THE HILLTOP BOYS ON LOST ISLAND
BY CYRIL BURLEIGH
AUTHOR OF "THE HILLTOP BOYS" AND OTHER STORIES
THE GOLDSMITH PUBLISHING CO.
CLEVELAND MADE IN U.S.A.
THE COMMERCIAL BOOKBINDING CO. CLEVELAND
I THE FLOATING ACADEMY 13 II JACK'S DARING RESCUE 22 III THE UNEXPECTED HAPPENS 29 IV CAUGHT ON LOST ISLAND 37 V EXPLORING THE ISLAND 45 VI A WALK UNDER WATER 54 VII A REMARKABLE FIND 63 VIII DISCUSSING THE FIND 70 IX THE LAST VISIT TO THE WRECK 81 X A THRILLING ENCOUNTER 89 XI THE VOICES IN THE WOODS 98 XII ADVENTURES IN THE WOODS 107 XIII A STRANGE LIGHT AT SEA 118 XIV THE MAN WITH THE WHITE MUSTACHE 125 XV JESSE W. IS SENT FOR HELP 132 XVI BEN'S STRANGE STORY 140 XVII DISCOVERIES AND DISAPPOINTMENTS 148 XVIII IN THE LAIR OF THE FOX 160 XIX THE WAY OUT FOUND 170
THE HILLTOP BOYS ON LOST ISLAND
THE FLOATING ACADEMY
"Well, if this is a life on the ocean wave or anything like it, I am satisfied to remain on shore."
"I knew that the Hudson river could cut up pretty lively at times, but the frolics of the Hudson are not a patch on this."
"They said we would not be seasick, but if I am not I don't know what you call it. I don't want it any worse, at any rate."
"They said it wouldn't hurt any if you were sick, but I wonder if they ever tried it themselves?"
"No, they are like the old bachelors who write about how to bring up children. They never had any, so they don't know anything about them."
"Well, if we get much more of this I shall get out and walk."
"And I'll go with you, my boy."
There were three boys on the deck of a large steam yacht, now about two days out from New York, bound to the West Indies on a voyage combining pleasure and education.
The boys belonged to the Hilltop Academy, situated in the Highlands of the Hudson, and their names were Billy Manners, Harry Dickson, and Arthur Warren, all being close chums, and ready to share any adventure except that of being seasick.
They were none of them sick, but they were all afraid they would be, hence their remarks upon the subject.
There were close upon a hundred of the Hilltop Boys, and they were now on a tour of the islands of the Spanish Main, having been invited by the father of one of them, a man largely interested in the shipping business, who had put at their service a commodious steam yacht large enough to hold them all.
Besides the boys there were Dr. Theophilus Wise, the principal, and a number of his instructors, the negro coachman at the Academy, who was now serving in the capacity of cook and general handy man to the doctor and the boys, and the captain and crew, a considerable party all told.
The sky was bright, there was none too much motion, and there was really no reason why a lot of healthy boys should be seasick, and perhaps they only feared they would be, and were just a little uncomfortable.
They were to spend the Easter vacation and a few weeks longer among the islands, continuing their studies as usual, and getting a knowledge of geography and of many other things, which they could not get by merely studying books, Dr. Wise having practical ideas on these points, and having now a chance to carry them out through the generosity of Mr. Smith, the shipping merchant, who had furnished the yacht.
His son, Jesse W., one of the youngest boys at the Academy, had been found and brought home when lost on the mountains by one of the Hilltop boys by the name of Jack Sheldon, a general favorite at the Academy, and it was in recognition of this act that he had decided to give the boys this glorious vacation.
As the three boys were complaining about the rough seas, and the chance of becoming seasick, they were joined by two others, one of whom said in a breezy voice and with a lively air:
"Well, boys, how are you enjoying yourselves? Glorious weather, isn't it? Fine breeze, just the thing to send us along, although we do not need it, going under steam."
"I'm glad you like it, Jack!" said Harry with a wry face, "but I can't say that I do. You may be used to the water, but I am not."
"I have never been at sea before," laughed Jack, "so I cannot be any more used to it than you are. Perhaps you have been eating too much, that might make you sick. You don't look it, at any rate."
"I don't know how I look," muttered Billy Manners, stopping suddenly in his walking, "but I know how I feel," and he made a dash for the cabin, and was gone for some time, the others continuing their walk on deck.
In a few minutes a smiling negro in a white jacket and cap came out of the cabin carrying a tray containing cups of beef tea, which he offered to the boys, saying with a grin:
"Dis ain't like de beef soup yo' get at de 'cademy, sah, but mebby yo' would like a bite or two dis mon'in' to sha'pen yo' appetite fo' dinnah?"
"No, thanks, Bucephalus," said one of the boys, Dick Percival by name, who was walking arm in arm with Jack. "I don't need anything to sharpen my appetite, which is always good on sea or land."
"The idea of offering a fellow anything to eat when he feels as I do," growled Harry. "Take it away, Buck, or I'll throw you overboard."
The high sounding name of the negro was often contracted to Buck by the Hilltop boys, as in the present instance, but he was used to both, and answered as readily to one as to the other, now saying with a broad grin:
"Dat am a mistake, Mistah Harry. De worser yo' feel, de mo' yo' should put in yo' stomach, dat is to say when yo' get good nourishmental food like dis yer. Of co'se dey is detrimental substances which——"
"That sort of talk will make me sick if nothing else will," said Harry, hurrying away, while Jack and Dick sat down, and gazed out upon the horizon, while sipping their bouillon and nibbling at their biscuits.
"We will be in summer seas, as the advertisements call them, before long," said Jack. "The air is pleasant enough as it is. Down here in the summer it is pretty hot I take it, but in April it will be all right."
"Think of us cruising around the Spanish main where the old buccaneers used to roam," laughed Dick. "Perhaps we will dig up a pot of gold buried on one of the islands by some of them."
"If Captain Kidd had buried all the gold that folks said he did," replied Jack, "he would have been kept busy till now. If people would work instead of trying to find gold that was never buried, they would accomplish something. The only treasure you dig out of the earth is the good crop you get by working at your corn and potatoes."
"That's true philosophy, Jack. I have never had to dig anything for myself, having rich folks who always looked after me. Perhaps it would have been better for me if I had had to do more for myself."
"Well, you are not a spoiled child, Dick," said Jack, "as some sons of rich parents are. You are not idle nor vicious, and you know the value of money. You will do for yourself when you leave school. You are going through a training now, that will do you good later."
"Yes, I suppose so, but your having to do for yourself has made you a stronger, more self-reliant fellow than I will ever be."
"Oh, I don't know," returned Jack, half laughing, half seriously. "I am not patting myself on the back, Dick."
"No, you never would."
The two boys were great friends, and were the leading spirits in the Academy, having a great many friends, and being looked up to by the greater part of the boys, and especially by the younger ones, who took them as models.
Dick was somewhat older than Jack, and was farther along in his classes, having had more advantages, but Jack was studious and ambitious, and bade fair to catch up with his older companion and schoolmate before many months had passed, having already in the few months he had been at the Academy greatly shortened the lead which Percival had in the beginning.
Two days later the yacht was in much pleasanter waters, and the air was quite warm and balmy, the boys going around in lighter clothing than before, wearing mostly white flannel or duck, canvas shoes and caps, and no waistcoats, some wearing only white trousers and shirts, and belts around their waists, so as to get the most comfort they could.
They were among the islands now, and expected to make a landing in a day or so, when they were farther down the Spanish main than they were at that time, the islands in the lower latitudes being more interesting in the doctor's opinion than the larger and better known ones.
It was a pleasant afternoon; none of the boys felt any touches of seasickness now, and many of them were walking up and down the deck, some taking their comfort under awnings spread aft near the cabin companion, and some being on the bridge watching the steersman or looking out to sea in search of sails or noting the flight of the gulls and other seabirds or studying the movements of the dolphins playing around the bow, there being many of these lively creatures about.
Dick and Jack were on the bridge whence they could obtain a full view of the deck and look all about them, ahead and astern, and on all sides, Jack greatly enjoying gazing out upon the wide expanse and searching the horizon for sails or a hazy view of some distant island.
Below, on the quarter deck, which was guarded by a low rail only, was young Jesse W. Smith, who took great pride in his full name and always insisted upon being called by it, for whom primarily this expedition had been gotten up, strutting up and down in sailor's trousers and shirt, seeming to feel as if he were the commander of the entire southern fleet.
"There's young Jesse, enjoying himself and seeming ready to say with the fellow in the poem that he is monarch of all he sees," laughed Dick.
"That was supposed to be Alexander Selkirk, the original Robinson Crusoe, Dick," said Jack. "The line is 'I am monarch of all I survey.' You must have recited it more than once in your younger days. That is not altogether a safe place for young Jesse W., though. That rail is not very high, and if we should happen to give a roll——"
"You don't think there is any danger, Jack! Hadn't you better warn him!"
"No, but I will go down and——" and Jack started to go to the main deck and speak quietly to the boy. But before he had hardly said the words there was a sudden startled cry and Jack, looking down quickly, saw that the very thing he had feared had taken place.
How it came about no one knew, but all of a sudden there was a loud cry of "man overboard!" and Jack saw the boy just going down in the water.
He was on the lower deck in a moment, and in another had thrown aside his coat and kicked off his shoes, running to the rail as he did so.
The cook had just been killing chickens on the forward deck, and was going aft with two or three fowls in one hand, a knife in the other.
