King o' the Beach, a Tropic Tale, by George Manville Fenn.
This book was written just before the end of the century, when it would have been expected that travel by steamer was pretty safe. Carey, a teenage boy making his way by steamer "Chusan" to meet his parents in Australia, becomes very friendly with the ship's doctor, and also with one of the seamen, Bob Bostock. But somewhere out in the Indian Ocean he has an accident, falling from the ship's rigging, and is unconscious and possibly may not live. His telescope took the brunt of the fall. But while he is lying unconscious, a great gale springs up, the vessel loses power, and is driven onto a coral-girt volcanic island.
Some of the passengers and crew get away on the ship's boats, but Carey is not fit for the journey. The ship lies on the reef, but mostly undamaged. The Doctor and Bostock remain with him. After they are settling in, and Carey is recovering well, a "beachcomber", who reckons he is king of these islands, makes his appearance with a retinue of aborigines. He is quite a nasty piece of work. However one of the aborigines becomes friendly with Carey and the others. The beachcomber shoots the doctor, but then fall down a stairway, breaking both legs. Since he can't get the doctor, he dies. At this moment Carey's father appears, as the other passengers had reached Australia, and contact had been made.
There are the usual tense moments with various saurians, and other nasties, but perhaps not such a high level of tension as is usual with this author. A good easy read, nevertheless. NH
KING O' THE BEACH, A TROPIC TALE, BY GEORGE MANVILE FENN.
"Mind what you're doing! Come down directly, you young dog! Ah, I thought as much. There, doctor: a job for you."
It was on board the great steamer Chusan, outward bound from the port of London for Rockhampton, Moreton Bay, and Sydney, by the north route, with a heavy cargo of assorted goods such as are wanted in the far south Colonies, and some fifty passengers, for the most part returning from a visit to the Old Country.
"Visit" is a very elastic word—it may mean long or short. In Carey Cranford's case it was expressed by the former, for it had lasted ten years, during which he had been left by his father with one of his uncles in London, so that he might have the full advantage of an English education before joining his parents in their adopted land.
It had been a delightful voyage, with pleasant fellow-passengers and everything new and exciting, to the strong, well-grown, healthy lad, who had enjoyed the Mediterranean; revelled in the glowing heat of the Red Sea, where he had begun to be the regular companion of the young doctor who had charge of the passengers and crew; stared at that great cinder-heap Aden, and later on sniffed at the sweet breezes from Ceylon's Isle.
Here the captain good-humouredly repeated what he had said more than once during the voyage: "Now look out, young fellow; if you're not back in time I shall sail without you:" for wherever the great steamer put in the boy hurried ashore with the doctor to see all he could of the country, and came back at the last minute growling at the stay being so short.
It was horrible, he said, when they touched at Colombo not to be able to go and see what the country was like.
He repeated his words at Singapore; so did the captain, but with this addition:
"Only one more port to stop at, and then I shall have you off my hands."
"But shan't we stop at Java or any of the beautiful islands?"
"Not if I can help it, my lad," said the captain. "Beautiful islands indeed! Only wish I could clear some of 'em off the map."
So Carey Cranford, eager to see everything that was to be seen, had to content himself with telescopic views of the glorious isles scattered along the vessel's course, closing the glass again and again with an ejaculation signifying his disgust.
"Islands!" he said. "I believe, doctor, half of them are only clouds. I say, I wish the captain wouldn't go so fast."
"Why?" said his companion, an eager-looking manly fellow of about twice the speaker's age.
"I should like to fish, and stop and explore some of the islands, and shoot, and collect curiosities."
"And drive all the passengers mad with vexation because of the delay."
"Oh! old people are so selfish," said the lad, pettishly.
"And the young ones are not," said the young doctor, drily.
The boy looked up sharply, coloured a little through the brown painted by the sun on his skin, and then he laughed.
"Well, it's all so new and fresh," he said. "I should like to see a storm, though. One of those what do you call 'ems—tycoons—no, typhoons."
"You're getting deeper into the mire," said the doctor, smiling. "Carey—why, we ought to nickname you Don't-Care-y, to have such a wish as that."
"Why? It would be a change."
"A storm! Here, in this rock and shoal-dotted sea, with its dangerous currents and terrible reefs, where captains need all their skill to pilot their vessels safe to port!"
"Never thought of that," said the lad. "Let's see, what does the chart say? New Guinea to the north, and home to the south."
"Home if you like to call it so," said the doctor; "but you've a long, long journey before you yet."
"Yes, I know, through Torres Straits and Coral Sea and by the Great Barrier Reef. I say, doctor, wouldn't it be jolly to be landed somewhere to the south here and then walk across the country to Brisbane?"
"Very," said the doctor, drily. "Suppose you'd take a few sandwiches to eat on the way?"
"There, you're joking me again," said the boy. "I suppose it would be many days' march."
"Say months, then think a little and make it years."
"Oh! nonsense, doctor!"
"Or more likely you'd never reach it. It would be next to impossible."
"Why?" said Carey.
"Want of supplies. The traveller would break down for want of food and water."
"Oh! very well," cried the boy, merrily; "then we'll go by sea."
It was the day following this conversation that Carey Cranford's energy found vent, despite the heat, in a fresh way.
The Chusan was tearing along through the dazzlingly bright sea, churning up the water into foam with her propeller and leaving a cloud of smoke behind. The heat was tremendous, for there was a perfect calm, and the air raised by the passage of the steamer was as hot as if it had come from the mouth of a furnace. The passengers looked languid and sleepy as they lolled about finder the great awning, and the sailors congratulated themselves that they were not Lascars stoking in the engine-room, Robert Bostock, generally known on board as Old Bob, having given it as his opinion that it was "a stinger." Then he chuckled, and said to the man nearest:
"Look at that there boy! He's a rum un, and no mistake. That's being British, that is. You'd never see a Frenchy or a Jarman or a 'Talian up to games like that in the sun."
"That there boy" was Carey Cranford, and he had taken the attention of the captain as well, who was standing under the awning in company with the doctor, and the two chuckled.
"There, doctor," he said; "did you ever see so much of the monkey in a boy before? Wouldn't you think a chap might be content in the shade on a day like this? What's he doing—training for a sweep?"
A modern steamer does not offer the facilities for going aloft furnished by a sailing ship, and her masts and yards are pretty well coated with soot; but Carey Cranford, in his investigating spirit, had not paused to consider that, for he had caught sight of what looked like a blue cloud low down on the southern horizon.
"One of the islands," he said to himself. "Wonder what's its name."
He did not stop to enquire, but went below, threw the strap of his large binocular glass over his head, ascended to the deck again, and then, selecting the highest mast, well forward of the funnel, he made his way as far aloft as he could, and stood in a very precarious position scanning the distant cloud-like spot.
The place he had selected to take his observation was on one of the yards, just where it crossed the mast, and if he had contented himself with a sitting position the accident would not have happened; but he had mentally argued that the higher a person was the wider his optical range, so he must needs add the two feet or so extra gained by standing instead of sitting. His left arm was round the mast, and both hands were steadying the glass as, intent upon the island, he carefully turned the focussing screw, when the steamer, rising to the long smooth swell, careened over slightly, and one of the boy's feet, consequent upon the smoothness of his deck shoes, glided from beneath him, bringing forth the captain's warning cry and following words.
For the next moment, in spite of a frantic clutch at the mast, the boy was falling headlong down, as if racing his glass, but vainly, for this reached the deck first, the unfortunate lad's progress being checked twice by his coming in contact with wire stays, before head and shoulder struck the deck with a sickening thud.
The doctor was first by the injured lad's side, quickly followed by the captain and a score of passengers who had been roused to action by the accident.
"Keep everyone back," cried the doctor, "and let's have air."
The doctor was for the moment in command of the vessel, and the captain obeyed without a word, forming all who came up into a wide circle, and then impatiently returning to the injured lad's side.
"Well?" he panted, as he took off his gold-banded cap to wipe his streaming forehead. "Tell me what to do."
"Nothing yet," replied the doctor, who was breathing hard, but striving to keep himself professionally cool.
"Not dangerously hurt?" whispered the captain; but in the terrible silence which had fallen his words were distinctly heard above the throbbing of the vibrating engines, which seemed to make the great vessel shudder at what had occurred.
"I am not sure yet," said the doctor gravely.
"But the blood—the blood!" cried one of the lady passengers.
"As far as I can make out at present the leather case of his glass has saved his skull from fracture. He fell right upon it, but I fear that the collar-bone is broken, and I cannot say yet whether there is anything wrong with the spine.
"No!" he said the next minute, for the sufferer stretched out his hands as if to clutch and save himself, and he moved his legs.
There were plenty of willing hands ready to help, and a canvas stretcher was drawn beneath the sufferer so that he could be carried carefully down to one of the state cabins, which was immediately vacated for his use; and there for hours Doctor Kingsmead was calling into his service everything that a long training could suggest; but apparently in vain, for his patient lay quite insensible in the sultry cabin, apparently sinking slowly into the great ocean of eternity.
And all the time the huge steamer tore on over the oily sea through a great heat which rivalled that of the engine-room, and the captain and first and second mates held consultations twice over in connection with barometer and chart, by the light of the swinging lamp below.
The passengers supposed that those meetings concerned the injured boy, but the sailors, who had had experience, knew that there was something more behind, and that evening after the sun had gone downs looking coppery and orange where a peculiar haze dimmed the west, one of the sailors who had gathered round where old Bostock was seated hazarded a few words to his senior.
"Looks a strange deal like a storm," he said.
"Ay, it does," said the old sailor; "and as I was saying," he continued, passing his hand across his eyes, "it do seem strange how these things come about. Here's me more'n fifty, and about half wore out, and there's this here young gent just beginning, as you may say, and cut down like that. You lads mayn't believe it, but he kinder made me take to him from the first, and I'd a deal rayther it was me cut down than him."
"Ah, poor lad!" said one of the men, and there was a low murmur.
"Look at that now," continued the old sailor, passing his hand across his eyes again, and then holding it out and looking at it curiously; "wet as wet! He aren't nothing to me, so I suppose I must be growing older and softer than I thought I was. Nothing to me at all but a passenger, and here am I, mates, crying like a great gal."
"There aren't naught to be 'shamed on, Bob Bostock," said another middle-aged man. "I know what you feels, mate, for I've got boys o' my own, and he's somebody's bairn. Got a father and mother waiting for him out in Brisbun. Ah! there'll be some wet eyes yonder when they come to know."
