THE GO AHEAD BOYS AND THE TREASURE CAVE
Author of "Dodging the North Sea Mines," "With Joffre on the Battle Line," "The Air Scout," "The Go Ahead Boys on Smugglers' Island," etc., etc.
The GOLDSMITH Publishing Co.
New York N.Y.
MADE IN U.S.A.
Copyright, 1916 by BARSE & HOPKINS
The love of adventure is inborn in all normal boys. Action is almost a supreme demand in the stories they read with most pleasure. Recognizing this primary demand, in this tale I have endeavored to keep in mind this requisite and at the same time to avoid sensational appeals. The unusual is not always the improbable. The Go Ahead Boys are striving to be active without being unduly precocious or preternaturally endowed.
CONTENTS CHAPTER PAGE I THE VOYAGE IS BEGUN 11 II A PLUCKY FEAT 20 III A SUPERSTITIOUS COOK 29 IV A CODE 37 V A TROPICAL STORM 46 VI ADRIFT 54 VII A DESPERATE STRUGGLE 64 VIII A SORRY PLIGHT 71 IX IN SEARCH OF LAND 81 X ASHORE 89 XI A SERIOUS MISHAP 98 XII A NEW HOME 107 XIII AN IRON CHEST 116 XIV AN ODD DISCOVERY 124 XV SAM REMEMBERS SOMETHING 133 XVI THE RIDDLE 143 XVII UNDERGROUND WORK 151 XVIII IN THE WATER 159 XIX SHARK 167 XX TALKING IT OVER 176 XXI A NEW MEMBER 184 XXII A CLUE 193 XXIII Progress 201 XXIV Solved 211 XXV On the Beach 220 XXVI The Spot Is Marked 230 XXVII Conclusion 240
THE GO AHEAD BOYS AND THE TREASURE CAVE
THE VOYAGE IS BEGUN
"A-a-ll ha-a-ands! Up anchor! A-ho-oy!"
Instantly all was bustle and action on board the brig Josephine. The sailors ran hither and thither, the sails were loosed and the yards braced. The clanking of the windlass soon told that the anchor was being raised.
"Whew! I never saw so much excitement and hurry in all my life," exclaimed a boy, who with three companions stood on the deck of the brig and looked on at these activities without actually taking part in them themselves. The speaker was Fred Button. He was a tiny little fellow, known affectionately among his friends as Stub, or Peewee or Pygmy. This last name was frequently shortened into Pyg, much to Fred's disgust, though he had learned better than to lose his temper because of teasing or little things that did not just suit him. He had given up such foolishness long ago.
With his three companions he had embarked on the Josephine for a voyage to Buenos Aires in South America. The lure of the sea had attracted these four boys and the desire to see something of foreign lands had spurred them on. They were on board in the capacity of passengers though it was also their desire to help the crew in whatever way they were able.
Standing beside Fred Button was John Clemens, a boy who was as unusually tall as Fred was short. He was extremely thin, however, and with his six feet three inches of height he looked like a string, according to his friends. In fact that was what they usually called him.
Next to him was Grant Jones. Grant was about eighteen, the same age as the other three boys though he was their leader in a great many ways. No matter what he attempted he always did it well. In school work he usually led his class and on the athletic field he far outshone the others. His talents had won him the nickname of Socrates which, however, was usually shortened to Soc. "Old Soc Jones" was always a favorite.
The fourth member of the group was George Washington Sanders. He was always good natured and his witty remarks had made him intensely popular with all who knew him. In honor of the name he bore he sometimes had been referred to as the father of his country, which appellation, however, had finally been corrupted to Pop.
"It certainly is busy around here, isn't it?" exclaimed Grant Jones in response to Fred Button's remarks previously referred to.
"And it's all mystery to me," added John Clemens. "These orders being shouted and the strange things the men are doing are getting me bewildered."
"I've been standing here expecting some one of the sailors to mistake you for a mast and hang a sail on you any minute, String," said Pop Sanders slyly, at the same time nudging Fred Button.
"Is that so?" exclaimed John Clemens quickly. "At any rate, I'd rather be the shape of a mast than a bag of ballast."
"That's the way, String," said Grant Jones encouragingly. "Don't let him get the better of you."
"He never has and he never will," said John complacently.
"Stop arguing," exclaimed Fred Button, "and tell me what kind of a boat this is that we are on."
"It's a sailing boat," said Pop Sanders. "Did you think it was a steamer?"
"I mean what kind of a sailing boat is it. Is it a schooner or a bark, or what?"
"It's a brig," said Socrates Jones. "You can always tell a brig from the way she is rigged. She has two masts and is square rigged."
"I thought that was a brigantine," protested Fred.
"No," said Grant. "A brigantine is very much the same though. She has two masts and is square rigged on the foremast, but schooner rigged on the other."
"Which is called the mainmast," said Fred.
"Quite right," agreed Grant. "I'll make a sailor of you yet."
The Josephine was now sliding through the waters of New York Bay. The Statue of Liberty was just ahead on her right (or rather her starboard side) while on the port side was Governor's Island, with its old fort and parade ground plainly to be seen. Two big ocean liners loomed up a short distance away. One was just completing her voyage from Europe while the other was only starting. Saucy little tugs rushed hither and thither. Ferryboats passed, bearing their precious burdens of human freight. Great barges loaded to the water's edge were towed slowly along. Ahead could be seen many steamers lying at anchor in the lower bay off the quarantine station, while now and again a sailing vessel similar to the one on which the Go Ahead boys were embarked could also be seen. They were not very numerous, however.
"Well, what do you think of it, boys?" demanded a bluff, hearty voice behind them. It was Captain Roger Dodge, the commander of the Josephine, who spoke to them. His face was bronzed by the sun and wind and his drooping mustache was faded to a straw color. His gray eyes were the features that struck any one who observed him closely, however. A merry twinkle could be seen in them, but at the same time their expression denoted that their owner was a man who would never be afraid of anything on land or sea.
"We think it's fine," exclaimed Fred Button speaking for the others.
"It's a wonderful harbor all right," said Captain Dodge. "I think it's just about the finest in the world and I've seen most of them too."
"What one do you like next to this, captain?" inquired Grant. Old Soc Jones was always eager to learn something.
"Well," said the captain slowly, "I guess the harbor at Sydney, Australia, next to this. Still San Francisco has a wonderful harbor, too. That golden gate out there is a sight worth seeing."
"I wish I could see it," said Grant, wistfully. "Some day I hope to do it, too. Still, there are so many wonderful places in the world it's hard to say which ones you'd rather see first."
"That's very true," agreed the captain. "I've seen a good many, but I always want to see more. I've knocked around the world so long that I don't believe I could settle down and be happy now. I guess I've got the wanderlust all right."
"It's easy to get," exclaimed Pop Sanders, serious for once. "We've all got it ourselves."
"How long have you been a sailor, captain?" asked John Clemens.
"Thirty years. I started in as a cabin boy when I was fourteen years old and I've been at it ever since."
"You ought to know about all there is to know about it, I should think," said Fred.
"Without boasting at all, I can safely say that I do know a lot about the business," said Captain Dodge, smilingly. "I've done about all there is to do on a ship, I guess."
"And you've had some wonderful experiences," suggested Grant.
"Yes, I have," said the captain smilingly.
"Will you tell us about them sometime?"
"I should be glad to," said the captain readily. "Not now, though, for, as you can see, I am pretty busy," and the bluff sailor hurried away, shouting orders to his men, who all seemed to like him and take delight in carrying out his commands as quickly as possible.
"Captain Dodge isn't much like the sea captains we used to read about in the old story books, is he?" remarked Grant Jones.
"Why not?" demanded Pop Sanders. "He certainly looks like a sailor."
"I know that," agreed Grant, "but I meant the kind of a man the crew all hated and feared and who used to give them the rope's end every time they did anything he didn't like."
"That day has passed, I guess," laughed John Clemens. "Perhaps it's lucky for us, too, for we might get it ourselves."
"Any one would have to be a pretty good shot to hit you with anything, String," said Pop Sanders teasingly.
"Huh," snorted John, but he made no other reply.
At this moment Captain Dodge approached.
"We've got to anchor, boys," he said. "The wind is dead ahead of us here in the narrows and I think I'll wait till it shifts."
"We might all go to Coney Island then," exclaimed Fred Button eagerly.
"And the wind might change almost any minute and we'd sail off and leave you behind," laughed Captain Dodge. "Coney Island is just around that point, though, and you could row there in a little while."
"I guess we'll stay aboard if you're thinking of leaving us," said Fred. "I'd rather go to Buenos Aires than Coney Island."
"That's what I say," exclaimed John Clemens.
"Can't we do something to help around here?" asked Grant. "We're only amateur sailors, but we're anxious to do what we can."
"I know you are," said Captain Dodge. "I expect you to take your regular turns on watch with the rest of the crew. Just now I want the sails taken in, though. Do you suppose one of you could go up that foremast?"
"I could," cried Fred quickly. "Let me go."
"Think you can take in that topsail?"
"I can help."
"That's all I want, of course. There'll be a sailor up there with you to tell you what to do and perhaps you can be of assistance to him."
"I'd like to try it, anyway," said Fred eagerly.
"All right," said the captain. "Mr. Johnson," he called to the first mate, who was a big blonde-haired Swede, "this young man wants to go aloft. Will you let him help your man take in that fore-topsail?"
"Yes, sir," came the quick reply, and Fred ran to the foot of the mast, where Mr. Johnson, the mate, and a sailor named Petersen were standing.