As Jack reached the rail he saw something out on the water, just where the boy had gone down that made him turn icy cold in a moment.
Snatching the knife from the cook's hand, he sprang to the rail and leaped overboard, taking neither rope nor life preserver with him.
"By George! that's just what Jack feared, and there he is going to the rescue before any one has shouted, almost!" exclaimed Percival, as he hurried below.
"H'm! pretty clever of Sheldon," sneered a stout, unprepossessing boy, who seemed to be always scowling. "Knocks the kid overboard, and then goes to his rescue to make himself solid with the father. Very clever stroke, that, and just like him!"
"If you say anything like that of Jack Sheldon, Pete Herring," stormed Dick, who had heard the ill-natured remark, "I'll knock you overboard!"
Herring, who was by no means a favorite in the Academy, quite the reverse, in fact, had not supposed that Percival had heard his uncalled for and utterly false assertion, and now hurried away with a snarl, evidently fearing that Dick would carry out his threat.
The captain, as soon as possible, gave orders to stop the engines, and to hold the yacht near to the place where the boys had gone down, being ready to turn and go to their assistance when they should appear again.
All was excitement on board, for, until now, nothing had happened out of the ordinary, and no one thought of being seasick or of complaining of the monotony of the voyage.
Jack came to the surface, looked around him, saw young Jesse W. just coming up and shouting for help while he swam, and then, not far behind, what had caused him to take the knife with him, the sharp dorsal fin of a good-sized shark moving rapidly through the water.
JACK'S DARING RESCUE
Straight toward the swimming boy swam Jack, rapidly estimating the distance between them and the distance to be covered by the shark, the presence of which was not yet known by the younger boy.
He could swim, but he was more or less encumbered by his clothes, wide bottomed trousers and full shirt, and could not make as good progress as Jack in any event.
Then, as he was only a little fellow, and probably not accustomed to swimming very far out of his depth, Jack looked for his strength giving out at any moment.
"Keep up, J.W., you are doing fine!" he shouted, swimming straight on with a long, even stroke, which carried him rapidly toward the struggling boy.
Then some one on the yacht, with more anxiety than good judgment, shouted out so that all could hear him:
"Look out for the shark, look out!"
The instant that the younger boy heard this, he turned his head and cast a frightened look behind him, seeing the sharp fin just beginning to turn over in the water.
"Don't look, Jesse W., don't look, swim straight ahead!" cried Jack, who had come up with the boy.
Then he dove deep down so as to come up under the shark before he could turn and rush at the boy so near him.
Down went Jack, and presently began to rise, seeing the white belly of the man eater just above him.
With a fierce upward thrust of his right arm, which held the knife he had taken from the cook, he plunged the blade into the creature's vitals, drawing it downward and toward him, and turning his hand as he drew, thus making a jagged cut, and fairly laying open the shark's belly.
Young Smith, encouraged by Jack's shout, had darted ahead with his little remaining strength, not again looking back, and knowing too well what was about to happen when Jack dove.
As the shark, mortally wounded, floated away, to be eaten by others of his kind, Jesse W. suddenly became faint and felt himself giving out.
Jack arose in a moment, however, and called out cheerily:
"Hold on a moment, young fellow, and I'll be there. You mustn't give out yet, because they haven't put about to take us aboard."
The younger boy held out till Jack reached him, but seemed about to go under again when Jack said quickly:
"Here, get on my back and you won't have to swim. I'll tow you all right, and you can get rested."
"Did you kill him, Jack?" gasped the younger boy, as he obeyed the older one's instructions.
"Yes, yes, but never mind about that. Don't look behind you, just look straight ahead. I don't know that there's anything there anyhow, but it is always a good plan to look the way you're going to avoid accidents."
"You're a funny fellow, Jack," said the other. "You don't want me to see the sharks and be frightened."
"That's all right, old man, but there are no sharks at present, and if any come they will be too busy taking bites out of the other to bother me for a time. H'm! they are putting about. That's all right."
"You can carry me and swim yourself all right, Jack?" asked Jesse W. "Maybe I can swim a bit myself now."
"Never you mind about that," said Jack. "You just stay on my back till I tell you to get off," and the boy swam with a good, steady stroke toward the approaching yacht, keeping a lookout for sharks, as he knew they would be sure to appear soon, seeming to scent blood for miles.
Without letting the younger boy know that he was on the lookout he kept a strict watch on all sides for more of the rapacious creatures, and at length discovered two making for him in different directions, one of them suddenly appearing between him and the yacht, which was rapidly approaching.
"That fellow will be frightened off or perhaps go under the vessel," he thought, "but the other one is coming on pretty fast. I hope he won't get to the yacht before me."
The people on the yacht saw the shark between them and Jack, and Dick Percival seized a gun from the captain, aimed at the creature and fired, doing no great damage, but causing the voracious monster to rush off to one side, and out of his direct course.
Sharks have other fish to guide them, and without these they are helpless, which was the case with this one, who, in his sudden change of course, got away from his pilots, and had to be hunted up by them before he could get his bearings on the boys in the water.
This created a diversion in Jack's favor, and he swam on sturdily, splashing and kicking, and making a great disturbance to frighten away the second shark, which was coming alarmingly close to him.
The yacht was coming on, however, and now they bore down toward him, slackening speed a bit, one of the sailors throwing the boy a line.
Jack caught it with one hand, as it settled over his head, and said to the boy on his back:
"Hang on, young fellow, and they'll haul us both up together. You are no sort of weight, but just hang on."
Jesse W. did as he was told, and both boys were hauled on board the yacht, Dick, Harry, Arthur, Billy Manners and half a dozen others pulling in heartily on the line.
They were drawn on board just in time, for the baffled shark made one terrific jump out of water as they reached the deck, the gangway having been opened, and banged his nose against the plankshire, falling back into the sea with a great splash.
Bucephalus was at the gangway, an axe in his hand, and as the shark gave his jump he aimed a swinging blow at the monster, but failed to hit him.
"Go back dere, yo' sassy feller," he sputtered. "Ah jus' like to get one good crack at yo' an' Ah rip yo' side open. Don' yo' perambulate dis yer way again if yo' know what am salubrious fo' yo', yo'heah?"
Bucephalus was fond of using big words, but did not always use them in the most appropriate manner, so that the boys were always kept guessing as to what he was next going to say when excited.
The boys nearest the rail seized Jack and young Smith as they came on deck, and bore them in triumph to the cabin.
"Bully for Jack Sheldon!" shouted Harry, and fifty boys gave him the heartiest kind of a cheer.
"That's some nerve he showed," declared Arthur Warren, "but then, he always did have nerve, Jack did. If he didn't he wouldn't have done the things he has."
"H'm! anybody could do that," said Herring with a snarl. "The yacht was close to him all the time. You fellows are all the time cracking up Jack Sheldon, but I don't see that he is any great shakes."
"No, you wouldn't," said Billy Manners, with an emphasis on the pronoun, "but decent fellows can see it. Would you have gone over after young Smith?"
"There wasn't any need to do it," growled Herring. "If I'd seen him first I'd have done it."
"You saw it as soon as any one except Jack himself, and you were nearer the deck," said Percival, who came up in time to hear what Herring had said. "I heard you say that Jack pushed the boy overboard so as to get the name of rescuing him. You know that this is a lie, because Jack was on the bridge at that time, and could not have done it. Jack and I both saw young Jesse W. go overboard. Jack feared he might, and had started to go to the deck when the thing happened."
Herring did not care to get into a quarrel with Percival, who was much stronger and better built than himself, and he, therefore, went away muttering something which the boys could not make out.
"He is always saying something nasty against Jack," declared Arthur. "He hates Jack because Jack is smarter, and a general favorite. I wish he had stayed on shore, but as Mr. Smith invited the whole Academy he could not very well be left behind."
"He ought to be marooned on some solitary, uninhabited island, and left there to hate himself," chuckled Billy Manners.
"They don't do those things nowadays, Billy," said Percival. "You have been reading the lives of the pirates, and are full of that sort of romantic stuff."
"Maybe I am," chuckled Billy good naturedly, "but here come Jack and young Jesse W., looking as fine as fiddles, and not a bit worse for their baths. Whoop it up for them, boys!"
Every boy in sight responded to the summons, and gave both boys the heartiest cheers, both Jack and his young companion being favorites.
THE UNEXPECTED HAPPENS
Neither Jack nor young Smith felt any the worse for his tumble into the warm waters of the Caribbean, and after they had changed their clothes they went on deck to assure their schoolmates that they were all right, and suffering no inconvenience from their trip overboard.
"Jack is a great sport," declared Jesse W., "but somebody called out 'shark!' a little too quick, for I nearly went to pieces. It may Have been kind in him, but it was injudicious, to say the least."
The boys smiled at the young fellow's wisdom, and Billy Manners replied:
"Well, it wasn't me, J.W., although I know I do a good many fool things. You can't lay that at my door, however."
"Oh, you are a facetious fellow, and keep us amused, but you do think of things," replied the younger boy. "The person who shouted 'shark,' is one of the sort who yell 'fire' at the first sign of smoke, and raise a panic in a crowded hall. They should be suppressed."
"Very true, J.W., you have the right of it," said Billy, smiling. "You get the right idea under your bonnet now and then."
Young Smith had always been fond of Jack, but he was more so now and stuck close to the older boy on all occasions, saying the next day to Jack as they were walking on deck:
"Do you know, Jack, you have done a lot for me, and it is time I did something for you. I am going to speak to my father about you. It is a bit of a job for you to get your schooling and your living and everything, isn't it?"