"Ay, there will," came in chorus.
"'Taren't that he's such a good-looking lad, nor so big nor strong. I dunno what it was, but everyone took to him from the first day he come aboard. Never made himself too common nor free, but there he was, allus the gen'leman with you—what you may call nice."
"Reg'lar true-born Englishman, I say," said another.
"Nay, just aye like a young Scot," said another.
"Hark at that!" said another, looking round defiantly; "it's of Oirish descent he is. Isn't his name Carey?"
"What!" cried another, angrily. "Carey—Carew. It's a Welsh name inteet, and as old as the hills."
"Never mind what he is—English or Scotch or Welsh."
"Or Irish," put in one of those who had spoken.
"Or Irish," said old Bostock; "he's as fine a lad as ever stepped, I say, and I'd take it kindly if one of you would take my watch to-night, for I want to hang about ready to do anything the doctor may want in the way o' lifting or fetching water. It don't seem nat'ral to stand by and see the stooard's mate doing things for the lad as he'd, ask me to do if he could speak."
"Ah! he mostly come to you, Bob Bostock, when he wanted a bit o' fishing-line or anything o' that kind."
"He did," said the old sailor, "and glad I allus was to help him. Maybe we are going to have a blow to-night, and if it comes so much the better. It'll make it cooler for the poor lad, for it's hot enough now. Yes, we're in for a hurricane, my lads, as sure as we're at sea."
He had hardly spoken the words when the first mate gave an order, the boatswain's whistle piped, and the men knew that their officers were of the same opinion as the old stagers among them. A storm was expected, and a bad one, in as bad a part of the world as could have been selected for the encounter.
But no uneasiness was felt, for the Chusan was a magnificent boat, with tackle of the finest description: all it would mean in such a boat so well commanded would be a tossing, with the decks drenched by the tumbling waves, for she was well commanded, the crew were in a capital state of discipline, as shown at once by the steady way in which they went to work fulfilling the orders received, battening down hatches, extra lashing loose spare spars, seeing to the fastenings of the boats, and taking precautions against the water getting down into engine-room or cabin, so that in a very short time everything was, as a sailor would say, made snug, and there was nothing more that the most cautious captain could have wished to see done to ensure the safety of the magnificent vessel in his charge.
The passengers, who were still discussing the accident which had befallen the boy, and who had paid no heed to the peculiar look of the sky, the sea still heaving and sinking gently in an oily calm, now began to notice the work going on, and the rumour soon spread among them that there was the possibility of a storm coming on.
The result was that first one and then another began to hunt the captain to question him, but only to obtain short polite answers, that officer being too busy to gossip after the fashion wished. They fared worse with the chief and second officers, who were quite short; and then one of the most enterprising news-seekers on board captured old Bostock, literally button-holing him with the question:
"Do you think we are going to have a storm?"
"Don't think about it, sir. We shall have a buster before we're half an hour older. Going to blow great guns, so hold your hair on, sir. Can't stop; going to hear how young Master Cranford's going on, sir."
"Only a moment, my good friend," said the gossip. "Do you think there will be any danger?"
"Well, yes, sir," said the old sailor, with his eyes twinkling, but his face as hard as if it had been cut out of wood; "this here is rather a bad place to be caught in a storm. You see, sir, the water's rather deep."
The captain had not been one-half so busy before during the voyage, and his eyes were everywhere, seeing that there was nothing left loose; but he found time twice over to go below to where Doctor Kingsmead was seated by his patient's cot watching anxiously for every change, the poor lad evidently suffering keenly from the furnace-like heat.
"How is he, Kingsmead?" asked the captain, anxiously.
"Bad as he can be," was the stern reply.
"But can't you—Bah! absurd! you know your business better than I can tell you. Poor lad! How can I face his father when we get into port? It will be heart-breaking work. It is heart-breaking work, doctor, for the young dog seemed to have a way of getting round your heart, and I couldn't feel this accident more keenly if he were my own son."
"Nor I," said the doctor, "if he were my own brother."
"God bless him, and bring him safely through it!" said the captain, softly, as he laid his hand gently on the boy's brow. "I'm glad his face is not disfigured."
"Yes, so am I," said the doctor; "it does not tell tales of the terrible mischief that has been done."
"What do you call it—concussion of the brain?"
"Yes, there is no fracture of the skull; only of his collar-bone, and that is a trifle compared to the other."
"You must bring him round, doctor. Troubles never come singly."
"What, have you some other trouble on hand?" said the doctor, rather impatiently, for he wanted the captain to go and leave him alone with his patient.
"Yes, don't you know?"
"I know nothing but that I have that poor boy lying there to be saved from death if it be possible. Can't you have a wind-sail lowered down here? The heat is intolerable."
"Wind-sail? You'll have wind enough directly. We're going straight into a typhoon, and no other course is open to me in this reef-strewn sea."
"Yes, and a bad one, I expect. It will be pitch-dark directly."
"The fresh air will be welcome," said the doctor, calmly.
"Is the captain here?" said a voice at the state-room door—a voice speaking in anxious tones.
"Yes; what is it?" said the captain, quickly. "Come on deck, sir. It's rushing upon us like a great wall. Hear it?"
Doctor Kingsmead turned his face for a moment towards the door, to hear a peculiar dull distant roar, different from any sound with which he was familiar. Then the door swung to, and he was bending over his young patient again, thinking of nothing else, hearing no more for a few moments, till the door was pushed open again, and the rough, ruddy bronze face of Bostock appeared in the full light of the swinging lamp.
"Beg pardon, sir," said the man, hoarsely. "Just going on dooty, and mayn't have another chance, as things looks bad."
"What do you mean?" said the doctor, starting.
"Just wanted to have one more look at the dear lad, sir."
"But what do you mean by things looking bad?"
"Haven't you seen, sir? Well, you can hear."
The doctor could hear, for at that moment something struck the vessel a tremendous blow, which made her shiver, and then all was turmoil and confusion as rain, wind, and spray swept the decks, and the steamer careened over and lay for a time upon her beam-ends.
"Come down and tell me if the storm gets worse," said the doctor, with his lips to the man's ear.
"Right, sir; but it can't be much worse till the sea gets up. It's blown flat just now."
The man gave a lingering look at the insensible boy, and then crept through the door, passing out quickly as if to keep some of the din from entering the cabin.
The doctor bent over his patient again, and then leaned forward to unscrew the fastening of the circular pane of glass which formed the port-hole.
But he opened it only a few inches and then clapped it to and fastened it again to keep out the rush of wind and spray which entered with a wild shriek and rocked the lamp to and fro, threatening to put it out.
He returned to his seat and watched, paying no heed whatever to the terrific roar of the storm nor the quivering of the great vessel, which was evidently being driven at great speed dead in the teeth of the storm, though really making very little progress.
And then hours went by, with the doctor as insensible to the progress of the terrific hurricane as the boy he watched. There were plenty of passengers below, but no one came near, and the two within that dimly-lit cabin seemed to be the only living beings on board, so perfectly uninterrupted did they remain.
This did not trouble the doctor in the least, for all he required was to be left undisturbed with Nature, that she might have time to work her cure, for as far as he was concerned nothing could be done.
He knew that a tremendous storm was raging, though there was so little sea on that the motion of the vessel was not violent, for the simple reason that the tops of the waves were cut off by the terrific wind, which literally levelled the white waste of waters through which they tore.
It must have been about midnight when the cabin door was opened again, and the old sailor crept in and close up to the doctor's side.
"How is he, sir?" said the man, with his lips close to the doctor's ear.
"Very, very bad, my man," was the reply.
"Poor dear lad!" growled the old sailor. "So we are up yonder, sir."
"Oh!" said the doctor, quietly, but without taking his eyes from the patient.
"Engine's running at full speed to keep us head to wind."
"Oh!" said the doctor, in the same low, uninterested tone.
"Wust storm I was ever in, sir, and if it don't soon lull goodness knows what will happen next."
"Indeed?" said the doctor. "But go now. Quietness is everything for my patient now."
"Well, I'm blest," said the man to himself; "it's like talking to anyone in his sleep. Quietness, eh? Hang it! I didn't make half so much noise as the wind. He's thinking of that poor lad and of nothing else."
It was so all through the night, the doctor hardly noticing the refreshments brought in by the white-faced steward, who tried to get up a conversation, but with very little success. "Terrible storm, sir."
"Yes," said the doctor.
"Bad for poor young Mr Cranford, aren't it, sir?"
"Lot of the passengers ill, sir, and asking for you, sir."
"Sea-sick?" said, the doctor, with a momentary display of interest. "Awful, sir."
"I could do nothing for them, and I cannot leave my patient," said the doctor, slowly.
The steward ventured upon another remark, but it was not heard.
During the next few hours the captain sent down twice for news, but did not once leave the deck, the storm raging with, if possible, greater violence; but the vessel fought bravely, backed as she was by the guidance of skilful hands, and evening was approaching, with everybody on board growing worn out with anxiety or exertion.
The night came on weird and strange, the white spray and the peculiar milky phosphorescent surface of the sea relieving the darkness, but giving in its place a terribly ghastly glare.
It was about seven, for the doctor had just glanced at his watch to see if it was time to repeat the medicine under whose influence he was keeping his patient, when all at once there was a tremendous shock as if there had been an explosion, a crashing sound heard for the moment above the tempest's din, and then the doctor was conscious of a change, and he knew what it meant. The thrill and vibration of the screw had ceased, and that could only mean one thing, the falling off of the propeller or the breaking of the shaft on which it turned.
He had proof of this a few minutes later in the movement of the great vessel, which no longer rode steadily over the swell, head to wind, but gradually fell off till she lay rolling in the hollows, careened over by the pressure of the storm, and utterly unmanageable.
There was a mingling of strange sounds now, as, following the motion of the vessel as she rolled heavily, everything below that was loose dashed from side to side of the cabins; but still the doctor paid no more heed. He retrimmed the lamp from time to time, and tried to retrim the lamp of Carey Cranford's young life; but it seemed to be all in vain.
Suddenly the door opened again, and this time it was not the steward's face which appeared, but the old sailor's.
"Any better, sir?" he said, hoarsely.
"No; worse," replied the doctor.
"So it is on deck, sir," whispered the man. "Main shaft broke short off, and propeller gone. They've been trying to hyste a bit o' sail so as to get steering way on, but everything's blew to rags."