"Follow me," said Petersen, and he began to climb. Up the rigging he went, with Fred close behind him. It was hard work for the inexperienced boy to keep pace with the hardy sailor, and he was well-nigh exhausted when at last they stood upon the yards.
"That's hard work," panted Fred.
"You'll get used to it," smiled the sailor. "There's a knack about it."
"What do we do now?" demanded Fred.
"Wait till we get our orders. The captain will bring 'er up into the wind in a minute and that's when we get to work."
"What shall I do?"
"You grab all the loose sail you can, right in your arms, and try to hold it there. They'll let go below."
Fred felt dizzy, standing so high above the decks, and he clung to the ropes which were all about him, for dear life. He heartily wished that he was once more with his comrades, but it was too late now. He must go through with it, and he was determined, if possible, not to betray his nervousness.
"Stand by!" came the faint call from below.
"Hang on now," cautioned Petersen. "They're going to bring 'er 'round."
The steersman put the helm hard over and the Josephine swung rapidly around with her bow into the wind. In spite of the warning Fred did not hold on as tightly as he should. He felt himself slipping. He clutched madly at the maze of ropes which entirely surrounded him. He tried to call out, but no sound came. Desperately he strove to save himself, but his efforts were unavailing.
A PLUCKY FEAT
Fred's three companions on the deck below watched their friend with horrified eyes. They had felt envious of his good fortune until now, and every one of them had wished that he was in Fred's place.
"It must be great up there," Grant exclaimed as he looked at Fred standing up against the topmast, far above the decks.
"That's the place to be, all right," said String enthusiastically.
"If you were up there it would look like two masts instead of one," said Pop Sanders.
"Say," said John in disgust. "You got off that same joke just a few minutes ago. It was all right the first time, but it's a pretty poor one now."
The three boys had stood below bantering one another and envying Fred until the Josephine came about and they saw that their comrade was dizzy and in danger of falling.
He swayed dangerously for a while that seemed a century long. He waved his arms wildly in the air and then clutched frantically for some rope or brace to save himself. He seemed to grab hold of plenty of ropes but to hang on to none. Moreover, a rope was the cause of his fall, for one swung violently around and catching the unfortunate boy around the ankles tripped him up and pulled him from the precarious spot on which he stood.
He toppled backward and fell. His three companions with one accord uttered a groan of horror and shut their eyes to keep out the awful sight of what was about to happen. To think that their wonderful trip was to be spoiled at the very start in this way! They turned their backs to the scene, afraid to look. Every boy expected to hear a thud on the deck and see the mangled body of their companion at their feet.
To them it seemed as if they waited hours and yet they did not hear the expected sound. Instead of that they heard a shout.
"Hold him!" some one cried, and opening their eyes and daring to look about them, the three boys on the deck saw something that was as unexpected as it was welcome.
Fred hung head downward from the yard, a rope twisted tightly around his feet. The same rope that had thrown him from his position was now holding him suspended in the air. But how securely did it hold him? Could it support him until help could come? That was the question.
"Go to him, somebody!" cried Grant in an agonized voice. Even as he spoke a sailor ran swiftly along the deck to the base of the foremast and began to climb rapidly. To those who watched him, however, it seemed as if he progressed at a snail's pace.
"He's going to drop!" groaned String.
"Maybe not," said Pop Sanders, trying to appear cheerful.
"What can he do if he does reach him?" demanded Grant.
"Wait and see," cautioned Pop.
Higher and higher climbed the sailor. From above Petersen, the man who had accompanied Fred to the top, leaned down and took hold of the rope which was all that kept the unfortunate boy from falling.
"Don't pull on that," begged Grant. "It'll surely come loose."
The sailor had now approached within a few feet of Fred. A moment later and he was by his side. He made no move to help the boy who hung so perilously out into space. Instead he shouted something to Petersen which could not be heard on the deck below.
"What's the matter with him?" demanded Pop angrily. "Why doesn't he do something?"
"Let him alone," cautioned Grant. "I guess he knows his business."
"But Fred'll fall."
"I guess not. That sailor can see how firm a hold that rope has on his ankles. He won't take any chances."
"He called for a rope," exclaimed John Clemens. "See, that sailor who went up with Fred is letting one down."
"And he's making the other one fast to the yard," added Grant.
"They're going to haul him up, I guess," said Pop.
"That's right," exclaimed Grant. "See, he's tying the other end around Fred's chest. They'll have him fixed all right in a minute."
"If he doesn't fall before," String reminded them.
"You're certainly a pessimist, String," exclaimed Pop. "Don't you ever have a cheerful thought?"
"Of course I do, but I'm worried."
"So am I. I try to be cheerful now and then, though."
"He's all right now," exclaimed Grant as the sailor finished tying the rope around Fred's body. "He couldn't fall now to save his life."
The sailor scrambled quickly up the mast until he stood alongside Petersen. Then the two men bent low, and hauling in hand over hand, soon pulled Fred up to the yard on which they stood. They did not untie the rope from around his waist, however, but rather made the loose end of it fast around the mast so that the accident could not be repeated. A great cheer from those who had assembled below greeted the result of this work.
"I guess Fred's awfully dizzy just now," remarked Grant. "I don't believe it's much fun hanging by your heels way up there."
"And now how are they going to get him down?" demanded Pop. "He certainly can't do it by himself. He'd be sure to fall."
At this moment Captain Dodge joined the three boys. "A pretty close call for our sailor friend," he remarked grimly.
"Yes," agreed Grant, "it certainly was. I don't suppose he'll want to do much climbing for quite a while now."
"I hope not," said the captain heartily.
"How are you going to get him down?" asked Pop.
"That's easy," said the captain, smiling. "We'll take a very long rope, one that will reach all the way from the deck up to where he is and back again. We'll tie one end around your friend and we'll hang on to the other down here on the deck. The rope will go over the yard and he will be on one end and we will be on the other. Then we'll lower away slowly and the first thing you know he'll be right down here with us again."
"And mighty glad to get here, I guess," exclaimed Grant.
"I'll send a man up with the rope now," said the captain, and he started to walk away.
"Wait," cried Grant suddenly. "What's Fred trying to do?"
"He's untying the ropes," exclaimed String. "Is he crazy?"
"I guess he is," said Pop. "It looks as if he was getting ready to climb down the way he went up."
"Yell at him," exclaimed String excitedly.
"Don't you do it," cautioned Captain Dodge quickly. "Don't distract his attention from what he is doing for a second. It's too late now, anyway."
Fred now stood free and clear of the ropes. It was evident that the two men with him were arguing with him not to attempt the descent, but apparently their efforts made no impression on the daring youth, for he could be seen to shake his head. Then he gingerly lowered himself from the yard and began the perilous journey to the deck.
"Pretty nervy," muttered Captain Dodge under his breath, and murmurs of admiration could be heard from all the members of the crew gathered nearby. No one spoke, however, for all eyes and all interest were focused on the feat Fred was performing.
Slowly and carefully he proceeded at first, but as he gained in confidence he increased the speed of his descent. Before he had covered half of the distance he was swinging along as freely and apparently as carelessly as any sailor. A moment later and he reached the deck.
"Good boy," cried Captain Dodge, springing forward to shake hands with Fred, and at the same time a hearty cheer was given by the crew.
As soon as Fred touched foot on the deck, however, a change came over him. His face became deathly pale and he swayed dizzily. He put out his hand to save himself, but before Captain Dodge could reach him he collapsed and sank to the deck in a limp heap.
"Fainted," remarked Grant simply.
"Well, I don't blame him," exclaimed Pop Sanders. "It's the reaction from the strain probably."
The three boys rushed to the side of their comrade and found that Grant's surmise had been correct. Fred had fainted.
"Bring some water," directed Captain Dodge. "He'll be around presently."
Fred soon opened his eyes after a few treatments of cold water, splashed directly in his face. He looked about him and smiled weakly.
"How do you feel?" asked Captain Dodge.
"Fine," said Fred, but he didn't look so.
"You better get in your bunk for a while," said the captain. "That's all you need just now. I'll tell the cook to bring you a little hot soup."
Leaning on Grant and George Washington Sanders, Fred made his way below. He was very weak after his ordeal and it was with a great sigh of relief that he sank into his bunk.
"What made you climb down?" demanded Pop.
"Well," said Fred, "I just had to. I knew that if I didn't do it then I never would have the nerve to try again. I felt so foolish to have caused all the trouble I did and I knew they'd all think me an awful landlubber. I felt as if I ought to square myself."
"You did that all right," said Grant heartily. "The whole crew is crazy about you now, and String and Pop and I are certainly in the shade."
"I don't mind that part of it," said Pop. "All I say is, don't do it again. I couldn't stand another ten minutes like those."
"And I tell you one thing," said Grant. "It's lucky for you that the Josephine had been brought up into the wind. If we had been tacking or beating or something like that you'd never had hung so quietly as you did."
"Are we anchored now?" asked Fred.
"Yes," said Grant. "We're going to stay here until the wind changes."
"When do you suppose that will be?"
"The captain says it'll probably swing around to the west to-night. As soon as it does we will get under way again."
"They can't do it too soon to suit me," exclaimed String. "I want to be out on the ocean, where you can't see a bit of land in any direction."
"That'll happen soon enough, once we get started," said Grant. "Then we'll probably wish we were on shore again."
At this moment the cook appeared with a bowl of smoking hot soup for Fred. The cook was named Sam and was as black as ebony.
"Wh'ars dat high diver?" he demanded as he entered the cabin.
"You mean me?" smiled Fred.
"I sho' do," said Sam. "You suttinly is some acrobat."
"Not again, I hope," said Fred fervently. "I hope my troubles are over."
