The Three Admirals. Life in the Royal Navy in the 1860s. By W.H.G. Kingston.
This is the fourth in Kingston's tetralogy that begins with The Three Midshipmen, and ends with The Three Admirals. These books were among the first written by Kingston, and were published serially in weekly magazines. Kingston's reputation was made by these books, that first appeared about 1860, and dealt with an officer's life in the Navy at about that time.
By an extraordinary co-incidence, the three young men who had met as midshipmen, get postings that enable them to keep their friendships live even when they are Admirals. Another old friend is Admiral Triton, who, is now dead and buries on the Isle of Wight, but they get to visit his grave.
This is actually quite a long book, but it is full of adventures, and you will love it as much as you loved its predecessors.
THE THREE ADMIRALS. LIFE IN THE ROYAL NAVY IN THE 1860s. BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
THE DRAGON OFF THE BONINS—A CONVERSATION BETWEEN TOM ROGERS AND ARCHIE GORDON—GERALD DESMOND ON THE SICK-LIST—THREATENINGS OF A TYPHOON—IT STRIKES THE SHIP—SHE RUNS BEFORE IT—THE SHIP HOVE TO—THE BOWSPRIT CARRIED AWAY—A MARINE WILL-O'-THE-WISP—ENTER A BAY IN ONE OF THE BONIN ISLANDS—TOM, GERALD, AND BILLY GET LEAVE TO VISIT THE SHORE—A BEAUTIFUL CAVERN—LAND ON THE ISLAND—THEIR DISCOVERIES—FISHING— INTERRUPTED BY SHARKS—A PICNIC—BOAT DRIFTS AWAY FROM THE SHORE—TOM SWIMS OFF—NARROW ESCAPE FROM A SHARK—SEE THE SHIP IN THE OFFING—PULL AFTER HER—A HURRICANE COMING ON—FEARFUL DANGER WHEN RE-ENTERING THE HARBOUR.
Her Majesty's corvette Dragon, lately commanded by our old friend Jack Rogers, who had been superseded by Commander Rawson, was on her passage across the wide Pacific, bound for Esquimault harbour, Vancouver's Island, from Japan, to which she had been sent with despatches.
The wind being fair, the screw was at rest, and she was under all sail, looking as trim and taunt a little man-of-war as a sailor's heart could desire. Her stay in Japan had been short, so that no leave had been granted, and even the officers had seen little of the country and people; though, as they hoped to return before long, that did not much matter. As it was of no great importance that the Dragon should soon get back to Vancouver's Island, Commander Rawson had received directions to visit the Ladrone Islands, somewhat to the southward of his course, in order to obtain particulars of an outrage, said to have been committed on an English subject by some of the mongrel inhabitants of those islands, which have for some centuries belonged to Spain.
The smooth sea shone brightly in the rays of the sun, undimmed by cloud or mist. In all directions the snowy wings of sea fowl could be seen, now dipping towards the ocean, now rising into the blue ether, showing that land was at no great distance. As the wind was from the northward, the air was cool, though the shady side of the ship was generally sought for by the watch on deck, except by a few whose heads seemed impervious to the hot rays of a tropical sun.
Two midshipmen were slowly pacing the port side of the quarter-deck, where a few feet of shade afforded them shelter from the heat. The one, a somewhat short, well-knit lad, with open countenance, well tanned, and blue laughing eyes, his whole appearance giving promise of strength and activity; the other, a tall youth with sandy hair, and pleasant features well freckled. Though tall, he was too well built to be called lanky, and showed that he possessed both strength and activity.
"I say, Archie, I do envy those fellows of the Eolus going on to China; they will see all sorts of fun, for the Celestials are sure not to give in in a hurry. The Eoluses will have the same sort of work that my brother Jack and your cousin Murray went through in the last Chinese war, when they were midshipmen."
The speaker was Tom Rogers, the youngest brother of Captain Jack Rogers; his companion was Archie Gordon, Captain Alick Murray's cousin.
"Gerald was dreadfully cut up at not being able to remain on board the Eolus, and having instead to come back with us to return home; but Captain Adair's letter was peremptory, and, as the newspapers say, I hope that he will hear of something to his advantage. Gerald would have been better pleased had his uncle let him know why he was sent for."
"He has no great cause to complain, seeing that the climate of China is none of the most delectable, and he would have run the risk of being shot into the bargain," observed Archie. "I wish that I had the chance of going home, and finding myself the possessor of a tidy fortune with a title."
"But then there's the honour and glory, and the fun, and the pig-tails to be captured, and the loot, and the chance of serving in a naval brigade and seeing some work on shore, just as the Shannon's people did in India, with a fair prospect of promotion at the end of it."
"If a body happens not to be shot, ye ken," observed Archie, who, though every bit as eager as Tom for the sort of work he described, took a pleasure in differing in opinion from him whenever he could.
"We will not, however, bother poor Desmond about the subject until he is well again," said Tom. "I really believe that he fell sick through vexation, though he was happy enough to be with us once more."
"He is much better to-day," remarked Archie, "and I hope by to-morrow that the doctor will let him come on deck again, although he may not be fit for duty for a day or two more."
Mr Mildmay, the first lieutenant, who was officer of the watch, paced the deck, spyglass in hand, now and then going on to the bridge and sweeping the horizon with his glass, while he frequently called to the look-outs on the forecastle and fore-yardarm to keep their eyes open. Jos Green, the master, was also continually there, or else consulting the chart in his cabin, for that part of the ocean was comparatively little known, and cruel reefs might exist, not marked down.
"The first lieutenant and the master seem very fidgety," remarked Tom.
"So would we be, I suspect, if the responsibility of navigating the ship rested with us," answered Archie. "After all, no one suffers by being sufficiently careful; that's the rule my cousin gave me when I first came to sea."
"And a very good rule it is, too, no doubt about that," observed Tom. "My brother Jack is as careful of his ship, and everything connected with her, as an old lady is of her best silk gown on a Sunday morning, though any one, to hear him talk, would suppose that he was the most harum-scarum fellow alive, always excepting his old shipmate, Captain Adair. He is, however, staid and steady enough in reality. I was very glad to hear that he got his post rank at the same time as my brother Jack did; and now the three old messmates, as they delight to call themselves, are post-captains, and will some day, I hope, be admirals. I wish, however, that they had not to wait so long. Your grave cousin Murray is as fit to be an admiral now as he will be twenty years hence, and, unless not a few fine fellows die off, it will take the best part of that time for any of them to get their flag."
"It is encouragement for us, though," observed Archie; "for if they have all been posted without any great amount of interest, we may hope to get promoted in consequence of our good conduct."
"Yes, but then remember that they have seen a great deal of service, and should the piping times of peace return, we may find it a hard matter to get employed and be able to exhibit our good conduct."
"Weel, mon, we'll hope for the best, and may be some other nation will kindly think fit to come to fisticuffs with old England, and give us something to do," said Archie.
"There's every chance of that, I should think," said Tom. Just then seven bells struck in the afternoon watch. "I'll go and see how Gerald is getting on, before I have to come on deck again; it's dull work for him lying all by himself."
Tom found his old messmate, whose cot was slung a little way outside the berth, so that he might have the advantage of the air coming down the after-hatchway, sucking lustily at an orange which he grasped in one hand, while he held a book in the other. He was so absorbed in its perusal that he did not notice Tom. Suddenly he burst into a loud fit of laughter.
"Capital fun; I should have liked to have seen it!" he exclaimed; "soused over head and ears a second time. Ah, ah, ah!"
"What's the joke?" asked Tom.
"I've just got to where old Peregrine Wiffle tumbles into the water a second time, when he is showing how he saw the small fish playing under the wharf, and was picked up with a boat-hook." Tom and Gerald had a good laugh together.
"You don't seem very bad," observed Tom.
"No; the fever, or whatever it was, that had got hold of me, has cut its stick, though I don't feel quite as nimble as I ought to be," answered Gerald. "I believe that the disappointment of not going to China, and the thinking over what my uncle Terence can want me home for, had more to do with it than the climate, the hot sun, or anything else, and I intend to ask the doctor to let me go on deck to-morrow, by which time I shall have finished my book, and I want to have a look at any of the islands we may happen to pass. There are some curious shaped ones, I am told."
"Yes; we have sighted some. One seemed to rise three or four hundred feet in a pointed peak, right out of the water, and it was not, I should say, an eighth of a mile in circumference. It is marked on the chart as Lot's wife. A solitary existence she must lead all by herself."
"Whereabouts are we?" asked Desmond.
"At noon, when we were passing that curious rock, our latitude was 29 degrees north, and our longitude 14 degrees east. We shall next sight the Bonin Islands, or Rosario, which is another lofty island, little more than a rock, standing up out of the sea."
"Do ask the doctor if I may get up, Tom; I should be sorry to pass these places without having a look at them," exclaimed Desmond. "I can finish my book by-and-by."
Just then the officer spoken of, Mr Hussey, came out from the gun-room. He was a short, somewhat stout gentleman, with a good-natured expression of countenance, and a merry twinkle in the eye, which showed that he could enjoy a joke, and was likely to utter many a one himself. His naturally florid complexion was deepened into a still more ruddy hue by exposure to the hot suns of the tropics.
"Do, doctor, let me get up; your physic has done me an immense deal of good, and I feel quite well already," said Desmond.
The doctor felt his pulse. "You get up!" he exclaimed. "What do you think yourself made of?" trying to look grave.
"Arrah, shure, sugar and spice and all that's nice! that's what midshipmen are made of. But shure, doctor dear, you will not keep me here, stewing by myself, when I might be enjoying the pure air of heaven?—for I really am well, doctor."
"You mean to say that you have finished your book, and have got tired of lying in bed," was the reply. "Well, if you promise to be a good boy and keep in the shade, you may dress and go on deck, but I cannot undertake to scratch you off the sick-list yet."