"Well, it is not so easy, Jesse W., and I do have a tussle now and then," returned Jack, smiling at the other boy's earnestness. "Still, one has to work for what he gets in this world."
"Unless he steals it, and there is no satisfaction in that," said the smaller boy wisely. "And later he has to work—in jail. What I wanted to say was that now you have done this last thing for me, saving my life, that's what it was, I think my father would like to do something for you, help you through your schooling or something like that. Of course you would not want him to give you money, for he does not put a commercial value on my life, but he could help you to get ahead and so help yourself, couldn't he now, Jack?"
"I suppose he could," Jack laughed, "and you are a thoughtful young fellow, J.W., but never mind about that. One of the sailors, Bucephalus, any one, in fact, could have done what I did. In fact, it is all in the day's work at sea, and nothing is thought of it."
"No, but no one else did it, Jack. Any one might, but no one did. Only you. Any one else could have done it, but they did not all the same. That's nonsense about your pitching me overboard. I heard some of them talking of it. Why, you were not there. I was on the quarter deck, where I had no business to be, I suppose, with just a little bit of a low rail, and when the vessel took a sudden roll I went overboard."
"Jack saw you up there," said Percival, who was walking with the others, "and spoke about warning you that it was dangerous. In fact, he was on the way to tell you when you got ahead of him and rolled overboard."
"Jack is all the time thinking of some one," said young Smith. "That's what makes him different from the other Hilltop boys."
"Oh, then you don't think I think of others, eh? That's one on me."
"Oh, you haven't had to, Dick, you have always had some one to think for you," said Jesse W. wisely, and both Dick and Jack laughed.
"That young fellow will be doing something for you, Jack," said Percival a few minutes later when the two happened to be alone. "He is thinking of it now, and later you will hear from it."
"I suppose he will," said Jack thoughtfully, "and I don't know how I can stop him. I could not help doing what I did, but you would have done the same if you had seen the danger before I did."
"But I did not," returned Dick, "and that is just young Smith's line of argument. It is nothing that you could have done something if you don't do it. Well, you deserve all that can be done for you, and that is all there is about it, old chap."
Two days later in the middle of the afternoon, the day having been warm with very little air stirring so that the boys were glad to seek the shelter of the awnings spread across the decks, the breeze suddenly fell away and the air became fairly stifling.
The captain looked anxious, and ordered the awnings taken down, and told the boys that they had better go below.
Dr. Wise and the professors got the boys below, and none too soon, for all of a sudden a funnel-shaped cloud appeared on the horizon, spread with startling rapidity until it covered the entire heavens, and then from it shot out a fierce flash of lightning, while the wind which had died out now blew from an unexpected quarter with the greatest fury.
Being under their own steam they, of course, had no use for sails, which would have been blown away.
For all that the waves dashed them ahead with great rapidity and the propellers were now high out of water and now buried deep in the sea, the yacht being almost unmanageable.
The wind was behind them, and there was no chance of going about in such a blow and with such great waves dashing against them, so in pitch darkness they sped on, no one knew where.
The electric lights in the cabin and the saloons were turned on so that the boys were not in darkness, and some of the officers moved about among them telling them that this was simply a squall, and would soon blow itself out, and that there was nothing to be feared.
The howling of the gale, the creaking and straining of the shrouds, the thumping and pounding and groaning of the machinery, and the tramping of men overhead made a combination of sounds that might well terrify anyone, and the older boys tried to reassure the younger ones that it would be over in a short time, and that they would soon be sailing on smooth seas again, and be laughing at their former terrors, but it took a great deal of faith to make all this believed, and some of those who urged it had very little confidence in its truth.
Herring, Merritt, and others of the same class were really terrified, and took on dreadfully, predicting all sorts of dreadful things, and declared that they were fools to have taken this voyage, and that they would never undertake another.
Jack Sheldon, Dick Percival, Harry Dickson, and even mercurial Billy Manners were quite different, however, and young Jesse W. Smith acted like a man, and although he was frightened, as any one might be, and no shame to him, did not give way to his fright, but said very wisely that he guessed the storm had been gotten up for their especial benefit so that they might know what sort of things they could do in these latitudes.
How long they were rushing before wind and sea they did not know, for it seemed ages, where they were going they could not guess either as they had come from an unexpected quarter, and so suddenly that they had not noticed its direction, and were not where they could look at the compass.
All was bright and cheerful in the cabins, but through the portholes they could see that all was dark outside with an occasional vivid flash of lightning, these coming less and less frequent at length till they ceased, and then the skies began to brighten.
Suddenly, however, before it was yet bright enough outside to make out any objects, there was a sudden rush forward as if they had been struck by a great wave, then a sudden upheaving as if they were mounting to the sky, then another long rush forward, and then a shock as if they had struck something, and for a few moments the lights went out.
When they flared up again the vessel seemed to be at anchor, and the boys said to each other:
"What is the matter, have we struck on a rock, are we sinking, what is the matter anyhow?"
There was no confusion on deck, as there would have been if what the boys feared had really happened, and presently one of the officers came below and said reassuringly:
"Well, we are all right as far as I can see, but where we are is another story. In some landlocked bay, apparently, but where it is or how we reached it I can't tell."
"We were struck by a cyclone, weren't we, Officer?" asked young Smith, with a wise air.
"That's just what it was, and when those things strike you they strike hard. Lucky for us that we happened to be going ahead of it, for if we had been head on to it we might not have survived."
"But there is no danger, we have not struck a rock or anything, we have no holes in our hull?"
"None that we can see. We are beached somewhere, and we may slide into deeper water, but as far as we can tell now we are safe enough. Where we are, however, will have to be determined when the sun comes out."
The boys were reassured by this news, and after a time some of them went out on deck, the yacht being now almost motionless, the waves just lapping their sides, and running lazily up a beach, which they could now just make out at a little distance.
It grew lighter and lighter quite rapidly, and at length the sun appeared, and they found themselves in a landlocked bay with a white beach in front of them, beyond that a thick grove of palms of various kinds, green hills on all sides and in the distance, straight ahead, a hill of considerable size crowned with a thick growth of trees.
As the sun grew brighter the scene increased in attractiveness, and the greater part of the boys were charmed by it, making many exclamations of delight, as they turned from one object to another.
"It's a fine place wherever it is," said Jack. "I suppose they will locate it to-morrow, and perhaps some one will come out to the yacht, and tell us where we are."
"I don't see any sign of dwellings," murmured Percival. "Perhaps there are no people on it. Not all of these little islands are inhabited, and I suppose it is an island?"
"Probably, for I do not think we are near the South American coast. Some one will know after a bit, doubtless. At any rate, we are safe and that is a good deal."
One of the officers came along where the two boys were standing, and Jack asked him if he knew where they were.
"No, I don't," was the answer. "We have not been able to get an observation yet, and we started off at such a gait that it was impossible to tell where we were going or at what rate. We will probably locate ourselves in the morning, but there is no danger so you can make your minds easy on that point, young gentlemen."
"There is a good deal in that, sir," said both boys.
CAUGHT ON LOST ISLAND
The sun set gloriously, and after a short twilight common to those latitudes the full moon arose over the hills, and all the stars came out little by little till the heavens were full of them.
The moon dimmed their brightness somewhat, but they were still very brilliant, and the night was a glorious one, the air warm and balmy, the breeze just enough to temper the heat of the air, and all around them sea and shore bathed in moonlight.
After dinner, which was served in the saloon as usual, the boys went out on deck for the most part, and enjoyed the beautiful evening, being dispersed in little groups here and there, some seated and some walking the decks.
"We are safe enough, anyhow," observed Jack to Percival and a few of the boys who were seated on deck with him, "and I suppose we will not leave here till the morning at any rate."
"We are sheltered in this bay, and even if there should be a storm outside we will not feel it," returned Percival. "I hardly think there is one, and it seems strange that we should have caught that cyclone at this time of the year. Isn't it unusual?"
"You can't call anything unusual in the tropics," laughed Jack. "I believe you are liable to catch anything at any time here from yellow fever to a tornado. They seem to have them always on hand."
"Well, we are safe now, at any rate, and I am glad for that much. We will make the best of this fine night, and take other things as they come."
It was late when the last of the boys went to bed, for they all wanted to make the most of the fine night, but they were all up early the next morning, anxious to learn where they were, and if they would stay at the island or put to sea again.
Jack was the first of the boys on deck, and when he reached there he saw Dr. Wise talking to the captain and the first officer, there being a grizzled old seaman conversing with Bucephalus at a short distance.
The doctor and the officers seemed to be carrying on a very earnest conversation, and Jack heard a little of it as he came forward, and then suddenly stopped, fearing that he might be intruding.
"We are on the bottom, sir, and I don't know how long we may be there," said Captain Storms. "The next high tide may raise us, and it may not. It is my opinion that we have been on the bottom ever since we came into the bay, and how we are going to lighten her I don't know."
"But there are no holes, we have opened no seams, we have not taken in any water?" asked the doctor, looking fixedly at the captain through his big black-rimmed spectacles.
"No, there are no open seams and no water. The bottom is sandy, too, I think, and not the sharp coral rock you find in these parts that will cut a hole in anything that touches it. No, it is simply a case of too little water to float us, but that, as I may say, may be remedied. Time will tell."
"Then you do not think there is any cause for alarm, sir?"
