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THE Rajah of Monkey Island is a young middy, and the account of his slave-dhow captures and the history of his rise to the commanding position of ruler of Monkey Island will be most fascinating to boys, who will be amused at Ugly-Mug, the Negro cook, and his humorous behaviour. The story is a trifle too long, but it is a very readable one for all that, and the Rajah is a very natural and engaging character.
IN the picturesque old Arab port of Muscat on a certain bright, hot morning in June lay at anchor H.M.S. Spiteful; but it could be seen at a glance that she was about to weigh her anchor and proceed to sea, for the blue peter was flying at the fore, and away to leeward was drifting on the sluggish breeze a filmy dissolving puff of white smoke which a few instants before had shot from the muzzle of one of the sloop's guns; whilst the sullen echoing reverberations of the discharge were still leaping from crag to crag, and from serrated peak to serrated peak of those grey and time-worn heights which frown down so majestically upon the glaring whitewashed town with its towering castle-like forts, and its exceedingly picturesque collection of shipping—the latter consisting largely of the unwieldy-looking, old-fashioned, high-pooped dhows which represent the Arab ships of commerce in these Eastern seas.
On board the Spiteful very busy indications of the excitement reigning throughout the ship were plainly observable. Officers and men were all hard at work getting the messenger rove and the capstan rigged; and from the broken observations which now and again dropped from the lips of the commander and his subordinates it was evident that some more than usually exciting adventure was anticipated which would break through the dull, monotonous routine of life upon the ocean wave.
I may as well let my readers into the secret at once. The commander of the Spiteful had received notice from a reliable source that a number of slavers were on their way northwards from the East Coast of Africa, and as the sloop had only quite lately arrived in the East Indies, and had never yet encountered any of the heartless and wicked traders who drive such a lucrative business by kidnapping and selling their helpless fellow-creatures, they were naturally desirous of doing something to aid in putting down such nefarious proceedings, and doubtless also visions of prize-money floated before their mental vision and made them doubly anxious to strike a deadly blow at this particular squadron of slavers, which, as the report went, were crammed with some hundreds of hapless Africans ruthlessly torn from their native villages in the great Dark Continent.
Volumes of grey smoke are pouring from the Spiteful's funnel, as the seamen and marines stamp sturdily round with the capstan and put their weight upon the bars; whilst the drums and fifes play a stirring march, to which the numerous feet keep rhythmical time as the cable comes in link by link at the hawse- hole. Now the anchor is torn from its resting-place on the ocean bed, and is quickly run up to the bows. The quartermasters are at the wheel, the commander and first-lieutenant are upon the bridge, the engines are turned ahead, the screw commences to revolve and lashes the green water into foam and spray, the Spiteful's nose is turned seawards, the picturesque town and the crevice-seamed heights which surround it begin to gradually recede from view, the leadsmen in the chains are chanting the soundings, the crew are busily at work catting and fishing the anchor, and the commander is alternately anxiously peering seawards through his spy-glass and carefully consulting the chart and the standard-compass.
As soon as the watch is called, the senior midshipman, Hubert Ashley, makes his appearance upon the quarter-deck, for it is his forenoon watch, and it will be his duty to superintend any work that the seamen are carrying out, to heave the log and ascertain the speed of the vessel, and write up the log-book. A bright, intelligent, good-looking boy is Hubert, with auburn hair and tawny eyes, tall and slight, but nevertheless wiry and strong for his age—being at the time of our story a little over sixteen.
Full of the enthusiasm and ardour of youth, and with all the natural and keen love of daring exploits and adventure which seems to be part of the inheritance of most boys of Anglo-Saxon blood, Hubert Ashley—in common with all his mess- mates—was anxiously looking forward to the time when the expected slavers should be reported to be in sight; more especially as he was the middy in charge of the first cutter, and therefore likely to be one of those detailed for duty when the time came.
At six bells (eleven o'clock) Hubert hove the log, and touching his cap to Mr. Archer, the officer of the watch, reported that the sloop's speed was eight knots.
"No more than that?" said the lieutenant interrogatively, as he glanced over the side into the seething, bubbling waters that were rushing past. "We must try and get a little more speed out of her, Mr. Ashley, or we shan't reach Ras Saukirah to- night."