As a matter of fact his troubles and his companions' had scarcely begun.
A SUPERSTITIOUS COOK
"Ah's afraid ob dis heah boat," said Sam as he handed the soup to Fred and settled himself on the side of the bunk opposite.
"Afraid of it?" exclaimed Fred. "Why?"
"She's got de hoodoo," said Sam decidedly.
"Why, Sam," said Fred. "What do you mean by that?"
"She's got de hoodoo, dat's all."
"What makes you think so?"
"Because Ah feels dat way."
"But why do you feel that way?"
"Dey's a Jonah on board."
"You think so?"
"Ah sho' do," said Sam, nodding his ebony head violently up and down. "Ah seen him come abo'd and Ah knowed right away dat we was gwine ter hab hard luck dis cruise."
"You know who the Jonah is, then, do you?" inquired Grant, somewhat amused by the black man's superstitions.
"Ah done tol' you all Ah seen him come abo'd," said Sam.
"Who is he?"
"What Finn?" demanded Fred. "What is his name?"
"Ah doan' know his name, but he am de Jonah all right."
"What does he look like?" asked Fred.
"Like all de Finns," said Sam. "Big, wid light hair."
"You don't mean Mr. Johnson, the mate, do you?" said Grant.
"Suttinly not. Mr. Johnson am a Swede."
"Who can it be, do you suppose?" asked Grant of Fred and String and Pop. The four friends were much interested in what Sam had to say.
"Dey calls him Pete," said Sam.
"Not Petersen?" exclaimed Fred. "The man who went up the mast with me?"
"Dat's de one," said Sam with great conviction. "He am a Jonah. Jus' so long as he is on dis boat we is boun' to hab hard luck. He was de one who was responsible fo' you all doin' dat dive."
"How silly," laughed Fred. "You don't think he pushed me, do you?"
"Ah ain't sayin' as how he done actually pushed you," said Sam mysteriously. "All de same he was 'sponsible."
"Why do you suspect him, Sam?" asked String curiously.
"Because he am a Finn," said Sam.
"Is that the only reason?"
"Ain't dat enuff?" exclaimed Sam. "He's a Finn, ain't he? Well, doan' you all know dat Finns is hard luck?"
"I never knew it," said Fred.
"Well it's de truth jus' de same," said Sam.
"Why is that?" asked Fred.
"Ah doan' know nothin' about why it is," said Sam. "All Ah knows is dat Finns is hard luck on boats an' always has been."
"What can they do?"
"Dey say," whispered Sam in a low voice and leaning forward after a glance around the cabin, "dat dey can make de wind blow or dey can make it stop blowin'. Dey can make de storms come and if dey tries real hard dey can wreck de whole ship."
"By doing what?" asked Grant.
"By doin' nothin'," replied Sam confidently. "Dey jus' sits in de cabin and thinks and thinks and wha'soever dey thinks about is boun' to happen."
"It wouldn't do to get one of them mad at you then, would it?" remarked Pop.
"Ah should say not," exclaimed Sam with great conviction.
"Haven't you ever sailed with Finns before?" asked Grant.
"Once, an' dat time we had nothin' but head winds an' calms all de blessed time. Dat proves what Ah say about dem Finns, doan' it?"
"You think the Finn was responsible, do you?"
"Ah is sho' of it."
"We'll hope you're wrong, Sam," laughed Pop. "Certainly we're not looking for hard luck. We're out for fun."
"Ah hopes yo' all has it," said Sam, but he shook his head doubtfully and muttered to himself as he took the empty soup bowl from Fred's hands and carried it off into the galley.
"He's a queer one," said Pop laughing as he watched the cook's disappearing figure. "Imagine accusing all Finns of being hard luck."
"It's pretty tough on the race, I should say," said String.
"Yes," laughed Pop, "and just imagine what would happen if we were over in Finland. There certainly must be a lot of hard luck there."
"Oh, Sam doesn't know any better," said Grant. "He's ignorant and like all darkies is superstitious. Sailors are too, and as Sam is a combination of both he is worse than usual."
"He's made me feel sort of queer though," said Fred. "Of course it's silly and I suppose it's partly because I'm nervous after fainting but I feel as if something was hanging over us."
"Don't be foolish, Fred," exclaimed Grant.
"I'll get over it all right," said Fred lightly. "At the same time Sam's talk has gotten me stirred up some."
"Forget it," urged Pop briefly. "Come on up on deck and see what's going on."
"I think I'll stay here in my bunk a little while," said Fred. "I haven't quite recovered my nerve yet. You fellows go on up."
"All right," said Grant. "We'll see you later."
They made their way up on deck and found that the Josephine was still at anchor and that the wind instead of changing was blowing in the same direction and seemed fresher than formerly.
"The Finn's giving us head winds," said Pop in a low voice to his companions.
"There's Petersen over there now," remarked String. "He certainly looks harmless enough."
"And I guess he is," added Grant.
"Fred isn't sure of it any more."
"He'll feel differently about it when he has recovered from the shock he had," said Grant confidently.
"Perhaps," String admitted doubtfully. "Fred gets queer notions though."
"Let's ask Captain Dodge about it," exclaimed Grant. "There he is now."
"How's the patient?" asked the captain cheerily as the boys approached.
"All right," said Grant. "He finished all the soup that Sam brought him, I noticed. We were talking to Sam down in the cabin and he has gotten Fred excited."
"What about?" demanded the captain curiously.
"He says there is a Jonah on board and that we're going to have hard luck all through the voyage."
"Sounds just like Sam," laughed the captain. "Who did he say the Jonah is?"
"Petersen, the man who went up the mast with Fred."
"Because he's a Finn?" asked Captain Dodge.
"Yes," said Grant. "What's the matter with Finns anyway?"
"Why," said Captain Dodge, "there's an old superstition among sailors that they bring bad luck. I had almost forgotten it, but as soon as you said that Sam suspected Petersen I remembered that he is a Finn and that Sam would probably believe in the old story."
"I hope it's not true," said John Clemens.
"I guess we needn't worry about it," said the captain, smiling. "It doesn't bother me any but if you boys want to go ashore it isn't too late yet."
"We don't feel as bad about it as that," laughed Grant. "I guess we'll risk it."
"I'm all right anyway," exclaimed Pop Sanders. "I've got my compass."
"What do you think of him, captain?" exclaimed John. "He always carries a compass on a string around his neck."
"That's all right," said Captain Dodge. "In case he is shipwrecked he can tell in which direction he is going anyway. Not that that knowledge would do him very much good."
"And my diary," added Pop. "Don't forget that. I always carry a diary in my hip pocket with a little pencil in it so that I can jot things down just as soon as they happen or rather when I think to do it. You see when you have it with you you are more apt to keep it up to date."
"A good idea," said the captain warmly. "I see that you are a very methodical young man and probably I shall get you to keep the log for me."
"I guess you wouldn't want me to do that," laughed Pop. "I'm afraid it wouldn't be done very well."
All day long the boys lolled about on the deck. Fred had joined his companions and the four friends discussed what they should do when they arrived at Buenos Aires, the beautiful South American city of which they had heard so much. They talked of a sailor's life and all its hardships and its pleasures. Like everything else it is a mixture of good and bad and too much of either is harmful anyway.
After supper that evening the wind died down. The water became almost as quiet as a mill pond and more than one of the four friends whispered to his comrades that the Finn was at the bottom of it all. George Sanders mentioned this to Captain Dodge in a joking way but the captain only laughed and said, "Wait. Unless I am very much mistaken we'll have a fine favoring wind inside of two hours."
His prophecy was soon fulfilled too, for in a short time a damp night-breeze sprang up out of the west. Up came the anchor, the sails were set, and the Josephine slid ghost-like down through the narrows, around Sandy Hook and out into the open sea.
"We're off, String," exclaimed George Sanders joyously. The two boys were standing near the forward hatchway looking out across the black water. If Pop had known what awaited them perhaps he would not have been quite so light hearted.
The breeze held strongly and the Josephine made splendid progress. The life on shipboard had endless attractions for the four young boys. They learned the parts of the ship, the names of the sails and how to navigate. Sailors taught them to splice ropes and how to tie the hundred and one knots familiar to those who follow the sea. The weather was ideal and as everything went well, all on board were in excellent spirits.
"I guess Sam was wrong about this hard luck business," remarked John Clemens one day to Grant Jones. The two boys were standing near the bow of the brig, watching two of Mother Carey's chickens, those friendly little birds that follow and play around boats even out in the middle of the ocean.
"It certainly looks so, String," said Grant. "We can't hold much against the Finn so far, can we?"
"I should say not. Let's hope it keeps up."
"I don't see how it can," said Grant. "So far it has been almost too good to be true, and I don't see how it can last."
"I think it will though."
"Sam says not. He says that maybe we have escaped so far but he still insists we're going to have something happen to us before we're through."
"He's cheerful, isn't he?" laughed John. "I'm not worrying though."
"Mr. Johnson says that we're almost bound to strike bad weather when we get into the gulf-stream."
"I don't know except for what he said. He says that sometimes you can see the low banks of clouds over the gulf-stream and that you may run from a clear sky and light wind, with all sail, into a heavy sea and cloudy sky where you'll need double reefs."
"Isn't that queer," exclaimed John. "I wonder when we'll reach it."
"Fairly soon, I should say," said Grant. "We must be getting pretty far south by now."
"We are. Captain Dodge told me we'd be in the West Indies before long."
"I wish we could stop."
"You want to see everything," laughed John. "We're going to South America, aren't we? What more do you want?"
At that moment Fred and George Sanders approached the two boys.