"Not any great amount, no, sir. The moon is not quite full, although it looked so last night, and when it fills we may get higher water. We can tell to-night. Meanwhile, there are the boats, and your young gentlemen may go on shore and explore the island. I don't think there are any people on it, as it seems very small. Many of the islands hereabouts have no one on them."
"You don't know which one it is as yet?"
"No, I don't."
The doctor walked forward, and looked over the rail, and Jack went up to Bucephalus, and the old sailor and said:
"You don't know where we are, either of you, I suppose?"
"Ah haven't de remotest ideah, sah," replied the negro, "an' far as Ah can make o't dis gentleman am in de same predicament. He says we am in de tropics at a island ob not werry big size an' importance, but Ah was aware of dese fac's mahself befo' Ah interrogated him, sah, so dat Ah am no furder dan Ah was befo', sah."
"This here is an island in the Spanish Main, the place where the old pirates and buccaneers used to roam," said the old sailor whose name Jack learned later was Ben Bowline, "and that's all I know about it. You didn't come lookin' fur Cap'n Kidd's treasure, did you?"
"No, we did not, and I don't believe we would find it if we had. Men are foolish that go looking for such things. I don't believe that Captain Kidd buried the hundredth part of the gold that he is reputed to have buried. I have other things to do besides looking for buried gold."
"You're about right," said Ben, "but there's plenty who do look for it, and spend their lives at it and don't get nothing. This here is one of them islands, and I thought mebby you boys had come a-lookin' for something like that. Boys haven't anymore sense."
"Thank you, but you'll find that the Hilltop boys have a good deal more sense than that."
After breakfast two of the yacht's boats were lowered, and some of the boys went ashore to explore the island and amuse themselves in various ways while the captain sent a party to find the outlet of the bay, and see what their chances for leaving the island might be.
Jack, Percival, Harry, Arthur and young Smith went on one boat, and were the first to land, walking up the beach and into the woods as the other boat came ashore.
Picking a path as they went on Jack and his companions pushed into the deep everglade, the lush undergrowth sometimes quite impeding their progress, and making their advance very slow.
"If we were going to be here any time," said Percival, "we should have to make a path so that we could get about with greater rapidity. If we had thought to bring an axe it would have been better."
After a time their progress was more rapid, as the undergrowth was less rank, and they went on with more comfort.
Many varieties of cactus, prickly pears, plums and plants with the most gorgeous flowers lined their path, and gave constant delight to young Smith and some of the others, but Jack and Percival were more intent on seeing where they would come out than in looking at plants and flowers, and they gave the latter little attention.
"There is certainly no one on the island," said Jack at length when they came out upon an upland glade more open to the sky than the parts already traversed, "or we should have seen them by this time. I think we have been going in the same general direction, Dick, so suppose we push on in the same line, and see where we come out."
"All right, but there are hills, which we may have to climb if we keep straight on. There they are ahead of us."
"Yes, I see them, but they do not seem to be very high nor far away. If they want us back at the yacht they will probably blow the bugle."
They pushed on across the open space, and then through a wood where it was not so easy to advance and at length, without noticing it, began to descend, the way being good at times and at others very difficult so that they were frequently obliged to halt and get breath.
"I shouldn't wonder if we were the pioneers of this island," said Harry, "for no one seems to have been through here before. How do you stand it, young Smith, all right?"
"Well, it is not so easy as walking along Broadway in New York," rejoined Jesse W., "but I can manage it, I guess."
"It strikes me that we are going down instead of up," observed Arthur, "and we thought we would have to climb the hills we saw."
"You often have to go up and down two or three times in climbing a mountain," said Jack. "It looks all up from a distance, but there are often intervening valleys, which have to be crossed, and then you go up again."
"This must be a pretty deep one, then," said Harry, "for we are going down at a pretty steep incline now."
They pushed on, passing through many great masses of rock, and still going down at a decided angle until at length they came out upon a bare, rocky shore with huge masses of rock to the right and left, and beyond a line of reefs over which the surf was dashing, all being white both beyond and inside the reefs.
"We are on the other side of the island!" exclaimed Jack, "and we have not climbed our hills at all or else they were so slight that we did not notice them."
"I would not like to be in a vessel driven on this side of the island," said Percival. "See how the surf dashes over those reefs. You would go to pieces in a short time."
"That may be the reason why there are no people on it," said Jack. "It is not very big, I take it, and is probably difficult of access. We seem to have come to it without knowing it, and if we had I don't believe we would have gone near it."
They stood watching the surf, and taking in various parts of the shore, seeing a great mass of rocks higher than those at hand, to the east of the larger mass close in to land, and at length Jack suggested that they return to the other side.
"We ought to be able to follow the path we made coming across," he said, "and in any event, we know the general direction, and if we do go astray a bit it won't matter."
They set out upon their return, and came out not far from where they had started, finding Billy Manners and three or four of the boys on shore waiting for them.
"We thought you might be along soon," said Billy. "Would you believe it, they don't know what this island is after all, don't know the name of it, I mean."
"How is that?" asked Harry. "Isn't it charted?"
"Yes, it is charted all right, but there is no name given to it. The captain says it is a sort of lost island, and they never thought enough of it to give it a name or if it had one they didn't think it was good enough to put on the chart."
"Lost Island is a good enough name for us," observed Jack. "Suppose we call it that while we are here. That will not be long, I suppose."
"H'm! I don't know about that," Billy returned. "They have the yacht afloat all right. They started the engines, and backed her off a sand bank or whatever it was we were on, and are now in fairly deep water, but as to leaving the island that is another matter."
"How is it?" asked all the boys in a breath.
"Because there is a line of reefs stretching right across the mouth of the bay, and there seems to be no way of getting beyond them. There seem to be openings here and there, but they are so narrow that the captain does not think it wise to try to go through them."
"Then we are lost on Lost Island, and are lost ourselves," said Jack.
EXPLORING THE ISLAND
The boys returned to the yacht in time for dinner, and here their situation was talked over by the doctor and the captain, the former assuring the boys that there was no great danger, for the yacht was equipped with a wireless service, and the captain could easily make his predicament known, and vessels would doubtless be sent to his relief.
"We may pursue our studies as usual," the doctor continued, whereupon there were wry looks upon the faces of many of the boys, "and as soon as we get away from here we will pursue our voyage. It is simply an incident, not an accident in our plans as arranged."
After dinner Jack got one of the yacht's boats, and took Dick and young Smith with him to the mouth of the bay to get a view of the reefs.
For some little distance they could not see the opening of the bay on account of its windings, the hills preventing them from getting a view of the sea, but at length in rounding a wooded point they came in sight of it.
There were reefs in front of them, at some little distance, and points of rocks on both sides, the outer bay being of considerable size, but generally exposed to the weather, which they were not in the inner bay.
They pushed on for some little distance, but not too near the reefs, where they would be exposed to the force of the surf that dashed over the latter and Jack presently pointed out a strange looking object on his right and at some little distance.
"I should say that that was a flagstaff sticking out of the rocks," he said, "if it were not the most unlikely thing in the world that there should be one there. If any one wanted to plant a flag-pole they would go up higher on the rocks, I should think."
"See if you can get a little nearer to it, Jack," said Dick. "It looks too big for a flagstaff, but it might be the stump of a mast."
"Which is much more likely," replied Jack. "A vessel might have gone ashore there, and show the stump of a mast above water. It is a wonder to me that we were not in the same predicament."
"The only way that I account for it is that we were hit by a tidal wave or the end of one, and carried right over the reefs without scratching, and then the force of the water carried us to the inner bay where it left us stranded for a time."
"That sounds reasonable, and in the absence of any other explanation may as well be received as the right one. I think you are correct about its being the stump of a mast, Dick."
Jack rowed as close to the point of rocks as he dared, not caring to be dashed upon them, the landing being bad, and the boys got a better view of the object that Jack had noticed.
It was out in the water, and projected about five feet, and, being broken off apparently about half way to the crosstrees, should be at least that distance under water.
"I should say there was five or six feet of water there," said Jack, "and you can see from the marks on it that this broken end is still below high water mark. I don't see any sign of a bowsprit but maybe that was broken off when she struck."
"And we can't tell whether this is the fore, main or mizzen," observed Dick; "or whether she had more than two masts. There must be some of her hull left, but it is all under water and maybe deeper than you think."
"Yes," said Jack musingly, "and I am very glad that we are above it and safe, even if we are on a lost island. The tide is coming in steadily now, and there will be more surf, so I think it just as well not to be too near the reefs."
"We might get ashore at some other point farther back, and examine this part of the coast," suggested Percival.
"That woody point which we rounded and so came in sight of the outer bay might be a good place," added young Smith, who seemed a boy of ideas, although he was a little fellow and younger than the others. "We could go ashore there, I think, Jack."
"Yes, so we might," said Jack, as he began to row back. "There is time now, I think. We have not got to go right back."
He pulled on till he reached the point of woods and then looked for a good place to land, finally finding one where there was a narrow white beach and a bank which sloped gradually up to a distance of twenty feet to a ledge whence there was another rise of about twenty feet to another grassy bank.
"This seems to be a good place," he said, as he pulled in to the little beach. "Here is an old stump to which we can tie the boat so that it may not drift away from us when the tide comes in if it reaches this point."
Making the boat fast with plenty of slack to the rope in case the tide should rise high, he got out and then he and Percival ascended the first slope, helping Jesse W. between them.
There was room enough for all of them on the bank, but it did not appear to extend very far, and after taking a rest of a few minutes they set out to ascend to the next landing place where they again rested.