"Is that where the commander expects to come across these slave-dhows, sir?" asked the middy.
"Yes," answered the lieutenant; "the present idea is that we should lie at anchor under shelter of the eastern side of the cape with our upper yards struck and topgallant masts housed, and keep the boats in readiness for intercepting the dhows when they put in an appearance."
"I suppose my cutter will be sure to be sent away on service, sir?" said Hubert, with flashing eyes, but some slight anxiety in his tone, which the lieutenant did not fail to notice.
"The first cutter will certainly form one of the flotilla, and I shall myself, most probably, be in command of the party in your boat. I cannot tell you more than this, Mr. Ashley; and I must warn you not to look upon this forthcoming expedition too much in the light of a spree, for these rascally Arabs often show fight, and are sometimes nasty fellows to deal with."
"But that is the spree, sir," answered the middy laughingly, and with the flash of excitement upon his brow. "It would be no fun at all if the Arabs surrendered without striking a blow!"
"Ah, young blood, young blood!" exclaimed Mr. Archer good- naturedly; "you'll think differently when you come to my age! Now pipe the sweepers, please, Mr. Ashley, and have those ropes at the bitts flemished down properly."
"Ay, ay, sir!" and the middy was soon once more busily immersed in his duties on the quarter-deck.
The engineers soon drove the sloop ahead at a much higher rate of speed, and keeping the bare arid Arabian coast in sight on the starboard hand, the Spiteful—with her top-gallant masts housed—slipped along through the blue waters at twelve knots an hour, and just as the westering sun began to near the horizon and flood the skies with gorgeous roseate tints melting away above into that "peculiar tint of yellow green" beloved of Coleridge, Ras Saukirah was sighted standing out in boldly cut purple outline against the flaming firmament, which latter mirrored itself beneath upon the slumbering, scarcely heaving ocean in a vast expanse of fiery but softer and more subdued colouring.
Not a dhow was visible upon the expanse of sea. The coast was forbidding-looking, uninhabitable, dark, and desolate. The ocean appeared at the moment to be a watery desert.
The sloop found safe anchorage, and all night the boats were kept in readiness for action, and a keen look-out was kept for passing vessels, for there was a glorious full moon—such a moon as is only seen in the tropics, making the night as light as day.
Nothing, however, rewarded the eager watchers on board the man-of-war, and they came to the conclusion, and truly, that the expected slave-dhows had been delayed by the calm, which had set in since the hour of sunset.
When the first pale streaks of dawn appeared in primrose tints a few degrees above the eastern horizon, and the short tropical twilight of early morning began to dim the brightness of the now sinking moon, Hubert Ashley—who was out of his hammock at a very early hour—could restrain his impatience no longer, and slinging his telescope behind his back, mounted the rigging as far as the crosstrees, in order that he might sweep the horizon to more advantage. For some time nothing rewarded the scrutiny, but at length some tiny white patches appeared in the field of the glass, which the middy felt convinced must be the sails of dhows making their way up the coast. They had a spectral appearance through the soft haze that pervaded the distance at that hour of the morning, and had only just come into sight around the rugged, precipitous, cliff-like escarpment of Ras Saukirah. Descending rapidly to the deck, the middy reported what he had seen to the commander—who had just come on deck—and the order was instantly given to man and arm boats. Like lightning the news spread throughout the ship that a squadron of dhows was approaching, running before the S.W. monsoon; and intense excitement prevailed both amongst the officers and the ship's company.
Hubert Ashley hastily armed himself with cutlass and revolver, and then proceeded to muster his cutter's crew and get the boat ready for service. Mr. Archer commanded in the first cutter, and the first lieutenant, who was in charge of the whole flotilla, took up his position in the steam pinnace, which was to tow two cutters and a gig out to sea, in order to intercept the rapidly approaching dhows.
In a very short space of time everything was in readiness, the hawsers were attached, and amid the cheers of their shipmates left on board the Spiteful, the little flotilla of boats glided away in the wake of the steam pinnace, which lashed the sea into foam with her twin screws as she made headway through the blue sparkling waters, making for the offing at a rapid pace.
