THE SEARCH FOR THE SILVER CITY.
A TALE OF ADVENTURE IN YUCATAN.
By JAMES OTIS. Author of "The Castaways," "A Runaway Brig," "The Treasure Finders," etc., etc.
NEW YORK: A. L. BURT, PUBLISHER.
Copyright, 1893, by A. L. BURT.
In Mr. E. G. Squier's preface to the translation of the Chevalier Arthur Morelet's "Travels in Central America" the following paragraph can be found:
"Whoever glances at the map of Central America will observe a vast region, lying between Chiapas, Tabasco, Yucatan, and the republic of Guatemala, and comprising a considerable part of each of those states, which, if not entirely a blank, is only conjecturally filled up with mountains, lakes and rivers. It is almost as unknown as the interior of Africa itself. We only know that it is traversed by nameless ranges of mountains, among which the great river Usumasinta gathers its waters from a thousand tributaries, before pouring them, in a mighty flood, into the Lagoon of Terminos, and the Gulf of Mexico. We know that it has vast plains alternating with forests and savannas; deep valleys where tropical nature takes her most luxuriant forms, and high plateaus dark with pines, or covered with the delicate tracery of arborescent ferns. We know that it conceals broad and beautiful lakes, peopled with fishes of new varieties, and studded with islands which supports the crumbling yet still imposing remains of aboriginal architecture and superstition. And we know, also, that the remnants of the ancient Itzaes, Lacandones, Choles, and Manches, those indomitable Indian families who successfully resisted the force of the Spanish arms, still find a shelter in its fastnesses, where they maintain their independence, and preserve and practice the rites and habits of their ancestors as they existed before the discovery. Within its depths, far off on some unknown tributary of the Usumasinta, the popular tradition of Guatemala and Chiapas places that great aboriginal city, with its white walls shining like silver in the sun, which the cure of Quiche affirmed to Mr. Stephens he had seen, with his own eyes, from the tops of the mountains of Quesaltenango."
In Stephens' "Yucatan," Vol II, page 195, are the following lines:
"He (meaning the padre of Quiche, with whom Mr. Stephens was conversing), was then young, and with much labor climbed to the naked summit of the Sierra, from which, at a height of ten or twelve thousand feet, he looked over an immense plain—and saw at a great distance a large city spread over a great space, and with turrets white and glittering in the sun. The traditionary account of the Indians of Chajul is, that no white man has ever reached this city, that the inhabitants speak the Maya language, are aware that a race of strangers has conquered the whole country around, and murder any white man who attempts to enter their territory. They have no coin or other circulating medium; no horses, cattle, mules, or other domestic animals except fowls, and the cocks they keep under ground to prevent their crowing being heard. One look at that city would be worth ten years of an every-day life. If he (the padre) is right, a place is left where Indians and an Indian city exist as Cortez and Alvarado found them; there are living men who can solve the mystery that hangs over the ruined cities of America; who perhaps can go to Copan and read the inscriptions on its monuments. No subject more exciting and attractive presents itself to my mind, and the deep impression will never be effaced."
PAGE. CHAPTER I. The Sea Dream. 1
CHAPTER II. Under Weigh. 8
CHAPTER III. Nassau. 19
CHAPTER IV. A New Danger. 29
CHAPTER V. Fighting the Flames. 39
CHAPTER VI. The Last Resort. 49
CHAPTER VII. On Shore. 60
CHAPTER VIII. Suspense. 71
CHAPTER IX. Across the Country. 81
CHAPTER X. A Strange Story. 91
CHAPTER XI. The Journey. 101
CHAPTER XII. The Silver City. 111
CHAPTER XIII. In the City. 122
CHAPTER XIV. The Festival. 132
CHAPTER XV. A Retreat. 142
CHAPTER XVI. Discovered. 152
CHAPTER XVII. A Halt. 162
CHAPTER XVIII. Cave Life. 172
CHAPTER XIX. A Change of Base. 182
CHAPTER XX. A Desperate Struggle. 192
CHAPTER XXI. A Long Halt. 202
CHAPTER XXII. Jake's Venture. 212
CHAPTER XXIII. A Hurried Departure. 222
CHAPTER XXIV. Jake. 231
CHAPTER XXV. On the Range. 241
CHAPTER XXVI. The Pursuit. 251
CHAPTER XXVII. At Bay. 260
CHAPTER XXVIII. The Catastrophe. 270
CHAPTER XXIX. A Fierce Conflict. 280
CHAPTER XXX. A Welcome Change. 290
CHAPTER XXXI. The Sea. 299
CHAPTER XXXII. A Happy Surprise. 308
CHAPTER XXXIII. Homeward Bound. 318
THE SEARCH FOR THE SILVER CITY.
THE SEA DREAM.
Three years ago last August, it is unnecessary to specify the exact date, Teddy Wright was not only a very lonely fellow, but considered himself abused by circumstances.
During the previous season he had studied very hard at the military school on the Hudson which he often referred to slightingly as "the barracks," and as a reward for the flattering reports sent home by his teachers, had been promised a long vacation in the Adirondacks with a schoolmate who lived in the northern portion of New York state.
Teddy's parents and sisters intended spending the summer at some one of the fashionable watering places; but with three long months of "roughing it" where game could be found in abundance, he had no desire to accompany them.
"Life in the woods knocks staying at a big hotel on the sea-shore, where a fellow is obliged to be dressed up all the time," he said when one of his sisters expressed surprise at his choice. "We shall regularly camp out, and father has given me a doubled-barreled breech-loader, to say nothing of his own rod and collection of flies. Jack and I will have the jolliest kind of a time while you're moonin' on the hot sands trying to think it is fun."
Teddy went to Jack's home, and, to his sorrow and dismay, found that young gentleman so ill that there was no hope of his being allowed to take the long-contemplated trip.
He remained there, however, until perfectly certain of this unpleasant fact, and then returned home to the house which had been left in charge of one servant, and, as he expressed it, "just to spite himself," refused to join the remainder of the family.
Of course this was a most foolish proceeding; but Teddy was in that frame of mind where a boy of seventeen is prone to foolish deeds, and there he stayed in a frame of mind very nearly approaching the sulks, until he received a letter from Neal Emery, another schoolmate, whose father lived in Bridgeport.
Mr. Emery owned a large factory in that city, and Neal had intended to spend his vacation at home where he could enjoy the use of a small sloop-rigged yacht his mother had presented him with the year previous.
The letter contained a very pressing invitation for Teddy to visit Bridgeport, since his trip to the Adirondacks had been postponed, and concluded with the startling announcement:
"Father has just bought the Sea Dream, a beautiful steam yacht of an hundred feet in length, and I don't know how many tons. He proposes to cruise around three or four weeks while mother is at Bar Harbor, and is perfectly willing I should invite you to join us. We will have a jolly time, and if nothing prevents I want you to come at once. We are to start Wednesday morning."
The letter had been received Monday afternoon, therefore Teddy had but little time for preparation.
He first sent a long telegram to his father, repeating the substance of what Neal had written, and asked permission to enroll himself on the Sea Dream's passenger list.
Not until late in the evening did he receive a favorable reply; but his traps, including the gun and fishing tackle, were packed, and on the first train Tuesday morning he started, all traces of ill-humor having vanished, for a cruise on a steam yacht promised quite as great pleasure as had the stay in the woods, with not so much certainty of hard work. Neal met him at the depot, and after going to the former's home only long enough to leave the baggage, the two set out to view the yacht which, in all the bravery of glistening paint and polished metal, lay at anchor in the harbor.
Although not an expert in matters pertaining to marine architecture, Teddy could appreciate the beauty of the little craft while she swung lazily to and fro at her cable as if husbanding strength against the time when speed and endurance would be required.
Neal signaled from the pier, two of the crew came ashore in the captain's boat, and the boys went on board where, during the remainder of the day, they were busy examining and admiring the jaunty little craft.
Leading from the main saloon were two state-rooms on either side, and in one of these Neal had already stored such of his belongings as he intended to take on the cruise.
"This is our room, and now that we are here I wonder why we were so foolish as to carry your baggage up to the house. If it was with us we would remain on board, for it is very much more pleasant than in the hot town."
"There is nothing to prevent our bringing it down," Teddy replied with a laugh. "I had certainly rather stay here to-night."
"Come on, and then we shall feel more at home when the cruise begins."
The boys were rowed ashore, and the sailors instructed to remain at the pier until their return.
Then a short visit was made to Mr. Emery's office, where Neal explained what they proposed to do, and having received permission to occupy the quarters slightly in advance of sailing time, Teddy's baggage was soon in the small apartment which to both the boys looked so enchanting.
"I wish we were to be gone three years," Teddy said as he threw himself on a locker and gazed around.
If he could have known just at that moment how long the cruise would really last it is very certain he would not have expressed such a desire.
"Next year father says he will start early in the season, take mother with us, and not come back until it is time for me to go to school."
"And you must get an invitation for me," Teddy replied, his eyes glistening with pleasure at simply contemplating such an excursion.