Here there was more room than before, but it was farther to the next stopping place, and there was still more room when that would be reached.
From this point they could see much of the inner bay, and make out the yacht at anchor, but could not see much beyond that, and Jack suggested that they go to a still higher point, and get another observation.
There were trees, big and little, and rough rocks here and there, which would aid them in making the ascent, and they kept on till they reached another good stopping place of greater extent whence they could see much more than before.
Jack and Dick helped young Jesse W. up the bank, as, otherwise, it would have been hard for the little fellow, who was under the average size for boys of his age, and he felt quite proud of being with the older boys, and said as he looked around on the water and the island and the yacht lying at anchor:
"When I tell the other fellows that I came up here they won't believe me. I tell you, it is something to have two such big fellows to look after a little shrimp like me."
"Never mind, J.W., you will grow if you will only wait," laughed Jack. "We were all little fellows once."
"What sort of place is this, anyhow?" asked the smaller boy, looking about him. "There are woods and rocks, and down there I can see that stump of a mast. I wonder if we could see more of her by——"
He was walking on, looking at the mast sticking out of water more than at the ground at his feet when suddenly Jack noticed that he was right on the edge of a hole just discernible in the tall grass.
He darted forward, and caught the boy's arm just as he was about to step into this hole without seeing it, and pulled him back.
"Look out, Jesse W., or you'll go in!" he cried. "You don't know how deep that place is nor where it will land you."
"H'm! I never noticed it. It does seem deep, doesn't it? I wonder how far down it goes, and what's at the end? Water, do you suppose?"
"I don't know, I'm sure," said Jack, "but you might have had a bad fall, my boy. You don't want to go star-gazing like that in strange places. You never know what may be in the way. Always look where you are going."
"Yes, that's good advice, but I wonder if there is anything down there anyhow? Do you suppose we could get down?"
"Possibly," returned Jack thoughtfully, "but I imagine it is a pretty good job to get down there and a bigger one to get back, and nothing down there anyhow."
"You can't tell without going down," said the younger boy wisely, as he knelt on the edge of the hole, and looked down. "Have you got a pocket light with you? We might tell something with that."
Jack parted the tall grass, and just then the sun shone out brightly, as the breeze blew aside the branches, and a broad track of sunlight was let into the hole.
"It does not go straight down," said Dick, who was now at Jack's side. "In fact, I don't think it is as steep as the path we came up. We might go down and investigate."
"Yes, but what would there be there when we got down?" asked the other half impatiently. "We ran the risk of breaking a leg or an arm just for the sake of exploring a hole in the ground, and get nothing out of it. If there was anything there, now——"
"Yon don't know till you look, as Jesse W. just remarked, and there might be something there after all. Some of Captain Kidd's treasure, for instance."
"Nonsense! You are full of Captain Kidd's treasure, and so are half the boys. You won't find anything down there, and you will have your trouble for your pains."
"I'm going to look just for the fun of it, anyhow," said Dick, "although it would be very convenient to have a light as J.W. suggests. Another time we can bring one."
The sun shone more strongly into the hole, and Dick began to descend, using a stout stick, which he had broken from a tree near at hand, to assist him in going down.
The smaller boy looked rather wistfully into the hole as Dick went down, and Jack, breaking another stout stick, asked:
"Do you want to go down there, young fellow, and follow Dick Percival on a fool's errand?"
"It might not be that," said the other, "and I would like to go."
"All right, then, come along. Here is a staff for you. I can do without one, I think. Keep close to me. Can you walk upright, Dick?"
"Yes, generally," came back the answer in a muffled voice. "My! but the place is filled with echoes, Jack. It goes down quite a distance I should say. The light is a big help. Funny, but there seems to be a light down here, although where it comes from I can't say."
The boys kept going down and at length Jack said, pausing and trying to pierce the darkness, the light that Percival had spoken of not being visible at that moment:
"I think we would better get a light, Dick. We don't know where we are going, and it is dark. It is never safe to go anywhere in the dark unless one is familiar with his surroundings."
"That's true enough, Jack. Have you any matches? The next time we come this way, if we do, we had better take a flashlight along."
"I have matches," said Jack, and in a moment a tiny blaze shot up, increasing till it enabled them to see to some extent where they were.
They were still descending, but in a short time were on more level ground or rock, whatever it was, proceeding till the match went out, and a few steps farther when Dick suddenly brought up against something and exclaimed in surprise:
"Hello! we cannot go any farther, Jack. Strike another match, and let us see where we are."
Jack lighted two or three matches at once, and held them just above his head so as to obtain a good view of his surroundings.
"Hello! what is this?" exclaimed Percival. "A cave, or what?"
Just before them was a jagged opening into some region beyond, but whether it was a cave or not puzzled them.
Jack went closer, and held his light in the jagged opening.
"It's a hole in the side of a vessel, Dick!" he cried in amazement.
A WALK UNDER WATER
"That's what it is, Jack," said Dick, after the first sensation of astonishment had passed. "It is more in the bow than on the side, however. You can see how she narrows a little farther on. This hole is pretty well forward. I tell you what! This is the vessel we saw under water, or the one that stump of a mast belongs to, at any rate."
"I believe it is, Dick. Probably she drove in here, had a hole smashed in her bow, and then sank. The earth has settled in between the masses of rock above and around her, and hidden her, but there is still the fissure down which we have just come."
"This is as good as finding Captain Kidd's treasure, isn't it?" exclaimed young Smith. "We never expected to find anything. Shall we go in and see what more there is, Jack?"
"We may find ourselves in the water before we know it," murmured Jack. "No, I think we would better stay where we are. It is the safest plan by long odds. It looks like taking too many chances to go into a place like that. Better wait till another time."
"Give me a match or two, Jack," said Percival. "I'll promise not to take too great a risk."
Jack handed him the matches, and he struck them, and advanced a step or two into the opening.
"It is plenty wide enough," Percival said. "Yes, these are ship's timbers, all right. She must have struck hard to make such a gash. We are on a level with the lower deck. I can't see much cargo around, but there is a way aft. This must be a sort of steerage, and the lower hold where the cargo is stored is below us. I believe we could walk right ahead to the after bulkhead, and if there happens to be a door in it, as is often the case, straight into the after cabin."
"If there were anything to make a torch of, Dick, I'd go with you," said Jack, "for I am as much interested as you are in this strange find, but we don't know what we might stumble against or into what hole we might fall. Wait, Dick. We shall not probably leave the island for some time, and there will be opportunities to find out more about it."
"Yes, I suppose so, but I would like to find them out now. However, you have the right of it, and it is just as well to be cautious."
"Besides, I have only a few more matches left, and we must get back to where we started. If you and I were alone——"
"Yes, quite right," and Dick came out, as his matches were extinguished, and they started back.
A match or two gave them all the light they wanted till they began to ascend, the way up being more difficult than coming down, and both older boys being obliged to assist the younger one.
However, they reached the top at last, the light seeming to be almost dazzling after they had been used to the darkness for even the short time they were down in the strange place.
"I never knew the sun to be so bright," said Jesse W. "It's like what men say coming up out of a deep well is."
"We'll go there again," said Percival. "I want to know more about the place. Better not say anything to the other fellows. We'll have them swarming over the place if we do, and then there is more or less danger in going down there."
"I believe you want to keep the discovery all to yourself in case we did find treasure there," said Jack. "Probably there is nothing more than a lot of spoiled beef and some old clothes."
"Oh, after we have seen all there is to be seen I don't care, but I do want to have it to ourselves until we have had a chance to see all there is to be seen. Think of going into a vessel through a hole in the side. Very few people can say they have done that."
"There'll be no getting the vessel out of that now," said young Smith. "I wonder how old it is!"
"It cannot be so very old," replied Jack. "If she were, the moss and slime on that stump of a mast would be thicker, and there would not be so much of the stump. Probably she is filled with water in any event."
"There was none in the part we saw."
"No, as that was above water, but the lower part undoubtedly is. I do not believe we could go all the way through as Dick suggests."
They went back to the place where they had left the boat, made their way down and rowed back to the yacht, where they went on board, and saw some of the boys, telling them of visiting the reefs, but saying nothing of the strange discovery of the vessel among the rocks.
There was a very high tide that night, but Captain Storms decided that it would be very unwise to try to pass beyond the reefs, none of the openings being wide enough and the surf very heavy.
"There is no use, young gentlemen," he said to Jack and Dick and a few others. "We will have to stay here for a time until I can get in connection with the outside world. Then, perhaps, some one may know about this place, and a way out of it. One vessel has gone down here, and I don't care to be the next, and leave my mainmast sticking up out of the water to show folks the way to destruction."
"We saw that stump ourselves," said Jack. "Was that wreck long ago, do you think?"
"Not so many years, twenty, perhaps, or maybe less. The rocks would hold her tight, but I don't believe there's much left of her. Nothing worth taking away, I guess."
Jack gave Dick a peculiar look, and neither of the boys told what they had seen.
The boys had lessons and a lecture that afternoon, and again the next morning and in the afternoon were free to go about as they pleased, explore the island or go out on the water with some of the sailors.
"I want to take another look at that old vessel," said Percival to Jack after dinner. "I have borrowed a stout rope and an axe, and I have my pocket light with me. Will you go along, Jack? I suppose we should take J.W. with us, but he is a little fellow, and there might be danger."
"If we find anything whatever we can take him another time," said Jack. "I don't want anything to happen to the young fellow. Some of the boys may be saying that I took him to a dangerous place just to have the name of rescuing him again."