The doctor nodded shortly, and after a longing look at the young patient the man went out on tiptoe.
A couple of hours went by, with the vessel rocking horribly, and then all at once there came a heavy grinding crash, and the rolling motion ceased, the vessel for a few brief moments seemed at peace on an even keel, and the doctor uttered a sigh of relief, which had hardly passed his lips before there was a noise like thunder, the side of the steamer had received a heavy blow, and hundreds of tons of water poured down over her, sweeping the deck, and then retiring with a wild hissing noise.
Doctor Kingsmead was experienced sailor enough to know that the steamer had been carried by the hurricane upon one of the terrible coral reefs of that dangerous sea, and he could foresee, as he believed, the result—the billows would go on raising the vessel and letting her fall upon the sharp rocks till she broke up, unless the storm subsided and the breakers abated in violence so that the passengers and crew might take to the boats.
He knit his brow and sat thinking for a few minutes of the chances of life and death at such a time, but became absorbed in the condition of his patient again, for there was his duty. There were the officers to see to the preservation of life from the wreck.
Once more he had warning of the state of affairs on deck, old Bostock hurrying down.
"Got anything you want to save, sir?" he said, excitedly; "if so shove it in your pocket. They're getting the boats out. I'll come and give you word, and help you with young squire here."
"What!" said the doctor, excitedly now. "Impossible; it would mean death for the boy to be moved."
"It'll mean death, sir, if he aren't moved," said the old sailor, sternly. "You button him up in a coat, and be ready against I come."
The door banged to, and the doctor hurriedly caught up some of his patient's garments and stood frowning, as he leaned over him, felt his pulse, and then laid his hand upon the poor lad's head.
"Impossible," he said; "it would crush out the flickering flame of life. He cannot be moved."
As he spoke he threw the clothes aside and went sharply towards the door and looked out, to see that the passengers were crowding up the cabin stairs in an awful silence, the horror of their position having brought them to a state of despairing calm.
The doctor stood looking at them for a few moments, and then turned to cross to his patient's side, bending over him for a few moments, and then sinking into the seat by his side.
Meanwhile, after he had ineffectually tried everything possible to bring the steamer's head to wind by means of the sails, the captain had to give up and let her drift, rolling heavily in the trough of the sea.
The storm still raged with terrific fury, and it was evident that the unmanageable vessel was being borne rapidly along.
But by slow degrees the violence of the wind began to abate, and fresh efforts were made in the semi-darkness, and with the waves thundering over the deck from time to time, to hoist something in the way of sail.
The men raised a cheer as this was at last successfully accomplished, and once more obeying her helm the great vessel ceased rolling, and rushed on for a few hundred yards at headlong speed.
But it was only to her fate, for rising high upon a huge billow she was borne on for a short distance, and then there was the sudden check. She had struck on another of the terrible coral reefs, and was fast, offering an obstacle to the seething billows, at which they rushed, broke, and then fell over, deluging the deck, and tearing at everything in their way.
There seemed nothing more to be done but strive in the darkness to save life, and captain and officers clung together and worked manfully.
The minute after the vessel had struck on the reef there was a rush for the boats, but the officers were prepared. Revolvers leaped out, and three or four men were struck down, the captain setting the example.
Then the fit of insubordination died out on the spot, and in perfect order one of the boats was filled with women passengers and a crew, the moment was watched, and it was cast off and floated away on a huge wave, to be seen for a few moments, before it disappeared in the darkness.
Boat after boat was successfully despatched in this way without a single hitch, each receiving its crew commanded by one of the officers; and at last the barge only was left for the remainder and the captain, the last passenger having gone in the boat despatched before—the last so far as could be remembered in the hurry and confusion of the weird scene.
There was ample room for all as the captain stood holding on while men hurriedly brought up and threw in bags of biscuit and such necessaries as could be obtained in the hurry, the barge lying in its chocks, lifting with every wave and ready to float out at the open side at any time.
"Now then," cried the captain, in a voice hoarse from continuous shouting, "you, Bostock, down below with you and help the doctor bring up the young passenger."
"Ay, ay, sir," cried the old sailor, and he waited a moment to avoid the water and then made a rush for the saloon cabin.
The next minute he was down below.
"Now, sir, quick," he said; "boat's just off. What! not ready?"
"It is impossible to move him, my man," said the doctor in sombre tones.
"It's murder to keep him here, sir," cried the old sailor. "Come on— for your life!"
As he spoke he caught Carey in his arms before the doctor could interfere, dashed open the door, and quickly carried the insensible lad up to the sea-washed deck, to stand aghast and then hold on for his life.
For something white and ghastly, fringed with phosphorescent light, seemed to rise over the ship's side, curve down over, glide under the barge lying in its chocks, and then lift the laden boat away over the open side.
It was seen for a few moments and then disappeared, going in one swift glide away into the darkness, leaving the doctor, his patient, and the old sailor amidst the hissing waters alone upon the deck.
"Here's another coming," roared Bostock, hoarsely. "Back into shelter, or we shall be swept away."
He set the example, still bearing the insensible boy, and the next minute they had reached the comparative security of the saloon, where the water was now washing to and fro, coming in with a rush and pouring out again.
The first efforts of the two men were now directed towards carefully placing Carey high and dry in an upper berth of one of the state-room cabins, where a lamp was still burning steadily as it swung to and fro.
"Hasn't killed him, has it, sir?" growled Bostock, excitedly, as the doctor examined his patient.
"No; he is breathing easily, and the bandages have not shifted," replied the doctor, who then turned upon his companion in misfortune and said in a hard, defiant way: "Well, my man, this seems hard luck; we're left in the lurch. I suppose the captain will not come back to take us off."
"Come back and take us off, sir?" said the old sailor, with a bitter laugh. "Not him. He's got his work cut out to keep that barge afloat. Lord help 'em all, I say, all on 'em in those open boats. There they are afloat among reefs and breakers in a storm like this. For aught we know, sir, they're all capsized and washing about like so much chaff by now."
"Then you think we're better off than they are?"
"No, I don't," growled the old man, sourly, as a wave came thundering over the vessel, shaking it from bow to stern. "It won't be long before one of them breakers'll make a way in and bust up part of the deck; and after that it won't be long before she's ripped in pieces. Lor' a mussy! the power of a thousand tons o' water going miles an hour's awful. Shreds beams into matches, and twists ironwork like wire. It only means a few minutes more to live, doctor; and, as you say, it do seem hard. Poor boy!" he continued, laying his great rough hand tenderly on Carey's breast. "All his young life before him, and nipped off sudden like this."
"Poor boy, yes," said the doctor, gently. "But I'm thankful that he is quite insensible, and will not know the agony we have to face."
The old sailor looked curiously in his companion's face.
"Agony!" he said, slowly; "agony! Well, I suppose it is, but I've been face to face with the end so many times that I suppose I've got a bit blunt. Do you know, sir, it seems to nip me more about that poor young chap than it does about myself."
The doctor looked at the speaker searchingly for a few moments, and then said, quietly:
"Can we do anything to try and save his life, my man? Life-preservers, raft, or anything of that sort?"
The old sailor laughed softly.
"Life-preserver in a sea like this means being smothered in a few minutes, and such a raft as we could make would be knocked to pieces and us washed off. No, sir; we're in shelter where we can die peaceably, and all we can do is to meet it like men."
The doctor's brow knit, and he looked as if in horrible pain for a few moments. Then a calm, peaceful look came over his countenance, and he smiled and held out his hand.
"Yes," he said, quietly; "meet it like men."
The old sailor stared at him for a moment, and then snatched and gripped the extended hand in perfect silence.
"Ha!" he ejaculated at last. "I feel better, sir, after that. Now let's talk about the youngster there."
The huge breakers had kept on steadily thundering at the side of the steamer, rising over her and crashing down on her decks with the greatest regularity; but now, as the old sailor spoke and turned towards the insensible boy, it seemed as if a billow greater than any which had come before rolled up and broke short on the reef, with the result that the immense bank of water seemed to plunge under the broad side of the steamer, lifting her, and once more they were borne on the summit of the wave with a rush onward. There was a fierce, wild, hissing roar, and the great vessel seemed to creak and groan as if it were a living creature in its final agony, and old Bostock gripped the doctor's hand again.
"It's come, my lad," he shouted, "and we'll meet it like men. We shall strike again directly, and she'll go to pieces like a bundle of wood."
The two men had risen to their feet, and to steady themselves they each laid the hand at liberty upon the berth which held their young companion.
How long they stood like this neither of them could afterwards have said, but it seemed an hour, during which the steamer was borne broadside on by the huge roller, each listener in the deafening turmoil and confusion bracing himself for the shock when she struck, till the rate at which she progressed began to slacken into a steady glide, the deafening roar of breakers grew less, and at last she rode on and on, rising and falling gently, and with a slow rolling motion each minute growing steadier.
But she did not strike.
The doctor was the first to speak.
"What does this mean?" he said, loudly, for the hissing and shrieking of the wind kept on.
"The rollers have carried her right over the reef into one of they broad lagoons, or else into the quieter water on the lee of the rocks, sir. She mayn't strike now, only settle down, and sink in deep water."
As he spoke there was a grinding sound, a sudden stoppage, the vessel having lifted a little and been set down with a great shock which threw the two men heavily against the bulkhead of the cabin in which they stood, and extinguished the lamp.
"We aren't in deep water, sir," roared Bostock, scrambling to his feet. "Hold on; here we go again."
For the great steamer was lifted and glided steadily on for a while, to ground once more with a crashing sound.
"That's scraping holes in her, sir," cried Bostock.
Then again she lifted and was borne on, apparently hundreds of yards, to go crashing over the rough rocks again with a strange, deep, grinding sound which lasted for some moments, before they were at rest on nearly an even keel.
"Fast!" cried Bostock. "She'll never stir again, sir. Ground her way all among the jagged coral rock, and she's held as fast now as a ship's boat pitched in a sea o' spikes."
Doctor Kingsmead made no reply for some little time, while the old sailor waited in vain for him to speak.
"Hurt, sir?" he cried at last.
"No," was the reply, followed by a deep sigh but faintly heard in the roar of the wind.
"Then I'll try if I can't get a light, sir, afore one of us is. Seems nice to be still once more. Do you know, sir, as we may reckon as we're saved?"