"Thank you, sir," said Desmond; "I will do everything you tell me, and take as much medicine as you think fit to prescribe. I do not want to do duty yet, as I've got a hundred pages more of 'Tom Cringle's Log' to read, and I cannot gallop over a book as some people do."
"Well, well, possibly the ship may manage to take care of itself without you," said the doctor, as he passed on.
Whereupon Desmond began to put on his clothes, a task which he accomplished with Tom's assistance. He felt himself, however, much weaker than he had expected, as he made his way upon deck, though he tried hard to show that he was himself again. He received a friendly greeting from his messmates, and Mr Mildmay congratulated him on being able once more to make his appearance.
There was plenty to amuse those who had a taste for natural history even when no land was in sight, and the doctor, who was a great naturalist, was constantly on the qui vive, for the sea teemed with squid, medusae, polypi, and flying-fish. Several of the latter came through the ports, when there was a general scramble for them, the midshipmen, who were on the watch and the most active, coming in for the largest share. A short time afterwards the unhappy fish made an appearance, well fried, on their mess-table. Whales, too, were sporting in all directions, tempted to the locality by the abundance of food which the before-named creatures afforded. Several old whalers among the crew could scarcely restrain their impatience, and, could they have obtained leave, would have gone off with such gear as they could have prepared to attack the monsters of the deep.
Since the Dragon had left Japan, the weather had been remarkably fine, with calms and light winds. But the calms lasted scarcely long enough to have the fires lighted before the ship was again under sail. That evening, however, a long heavy swell began to come from the north-east; the undulations rapidly increasing in size, making the ship roll from side to side, until her chains touched the water. Desmond, in common with two or three of his messmates, and most of the ship's boys and marines, began to feel very uncomfortable.
"What's going to happen?" he asked; "I'm mighty quare about the region of the stomach."
"I suppose we are going to have a gale of wind, as a change," answered Tom, who had never been ill since he first came to sea. "We shall have to shorten sail, I've a notion, before long, to be prepared for blustering Boreas, when he thinks fit to visit us."
The whole appearance of the sky and sea quickly changed. The wildfowl, which had been hovering around the ship, winged their flight to the nearest islands where shelter could be found. The atmosphere was pervaded with a peculiar glare by the rays of the sun coming through the clouds of a dull ochreous red, giving the ocean, the ship, her canvas and sides, the same unnatural tint.
As the summits of the swells, till now as smooth as glass, rose higher and higher, they formed crests of foam, which sparkled in the ruddy light, like masses of jewels. Hitherto there had not been sufficient wind to steady the ship as she made her way amid the heaving billows. Mr Jay, the second lieutenant, was now the officer of the watch; he made a sign to Tom.
"Rogers," he said, "go and tell the commander that the weather is getting much worse."
"Be quick about it, too," exclaimed Green; "there is no time to lose."
Commander Rawson was quickly on deck. After taking a rapid glance round, he shouted out, "All hands shorten sail."
The watch below came tumbling up on deck. The topsails were lowered, and the topmen, like bees, swiftly swarmed aloft, laying out on the yardarms.
"Hold on by your teeth and eyelids, Billy," said Tom to his old friend Billy Blueblazes, as he sprang up to his station in the main-top. The canvas was speedily reduced to closely-reefed fore and main-topsails and fore-staysail. It was hard work to hold on, for the ship rolled even more violently than before. The wind, however, did not come as soon as was expected, but it was impossible to say at what moment it might strike her. That it would come with no ordinary strength, and without further warning, there was every reason to believe.
The crew, having performed their task, were called down on deck. There was something in the appearance of the sea and sky, and the heaviness of the atmosphere, which made even the toughest old seaman feel an extraordinary depression of spirits, though he might not have suspected the cause.
"Faith! I'm sorry I did not remain quietly in my cot," said Desmond; "it seems to me as if the world were coming to an end. I should not be surprised to see flames spouting up out of the sea. It looks as if some big fires were burning away under it."
"Don't you ken, Gerald, that the water would be putting the fire out," observed Archie; "though from the appearance of some of those islands there has been fire enough below them at one time or other. They have all been raised up out of the ocean by volcanic agency."
"I am not disposed to dispute the truth of your remark," said Desmond; "I only wish the sea would get quiet, and let us glide comfortably over it, instead of kicking up such a disturbance."
While the midshipmen were speaking, the ship had continued her uneasy course, slowly rising to the summit of a huge billow and then gliding down into the deep trough.
Suddenly a loud roar was heard, and it seemed as if some mighty monster of the deep had struck a prodigious blow on the side of the ship. Over she heeled until the water rushed in at her lee ports.
"Up with the helm. Furl the main-topsail. Take another reef in the fore-topsail. We must run before it," cried the commander, hoping to steer clear of any islands or reefs which might be ahead.
The ship quickly rose to an even keel, and dashed forward amid the foaming seas, rolling, however, even more violently than before. So rapidly did the waves follow, that many struck her stern; not, however, before her dead lights had been closed. So tremendous were some of the blows, that it seemed as if her masts would be shaken out of her. The doctor and purser, who were sitting in the gun room, were thrown off their seats sprawling under the table, fully believing that the ship had struck a rock, and that all hands would soon be struggling for their lives.
As soon as things could be got to rights, Tom helped Desmond below, and he was glad enough to again turn into his hammock, which he had before been so anxious to quit.
"Shure we have got Harry Cane aboard of us, Mr Rogers," observed Tim Nolan, who was in Tom's watch, and took the liberty of an old shipmate to address his officer with a freedom on which others would not have ventured. They were both stationed together on the forecastle, looking out ahead.
"I wish that the gentleman would be good enough to take himself off, then," answered Tom, "or he may be playing us a scurvy trick, by sending our craft on some of the ugly reefs which abound hereabouts."
"We'll be after keeping a bright look-out for that, sir," said Tim.
"We may be on a reef before we can see it," observed Tom. "For my part, if I did not believe that Providence was steering us, I should not be at all comfortable."
The ship continued to drive on before the gale. The second lieutenant came forward, but he had to confess that his eyes were of little value to pierce the dark gloom ahead. The foam-crested waves could alone be seen, rapidly rising and falling. Tom's eyes ached. He was not sorry when he was relieved. Still, neither he nor any one else felt inclined to go below; no one could tell what might happen. The thick clouds hung down like a dark canopy, apparently just above the masts' heads. The thunder, which had been rumbling in the distance, now began to roar loudly, while flashes of forked lightning came zig-zagging through the air, threatening every instant to strike the ship. But, though they played round on all sides, none touched her. The commander had ordered the fires to be got up, so that the ship might be under steam, ready for any emergency.
Hour after hour the typhoon continued to howl even more fiercely than at first. Frequently a blast would strike the ship, making her tremble as if some solid mass had been hurled against her. Then there would come a lull for a few seconds, then another blast would suddenly strike her in a way that made every plank shake throughout her frame. Even the most hardy on board wished for day. The morning light brought no abatement of the gale.
Onward went the ship, now plunging into a vast hollow, which threatened to engulf her; now she rose rapidly to the top of another sea, while on either side they appeared to be vying with each other, which could leap the highest and accomplish her destruction.
The officers were gathered aft, the men in the waist, holding on firmly to the stanchions, or anything to which they could secure themselves. Each time that the ship plunged her head into the seas, the masts bent, as if every moment they would go by the board. At length a lull came, and the commander, having consulted with Green, fearing dangers ahead, determined to bring the ship to, an operation attended by considerable risk, as a sea striking her at the moment might sweep her deck. A favourable opportunity was waited for. The crew stood ready to lower the fore-topsail and hoist the main-topsail, which had been closely reefed. Both tasks were accomplished; the officers were anxiously watching the seas as the ship rode over them, but happily she was safely rounded to, and now lay with her main-topsail to the mast, though scarcely had she got into that position, than a fierce foam-crested sea, roaring up, struck her bows and deluged her decks, but shaking herself clear, like a thing of life, she sprang forward, while the water rushed through the ports. The lull continued, and many hoped that the gale was breaking; but in less than an hour another furious squall struck the ship, and nearly laid her over on her beam ends. Once more she rose, her stout canvas having stood the severe trial to which it had been put, and she rode with comparative ease for a few minutes.
The seas, however, seemed to become more broken than ever. A prodigious one came roaring towards the weather bow. The Dragon appeared to see her danger, and struggled to avoid it, but the next instant she pitched headlong into a deep hollow, when another monstrous wave, rising apparently half as high as the foretop, fell completely down on her deck. For a few seconds, her commander and his officers feared that she would never again rise. No orders could be issued, and nothing could be done. The crew stood silently at their stations, not uttering a word, or showing that they felt the fearful predicament in which they were placed.
The ship remained, as it were, fixed in the sea; then with a sudden jerk she burst her way through it, but her stout bowsprit was broken short off, and the next sea threw the wreck of it across the forecastle. The commander's voice was now heard in tones vying with the howling of the gale. The crew, obedient to his orders, rushed forward to secure the bowsprit with lashings; while the boatswain, with another gang, lost not a moment in setting up fresh stays, to prevent the foremast being carried away.
This, with the loss of one of the boats, and the forepart of the bulwarks stove in, were the chief damages hitherto received by the Dragon during the gale. It was not over, however. Again the sun set, and the wind continued to rage with unabated fury. The watch below had been ordered to turn in, but few of the officers had done so, and, though tired out, still remained on deck. Tom and Archie were standing aft, close together, when the latter suddenly grasped Tom by the arm.
"Oh, mon! what's that?" he exclaimed, pointing to the main-topmast head, which appeared crowned by a ball of pale fire.