"We ought to be Sons of Neptune in a few days," exclaimed George gayly as he and Fred came up to the place where their two friends were standing.
"What do you mean by that, Pop?" asked John curiously.
"Just what I say, String, my boy," said George. "You don't mean to tell me that you don't know what a Son of Neptune is! Every man that sails any of the seven seas ought to know that."
"Don't be funny, Pop," warned John, assuming a threatening attitude. "Tell me what it means and be quick about it."
"You swear you don't know?"
"You heard what I said, didn't you?"
"Yes," grinned Pop, "but you know I don't believe half what you say."
"Throw him overboard, String," urged Fred. "Don't fool with him any longer."
"That's just about what I had decided to do," said John.
"Wait," cried Pop, stepping forward and holding up his hand dramatically. "Spare my life and I will tell all."
"Be quick about it then," warned John. "I shan't fool with you much longer."
"I know it," said Pop, pretending to be greatly alarmed. "I know it, String, and I must say I am awfully frightened."
John stepped forward and raised his hands as if he was about to seize George W. Sanders by the neck. He had no opportunity to do so, however.
"I'll tell. I'll tell," cried Pop quickly.
"I'll give you till I count three," said John. "One, two—"
"A man becomes a Son of Neptune," said George, "when he has crossed the equator on a boat. Now will you promise not to hurt me? Not that you could do it if you tried," he added, but he muttered the words so softly to himself that no one else heard him.
"Is that what a Son of Neptune is?" exclaimed John.
"Yes, String, that's what a Son of Neptune is," said George, imitating as nearly as possible his friend's tone of voice.
"Who told you?" demanded Grant.
"What has that got to do with it?"
"Who told you?" repeated Grant sharply. "We'll have to take some of this freshness out of him pretty soon, String," he added.
"We surely will," agreed John readily. "I'm ready at any time."
The four friends loved to tease and banter one another and oftentimes an outsider might have thought from their conversation that they had lost their tempers. Such, however, was never the case. They knew one another too well and all had too much sense for any such foolishness. In particular they all liked to tease and threaten Pop Sanders, though in any contest of wits he usually held his own and the threats of his comrades had no effect upon him whatever.
"For the third and last time, who told you?" demanded Grant.
"Petersen told me."
"You've been talking to the Finn, have you?" exclaimed Fred.
"Yes, and he's a nice fellow, too."
"Maybe you'll get his hard luck away from him," laughed Grant.
"I guess he's had hard luck himself all right," said Pop seriously. "That doesn't mean he'll give it to others though."
"What hard luck has he had?" asked John.
"Well, his father died when he was a baby and he was left with a big family of children to be brought up by his mother. She had no money and of course had an awfully hard time of it. Two of his sisters died of scarlet fever, a younger brother was drowned and finally his mother got pneumonia and she died. I call that pretty tough luck myself."
"So do I," agreed Grant readily.
"If Sam heard all those things he'd surely say it was because it was a family of Finns," said Fred. "He'd say they brought hard luck to one another."
"He probably would," laughed Pop. "Still I feel sorry for a fellow who has had all that trouble."
"What did his father do?" asked John.
"He was a bad character principally, I guess," said Pop. "He was also a sailor at times."
"You must have had quite a long talk with Petersen, Pop," said Grant. "How did he happen to get so confidential?"
"I don't know. We just got talking, that's all, and the first thing I knew he began to tell me the story of his life."
"His father left the family no money, I imagine," said Fred.
"Certainly not. He left debts. The only thing he left was a bad reputation and this thing which Petersen gave to me," and as he spoke Pop reached in his hip pocket and brought out what appeared to be a dirty piece of old paper, folded up.
"What's that?" demanded Grant quickly.
"I don't know," said George. "See for yourself."
He handed the object in question to Grant who straightway unfolded it and glanced at it eagerly.
"It's nothing but a lot of numbers," he exclaimed disappointedly.
"I know it," said George. "Just a lot of old faded numbers written on a piece of parchment."
"What's it supposed to be?" asked John curiously.
"Petersen thinks it's some sort of a code. Maybe it is but I think myself it is nothing at all, and that it might as well be thrown overboard."
"What makes him think it's a code?" said Grant.
"Nothing much that I know of," replied Pop. "He said it was found sewed inside the lining of a coat his father used to have and so he thought it must be valuable. He said that the neighbors used to tell some kind of weird stories about his father having been connected with buried treasure or something like that, and he is sure this has something to do with it. Personally I think he is mistaken about it."
"If he thinks it so valuable why did he give it to you?" demanded Fred.
"He didn't really give it to me to keep. He wanted me to try and decipher the code and tell him what it says."
"Did you do it?" laughed John.
"No, you Son of Neptune," exclaimed George. "I did not. I offered to read the numbers to him, but he said he could do that much himself."
"Where's this treasure buried?" asked Fred.
"That's just what Petersen wants to find out," said Pop. "That certainly was an awfully smart question to ask, Fred."
"I thought he might know the island or whatever it is where the stuff is supposed to be buried, but not the exact location of the jewels on the island."
"How do you know it's jewels?"
"It always is, isn't it?"
"I don't know anything about it," said Pop. "For all we know Petersen may be playing a joke on us. We're all landlubbers of course and the crew might have decided to initiate us a little."
"Perhaps," agreed John. "The parchment looks old though."
"What are the numbers, Grant?" asked Fred. "Read them out."
"Twenty," began Grant when he was interrupted.
"Add 'em up, you fellows," laughed George. "The total tells how old Anne is."
"Let him read them, Pop," urged John. "Give him a chance."
"Twenty, one, eleven, five, one, three, fifteen, twenty-one, eighteen, nineteen, five." Grant paused. "That's a funny thing" he said. "Every number is distinctly separated from the next one. It certainly seems as if it must mean something."
"All right, I'll tell Petersen that you are going to solve the mystery, Socrates, my boy," laughed Pop. "Shall I?"
Before Grant could answer there was a shout. A few sharp orders were given and immediately everything on board the Josephine was bustle and hurry. The crew came rushing out on deck, and scattered hither and thither all over the brig in obedience to the orders that were being given so rapidly. An anxious look was on the faces of all the men.
A TROPICAL STORM
"What's all this?" exclaimed Grant, startled by the sudden change that had come over the boat.
The four boys looked about them in surprise, unable to account for the transformation. Petersen was forgotten; jewels and treasure were forgotten; even the strange code was forgotten and Grant absent-mindedly thrust it into his trouser's pocket.
"What is it, do you suppose?" he exclaimed again.
"Look over there and you'll see," said Fred.
He pointed to the westward and as his three friends gazed in the direction he had indicated they soon saw the cause of all the commotion. Far off on the western horizon appeared a cloud. That in itself was no special reason for alarm, but it was a very peculiar looking cloud. It was grayish-black in color and shaped like a funnel. Long ragged strips had separated themselves from the main body and hung like long wisps from the sky.
"Do you think it's a tornado?" exclaimed John, in a low voice.
"I don't know, String," said Pop. "It looks bad though, doesn't it?"
"It does to me all right," said Fred grimly. "The captain must think it is pretty serious too from all the preparations that are being made."
"They're taking in some of the sails," remarked Grant.
"I'm glad of that," exclaimed Fred. "When that storm hits us I don't want any more canvas spread than is necessary."
"Perhaps it won't hit us," said George hopefully.
"You're an optimist, Pop, I'm afraid," said Fred. "I think it'll hit us all right."
"The breeze is going down," said John suddenly.
"It surely is," agreed Grant. "The lull before the storm."
"Look at that cloud now," exclaimed Fred. "It's spreading all over the sky and see how fast it is going. It'll be dark in a few minutes."
"Why don't they take the rest of the sails in?" demanded John nervously. "I must say I don't like this."
"They've taken in the topsails and the mizzen," said Grant. "That's a big part."
A lull had now come over the crew and the four young friends were unconsciously affected by it. Now there was not a breath of air stirring; the sails hung heavy and motionless from the yards. Blacker and blacker grew the sky; the stillness all about became appalling. No one spoke a word, but every one stood around as though waiting for something serious to happen. The crew was gathered about the forward hatchway silently watching the approach of the storm.
Mr. Johnson, the mate, went forward and gave some order in a low tone. More sails were taken in, all in a solemn and quiet manner. The brig now lay motionless on the water while an uneasy expectation of something threatening seemed to hang overhead. The suspense was terrible. Captain Dodge paced silently up and down the deck but he spoke to no one and no one spoke to him. It was now so dark it was almost impossible to see the length of the ship.
Again Mr. Johnson came forward and gave another low-voiced command. Two sailors, one of whom was Petersen, started up the mast to clew down the main top-gallant sail. They had just reached the fore-top-gallant yard when a strange thing happened.
"Look," cried John, in an awe struck voice.
"What is that?" demanded Fred in a frightened whisper.
"A corposant," said Grant. "I've read about them."
Over and directly above the heads of the two sailors appeared a light. It was in the shape of a ball and hung to the very top of the mast.
"What's a corposant?" whispered John.
"I don't know," replied Grant, "except that that's what they call a ball of light like that one. If it goes up it's supposed to be good luck, but if it comes down it's bad."
"I wish Petersen wasn't up there," muttered Fred.
"Don't be silly, Fred," exclaimed Grant sharply. The tension was affecting every one's nerves. It was almost pitch dark on the Josephine now.
"I can't help it," insisted Fred. "I wish it was some one else up there."
"It's gone," remarked John suddenly.
"No, it isn't," George corrected. "There it is, down on the yard."
"It came down then," said Fred. "I knew it would."
"Don't blame Petersen," exclaimed Grant. "It's not his fault."