"Yes," said the doctor, almost inaudibly; "but I can hardly believe it true."
There was a clicking noise, and spark after spark of faint phosphorescent light across the black darkness.
This was repeated again and again, but without further effect.
"No go, sir," cried Bostock then. "Got my matches wet, sir. If I lives to get through this I'll allus keep 'em corked up in a bottle."
There was another streak of light directly after, followed by a flash and a wax match burned brightly in the doctor's fingers, for those he carried in a little silver box proved to be dry.
"Ha!" ejaculated Bostock, reaching up to the lamp, which was slowly subsiding from its pendulum-like motion. "I hate being in the dark, even if it's only a fog. You never know which way to steer."
"Can you light the lamp?"
"Yes, sir, all right, in a minute. Wick's got shook down. That's better; give me hold, or you'll burn your fingers; mine's as hard as horn. Well done; first go."
For the wick caught and burned brightly, the glass was replaced, and the doctor was able to examine his patient once more.
"How is he, sir?"
"Just the same," replied the doctor.
"Well done; that's better than being worse, sir. And I say, it's blowing great guns still, but nothing like what it was an hour ago. Dessay it'll pass over before long. Come and let's see what it's like on deck."
They went up together into a storm of blinding spray, which swept by them with a hissing rush; but there were no raging billows striking the steamer's sides and curling over in turns to sweep the deck, and, getting into shelter, they tried vainly to make out their position.
They had no difficulty in stepping to the side of the saloon deck, for there was no water to wade through, and the great vessel was as steady now as if built upon a foundation of rock, and as soon as they had wiped the spray from their eyes they tried hard to pierce the gloom.
But in vain. It was not very dark, but there was a thick mist which seemed to glow faintly with a peculiar phosphorescent light that was horribly weird and strange, and after a few minutes' effort they turned to descend to the cabin again.
"This won't last long, sir," shouted the old sailor in the doctor's ear; "these sort o' storms seldom do. Dessay it'll be all bright sunshine in the mornin'. We're safe as safe, with the reef and the breakers far enough away, but the old Chusan will never breast the waves again."
"And all our friends?"
"Don't talk about it, sir. They were in sound boats, well manned, and with good officers to each, but—oh dear! oh dear!—the sea's hard to deal with in a storm like this."
"Do you think, then, that there is no hope?"
"Oh no, sir, I don't say that, for, you see, the waves didn't run high. They may weather it all, but where they're carried to by the wind and the awful currents there are about here no one knows."
"But are they likely to get back to us?"
"Not a bit, sir. They don't know where we are, and they'll have their work cut out to find where they are themselves."
"Have you any idea where we are—what shore this is?"
"Hardly, sir. All I do know is that from the time the typhoon struck us we must have been carried by wind and the fierce currents right away to the west and south."
"And that means where?"
"Most like off the nor'-west coast o' 'Stralia, among the reefs and islands there. It's like it is on the nor'-east coast, a reg'lar coral sea.
"Ha!" continued Bostock, when they were once more in shelter. "S'pose we take turn and turn now to watch young Master Carey. We're both worn out, sir. You take fust rest; you're worst."
"No; lie down till I call you, my man."
"Do you order me to, sir?"
"Well, sir, I can't help it; I'm dead-beat."
The next minute the old sailor was down on the floor in his drenched clothes, sleeping heavily, while, in thankfulness for the life which seemed to have been given back when they were prepared to die, Doctor Kingsmead watched by his patient's side, waiting for the cessation of the storm and the light of day, which seemed as if it would never come.
"I'm so thirsty! Please, I'm so thirsty; and it is so hot!"
Twice over Doctor Kingsmead heard that appeal, but he could not move to respond to it, for Nature would have her way. He had sat watching his patient's berth till he could watch no longer, since there are limits to everyone's endurance, and that morning he had suddenly become insensible to everything, dropping into a deep sleep that there was no fighting against.
He had slept all that day solidly, if the term may be used, quite unconscious of everything; but towards evening he began either to hear things or to dream and hear external sounds.
Feeling too reasserted itself. He was scorched by the heat, and there was a pleasant lapping, washing sound of water making its way into his ears for some time before someone said the above words.
He smiled at last in an amused way as he lay in a half-conscious state, for it seemed to him that it was he that declared how thirsty he was and how hot, and he felt how breathless it was.
So calm and still too, and so pleasant to lie back there in spite of heat and thirst, listening to that lapping, washing sound softened by distance into a whisper.
Then the words were repeated, and he lay perfectly still with his eyes close shut, thinking in a dreamy way that it would be wise to drink a glass of water and open a window to let in the air, for it must be a hot morning down in his old Devonshire home with the sun shining through upon his bed.
Then all at once he opened his eyes and lay looking down at something upon the floor—something lying in the full glow of the ruddy sunshine which came through the round plate glass of the port-hole, and he was still so much asleep that he was puzzled to make out what it meant.
By degrees he grasped faintly that it was a man fast asleep, and making a gurgling noise as he breathed, but he could not make out why that man should be asleep on the floor of his bed-room in Devonshire, down there at Dawlish where the blue sea washed against the red rocks.
It was very puzzling and confusing, and when for the third time he felt that he was saying that he was so hot and so thirsty he uttered a sigh and said to himself that he must get up and drink a glass of water and open his bed-room window, before lying down again.
This thought roused him a little from his deep, heavy, stupefied state, and he had a surprise. For he made an effort to get up, and then felt startled on realising the fact that he was not lying down, but sitting in an awkward position, his head hanging back over the side of a chair, and his neck stiffened and aching.
Then he knew that he was not at home in Devonshire, but in the state-room of a ship, and that the heat was stifling.
This was enough to rouse him from his state of stupefaction a little more, and then as he straightened his neck and looked about he fully awoke with one mental leap.
His first glance was at Carey, who had moved and lay in a different position, but was quite motionless now.
His next was at the little port-hole window, which he unfastened and threw open, to feel a puff of soft air and hear the gentle washing of the ocean, which spread out calm and still like a sea of gold beneath an orange sky.
It was very calm, just heaving softly, and from a distance came at intervals the deep booming roar of the breakers on a reef; but there was hardly a breath of air, for the terrible hurricane had passed.
Stiff and aching from the awkward position in which he had slept, the doctor crossed to the door and pushed it open wide, with the result that the suffocating atmosphere of the cabin began rapidly to give place to the soft, warm, pure air, every breath of which cleared the late sleeper's brain and gave him strength.
"Bostock—Bostock," he said, softly; but there was no answer, and he bent down and touched the sleeper on the shoulder.
"Where away then?" grumbled the man.
"Bostock, wake up."
"Heave to! D'yer hear? heave to!" came in low, muttered tones.
"Bostock, man, wake up. You've been asleep these ten or twelve hours."
Still no sensible reply, and the doctor gave the man a rough shake.
"Ay, ay, sir," he shouted. "All hands on deck! Tumble up, you lubbers; tumble up."
"Eh? The doctor! All right, sir. Why, I've been asleep!"
"Yes, yes, but be quiet," whispered his companion. "I was overcome and have slept too."
"But the youngster, sir?" whispered the old sailor, hoarsely, as he rose to his feet. "How is he, sir?"
"He has slept heavily. He does not seem any worse."
"I'm so thirsty!" came feebly from the boy's berth.
"Dear lad!" said Bostock, quickly. "I'll get some water for him to drink."
"Yes, quickly," cried the doctor, as he recalled his dream-like ideas and grasped the truth.
The old sailor hurried out, and the doctor laid his hand gently on his patient's head, to find it moist with perspiration. As he did so the boy's eyes opened and he stared at the doctor wonderingly for a few moments before the light of recognition came into them, and he smiled.
"Doctor!" he said. "You here?"
"Yes, my dear boy," said the doctor, gently. "How do you feel?"
"Been dreaming horribly, and got such a bad headache. But—but—"
He stared about him, then back at the doctor, and an anxious look came into his eyes.
"Have—have I been ill?" he said, in a husky voice, and he raised one hand to catch at the doctor's, but let it fall with a faint cry of pain.
"Yes, a little; but you are getting better, my dear boy," said the doctor, soothingly. "Don't be alarmed; only lie still."
"My shoulder throbs and burns, and my head is all queer. Ah, I remember now," he cried, excitedly; "I fell."
"Yes, yes, but—"
"Oh, doctor," cried the boy, in a voice full of excitement, "don't say I broke my new double glass!"
"My dear lad," cried the doctor, smiling; "I don't know."
"But if you have I'll buy you another."
"So I fell from up aloft?"
"Here you are, sir," came in a hoarse voice; "got at the tank quite easy, and I found a sound glass."
Then the sturdy fellow gave a frisk after the fashion of an ancient goat.
"Hooroar!" he cried; "Jack's alive O! I knew he wouldn't die a bit!"
"Hush! Silence, man!" cried the doctor. "Mind! you're spilling the water."
"So I am," said the old sailor, gruffly, and he began to pour out a glassful from the tin he held in one hand, raising the other so as to make the clear, cool liquid sparkle in bubbles as if he meant to give it a head.
"Ha!" sighed Carey, smiling. "Quick! I am so thirsty."
He was about to try and rise, but the doctor checked him.
"Don't do that," he said. "I'll raise you up, pillow and all, and Bostock shall hold it to your lips. No, stop.—Is the vessel much broken up, my man?"
"Not a bit, sir, but I expect she's got holes in her bottom."
"I won't be a minute, Carey, lad. I'm going to my surgery. Don't move."
He hurried out, leaving Bostock standing with the glass and tin of water, breathing hard and staring down at the injured boy.
"Here, Bob," said Carey, faintly. "What's the matter?"
"You lie still and wait till the doctor comes back, my lad," said the old fellow, gruffly.
"I am lying still," said Carey, peevishly. "Tell me directly; what's the matter?"
"Why, you said you knowed. I heard yer. You said you fell from up aloft."
"Yes, yes," cried Carey; "but the doctor asked you if the ship was much broken up."
"Did he, sir?"
"You know he did, and you said she had got some holes in her bottom."
"Did I, sir?"
"Yes, yes, of course you did," cried Carey, impatiently.
"Well, it's a rum un, then, sir."
"Now, no nonsense; tell me, surely. Oh, I don't understand!" sighed the boy, wearily.
"Here we are, my boy," said the doctor, entering with a piece of glass tube bent at right angles. "Give me the glass, Bostock."