"Do you think the fellows will fight, sir?" queried the impatient Hubert, as he buckled his cutlass belt more tightly around his waist.
"Impossible to say, my boy," answered Mr. Archer; "we don't even know yet that these dhows are the slavers we are in search of. They may possibly turn out to be peaceable traders after all, and in that case of course we cannot touch them."
The middy's face fell. "That would be a frightful sell, sir; but I don't think it's likely the slavers passed us in the night, do you?"
"No, I don't; because they nearly always keep in as close to the coast as possible, and invariably make this cape, Ras Saukirah. Their knowledge of the art of navigation is naturally very limited."
"Then I'm convinced these are the slavers, sir; you see if I'm not right!"
"The commander thinks they are, if that's any consolation to you, Master Spitfire!"
"Oh, I knew that, sir; I heard him tell the paymaster that the rupees would soon come tumbling in from the Admiralty, for that a large slave squadron was in sight."
"You youngsters won't get many rupees," observed the lieutenant laughingly; "I can promise you that."
"That's because the old admiral gets such a lot of the prize- money, I suppose," said the middy; "I think it's a horrid shame, when he does nothing to earn it."
"Wait till you become an admiral yourself, youngster; you'll talk differently then!"
The boats had now gained an offing, and the squadron of dhows was plainly visible. There were apparently four vessels, and their tall picturesque lateen sails were impelling them forward at a tremendous pace right into the jaws of the unseen British lion.
Suddenly, however, as Hubert was anxiously watching the approaching dhows, he noticed that they had with great promptitude altered course, and with sheets flattened aft, were steering in towards the Arabian shore to the westward of Ras Saukirah.
"They've seen us," said Mr. Archer decisively, "and are going to try and run themselves on shore. They must be slavers, or they would not be so anxious to avoid us."
"Hurrah!" shouted Hubert in his excitement; "I only hope we shall catch them up in time."
The Arab dhows, though unwieldy-looking vessels, are by no means slow sailers, especially when the breeze is light, for their towering lateen sails catch any flaws and puffs of wind that are wandering about on the bosom of the ocean. On this particular occasion, however, the slavers had to contend with a fast little steamer, which, though somewhat handicapped by the boats she was towing, was nevertheless soon observed to be perceptibly gaining upon the chase.
A most exciting race ensued, and as soon as practicable the little bow gun carried by the pinnace opened a galling fire upon the four dhows, in the hopes of disabling them before they could reach the shore. In this she was partially successful, for the heavy yard of one of them was shot away in the slings, and came down with a run, throwing the Arab crew on board into great confusion and no little trepidation.
"Cast off the hawsers, lads!" yelled the first lieutenant in stentorian tones. "First cutters board the disabled dhow, whilst we go in chase of the others."
"Ay, ay, sir!" sung out Mr. Archer in response. "Out with your oars, my men, and give way like fury!"
With an enthusiastic cheer Hubert's boat's crew responded to this appeal, and with a resolute, determined look upon their bronzed countenances, which boded ill for the Arabs when the time for boarding came, gave way vigorously with their twelve oars, and sent the cutter flying through the water at a prodigious pace in the direction of the disabled dhow, which was now rolling helplessly and hopelessly in the ground-swell. A perfect babel of shouts and cries arose from the numerous Arabs on board, which, mingling with the wails and shrieks of the imprisoned slaves pent up below, rose up to heaven in a hideous and almost deafening clamour.
"See that your weapons are ready to hand, lads," said the midshipman in low but determined tones, as he drew a pistol from his belt and cocked it; "these beggars are sure to show fight."
"We'll have to give 'em a lesson if they do, sir," observed the coxswain—a great, broad-shouldered, muscular fellow—loosening his cutlass in its sheath as he spoke. "First cutters to the fore, say I!"
"Ay, ay, that's the ticket," murmured some of the seamen with grim smiles; "up with her, lads!"
The cutter was now close to the dhow, but the Arab crew had evidently recovered from their panic, and were determined to oppose the seamen in their attempt to board, for the barrels of several antiquated-looking muskets were now seen to be protruding over the taffrail, and the next moment fiery jets of flame issued from their muzzles, followed by the ping-ping of bullets, which sang over the heads of those in the cutter, and pattered into the water just astern.