The two sailors had climbed down quickly after their task was completed and now joined the rest of the crew. All together they stood and watched the strange light until after playing about the mast for some ten minutes or so it disappeared as suddenly as it had come.
Somebody passed the spot where the four boys stood. It was too dark to make out who it was but the young sailors could hear him moaning and groaning to himself. "Dat Finn," he groaned. "Oh, Lawdy, dat Finn. Ah knowed it all de time. We sho' is goners now."
"There goes Sam," whispered Fred.
"Let him go," said Grant shortly.
"Here comes the rain," exclaimed John suddenly.
A few huge drops fell upon the deck and at the same time the darkness seemed to grow even deeper than before.
"There's thunder too," said George. A few low rumbles were heard, while off to the southwest appeared some random flashes of lightning.
"Where's the storm?" demanded Fred. "So far nothing has happened. This stillness and darkness are getting on my nerves."
"Wait," counseled Grant, and scarcely had he spoken when there was a blinding flash of light. Almost at the same instant came a deafening peal of thunder. The sky directly overhead seemed to open up and down came the water in torrents.
Unconsciously the four boys drew closer together, so startled were they by this unexpected happening. It seemed as if the brig must have been struck but evidently it had escaped, for a second later there was another flash and report and the bare masts could be seen outlined against the inky sky.
Flash followed flash in quick succession. The whole ocean was lighted up by the constant blaze of light. Peal after peal rattled overhead with a noise so violent that it seemed as if the whole earth must be shaken. After a few moments the deluge of rain abated but the thunder and the lightning continued incessantly. So far there had not been a breath of air stirring; the Josephine lay motionless on the surface of the ocean and seemed to the people on board of her an excellent and easy target for the fury of the elements.
Several times one of the boys started to speak but his words were lost in the roar of the storm. They were almost blinded by the lightning but no one thought of going below. This was their first experience in a tropical storm and they were frightened. They would not have been ashamed to admit it either. They did not care to go to their bunks, for every one wanted to be on deck where he could see what was going on.
The lightning played all about the ship and it seemed a miracle that she was not hit. It seemed to run up and down the masts, across the yards and over the anchors, but thus far the Josephine had escaped. All this time there had been no wind; the brig lay motionless and powerless to move.
Suddenly there was a blinding flash and a ripping, tearing sound accompanied by the smell of burnt wood. So severe had been the blaze of light that every one was temporarily blinded by it and for a few seconds everything looked red. A moment later, however, when the crew had recovered somewhat from the shock a great shouting and running to and fro began.
"We're hit," cried Grant, the first to regain his senses.
"The ship's on fire," shouted Fred excitedly.
As he spoke a few red tongues of flame appeared from the hatch. Orders were instantly given and a brigade to fight the fire was formed almost at once. It was difficult work, however, for the night was so dark that it was nearly impossible to see one's way around the deck. The flashes of lightning were about the only help afforded to the emergency firemen.
The four young friends were among the first to join in this work. Buckets were passed from hand to hand and the men worked feverishly. No one shirked for an instant and in fact no one dared to do so, for without their ship the men were nearly helpless, left to the mercy of the ocean.
"The wind's coming up," exclaimed Grant suddenly.
What he said was true. It was also raining hard once more, though the thunder and lightning had somewhat abated.
"The wind means our finish," said Fred grimly. "We'll never stop this fire now."
"We must," cried John doggedly. "We're lost if we don't."
Every one redoubled his efforts but the fire gained steadily. Higher and higher leaped the flames and farther and farther astern they crept. The crew worked like demons but their task was hopeless. The fire was too mighty for them and it was soon evident to every one on board that the Josephine was a doomed ship.
Captain Dodge stood near by urging on his men. Nor did he shirk any of the work himself. He fought the flames with all the fury of a determined man, but it soon became plain that it was an unequal struggle and that the Josephine would never reach Buenos Aires or any other port for that matter.
"Man the boats!" shouted the captain.
The lifeboats were loosened on the davits and made ready to launch. A stock of provisions was placed on board of every one of them and preparations were made to embark. The four Go Ahead boys were assigned to one boat, together with Sam the cook and Petersen the Finn sailor.
"That'll never do," said John in a low voice to Grant. "Sam and Petersen in the same boat are bound to have trouble."
"I'm afraid so myself, String," said Grant, "but what can we do? Captain Dodge gave the orders and we must do as he says."
"Wouldn't he change them?"
"He might, of course, but I'm not going to ask him to."
"No," said John ruefully, "I don't suppose we could do that. I guess we'll have to put up with it."
The wind had been steadily increasing in violence since the fire started and now was blowing almost a gale. It whipped the waves into foam and whistled and shrieked through the rigging. The fire, fanned by the breeze, now roared menacingly while its volume increased steadily. It was only too evident that it would be impossible to remain on board the Josephine many moments more.
"We'd better get away from here," said Fred nervously, as he watched the mass of flame and smoke which now enveloped the whole forward part of the ship.
"When we do leave we won't be much better off," said Pop gloomily.
"Just the same I'd rather take my chances with the ocean than with this fire," exclaimed Grant.
"Where are we going!" demanded John.
"How do I know!" said Grant. "We must leave, that's sure. What we are to do after we leave is another matter."
"Stand by to lower away!" came the order.
The four boys sprang to their positions. Petersen and Sam joined them a moment later. The negro cook was half-crazed with fear and still kept mumbling to himself, "Dat Finn, dat Finn." Undoubtedly he did not understand that Petersen was to go on the same boat with him or he would not have consented to step aboard. Now, in the darkness it was almost impossible to recognize anybody and Sam probably had no idea who any of his companions were to be.
The boats descended rapidly and soon rested upon the water where they danced and bobbed about like corks on the angry waves.
"Get aboard, Sam," urged Grant.
Making no objection, the negro quickly lowered himself into the waiting boat. Fred, John, Grant and George followed in order, leaving only Petersen on board the brig. He stood with the painter in his hand, awaiting the word to leave.
"Unship your oars," he called.
"All right," answered Grant.
There were two pairs of oars in the boat and every one of the four boys took charge of one of them. Sam cowered in the bow of the boat shuddering and still murmuring over and over again, "Dat Finn, dat Finn."
At the sound of Petersen's voice from the deck above, however, he half raised himself. "Who dat talkin'?" he demanded.
"One of the sailors," said Grant carelessly, knowing what was passing in the black man's mind.
"Dat Petersen," said Sam. "Am he comin' on dis heah boat?"
"I don't know," Grant answered evasively.
"He bettah not. He bettah not," said Sam fiercely. "We's had enough hard luck on account ob dat man already."
"It wasn't his fault," said Grant trying to quiet the excited negro.
"It was! It was!" Sam fairly shouted, at the same time trying to stand up in the skiff.
"Sit down, Sam," ordered Fred sharply.
"Ah won't sit down," the cook cried menacingly. "Ah won't do nothin' if dat Finn am gwine git in dis heah boat. Ah tells yo' all we's had enough hard luck on account of dat man."
"You'll sit down or get out of the boat," said Grant threateningly. "We won't take any fooling here either."
Sam subsided, but he still mumbled to himself incessantly.
"All right, get aboard," John called to Petersen, though he took care not to call him by name.
Petersen threw the painter and jumped into the stern of the life-boat. The four oarsmen dug their blades into the water and the little craft shot forward. The other boats had also left and the Josephine was now a blazing mass of wood. Sparks shot high into the air and in all directions only to fall with a hiss into the angry waters of the sea. The roar of the flames could be heard even above the noise of the storm which seemed to be increasing in intensity.
The four boys rowed a couple of hundred yards away from the burning brig and then rested on their oars and watched the destruction of the ship on which they had expected to go to South America. She was entirely enveloped in flames now and presented a wonderful but terrible sight as she was rapidly being devoured by the hungry fire.
All the occupants but one of the boat watched the fire. That one was Sam. He still remained huddled in the bow and never once did he look back. He moaned and groaned and raved until the rest of the party began to think that perhaps he was losing his mind.
Farther and farther from the burning ship drifted the tiny boat. All that the crew of it could do was to keep the stern straight into the waves and straighten her out when a great roller sent them flying. Lower and lower appeared the hull of the Josephine, when an occasional glimpse could be had of her from the crest of some huge wave. At length she disappeared, entirely burned to the water's edge, and thus came the end of another brave ship. One more was added to the great ocean graveyard, already thick with the bones of many a gallant merchantman.
"She's gone," said George soberly.
"Yes," said John, "and what's going to happen to us?"
"We may be picked up," exclaimed Fred hopefully.
"And we may not," added Grant.
"Do you know where we are?" he asked of Petersen.
"I've no idea," was the answer. "Somewhere near the West Indies, or maybe we're right in them now for all I know."
"Then we'll soon find land," said Fred as cheerfully as was possible under the circumstances.
"I hope it isn't the land that's at the bottom of the ocean," said George.
"Don't be so pessimistic, Pop," urged Fred. "What's the matter with you lately?"
"Nothing. We're in a bad fix, that's all."
"Look out for this wave!" warned Grant suddenly as a great mountain of water loomed up behind them.
The little boat was driven along at the speed of a race horse for many, many yards, but fortunately she remained right side up. The four boys managed their oars skillfully and Petersen steered marvelously. Now and then some water was shipped but aside from that no harm came to them.
Gradually the wind died down and the storm abated. Night had now come upon them, however, and they were in a sorry plight.
"Where are the other boats?" asked Grant when an hour of silence had elapsed.
"I've no idea," said Fred. "Has any one seen them?"