"There won't be any difficulty about it. He has already promised that if nothing happens he will speak to your father."
"And in the meanwhile we've got before us the jolly fact that we're to stay on board a month."
"Yes; but there's no good reason why we should remain below where it is so warm. Come on deck for awhile, and then we'll have a look at the engine-room."
The engineer, Jake Foster, was under the awning aft, and Neal introduced his friend, saying as he did so:
"Teddy has never been yachting before, not even in a sailing craft."
Jake, a stout, jolly looking fellow hardly more than twenty-five years of age, gazed at the visitor curiously a moment, and then said with a hearty laugh:
"He'll have a chance to find out what an acquaintance with the ocean means, for I understand that Mr. Emery is going to run well over to the Bahamas before he comes back."
"Father has business there which it would be necessary to attend to not later than next fall, so intends to make it a portion of the pleasure trip."
"Are we likely to have much rough weather?" Teddy asked, realizing for the first time that it was more than possible he might be called upon to pay Neptune a tribute.
"Not at this time of the year; but its more'n probable the Sea Dream will kick up her heels enough to show something of what is meant by a life on the ocean wave before she pokes her nose into this port again."
Then the engineer was summoned from below, and the boys remained aft recalling to mind all they had studied relative to the Bahama banks.
The stores were on board; everything was in readiness for the start as soon as the owner should arrive, and when the steward summoned them to supper it seemed as if the voyage had really begun.
It was a long while before the boys could close their eyes in slumber on this first night aboard the Sea Dream, owing to the novelty of the surroundings. It seemed as if Teddy would never cease admiring the snug quarters with the guns and fishing rods hung where they could be seen to the best advantage, and Neal had very much to say regarding the plans he proposed to carry into execution during the cruise.
Despite such enchanting topics of conversation they were not able to remain awake all night, and when finally the journey into dreamland was made, neither returned to a full realization of the situation until quite late in the morning.
Teddy was the first to open his eyes, and in a very few seconds the throbbing of the screw, as well as the invigorating draught of cool air which came through the open port-hole, told him that the voyage had really begun.
"Neal, Neal," he cried, shaking his friend vigorously. "Wake up; I think we are at sea."
Neal was on his feet in an instant, and after one glance through the tiny window he replied with a laugh:
"There's no question about our being under way; but we sha'n't see the sea to-day."
"Why, we are on it now."
"If you have forgotten your geography as soon as this you'll be obliged to do some mighty hard studying when we get back to school. The Sea Dream must go through the sound before we reach the ocean, and most likely we shall make harbor at Martha's Vineyard to-night."
"Of course I knew about the sound; I had forgotten, that's all," and Teddy looked just a trifle ashamed at having displayed so much ignorance.
Never had the boys made their toilets more quickly. Both were eager to be on deck in order to extract the greatest possible amount of pleasure out of this first day of the cruise, and when they finally emerged from the companion-way an exclamation of surprise and delight burst from Teddy's lips.
The yacht was steaming at nearly full speed over waters as placid as a pond, and here and there were craft of all kinds darting back and forth like active fish.
"I tell you there's nothing in the way of sport to beat sailing," Teddy said enthusiastically.
"There are times when it isn't quite as nice as this. When it storms, and the yacht dances around so that it is impossible to come on deck you will think camping in the Adirondacks is much better."
"I thought vessels always went into a harbor at such times."
"If you are at sea it is necessary to take whatever comes in the way of weather, but there is no reason why we should speak of such things now. Let's have a look at Jake and his engine before breakfast."
During this first day of the cruise the boys were very busy. Considerable time was spent eating three decidedly hearty meals, and what with inspecting every portion of the steamer and watching the passing vessels, they managed without much trouble to find something in the way of amusement until the Sea Dream arrived off Cottage City, where Mr. Emery proposed to stop a day or two.
The wind had come up quite strong toward night, and when the little craft swung to her anchors some distance from the shore Teddy was feeling decidedly disagreeable.
There was not sea enough to trouble the greenest fresh-water sailor that ever "caught a crab;" but to poor Teddy, who had never been on the water save when crossing from New York to Brooklyn or Jersey City, it seemed as if the Sea Dream was very like a hideous nightmare.
She danced lightly on the long swell as if courtesying to the craft in her immediate vicinity, and each graceful movement caused Neal's guest to fancy his stomach was turning somersaults.
"You are not going below now?" the former said as Teddy staggered toward the companion-way.
"I am if it is possible to get there," was the impatient reply.
"But we shall have a chance to see the town. Father is going ashore presently."
"In one of those little boats?" and Teddy pointed to the davits where four polished tenders hung glistening in the sun like some articles of adornment.
"Of course. How else could he get there?"
"That doesn't make any difference to me. This boat is bouncing around enough for a fellow to wish he'd never heard of such a thing as a yacht, and in one of those egg-shells I'm certain it must be terrible."
"But it isn't. Try not to think of being sick, and come on shore with me."
"How can I help not thinking about it when I feel as if I was dying?"
Then, as if unable to prolong the conversation, Teddy ran below, while his friend followed more leisurely.
Neal could offer no inducements sufficiently strong to tempt his companion out of the berth, and there he remained until next morning when, in half a gale of wind, Mr. Emery decided to take a party of friends to Nantucket.
Only this was needed to give Teddy a severe attack of seasickness during which, when he spoke at all, it was to repeat over and over again his intention of going home as soon as the Sea Dream arrived at Cottage City.
Probably he would have carried this threat into execution if the excursion had not been prolonged; but it was four days before the yacht returned to Martha's Vineyard, and by that time he had, as Jake expressed it, "found his sea legs."
Now no matter how much the little craft tumbled around he remained undisturbed, and the sight of food was no longer disagreeable, but very pleasing to him.
Therefore it was that when the Sea Dream left Cottage City for the Bahamas, the delightful portion of the cruise, so far as Teddy was concerned, had but just begun.
Inasmuch as there was no especial reason why they should arrive at any certain time, and the owner wished to remain at sea as long as possible while making the voyage, the yacht was run at half speed, thus not only saving considerable coal; but unnecessary wear and tear of the machinery.
That it could be very warm on the water had never entered the minds of the boys; but as they journeyed southward the heat became intense. During two days it was almost a perfect calm, the only air stirring being that caused by the motion of the steamer, and the cabin seemed like an oven. There the thermometer stood at 84 degrees, while in the galley it was twenty degrees higher, and in the engine-room it frequently rose to 130 degrees.
Neal and Teddy could do little more than lie under the awning aft, working hard but unsuccessfully to keep cool by the aid of fans and such iced drinks as the steward prepared.
The novelty of yachting had passed away in a measure, and they were already counting the days which must elapse before the Sea Dream would be in a less torrid climate.
Jake had assured them that when the yacht came to an anchor and the fires were drawn it would be much cooler on board, therefore both the boys were delighted when Bridge Point at the entrance to the N. E. Providence Channel was sighted.
There was a light breeze blowing off the banks, and the yacht was running slowly as she passed within a quarter of a mile of the low lying land, when suddenly a most disagreeable odor from the shore caused Neal to say impatiently:
"If such perfumes as that are common to the Bahamas I had rather endure the heat than stay a very long while, no matter how cool it may be when we cease steaming."
"What is it?" and Teddy covered his nose with his handkerchief.
"I don't know; but I wish Jake would put her ahead faster, for it is absolutely sickening."
His desire for more speed was not gratified. To the surprise of both the boys the engine-room gong sounded for the machinery to be stopped, and as the headway was checked Mr. Walters, the sailing master, came from the wheel-house to where Mr. Emery was sitting.
The boys could not hear the short conversation which followed; but their surprise increased as the order was given to lower away one of the port boats.
"What are we stopping here for?" Neal inquired of his father.
"Doesn't the odor give you any idea?" Mr. Emery asked with a smile.
"None except that the sooner we get away the more comfortable I shall feel."
"When I tell you that we are likely to find as the cause of your discomfort something nearly as precious as gold, it may be a trifle more bearable."
Both Neal and Teddy looked perplexed, and the latter said laughingly:
"It is strong enough to be worth a good deal; but do you really mean what you say, sir?"
"Every word. Mr. Walters thinks he can find ambergris which has been washed up on the rocks, and that is quoted at ten dollars per ounce. Now you boys have been at school long enough to know exactly why it is so valuable."
"I have heard of it as being the base of the finest perfumes," Neal said slowly; "but that must surely be a mistake if it smells anything like this," and he did violence to his stomach by inhaling a long breath of the disagreeably laden air.
"It is true, nevertheless. Ambergris is believed to be the product of a sort of ulcer or cancer which has formed in the bowels of a whale. After a certain length of time, or because a cure has been wrought by change of feeding place, the mass is dislodged. It floats, and is often found far out to sea; but more particularly among the cays in the Turks islands. It is the foundation of nearly every perfume, and in ancient times was used for spicing wine."
