Under Dewey at Manila/Chapter 17

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CHAPTER XVII


THE STORY OF A LONG TRAMP


They had hung their jackets by the fire to dry, and by the time breakfast was finished—a breakfast that Larry declared was breakfast, dinner, supper, and lunch all rolled into one—the garments were ready to put on again. Their improvised hats were gone, but seaweed was plentiful along the beach, and soon they had fixed up a pair of rude head coverings which gave them ample protection from the tropical sun, even if they were far from handsome in appearance.

"We ain't travellin' on looks, lad," said Striker, when Larry poked fun at the bonnets, as he dubbed them. "I'd rather wear this contrivance than be sunstruck."

"Of course, Luke—I was only fooling. The question is, now we are ready to move, where are we to go to?"

"I've thought that over, lad, and I don't know as we can do better nor to climb up to the highest top of this place and git our bearings, so to speak, same as we did at that other island we were on."

"And supposing we strike another snake?" and Larry could scarcely repress a shiver.

"We'll have to chance it. But I don't believe we will. Come, we'll cut ourselves a couple of good clubs, and then mount the cliff and the hill back of it. What I am worried about more than snakes is our chance of picking up the next meal. Fish ain't layin' around all over, ye see."

"Let us run along shore then and pick up what we can," answered Larry, "or I can do so while you are cutting the clubs;" and so it was arranged.

The beach was strewn with seaweed and shells, but, as Striker had intimated, fish were scarce, and Larry picked up but one small creature of an unknown variety, and not weighing over a pound and a half. It was full of spines which stuck his fingers until they bled, and he carried the fish back very gingerly.

"Humph, not much, but better nor nuthin'," was Striker's comment. "I'll wrap it in wet seaweed and sling it over my back. Here is your club, lad, and use it as best you can, if anything attacks you, be it snake, wild animal, or a blood-thirsty savage."

"Do you think this island inhabited?"

"That depends a good deal on the size. If it's large, yes; if it's small, no."

"Is it one of the Philippines?"

"I reckon it is; some small place directly to the north of Luzon. But come on; we want to make the most of the forenoon, because by eleven o'clock it will be too hot to travel."

In a moment more they were on the way, climbing the cliff and pushing up a gradual slope covered with rank tropical growth, steaming from the rain which had fallen Upon it. For the greater part, the growth was of coarse grass, knee-high and more, but here and there were thick clumps of bushes, gorgeous with colored flowers and odd-looking berries, not a few of a poisonous nature. Still farther on was a heavy belt of stunted palms, with vines training in every direction, and here flitted, in surprise and terror at their appearance, wild pigeons, hornbills, as well as parrakeets, cockatoos, and other varieties of parrots.

"My, but it's hot!" murmured Larry, as they came to a rest under the palms. "And how everything does grow in these hot places!"

"Yes, it grows, but a good bit of it is mighty coarse," responded Striker. "Take that grass we've just come through, for instance. I don't believe a horse or a cow would touch it any more than it would a lot of old chair canings."

"And just look at the bugs, and beetles, and ants, and lizards!" went on the boy, pointing to the ground and the rocks about them. "I don't believe a fellow could pass a night here very comfortably."

"Not unless he slept in a tree, Larry—although I allow as it wouldn't be no wuss nor some sailors' boarding-houses I have put up at," and Striker laughed heartily. "Come." And on they went again.

Before the top of the hill was gained they had to pass over a rocky stretch of lava formation. Here Striker pointed out the different strata of the flow.

"This island is of volcanic origin, as the parson would put it," he said, "but I reckon the last eruption was a long while ago, judgin' by the trees. Perhaps we'll run across the volcano crater somewhere up there at the top."

The top of the hill was not as regular as that upon the other island visited, and in order to get a view of their surroundings they were compelled to climb a palm tree. From here they could get a fair view of the ocean, and saw that the island was about three miles in diameter. The crater of the volcano lay just in front of them,—a ragged depression, its centre depths covered with thickly matted vines.

"Looks like a big, round cake that went away up in the baking and then split just one side of the middle," remarked Larry. "Do you suppose there is any bottom to that crater?"

"To be sure, though there's no telling how far, down it is. I ain't calkerlatin' to investigate—not jest yet. Do you see anything of a hut or a village?"

"Not a sign of any habitation."

"Neither do I." The face of the sailor fell. "We might as well go round the crater and down behind it, and then, if we want to, we can walk along the shore."