"It has a curious appearance; though I never saw it before, my brother Jack has told me about it. It is a sort of Jack-o'-lantern, or Will-o'-the-wisp, or, as Gerald once called it, 'Saint Vitus' dance.' I believe he meant to say Saint Elmo's fire."
While the midshipmen were gazing up, the flame descended rapidly down the mast, running first along the main topgallant yardarm, then returning, down it came, to the main-topsail yard, where it glided out to the extreme end. Here it rested for some seconds, as if it had not made up its mind what next to do. Presently back it came to the mast, and darted out to the lee yardarm. It had not yet finished its journey. Once more gliding back, it ascended the mast, when it made its way by the main-topmast stay, on to the foremast and there went gliding backwards and forwards along the yard.
"I wish it would come down on deck, and then we might have a chance of catching it," said Tom. "I have read somewhere that a man going aloft with a bucket, clapped it over the light, and brought it down a prisoner. It is a sort of gas which is driven about through the air until it finds something to rest on. Why it goes moving up and down in that curious way I don't know, nor does anybody else, I believe. I wish the doctor were on deck,—he would tell us."
"Shall I call him?" asked Archie.
"I don't think he would thank you," said Tom. "Let him rest in quiet; perhaps before he can get on his clothes the fire will have disappeared."
Tom was right. In another minute the luminous ball, gathering itself into a point, shot upwards and vanished.
"That's a good sign," they heard Green observe to the first lieutenant; "we shall have the gale breaking before long."
Before the watch was out the hurricane had sensibly decreased, showing that the master was right in his prognostication. The sea continued, however, to tumble the ship about terribly until the morning dawned, when the clouds began to disperse, and as the sun rose they appeared to fly before his burning rays. By noon the sky was perfectly clear, when, an observation having been taken, the commander determined to run under the lee of one of the Bonin Islands, which were sighted shortly afterwards. Steam had been got up, and the vessel made rapid way, though she continued to roll considerably, moved by the now glass-like swell, which still came in from the north-east, showing that, although a calm rested on the waters where she was, a storm raged in another part of the ocean.
Several islands were now seen rising out of the water on the port bow, and as the Dragon drew near trees could be distinguished on the hills, showing that they were not as barren as they appeared to be at a distance. Rounding the southern end of one of them, she went on at half speed, feeling her way with the lead until she opened a sheltered bay between two high projecting points. Running in she brought up within a quarter of a mile from the shore in perfectly still water. Everybody was glad enough to be at rest after the tumbling about they had had during the last few days. They were not allowed, however, to enjoy many minutes' quiet; all hands were speedily set to work to repair damages.
"We should be thankful that we have escaped so easily," observed Archie Gordon, who had been surveying the shore through his telescope. "Look there, Tom, at those tall trees stretched on the ground with their roots in the air; it must have taken a pretty hard blow to break them down. I can see some stumps sticking up, showing that others have been snapped off by the wind. It is a mercy that we weathered it out as well as we did."
Tom took the glass. "I should have been sorry to have been under them," he answered, "and I only hope that no poor fellows were living on shore, or they would have run great risk of being crushed. It makes me think of the old song—
"'A strong nor'-wester's blowing, Bill; Hark I don't ye hear it roar now? Lord help 'em, how I pities them Unhappy folks on shore now!'
"I hope the commander will let us take a run on shore, however, before we sail."
In the course of a couple of days the repairs were nearly finished, but as there was a good deal of painting to be done, the commander resolved to remain at anchor another day. Green and the second lieutenant had been employed during the time in surveying the island, but their surveys were not complete.
"I say, Gerald, we must get our trip some way or other," said Tom to Desmond. "You'd be the better for a run ashore, and I'm sure, if you suggested the idea to the doctor, he will say so, and get Mr Mildmay to let us have a boat."
Gerald followed Tom's advice.
"Of course, my boy," answered the good-natured doctor; "if you find anything curious, remember to bring it off for me."
"That I will, sir," said Tom.
The doctor having spoken to the first lieutenant, Tom went up boldly and asked for the use of the jolly-boat.
"You can have her; but remember you must be on board again in good time," answered Mr Mildmay.
Tom and his party were quickly ready, carrying some fishing-lines, as well as some baskets to bring off any wild fruit they might happen to find. Tom and Gerald were below making their preparations, when Billy Blueblazes came out of the gun-room.
"Holloa!" he exclaimed; "I've got leave to go with you. I suppose you'll take some grub?"
"We'll be afther finding that on shore," answered Desmond; "game, or fish, and fruit. I propose we carry a couple of muskets; we shall be sure to find something or other."
"Elephants or rhinoceroses," suggested Billy.
"Not quite such big beasts as they are," answered Tom. "We should find them rather too cumbrous to stow away in our game-bags."
"But we'll take some bread, and rum, and some cold beef—they are not likely to grow on the island, at all events; or potatoes either, or a pot to boil them in," remarked Desmond.
The articles they fancied would be required were quickly collected.
"Shure, if we haven't forgotten the powder and shot!" exclaimed Desmond, as they were committing the things to the charge of Tim Nolan, who was to accompany them, that he might stow them away in the boat. Pat Casey, the other Irishman who had been saved from the savages, with Jerry Bird, formed the crew of the boat. Bird and Nolan were tried, steady men. Casey, who was accustomed to a savage life, might be useful in searching for fruits or any animals which might be found in the island. He was also a first-rate fisherman, having had plenty of experience during his residence with the Indians.
The party shoved off soon after the second lieutenant and master had left the ship.
"The only thing I'm sorry for is that Archie is not with us," said Tom. "However, we are sure to have plenty of fun of some sort or other."
At the further end of the bay was a small piece of sandy beach, towards which Tom steered the boat. As there was no surf, they ran her up on it, and stepped out without difficulty. A nearer acquaintance, however, showed them that the country was not of so tempting a character as they had at first supposed. There were a few trees close to the beach, some of which had been broken in two by the storm, and now lay prostrate on the ground. Even larger trees, a species of mahogany, lay uprooted in all directions, so that they found it very difficult to make their way among them. Still, by dint of climbing over the fallen trunks, and cutting a road through the brushwood, they had made some progress, when they discovered a circle of rocky hills, in many places almost precipitous. It seemed almost hopeless to attempt climbing over them, especially as Desmond acknowledged that he "did not feel very well up to that sort of work," and they would have had likewise to carry their muskets, provisions and cooking utensils.
"As we have not much time to lose, I propose that we go back to the boat, and try and find another landing-place further along the coast," said Tom.
His plan was agreed to; and launching the boat, they again took to their oars. After rounding a rocky point, which formed the eastern side of the bay, they pulled along for some distance in the hopes of finding another landing-place, from whence they could make their way into the interior. As there was no surf, and the sea was perfectly smooth, they kept close in with the land. In many places high cliffs rose precipitously out of the water. As they pulled along at the foot of one of these cliffs, Tom shouted out—
"Holloa! there's a big cavern directly ahead of us; the water seems to run right up into it, and I should not be surprised if we could get up some distance in the boat."
They stopped rowing, to survey the mouth of the cavern. It appeared to be upwards of thirty feet in height and almost of the same width. Everybody, of course, was eager to explore the cavern; and rowing gently, that no risk might be run of knocking the bows of the boat against a rock, they made their way into the cavern. By just keeping the oars moving, the boat glided on. Ahead, all was darkness, so that it was impossible to ascertain how far the cave penetrated into the land. As soon as their eyes got accustomed to the subdued light which existed at a distance of thirty or forty feet from the entrance, the beauties of the grotto began to dawn on their sight. Glittering stalactites, of a thousand fantastic forms, hung down from the high and vaulted roof, while at either side appeared columns and arches like those of some ancient temple, tinted with numberless delicate hues, the extreme points of the stalactites glittering like bright gems as they were reached by the reflected rays of the sun, which penetrated far down into the depths beneath, illuminating every object below its glassy surface. So beautifully clear was the water, that when the party in the boat looked over the sides, they could see right down to the bottom of the cavern, which appeared to consist of masses of rock, forming caves and hollows, covered with the richest marine vegetation. Here were corals of various tints, blue and yellow, red and white: amid them the ocean fan expanded its vast leaves; from the lowest depths sprang up the sea-green stems of the fucus, twining round columns which sank far down, and afforded them support. Here feathery tufts of green vegetables floated upwards in the clear water, while others of various strange shapes and hues formed recesses and arches, twisted and knotted in a variety of ways. Fish, of varied forms and brilliant colours, darted in and out among the openings, some rising close up to the boat, as if curious to ascertain the character of the visitors to their submarine palace.
"I wish the doctor were here to tell us their names," exclaimed Tom. "Look there, at those odd creatures. What can they be?" The fish at which he pointed were flat, of an oval form, and of a rich silvery colour, delicately striped downwards with azure bands. They swam in a perpendicular position, aided by two long and slender fins, one curving upwards from the back, of a considerable length, and the other curving downwards from the opposite side. There were many others differing in form, but all of the most beautiful colours, darting and gliding in and out, but, being apparently of a less curious or more timid disposition than those which had excited Tom's astonishment, did not venture near the boat. There were cray-fish, too, of large size, and enormous crabs, and star-fish, and sea-urchins, and bivalves of various sorts clinging to the rocks, with open mouths, to catch any unwary creatures coming within their reach.
After enjoying the scene for some time, by giving a few strokes with their oars the midshipmen allowed the boat to proceed further up the cavern. Most of the party were hanging over the water with their noses just above the surface, some with their hands trying to catch any of the fish which might venture near, when a cry from Tim made them spring up.
"Shure, he'll be afther catching some of us, if we don't look out," exclaimed the Irishman, and at that moment they saw rising out of the far depths of the cavern an enormous shark, his eyes glaring like two glowing coals, as with open jaws he came nearer and nearer the boat.