"Glass it is, sir," growled the man, and the doctor inserted one end of the glass syphon in the water and the other between his patient's lips, so that he could drink without being raised.
Carey half, closed his eyes, and his countenance bespoke his intense enjoyment, as the cool, pleasant water trickled slowly down his dry throat till the glass was emptied, and the old sailor raised the tin he held.
"'Nother go, sir?" he asked.
"Yes," said Carey.
"No," said the doctor; "not yet."
"Ha!" sighed Carey; "but that was good. I say, doctor, I am broken somewhere, am I not?"
"'Tisn't my neck, is it?"
"Hor! hor! hor!" chuckled the old sailor.
"Well, it feels like it," said Carey, pettishly.
"Perhaps I hardly ought to tell you now," said the doctor, gravely.
"Then it is," cried Carey, excitedly.
"No, no, no. Nonsense. You have fractured a bone, but it is not a serious matter, my dear fellow. It is the collar-bone, but if you are quiet it will soon knit together again."
"How queer. But I've hurt my head too."
"Yes, a good deal; but that will soon come right."
"Not cracked it, have I, doctor?"
"Ha!" sighed the boy. "That's a good job. That comes of having a good thick head, Bob. I remember slipping, but no more. I say, didn't I come down an awful whop?"
"You lie still and don't talk, my boy," said the doctor, quietly.
"Yes, directly; but tell me about the ship. Why aren't we going on? I can't hear the throbbing of the engine."
"Nay, my lad," said the old sailor, shaking his head; "never no more."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you must know, Carey, my lad," said the doctor; "but I don't want you to become excited about it. If I tell you, will you lie still then and be patient?"
"Of course I will, doctor, if I must."
"The fact is, then, since your fall we have been in a terrible hurricane."
"A hurricane? Why, it was only this morning I tumbled."
The doctor shook his head.
"Never mind when it was," he said. "You have been lying here some time, and I grieve to tell you that while you were insensible we had a great mishap. The main shaft broke, and we have been driven on a reef."
"But we're all saved?"
"I hope so," said the doctor. "Now I shall tell you no more to-day. Will you have a little more water?"
"Yes, please," said the boy, eagerly, and he drank the half-glassful more given to him with the greatest of avidity, closed his eyes directly after, and dropped off into a calm sleep.
"That's bad, aren't it, sir?" whispered the old sailor, as the doctor bent over his patient.
"Bad? No. Look at the soft dewy perspiration on his temples."
"I see, sir. Oughtn't it to be wiped dry?"
"No, no; let him sleep. It is a sign that he will not be troubled with fever, and its following weakness."
"But he aren't had no brackfuss, sir."
"He has had all that he requires, and he will sleep for hours now."
"Bless the lad! That's good news, sir. It's a fine thing to be a doctor, and know all these things. Can he be left, sir?"
"Yes; he will be better undisturbed."
"Then don't you think, sir, as you and me'd better go on deck and overhaul things a bit; see how things are and look round?"
"Then you lead on, sir, for there's a deal I'm wanting to see."
The door was softly closed upon the sleeping lad, and doctor and able seaman stepped into the saloon to try and make out how they stood.
The sun was sinking low as the doctor and his companion reached the deck and then ascended to the bridge to have a hasty glance round before the brief tropical evening should give place to darkness, and in that rapidly made observation they grasped that the great steamer, wonderfully uninjured, lay aground in comparatively shallow water, doubtless upon the coral rocks which formed the bottom of a broad lagoon.
Everything loose had been carried away by the waves which had swept the decks, but the masts and funnel were standing comparatively uninjured, and as far as they could make out, scarcely any injury had been done to the structure of the ship.
"The mischief's all below, sir, I expect," said the old sailor. "We shall find she's got a lot of water in her hold."
"But she lies immovable, I suppose," said the doctor.
"Quite, sir; she's fast as fast can be, and'll lie till she rusts away, which won't be this side o' fifty year."
"Then there is no immediate danger?"
"Not a bit, sir, and it's a bad job as those boats was launched; they'd all have been better here if the skipper could have known."
"Yes; waited till the storm had passed," assented the doctor.
"Ay, sir, but who could tell that we were going to be floated over the reef and set down, as you may say, in dock? Besides, if the skipper hadn't ordered the boats out when he did there'd ha' been a mutiny."
"I suppose so; the crew would have risen against their officers."
"The crew, sir? Yes, and the passengers too. There'd ha' been a panic and a rush."
The doctor sighed, shaded his eyes, and looked out from the side where they stood at the golden lagoon.
In the distance he could see the huge rollers breaking regularly on the coral reef—a wonderful sight in the setting sun, the water glowing orange and blood-red, while the spray which rose was a fiery gold.
"Magnificent," said the doctor, softly, and he turned to cross to the other side of the deck to look out westward over a couple of hundred yards of smooth water to a grove of cocoanut-trees, beyond which was dense forest, and above that, hill and ravine running up glorious in the golden sunset for hundreds of feet.
"An island—a coral island, I suppose," said the doctor.
"Nay, sir; there's coral all about here, but that's not a coral island; it runs up too big. I daresay that's been an old volcano some time, and when we land we shall most likely find a bit of a lake of good water up yonder among the hills. Yes, that we shall, for look there among the trees, flashing like in the sunshine; that's a bit of a waterfall. It's a little river, you see, where the lake empties out."
The doctor nodded. "I think we have seen enough for this evening, Bostock," he said, with a sigh; "everything would look so beautiful if one did not feel so sad."
"Sad, sir?" cried the old sailor, wonderingly. "What, with young Master Carey coming round instead o' lying dead and cold; and us safe and sound with a well-stored ship anchored under our feet?"
"Yes, that is all good and comforting, Bostock," said the doctor; "but what about all our companions and friends?"
"Ay, and mates too," said the old sailor. "Yes, that's bad, but there's always a bit o' blue sky behind the clouds. Who knows, sir, but what they may all be making for port over this smooth red sea after riding out the storm?"
"I hope they are," said the doctor, fervently.
"Same here, sir," said the old sailor. "Perhaps they are, and mebbe just at this here very blessed moment there's some on 'em feeling as sorry as we are 'cause they think as the Susan's gone down in the deep sea and taken with her that there dear boy, the doctor, and poor old Bob Bostock. Ay, sir, some of our chaps didn't much like me, because I was hard on some o' the young ones over making 'em tackle to. But I'll be bound to say, sir," cried the old man, chuckling till the tears stood in his eyes, "some on 'em'll be saying among theirselves that old Bob Bostock was as good a mate as ever stepped the deck."
"I hope so too," said the doctor, smiling; "people are very fond of finding out a man's good qualities when he's dead."
"But I aren't dead, sir, and I don't mean to be dead as long as I can help it. But don't you feel awful sick and faint, sir?"
"Yes, sir. Human nature's human nature, you know, sir, and if you stop its victuals it gets ravenish. I aren't had a mouthful of anything but salt water for quite thirty hours, and I don't believe you have neither."
"I don't believe I have, Bostock," said the doctor, smiling.
"Thought not, sir. So what do you say to going and looking up the stooard's and the cook's quarters and seeing what we can find?"
"Yes, Bostock, the wisest thing we can do, and I must be thinking about my patient too. I must not let him starve."
There was not much time for examination before darkness set in, but enough to prove to the two seekers that there was not the slightest cause for anxiety respecting provisions; for, without taking into consideration what the sea and shore might afford them upon being tried, there was the full run of the ample stores provided for about a hundred people, and the great tanks of fresh water. In short, as Bostock put it:
"Why, there's enough for us three to live like fighting cocks for a whole year, sir, and to have company too. Then there's water ashore, as we saw plainly enough, and there's sure to be something or another to eat there, besides cocoanuts, which aren't bad if you drink 'em. Bound to say there's hysters too, while, as for fish, I know what these waters are. You've only got to put a bit o' bait on a hook and hold it out, and the fish are so hungry for it that they'll jump out o' water or rush ashore to catch it. Why, we're in luck, sir."
"Luck, Bostock?" said the doctor, sadly.
"Yes, sir, luck. It's an awful bad job for the old Susan to be wrecked; but she's well insured, I've no doubt, and there must be disasters at sea sometimes."
"And the passengers and crew, my man?" said the doctor, bitterly.
"Saved, every one of 'em, we hope and pray, sir, and as I said afore, pitying us poor chaps as they think warn't. Beg pardon, sir, you're a gentleman and a scholar, while I'm only a poor uneddicated sort of a fellow as never had any time for schooling but I've larnt a deal in my time, not book larning, but useful stuff."
"Well," said the doctor, smiling, for the old sailor had stopped short; "why don't you go on, Bostock?"
"Thought I was getting too forrard, sir."
"No, no, go on; what were you about to say just now?"
"Well, sir, only this, that it's best to take things as they come and not grumble. Here we are, unfortunate, as you may say, but what a lot worse off we might be. Little while ago, as we thought, there was young Master Carey dying as fast as he could, and us just waiting to go to the bottom. Now here's that there dear lad asleep comf'table and getting better, and you and me with the pick o' the berths and the saloon all to ourselves, getting ready to have a reg'lar good, square meal. Aren't got so werry much to grumble at, have we?"
Doctor Kingsmead gave the speaker a hearty slap on the shoulder.
"Bostock," he said, "you're a philosopher. There, we'll make the best of things, and, in the hope that our poor friends are all saved, I will not murmur against our fate."
"That's right, sir, and now if you don't mind my being a bit rough I'll be cook and stooard, and you'll soon have your bit to eat, and when you've done—"
"You will have done too," said the doctor, "and we must drop distinctions now. So help me make the coffee, and then we'll have our meal, and afterwards we must make our plans."
They made very few plans that night, for in spite of their long sleep that day the exhaustion they had gone through during the typhoon still told upon them so that, after seeing to Carey, who was sleeping peacefully enough, they took it in turns to keep watches of three hours' length, and passed the night sleeping or listening to the soft, low boom of the breakers on the reef.
The morning broke gloriously, and the sunshine and soft air seemed to send a thrill of elasticity through the doctor, which grew into a feeling of joy as he examined his patient, who slept still as if he had not moved during the night.
He stepped out of the cabin to hear Bostock whistling away cheerily in the steward's department: but the whistling ceased as soon as the doctor appeared.
"Morning, sir. What do you make o' the young skipper?"