During this conversation the boat had been lowered, and, with Mr. Walters as steersman, was being pulled toward the land. Now Neal and Teddy were sorry they had not accompanied the sailing master; but it was too late for regrets, and the odor did not seem to be nearly as disagreeable since they knew from what it proceeded.
"Never mind how much the stuff is worth," Teddy said, as he and Neal leaned over the rail in company with Jake, who had come on deck to ascertain why the yacht had been brought to a standstill, "it isn't a nice thing to smell of, and I shall remember this afternoon whenever I see perfume."
"It isn't always the most agreeable things which are of the most service," Jake replied with an air of wisdom; and then as a loud shout was heard from the shore, the boat having reached the land some time since, he added, "It's ambergris for a fact, or they wouldn't be makin' such a fuss."
Five minutes later the little craft was seen approaching the yacht, and each instant the odor became stronger until both the boys were forced to cover their organs of smell.
In the bow of the boat was a black mass looking not unlike coke, and weighing, as was afterward ascertained, forty ounces.
"I thought I couldn't be mistaken, although I never run across anything of the kind but once before," Mr. Walters said triumphantly, as he handed the precious substance up to one of the sailors, who took it very unwillingly.
"We shall be driven out of the yacht if you try to carry it home," Mr. Emery replied, moving aft as far as possible.
"It won't trouble us many hours. We will sell or ship it at Nassau, and I reckon all hands can manage to live until we arrive there."
The valuable substance was wrapped carefully in several thicknesses of canvas, and placed in the hold where it is not probable any odor from it could have been perceptible on deck, although both the boys were quite positive the yacht was thoroughly permeated.
After this short delay the Sea Dream continued on her course at a higher rate of speed, for now that she was so near land the heat seemed unbearable, and when night came Neal and Teddy stretched themselves out in the hammocks which had been slung under the after awning, wishing, not for a glimpse of Nassau; but that they were off the New England coast instead of being so near the tropics.
Then, despite the profuse perspiration, both fell asleep, not to waken until the rattling of the cable through the hawse-holes told that they were in the harbor.
A semi-tropical port in midsummer is by no means a pleasant place however diversified and picturesque the scenery may be, and when the boys awakened from their restless slumber the lassitude which beset them told how great an effect the climate could exert.
Even Mr. Emery was disinclined to any severe exertion; but his business must be transacted, and, after a breakfast eaten on deck, he ordered the boat to be made ready.
"If possible I shall leave to-night," Neal and Teddy heard him say to the sailing master, "therefore it will be well to get your ambergris on shore before noon."
Neither of the boys cared to see the town at the expense of walking around under the blazing sun, and when Mr. Emery was being rowed toward the dock-yard they joined Jake who, in the coolest spot under the awning, was watching the fishermen near by.
The water was clear as crystal, and of a bright greenish tinge which admitted of their seeing very distinctly the tiny fish of silver and golden hues as they darted to and fro; the violet and blue medusae, and the cream-colored jelly-fish as big as a watermelon. There were angel fish of a bright blue tinge; yellow snappers; black and white sergeant majors; pilot fish; puff fish which could inflate their bodies until they were round as a ball, or flatten themselves to the shape of a griddle cake.
The cow fish attracted the boys' attention more particularly, for it had two horns, and its head was shaped exactly like a cow, and when one passed with a "calf" as Teddy called it, swimming by her side, both agreed that it was well worth suffering so much from the heat to see such a sight.
Fish of all colors and sizes swam around the yacht as if examining her hull, and the effect of such brilliant hues displayed through the crystal-like water was actually startling because of the gorgeousness.
Before they were weary of admiring this aquatic panorama Jake called their attention to a fisherman who, in a small canoe, was pursuing his vocation in a very odd manner.
In his boat he had a hideous looking sucking fish, around the tail of which was tied a long cord with a wooden float at one end. While the boys were watching him he dropped the monster overboard, and in an instant it darted at a medium-sized Jew fish, attaching itself to the latter by means of the sucking valve on the top of its head. Having done this he remained motionless, his victim seeming to be literally paralyzed, and there was nothing for the boatman to do but pull in on the float, disengage his animated fishhook by a dextrous pressure on the sucker after both had been drawn aboard, and send the repulsive looking servant out again.
Although the Jew fish must have weighed at least a hundred pounds, he was landed without difficulty, and Jake gravely assured his companions that a sucking fish could "pull up the whole bottom of the ocean providin' the rope on his tail was strong enough to stand the strain."
Then the engineer told a story which did not bear quite so hard on the imagination since it was absolutely true, and began by saying as he pointed toward the little fortification known as Montague fort:
"That place has been the headquarters of at least a dozen pirates, the worst of which was called Black Beard, a bloodthirsty villain who sunk two vessels right where we are anchored this blessed minute. The feller's real name was John Teach, an' that big banyan tree over there is where he used to hold what he allowed was court martials.
"He was drunk about three-quarters of the time, an' allers had a great spree when there were any prisoners on hand. He an' his men would get the poor wretches to the tree, go through all the ceremony of a reg'lar trial, an' allers end by stringin' every blessed one of 'em up in such a way as to prevent 'em from dyin' quick, when a fire'd be built underneath, so's to roast the whole lot.
"They do say he buried all the treasure among the roots of the banyan, an' many's the one who has dug for it; but so far as I ever heard, not a single piece has been found. While he lived this wasn't a very pleasant harbor for them as cared about a livin' to make."
"What became of him finally?" Teddy asked.
"An English man-of-war got hold of him after awhile, an' he was strung on the yardarm to dry. If I'd been in command of the vessel he should have found out how it felt to be roasted. Say, don't you boys want to go over to Potter's cay?"
"What is to be seen there?"
"The sponge yards, an' it's a great sight if you never visited one."
"It is too hot," Neal replied with a very decided shake of the head.
Jake did not urge the matter, for just at that moment the second port boat was lowered, and Mr. Walters made ready to go ashore with his precious bundle of aromatic ambergris.
Idly the boys watched the perspiring party, pressing handkerchiefs to their faces meanwhile, since, despite the wrappings of canvas, the valuable mass gave most decided proof of its being in the vicinity, and when the boat started for the shore Neal and Teddy clambered into the hammocks, for even leaning over the rail was an exertion in the sultry atmosphere.
During the middle of the day both the boys slept, for a siesta is as necessary as food in hot climates, and when the light breeze of evening crept over the waters Mr. Emery came aboard with the welcome intelligence that his business had been concluded.
"We will get under way again before midnight," he said as he stepped over the rail, and was received by Mr. Walters. "Now that a breeze has set in it should be cool enough to permit of the men's working without fear of prostration."
"It would use me up to walk fore and aft twice," Neal said in an undertone to Teddy; "but it isn't for us to complain of the heat if we can get out of this furnace."
Jake was nowhere to be seen. It was as if after his invitation to go on shore had been declined he betook himself to some other portion of the yacht, where he could perspire without allowing the others to see his suffering, and the boys swung to and fro until the hour came when the singing of steam told that preparations for departure were being made.
There could be no doubt but that Nassau would be a pleasant place in which to spend the winter months; but it was by no means desirable during the summer, and when the Sea Dream left the little harbor where the water was hardly more than sufficient to float her, both Neal and Teddy gave vent to a sigh of relief.
"We are to run south until it is possible to give the banks a clear berth, and then stand straight up the coast for home," the former said as the yacht glided almost noiselessly over the phosphorescent lighted waters down the eastern side of the shoals. "If a good head of steam is kept on we should be in a colder latitude very soon."
"We can't get there any too soon to please me," Teddy replied, as he waved the palm-leaf fan languidly. "I believe it would be a positive comfort to have my nose frost-bitten."
"It isn't possible you will have such comfort as that for some time to come; but we may be able to make your teeth chatter in a few days," Neal replied laughingly, and then as the breeze caused by the movement of the yacht over the water fanned his face, he added sleepily, "Good night; I don't believe I shall open my eyes until after sunrise to-morrow."
As a matter of fact this prediction was not verified; before evening a wind had come out of the sea which caused the yacht to bow before it like a reed in a storm, and the hammocks that, a few hours previous, had seemed so rest-inviting, were swinging at a rate that threatened to throw their occupants to the deck.
"I fancy it is time we went below," Neal said, as he awakened his friend by a series of vigorous shakes. "If we stay here half an hour longer it will be doubtful whether we're on board or in the water."
The Sea Dream's lee rail was already so near the surface that the green waves curled over it now and then, and before the boys could reach the cabin they were thoroughly drenched.
It was the greatest possible relief to crawl into the bunk and pull up the bed-clothes to defend themselves against the cold wind which came through the port-hole, and so delicious was this sense of being chilly that they failed to realize the cause of the sudden change in the weather, until they heard the sailing master in the cabin reply to Mr. Emery's question:
"You are getting your first taste of what is known as a norther; but there isn't the slightest danger if we can crawl away from the land, and we shall have no trouble in doing that so long as there is a full head of steam on."