"He'll be after swallowing the whole of us," cried Tim. "Back water! back water!" To the Irishman the shark probably appeared much larger than it really was.
"He won't do us any harm; but just keep the oars out of the water," said Tom, who was, of course, obeyed, and the shark glided alongside the boat, which he kept eyeing with suspicious glances.
"Would you be afther wishing to have one of us?" asked Desmond. "Then I hope you'll be mistaken; unless, Billy, you wish to be kind to the baste, and let him have your arm as a treat."
"Thank you," said Billy; "I'd rather not. It wouldn't give him much trouble to bite it off, though."
"We must not be disappointed in our expectation of exploring the cavern by a brute like that," exclaimed Tom. "Hand me the boat-hook." Standing up, he struck the point with all his might against the nose of the monster, which at that instant sank with a suddenness which made Tom lose his balance, and had not Desmond and Billy seized him he would have been overboard.
"He's more afraid of us than we are of him," said Tom. "Now let us get as far up the cavern as we can."
They pulled cautiously on, Tim standing up in the bows, and feeling ahead with the boat-hook. The mouth of the cavern seemed to grow smaller and smaller, until only a point of light remained. Suddenly Pat Casey, who was pulling with Jerry Bird, declared that he felt something seize the blade of his oar.
"It's the shark, perhaps," said Tom. "We have the muskets ready. I'll give him a shot, and that will make him keep his distance. Wait until he tries it again."
Tom took the musket, and stood up ready to fire.
"There! he's got my oar in his jaws," cried Pat.
Tom fired. The flash revealed for an instant the sides and roof of the cavern, which seemed to glitter as if studded with thousands of jewels, while ahead all was pitchy darkness, showing that they had not yet got to the extremity. The sound of the report, greatly increased in loudness, went echoing amid the arches and pillars, until it died away in the far distance, proving the great extent of the cavern.
Whether the shark was hit or not, it was impossible to say; but the bullet tore off the point of Pat's oar, showing that Tom had taken good aim.
Jerry Bird now suggested to the midshipmen that it would be prudent to pull back, as without torches they could not see where they were going. There might be, for what they could tell to the contrary, some big sea monster squatting up at the further end, who might crunch them up without ceremony.
Though Tom had no apprehensions on that score, he agreed to return, proposing, should the Dragon remain at anchor another day, to explore the cave with a supply of torches. The boat was accordingly cautiously pulled round, and made her way towards the mouth. It was curious to watch the arch growing higher and higher, and the light gradually increasing. They had almost reached the entrance, when, on either side, not one, but several sharks, came gliding up. One, bolder and bigger than the rest, seized the blade of an oar, crunching off the end; and the other men had to keep a watchful eye to save theirs from being destroyed. Tom fired the other musket, and declared that the bullet went through the shark's head. As the monster did not appear the worse for it, Desmond and Billy doubted the fact. Not until Tom had fired several times, and the boat had got to a considerable distance from the cavern, did the sharks leave her.
"There's one thing certain: that's not a place to bathe in, nor would it be pleasant to tumble overboard hereabouts," observed Tom, gravely. "I never can see those black monsters, with their wicked eyes, floating near and looking up at one, without feeling uncomfortable."
They had to row farther than they expected. At last they saw a narrow opening in a reef of rocks, within which they made out a small bay, with a sandy shore, where they could land with ease and draw up the boat. The country beyond, too, looked far more tempting than they had yet seen. The water in the passage was deep, so that they had no difficulty in making their way into the bay. As yet they had seen nothing of the second lieutenant's and the master's boats, which, supposing the island to be of small size, they had expected to meet coming round from the opposite side.
"We shall probably see them if we cut directly across the island," observed Tom.
They were not disappointed in the bay. The beach was exactly what they wished for. They hauled the boat up, and agreed that she could be left without danger.
"But I hope you fellows are not going to begin a long march without some food," observed Billy, who was noted for his excellent appetite. "We have no game, nor have we caught any fish. It's lucky that we brought some food, as I advised."
Wood was collected, and a fire quickly made. As they had brought cold meat and bread with them, they had only their potatoes to cook. This operation was superintended by Tim, while the rest of the party searched for any other productions of the island which might add to their repast. They had not gone far when Tom exclaimed—
"Why, there are some cocoa-nut trees, and very fine ones, too. I thought there were none on the island."
"They are cocoa-nut trees, sure enough," said Desmond, "and with cocoa-nuts growing on them. How to get them down is the question, for the stems are too stout to allow us to swarm up."
"'Where there's a will there's a way'; up we must climb, some way or other," said Tom, who never liked to be beaten.
On reaching the spot, they found not only cocoa-nut trees, but yams and bananas, covering the ground in the wildest profusion, the latter climbing up the surrounding branches, from which the ripe fruit hung temptingly down.
On examining further, they discovered the remains of a fence, showing that the ground had been enclosed, for the purpose of forming a garden, at some probably distant period.
"Bless the man whoever planted these," said Jerry Bird; "he had a thought for any poor fellows who might be wrecked here some day or other. If others would do the same at all the desert islands they visit, the lives of many castaway seamen might be saved."
The yams, from growing wild, were not likely to be worth much, but the bananas, notwithstanding the latitude, appeared to be very fine. In vain, however, they gazed up at the cocoa-nuts. Jerry, though an active man, vowed that he could not attempt to reach the top unless they could get a rope over one of the branches. While they were discussing the matter, Pat Casey, who had been helping Tim, came up, having also caught sight of the cocoa-nut trees from a distance.
"Bedad, I'll be afther doing it," he exclaimed; and running back to the boat, he returned with three or four fathoms of rope. This he twisted into a huge grummet round the tree, leaving space enough for his own body to get in also. Then slipping it behind his waist, he began to swarm up, shoving the rope on the opposite side of the tree each time he moved on, as high as his shoulders. In a wonderfully short time he reached the top of the tree.
"Stand from under," he shouted out, as he threw down a cocoa-nut, which very nearly hit Billy, who had not attended to his warning. Several cocoa-nuts split by their fall, but Billy, rushing forward, seized one of them before all the milk had run out. This example was followed by the rest: Seeing this, Pat secured several about his neck, and then getting into his grummet he descended. That one tree gave them as many nuts as they could require.
"We ought not to take more than we want," said Tom; "though before we shove off, we will get a supply for the ship."
Tim now shouted out that the "taters" were cooked, and returning to the camp-fire, the party enjoyed a very satisfactory repast with the aid of the bananas and cocoa-nuts. After this they made their way for some distance inland, passing large forests of tamanas, or mahogany trees, which appeared to cover the greater part of the island. Excepting in the deserted plantation, they could discover no other fruit-bearing trees or roots, but they observed traces of some wild animals, which Pat asserted must be hogs.
As there was some risk of losing themselves, and there was nothing to induce them to continue their ramble, they returned to the boat. Desmond, seconded by Billy, now proposed that they should set to work to fish, that they might carry a supply with them on board.
Tom agreed, and Pat having collected a quantity of crabs which he found among the rocks, to serve as bait, they once more embarked. They pulled out towards the mouth of the bay, just inside of a high reef, which completely shut out the sea from their view. Here, so clear was the water, that although fully three fathoms deep, the bottom could be clearly seen, covered with masses of coloured coral and sea-weeds of various shades and tints. Amid them they observed beautiful fish of all sizes and tints, gliding in all directions, now disappearing under some cavern, now darting again into sight.
"As the creatures can see us and our lines, we shall have no chance of catching any," said Tom.
"Just try, your honour," exclaimed Pat; "they're mighty hungry bastes, and not accustomed to the look of white faces, so that they will not know what we're afther."
The hooks were accordingly baited with crabs, and scarcely was the first line let down than a big fish caught it, and was immediately hauled up.
"I told you so," cried Pat exultingly; "we shall have as many as we like to catch."
All were now eager to get their lines overboard, and no sooner had the hooks sunk towards the bottom than the fish, attracted by the tempting bait, dashed forward and seized them.
"We'll mighty soon have a boat load," exclaimed Pat, as fish after fish was hauled in.
Suddenly a change came over the scene. From out of a cavern, far down below the reef, a huge form appeared, very similar to the monster which had attacked the boat in the stalactite cave. Rapidly and noiselessly it glided up, and before Billy, who just then felt a bite, saw its approach, it had seized the fish which had bitten at his hook. Billy gave a pull, expecting to haul up his fish, and very nearly got his fingers cut through by his line, as the shark, finding something tickling his throat, darted off with it. Bird, seeing what had happened, cut the line, and away dashed the shark. The monster had put the other fish to flight, and it was some time before they returned. Scarcely had they assembled, and a few more had been caught, than, other sharks appearing, the lines were immediately drawn up, to save them from the fate Billy's had met with. As these pirates of the deep appeared, the smaller fish darted off in all directions.
"Shure, it matters very little to them whether they are caught by one of us or by those black brutes, excepting for the honour of the thing, and the pleasure of tasting a crab's leg before they die," observed Desmond.
These interruptions prevented the party taking note of time. They had got no small number of fish, still they were eager to catch a boat load; and Tom, who ought to have looked at his watch, forgot to do so.
Thus hour after hour passed by, until they all began to get hungry, when Desmond proposed going on shore and cooking some of their fish. The idea was too good a one to meet with dissenting voices; and returning to the beach, they quickly made up their fire, the embers of which had remained burning, and soon had three or four fine fish roasting on sticks round it, under the superintendence of Pat Casey. So busy were they with this interesting occupation, that no one had observed the changed appearance of the sky. The fish were, as Pat declared, "just done to a turn," and Tom and Desmond and Billy were served, the latter having filled his mouth with a dainty morsel, when they were startled by the booming sound of a gun. Another followed. It was evidently fired for their recall.