"You don't mind what such fellows as Herring and some of the rest say, I hope?" sputtered Percival.
"Not altogether, but it is annoying all the same."
"What those fellows need is a good thrashing."
"Well, I don't like this constant wrangling, and I keep away from them as much as possible and don't give any cause for talk."
"Which is the cheapest kind of goods dealt in. Never mind them, but come along and make another investigation of the wreck. I believe we may find something in it."
"Spoiled beef and rotten clothes," laughed Jack. "However, I will go with you, Dick."
They took the boat and rowed to the woody point where they made fast, and climbed to the top as before, having much less trouble on account of not having the younger boy to assist.
They made their rope fast to a tree near the edge of the hole among the rocks, and by its help descended to the bottom, then lighting their way to the hole in the side of the vessel.
With the axe Percival cut away the jagged edges of the timbers at the opening, and then he and Jack pushed forward, using the axe now and again as rubbish of various kinds came in their way.
They could see boxes and bales and casks on either side as they went on, there being a passage-way between the tiers of the cargo, and here and there a post or stanchion had half fallen and impeded their progress, obliging them to cut it.
As Percival had predicted, there was a door at the end of the bulkhead, dividing the hold from the cabin, but this was fast.
"It is not very thick," said Percival. "I believe I can break it in with a blow of the axe."
"Wait a moment, Dick," said Jack cautiously. "Listen! It strikes me I hear the sound of water. We don't want to let a flood in on us. It is likely that the after hold and cabin are full of water, and we don't want to be swamped."
Percival put his ear to the door, and then flashed his light through the keyhole.
"There's nothing there, Jack," he said. "If there were water it would come through here. We have gone so far, and I'd like to go the rest of the way and get to the cabin. I believe we can. There is probably a passage on one side of the companion leading to the after cabin."
"Yes, and the companion is open, and the place full of water."
"There is none here, at any rate, and it will be time enough to look for trouble when it comes," returned Percival impatiently. "Stand aside, old man, and throw the light on the door so that I can give a good blow."
Jack did as requested, and Percival raised the axe and dealt the door a sturdy blow, which took it off its hinges and sent it crashing into a narrow passage beyond.
"There is no water there!" he exclaimed in triumph. "Come on, Jack."
The two boys went into the passage, stepping over the fallen door, Jack showing the way with the pocket electric light, which was great use to them in the strange place.
The passage was narrow, not wide enough for the two boys to walk side by side, and was about two fathoms in length, leading to another door which was fast like the first.
In many vessels there is a passage like this leading from the after cabin to the steerage, where the entire hold is not open from the hatches to the keel, as in big ships, which the captain may use in reaching certain portions of the cargo with less trouble than in the case of its being stored in a solid bulk.
"Here is another door, Jack," said Percival. "I don't see any sign of a companionway from the deck."
"No," said Jack, putting his ear to the door and listening intently. "I can hear the swash of water just the same, Dick. We had better be a bit careful."
"We would hear it here, anyhow, Jack. There is water outside, and I don't suppose there is much depth here. You would be very likely to hear it the same as you hear water dashing against the side of a vessel when you are in the hold. It doesn't follow that the water is beyond there."
"No, I guess not. Well, give it a smash, and be ready to run in case there is water there."
Percival took as much room as he could in the narrow passage, swung the axe, and sent the door crashing into the space beyond.
Instead of a flood of water breaking in upon the boys, as Jack more than half expected, there was considerably more light while the sound of water was more distinguishable than before.
"Well! I declare!" exclaimed Percival, pressing forward.
The boys found themselves in the after cabin of a vessel, which was as dry as if she had been in her dock, a soft light from overhead showing them the details of the place perfectly, even without the light of the torch.
"We are under water, Jack!" cried Percival.
"So it seems."
"That light comes from the bull's-eye overhead. The water over it softens the light. Otherwise, the sun would pour right into the place."
"That would be better than having the water pouring in on us, Dick. The flashings of that skylight are tighter than most of them, however, or the water would have gotten in here long before now."
"It is just possible that the glass has been covered with sand which has been lately washed away. That would fill all the cracks around the flashings and make them tight. Very likely the wave that sent us in here has uncovered the skylight, and that is how it is light in here. It is dry, too, Jack. Why, this is like being in one of the submarines we have read of."
"Where you slide back a panel and look at the fishes in procession, through a plate-glass port," laughed Jack. "That always seemed absurd to me, but there are lots of things that Verne wrote about which have been more than realized."
"I should say so! Why, his balloons and his submersibles would not be a patch upon what are actually in use these days."
"Well, now that we know it is safe here, and the water is not going to pour in upon us, let us have a look at the place," said Jack.
A REMARKABLE FIND
The cabin where the boys now found themselves, so strangely lighted and so marvelously discovered, was not of any great size and was evidently the stateroom of the late commander of the vessel, which itself was not of any great size so far as the boys could determine.
It was furnished with a standing bed fixed against the side, a table and two chairs, all fixed to keep them from moving about when there was any commotion outside.
The skylight was just above the table, which could be used in writing or to have a meal served upon, there being evidences of its having been used for both purposes at the time of the wreck, for there were papers and writing materials scattered about, and a plate and a wine glass just under it, having fallen off during the commotion of the wreck.
There were lockers along the floor under the bed, and along the sides of the cabin, and in one corner a heavy chest such as seamen often use to contain their valuables, this being brassbound and padlocked.
There was a small door forward and another aft, but the boys did not attempt to see what was beyond either of them, being satisfied with what they saw, and not knowing what dangers they might bring upon themselves by doing so.
"It's a bit uncanny, Jack," murmured Percival, "having the water so near to us and not knowing at what moment it may come in upon us. One of those doors probably leads to the companionway going on deck, and the other to the cockpit, but I don't think it would be wise to open either."
"No," said Jack, picking up a bit of writing from the floor.
"There may be, and probably is, another door beyond this after one leading into the cockpit," pursued Percival, "but we don't know if we would let the water in upon us, and it is just as well to leave it alone for the present. The other doubtless leads to the companionway, and there may be another one beyond at the top or perhaps at the bottom. I don't see how the water has not made its way in here, but——"
"Both doors are of iron," said Jack. "Probably the skipper wanted privacy, and—do you read Spanish, Dick! You know a number of modern languages, more or less."
"No, not very well, but what made you ask me?" replied Percival in some surprise. "What have you got there, Jack?"
"A letter addressed to some official in Mexico, but whether of the provisional or rebel government I cannot make out."
"H'm! you are always picking up strange letters."
"Yes, it seems so. You are thinking of the one I found in the flying machine. We never settled whether that was really genuine or not, Dick, but this seems to be so. As far as I can make out it refers to a shipment of some sort, arms or gold or—why, Dick, this wreck cannot be so old, after all. The date of this is only that of last year and late at that."
"Then that knocks the Captain Kidd idea silly!"
"Never mind Captain Kidd. Let us see if we can open this chest. Do you know, I am a bit nervous about staying down here too long. You said it was uncanny, and so it is. I'll save these letters," picking up another from the floor. "Suppose we try the chest, Dick."
"The only reason that the water did not come in through that hole forward is that it was probably made by the rocks when she struck and this after part is much lower. She was caught fast and could not fall back. Well, what about the chest, can you open it?" for Jack was kneeling before it, and trying the fastenings.
"I don't know. The lock is closed, but it is only an ordinary iron one, and perhaps you might break it with the axe. There is no other lock that I can see. Try breaking it open, Dick."
Percival struck the padlock a terrific blow with the axe, and broke it in half, it being just a cast-iron affair and easily broken.
"It seems funny to put a lock like that upon a chest supposed to contain something worth while," remarked Jack, as he removed the pieces of the lock, pulled aside the hasp and opened the chest. "That is the way some persons do, however."
Throwing back the lid of the chest he found a tray containing some papers, a pair of pistols and a knife, a few odd trinkets of very little value, some loose cigarettes, two or three dozen in number, a cheap photograph, and a purse made of silver mesh containing a few gold coins.
"Whose picture is that, Dick?" he asked, handing the photograph to Percival, who took it and examined it carefully.
"Why, that's Villa or some of those rebel Mexicans," Dick answered. "I have seen it in the papers often. What's in the body of the chest?"
Jack removed the tray and set it on the floor, opening his eyes with astonishment, and giving vent to a startled exclamation at the same time.
"Well, it is not Captain Kidd, Dick," he cried, "but it is money, just the same, bags of it, and gold," untying the cord around one of the bags, and showing it to be full of gold pieces.
"Not pieces of eight, Jack?" asked Percival with a broad grin.
"No, American twenties and tens, and a few English sovereigns," said Jack, taking out a handful of the coins. "Why, there's more than a hundred dollars right in my fist."
"And a lot of bags, too, Jack," and Percival bent over and looked into the chest. "There must be thousands of dollars there, Jack."
"Yes, if they all contain gold. Take care of this one, Dick, while——"
At that moment there was a sudden heavy sound outside, and both boys started up in surprise.
"What's that, Dick?"
"I don't know, but I don't like it."
"There is no water coming in?"
"Not that I can see."
The sound was repeated, louder than before, and Percival said nervously, while his cheek was noticed to have perceptibly paled:
"Let us get out of here, Jack. I am frightened, I admit. If anything should happen to you I would never forgive myself."
He closed the lid of the chest with his foot, caught Jack by the arm, and said as he hurried away:
"I don't know what it is, but I am not taking any risks."