"What does he mean by a norther?" Teddy asked of Neal, who had shown, by rising on his elbow, that he was awake.
"A wind coming from the north, more frequently met in the Gulf of Mexico, when the temperature falls very suddenly, as was the case this evening, and a furious gale is often the result."
"So long as it holds cold I don't see that we have any cause to complain," was the sleepy rejoinder; but before the night came to a close he had good reason for changing his mind on the subject.
It was about midnight, as near as the boys could judge without looking at a watch, when the yacht was flung on her beam ends with a sudden force which threw both out of the berth, and before the port-hole could be fastened, flooded the state-room with water.
Teddy might well be excused for the shrill cry of alarm which escaped from his lips, for at that moment even an experienced sailor would have fancied the little craft had struck upon a reef, more particularly since it was known they were in a dangerous locality.
"We are sinking!" he cried frantically as he tried in vain to open the door, and Neal was of the same opinion.
After what seemed to be a very long while although in reality it could have been but a few seconds, the Sea Dream slowly righted, and then it was possible for the boys to gain the cabin.
Here they were met by Mr. Emery, who had just succeeded in leaving his own room, and before any conversation could be indulged in the steamer began pitching and rolling about in a manner that showed she was not on the reef even if the first shock had been the result of striking one.
It was only by holding with all their strength to the immovable articles of furniture that they avoided being flung from one end of the cabin to the other, as the yacht plunged and tossed, throwing violently to and fro everything which had not been securely fastened.
The cabin lamp was burning dimly, and the faint light only served to reveal more clearly the general confusion.
Once amid the tumult the boys heard Mr. Emery shout:
"Don't be frightened; if there was any immediate danger Mr. Walters would warn us."
"He may not be able to come where we are," Teddy thought; but he refrained from giving words to such a dismal foreboding, and in silent fear waited for—he knew not what.
A NEW DANGER.
To the frightened boys in the cabin it was as if the night would never come to an end, and during every one of those fearful moments they believed the yacht was on the point of taking the final plunge.
At four o'clock in the morning the steamer's movements became more regular; but not less in violence, and, shortly after, the sailing master came below.
"We are laying-to," he said to Mr. Emery. "There is a nasty sea on, and I didn't care to take the chances of fighting against it."
"How does she stand it?"
"Like a darling. I was afraid of straining her at first; but when she took the butt end of the storm in such a pleasant fashion there was no longer any reason to fret about her."
"It didn't seem like such a very pleasant fashion to us," Teddy said to Neal, who had succeeded in gaining a chair near his friend.
"It appeared to me as if she kicked pretty hard about it," Neal replied, and then Mr. Emery asked:
"What are the weather indications?"
"There is no reason to hope for anything better until the wind blows itself out, and according to my way of thinking that won't be within the next twenty-four hours. Why don't you people lie down?"
"Because it has been a matter of impossibility to remain in the berths."
"You can do so now without much difficulty. Come, boys, let me help you to turn in."
The calm, matter-of-fact way in which Mr. Walters acted caused the boys to feel more comfortable in mind, and they made no protest when he assisted them to the state-room where there was yet water enough to show what had happened.
"Why didn't you call one of the stewards to mop this up?" the sailing master asked as he lighted the swinging lamp.
"We haven't seen one since the gale begun," Neal replied with a laugh. "I fancy they were as much frightened as Teddy and I."
"It won't take long to turn them out," and Mr. Walters started forward in a manner which boded no good for the skulkers.
Neal and Teddy found little difficulty in retaining a recumbent position, although the yacht was tossing up and down like a mad thing. She no longer gave those sudden lurches which threatened to carry away even the short spars, and for the first time since the deluge from the port-hole, they began to feel really comfortable in mind.
The steward came in very shortly after Mr. Walters left, and from the expression on his face it was evident he had been rated severely for neglect of duty.
"It didn't make any difference to us whether the water was washed up or not," Neal said in a friendly tone. "The sailing master saw it and asked why we hadn't called you."
"He don't allow that a man has any right to sleep," the steward replied sulkily. "If he'd been up since five o'clock, he'd want to turn in before midnight instead of foolin' around the cabin till it was time to begin another day's work."
"Is it possible that you have been sleeping?" Neal asked in surprise.
"I don't see how you could even lie down while the yacht was tumbling about in such a furious manner."
"That was none of my business. I didn't ship before the mast, consequently it ain't any duty of mine to go prowlin' 'round if the wind happened to blow a little."
"If you call this a 'little' I wouldn't like to be on board when you thought it was a regular gale," Teddy said with a laugh.
"I've seen the wind blow so hard that a fellow had to lash his hair down to keep it from bein' carried away when he went on deck; but that didn't stop my wantin' to get a watch below."
With this remark the steward, having finished his work, left the room, and the boys were alone once more.
Although they had believed it would be impossible to sleep during a gale such as the yacht was now laboring under, the eyes of both were soon closed in slumber, not to be opened until late in the morning.
So far as could be told by the motion, there was no diminution in the strength of the wind, and they experienced great difficulty in making their toilets.
When this task had finally been accomplished, however, Neal said as he opened the door after some trouble, owing to the erratic movements of the yacht:
"I'm going on deck. It can't be much worse there, and it wouldn't be a bad idea to see what the ocean looks like in a gale."
"I'll go too: but don't let's venture out of the companion-way, for the waves must be making a clean sweep over the decks."
When the boys entered the cabin no one was to be seen save the surly steward who visited them the night previous, and in reply to Neal's question he said:
"Your father left word that he wasn't to be called. It wouldn't be much use for him to turn out, because we can't set the table in such a rumpus."
"What are we to do for breakfast?"
"The same as Mr. Walters did, get a cup of coffee and a hard-tack; that'll go way ahead of nothin' if you're very hungry."
"We can go into the galley when we want a bite," Neal replied, and then he led the way up the narrow stairs where, through the half-opened hatch, it was possible to get a view of the raging waters.
Perhaps it would have been better, so far as their peace of mind was concerned, not to have ventured out, for the scene was anything rather than reassuring.
Standing there and looking forward the boys could see a huge wall of water dead ahead bearing down upon the yacht as if to swamp her, and at the moment when it appeared as if the final stroke had come she would lurch to leeward, presenting her side to the wave, rising on the succeeding one and shivering on its crest as if shaking the spray from her shrouds, after which came the downward plunge that caused the boys to hold their breath in fear.
The sky, the swiftly flying clouds, and the waves were of a grayish hue looking ominous and threatening and the little craft appeared to be but a plaything for the angry elements. That she could out-ride the gale seemed almost impossible, and Teddy said with a shudder as he descended the stairs:
"Don't let's stay where we can see it. I wish I hadn't looked, for, bad as matters seem to be down here, it is as nothing compared to being on deck."
Neal was of the same opinion, and the two passed through the cabin to the engine-room where Jake was keeping vigilant watch over the machinery.
"Why, I thought we were hove to," Neal exclaimed in surprise as the engineer assisted him and Teddy to a seat by his side.
"So we are; but it is necessary to keep the screw turning, otherwise it might not be possible to hold her in the proper position."
"How long have you been on duty?"
"Since I saw you last."
"Haven't you had any sleep?"
"I can bottle up enough when the gale abates; but just now it stands a man in hand to have his weather eye open pretty wide, for a bit of carelessness would work considerable mischief. I'm going to have breakfast, an' if you boys care to join me we'll make it three-handed. You're not likely to fare any better in the cabin than here to-day."
The boys accepted the invitation, and with some cold meat and hard-tack placed on the locker where it could not slide off, and mugs of steaming coffee in their hands, all made a remarkably jolly meal under the unfavorable circumstances.
During the remainder of the day Neal and Teddy stayed below, not caring for another view of the angry sea, and when night came the gale had so far abated that the yacht was sent ahead once more; but owing to the force and direction of the wind it was deemed best to continue on a southerly course even at the expense of reaching the Caribbean Sea, rather than take the chances of putting about.
All this Jake explained when the boys visited him just previous to retiring, and he added in conclusion:
"It seems pretty tough to go yet further south; but Mr. Walters is a cautious sailin' master, an' when he makes up his mind to a thing you can count on its bein' mighty nigh right."
"Will it be possible to get home as soon as father intended if we go so far out of the way?" Neal asked.
"If he don't do any cruisin' after he gets up north I reckon it could be done; but there's no sense in figgerin' on that till we're off Hatteras."
Now that the yacht had proved her seaworthiness by riding safely through the storm the boys would have been willing to go almost anywhere in her, and the idea that they might have no cruising in a more agreeable climate caused a decided feeling of disappointment; but, as Jake had said, there was no reason to worry about that while they were so far from home, and as if by common consent the subject was not broached again.
On the following morning when they went on deck the sun was shining down upon the yet angry looking waves; but one of the sailors assured them that "the gale had blowed itself out."
"It stands to reason there'd be a heavy sea runnin'; but its settlin' down fast, an' by to-morrow there won't be swell enough for comfort."