No one had. At least every one denied it but Sam, and as he had not once looked around him there was no chance that he had seen anything. Now he was asleep. He had made no move to help in any way and seemed to take it for granted that the others would look after him. His last words before he had closed his eyes were, "Dat Finn."
"We've got some provisions, anyway," said John.
"Yes," agreed George, "but how long do you think they'll last?"
"Plenty long enough to keep us going until we are picked up."
"Don't be so sure of that," George advised. "At any rate, we have no water, and that's even more important than food."
"Yes, we have, too, Pop," corrected Fred. "It's right under my feet."
"Yes, salt water, though," grumbled George.
"Not at all. There's a cask of fresh water right here in the bottom of the boat."
"Give me some, then," exclaimed George eagerly. "I'm half dead with thirst as it is now."
"Don't drink it now, Pop," urged Grant. "We may be hard pressed for water, as you say, and I think we'd all better wait till morning. Then we can take stock of just what we have here."
"That's right, Grant," agreed John heartily. "Don't you think so, too, Petersen?"
"I do. We can surely get along without food and water until light comes, but in a day or so we may need it very badly."
"You think we'll be out here that long?" demanded Fred.
"I don't know. Still you never can tell, and it's always well to be prepared."
"You're right," acknowledged George. "At any rate, I don't want any water."
It was a characteristic of these four boys that they were usually cheerful under any and all conditions. No matter how hard a thing might be, they bore it willingly if it was necessary. They made complaints if they thought it was unnecessary, but when they knew it was the only thing to be done they never raised a murmur. No sportsman ever complains of a thing that is fair, and what is best for the most people is always fair.
Hour after hour dragged by. To the little band on board the life-boat it seemed as if morning would never come. The storm had passed, but the water was still rough and the night still inky dark. Now and again the boys dozed off and caught a few winks of sleep. No attempt to row had been made for several hours. Petersen steered the boat and was the only one who did not rest. Incessantly through the long night he guided the little craft and watched over the safety of those on board.
At last morning came. The first faint streaks of light thrust their rosy fingers up over the eastern horizon and soon the whole sky was covered with an orange glow. Little by little the faint outlines of the occupants of the life boat became visible. What a sorry looking crew it was, too. Disheveled, dirty and unkempt, they plainly showed the effects of their harrowing experience.
As the light crept over the ocean it showed some of the party asleep. The others were haggard and worn looking and seemed to have but small concern as to what happened to them. They lolled on the cross seats in a listless way, not at all interested in the beautiful sunrise. They were more concerned in their own welfare than in the beauties of Nature.
"Oh, hum," yawned Sam, raising himself from the position in which he had lain all night. "We sho' has had a powerful lot of hard—"
He caught sight of Petersen and suddenly ceased talking. A change came over his face as he recognized the man to whom he charged the hard luck that had overtaken them. Hate spread itself over the features of the superstitious negro and his breath came in short gasps as if some one was choking him.
"Dar yo' are!" he exclaimed fiercely. "Dar yo' are, yo' hard luck Finn. I'll fix yo'," and he started to make his way towards the stern of the boat to the spot where his enemy was seated.
A DESPERATE STRUGGLE
"Sit down, Sam! Sit down!" cried Fred, who was placed nearest him. "What's the matter with you? Are you crazy?"
Sam, however, made no answer. He strode forward toward the object of his hatred, paying no attention to Fred's words and showing an absolute disregard of the danger of falling overboard. Fortunately in this peril the boat was heavy and very steady.
"Get back there!" cried Fred in alarm, trying to grab Sam's arm.
"Lemme go," said Sam roughly, knocking Fred's hand aside.
"Grab him, John. Grab him," shouted Fred as the excited negro made his way past the seat where he was located.
"Lemme go," said Sam darkly, and seeing the look on his face John drew back instinctively.
"Hold him, Grant! Grab him, Pop!" shrieked Fred, at the same time rising to his feet and attempting to catch Sam from behind.
He was too late, however. Sam, seeing that he might be balked in his purpose, took no more chances. He made one flying leap almost over the heads of Grant and George, who were waiting to seize him. This was done so unexpectedly that the two boys were taken by surprise, and though they tried to do as Fred had begged them, they were unsuccessful. Sam tripped and fell forward, but when he landed he fell squarely on top of his enemy.
The boat rocked dangerously. Fred was thrown from his feet and fell headlong to the bottom of the boat. In falling his head struck one of the thwarts, so stunning him that he was unable to move.
"Separate 'em, Grant!" cried John. "Stop that fight!"
Grant threw himself upon the contestants and tried to pinion Sam's arms behind his back. The negro and the sailor were both powerful men, however, and Grant was thrown violently backward as though he had been a mere fly. George caught him just in time to prevent his going overboard.
"I can't stop them," he gasped.
"Hit him on the head," cried John. "Do anything. Make 'em stop. Here, let me get down there," he begged.
"Sit down," shouted George. "Sit down, John, or you'll have us all upset."
"No, I won't, either. Let me get by."
"Sit down, String," begged Grant. "Keep your seat."
"Take this oar, then," cried John. "Hit that coon on the head with it."
"It's too big," exclaimed Grant. "Give me something smaller and I'll hit him all right."
The two men in the stern of the boat were locked in each other's embrace. Sam had had the advantage, for he had landed on top of his adversary. Petersen, however, had muscles of steel, hardened by years of service and labor on shipboard. He tried to grab the black man by the throat. The two slipped to the bottom of the boat, where they struggled for the mastery until the veins stood out on their temples and the sweat rolled from them in streams. Their breath came in gasps. It was a strange sight that the early tropical sun looked down upon.
They wrestled and writhed about on the bottom of the boat, first one on top and then the other. It seemed miraculous that they did not go overboard. The space in which they struggled was so limited that it was next to impossible for any one of the boys to get himself in a position to separate the fighters. Several times Grant tried, but he was always driven back, and after several narrow escapes from falling into the water he gave up the attempt. Fred still lay quietly in the bow, too dazed to be of assistance.
"We must stop this," cried John. "They'll kill each other."
"I know it, String," agreed Grant, "but what can we do?"
"Hit Sam over the head. He's the one that started it."
"I can't get to his head. His feet are pointed this way and every time I try I get a few swift kicks and nothing more."
"But we must do something to stop them," urged George.
"All right, Pop," said Grant grimly. "You suggest something."
"Isn't there a club in the boat?"
"I don't see any."
"Throw water on them."
"We might do that," exclaimed Grant. "Hand me that canvas bucket, String."
Grant filled it to the brim with water and then soused it as nearly as he could into the faces of the fighters. The only effect it seemed to have was to revive them both and the struggle was continued with renewed fury.
"That won't do," cried Grant.
"It seems to be a question of who will weaken first," remarked John, grimly. "I guess we'll have to sit and watch until that time."
"Not at all," exclaimed George. "I say we all pile on and make them quit."
"And all go overboard if we try that," said Grant. "You forget that we're in a boat, Pop."
"Let me up there, then," urged George. "I'm sure I can end the fight."
Grant gave way to his comrade, only too willing to let some one else try his hand at the problem. They changed places carefully and George prepared to put his plan into execution.
"You better stay here beside me, Grant," he exclaimed suddenly.
"We'll each grab a foot and pull for all we're worth."
"What good will that do?"
"If we can pull one of them away it ought to stop the fight, oughtn't it? A man can't fight with himself."
"All right," agreed Grant. "We'll see what we can do, anyway."
"Be careful now," advised George as Grant took his place beside him. "This is pretty ticklish business."
The two boys knelt side by side on one of the seats. They leaned forward, eagerly waiting for a chance to seize the infuriated negro by his feet. This was no easy task, however, for his feet flew in all directions and kicked viciously backward, so that a few bruises were the sole results of the first attempts of the two boys.
"Hit him on the shins," advised John. "That'll fix him."
"We'll try this first," said Grant doggedly. His knuckles were bleeding and his forearms were sore from the treatment he had received from Sam's boots. The pain made him angry and more determined than ever to accomplish his purpose.
The fight was now desperate, even more so than before. No human beings could continue at such a killing pace for long, however. Sam still had the advantage which he had held from the beginning. His great powerful hands were now feeling for Petersen's throat, and from the expression in the Finn's eyes it was evident that he could not hold out much longer. Help must come to him and come quickly.
"I've got him," cried Grant suddenly as he caught hold of one of Sam's feet. "Grab the other one, Pop. Quick."
George grabbed all right, and held on, too. He received a blow over an eye which opened up an ugly cut, but still he hung on desperately.
"Now, pull!" shouted John. "Pull with all your might!"
Both boys exerted themselves to the utmost. They braced themselves and pulled with all the strength that was in them. It was difficult for them even to hang on, however, for Sam struggled desperately and the two boys were thrown all about. Still they retained their hold.
"You've got him," encouraged John. "Hold him."
Suddenly Sam doubled up his legs, drawing both Grant and George forward, almost on their faces. Then quick as a flash he shot out with both feet, striking the two boys each full in the chest. Their grip was torn loose and they were sent sprawling backward, over the seat onto John, who too was bowled over so that all four boys lay in a heap on the bottom of the boat.
Grant was the first to regain his senses, and a strange sight greeted his eyes. Sam and Petersen were now on their feet, still locked in each other's arms. Suddenly the Finn wrenched an arm free and drawing back struck the negro a stunning blow squarely between the eyes. Sam's arms half dropped to his sides and he reeled drunkenly. Then quick as a flash he once more seized his enemy in his embrace and a moment later the two men went overboard.
A SORRY PLIGHT
There was a great splash. The sturdy life-boat rocked dangerously and then all was still.
