary had spoken? Thinking of Mr. Wells made him think of the Columbia. Surely, surely, his friends on board of her would not desert him. But then his cheeks blanched as he thought of the storm and the fire. Had the gallant craft fallen a prey to one or the other, after all? It might be, for ships had been struck by lightning and gone down before.

Towards noon, with the fierce sun directly overhead, he felt that the end must be near. His mind was in a whirl, and fearful visions came to him: now he was battling with the sawfish, then the great snake was coming through the water after him, and anon Oleson had him by the throat and was choking him. The last vision seemed so real that he cried out as loudly as his parched throat would permit, "Help! help! somebody help me!"

What was that? an answering call? No, no, it must be another hallucination. Yet he strained his ears eagerly, and screamed again. No, it was no deception; the call was returned, and the voice sounded sweetly familiar. He was down in a hollow, and waited eagerly to mount the coming wave. Up he went, and still up, to come in contact with a bit of wreckage—the fore-topmast of the Columbia, with its trailing ropes. As he caught the end of the mast, he saw that the centre supported a sailor's body.

"Luke Striker!"

"Larry Russell! Is it possible!" came from the Yankee tar. For the moment he could scarcely believe his eyesight. "How did this happen? Did the Columbia go down?"

"I don't know about that," answered Larry, moving closer to his friend. "Oh, how glad I am that we have come together!" he exclaimed, his wet face beaming with pleasure. "It's awful to be alone."

"So it is, Larry, and I was thinking just that same when I heard your call. But how is it you are here if you don't know about the fate of the Columbia?"

"Oleson pitched me overboard. When you went over, I started to call for help, and he turned on me like a flash; and here I am."

"And you don't know about the craft—if she is O. K. or not?"

"I am afraid something must have happened, for Captain Ponsberry wouldn't desert us like this, would he?"

"Cap'n Ponsberry was knocked out by the lightning—don't you remember Tom Grandon sayin' so? But Tom wouldn't desert us; I know him too well. Yes, I'm afraid the ship has had a tough time of it, and maybe she's at the bottom of the China Sea this minit." Striker drew a deep breath. "We're in a pickle, lad, jest about as deep as we can git!"

"I know I am dying for a drink. Oh, if only we could sight land somewhere! Are we far from Formosa?"

"Formosa? Why, lad, we've been driving south'ard as fast as we could for forty-eight hours. We are closer to some o' the Philippines nor anything—though I allow as they must be miles an' miles away. Yet I'm prayin' myself we may strike some land afore we see Davy Jones' locker."

With some of the dangling ropes Striker had made himself a sort of seat beside the mast, and now Larry went to work, on the opposite side, to do the same for himself. This accomplished, he rested far more comfortably than before. While he was at work, the Yankee sailor took another rope which was slender, and began to twist and braid it into a shell-like head covering, similar to one he had already made for himself. The dampness and shade of the improvised hat made Larry's head feel much better.

Slowly the afternoon wore away. Towards evening the sun went behind a dense mass of angry clouds, and it began to rain as before, while the distant rumble of thunder crept closer and closer. An hour later the storm was on them in all of its fury, and they found themselves driving to the southwestward, over and through the boiling and lashing waves which threatened to engulf them forever.

"I can't stand much of this!" panted poor Larry, at about midnight. "My chest is pounded so sore I can hardly breathe. Every time a wave breaks over me I— Oh, Luke, look!"

A broad spread of lightning had lit up the scene around them, causing Larry to suddenly change his talk.

"What is it, Larry?"

"Land! just ahead of us! We are getting into the breakers already!"

He spoke the truth, and a second later another flash of lightning gave Striker an opportunity to take in the situation.

"You're right, my lad. Quick! unfasten yourself from that rope and hold ready to let go, or you may be smashed to jelly between the mast and the rocks. See, we are already passing over an outer reef. Look out, and if your feet touch the beach run as hard as you can from the undertow!"