In this he was correct. Twenty-four hours later the awnings were up, and all hands were panting under the blazing heat of a tropical sun.
This sudden change prostrated the boys, and during the next two days they fanned themselves, drank iced drinks, and sought in vain for some spot where a breath of cool air could be found.
It was the fourth day after the norther. While waiting for dinner to be brought on deck (the meals had been served under the awnings since the storm, for the cabin was too hot to permit even of their eating there), Teddy lay near the after starboard boat lazily wondering why that thin curl of blue smoke should come from the planking directly over the kitchen, instead of through the pipe as it always had before.
Owing to the fact that there was no unusual disturbance he never fancied for a moment anything could be wrong, and remained gazing at it in silence so long that Neal asked curiously:
"What do you see that is so very interesting?"
"I was wondering what had happened to the galley pipe."
"How do you know that it isn't all right?"
"I suppose it is; but it looks queer to see that smoke coming up as if from the deck."
Neal looked in the direction indicated by Teddy's outstretched finger, and seeing the blue curl, which had now grown considerably thicker, sprang to his feet very quickly.
Without speaking to his friend he ran forward, Teddy still ignorant there was any danger, and in the shortest possible space of time Mr. Walters came from the wheel-house in response to Neal's emphatic request.
To Teddy it seemed as if but an instant elapsed before the deck was a scene of confusion, and as all hands were called for duty he heard one of the sailors cry in a tone of alarm:
"Tumble up, boys, the yacht is on fire!"
FIGHTING THE FLAMES.
It was some moments after the fire was discovered before anything could be done toward checking the flames, for the very good reason that the exact location remained a mystery until a visit had been paid to the hold.
The cook said the galley felt unusually warm; but he paid no particular attention to the fact, thinking the weather had grown hotter, and, save for the smoke, there were no signs of fire to be seen anywhere until Mr. Walters called upon one of the men to raise the hatch which led into the eyes of the yacht directly beneath the kitchen.
Instantly this was done a broad sheet of flame burst forth, and had the stout covering not been replaced immediately, the little craft would have soon been consumed.
Working with all speed, for even the seconds were precious now, the hatch was battened down, and a hole large enough to admit of the nozzle of the hose, bored just abaft the hatch-way.
While this was being done a portion of the crew had been getting into working order the hose used for washing down the decks, and when all was ready the real task of extinguishing the flames began.
A steady stream of water was forced into the hold as rapidly as the men could work the pumps, and the lower deck examined carefully for the slightest aperture which might admit air.
How the fire had started no one knew, nor was any time spent in trying to ascertain, for every person had been detailed to some duty.
Neal and Teddy were given the lightest task, which was simply to watch the hose at the place where it entered the deck, to make sure the water flowed through freely, and the nozzle did not slip out.
Ten minutes after the alarm had been raised all hands were working methodically, thanks to the discipline maintained by Mr. Walters, and it became a question simply of whether the flames could be stifled or drowned.
"Do you think they can save the yacht?" Teddy asked after a short time of silence, and Neal, who had not seen the broad sheet of flame which leaped from the hatch-way replied confidently:
"Of course. If the hold is filled with water she surely can't burn."
"Are there boats enough to carry us all in case the fire does get the best of us?"
"Certainly; but it won't come to anything quite as bad as that."
Before Teddy could ask another question one of the stewards shouted down the forward companion-way:
"Mr. Emery says that his son is to come on deck. There is no need of two there."
Neal obeyed the summons thinking he was to assist at the pumps; but in this he was speedily undeceived.
"Take such things as you are likely to need most from your state-room, and stow them in one of the boats aft," his father said when he reported for further duty. "Although I don't think we shall be obliged to abandon the yacht, it is well to be prepared for any emergency."
This was no time to ask questions, and Neal obeyed at once, observing as he entered the cabin that the stewards were collecting food and such other things as might be needed in case they were forced to depend upon the frail crafts.
This work rather than the evidences of fire in the hold, frightened Neal. Until this moment he had not believed there was any possibility the steamer could be destroyed while there were so many to assist in saving her; but now there was no question as to the fact of their being in great danger.
"Unless father and Mr. Walters were convinced that the fire had got considerable headway, the boats would not be provisioned so soon," he said to himself.
His portion of the work could be performed quickly. He and Teddy had brought all their belongings, with the exception of the fowling pieces and the fishing rods, aboard in two satchels, and these he packed with the utmost expedition. Then, with both weapons, he went on deck, stowed all the goods in the after port boat, and returned to his father's state-room to see if anything could be done there.
From the disorder it was apparent that the stewards had been in this apartment before him; but a fine rifle yet hung on the bulk-head, and in the open locker was quite a large amount of ammunition.
"There's no reason why these cartridges shouldn't be taken if we are obliged to leave the yacht," he said to himself as he gathered them into convenient shape for carrying. "In case we land on a desolate island they would be mighty useful."
When he went on deck with his second burden the stewards were putting small kegs of water into each boat, and after stowing the ammunition by the side of the first articles brought, he looked over the little craft to ascertain what his father had thought best to save.
He could find nothing there; but on searching the starboard gig he discovered a small quantity of wearing apparel.
"I wonder if that is the craft he intends to go in, or have the clothes simply been thrown anywhere."
At that moment Mr. Emery came out of the pilot-house followed by Mr. Walters, and Neal ran forward to ask which boat his father intended to use in case the abandonment became necessary.
"It makes no particular difference," Mr. Emery replied in answer to Neal's question. "We can easily arrange the details later. Go into the engine-room and tell Jake to drive her at full speed, and to report if the water we are pumping in is likely to rise as high as the furnaces."
Promising himself that he would re-stow the goods on the gig, putting his father's with those belonging to himself and Teddy, as soon as this message had been delivered, he descended the companion-way after glancing rapidly around the horizon.
There was no land to be seen on either hand, and he understood at once why the order to keep the yacht going at full speed had been given.
The small boats were by no means stanch enough to be depended on for a long cruise unless the present dead calm should continue until they could reach land, and every effort was to be made to gain some of the islands in the vicinity.
When Neal entered the engine-room he believed for an instant that Jake had not heard of the terrible danger which threatened. Work there was going on as usual, except, perhaps, that the engineer and his assistants were watching the machinery a trifle more carefully than seemed really necessary; but when he repeated the message Jake's face grew just a shade paler.
"Say to your father that we have got on every pound of steam that can be raised, and it will be necessary to slow down presently because the bearings are growing warm. The water is already above the fire-room floors, and if the pump is worked an hour longer the fires will be drowned."
"But you must keep her going, Jake. It would be terrible to take to the boats when there was no land in sight."
"I'm bound to do my best; but a man can go only so far. Do you know where we are?"
"What is being done on deck?"
"The sailors are pumping, and the stewards are provisioning the boats."
"Getting ready to abandon the little craft, are they?"
"Father said that was being done in order that we might be prepared for any emergency."
"And he's got a pretty clear idea that the flames can't be kept under, or else there wouldn't be a thought of such a thing. How's the weather?"
"A dead calm, as it was this morning."
Jake remained silent a few moments as if revolving some plan in his mind, and then he said abruptly:
"Neal, if we do have to put off you and Teddy must try to go in the same boat with me."
"Unless father makes different arrangements."
"Of course, of course; but if nothin' is said we'll stick together. Go back an' say that the Sea Dream shall do her best until the water gets above the fire-boxes, an' then my part of the work has been done."
Neal left the engine-room feeling that there was very little chance of reaching any port in the yacht, and since there was no reason why he should hurry on deck, he went around by the way of the galley where Teddy was stationed.
"How are things going on here?" he asked, forcing himself to speak in a cheerful tone. "Can you get any idea of the fire?"
"Put your hand on the deck," Teddy replied gravely, his face of a livid white although big drops of perspiration were streaming down his cheeks.
Neal obeyed, and immediately drew his hand back with a cry of mingled pain and fear.
The planks were already so hot that it seemed as if the flesh must be burned.
"Has father been here within a few moments?"
"He has just left."
"Did he say anything?"
"Nothing except that I was to come on deck when it was so hot I couldn't stand it any longer. Neal," and now Teddy spoke very earnestly, "you laughed when I referred to the possibility that the yacht might be destroyed; but I know your father thinks she cannot be saved."
"I believe now that he does; but I didn't when I left you. Everything is ready for us to abandon her when nothing more can be done."
"Are we to go in the small boats?" asked Teddy, excitedly.
"It is the only chance we've got; but don't look so frightened," he added, as Teddy's face grew yet paler. "It is calm, there's absolutely no sea at all running, and we shall be as safe as on board the yacht."
"It will be horrible," Teddy whispered as if to himself, and Neal added:
"I'll tell father what Jake said, and then come straight back to stay with you."
"Don't be away long. It seems as if I had been deserted, when there is no one here."
Neal could not trust himself to speak. Ascending the companion-way rapidly he approached his father who was conversing with Mr. Walters near the bow, as if that position had been chosen to prevent the crew from hearing what was said.