"Sleeping still," said the doctor; "a beautiful, restful sleep, without a trace of fever."
"Hooroar for that, sir. Best thing for him, aren't it?"
"Yes, so long as we keep up his strength."
"We, sir? You mean you."
"I mean we, Bostock, for you will help."
"All right, sir, ready and willin'."
"The sleep will be the best thing for him, and when we can move him we'll have him up on deck, and contrive a shade."
"Oh, I can soon do that, sir. We couldn't rig up the old awning again, but there's plenty of canvas to set up a little un. Is he ready for some breakfast, do you think?"
"I would not wake him on any consideration. Let him sleep."
"Good, sir. There's a bit ready as soon as you like, and after that we can get to work."
Carey still slept on whilst the doctor and old Bob made a hearty meal, and, taking advantage of the freedom thus afforded them, they examined their position in relation to the shore by naked eye and with one of the glasses from the captain's cabin.
There it all was as they had partly seen overnight: the vessel firmly fixed in the rocky shallows of a great lagoon, whose waters were fast becoming of crystal-clearness and as smooth as a pond, while sea-ward there was the great sheltering reef with everlasting breakers thundering and fretting and throwing up a cloud of surf.
On the other side, comparatively close at hand, was, as far as they could make out, the lovely shore of a beautiful island, bathed in sunshine and glorious in rich verdure and purple shade, while they could now clearly see the sparkling surface of the stream, which tumbled in rapids and falls down to the vivid blue waters of the lagoon.
"Looks good enough for anything, sir, don't it?"
"A perfect paradise, Bostock," said the doctor, who could hardly tear his eyes from the glorious scene.
"It just is, sir," said the old sailor; "makes a man feel quite young again to see it. My word! won't that dear lad enjy hisself as soon as he's well enough to go ashore? I'm reckoning ongoing with him, sir. Won't be to-day, I suppose?"
"No," said the doctor, smiling, as he closed the glass in its case; "nor yet this month, Bostock."
"That's a long time, sir. I might pig-aback him if we got him ashore."
"Let's get him well first."
"Right, sir, you know best; but I don't want the poor young chap to be dull and moping. I might rig up some fishing-tackle for him, though, so's he could sit on deck here and fish."
"Yes, by-and-by; but he will not be dull. We'll amuse him somehow."
"That we will, sir; and now you must be skipper and take the lead, for I s'pose we shall have to live here a bit."
"Is that likely to be the mainland?" said the doctor, by way of answer.
"Not it, sir. One of the hundreds of islands out in these parts."
"I see no sign of inhabitants."
"That's right, sir. Men's scarce about here. We shan't see none, and I don't expect we shall see any ships go by. Skippers give these waters a wide berth on account of the coral reefs. Strikes me that we shall have to make ourselves comf'table and wait till something turns up. The Susan's as safe as a house. Even if another storm comes, as there will some day, she can't move. She'll get to be more of a fixter as the years go by, with the coral growing up all round her."
"Do you think it will?"
"Think, sir? Why, it grows up just like as if it was so much moss in a wood."
"Then you are ready to make up your mind to be here for years to come?"
"Yes, sir; aren't you?"
The doctor shrugged his shoulders.
"We couldn't be better off, sir. Now, just you wait a bit, sir, and you'll see something. Directly that young chap's well enough, we shan't be able to hold him. He'll be 'bout half mad with delight. He won't want to go away—not for a long time, at all events."
"Well, we shall see," said the doctor. "Now let's go below."
"Right, sir. I wouldn't do anything till you come."
They began a tour of inspection at once, making their way as far down as they could, to find that the lower hold was eight or ten feet deep in water, which covered the heavy cargo of railway iron, machinery, casks, and miscellaneous goods.
"'Bout high water now, sir," said the old sailor. "It'll sink a good deal when the tide's out. We seem to have come on at high water."
"Would it be possible to stop it out, and in the course of time pump the vessel clear?"
"Not if we'd got fifty steam pumps, sir: that water'll flow in and out and be always sweet—I mean salt—for she's got plates below there ripped off like sheets of writing paper. But the water won't hurt us, and the stores such as we want are all above it. There's nothing to mind there."
The doctor nodded in acquiescence, and they went on with their search, to find more and more how well they were provided for, old Bostock chuckling again and again as each advantage came home to him.
"I don't believe no shipwrecked chaps was ever so well off before. Why, it's wonderful how little the Susan's hurt. Look at the store of coals we've got, and at the cook's galley all ready for cooking a chicken—if we had one—or a mutton chop, if the last two sheep hadn't been drowned and washed away along with the cow. Now, that was bad luck, sir. Drop o' milk'd been a fine thing for that there boy if I could ha' squeezed it out. I never did try to milk, sir, but I'd ha' tried. Don't suppose it would ha' been so very hard, if the old cow would ha' stood still. Milk would be a fine thing for him, wouldn't it?"
"Yes, excellent," said the doctor, with a peculiar smile; "but we have no cow, Bostock."
"Tchah! Of course not, sir," said the old sailor, giving himself a slap on the mouth, "and me talking like that. But hi! Look here, sir," he continued, pointing shoreward.
"What at?" said the doctor, who was startled by the man's energy. "What do you see—natives?"
"No, no, sir; there, sir, in a row along beyond the sands. Noo milk for that there lad, sir. Vegetable cows—cocoanuts. Plenty for years to come."
"Yes, we shall be in the midst of plenty," said the doctor, looking wistfully round. "Prisoners, perhaps, but happily provided for. Look yonder, Bostock."
"What at, the birds, sir? I've seen 'em all the morning. Ducks and terns as well as gull things. They seem to be nesting about those rocks yonder. And of coarse that means noo-laid eggs for that there boy; yes, and roast duck. There's shooting tackle down below, isn't there, sir?"
"Yes, the captain has arms, and I have a double gun in my cabin."
"There, hark at that, sir," cried the old sailor. "Now what could one wish for more?"
"What indeed?" said the doctor, smiling at his companion's enthusiasm.
"Nothing, sir," cried Bostock. "Yes, there's something, sir, as we haven't got and we must have."
"A boat, sir, to get ashore with. Now, that is a bit o' bad luck."
"Ah, yes, we must have a boat to go ashore, and every one has gone."
"Yes, sir, even the little dinghy. That must ha' been washed away, same as the gig, for that warn't launched. But all right, sir; there's other ways o' killing a cat besides hanging. We must make one."
"Or a raft," said the doctor.
"Raft'll do to begin with. Four bunged-up casks and some boards'll do first. That's easy to make on deck, for there's the carpenter's tools, and we can easily rig up tackle to hyste it over the side. It's the boat as'll bother us, but you never know what you can do till you try."
"No, Bostock, you never do."
"That's so, sir. A boat we want, and a boat we'll have. I say, sir, just think of it; won't that there dear lad just enjy having a boat to sail and fish about here in the lagoon, or out yonder across the reef on a calm day?"
"Yes, we must get him well, Bostock," said the doctor, smiling. "Come along: we need not examine our position any more; let's see if he is awake."
"And ready for a drop o' soup, sir. There's rows of them tins o' portable, as they call it, sir, in the store-room. Drop warmed up ought to be just the thing now, poor lad; he can't work his teeth as he should."
"We'll see," said the doctor, and they made their way towards the saloon, but only to stop short and listen to the sounds which came softly through the cabin bulkheads—sounds which made the old sailor drop into the attitude of one with folded arms about to perform a hornpipe, and executing three or four steps, to end suddenly with a slap on the leg.
"Hear that, sir?" he whispered, softly. "That's what I call real pluck in a lad with his upper works broke clean in half. Just think o' that!"
It was a pleasant sound: sometimes a mere humming, sometimes the melody sung to a few of the words.
For Carey was lying in his berth with his head turned so that he could gaze through the open port-hole at the glorious, glistening sea, and as the doctor very softly pushed the door a little open there came clearly to the listeners' ears a scrap of the old sea song, "The Mermaid":—
"And we jolly sailor boys were sitting up aloft, And the land-lubbers lying down below, below, below, And the land-lubbers lying down below.
"Hullo! Who's that? Oh, you, doctor! I say, what a time you've been! I'm so hungry. Mayn't I get up?"
"Good signs those, my lad," said the doctor, cheerily; "but not yet," and he sat down, after easing the poor boy's bandages, to chat to him about the state of affairs, every word of which was eagerly drunk in, while Bostock played the part of cook and warmed up some gravy soup.
It soon became evident that Carey was going to develop no bad symptoms from the injury to his head, and that his sufferings were to be confined to the broken collar-bone, which, under Doctor Kingsmead's care, gave promise of a rapid knitting together. There was pain enough to bear, but the boy's bright elastic temperament was in his favour. He was what the doctor called a good patient, and health and youth joined to help him on.
As soon as possible he was allowed on deck to watch the making of a raft and use his uninjured glass in studying the shore of the island, with its constant change of hue. Then, too, there was the reef with the clouds of spray, and the beautiful lagoon, alive at times with the fish which came in with the tide through an opening in the reef, beyond which there was the heaving, open sea.
"It doesn't seem a bit like being shipwrecked," said Carey one day, as he lay back in a cane chair. "One has so many things about one. Shipwrecked folk don't generally have plenty of tools and things. I say, doctor, shall I be fit to go with you the first time you go ashore?"
"Would you like to?"
"Like to! Oh, I say," cried the boy; "fancy being left here alone in the ship when you two go. I say, don't leave me; it would make me worse."
"Wait a bit, and we'll see. The raft is not ready yet. Bostock has not fitted the mast and sail."
"No," said Carey, thoughtfully. "I say, isn't he dreadfully slow?"
The doctor laughed.
"Well, I was thinking something of the kind, certainly, my boy."
Carey was silent and thoughtful for a few minutes, and then he began again.
"It's very beautiful lying back here," he said at last, "and sometimes I feel as if I should like to do nothing else for a month to come. Then I get hot and fidgety and tired of it all. Yes, he is horribly slow. I've watched him, and instead of knocking a nail right in at once he gets boring holes and measuring and trying first one and then another till he gets one to suit him. It makes me feel sometimes as if I should like to throw books at him. I'll tell him to make haste and finish."
"Better not, perhaps," said the doctor, quietly, as he busied himself trying to catch some of the floating jelly-fish over the side with a rope and bucket. "You may hurt his feelings."