"We ought to have got back before this," exclaimed Tom, starting up and looking seawards.
The rest followed him, carrying the cooked fish down to the beach. What was their dismay to find, on reaching it, that the boat, which had been hauled up, had been floated by the rapidly rising tide, while a strong gust of wind had driven her a considerable distance from the shore, from which she was drifting further and further off.
Not a moment was to be lost. Tom felt that he had been guilty of an act of indiscretion in remaining so long on shore, and in not having seen that the boat was properly secured. He had not forgotten those huge monsters of sharks, which had been prowling about, but there was only one way by which the boat could be regained. Somebody must swim off to her. These thoughts rapidly passed through his mind. The swim itself was nothing; he had often swum ten times further without fatigue. But those sharks! He recollected the shudder which had passed through him as he had seen them approach the boat not two hours before. Without saying anything, he had quickly thrown off his clothes.
"Shout, all of you, as loud as you can," he exclaimed. "Good-bye, Desmond; good-bye, Billy," he said, shaking hands. "If I am swallowed by one of those brutes, say it happened while I was doing my duty."
Without another word, Tom plunged in, and the rest of the party, rushing forward up to their knees, began splashing the water about, and shouting at the top of their voices.
"I cannot let him go alone," said Jerry Bird, as soon as he saw what the midshipman was about. Throwing off his jacket and shirt, he followed Tom, shouting out lustily.
"I am coming, Mr Rogers," he cried; "you climb in on one side of the boat, and I will on the other."
Tom was within a couple of fathoms of the boat, when to his horror he saw a dark fin, just rising above the water. It was stationary, however. Perhaps the savage brute was merely surveying the boat, and wondering what strange creature it was.
Tom, undaunted by the sight, swam on. He might manage to scramble on board before the shark caught sight of him.
"Do not lose heart, Bird," he cried out, for he guessed that his companion would have seen the shark's fin; "the chances are that he won't attack two of us."
A few strokes more, and Tom had got hold of the gunwale of the boat; Jerry had seized that on the other side.
Tom, being in no way fatigued, easily held himself up, and, having got his left leg over, was about to drag up the other, when Jerry threw himself in and tilted the boat over to the side he was on. It was a fortunate movement, for the shark ran his snout against the side, missing Tom's foot almost by a hair's breadth. Tom felt the brute's head strike against the boat, and well knew what had happened. It made him draw his breath quickly; but he had work before him. Without stopping a moment, he and Jerry, seizing the oars, rapidly pulled the boat back to the beach. Their companions gave way to a hearty cheer as they reached it.
"Thank Heaven, you have escaped," said Desmond. "I saw what happened; my heart sank so low that I thought it would never get up again to its right place. However, 'a miss is as good as a mile'; now the sooner we are away from this the better."
Tom's and Jerry's clothes having been handed into the boat, they dressed themselves, while the rest of the party pulled down the bay.
"I vote we eat the fish while it's warm," said Billy Blueblazes, whose appetite (as Gerald used to say of him) "no dangers could daunt."
"Just hand me a slice, and I'll eat it as I pull." This proposal was seconded by the looks of the men, and Tom accordingly passed portions, with some biscuit, forward. The crew ate the fish with gusto. They were wise in so doing, as they might have a long pull before them. Another and another gun was heard.
"Those guns were not fired in the harbour," observed Tom; "the ship must have put to sea."
Gerald agreed with him; but as yet the reef, which ran across the mouth of the bay, concealed her from sight. The wind had lately been blowing from all quarters—now down the harbour, now directly across it—until at length a heavy squall came in through the entrance.
"We shall have a strong wind in our teeth, and a pretty heavy pull," observed Tom to Gerald. "I wish we had not spent so much time here; and I shall justly get the blame, if anything happens."
"It won't much matter who gets the blame if we happen to be all drowned," answered Gerald. "However, as we were known to have gone in this direction, the captain will probably stand along the shore to pick us up; and the chances are that we shall be safe on board within an hour or so."
The men had now to bend their backs to the oars to force the boat over the heavy seas which came rolling in through the narrow entrance. Under other circumstances, Tom would have put back and waited for an improvement in the weather; but the signal of recall was peremptory, and he considered it his duty to try and get on board at all risks. The sea, which had been so calm when they pulled along the coast, was now tossed into heavy foam-crested billows, which came rolling on in rapid succession, bursting with loud roars against the rock-bound shore, and casting sheets of spray over the reef.
"We must heave our cargo overboard," said Tom, when he saw the heavy seas come tumbling in. "The lighter the boat is the better."
The fish, with which they hoped to regale their shipmates, were quickly thrown overboard.
"Shure, a fine feast we are giving to the sharks," observed Desmond, as he was engaged in the work. They retained, however, a dozen or so of the cocoa-nuts, in case they might be required for food. So slow was the progress they made against the sea and wind, that it was almost dusk before they got clear of the land. Tom had been keeping a look-out to the westward, the side on which he expected the ship to appear.
"There she is," he exclaimed at length; "but she is under sail, standing to the south-east, and I see no smoke coming out of her funnel."
Gerald agreed with Tom that such was the case. They asked Jerry Bird, the oldest seaman on board, to give his opinion.
"You're right, sir," he said; "to my mind something has happened to the machinery. Either the shaft or the piston rod is broken, and they cannot get the screw to work. The commander, of course, did not like to remain in the bay, with the chance of a hurricane blowing right into it; and so he got up the steam, and was probably standing along the shore to look out for us, when the accident, whatever it was, happened; and the only chance he had of saving the ship was to go about and stand on the course he is now doing. Maybe he will come about again before long to look for us."
Tom and Gerald were very sure that the commander would not desert them, at the same time they felt far from comfortable at seeing the ship at so great a distance off. The wind was rapidly increasing; the seas came rolling in far more heavily than before, while the spray from their foaming crests being sent over the boat, soon thoroughly wetted through all hands. This, of course, no one cared much about; the question was whether their small boat would live in the furious sea they were likely to encounter before they got on board. If Jerry Bird was right, the ship herself must endeavour to get a good offing from the island in case a hurricane should come on. Of that there now seemed every probability. The gloom of night had rapidly increased, and now they could only distinguish the ship from the light which she showed over her quarter. Was it intended for a signal to them, or had the other two boats not yet returned to her? As the night advanced, the weather became worse and worse.
"It's that old rascal Harry Cane at his tricks again," cried Tim; "I wish that he had waited a bit, and let us get comfortably on board."
"Never complain, Tim," observed Pat; "maybe we shall be glad that we haven't left the boat; we have got a harbour under our lee, and plenty of grub on shore, and that's what many a poor fellow has wished for, and not been able to find."
Tom and Gerald were excessively anxious to get on board, and determined to persevere as long as they possibly could. The men strained at their oars with hearty good will. Now the boat mounted one sea, rapidly to descend into the trough of another. Tom steered her carefully, keeping her head to the seas. He full well knew that at any moment one of the heavy tops of those seas falling on board might swamp her. Bird frequently looked over his shoulder with an anxious glance.
"Beg pardon, Mr Rogers, but it won't do," he said at length; "the keener we put about and run back into the harbour, the better chance we shall have of living through this night; what has happened to the ship I cannot tell. But, while it's blowing like this, dead on shore, we shan't get on board to-night or to-morrow either."
Tom and Gerald at length saw that Jerry Bird was right. They could no longer distinguish the Dragon's lights. Either a thick mist had arisen, or she had got too far off for them to be seen; indeed, the shore itself, as the boat sank into the hollow of the sea, was invisible.
"We must look out for a smooth, and pull the boat round, lads," cried Tom.
"Arrah! shure, that will be a hard matter to find," said Tim Nolan, as if to himself.
Watching for an opportunity, Tom, when in the trough of the sea, got the boat round. "Give way, lads! give way!" he shouted out. Not that there was any necessity for saying that; the men knew well enough that their lives depended on their pulling as hard as they could. Any moment a sea, rolling up astern, might break over them. Tom stood up to look out for the entrance to the harbour, which he believed they must be approaching, but he could see nothing but one unbroken line of foam bursting over the reef. The land rose from the shores of the bay. On the highest part Tom recollected having observed a large clump of tamana trees, which, as they had pulled down the harbour, he had noted as a good land-mark for entering. In daylight it could easily be seen, but in the darkness he could scarcely hope to make it out against the sky, while the boat tumbled and rolled about in the way she was now doing. Still, it was their only hope; should she strike a reef on either side of the entrance, she must in an instant be dashed to pieces, and all hands be washed amidst the foaming breakers.
"Now, Desmond, use your eyes as you never have before, and try and see that clump of trees, or find out the passage."
Gerald strained his eyes. "I think I see a dark spot almost ahead," he said at length.
"If you do, that must be the entrance," observed Tom. "I can see no other; it is our only chance; the boat will not live long in the sea which is now getting up."
Tom steered towards the point Gerald indicated. On sped the boat. The loud roar of the breakers as they neared the shore almost deafened them, and Gerald, though sitting next to Tom, had to shout to make him hear.
"That's the passage, I'm sure of it," he cried out.
"You're right," answered Tom. "Give way, lads!" The boat rushed on. A tremendous sea, with a huge crest of foam, came roaring up astern, and threatened to overwhelm her. The men saw it, and redoubled their efforts. On either side rose a wall of white foam dashing directly over the rocks beneath which they had been fishing. An instant later and the boat would have been swamped; but on she flew, surrounded by spray, and in another minute was floating in comparatively smooth water within the sheltering reef. At that moment the hurricane burst forth, sending the breakers flying in sheets over the reef, howling fearfully as it went rushing amid the trees of the forest, tearing off huge limbs, and laying many low, while vivid flashes of lightning were followed by peals of rattling thunder, adding yet further to the wild uproar of the elements.