John and George had now lifted themselves from their fallen position and all three boys peered eagerly about.
"Where are they? What happened?" demanded John.
"They went overboard," exclaimed Grant.
"But where are they?"
"There they are, over there," cried George. "Get out the oars."
A dark head appeared for an instant and then sank beneath the surface of the water once more.
"That's Sam," cried John excitedly. "Swing the boat around."
"I'm doing my best," panted George as he dipped one oar deep into the water and pulled with all his might. In response to his efforts the boat came around until it was directly over the spot where Sam's head had appeared. John and Grant hung over the sides ready to seize the negro the moment he was seen again.
"There he is," cried Grant suddenly, and he made a lunge at Sam, who had come to the surface for the second time.
"Get him?" demanded John.
"Yes. Help me, somebody!"
John sprang to his assistance and a moment later the two boys dragged the half-drowned negro over the side into the boat.
"Where's Petersen?" demanded Grant, loosing his hold on Sam and allowing him to sink to the bottom of the boat. "Have you seen him, Pop?"
"No," said George, "I haven't. I've looked everywhere for him, too."
Fred had now recovered somewhat from the blow he had received and he joined the others in their search for the missing sailor. The four boys stood up in the boat and peered about them anxiously in every direction.
"Are you sure he didn't come up, Pop?" asked Grant.
"I told you I've been looking for him," said George. "I haven't seen him at all."
"But he must have come up," protested John.
"Maybe he did," acknowledged George. "I don't believe it, though, for I've certainly been on the lookout."
"What shall we do?" demanded John in dismay.
"What can we do?" said George.
"But he'll drown."
"He probably has already," said Grant. "Think how long he's been under."
"And you mean to say we'll never even find his body?" said John, almost unnerved by the sudden catastrophe.
"We're going to look, anyway," said Grant decidedly.
"Suppose we row around in a circle for a while," Fred suggested.
"We can try at least," said Grant, and fitting the oars into the oarlocks the four boys rowed slowly about, all the time keeping a sharp lookout in all directions. Meanwhile Sam lay motionless on the bottom of the boat. For at least half an hour the search was continued, but not one glimpse of the missing Petersen did they secure.
"I'm afraid it's no use," exclaimed Grant at last.
"I guess not," agreed John. "It wouldn't do us any good if we did find him now. He's surely drowned by this time."
"No doubt of it," said Grant.
"And there's the fellow who did it," exclaimed George, pointing to Sam, who still lay huddled in a heap in the stern. No one had paid the slightest attention to the negro since he had been hauled aboard. He was exhausted, but in no danger, as could be plainly seen from his regular and heavy breathing.
"We ought to throw him overboard, too," said John.
"He's not entirely to blame," said Grant. "He's ignorant and superstitious and doesn't know any better, but we do, and we must act accordingly."
"He committed a crime, though," said John, "and we ought to hand him over to the authorities."
"What authorities?" said Grant with a grim smile. "Just look around you. There isn't even a boat or a bit of land in sight, let alone authorities."
"Then we ought to punish him ourselves," insisted John.
"Who are we to do a thing like that!" said George. "We've no right to take the law into our own hands."
At this moment Sam stirred and finally sat up. He was soaking wet still and very weak. He blinked at the sun, which was now shining brightly, and looked dazedly about him. The four boys watched him in silence.
"Where is I?" demanded Sam at length.
"Where do you think you are?" exclaimed John. "You're in a boat."
"De Josephine," muttered Sam. "Where am de Josephine?"
"As though you didn't know," said John scornfully. "You needn't try to bluff us."
"What dat?" said Sam in a puzzled way. "What dat you say?"
"I said you knew just as well as we do where the Josephine is," said John, "and that you needn't try to bluff us, either."
The black man looked straight at John as though he did not understand a word that was said to him. His face was an absolute blank and if he was acting, he certainly did it well. He glanced down at his clothes.
"Ah's all wet," he murmured to himself.
"I suppose you don't remember jumping into this boat and being out here all night," exclaimed John skeptically, though he was nettled by Sam's appearance of innocence.
Sam merely looked at him and shook his head.
"How about your fight with—"
"Keep quiet, John," said Grant sharply. "Don't mention that yet."
"What dat?" asked Sam, looking curiously from one boy to the other.
"Nothing, Sam," said Grant quickly. "Don't you remember the fire?"
"De fire?" said Sam, completely mystified. "Wha' fire?"
"On the Josephine," exclaimed John. "Don't you know that she burned to the water's edge?"
"Ah does remember dat fire now," said Sam eagerly, a gleam of understanding showing in his face. "She done come out ob de hatchway, didn't she?"
"It did," agreed Grant. "After that don't you remember how we all jumped into the boats and rowed away? Don't you remember that?"
"'Deed Ah don't," said Sam. "Ah don't remembah a thing about dat ar."
"Are you sure?" demanded John sharply.
"Sho' Ah is," exclaimed Sam sincerely. It did not seem to the four boys that he could be fooling, his manner seemed so earnest.
For some moments no one on the little boat spoke a word. The boys sat and looked at Sam, and he sat and looked at them and at the boat and the boundless ocean stretching on every side as far as the eye could see. Not a sign of life could be seen on it anywhere. There was no trace of the other boats that had set out from the burning brig and it was impossible to conjecture what had happened to them.
Finally Sam sighed deeply and he sank back against the stern of the boat as though he was exhausted. His eyes half closed and he yawned sleepily.
"Ah's tired," he murmured, and straightway fell asleep once more.
"What do you think of it?" demanded John a moment later.
"Think of what?" asked Fred.
"Do you think that Sam really doesn't remember all that happened?"
"It's possible, all right," said Grant.
"But how could it be?" John insisted.
"Well, I'll tell you," explained Grant. "Sam was scared to death in that storm; you all know that. He was moaning and groaning around the boat and when the fire started he might easily have gone out of his head. Perhaps he was even stunned by the lightning. Since that time he has been in a state of unconsciousness, and now he doesn't remember a thing that he did. Oh, I think it's perfectly possible."
"It's certainly strange," mused George.
"It surely is," exclaimed John. "Still if he wasn't telling the truth he certainly is a fine actor."
"I've heard of such things happening before," remarked Fred.
"What do you mean?" said John.
"Why, people being in sort of a blank state when they do things that they don't remember at all later."
"What made Sam that way?" said John.
"I told you," exclaimed Grant. "He was so frightened it probably drove him temporarily out of his head. Unconsciously he blamed it all on poor Petersen so that when he saw him right here in the same boat, his one idea was to get revenge."
"Can we blame him then?" said Fred. "If a man doesn't know what he is doing, is he responsible?"
"I'd hate to decide that," said Grant. "At the same time I don't see how we can hold it against him, especially when he doesn't know what it was."
"When we get back to civilization we may have to tell on him though," remarked John. "Don't you think we'll have to do that?"
"Wait till we get there," advised Grant. "From the look of things right now, it doesn't seem that we are going to get there very soon."
"It's funny we don't see any boats," said George.
"Or land," added John.
"How about some food?" exclaimed Fred. "We haven't eaten in a long time you know."
"That's right," Grant agreed. "We can eat something anyway. Somebody open up the food, and the water too."
Ample provisions for several days were found to have been placed aboard and the taste of food worked wonders with the unfortunate boys. They were sparing of it, however, and even more careful of their water supply. While in all probability they would be picked up before long by some passing steamer, it was deemed advisable to go slowly. The rations apportioned were divided into five equal parts, the four boys quickly consuming their shares while Sam's was kept out for him until he should awaken.
"Don't a good many steamers pass this way?" said Fred.
"I don't know," said Grant grimly. "Where are we?"
"Somewhere near the West Indies, I suppose," said Fred.
"Perhaps we are," Grant agreed. "Personally I don't know."
"Shall we row?" suggested John.
"What's the use?" exclaimed Fred. "We don't know which way to go."
"I've a compass, you know," said George.
"That won't help us now, I'm afraid," said Grant. "If we knew where we were, it might."
"We're in the tropics all right from the feeling of that sun," said John.
All day long the little party drifted idly about on the ocean. The water was almost still, as there was hardly a breath of air stirring. Not a sail appeared to break the monotony of the scene and the boys began to feel worried. The sun was scorching and they had no protection at all. Finally, night came with a welcome fall in temperature, but otherwise they were not one whit better off. They seemed just as far from rescue as ever.
IN SEARCH OF LAND
When next the sun rose it shone upon a very disconsolate and discouraged little band. The four boys and their negro companion were becoming very downhearted. Thus far they had not seen a sign of a boat. It almost seemed as if they were on a desert ocean, for in these days of world-wide commerce there are few nooks and crannies of the seven seas not visited by the merchant fleets.
Sam was the most cheerful person on board. Food and sleep had restored his spirits wonderfully and with the characteristic trait of his race, he was almost satisfied as long as he had those two things. No one had mentioned his fight with Petersen to him. If he did not remember it, there was no use in telling him about it. The four boys decided to watch him closely, however, in case he was acting a part. If such was the case he would surely betray himself sooner or later.
The sun was just a little way above the horizon and a scanty breakfast was being served on board the boat. John had just arisen from his seat to help himself to a big sailor-cracker. He turned and glanced at the newly risen sun and suddenly stopped short, the cracker half way to his mouth.
"What's the matter, String?" demanded Fred, noticing his friend's action.
"Land!" cried John, excitedly.
"Where?" exclaimed the others in one breath, at the same time springing to their feet utterly regardless of whether the boat upset or not.
"Right over there," said John, pointing. "I see hills and palm trees."
"Well, I don't," exclaimed George a moment later. "You're dreaming, String."