"The rascals!" ejaculated Mr. Archer, as he discharged a revolver at the audacious Arabs; "we're evidently going to have a warm reception."
Hubert was in the greatest delight at the turn affairs were taking, and intense excitement filled his youthful breast when he found himself, for the first time in his life, under fire. The whizz of the bullets caused him not the slightest tremor of fear. His eye and hand were as steady as those of Mr. Archer himself, who had frequently been under fire.
Just as the cutter was crashing alongside the dhow, a second volley was fired by the Arabs, and this time with more effect, for one of the bowmen received a bullet in the shoulder; and, to Hubert's inexpressible dismay and sorrow, Mr. Archer, with a death-like pallor upon his face, fell backwards into the stern- sheets with a groan, his sword falling from his helpless grasp.
"They've shot me!" he gasped faintly; "take command of the boat's crew, Mr. Ashley, and do the best you can."
THERE was no time for Hubert to exchange a word with his superior, for the cutter had now dashed alongside the slaver amid a shower of javelins, and it was imperatively necessary to board her at once. Pressing the wounded lieutenant's hand, therefore, the young middy called to his crew—with the exception of the boat-keepers—to follow him in a desperate attempt to scale the lofty side of the dhow, which was still rolling heavily in the ground-swell. Twice were the brave seamen repulsed by the enraged Arabs, who were furious at the idea of losing their ill-gotten cargo of African slaves, and their vessel; but the Englishmen's blood was now up, and after a furious hand-to-hand scrimmage, they at length forced their way over the bulwarks, and with our brave young hero leading them, leaped down upon the swarthy band of desperadoes that were opposing them, and fairly drove them from under the shelter of their protecting bulwarks.
But though dismayed at the turn affairs were taking, the slaver's crew still continued to fight desperately, and as they were active, muscular fellows, considerably outnumbered the bluejackets, and were fairly well armed, the Spiteful's men found their foes worthy of their steel.
During the mêlée Hubert caught sight of his coxswain desperately defending himself against three fierce-looking Arabs, who had singled him out for attack on account of his having killed one of their chiefs. The seaman, though a very powerful man, and an adept with his weapon, found it extremely difficult to cope with three such formidable adversaries, especially as all the barrels of his revolver had been discharged. Hubert was by nature a very unselfish, chivalric boy, always ready to aid those who had fallen into distress or trouble, and he at once dashed forward to the assistance of his trusty coxswain, who was already wounded in one leg by a sword-cut.
Levelling his revolver with steady aim, our hero shot the most formidable-looking of the Arab trio through the head, and then resolutely attacked one of the remaining ruffians with his cutlass; but here he met with more than his match, for the Arab was possessed of more physical strength than the young midshipman, and also was no mean swordsman; and before many passes had been exchanged, Hubert felt himself grazed by his swarthy opponent's weapon, which had passed clean through his clothes close to the region of the heart. By this time, however, some of the cutter's crew had observed what was going forward, and as most of the slaver's crew had now surrendered, they charged vigorously up and assisted Hubert and his coxswain to seize and disarm their fierce opponents.
A moment afterwards the coxswain came up and shook our hero vigorously by the hand.
"You saved my life, Mr. Ashley, and I'm jiggered if I know how to thank you enough. Those copper-coloured swabs were too much for me, I reckon!"
"Don't say anything about it, Dixon," returned the middy; "I know you'd do the same for me any day."
"Ay, that I would; and my missus and the bairns at home shall bless you some day for the good turn you've done me in this here scrimmage. You'll be an admiral one o' these fine days, Mr. Ashley, and much I should like to be the boatswain of your flagship."
"Now that the dhow is in our possession, we must see to poor Mr. Archer," said Hubert hurriedly; "I am afraid he was seriously wounded."
The lieutenant was found to be somewhat better, though very weak, and he desired the middy to ascertain how many slaves there were on board, and to find out what had become of the steam pinnace and the remaining boats.
The middy took the telescope from his superior's hand, and levelling it over the bulwarks in the direction which the remainder of the flotilla had taken, gazed long and fixedly across the water.