"Thank Heaven, we are safe!" exclaimed Gerald.
"We may rightly acknowledge that; but what has become of the other boats and the old barkey?" said Tom.
LAND—BURY THE BOAT—TAKE SHELTER UNDER A ROCK—THE HURRICANE RAGES—THE NIGHT PASSES BY—DESMOND SHOOTS AT A WILD BEAST—STORM ABATES—NO SHIP— BOAT MISSING—BOAT DISCOVERED—TIM'S PORK CHOPS—DIGGING OUT THE BOAT— PAT CHARGED BY A WILD BOAR—FLAG-STAFF SET UP—NO SHIP APPEARS—A HUT BUILT—EXPLORE THE ISLAND—MISS THE HOGS, BUT KILL SOME BIRDS— PREPARATIONS FOR THE VOYAGE—TURTLE—BILLY'S EXPLOIT—LEAKY CONDITION OF THE BOAT—SEARCH FOR PITCH—TOM AND DESMOND SET OUT TO EXPLORE THE ISLAND.
Tom steered the boat up the bay towards the beach they had so lately left. It no longer afforded an easy landing place, for the waves came rolling in, even through the narrow entrance, creating a surf on the sandy shore, and scarcely had her stern touched the beach than a sea burst on board, not only wetting every one through, but nearly washing several articles out of her. All hands therefore jumped out.
"Now, lads, a long pull, a strong pull, and a pull all together," cried Tim. In another minute the boat was hauled up the beach, and they began taking out the things and carrying them to the spot where they had left their fire burning. Fortunately, the muskets and ammunition, though wet, had been saved, as had the articles of value in the boat, together with a compass which Tom had thoughtfully brought, although they had hitherto had no use for it. The ashes of their fire were still alight, but they at once found that the exposed beach was not the spot where they would exactly wish to encamp.
"We must find some sheltered place, where we can put up our tent," said Tom to Desmond. "A high overhanging rock would suit us best, but it won't do to be under these tall mahogany trees, which may at any moment crash down upon our heads, and we have already had a specimen of how they are likely to behave."
"I'd rather get into a snug cavern, if we can discover one," said Desmond. "But how is that to be found in the dark?"
"I'll soon twist up a couple of torches such as I used to make when I was Prime Minister of the Cannibal Islands," cried Pat Casey. "I think we could find our way to the left, where I saw some big rocks this morning, and I should not be surprised to find tolerable shelter under them."
"We ought to be there as soon as possible," observed Tom, "for we shall probably have the rain down upon us before many minutes are over,—and the hurricane has only just begun, we must remember. Get your torches made as soon as you can. Before we leave this we must look after the boat, and haul her farther up the beach; it is impossible to say how high the water may rise with a hurricane setting on the shore."
They accordingly hurried back and ran the boat some feet farther up, but beyond that they found it impossible to move her.
"If we leave her as she is, she'll sure to be blown away," observed Jerry Bird. "If I may advise, sir, I'd make a sort of dock all round her, and fill her up with sand, so as to sink her in it. It will cost us some little trouble to clear it out again, but it will be better than having her knocked to pieces."
Tom and Desmond highly approved of Jerry's proposal. All hands, therefore, set to work with the boat stretchers to make the dock, which was very easily and quickly accomplished. They then filled her up with sand, almost to the gunwale.
"She will be steady enough now, sir," said Jerry.
As soon as the work was finished, they returned to their former encampment, carrying the boat's mast, yards, sails, and oars with them, to assist in forming a tent, while the rest of her gear they placed for safety high up on the bank. Pat had quickly twisted up some torches from the fibre of the cocoa-nuts, and now loading themselves with all their property, they set out, he leading the way. Scarcely had they commenced their march, than they felt themselves almost taken off their feet; a loud crash was heard, and down fell a large tree, close to where they were, torn up by the roots. Happily they were on the weather side. They hurried on, keeping as much as possible in the open ground. Another blast came with redoubled fury, almost blowing out Pat's torches, which burnt, indeed, with so much rapidity, that there seemed but little probability of their being able to reach the point towards which they were steering, by their light. They had not gone far when two torches had burnt out. Heavily laden as they were, they could not move very fast. Tim Nolan alone was staggering under the boat's sail, an oar, a musket, and a basket of provisions. Jerry Bird had the breaker of water hung at his back, and was equally heavily laden.
It was a great relief to Tom when he heard Pat shout out, "Here are the rocks, though not the sign of a cave can I see."
"Perhaps, if we skirt along them, we may find a still more sheltered place than this," observed Tom.
The party accordingly moved on, and just as Pat announced that his torch was beginning to burn his fingers, they found themselves in a recess of the rocks, where they were well sheltered from the wind, although they would obtain no protection from the rain when it should begin to fall. The end of the torch afforded them sufficient light to collect sticks for a fire, and by its light they were able to put up their tent. The side of the rock affording a back, it was made to slope from the rock down to the ground, so that the heaviest rain would run off. There was just room for all hands to get under it, closely packed; and after the fatigues of the day, they were very thankful to obtain such shelter. As far, indeed, as they themselves were concerned, they had no reason to complain. They had shelter, fire, food, and water.
"Let us see what you have brought, Billy?" said Gerald.
Billy produced three fish, which he had hung over his back. "I thought that we should want something for supper, and it is always wise to carry one's grub with one," he observed.
"Much obliged to you for your forethought," said Gerald; and Tim and Pat were summoned to cook the fish. The fire had been made up close under the rock, so that it was not much influenced by the wind. In a short time Tim announced that the supper was ready, "smoking hot," when a bottle of rum was produced from the provision basket.
"Now, lads," said Tom, as he poured out the liquor. "I do not want to stint you of your grog, but recollect that we have but a small supply, and my belief is that it may be many days before we get back to the ship, so a glass apiece is all I can give you."
The grog was mixed, and the seamen, with their young officers, sat round the fire, thinking just then very little of the past or future. The fish were pronounced excellent; while they sipped their grog one or the other alternately spun a yarn or sang a song. Tom Rogers must be excepted. He felt his responsibility as commanding the party, and he could not get over the consciousness that he ought to have returned at an earlier hour to the ship. This thought weighed down his spirits, although he tried not to allow his companions to discover his uneasiness. He felt also very anxious about the ship. If Jerry Bird was right in supposing that an accident had happened to the machinery, she might, during the hurricane, be exposed to the greatest possible danger; and if she was wrecked, they might have to remain for many months on the island, before they could find an opportunity of escaping.
Tom, before he came to sea, had often read about living on a desert island with one or two pleasant companions, and had thought that it would be very good fun. When the reality rose vividly before him, he could not but confess that he would rather be keeping watch on board, with a prospect of returning home to see his father, mother, and friends. When, however, it came to his turn to sing, he trolled forth, in his rich deep voice, "Cease, rude Boreas," or some other sea song of the same character, as if he had no anxious thoughts to trouble him. The blazing fire which they kept up served to dry their clothes.
When, about an hour later, the rain came down, as it is wont to do in the tropics, they all crept under the tent, taking care to carry the muskets and such things as would be damaged by the wet with them. Tom, in spite of his fatigue, lay awake for some time. He was thankful that they were safe on shore, and had been able to find a sheltered position for their encampment. The wind roared and howled in the most terrific manner among the forest trees. The very earth seemed to shake, as if it would topple down the high rock above them; but although branches, and sometimes large shrubs, torn up by the roots, flew over their heads, none fell on their tent. Sometimes, for several minutes together, crash succeeded crash, as huge trees were levelled with the ground. Then there would come a lull, and the wind would whistle mournfully, or rather moan, but only to recommence roaring more lustily than ever.
Tom wondered how his companions could sleep so soundly amid the uproar. The light of the fire, which came through the side of the tent, fell on their forms stretched out with their heads against the rock; while, in the lulls of the tempest, he could hear them all snoring away in concert. He was sufficiently well acquainted with the natural history of the Pacific Islands to be aware that there were no wild beasts to interfere with them, excepting the hogs, whose traces they had seen; and he had every reason to believe that the island was uninhabited. He thought it possible, however, that the rocks at the top of the cliff, loosened by the hurricane, might come tumbling down on their heads; but as only earth and small branches had hitherto fallen, he hoped that they would continue in their places. At all events, even should he and his companions move away, they were not likely to find more secure shelter. Should refuge be sought under the trees, they might prove still more treacherous. He kept an eye on the fire, fearing that a sudden blast might whisk the embers into the tent; but, as the canvas was thoroughly wet, that would take some time to burn. He got up two or three times, and, by standing with his back against the cliff, he avoided the rain which poured in torrents scarcely more than a foot in front of him. Excepting where the glare of the fire was cast upon the white tent on one side, the black rocks on the other, and the shrubs in front, all was pitchy darkness, though, on looking upwards, he could distinguish the tops of the trees waving to and fro against the sky. "I pray that the dear old Dragon may have escaped this!" he ejaculated more than once, as the hurricane, with apparently renewed strength, again and again hurled itself against the island. At length Desmond roused up.
"You must have had your two hours' watch or more. Tom," he said. "Just lie down and get a snooze; we may have a long pull before us, and there won't be much room for sleeping in the boat."
Tom, not sorry to be relieved, lay down, while Desmond took his place.
How long Tom had been sleeping he could not tell, when he and the rest of the party were aroused by a shot fired close to their oars, and, looking up, they saw Desmond with the musket at his shoulder, which he had just discharged.
"What did you fire at?" asked Tom.
"At a bear, or a wolf, or some big baste or other, to be shure," answered Desmond. "Whatever it was we shall find out, for it cannot be far off. I hit it, I am certain of that, for it gave a terrible growl, and bolted back into the bushes."