They hurried along the passage by which they had entered the cabin, reached the hole in the bow by which they had entered and then, as Percival turned on his flashlight, which he had extinguished after entering the cabin aft, they hurried forward toward the hole in the rocks.
"There is no water here, Dick, at any rate," said Jack.
"No, there is not, but I can't think what made—hello!"
"What's the matter, Dick?"
"Where is the way up? I can't find it. The passage was not a wide one, was it? We cannot have gone astray?"
"No, I don't see how we could," muttered Jack, as he looked around him, the place being well lighted by Dick's flash. "Hello! I see what the trouble is, and now I know what the noise was."
"Well?" asked Percival.
"Some of the rocks have fallen in, Dick. That was what made the noise. Here is our rope. We are in the right place, therefore. The way up is closed, however. Or, at any rate, it is closed here, but I don't believe——"
"The rocks were not loose, were they, Jack?"
"I did not notice that they were, and there has been no rain to send them down. They must have been loose, however. How else could they have tumbled in?"
"I don't know, unless some one took a bar or a pole, and sent them down that way."
"Nonsense, Dick! Who would do that?"
"I know plenty who would do it. Who pushed you into the ravine, back at Hilltop at the risk of your life?"
"Yes, but there is no one around, and no one knew where we were going. You don't suspect little Jesse W., do you?"
"No, indeed," said Percival, with a hearty laugh, "but some one has seen us go down here, and they have thrown down the rocks to make it harder for us to get out."
"It does not seem likely, Dick," said Jack in a doubting tone. "There was no one about, and we are the only ones who know the place. We said nothing about it, and young Smith will keep quiet. Come, that is hardly worth thinking of. Let us see how we can get out. There must be some way."
Dick turned his light this way and that, and Jack lighted a match, saying with a significant chuckle:
"That is all very well, but this is better for our purpose. Watch!"
The flame presently began to flicker, and indicated the presence of a draught of air, Jack noticing the direction whence it came, said:
"Try this way, Dick. There is a draught which makes the flame flicker. Try the axe on the rocks and see if you can loosen them, or, better yet, see if there isn't a fissure somewhere."
"Yes, there is," said Percival, climbing a mass of rock somewhat to one side of where the others had fallen. "Yes, I see it, Jack."
Between them, working with the axe and their hands, the boys opened up a passage between the rocks wide enough for them to crawl through, and in a few minutes were on the top of the wooded point only a few yards from where they had entered the strange place.
"The boat's gone, Jack!" exclaimed Percival.
DISCUSSING THE FIND
The boys could see the water and the bank from where they stood, and Dick had been the first to notice that the boat was not where they had left it before going down into the buried wreck.
"I suppose it might have drifted away," said Jack. "The warp could have become loosened."
"Yes, it could have done so," sputtered Percival, "but it did not do so without help. The same fellows who tumbled the rocks into the hole took away the boat. I have an idea who they were. I spoke pretty sharp to Herring the other day, and he has probably been nursing his wrath ever since."
"You are too suspicious, Dick, and—hello! did you bring that bag with you?" for the first time noticing that Percival had the bag of coin which he himself had handed to his friend.
"Yes, you told me to take care of it, and I did," and Percival put the bag in the outside pocket of his jacket. "Well have to hail the yacht, old chap. We can make our way in that direction along the top of the bank. It is not such bad going, and then we have the axe if it is necessary to cut our way through the undergrowth."
They set out along the top of the bank, keeping a lookout for the vessel, now and then having to cut their way on account of the thickness of the growth, which was often as high as their waists.
"The rocks could not have fallen in by themselves, and the boat gotten adrift at the same time," muttered Percival as they went on. "Both of these things were done by some one who wished to annoy us. Watch and see how some of the fellows look when we get back."
"Very well, I will, but I don't see why any one should have done it, perhaps both of these things were accidents."
"Either one of them might have been, but is it likely that both were, and that they happened at the same time? Of course not. You will find that Herring or Merritt, or perhaps both, have had a hand in it. They don't like you, and do everything to hurt you, and they don't care any more for me than they do for you. Bother this tangle! It keeps you busy every moment. I believe things grow up here in a night. There will be bare rocks one day and a regular forest on them the next. It beats all how things do grow in these tropical islands!"
Keeping on, now in sight of the water, and then having to leave it on account of the thickness of the jungle, they pushed on till they saw the yacht lying at anchor.
Descending to the shore at the risk of a bad fall, they hailed the vessel, and presently some one put out in a boat and came toward them.
Bucephalus and old Ben Bowline were in the boat, the old sailor hailing them when he neared the shore.
"Well, mateys, did you think you'd walk out to the yacht?" he asked. "The old man was afraid you'd fallen in, and been gobbled up by sharks. Some of the boys found the boat adrift, and brought it in. Don't you know how to tie up a boat yet? I'll show you some knots if you don't know them."
"We know all the knots you can show us, Ben, and perhaps a good many more," grunted Percival. "The boat was tied all right, but——"
"Wha' was yo' goin' to say, sah?" asked Bucephalus.
"Some one untied it," said Percival. "Who brought it back, Buck?"
"Ah donno, sah, Ah didn' saw dem, othahwise Ah could identify de pussons. Have yo' any ideah as to deir pussonality you'se'f, sah?"
"I have an idea, but ideas can't hang a man. Anyhow, I don't want it to get abroad that Jack Sheldon and I do not know how to tie up a boat or tie any ordinary kind of knot. The whole Academy would laugh at us if that notion got around."
"Ah reckon de 'cademy knows all abo't yo' an' Mistah Jack a'ready an' wha' yo' done befo' dis," said the negro with a broad grin. "Ah reckon, too, dat de story was a fabrication puah an' simple. Fact am, if Ah done tol' a story lak dat folks would call it a lie witho't mincin' wo'ds."
"That's about what it was," said Percival, as he and Jack got into the boat, and Bucephalus and Ben Bowline started to row them to the yacht.
"I had a comical adventure with a boat myself once, mateys, if you care to hear it," said old Ben as he bent leisurely upon his oar, "but maybe the young gentleman won't believe it."
"Go ahead, Ben, let's have it," spoke up Jack. "Never mind whether we believe it or not. It will amuse us at any rate."
"A sailor man is a mo' pribileged pusson dan one what resides on sho', Ah've noticed," observed Bucephalus. "Folks lak to listen to dem an' dey don' call it lyin', whereas an' on de oder han', ef Ah indulge in any picturesque adaptations o' de trufe dey say Ah'm lyin' right away."
"Never mind that," chuckled Percival. "There is no hurry and Ben wants to spin his yarn, so you might as well let him. Take it easy. There is no hurry. Go ahead, Ben."
The old sailor was a good deal mollified by Dick's present attitude, and taking an easy stroke with his oar, he began his more or less veracious narrative.
"It was down on the coast o' South Ameriky that this here thing happened, but I never had it put in the log 'cause the old man wasn't along an' nothin' went into it that he didn't see hisself; but it's just as true, I'm giving you my word——"
"As the one about the whale!" roared Dick. "Go on, Ben."
"We was sailin' along the coast o' South Ameriky," Ben went on, "when one day as I was cleanin' out one o' the boats to have ready when we went ashore, which we judged would be in a little while, there come up a sudden squall an' I was chucked clean overboard, boat and all.
"Davits, falls, blocks and everything went, and me too, striking the water kerplump. Then it got so dark that I couldn't see nothin', and where I was I had no idee, no more'n nothin', 'cause I couldn't see a thing and there was such a noise all around that I couldn't hear a thing. Then it come on to rain for further orders and I was just drenched to the skin and had all I could do to keep the boat bailed out.
"I couldn't see nor hear anything of the old hooker and I just drifted without knowin' where I was goin' and not carin' much nuther, bein' wet to the hide an' tired out with bailin' an' just ready to flop down an' quit.
"Well, I drifted an' drifted without knowin' where I was driftin', till finally I seen a shore at some distance off an' took the oars an' pulled for it, havin' somethin' to think of now.
"It was still a-rainin', but I didn't care for that now, but just pulled for shore till it got dark again and stopped rainin', which was a comfort. I pulled on till it was too dark to see anythin', and then I come to a stake stickin' out of the water and hitched my boat to it and lay in the bottom an' went right to sleep.
"As long as I was tethered to the stake or bush or whatever it was I reckoned I was all right, an' so I slep' on without feelin' a bit alarmed, knowin' that I wouldn't drift no more an' in the mornin' I could go on an' reach the shore.
"When I woke up in the mornin' I was mightily astonished to find myself lyin' on the ground at the foot of a big tree and to find the boat hangin' to the topmost limb. Ye see, the rainwater had run off an' left the ground bare again, and as the boat slipped down to the perpendickalar I was dropped out an' went from branch to branch till——"
Percival let out a hearty laugh and fairly shook himself, saying at last when he could find breath:
"Baron Munchausen with variations. I've heard that story before, Ben, but the rain was snow and the twig was a church steeple. Still, it's a good story and will bear a bit of a change."
"H'm! I knowed you'd say I was lyin'!" grunted Ben, pulling heartily on his oar and cutting his story short.
Dick put the bag of gold and the letters Jack had picked up in his trunk under his berth and locked it, saying nothing at that time to any one, but resolving to go again with Jack, and bring away the chest if they could manage it.
He meant to tell the doctor about their wonderful find when they had all of it safely in their possession, and to have the letters translated so as to learn definitely all about the wrecked vessel and its mission, but just now he thought it wise to say nothing and Jack agreed with him.