The walk down the hill was easy, and they continued their progress even during the midday hour, although stopping numerous times to rest. They had almost gained the water's edge again when Striker pulled Larry by the arm to attract his attention.

"We'll want something to eat soon, and I'm goin' to have something besides fish if I can get it. Yonder is a flock of wild pigeons. We might take a shy at them with our clubs. Come on, as quietly as you can, and when I whistle let drive."

They crept forward side by side, to the spot the Yankee tar had pointed out. When within fifty feet of the birds Striker uttered a low whistle, at the same time letting his club whiz through the air. Both sticks flew true to the mark, and a tremendous fluttering followed. One of the pigeons was knocked dead and three others injured. Of the three, two were readily caught; the third got away among the trees.

"Three birds; not half so bad," cried Striker. The prizes were slung on a string over Larry's back, and on they went again.

Evening found the pair down at the seashore. They had skirted one half of the island without seeing the first sign of a human being. They were utterly worn out, and were only too glad to take it easy, kindle a fire, and cook the fish and the pigeons. The latter proved of rather a rank flavor, judged by the flesh of those eaten at home, yet neither complained.

"I'll have to be careful of my matches," observed Striker, as they proceeded to make themselves comfortable for the night. "The six I have left won't last forever. Let us see if we can't keep the fire; and he banked it up with some thick brushwood in such a fashion that it might burn slowly.

The night was spent under the shelter of several dwarf palms which grew close to a rocky elevation overlooking the sea. All went well until nearly dawn, when Larry was suddenly awakened by the movement of something around him.

"Hullo, Luke, what's up?" he cried, when he caught sight of something between himself and the Yankee sailor. He made a savage kick, hitting some small animal in the side, and a shrill squeak followed. Striker was by this time awake, and both leaped to their feet.

"A monkey, that's all!" cried the tar. "Get out of here!" and he made a useless pass with his foot, for the monkey was already hopping off as fast as he was able. In the dim light they made out a score of the animals sitting around them in a circle. With a wild chatter the whole tribe rushed into the trees of the forest behind them and were lost to view, although their chatterings could be heard for a long while after.

"They'll come back sooner or later; their curiosity won't let them keep away," said Striker, after the excitement was over. "Reckon he scared you a bit, didn't he?"

"He did," answered Larry. "I wonder if there are any very dangerous animals round?" he continued anxiously.

"It's not likely, on an island of this size. But you'll find plenty of wildcats in the Philippines, and wild boars and buffalo—a different sort from those in our Western States. And then there are civets, an animal something like a cat, that some of the natives domesticate, and the wild parts are full of jackals, so I've heard, though I never seen none of 'em."

What to do was the next question. They had explored the island as thoroughly as they cared to do it, with but scant satisfaction. Not a single trace of human beings had come to light. They looked at each other soberly.

"We are Crusoes, Luke," said Larry, soberly, "and I don't like it."

"Neither do I like it, lad. But what can we do? If we had tools, I might go in for rigging up a boat, or a raft, and setting some sort of sail for Luzon, but one can't do much with a jack-knife."

Larry heaved a long sigh. "If only we could climb the tallest tree on the island and hang up a flag of distress," he ventured. "I'd hang up the very shirt I'm wearing if I thought it would do any good."

"So would I, lad, but it's only one chance in a thousand that any one would come along to see it. Let us look at it in a business light, as shore folks call it. Here we are and likely to stay for a good bit. Let us fix us up a shelter and fill our larder, if we can, and talk of what's best to do afterwards."

So it was arranged, and the next morning they set to work to build a hut in the best spot to be found. Of course they could cut down no trees, so they built the hut among a clump of five palms, making the sides and top of brushwood, bound together with strong vines which grew in profusion close at hand.

The finishing up of his place was entrusted to Larry, while Striker went off a whole day to "fill up the larder," as he had expressed it. The Yankee tar was very successful, having brought down several birds with his club and caught a dozen fish with a line made of a string he was fortunate enough to find in his pocket. For a hook for this line he had used a sharp thorn tied, end up, to a tough twig, bating the whole with a dazzling blue and yellow butterfly, butterflies being as numerous as were the ants and fireflies in the woods. In addition to this he had turned over one immense turtle he had found in the sun, not a tortoise-shell this time, but a more common looking creature which was, however, of good eating flavor.

"The turtle I'll put in a mud-hole somewhere," he said. "And as long as we have him there will be no danger of our starving. I'd put some of the fish into another hole, only they are all dead. However, I'm sure we can get fish at any time."