The fire had by this time almost burnt out, giving forth a faint glow, which scarcely afforded light sufficient to see any objects except those close to them, so that it would be useless to attempt searching for the wild beast which Desmond asserted he had shot. He acknowledged that he had dropped asleep, and that, on suddenly awakening, he had seen the animal's eyes glaring at him not ten yards off. Tom, on looking at his watch by the declining light of the fire, saw that it was nearly dawn. A change for the better had occurred. The strength of the hurricane had much abated, though the tree tops still waved backwards and forwards as the wind whistled and howled amid the branches, but it was with abated breath, while the rain had completely ceased. On looking up, small spaces in the clouds could be seen, through which, here and there, a star glittered brightly.
Jerry Bird, who ought to have been on the watch before, now took Desmond's place, and the party settled down again to wait for morning. Sailors are accustomed to short snatches of sleep. Even half an hour or less of rest was not to be despised, so that in less than a minute they all again had their eyes closed in happy forgetfulness of where they were. Tom required no calling; he had scarcely forgotten in his sleep what had happened, and no sooner had the pale light of early morn driven away the darkness of night, than, opening his eyes, he crept out of the tent over Bird, who had just dropped off. "I will let the rest sleep on, and see how things look," he said to himself. As he made his way over the fallen trunks towards the bay, he kept looking out to discover some accessible part of the hill, by which he might climb to the summit of the rock, under whose shelter they had slept, and which he supposed to be the highest point thereabouts, in order that he might obtain a wide view of the ocean around. He at length found a part, from whence by a little climbing he might reach the top of the hill. He had began his ascent, when he heard Desmond's voice shouting to him, and sitting down he waited for his messmate to come up. The rock was more rugged and uneven than they had at first supposed. Sometimes Desmond helped him up to a ledge, then he hauled Desmond after him. Here and there shrubs grew in the crevices of the rock, which assisted them in their ascent. At last they stood together on the top. On casting their eyes around, they could nowhere see the ship; indeed, they scarcely expected that she would have been in sight. As far as the eye could range to the southward and eastward, foam-crested giant waves leaped up and down, but already their motion was becoming less rapid, and they seemed to be tumbling lazily and slowly against each other, as if weary of their late exertions, though the breakers incessantly burst on the rocky coast, sending masses of foam flying far inland.
"Even should the ship appear, we are not likely to be able to get out to her to-day," observed Desmond, pointing to the entrance of the bay, through which the seas came tossing and foaming. "It seems a wonder how we got through last night."
"We may indeed be thankful to heaven that we were not swamped," said Tom; "but I should not be surprised if we find, within a few hours, should the ship appear, that we can get off to her. There has scarcely been time for the sea to go down since the hurricane ceased blowing; I do hope that the other boats got on board, or they will have run great risk of being lost."
"Perhaps our shipmates landed," observed Desmond; "and we shall meet them before long. I should be very glad to know for certain that Archie and Jos Green and Mr Joy are safe, though it is a terrible thing to think that the ship may have been cast away."
"We will hope for the best," answered Tom; "and now we will go down and see how the boat has fared. I am somewhat anxious about her, though I don't see how we could have secured her better than we did."
The descent was nearly as difficult as the climb up the hill, and they ran a great risk, when leaping from rock to rock, of slipping off and tumbling a dozen or more feet at a time down to the next level. They had nearly reached the bottom, when they saw Billy Blueblazes and Jerry Bird looking up towards them. The countenances of both wore an aspect of dismay.
"What has happened?" asked Tom.
"The boat has gone!" answered Billy; "we can't see her anywhere, not even a bit of her wreck."
"Faith! that's bad news," exclaimed Desmond; "but did you look everywhere? for, remember, everywhere means a good wide space."
"No, we did not go right up to the spot, for there was no use in doing that," answered Billy.
"Then we will, and perhaps we may discover some signs which may indicate the direction in which she has been driven," said Tom.
They accordingly set off. Tom observed what Billy had failed to do, that the shape of the beach was greatly altered, the wind having driven the sand far higher up than usual, so that in some parts it had risen to the height of the bank on which grass and shrubs grew. Indeed, a portion of the grassy ground had itself been covered up by the sand.
"What shall we do without the boat?" cried Billy; "we shall have to spend our lives here, I suppose, if the ship has been lost, and the men say that they think she had very little chance of escaping."
"I hope they are wrong in their conjectures," answered Tom; "and as for the boat, I am not quite so certain that she is lost, although we may have some trouble in finding her."
On arriving at that part of the beach where the boat had been left, Tom looked round in every direction, and examined carefully the bushes and herbage along the edge of the beach.
"If she was driven in this direction, she would have broken some of these bushes, but they do not appear to have been injured," he observed. "Now, let us see whereabouts she lay. Do you think you can tell, Bird?" The seaman examined the ground.
"I remember coming through just such a clump of bushes as these, directly after I left her; and look there, sir, there is her rudder and a stretcher," and he enumerated other articles belonging to the boat. Then stepping back, he said, "I'm sure it was just hereabouts where she lay."
"Then, depend upon it, here we shall find her. Don't you see the sand has blown over her, and she is safe enough within it. To save ourselves trouble, we will dig a line parallel with the beach, and another at right angles, and the chances are we shall strike some part of her gunwale before long."
"Shall I go and call the other men?" asked Billy.
"They are cooking the breakfast, sir," observed Bird.
"Let them go on by all means," said Tom; "if we find the boat we will come back afterwards and dig her up."
They immediately set to work, under Tom's directions, but the sand had risen even higher than they had supposed, and as they had only the boat's stretchers and their hands to work with, it was a slow business.
"I've thought, sir, of a quicker way of finding her than this," observed Jerry; and taking his axe, he cut a short pole with a sharp point, and ran it down though the sand, along the line which Tom had marked out. "There's something here, sir," he cried out at length, and forthwith a hole was dug at the spot. Jerry then plunged down his hand. "No doubt about it, sir; there's the boat's side, and if the weight of the sand has not bulged her out, she will be all to rights."
"I have no fear on that score," observed Tom. "The sand has probably driven up around her, and afforded her sides support. I am very thankful that we took the precaution of banking her up as we did, or I am pretty sure that she would have been rolled over and over, and knocked to pieces."
The party having satisfied themselves as to the safety of the boat, returned to their camp, where they found Tim and Pat busily engaged over a huge fire in cooking pork chops.
"Why, where did these come from?" asked Tom.
"Shure, sir, they are from a porker which we found in the bush. It's my belief it's the very baste Mr Desmond shot last night. He was not quite dead, and showed some fight, but we finished him, and cut him up in a jiffy."
"I congratulate you on your success," said Tom.
"To tell you the truth," said Desmond, "I was half dreaming at the time; and I was not quite sure this morning whether I had shot anything or not, but I'm mighty glad to find that my dream has come true."
The pork chops were found very satisfactory, and it was still more so to know that there was an abundance of animal food in the island; for if there was one hog, there would to a certainty be many more; at the same time, they would have prevented the increase of roots which would otherwise have afforded nourishment.
"As hogs live here, there, are probably acorns and nuts of various sorts, so that even should the cocoa-nuts and bananas run short, we need be under no apprehension of wanting vegetable diet," said Tom to Desmond. "Again I say we have good reason to be thankful that we have landed on an island so abounding in provisions."
"I wish we had brought off some tea, coffee, and sugar," said Billy. "I should have enjoyed my breakfast much more."
"Be thankful for what you have got," observed Tom.
Before setting out to commence the digging up of the boat, Tom suggested that they should form some rough spades, without which the operation would be a very tedious one. They had fortunately brought with them two axes for cutting fire-wood, and with these Jerry and Pat managed to chop out from the fallen branches six rough spades. They would have finished them off in better style had Tom allowed them. Having ascertained the exact position of the boat, by running down a pointed stick, they commenced operations. They were much surprised at the enormous pit they had to dig before they even reached the gunwale of the boat. The digging was easy enough; the labour consisted in heaving the sand to a sufficient distance. All hands were getting very hungry. Billy, as usual, was the first to cry out.
"What do you say to dinner, Rogers?"
Tom looked at his watch, and directed Pat to go to the camp and prepare dinner, while the rest continued to work as before. It took them till noon to clear away the sand as far down as the gunwale, as of course it was necessary to dig a much wider space all round the boat than simply her width. The sun, too, had now become excessively hot, and the only coverings they had for their heads were straw hats.
Tom suggested that they should stick some large leaves or small branches into the bands, by which means a more effectual shelter could be formed for their heads. In spite of the heat, they returned with good appetites to the camp.
"Bedad, it's fortunate we have got anything to eat at all," exclaimed Pat, as they approached. "Just as I came up, what should I see but a couple of porkers poking their noses into the tent; in another minute they would have got hold of the meat and fish I had hung up ready for cooking. I would have turned them into pork pretty quickly, but before I could get hold of a musket, they had scampered away back into the woods; but we'll be even with them before long. When I went to look for the rest of the hog, if the bastes hadn't eaten up their brother, barring the hide, and that they had been quarrelling over, by the way it was torn to pieces." There was an ample supply of pork, and fish, and bananas, cocoa-nuts and vegetables, for that day's dinner Tom had to consider what provision should be made for supper, and the next day. Eager as he was to get the boat dug out, in case the ship should appear, he would not allow his companions to work for a couple of hours or more, for fear of their suffering from a stroke of the sun, whose fierce rays beat down with terrific force on the sand. Pat, who was well inured to a far greater heat, under the line itself, in the meantime took one of the muskets, "to try and kill some game," he said, "or one of the porkers which had lately paid him a visit."