Striker fairly screamed the last words, in order to make himself heard, for the pounding of the surf was like the booming of cannons around them. Up they went to the top of the last wave, and then down and down until the feet of both touched some hard substance. The spray was flying in every direction, while the brine was lashed into a thick foam. Larry tried to keep his feet, but failed utterly, and rolled over and over, he knew not whither. The mast, which had slipped from him, bumped his arm, and, without thinking of what he was doing, he clutched the tangled-up ropes. Then came a second rise, and he was swept in closer than before. The receding waves left him but knee-deep in the element. A flash of lightning showed him in what direction safety lay, and he ran with all the power left to his legs. Once he went down on his hands, and the next wave nearly caught him, but he was up again in a trice, and in a moment more was safe on the rocks which arose directly behind the storm-beaten beach.

"Luke! are you safe?" were the first words he uttered, as soon as he could catch his breath.

"I am, and thank God for it!" came from the Yankee sailor, and presently he appeared out of the darkness. "That was a close shave, lad, wasn't it? I came near to striking on my head."

"It was a close shave," answered Larry, and added reverently: " We have much to thank Heaven for, haven't we?" Somehow, that time of extreme peril was deeply impressed upon his youthful mind.

"Yes, lad, God has been with us this night, no doubt of it. We couldn't have stood it much longer drifting in that sea. Let us get a little further back, under the shelter of yonder overhanging cliff; and there we can take it easy until morning."

Both had dropped upon the rocks, too exhausted to stand, but now they managed to reach the base of the cliff Striker had mentioned, and here they found a sheltered nook. Close at hand was a pool of rain-water, of which both partook eagerly.

Half an hour later found the pair asleep—sleeping the heavy sleep of the over-tired,—undisturbed by the thunder in the skies or on the beach. They knew not where they had landed, nor did they care. It was enough to know they had struck land, and an island that was not barren, but covered with tropical growth, as the flashes of lightning had revealed.

Striker was the first to awaken in the morning. He opened his eyes to find the storm cleared away and the sun shining brightly. Larry lay at his side, the boy's curly head resting upon his wet arm, slumbering as soundly as ever.

"I'll let him sleep until he wakes up—no use to 'rouse him," thought the Yankee sailor, and got up himself. He was stiff and sore, and it was several seconds before he felt in the humor to set off on a tour of inspection. Before going, he brought from one of his pockets a water-proof match-safe, and was delighted to find therein eight matches all in perfect condition.

A short walk along the cliff, below and above,—for the rocky shelf was irregular, and not over twenty feet high,—convinced Striker that no human beings were in the vicinity, to become their friends or their enemies; and then the sailor set about obtaining some food, for he was now nearly starved.

He felt certain that the storm had cast up upon the irregular beach more or less fish, and in this he was not mistaken, for hardly had he covered a distance of half a dozen rods than he heard a flapping, and saw a winged coryphene trying vainly to reach the ocean, from which it had been hurled.

"A dolphin!" he cried, making a mistake common to many sailors, who do not distinguish the difference between the two creatures. In a second he had the coryphene by the tail, and a blow upon the rocks ended the wounded one's misery and made the prize his own. The fish was over two feet long, and weighed all of seven pounds. It was at first black and brown, but its colors soon changed to olive and azure,—a peculiarity which it shares with the true dolphin of other waters.

Fish in hand. Striker returned to where he had left Larry, and commenced to gather such brush as he could find which was dry or drying. It was no easy matter to discover wood dry enough to burn at once; but the shelter under the cliff afforded a little, and with this he started a blaze, and soon had a roaring fire, upon one edge of which he erected a flat stone, which soon became hot enough to use for a rude pan for his fish.

It was the welcome smell of something to eat which aroused Larry quite as much as anything else. He sat up, rubbed his eyes in astonishment, and leaped to his feet.

"A fire, and a fish frying!" he cried. "That is a welcome sight to a fellow as hungry as I am! How did you catch him, Luke?"

"It was pure luck, Larry," answered the sailor, and told his story. "The fish will be done to a turn in a few minutes, and then we can eat our fill; and I'll warrant you'll find it fine eating, and not altogether because you're so hungry, either."

"I could eat anything," was the reply. And when they sat down in the shade,—for the sun was growing hot,—Larry declared he had never tasted anything better. The flesh of the coryphene was as sweet as a nut, and they ate and ate, until little more than the bones was left.