No more was said on the subject then, for there was enough to interest the patient in examining with a magnifying glass the curious creatures captured; but Carey had not forgotten, and that evening when the doctor was below and Bostock had brought up the bag of tools he used to work upon the clumsy-looking raft he was building, the boy lay back watching him chewing away at a piece of tobacco, and bending thoughtfully over the structure.
"I say," cried Carey at last in a peevish tone, "when are you going to finish that raft?"
"Finish it, my lad?"
"Yes, finish it. How many more days are you going to be?"
Bostock screwed up his face, rose erect in a very slow and deliberate way, laid down the auger he held, and took off his cap to scratch his head.
"Finish it?" he said, thoughtfully. "Well, I don't quite know; you see, I must make it reg'lar strong."
"Of course," cried Carey, "but you spend so much time thinking about it."
"Well, yes, my lad, I do, certainly; but then, you see, I have to do the thinking and making too. There's on'y me, you see."
"Why didn't you let the doctor help you? He did want to."
"Ye-es, he did want to, my lad," said the old sailor, in the slowest and most provoking way. "He's a wonderful clever man too, is the doctor. See what a beautiful job he's making of your broken timbers; but what does he know about making a raft? This is my job, and bime-by it'll be my job to make a boat, which'll want more thinking about than even this."
"Pooh! I could have made it in half the time."
"Ah, you think so, my lad, just the same as I might think I could ha' mended your broken colly bone. But I couldn't, and I wouldn't offer to, and of course I don't want the doctor to meddle with my work."
"It's horrible to watch you," said Carey, pettishly. "I get sick of seeing you."
"Do you, now?" said Bostock, smiling; but he shook his head. "Not you, my lad; you only say so. You're getting better; that's what's the matter with you."
"Pish!" ejaculated the boy, contemptuously. "There, drive in a few more nails to make all fast, and then it'll be done."
"Done, sir? Not it," said the old man, walking slowly round the cumbrous construction. "I've been thinking that I shall put in two more casks, one on each side."
"What!" cried Carey, angrily. "Why, that'll take you another fortnight."
"Nay, nay," said the old sailor, coolly; "not a fortnight; say a week or ten days."
"And it will make it heavier too. I don't believe you can launch it as it is."
"Not launch it?" said Bostock, tapping the casks at the four angles, one after another, with the handle of the auger, and being apparently so well satisfied with the drum-like tones that he worked round once more. "Oh, yes, I can get her launched easy enough with a rope through a block and the stern capstan. There won't be no trouble about that."
"Finish it off then, and never mind putting two more casks in."
"Look ye here, my lad," said the old fellow, solemnly, "do you suppose I want that there raft to capsize and shoot us off among the sharkses?"
"Of course not. Seen any of them, Bob?"
"Lots, my lad. They come swimming round this morning as if looking out for bits for breakfast. Why, if that raft capsized they'd chew us up like reddishes. I'm not going to risk that, my lad. I've got a character to lose, you see. I'm making this raft, and I want it to be a raft as you and the doctor'll be proud on—a raft as we can row or sail or go fishing with."
"Yes, fishing," said Carey, eagerly. "When am I to have that line and try for something?"
"Oh, we'll see about that," said the old sailor, coolly. "Let's get the raft done first."
"Get the raft done first!" cried Carey, angrily. "You'll never get it done."
"Oh, yes, I will, my lad; and it'll be one you could dance on if you liked. Don't you be in such a precious hurry."
"Precious hurry, indeed. Do you know what it means to be sitting here and hardly allowed to move day after day?"
"Course I do, my lad. I see you."
"But you don't know how horribly tiresome it is," cried Carey, who was growing more and more exasperated. "Look here, haven't you promised me time after time that you'd have a fishing-line ready for me so that I could hold it when the tide came in and get a few fish?"
"To be sure I did," said Bostock, coolly.
"Then why don't you do it?"
"Look ye here, my lad, you are getting better, you know, and that's what makes you so rusty."
"Anyone would get rusty, doing nothing day after day. Now then, Bob, I'll stand no more nonsense. You get the fishing-line directly. Do you hear?"
"Oh, yes, my lad, I hear. You spoke loud enough."
"Then why don't you go and get one?"
"'Cause I'm busy making a raft."
"That you're not. You're only fiddling about it like an old woman."
"Hor, hor!" laughed the man. "Like an old woman!"
"Will you fetch me a long fishing-line?"
"No good now, sir; tide's going out."
"Never you mind about that. I want a line."
Bostock carefully placed the auger against one end of a plank, grunted twice over, and then began to turn the handle.
"Precious hard bit o' wood, sir."
"Are you going to fetch me that line, sir?" cried Carey.
"Bime-by, my lad."
"No, I want it now," cried Carey.
Bostock took the auger from the hole he had begun to make, and held it as if it was a hammer with which he was going to threaten the boy.
"Look ye here, my lad," he said, "do you know what the fish is like as comes into this lagoon?"
"Yes, of course I do; like fish," said Carey, angrily.
"Fish they is; but do you know how big some of 'em are?"
"Well, I do. There's some of 'em big enough to pull like donkeys. Now, jest s'pose as you hooks one."
"Well, suppose I do? We'll have it out, and you shall cook it. Doctor Kingsmead said it would be nice to have a bit of fresh fish."
"That's right enough, my lad; but let's go back to what I said. Suppose you hook one, what then?"
"Why, I should catch it."
"Not you, sir. You'd be a bit excited, and you'd pull, and the fish'd pull, and in about a brace o' shakes we should have your upper timbers, as the doctor's been taking so much trouble to mend, all knocked to pieces again. Now then, my lad, what have you got to say to that?"
Carey had nothing to say to it, so he lay back with his face puckered up, staring straight before him.
The old sailor used the auger as a hammer and tapped the end of one of the casks so that it sounded loudly.
"Now then, my lad," he cried, sharply, "aren't that true?"
"I suppose it is, Bob," said Carey, rather dolefully.
"That's right, my lad. You're getting right, and I want to see you quite right, and then you shall have a line half a mile long, if you like."
Carey was silent, and after giving him a nod the old sailor turned deliberately to his work, grunting slowly and laboriously over boring at the hole, and resting from time to time, while as the boy watched him a thought flashed into his head and gradually grew brighter and brighter till he could contain himself no longer, for the old sailor's actions seemed to be so contrary to all that the boy knew, and he felt that he had got hold of a clue.
"Look here, Bob," he said, "suppose—"
"Yes, sir," said the old sailor, for the boy stopped, and he was glad of the opportunity for resting. "I am supposing, sir; go on."
"I was going to say, suppose we knew that the Chusan was breaking up under our feet; how long would it take you to finish that raft?"
"But she aren't a-breaking up under our feet, sir. You might take the old Susan on lease for one-and-twenty year, and she'd be all solid at the end."
"But suppose she was going down, Bob."
"But she couldn't be going down, my lad," argued the old sailor; "she's got miles o' solid coral rock underneath her."
"Never mind what she has underneath her. I say, suppose she was sinking under our feet; how long would it take you to finish the raft so that we could get ashore?"
"Well, 'bout five minutes," said the old fellow, with a grim smile.
"There, I knew it!" cried Carey, excitedly. "I knew it; and you're going on day after day regularly playing with the job for some reason of your own."
"Nay, nay, nay," cried the old fellow, picking up a nail, seizing a hammer, and driving away loudly.
"It isn't because you're lazy."
"Oh, I dunno, sir; there's no skipper now, and everything's to one's hand. I don't see why one should work too hard."
"That's all gammon, Bob," said Carey, sternly.
"Hark at him! Why, I never heard you talk that how afore, sir."
"You're dawdling on for some reason, Bob. You see, you owned that you could make the raft seaworthy in five minutes."
"Ay, ay, my lad, but then she'd only be rough. I'm going on polishing like, and making her a raft to be proud on. I said so afore."
"That's all stuff and nonsense, Bob," cried Carey. "I know. Now tell the truth; you've some reason for being so long."
Bostock was silent, and he screwed up his mahogany-tinted face till he looked ten years older.
"Come, sir, speak the truth."
"Allus does," said the old fellow, gruffly.
"Let's have it then. Why are you spinning out this job so long and won't get it done?"
"Am I, sir—spinning it out like?"
"Yes, you know you are. Now, are you going to tell me why?"
"No, I aren't," growled the old fellow.
"Very well, but I believe I know."
"Not you, my lad. I tell you I'm going to make an out-and-out good job of it."
"Keeping it back so as not to go till I'm well enough to go too. That's why," said Carey, and he looked at the old sailor searchingly, and tried to catch his eye, the one that was open, the other being close shut. But it was impossible, for Bostock made believe to have great difficulty in hitting that nail exactly on the head, and hammered away with all his might.
"Now then, are you going to own it, sir?" cried Carey.
Bostock gave seven or eight final blows with the hammer as if he were performing on an old-fashioned knocker, and finished off with a final bang, before turning round, and with both eyes open now he said defiantly:
"Own up, sir? No, I aren't, but there, she's finished now."
"Quite ready to go into the water?" said Carey.
"Yes," said the old fellow, bluntly; "she'd bear us and a load o' bricks if we had 'em."
"And that's why you've kept her back," said Carey, half-mockingly, but with a choking sensation in his throat—due to weakness perhaps.
"I aren't going to say naught," said the old fellow, gruffly.
"But you haven't polished her."
"No; I aren't," said Bostock, and he began to gather up his tools.
"But you can't be proud of such a rough thing as that."
Carey laughed at the queer look the old fellow gave.
"There," he cried, "didn't I say you were making believe?"
"Nay, that you didn't, sir. I never heard you."
"Here's Doctor Kingsmead coming up."
"Here, I say, don't you say a word to him, my lad," cried the old sailor in an anxious whisper.
"Will you own to it then?"
"Nay, that I won't," came in a growl.
"Here, doctor," cried Carey, loudly.
"Yes, what is it?"
"Oh, Master Carey, don't tell on a fellow," whispered Bostock.
"You're just in time. The raft's done. Bostock has just driven in the last nail."
"Glad to hear it," said the doctor. "Then I suppose we may get her into the water to-morrow."
"Yes, sir, she'll do now," growled the old sailor.
"That's right," said the doctor. "Look here, Carey, my lad, we'll try how she rides in the water to-morrow, and if she's all right, I think we might swing you down in a chair from a block, and you might go with us, for you need not exert yourself in the least. You would sit in the chair."