After repeating the engineer's message he asked:
"Can I go back where Teddy is? I think it frightens him to stay there alone."
"I can't say that I wonder very much; it is a very trying situation for a boy, especially one who has never been to sea before. Ask Jake if he will send a man to relieve him and then you may both come on deck."
To deliver this message and return after one of the firemen took Teddy's place at the nozzle, did not occupy five minutes, and the frightened boy gave vent to a long sigh of relief when he was in the open air once more.
Except for the heat the weather was perfect. The Sea Dream, showing no sign of the monster which was gnawing at her vitals, save by the clouds of smoke that ascended from the bow, dashed on like the thing of beauty she was; but when her flight should be checked there would remain nothing but the tiny boats to bear those on board to a place of safety.
THE LAST RESORT.
Mr. Emery and the sailing master had decided that the yacht should be kept at full speed, headed for the nearest land, until the water which was being pumped into the hold drowned the fires in the furnaces, when recourse must necessarily be had to the boats.
There could no longer be any question but that the entire forward portion of the hold was a mass of flames which it would not be possible to hold in check very much longer.
By this time all on board understood that the yacht was to be abandoned, and, with the exception of those in the engine-room and at the pumps, every one gazed as if fascinated at the clouds of smoke arising from near the bow. Already were tiny curls coming from between the deck planks, and Teddy heard Mr. Walters say in a low tone to Neal's father:
"I am afraid the flames will burst through before the furnaces are flooded. It is too late to cut another hole in the deck, and by an hour at the latest we must take to the boats."
"Have the crew been told off?"
"I will attend to that now."
Then the sailing master announced to each man the boat to which he was assigned, and during the next hour hardly a word was spoken. Teddy and Neal conversed now and then in whispers, as if not daring to make a noise, and the sailors worked in grim silence.
Nothing save the clank of the pumps and the throbbing of the screw could be heard.
When the hour had passed it was no longer possible to force water into the hold. The heat was so great that the hose burned as fast as it could be pushed through the aperture, and long tongues of flame were appearing around the edges of the hatch.
All hands, including the boys, were formed in line, and water sent below in buckets for twenty minutes more, when the word was given to slacken speed.
The lower deck had burst through, and there was no more than time for Jake and his assistants to clamber up the ladders before the flames had complete possession of the yacht from the bow to the engine-room companion-way.
There was no time to be lost in lowering the boats, and the men were forced to leap in regardless of the previous assignment, for once the fire burst the bonds which had confined it so long it swept aft with almost incredible rapidity.
Teddy and Neal, bewildered by the flames which actually burned their flesh as they stood by the rail while the sailors let go the falls, had only thought of reaching the craft in which their property was stowed, and Jake followed; but as the little tenders were allowed to drop astern beyond reach of the intense heat the boys discovered that Mr. Emery was not with them.
He had charge of one boat; Mr. Walters commanded another; Jake was held responsible for the safety of the third, and the last was handled by the mate.
"Shall we come with you, father?" Teddy shouted.
"I don't think it will be advisable to make any change now, and you are as safe in one boat as another."
"I'll answer for them," Jake cried cheerily, and the sailing master added:
"Jake can handle a small boat better than any one here, therefore you need not fear an accident will result through carelessness."
"How am I to steer?" the engineer asked.
"Due west. The boats must remain together, and in each one is a lantern to be hung up during the night to lessen the chances of being separated. Two men in every craft are to be kept at the oars all the time, and, in order to make the work light, they should be relieved hourly. The indications are that the weather will hold clear; it is only a couple of hundred miles to the Cuban coast, and we are not likely to be cooped up in these cockle shells very long."
As he ceased speaking Mr. Walters gave the word for the oarsmen to begin the work which it was supposed would be continued without intermission until all were in a place of safety, and the boats were pulled about a mile from the burning steamer, when, as if by common consent, they were brought to a standstill to watch the destruction of the Sea Dream.
The jaunty little craft was moving through the water slowly, enveloped in flames from bow to stern, and the boys gazed at her with a feeling of sadness which did not arise solely from the fact of their present peril. It seemed to them as if she could understand that those who should have saved her had fled when her need of assistance was greatest, and she was creeping slowly away to die alone.
"The poor thing can't swim much longer," Jake said, as if speaking to himself. "The boiler will explode——"
Even as he spoke a black cloud of smoke shot up from amidships, followed by a shower of fiery fragments, some of which struck in the immediate vicinity of the boats, and then the glare of the conflagration suddenly vanished as the Sea Dream sank beneath the waves.
It would have been strange indeed if each member of the little party had not experienced a feeling of sorrow and desolation at this moment.
The yacht which, a few hours previous, had appeared so stanch, was no longer afloat, and their only hope of reaching land was in the tiny boats which could hardly be expected to live in an ordinary sailing breeze.
The tears were very near Teddy's and Neal's eyelids, and Jake's voice was quite the reverse of steady as he gave the word for the men to resume work at the oars.
Night was close at hand. The sun had already set, and the short-lived twilight cast a sinister grayish hue over the waters. Mr. Walters' boat had the lantern raised at the bow on the end of an oar where it swung gently to and fro, and in a few moments all the others could be distinguished by the same signal.
During such time as they had been waiting to witness the end of the Sea Dream the little crafts had drifted farther apart, until the one in charge of Neal's father was nearly half a mile away, and the sailing master could be heard shouting for them to be brought nearer together.
"We shall probably have a breeze to-night," he cried when Jake's boat approached within easy hailing distance, "and if it should come you must rig up something to serve as a sail, for your only chance of keeping afloat will be to run before it. You have a compass, and remember that land is to be found to the westward."
"Ay, ay," the engineer replied, as he looked around in vain for some sign of the wind, and then he added in a low tone to the boys:
"I allow Mr. Walters is off in his reckonin' this time, for there isn't a breath of air stirring now."
"We may get it later," Neal said apprehensively, and Jake muttered to himself; but yet so loud that Teddy could hear him:
"It'll be tough on us if it comes out of the wrong quarter."
In ten minutes from the time the word had been given to bring the boats into closer order the mantle of night had fully fallen, and the location of the other crafts could only be told by the tiny, swaying lights, or the hum of voices.
Jake's boat was loaded less deeply than the remainder of the little fleet. In addition to himself and the two boys, there were but three sailors on board, and the stock of provisions was correspondingly small. As a natural consequence she rode higher out of the water, and although built on the same model as the others, the engineer insisted she was by far the fastest sailing craft.
An hour had not elapsed before it was possible to test her quality in this respect.
The breeze which Mr. Walters predicted came up from the east, and as its first influence was felt Jake shouted in a tone of relief:
"We're in luck this time, lads. Here's what will shove us along in the right direction, an' we can count on striking land without too much work. Lash a couple of coats to the oars, an' set them up close by the forward thwart; you'll find a chance there to make 'em fast."
This apology for a sail was soon gotten in place, and, small as was the surface presented to the wind, the little boat surged ahead, rippling the water musically under her bow.
Jake held the rudder lines, the boys sitting either side of him on the bottom of the boat where they could stretch out at full length in case they felt inclined to sleep, and after they had listened to the swish of the sea under the stern for some time Neal asked as he raised his head to look over the side:
"Where are the others?"
"Considerable distance astern. I knew this one could show them her heels."
"But the orders were that we must not separate," Neal exclaimed in alarm.
"That is true; but how can we help ourselves just now? We can't shorten sail, because there would be nothing left, and we're bound to run ahead of the waves, small as they are, or be swamped."
"But suppose we never see them again?"
"Don't worry about that; we're all headin' in the same direction, an' have only got to wait till they overtake us after land is sighted."
Although Jake spoke in a positive tone Teddy and Neal were far from feeling comfortable in mind; but, as he had said, nothing different could be done, and each tried to hide his fears from the other.
The weight of the wind increased as the night advanced, and by the words of caution which the sailors uttered from time to time, the boys knew that those who should best understand such matters were anxious regarding the outcome of this night run.
Now and then a small quantity of water would dash over the side; but it was quickly bailed out, and, as one of the men said, "did more good than harm, for it gave them something to do."
Notwithstanding the gravity of the situation, Neal and Teddy fell asleep before midnight, therefore they were unconscious of the fight which their companions were making for life. It was necessary the frail craft should be kept dead before the wind; otherwise she would have been swamped by the following waves, which were now running dangerously high, and the skill of the helmsman was all that prevented her from destruction.
Not for a single moment during the hours of darkness was it safe to relax the vigilance, and the constant strain on one's nerves was more fatiguing than the real labor.
Just as the day was breaking Neal awoke, and then he aroused Teddy by asking Jake:
"Can you see the other boats?"
"Not yet; but some of them may be in sight at sunrise. It isn't possible their lights would show up more than a mile off."
"Isn't the sea running very high?" Teddy asked timidly as he attempted to stand erect; but Jake grasped him by the shoulder as he said quickly:
"It isn't safe to move around very much. Lie quiet until the wind dies away a bit; we've got more'n we want, and the boat must be kept trimmed mighty carefully or there'll be trouble."