"I am not," said John insistently. "Don't any of you fellows see it?"
"It's a mirage," said Grant. "You don't see anything, String."
"Mirage, nothing!" cried John hotly. "I see land and if you all weren't so stupid you'd see it too."
"Maybe you can see it because you are so much taller than we are," suggested Fred.
"Stand up on one of the seats then," said John. "That'll make you as tall as I."
George quickly followed this advice, but he could see no land. Grant, too, tried it but he was no more successful. They all began to make fun of John.
"Something has gone to your head, String," teased George. "You're seeing things."
John, however, was so angry by this time that he would not pay the slightest attention to such remarks. His face was flushed and he still stared sullenly out across the water in the direction of the rising sun. Suddenly his jaw dropped, and a look of amazement spread itself over his features. His eyes were round with surprise.
"It's gone," he exclaimed in consternation.
"Ha, ha," laughed George, derisively. "I told you it was a mirage."
"Perhaps, the wind blew it away," suggested Fred.
"You all think you're pretty smart," said John, a half-foolish grin on his face. "I swear I thought I saw land over there."
"Well, I tell you what we do," suggested Grant. "String thought he saw land over in that direction, but it's gone now. Just the same I say we row that way and see what we can see."
"What's the point in that?" demanded Fred. "You don't really think he saw anything, do you?"
"No, I don't. At the same time we can't be any worse off than we are now, and String's seeing the mirage may have been an omen. Perhaps there is land somewhere over there after all."
"I'm willing," agreed George. "What do you say?"
"Let's try it," exclaimed Fred. "As Grant says we can't be any worse off than we are now. Perhaps we'll be better."
"Ah think dat's a fine idea," said Sam enthusiastically. "Ah can row, too."
"No, you steer," directed Grant. "Give me your compass, Pop, and set a course for him. You follow it exactly, Sam."
"Ah sho' will," agreed Sam, delighted at the idea of having no work to do and the responsibility of steering the boat.
"I guess I'm not a pretty handy sort of a fellow to have around," George remarked with a grin as he took the compass from around his neck and handed it to Sam. "I haven't written in my diary lately, though."
"Have you still got that with you, Pop?" exclaimed John.
"Surely. You don't think I'd lose that, do you?"
"I thought you might in all this mixup."
"No, indeed," said George warmly. "I wouldn't lose my diary for anything."
"Give Sam the course to steer," exclaimed Grant. "You all talk so much."
"All right," laughed George, and setting the compass on the bottom of the boat between the negro's feet he directed him to steer a little south of east. This was the direction in which John had seen his phantom island.
"I have a plan," said Fred. "I say we all row steadily for an hour without looking around. At the end of that time we'll all stand up and I feel sure we'll see land not far away."
"How are you going to tell when the hour is up?" inquired John. "There isn't a watch in the whole crowd that will run. I'm afraid it's too warm for even the sun to be on time."
"Then we'll have to guess at it. Is everybody agreeable?"
"Suppose a boat appears ahead of us," suggested George. "We might never see it."
"Sam is facing that way," said Fred. "He will see it and can tell us. Unless he sees a boat, though, he is not to say a word."
"That's a go," said Grant. "Is everybody ready?"
The word was given and the life-boat shot forward on its course. The game being played served to cheer up the members of the little party and as a matter of fact no one had remained greatly worried about their condition for any length of time. Youth is always hopeful and every one on board had always had the feeling deep in his heart that they would be rescued before long. Lack of food and water had not assailed them as yet.
"The hour must be nearly up," remarked George at last.
"Huh," snorted Fred. "I don't believe we've been going over twenty minutes."
"Certainly not an hour," agreed Grant. "Stick to it a while longer, Pop."
"All right," sighed George, "but I know we've been working at least an hour."
"You never worked an hour in your life," said John. "How do you know how long it is?"
"I warn you not to talk like that," said George, pretending to be angry. "I am sitting right behind you, you know, and it would be no trouble at all for me to give you a good, swift punch in the middle of the spine."
"Oh, Pop," exclaimed Fred. "How bloodthirsty you're getting."
"I'm thirsty for a drink of water, that's sure," exclaimed George.
"You'll have to wait until the hour is up," said Grant.
"I say it's up now."
"The rest of us say not, though," reminded Grant. "Besides that, we're three to your one, so we can make you do pretty much as we please."
"Is that so?" exclaimed George haughtily. "Well, if I want to turn my head around I don't know who could stop me."
"Don't try it," warned Fred, who pulled the bow oar. "You'll be sorry."
"How about Fred up there?" demanded John.
"We've all got our backs turned to him and he may look around every minute for all we know."
"Sam can see him," exclaimed Grant. "Has he looked around yet, Sam?"
"Ah ain't seen him if he has," replied Sam, grinning from ear to ear and showing a double row of ivory teeth.
"If he does, you just tell us," said Grant, "and we'll fix him."
"Yas, sah," grinned Sam. "Ah'll report all right."
"Seen any boats yet, Sam?" demanded George.
"No," said Sam before Grant could stop him.
"Look here, Pop," exclaimed Grant hotly, "you ought not to have asked him that question. We made an agreement not to look around, but what's the use if you aren't going to live up to it?"
"Did I look around?" demanded George.
"Well, that's all I agreed to."
"I know, but—"
"Seen any land, Sam?" asked George. He knew how angry he was making Grant, but one of his main objects in life was to tease people.
"Ah ain't sayin'," said Sam warily. "Yo' all ain't gwine to ketch me nappin' again."
"That's right, Sam," exclaimed Grant; "don't you answer a single question that any one asks you."
"Oh, Grant," mocked George, at the same time pitching his voice like a girl's. "I think you're just horrid."
"Hit him, somebody!" exclaimed Fred laughingly. "Don't let him live."
At this moment, however, George, who had been paying more attention to the conversation than the rowing, caught a crab. He lost his balance completely and toppled over backward, sprawling at full length on the bottom of the boat. As a consequence the whole crew was disorganized. The agreement not to look around was entirely forgotten and all heads were turned to look at George.
Suddenly John stood up in the boat and cheered at the top of his voice.
"Look there!" he cried. "There's land this time, all right!"
All eyes were immediately turned in the direction in which John pointed. Sure enough, and every one saw it this time, land appeared far off on the distant horizon. It could be seen only faintly, but there was no mistaking it. The low-lying shore and the outline of a few hills were plainly visible.
"What do you think of that?" exclaimed Grant joyously. "It certainly looks as if our luck had turned."
"Sho' it has," said Sam readily. "Soon as we lef' dat hard luck Finn Ah knowed we'd be all right. Ah suttinly is glad Ah is not in de same boat wid him."
These words of Sam threw a sudden damper upon every one in the boat. The four boys looked at one another in consternation and much of their joy at the sight of land was taken away by the recollection of the tragic end of their shipmate Petersen. Sam, however, seemed entirely unconscious of having said anything out of the way. His face was wreathed in smiles and showed nothing but satisfaction, now that he was separated from Petersen. If any doubt had still lingered in the boys' minds as to Sam's sincerity that doubt was now dispelled. There was no question at all that the negro recalled nothing of his tragic deed.
"What's de mattah wid you gentlemen?" demanded Sam, noticing the strange behavior of the four young sailors.
"Nothing at all," said Grant quickly.
"Let's row for shore," exclaimed John, doing his best to change the subject.
"That's what I say," agreed George, who had now picked himself up and had taken hold of his oar once again. "I want to feel some good old earth under my feet for a change."
"That's right," said Grant. "Let's not waste any time."
They dug their oars into the water and with renewed energy set out for the distant shore. Now and again they turned around and looked ahead in an effort to discover the character of the land they were approaching. It was still far away, however, and not much idea could be had of it.
"It's an island all right," said John confidently.
"Probably," agreed Grant. "I don't think we were very near the mainland when the Josephine burned."
"Look there," cried Fred all at once. "Look back of the boat there."
Every one immediately stopped rowing and craned his neck to see what Fred was pointing out.
"What is it, Fred?" demanded George. "What do you see?"
"Don't you see that fin?"
"Dat Finn!" exclaimed Sam. "Where dat Finn?"
"Not the one you mean," said Fred, smiling in spite of his evident excitement. "I mean the fin of a fish."
"I see it," cried John suddenly. "What is it?"
"What is it," repeated Fred. "Don't you know?"
"Of course it is," said Fred. "It must be a whopper, too."
Every one else saw the fin now and involuntarily a shiver passed over most of those on the little boat. The great black fin sailed easily and steadily along, just cutting the top of the water. Gruesome and forbidding it looked and straightway recalled to the minds of the four boys the stories they had so often heard of the hordes of man-eating sharks that infested the waters of the West Indies.
"There's another," cried Grant suddenly.
Sure enough another fin joined the first and one ahead of the other the sharks cruised around the waters near the life-boat.
"Zowie!" exclaimed George. "I guess I'm glad I'm not in the water just now."
"Same here," said Fred thankfully. "I wonder what they'd do to you."
"Well, I'm not curious enough to find out," said George grimly. "They can't touch us here in the boat, anyway."
"That's true enough," said Grant. "I say we don't waste any more time looking at them, either. Personally, I'd rather be ashore."
Once more the oars were dipped into the water and the voyage was continued. The sharks also came along and their fins could be seen first on one side of the boat and then on the other; sometimes they appeared in front and sometimes astern. Relentlessly they followed, however, all the way to the shore.
As the boat came nearer the land the boys got more of an idea of the place they were approaching.
"I don't see any houses," remarked John.
"Nor I," agreed Fred. "It doesn't look as if there was a human being on the island. It looks fertile enough, though."