Not all of the boys were on the yacht when the two young adventurers returned, and nothing was said about their having to hail the yacht, but as the others began to arrive, some time later, Percival watched them in turn to see if he could distinguish guilty looks on the faces of any.
When Herring and Merritt came on board he suddenly stepped out from behind a funnel, which had hidden him so that the two bullies did not see him till just as he faced them.
Both of them showed surprise, and Percival said to himself:
"They are the ones, just as I supposed. When anything happens to me or Jack and especially to Jack, look out for Pete Herring."
The two bullies passed him as quickly as they could, and had nothing to say, being evidently much astonished at seeing him on the yacht, but fearing to say anything lest they should betray themselves.
Passing Percival they came suddenly upon Jack, not having time to prepare for a meeting with him, and both of them flushed crimson.
"Oh, then it was you who found the boat afloat and brought it back?" Jack said carelessly. "Very kind of you, I am sure."
"What boat, what are you talking about?" growled Herring, turning redder than ever. "I don't know nothing about no boats."
"No, I suppose not," laughed Jack carelessly, and then going on to join Percival, who said:
"Herring and Merritt are the fellows."
"Yes, so I supposed. They don't know anything about it. They never know anything about things that happen to me, and generally you cannot prove it on them."
"We can't now, but I am satisfied that they were in it just the same."
"Well, we got out of it all right, so there is no need of accusing them. The next time we go there we will be on the watch."
"I suppose they saw the boat, and then came up to see what we were doing, saw the rope and knew we were down in the hole, and closed it upon us."
"They might have drawn up the rope, but they don't think of everything, fellows like that."
"No, they do not, and that's how you can catch them."
Later Dick and Jack saw the captain and Dr. Wise in the cabin, and told about the wrecked schooner, as she probably was, and of the visit to the cabin under water, and the finding of the gold.
Dick exhibited the bag Jack had given him, and showed the letters found on the floor, the captain being able to read them.
"There were money and supplies shipped to the Mexican rebel leader," he said, "and probably the vessel may have been chased, and put in among the islands of the Caribbean to get away, and was wrecked here. There is quite a lot of money in this bag, about a thousand dollars, and if there are many of the bags and they are all as full as this, you will have a pretty good sum to dispose of."
"The money belongs to Jack," said Percival. "He discovered the wreck and it should be his. He needs the money, and I do not."
"You worked with me," put in Jack, "and if I have any of it you should have a share. Does it belong to us, however?"
"Of course it does," said Captain Storms. "You found it and that's the law of treasure trove. It isn't likely that the Mexican rebels or their agents will put in a claim for it, and it is yours all right."
"But we have not got the rest of it," said Jack, "and the hold might be flooded before we go there again. It is a wonder that the water has kept out as long as it has."
"The iron doors have done a lot to keep it out; they are probably watertight. That cabin you were in was like a strong room, and maybe the skipper had it built that way a purpose. You don't know what sort of crew you may get when you are on a lay of this sort, and I guess he wasn't taking chances, having a lot of money on board."
"That may account for it, but it made me feel a little creepy being in there, and knowing that the water was just above me, and perhaps on the other side of those doors."
"I don't wonder. They say divers get afraid when they see all sorts of fishes swimming around them under water. I'd like to go to the place with you. I've had some queer adventures, but nothing so queer as that."
"I should be very glad to have you, sir, and if you want a share of the money in the chest——"
"No, that's all right. It belongs to you and your friend and the little fellow, too, I suppose."
"Why, of course, they must have their share of it."
"I don't think Jesse W. will take it, and, anyhow, he was not with us when we went into the cabin, and I certainly don't want it," said Percival. "It all belongs to you, Jack."
"Not if I don't want to take it," Jack replied with a laugh. "How are you going to make me take it, Dick?"
"I'm sure I don't know, but it ought to be yours, just the same. I'd like to get the rest of it, and suppose we go after it to-morrow?"
"That will be all right."
"And I'll go along to help you," said the captain. "There's no getting out of here right away, and we may as well do something. I can't get any answer to my wireless messages yet, and maybe folks think they're only a joke, and don't pay any attention."
"You have tried to get New York?" asked Jack.
"Yes, and Havana and any place I can, but I can't do anything. I don't know if I am tuned up with those fellows or whether they think it is only a joke or what. I've tried American and International, wired S.O.S. and all the different distress signals, but could not seem to make connection."
"Why don't you try Mr. Smith in New York? He would be interested on account of his boy. Try a plain commercial message. That ought to go. You can at least try it."
"That is very sensible advice," said the doctor. "I suppose you have been sending out distress signals, and the wireless people, if they have caught you up simply regard it as a hoax."
"Well, I'll try again, and do as the young man suggests. In the meantime I'd like to visit this wreck. I never was in a ship's cabin under water when it was safe, and I'd like to try it."
"We will go to-morrow," said Jack.
THE LAST VISIT TO THE WRECK
The next day, as agreed upon, they went to the old wreck on the rocks to get more of the treasure in the hold, and to satisfy the captain's curiosity about the place.
It had gotten around among the boys that Jack and Dick had found a sunken treasure, and there were stories of fabulous wealth afloat in a short time, all the boys, with a few exceptions, wishing to visit the place and gaze upon the buried gold with their own eyes.
"We cannot have all those boys visiting the place and getting in our way," sputtered Percival when it was suggested by Harry that he and one or two others go with the party.
"But we would not be in the way," said young Dickson, "and we might be of assistance."
"How did you find it out anyhow?" asked Percival. "We did not say anything about it."
"I don't know, but, at any rate, it is all around, and everybody knows about it. I heard Herring talking about it. He seems to think it is a big hoax, and that you did not find anything."
"Well, we did, all the same, but we don't want a lot of fellows with us, and, besides, it is dangerous. Never mind, Hal. You are in with us on the most of our adventures, but I don't think you had better go this time. We have promised to take young Jesse W. with us, as he was there the first time, but not the second, and he has never seen the cabin with its strange lights, the swash of water outside, the chest of gold and all that."
"H'm! you make me want to go with you all the more," said Harry, half laughing, half impatient. "You should not appeal to a boy's imagination like that, Dick. I want to go with you now the worst way."
"Well, I suppose you do, but you'll have to be satisfied with what I tell you about it. I'll write a composition about it, and you will think you are reading Jules Verne and the Arabian Nights all over again."
"You be smothered!" sputtered Harry, half cross and half good natured. "As if that would satisfy me."
"It will have to, Hal," laughed Percival. "Never mind, I'll give you a ten-dollar gold piece to hang on your watch chain as a charm. You can say it was one that Captain Kidd had."
"Yes, and they were not made at that time, two hundred years ago," said Harry in disgust. "Well, never mind. Billy Manners and I will find a buried treasure, and never let you have a smell of it"
"All right, Harry," and Dick went away to get Jack, young Smith and the captain, and start on their visit to the point.
The captain had a rope and an axe, and Jack took his pocket flash along with him, having found it very useful on the second visit to the submerged vessel.
They climbed up the rocks, and found the place where they had gone down, but now the opening was so small, more rocks having fallen in, apparently, since their last visit, that they doubted if they could get down.
"I am afraid we shall have to give it up," said Jack in some disappointment. "The last time Dick and I were here we had to squeeze through to get out, but now it seems worse than before."
"Let me try, Jack," said young Smith eagerly. "I am only a little fellow, and can get through where big fellows like you and Dick could not. Don't you remember how you put me through the little window at the Academy, that time of the rebellion in the school? Well, you can use me now in the same way. I want to see that place down there. You know I did not see it the last time, and I want to see it very much. Try, Jack. I am not so big, and can squeeze through almost anywhere."
Jack found a place where it would be quite possible for Jesse W. to get down, but not for himself or Percival, and, of course, out of the question for the captain, who was nearly as big as both of the latter combined, and he said:
"Here is a place, J.W., which, I think, will fit. It does seem too bad that you should not see the place, having been with us on our first trip, and we will give you a chance."
"I can bring away a bagful of the gold, anyhow, Jack, and perhaps go for another one after that. I should like to see the place, anyhow."
"All right, you shall do so, old man, but don't load yourself down with gold. That has drowned many a man before now. Get the rope, Dick. We will lower him into the place. Take a light, Jesse W., for you will need it. You know just how to find everything?"
"Yes, I go into the hole in the bow of the vessel which we saw, follow along till I come to a door, and then go along a passage till I come to another door and there I am, right in the cabin with a light overhead, shining through the water."
"That's it. Don't stay too long, and don't load yourself down with bags of gold. I'd rather not have it than have you take any risks."
"But you don't think there is any danger, Jack?" asked the younger boy, as they prepared to lower him.
"No, if I did I would not let you go."
The boy got down safely enough, and called to Jack and Dick when he had reached the bottom that he was all right, and then threw off the rope, which had been put around him under his arms.
He called to them from time to time, his voice growing fainter every time he called, and at last they could not hear him at all.
"I hope it is all right," murmured Jack when the boy had been gone a few minutes. "I thought it would be when I let him go, but now——"
"It is all right," said the captain. "He is a plucky little fellow, and there isn't anything that can happen to him. The rocks hold the vessel as tight as a vise and there is no chance of her slipping back into the water or anything of that sort."
"Well, I hope so, but somehow I begin to feel nervous, and wish that I had not let him go down."
"Young Smith is all right, Jack," said Percival reassuringly. "He is not afraid of anything, and really I don't believe there is anything to be afraid of. There was not when we went down."