It was only necessary for the boys to watch their companions in order to learn the dangers which beset them, and, clasping each other's hands, they waited in anxious suspense for the rising of the sun to learn if the remainder of the party was near.
When the first rays of the sun appeared above the horizon the sailors searched with their eyes in every direction; but neither land nor a craft could be seen.
"I knew we were bound to run away from the rest of the party," Jake said, keeping his face turned toward the bow, for the slightest carelessness might be fatal to all. "If this wind dies out we can lay still till they come up, as they're sure to do before long."
"But suppose the other boats have been swamped?" Neal suggested, with a choking sob as he realized that he might never see his father again.
"We won't suppose anything of the kind," Jake replied sharply. "There are plenty in the crowd who can handle the boats better than this one was handled, and if we rode out the night in safety why shouldn't they have done the same?"
"The only chance of our not seein' 'em," one of the sailors said thoughtfully, "is, that sailin' slower, they may now be near land that we passed in the night without knowin' it. There should 'a been a lot of keys within fifty miles of where we abandoned the Sea Dream."
"That's very true, matey," and now Jake spoke in his customary cheerful tone, "an' we'll soon be makin' some place where there'll be a chance of stretchin' our legs. Overhaul the grub, one of you, an' let's have a bite; I feel like a man what's been on a thirty hour watch."
"So you have, for that matter. Even if you ain't a sailor man I'd like to see him as could handle a little craft any better. With me at the helm she'd have gone to the bottom before midnight."
"I won't kick 'cause you praise me," Jake replied with a laugh; "but don't lay it on too thick for fear I might get proud."
"I was only tellin' the truth, an' jest what all of us think. When the breeze freshened I made up my mind that the voyage was about ended; but here we are yet, an' here we're likely to be a spell longer unless we strike another norther."
While the man was speaking he had passed aft two cans of preserved meat, some hard bread, and a small jar of pickles, after opening the tins with his sheath knife, and every one on board made a hearty meal, the boys in particular feeling decidedly cheerful when the repast had been eaten.
"The wind is fallin' off a bit, an' I reckon it'll come dead calm by noon," Jake said, after refusing to allow one of the seamen to relieve him. "We'll all soon have a chance to bottle up sleep."
"How long do you think it ought to be before we sight the land?" Neal asked.
"That's jest what I can't say, lad; but 'cordin' to my way of thinkin' we was a good bit below the coast of Cuba when the little yacht went down. That norther blew us a good way off our course, an' it's possible Mr. Walters might have made a mistake in determinin' the position, although it ain't exactly the proper thing for an engineer to set up agin a first-class sailin' master."
"It won't take long to find out if this breeze holds, an' that's some comfort," one of the sailors replied, and then the three men drew lots to see which two should take a watch "below."
During the forenoon there was but little change in the condition of affairs. The wind decreased until it was nothing more than a good sailing breeze; but the expected calm did not come.
The boat reeled off the knots in fine style, despite the poor apology for a sail, and the boys were allowed to change their position, which they did by sitting on the after thwart.
About twelve o'clock Jake stretched himself out on the bottom for a nap, awakening one of the sleepers that the man at the helm might have assistance in case he should require it, and the boys alternately dozed or searched the horizon in vain for some signs of the other boats.
Those who were hungry ate whenever it pleased them to do so, and there was no lack of either food or water. Teddy would have talked with his friend regarding the prospects of reaching home within a reasonable length of time; but Neal was so anxious about his father that he could speak of nothing else.
Toward the close of the day the wind freshened again, and, in obedience to his previous orders, Jake was awakened, the man at the helm saying in an apologetic tone:
"I can hold on here a good bit longer; but you wanted to know if there was any change, an' there is. It looks to me as if we should have more of a breeze than we had last night."
"No signs of land yet?"
"No sir; but the Cuban coast, if that's what we're headin' for, is so low that we wouldn't be likely to raise it till we got close on."
Jake ate supper before taking his seat at the helm, and then the boys were advised to lie down as on the preceding night.
"You'll be comfortable there, and won't stand so much of a chance of gettin' wet."
It was evident that Jake wanted to have them out of the way, and both obeyed at once, Teddy saying as he stretched himself out on the hard boards:
"It seems as if my bones were coming through the skin, and I'm sore all over."
"Things are not nearly as bad as they might be, so we musn't complain," Neal replied philosophically; but at the same time it seemed as if he could not remain in that position another night.
Even in face of the danger to which they would be exposed, the occupants of the boat welcomed the increase in the weight of the wind since it was reasonable to suppose that each mile traversed carried them just so much nearer the land, and, with the exception of Neal and Teddy, all were in good spirits when the darkness of night covered the ocean.
Owing to the absence of exercise the boys did not sleep well, and when the unconsciousness of slumber did come upon them for a few moments at a time, it brought in its train dreams so distressing that wakefulness with the full knowledge of the dangers which encompassed them, was preferable.
It seemed as if twenty hours instead of ten had passed when one of the men in the bow cried joyfully:
"If I don't see the loom of land now it's because I never saw such a sight before."
"Where away?" Jake asked, straining his eyes in the vain effort to discern anything amid the gloom.
"Dead ahead as we are running. It must be somethin' more'n a cay, or it wouldn't show up so big."
The gray light of approaching dawn was lifting the mantle of night when the man spoke, and, ten minutes later, all saw with reasonable distinctness the dark cloud which could be nothing less than land.
Now the roar of surf was heard, and Jake said in a troubled tone:
"I don't see how we are to make it after all, unless we plump her straight on, an' that's likely to be a dangerous experiment."
"Why not take in the sail, and work the oars; then you can pick a landing place?"
"All right, let go the halyards; but instead of furling the canvas you can stow it under one of the thwarts."
This order was given and obeyed cheerily, for all were in the best of spirits now that the end of the wearisome journey seemed to be so near at hand and in a very short time the boat was moving slowly toward the shore, rising and falling gently on the heavy swell.
Each moment it was possible to see more distinctly the coast, and when they were thirty yards from a shore strewn with jagged blocks of coral, Jake shouted:
"Hold on, boys, it would be worse than folly to attempt to run in there while the sea is so high."
"Can't you find a better place?" one of the men asked.
"It appears to be the same all along for a mile or so in either direction."
"There's more danger of bein' swamped while runnin' up or down the coast, than in makin' a try for it here. Let her go in on the swell, an' when the water shoals we can jump over to lighten her so she'll strike well up on the shore where there'll be no trouble in savin' everything."
"I don't like the idea," Jake replied. "We can't tell what a fellow might meet with, an' to be swung agin one of them rocks would be hard lines."
The sailors were determined to make the attempt regardless of his warnings, and after a few moments he refused to argue longer.
"You ought to know better than I," he said, "an' its no more'n right you should have your own way without any fuss; but the boys an' I will stay here till she strikes. That is a better plan than goin' over the side when you know nothing about the shore, and besides, I can't see the advantage of lightenin' her."
"So she'll strike higher up on the beach, of course, otherwise she'd be stove before you could say Jack Robinson."
"Do as you please, an' so will I. Shall I steer her in now?"
The sailors kicked off their boots, and began pulling vigorously at the oars while Jake said in a low tone to the boys:
"Be ready to jump the minute she strikes; but not before. Look out for the rocks, and take care the swell don't drag you back."
The heavy waves were rolling up on the shore with a roar that rendered conversation difficult, and as he glanced ahead at the foaming waters in which it did not seem possible the little craft could live for a single moment, Teddy pressed Neal's hand as if to say good-by.
Neal gave him one quick, hopeful glance; pointed shoreward to intimate that they must watch every motion of the boat in order to be prepared when the most favorable time arrived, and, following Jake's example both arose from the thwart, standing in a stooping posture in order to steady themselves by the rail.
Carried on the crest of an enormous wave the tiny craft hangs as if poised in mid-air for an instant, and as the vast body of water is dashed forward the three sailors leap into the boiling, swirling foam.
Teddy fancied he heard a muffled cry of agony; but just at that moment he could think only of saving his own life, and there was no time to so much as glance around.
The boat was shot suddenly forward with the water dashing above the stern and sides, and Jake shouted:
"Over with you now!"
At the same instant that the boat struck the boys leaped, and during several fearful seconds it was doubtful whether they could hold their own against the treacherous under-tow.
By clinging to the sides of the craft, and straining every muscle, the attempt was successful, and as the wave receded the little tender lay across a sharp piece of coral, almost a total wreck.
"Take hold and shove her further up!" Jake shouted. "Work now as you never did before, or we shall lose all our stores!"
During the next half minute the three struggled to the utmost of their power, and then the fragments of the boat and the goods which had been brought from the Sea Dream were high upon the beach beyond reach of the next wave, which swept in with a yet louder roar as if enraged at having been deprived of its prey.
Not until this had been done was it possible to look around for the sailors, and Teddy cried as he gazed seaward without seeing any living creature:
"Where are they?"