"Well," said Mr. Archer impatiently, "what do you see?"
"One of the dhows has run ashore in the surf, sir," answered Hubert excitedly; "she's broadside on now, and the seas are breaking over her. The slaves seem to be scrambling over the side and struggling through the surf in the direction of the beach. There seem to be a tremendous lot of them."
"I wish the pinnace had caught her up in time," said Mr. Archer, "for she would evidently have been a grand prize. How about the other two dhows, Mr. Ashley?"
"The flotilla has captured the others, sir, and the pinnace is towing them back."
"We shan't have done so badly then, after all. Man the cutter, Mr. Ashley, and get our prize in tow; for the sooner we get back to the Spiteful the better."
In a few minutes a hawser had been made fast, and the unwieldy dhow was being slowly towed in the direction of the Spiteful, which vessel had begun to steam slowly down from her anchorage in order to support the flotilla of boats if necessary. This was a fortunate circumstance, as the sun had now become very hot, and the bluejackets in the boats were somewhat fatigued with all their previous exertions, and found rowing in the heat, with a heavy vessel in tow, a very trying operation.
In half an hour's time all the sloop's boats were back again on board, and a council of the superior officers was held in order to decide what should be done with the Arab crews of the three captured slavers, and how the vessels themselves were to be disposed of. It seemed that the remaining boats of the flotilla had encountered very little opposition when boarding the other two slavers, and only three men had received slight wounds from spears whilst disarming some of the more turbulent of the Arabs. Altogether a hundred and thirty-two slaves had been captured, worth in prize-money £660; and in addition to this a sum of £750 would be due to the captors on account of the tonnage of the dhows, which measured collectively a hundred and fifty tons—so the boat's crews had done a pretty good morning's work.
The commander of the Spiteful, Captain Chetwynd, and the first lieutenant, Mr. Knowles, eventually came to the conclusion that it would be advisable to land the crews of the Arab slavers upon the mainland and let them shift for themselves, for they might give trouble if imprisoned on board the sloop, and the Admiralty did not sanction any mode of meting out punishment to these cruel kidnappers, so as to restrain them from carrying on their nefarious traffic.
As soon, therefore, as the ship's company had finished their dinner, the prisoners were transferred to the pinnace, which boat landed them in a little sheltered bay some distance to the eastward of the spot where the fourth dhow had gone ashore. This latter vessel was now observed through the telescope to have been completely broken up by the violence of the surf, and the tawny sands were strewn with scattered fragments of her hull and spars. Her crew and slaves had all fled into the interior.
With the three captured dhows in tow, H.M.S. Spiteful slowly steamed away in the direction of Aden.
ON arriving at Aden, the captured slaves were landed and handed over to the proper authorities, whose duty it was to see that they were returned to their homes in Africa or found suitable employment—according as they themselves wished. The dhows were broken up and sold for firewood, for fear that they should again fall into the hands of the predatory Arabs engaged in the slave-dealing trade. The Spiteful then once more tripped her anchor, and with a fair south-westerly breeze stood away for her cruising ground off the coast of Arabia, hoping to fall in with more slavers before the season for running the human cargoes should come to an end—which would be as soon as the south-west monsoon had finished blowing up the East African coast.
One night, when Hubert was keeping the middle watch, Mr. Knowles, the first lieutenant, who was doing duty for Mr. Archer whilst that wounded officer was in the sick list, called him up upon the bridge.
"Well, Mr. Ashley, our luck seems to have deserted us, doesn't it?"
"It does indeed, sir. Out of the seven dhows we boarded to- day, not one was a slaver. Don't you think the slaves might be stowed away somewhere below out of sight?"
"Their papers were regular. That is what we have to go by," said the lieutenant. "There is no end to the dodges of these rascally slave-hunting Arabs, and I have no doubt they hoodwink us now and again. It's a thousand pities we can't mete them out severe punishment when they are caught, for that would soon put a stop to it."
"To-morrow is our lucky day, sir,—Sunday; so perhaps we shall fall in with another fleet of slavers."