"Yes," cried the boy, eagerly. "I feel sure it wouldn't hurt me a bit."
"What do you say, Bostock? Could we manage?"
"That we could, sir; wrap him up and drop him down so as we shouldn't disturb a fly on him."
"Then we'll try," said the doctor, to the boy's great delight.
A few minutes later Bostock watched for his chance when the doctor had gone below, and went up to Carey's chair.
"Thought you was going to split on me, sir," he whispered.
"Then I was right?" said Carey.
"Well, what was the good o' us going and leaving you behind, my lad? You wouldn't ha' liked that?"
"No," said the boy, drawing a deep breath, as he looked half-wonderingly at the rough old sailor, and thought something about good-heartedness and kindly thought, as he said aloud:
"No, Bob, I don't think I should have liked that."
The raft was not launched the next morning, and Bostock did not even begin to make preparations with the blocks and pulleys for getting it over the side.
Carey was rather restless when he went to bed, the thought of the coming change and the idea of gliding over the smooth waters of the lagoon producing in his still weak state enough excitement to keep him awake for hours, so that it was well on towards morning before he went off soundly to sleep; but when he was once off he slept as if he meant to indulge himself for eight-and-forty hours.
"Hullo!" he cried when he awoke, "anything the matter?"
For he found the doctor sitting reading close to his berth.
"Matter? No, I hope not," replied the doctor, closing his book. "Had a good rest?"
"Yes, I have been sound asleep. What made you call me so early?"
"Early, eh? What time do you suppose it is?"
Carey glanced towards the round window, which looked dim and grey, and the cabin quite gloomy.
"I don't know," he said. "Close upon sunrise, I suppose."
"Close upon mid-day. Don't you hear the rain?"
"Rain? Yes, I was wondering what it was."
"A regular tropical downpour. No going ashore to-day."
"Oh, how tiresome! I say, though, why did you let me sleep so long?"
"Because Nature said you wanted rest. It was better to let you have your sleep out."
"But it will soon clear up, will it not?"
"I'm thinking it will not," said the doctor.
He thought right, for on and off the downpour lasted a fortnight, with storm after storm of thunder and lightning, and the occupants of the stranded vessel were kept close prisoners, only getting a short visit occasionally to the drenched deck, where Carey used his glass to watch the torrent ashore, which had grown into a tremendous fall, whose roar came like muffled thunder to his ears.
"It's horribly disappointing," he said, gloomily, on the fourteenth day. "I did so want to go ashore."
"Out of evil comes good," said the doctor, cheerily. "You have had another fortnight's enforced rest, and it has done wonders towards the knitting up of the bone."
"No," said the boy, quickly, "it's not so well. It aches more than ever to-day."
"That's only from the weather," said the doctor, laughing. "I daresay you will feel aching sensations like that for months to come, whenever there's a change in the weather."
Carey looked at him with so pitiful a countenance that the doctor laughed now heartily.
"I don't see anything to laugh at," said the boy.
"Bah! you don't mind a little pain. Come, cheer up; this long wait has been all for the best. You are a wonderful deal stronger now."
"But look here, Doctor Kingsmead," said the boy, earnestly; "am I really better and stronger, or are you saying that to comfort me?"
"I am saying it because it is the simple truth."
"Ha!" ejaculated Carey, and his face lit up, and then grew brighter still, for the sun came out, glorifying everything, the clouds were floating off the hills so that they could once more be seen, looking dazzlingly green, and the island, as far as they could see, appeared ten times more beautiful than ever.
"You'll have the raft lowered at once now?" cried Carey, eagerly.
"What, while everything is still drenched with rain? No, let's wait till to-morrow."
"And then it may be raining again."
"I think not," said the doctor. "Use your glass a little, and you'll see that everything ashore is so saturated that we could not go a dozen yards without being drenched."
"It does look rather wet," said Carey, grudgingly; but he soon brightened up, and looked on while the doctor got out his gun and cleaned a few specks of rust from the barrel, while that afternoon Bostock prepared everything for the launching, getting done in such good time that, as there were a couple of hours' more daylight, it was decided to try and get the raft over the side.
It looked cumbersome enough, but there was no difficulty in levering it along the deck by means of capstan bars, after which the rope running through the block high up was made fast to one side, and the doctor and Bostock began to haul: but the effect was not satisfactory, and Bostock stopped and scratched his head.
"Here, let me help," cried Carey; but the doctor roared at him, and the boy wrinkled up his brow.
"Well," said the doctor, when, after hauling one side up a little, they had lowered it again.
"Seems to me, sir," said the old sailor, "that we've got our work cut out to haul her up and lower her down."
"Yes, we want a couple of men to help," said the doctor.
"And we aren't got 'em," growled Bostock.
"Why don't you haul one side up till the raft's edgewise, and then work it out through the gangway with the levers till it overbalances and tumbles in?" said Carey.
"Ah, to be sure, sir," said Bostock, mopping his dripping face; "why don't we?"
"What, and shake the thing all to pieces with the fall?" said the doctor.
"Nay, nay, nay, sir; don't you say such a word as that," grumbled Bostock. "I don't do my work like that. I took lots o' time over her, didn't I, Master Carey?"
"You did, Bob," said the boy, with a queer cock of one eye.
"Consekens is, she's as strong as can be."
"You think it would hold together then?" said the doctor.
"Sure on it, sir."
"Let's try, then."
The rope was fastened, the capstan bars were seized, and in a few minutes, as the two men turned, the rope tightened, the raft gradually rose, and soon after stood up edgewise, resting on two of the corner tubs, and without the slightest disposition to topple over. Then the rope was slackened so as to allow enough to act as a painter to moor the unwieldy framework to the side, levers were seized, and inch by inch it was hitched along the deck to the gangway, and then on and on till a quarter of it was outside, when there was a halt for inspection to see if all was right for it to fall clear.
Bostock declared that it was, but the doctor shook his head.
"It is my belief," he said, "that it will turn wrong side up when it falls."
"I believe it will tumble all to pieces," cried Carey, mischievously.
"If she do I'll eat my hat," growled Bostock. "Let's have her in and chance it, sir. Mebbe if she falls topsy-wopsy we can get the capstan to work and turn her back again."
"Well, we'll try," replied the doctor.
"Come on then, sir," said the old sailor, picking up the capstan bar again; "and you stand well back, Master Carey. We don't want to break you again if she topples over."
The boy drew back and the levers were thrust in beneath, and once more the raft began to move inch by inch outside the gangway.
"Both together, sir," cried the old sailor; "easy it is—heave ho—heavy ho—steady—ay, oh! One, two, three, and a cheerily ho! One more, sir. Two more, sir. Yo, ho, ho, and lock out; over she goes!"
For the clumsy structure was hitched on and on till it was pretty well on the balance. Then a couple more touches did the business, for the half projecting through the gangway began to sink, overbalancing more and more till all at once, after hanging for a moment as if suspended in the air, it plunged outward, falling with a tremendous splash, sending the spray flying in all directions; and then, to the delight of all, after seeming to hesitate as it rose, turning over and floating high out of the water and right way up.
Carey gave a hearty cheer, while Bostock threw down his capstan bar with a rattle on the deck.
"Play up, you lubber!" he shouted to an imaginary fiddler, as he folded his arms and then dashed off in the sailor's hornpipe, dancing frantically for a couple of minutes, and ending with three stamps and a bow and scrape.
"Now then," he cried, panting hard with his exertions, "did she tumble all to pieces, sir? I knowed better than that."
"Capital, Bostock," said the doctor. "It floats splendidly, but will it bear all three?"
"Will it bear all three, sir? Yes, and a ton o' stuff as well. Here, just you wait a minute."
He ran and got hold of the rope, hauled the raft alongside, and made it fast, before sliding down on to the raft, where he repeated his hornpipe performance, the buoyant framework rising and falling a little, but seeming as safe as could be.
"There," he cried, shouting up breathlessly to those looking out from the gangway; "it seems to me that she's far safer than any boat I could make, and you can pole her, or row her, or put up a sail, and go anywhere on her; but, you know, I don't say as she'll be fast. No; I don't say that."
"You ought to be proud of your work, Bob," cried Carey, laughing.
"Proud on her, sir? I just am. Them tubs are good uns; no fear o' them leaking for years."
"Leaking for years, Carey," said the doctor, in a low tone of voice; "he speaks as if he were quite settled down to staying here."
"Well, it will be nice," said the boy. "I mean," he added, hastily, "for a month or two, for, of course, we expect to be fetched away soon."
"Yes," said the doctor; "of course we expect to be fetched away soon."
The doctor turned away and went down into the cabin, leaving the boy looking after him.
"How strangely he spoke," thought Carey; "just as if he didn't like what I said. Of course, I don't want to stay here, but to go on to Brisbane to see them. Only, after being shut up like a cripple so long, it's natural to want to go ashore on this island and see what the place is like. I say, Bob," he cried, going to the side, "do you think there's a volcano—a burning mountain, up yonder where the clouds hang so low?"
"Might be anything, sir. I shouldn't be a bit surprised. You never know what you're going to find in an island where nobody's been before."
"Want a hand up?"
"Nay, sir; I can swarm up the rope. We must lower down some steps, though, so as we can haul 'em up again of a night and keep out the savages as might come in their canoes."
"Savages? Canoes? Do you think there are any, Bob?"
"One never knows, sir. I don't think there's any here now, or we should have seen some of 'em; but they goes wandering about far enough, and they might turn up any time. Rather nasty ones they are, too, off the west coast and to norrard there, Noo Guinea. There we are," he continued, climbing on deck. "Won't take me long to-morrow morning putting on the oars, poles, and mast, and the bit o' sail we have made."
"Then we shall go to-morrow morning?"
"If it keeps fine," said the old sailor, shading his eyes and looking round. "And fine weather it is, my lad, as far as I can see."
The old sailor was right—fine weather it was: and after a heavy meal and providing themselves with another in a basket, they stepped down on to the raft, where Bostock had rigged up a mast, and pushed off from their home, which lay looking enormous from where they stood.
The doctor had passed judgment that if Carey did not exert himself he might do a little in the way of going about. He was bandaged still and debarred from using one arm at all; but as he half-lay on the raft looking round he was ready to declare that he would have liked to come even with both arms bandaged to his sides, for it was glorious on that sunny morning, with the air clear and soft, the sky of an intense blue, and the water, over which they glided very slowly, looking like crystal.