The rest of the party lay down in the shade under the rock, to prepare themselves for their afternoon's work. Pat had been absent for some time, and a couple of shots had been heard; but lately no sound had reached them, when again they heard a report at no great distance. Presently he was seen scampering along, a big boar close at his heels. It appeared as if the next instant the creature's tusks would have run into him, when he seized the branch of a free and threw himself up upon it, while the animal ripped off the hem of his broad trousers. Luckily the canvas gave way, or Pat would have been brought to the ground. The boar looked up at his late opponent as if he still meditated vengeance; but suddenly seeing the party under the cliff, he came towards them, tearing up the ground in his fury, with his sharp tusks. Fortunately the other musket was loaded.
"Stand by, for advance or flight," cried Tom, seizing the weapon. Bird grasped the boat-hook, while Desmond and Tim each took an axe, Billy, having no arms, fulfilled the latter part of the order, by beginning to climb up a ledge of the rock on one side of the cliff. It was a moment of dreadful suspense, for, should Tom miss, he well knew that the boar's tusks might, in the next instant, pierce him through. Fortunately the animal caught sight of Billy as he was climbing up the cliff. This for a moment distracted his attention, and, instead of coming directly at Tom and his companions, it swerved a little on one side. Seeing, however, that Billy had got beyond its reach, it once more came galloping towards them, singling out Jerry, who was the most conspicuous object, for its attack. Tom waited until it got within twelve feet, when he fired. The bullet hit the animal, but did not stop it. Jerry sprang on one side to avoid its charge, and then drove his boat-hook into its neck, bearing it to the ground. On this Tim and Desmond sprang forward, and, before it could again rise, dealt it several heavy strokes with their axes, preventing it from committing any further mischief.
"Hurrah; you've finished the baste, I hope," cried Pat, who had been watching the proceedings from his bough, and now came hurrying forward.
"I'd somehow or other missed a couple of pigs, when I caught sight of this big fellow taking a snooze in the sun. I was creeping up to him, when he opened his wicked eyes, and if I hadn't taken to my heels he would have had his tusks through and through me. At last I stopped behind a free and gave him a shot; but he didn't mind it at all, at all, by reason that the bullet flew over his head, and I had again to run for it. However, 'All's well that ends well,' and, sure, we will be having him for supper, with the greatest pleasure in the world."
After this specimen of rat's sportsmanlike qualities, Tom resolved not to trust him with the musket again, as it was necessary carefully to husband their powder and shot. As, however, Pat possessed very good qualifications for a butcher, he was left to cut up the boar, while the rest of the party returned to the boat, he being directed to rejoin them as soon as he had secured the joints.
Digging out the boat was severe labour, as to prevent the sand slipping back it had to be thrown several feet on either side of the boat. They then had to cut a channel down to the water. Tom soon saw that they could not hope to get their boat afloat for another whole day at the soonest. Diligently as they worked, the sun was sinking rapidly towards the horizon before the boat was free of sand. They examined her anxiously, fearing that her sides might have been forced out; but, as far as they could ascertain, she had received no material injury.
"We must take another look-out for the ship, before it gets dark," exclaimed Tom; and he and Desmond set off to ascend the hill, from whence they could obtain an extensive view of the ocean around them. In vain they strained their eyes; no sail was in sight—not a speck appeared above the horizon. The sea was rolling in lazy undulations, here and there flecked with foam, which sparkled brightly in the rays of the setting sun, while the sea-fowl were once more venturing forth from their rocky homes in search of prey.
"She must have run a long distance before the gale, and it will take her some time to beat back," observed Tom. "We must not give her up yet."
"I should think not, indeed," answered Desmond. "It would have been rather inconvenient if she had come, and we had not got the boat afloat. However, we must manage to get a signal-staff set up to-morrow morning, in case she should appear, that they may know where we are, and send in to help us."
Tom agreed with Desmond, and they accordingly arranged to cut a flag-staff the first thing the next day, and manufacture a flag which might be seen from the ship. Descending the rock, they returned to their companions, who were still hard at work. Pat, however, had been sent back, to light the fire and prepare supper. The party continued digging in the sand until darkness at length compelled them to give over. They had no little difficulty in making their way back to the camp, until their eyes were gladdened by the sight of Pat's blazing fire.
"We must compliment you on your pork chops," exclaimed Billy, holding up the remains of one which he had been discussing with the help of his clasp knife. "I'll trouble you for another, as soon as it's done brown."
"You're welcome to it, sir; and, bedad, I'm mighty better pleased to be cooking his hams, than for him to have had his tusks through mine," answered Pat.
The supper was pronounced excellent, though they had nothing but cold water from a neighbouring rivulet with which to wash it down. Tim suggested that a thimbleful of rum would be mighty pleasant.
Tom refused to serve out any of their limited supply, having determined to keep it in case of emergency. Although he did not express his fears to his companions, he could not help dreading that some accident might have happened to the Dragon. The night passed quickly away. As soon as it was daylight Tom and Desmond ascended to their look-out place. They were again doomed to disappointment. The sea had become perfectly calm, a light air occasionally only rippling the surface.
"It will take her a good many hours to get up to our island, even if she is now only just out of sight," observed Tom. "Still we must get a flag-staff set up, in case she should appear before we can launch the boat, and we shall be fortunate if we can do that before night." As soon as breakfast was over, Tom having told the men what was wanted, all hands went in search of a tree fit for the purpose. None, however, were discovered. At last it was agreed that a young cocoa-nut tree must be cut down. This was soon done by Jerry and Tim, while the rest recommenced their attempt to free the boat. All hands were required to get the flag-staff to the top of the rock and set it up. The three men offered their handkerchiefs, which with others belonging to the midshipmen formed a tolerably sized flag. As they had no halyards, it was fixed with rope yarns to the top of the staff, before it was set up. A crevice was found in the rock, into which it was driven, and fixed on either side with large stones.
"That will show clearly enough where we are, and if they can count the number of handkerchiefs, they will know we are all right," observed Desmond.
"I trust that the ship will come," said Tom, though he could not throw much confidence into his tone. "Now, lads, we must go back and dig away at our boat. I should like to see her afloat to-night or early to-morrow morning."
In spite of the heat, they toiled on, not even returning to the camp for dinner; Pat instead being sent to bring provisions and water. Notwithstanding their perseverance, the work was not finished when Tom set off alone to have another look out from Flag-staff Hill. He was soon seen coming back.
"Not a sign of her," he said; and taking up his spade he resumed his labours. A heap of sand still remained between the boat and the water, that had to be removed before she could be launched.
"We must get rollers under her, or it will be more than we can do to drag her into the water," observed Jerry, as he stamped his foot into the soft yielding sand under her keel.
"You are right," said Tom, "and we must make them the first thing in the morning."
The songs sung and yarns spun that evening were not so cheerful as they had been; indeed, all hands were so sleepy that they were glad to turn in as soon as supper was over. Tom hoped against hope, that the next morning the ship would appear, had no accident happened to her. Even without her machinery she would surely be able to beat up to the island by this time.
Tom was at the flag-staff as soon as the light enabled him to see his way up the hill. He waited, gazing anxiously at the horizon, while the ruddy glow which suffused itself over the sky, announced the rising of the sun. But no sail appeared. "She will not come at all," he exclaimed to himself; "she must have been driven on the rocks during that fearful night, and probably all hands have perished. Poor Archie, I wish he had come with us, and I am very, very sorry for all the rest."
Tom, however, well knew that he must not give way to his melancholy forebodings, and that, at all events, it was his duty to try and keep up the spirits of his companions. On returning to the tent he put on as unconcerned a countenance as possible, and sat down to breakfast as if he had nothing on his mind. The high flavour of the pork showed him that they must, in the first place, look out for another hog, and some means must be found for preserving it. Pat asserted that the hams were still very good, and Tom suggested that they should be immediately smoked, until salt could be scraped from the rocks, or obtained by evaporation. "You see we have got plenty to do, and even if we spend a month here, we shall have no time to be idle," he observed.
Jerry and Tim, before they recommenced digging, cut with their axes a number of rollers, which were then placed under the boat's keel, when with renewed ardour all hands set to work to clear away the intervening sand. It took, however, much longer than they had expected, and another day was drawing to a close before they could attempt to begin launching her. She was moved, however, but a few feet cut of the hollow in which she had been imbedded, as there was no object to be gained that night by putting her in the water, although the bay was now so smooth that she might have floated in perfect safety.
Tom made his usual visit to Flag-staff Hill, and came back with the same report as on the previous evening.
"Before we launch our boat," he said, when he rejoined the party at breakfast, "we must dismantle our tent; and indeed it is not wise to wear out our sail by using it as a roof. We may want it, and we shall certainly require the oars. I therefore propose, should the ship not appear by noon, to build a hut in the place of the tent, and we shall then have shelter, should we require it, at night. We cannot tell what we may need. The hurricane season is not yet over, we may depend upon that. We came in for the first blow, and there may be several others before the weather becomes settled."
"What! Do you think the ship's not coming back for us?" asked Billy, in an anxious tone. "I should like to change my clothes, and I wish we had some tea and sugar, and some hard tack, and pepper, mustard, and all sorts of things."
"As to the ship's coming back, it's possible she may not," observed Tom. "If she does not, we must manage to do without the things we should like to have, and make the best of those we have got."
"That's the right sort of philosophy," observed Jerry Bird, who knew that he might take a liberty which another man might not, and talk freely to his officers.
As soon as breakfast was over, the oars and gear of the boat were carried down to the beach, when, with the help of rollers, she was, all hands hauling together, after some labour, run into the water.
As Tom had feared might be the case, it was soon discovered that, either from the hot atmosphere or the pressure to which she had been subjected, she leaked considerably. The leaks, however, it was hoped, would partially fill up, though she would require some fresh caulking, and a coat of tar, or some substitute, if tar was not to be procured. The hour of noon approached, and, in spite of the heat, Tom and Desmond climbed to the flag-staff. They looked around the horizon, and then at each other.