Jake watched the boiling waters several seconds before he replied mournfully:
"It was as I feared. They either struck some of these jagged rocks as they leaped from the boat or the under-tow was so strong that it dragged them down."
"Do you mean that all three have been drowned?" Neal cried.
"If they were alive we should see them by this time," and Jake ran along the shore hoping they might have succeeded in scrambling out at some other point.
Teddy and Neal followed him, and when five minutes passed there could be no further doubt.
"If they had waited until the boat struck, as we did, there would have been little trouble to get ashore; but now we shall never see them again."
The boys could hardly realize that three strong men had been taken from this world so quickly, and when finally the fact stood out boldly without the slightest possibility of mistake, a feeling of deepest depression took possession of all.
Teddy threw himself face downward on the sand and gave way to grief, while Neal and Jake stood by his side in silence, for this dreadful catastrophe seemed to be a warning of their own fate.
How long they remained on the shore in an apathy of despair not one of that party ever knew.
Jake was the first to arouse himself, and, understanding that work is the best remedy for mental troubles, he said, with a great effort to speak cheerily:
"See here, lads, this will never do if we want to get out of the scrape. We've got to stay here till the other boats come along, and it is necessary to make some preparations for living. The goods must be stowed where they won't be destroyed, an' there's plenty to keep us busy for the rest of this day."
"When do you think the other boats should arrive?" Neal asked.
Jake realized fully how slight were the chances that either of the crafts would come to that exact spot, even if they were all afloat; but he had no idea of adding to his companions' grief, therefore he replied:
"It may be forty-eight hours. You see some or all of them might have put out a sea anchor when it blew so hard, for they carried heavier loads than we did, and while layin' still we hummed right along, consequently its difficult tellin' when to expect 'em."
"Of course they are bound to land here?"
Jake hesitated only for an instant before he decided that under the circumstances a lie was absolutely necessary, and then replied positively:
"Of course. Where else would they come?"
"I was afraid there might have been some little difference in the steering."
"We all were obliged to keep dead before the wind, therefore ought to come out pretty nigh alike."
This reply appeared to satisfy Neal, and he set about cheering Teddy, who finally arose to his feet and signified his willingness to do whatever Jake should propose as necessary.
The engineer made many suggestions which he would not have thought of had he been alone, or in the company of those who did not need such a tonic.
All the goods were first carried from the beach to the edge of the thick forest a hundred yards away, and over the collection was constructed a shelter to protect it from the dew. The fragments of the boat were carefully gathered up and deposited in the same place.
Then a quantity of such pieces of dead branches and decaying wood as could be found near at hand was stacked close by the beach, to serve as a signal in case a vessel or the boats should heave in sight.
When this had been done it was noon, and Jake set about preparing as elaborate a meal as their store of provisions would permit, saying as he summoned them to the repast:
"Now boys, I want you to fill yourselves up so's to be ready for hard work in case anything is to be done when the others get here. Afterwards we'll take a snooze, which is the proper thing to do at the middle of the day in a hot climate, and then there must be some exploring, for we want to find out if we are really on the island of Cuba."
The boys' hunger was very much greater than their grief, and without further urging they did full justice to the meal, Teddy saying as he helped himself to the third slice of preserved meat:
"It wouldn't be a bad idea for us to hunt a little while for something in the shape of a vegetable, or we shall soon run short of provisions."
"It's the very plan I was thinking of. In these woods we should be able to find many things that would help out on the bill of fare; but in case that can't be done, you boys must turn hunters. It's mighty lucky you have your guns and plenty of ammunition."
This last suggestion pleased the boys wonderfully and if Jake had not insisted very strongly that they sleep during the hottest portion of the day, both would have started into the forest without delay.
After lying down in the shade slumber came to their eyelids quickly, and when he was convinced they were across the border of dreamland, Jake arose softly, saying to himself as he stole up the shore:
"This goes ahead of any scrape I ever had the bad luck to fall into, an' I'd give all I've got to know exactly where we are, for I'm certain it ain't Cuba. If two days pass without our sightin' a sail I must fix up some story to make the boys eager to tramp across the country. That'll be better than stayin' here where, 'cordin' to my idea, there's mighty small chance of our finding anybody who can help us."
He walked along the shore fully two miles; but there was no diversity of scene. The coast strewn thickly with coral rocks, and backed by a dense forest, was all that could be seen either above or below the place where they landed.
Then Jake forced his way through the tangled undergrowth, experiencing no slight difficulty in so doing, and the vegetation confirmed his belief that the little craft had been carried by the wind to some land further south than was at first supposed.
On the water not a sail was in sight, and when Jake returned to the place where the rude shelter had been put up he was in even a more despondent mood than Teddy and Neal had been.
"I s'pose we must wait here a couple of days to satisfy the boys the other boats won't come, an' then it's a case of strikin' across the country with good chance of wanderin' around until fever or wild animals puts an end to it."
His companions were yet asleep, and he lay down beside them in order to prevent any suspicion that he had been spying out the land.
Under other circumstances the monotonous roar of the surf would have lulled him to rest; but now his anxiety was so great that, despite all efforts, his eyes would persist in staying open very wide, and he spent the remainder of the siesta trying in vain to decide what was best to do.
Not until late in the afternoon did the boys awaken, and then Neal said as he sprang to his feet:
"It won't do for us all to sleep again at the same time. If the boats came in sight since we've been lying here it is very probable father has missed us, for more than likely they would try for a better place to land further up or down the coast."
"You needn't worry about that, lad. I've kept honest watch, and not so much as the wing of a sea gull has appeared above the horizon."
Teddy, remembering what Jake had said about hunting, began to clean the guns, for both had been thoroughly wetted during the landing, and Neal walked slowly along as he looked out over the water intently.
Before going very far he saw the engineer's footprints on the sand, and shouted excitedly:
"Some one has been here! Perhaps father arrived before we did."
"There's no such good luck," Jake replied. "While you fellows were snoozing I went a long bit in that direction."
"Then it's only a waste of time for me to go over the same ground," and Neal retraced his steps, adding when he gained Teddy's side, "I'll do my share of that work."
"You spoke too late, for I have finished. Now let's see what can be done in the way of hunting; a roasted bird will be a big improvement over salt meat, and I count on finding plenty of game."
"All right, provided Jake is willing to stay here alone."
"What is to prevent me from joining the party?"
"Someone must remain in case the boats heave in sight," Neal replied in a positive tone, and the engineer said carelessly:
"I didn't think of that; but it'll be all right, I'll keep my eyes peeled," and he added to himself, "I wish he wasn't so certain about the others coming, an' then the disappointment wouldn't be quite so great."
Jake cautioned the boys against going very far from the beach because of the danger of getting lost in the forest, and as they disappeared among the underbrush he threw himself upon the ground, unable longer to fight against the despair which was rapidly overpowering him.
He understood perfectly well how great would be the danger in attempting to make their way through the wooded portion of the country at this season of the year, when fever germs lurked in every spot where stagnant water was to be found, and knew at the same time how extremely difficult it might be to find a place offering any more advantages than did the narrow strip of sand on which they had been thrown.
"It wouldn't be quite as bad if I knew where we are," he said to himself. "It can't be possible that we're on the coast of South America; but if that should prove to be the case we'd make a pretty mess of it by trying to cross."
Then came the thought that perhaps it would be better to travel up the coast, and as to the advisability of this he studied a long while without being able to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion.
Two hours were spent in this profitless speculation, and then the boys returned, bringing with them two large hoccos, birds looking not unlike wild turkeys.
"We shan't starve while such game as this is to be found," Neal cried triumphantly. "I believe we might have shot a dozen by staying longer; but there was no sense in doing so just for the sake of killing. It will be a hard job to eat all this meat before it spoils."
"How far in did you go?" Jake asked, rising to his feet quickly and trying to banish from his face the look of dejection, lest his companions should suspect how desperate he believed the situation to be.
"Not more than half a mile," Teddy replied.
"What is the general appearance of the country?"
"The undergrowth is very dense in places, and above here, a little to the right, we came upon what seems to be a swamp. It was there we found these birds, and something else which is not quite so promising."
As he spoke Teddy pulled up his shirt sleeve, and pointed to several black specks on his skin.
"They are ticks, or garrapatas, as the Spaniards call them," Jake replied, as he opened his pocket knife. "The sooner you get rid of them the better, for they will make what is likely to be a bad sore unless a cordial invitation to leave is extended."
"Are you going to cut them out?" Teddy asked in alarm.
"Not exactly; but you won't get rid of the pests without considerable pain, for they have the faculty of crawling under the skin mighty fast."
Jake set about the work in a methodical manner, causing Teddy to cry aloud very often as the insects were pulled or dug from the flesh.
Then Neal was called upon to undergo the same operation, and not until nearly an hour had passed were the hunters free from the painful pests.
It was now nearly sunset, and all hands set about preparing the hoccos for roasting, by first plucking the fowls, removing the intestines, and sticking them on a sharpened stake in front of the fire.