"Perhaps so!" said Mr. Knowles with a laugh; "but I'm thinking of asking the commander to let me go away for a separate cruise in the steam pinnace, when I should certainly very quickly make some captures. Should you like to come with me, Mr. Ashley? As you are the senior midshipman, I give you the first offer."
"There is nothing I should like better, sir," exclaimed Hubert, with flashing eyes; "it would be a real adventure, wouldn't it?"
"I expect there would be a good bit of reality in it," assented the lieutenant, with a smile; "no doubt we should get some hard knocks, and possibly give some in return; then we should exist principally on salt junk, biscuit, and cocoa; we should get our lovely pink-and-white complexions browned to the colour of an unripe blackberry; and perhaps run short of water, and have to fight our way to the springs ashore."
"I think it would be simply splendid fun," said the middy eagerly; "I don't mind what happens, so long as I can go. You will ask the commander for my services, sir, won't you?"
"I think it is very possible that I shall, Mr. Ashley, for I was extremely pleased with the way you behaved the other day in that affair with the slavers. Now you had better visit the look- outs forward, and see if the bow lights are burning."
A day or two after this conversation had taken place, just after the ship's company had been piped to supper, the marine sentry who was on duty outside the door of the commander's cabin came up to Hubert Ashley as the latter was about to descend the companion ladder, and saluted him.
"The commander wishes to see you in the cabin, sir," he said.
Our hero lost no time in obeying this summons, for he had a shrewd suspicion that it related to the first lieutenant's projected steam-pinnace expedition. Every night since that conversation upon the bridge, Hubert had been visited with vivid dreams in which slavers, buccaneers, and other freebooters of the seas played a prominent part, though they were all eventually vanquished and taken prisoner by a sixteen-year-old midshipman, with whose form and features our hero seemed to be strangely familiar.
On entering the cabin, cap in hand, Hubert found Captain Chetwynd engaged in earnest conversation with Mr. Knowles and the surgeon.
"Well, Mr. Ashley," he observed, turning to our young hero, "are you in favour of a boat expedition, or otherwise?"
"Rather a waste of time asking him that!" said the first lieutenant, with a loud laugh.
"I think Mr. Ashley looks too delicate to be detailed for such a service," put in the surgeon, slily glancing at the middy's lithe, active-looking figure and sun-embrowned countenance.
"Now, none of your larks, Joyce," said the commander; "you're always trying to poke fun at somebody."
"I think I can answer for Mr. Ashley," put in the first lieutenant, looking at our hero, "for I have already ascertained his views on this subject."
"I shall have to try you by court-martial then, Knowles, for tampering with my subordinate officers. Steward! bring some sherry and iced soda water."
"Now, Mr. Ashley, what's your answer?" queried the commander, as soon as the refreshment had been handed round.
"I'm quite in favour of the boat expedition, sir, if I am to take part in it," answered the midshipman, blushing at his own audacity.
The commander, however, only laughed heartily at the remark.
"You mustn't let him get into mischief, Knowles," he said, turning again to the first lieutenant; "he's sure to run his head into danger if you give him the opportunity."
"I'll do my best to restrain him within due bounds, sir," answered Mr. Knowles, with a smile; "but I'd sooner have a dozen chimpanzees and gorillas in my charge than one midshipman, and that's the fact."
"You see the estimation your genus is held in by one of Her Majesty's first lieutenants, Ashley," said Dr. Joyce with a wink; "I think you might find an opportunity to pay him out whilst you are away on this slave-hunting expedition."
"It is settled, then, that the steam pinnace shall leave on her separate cruise to-morrow," said Captain Chetwynd in business-like tones. "You'll see that all the stores and ammunition are got in readiness, Knowles, and I will give you your final instructions in the morning."
The first lieutenant bowed and withdrew.
"And you, Mr. Ashley, will go as midshipman of the boat," continued the commander, turning to our hero; "and I feel sure that you will do everything that lies in your power to assist Mr. Knowles in his arduous duties—for arduous they certainly will be. Send the gunner to me when you go on deck, please."
Hubert remained in a feverish state of excitement until the time came for the pinnace to take her departure, but he was kept busily engaged in helping to prepare the boat for the forthcoming expedition—duties which would have been gladly undertaken by his middy mess-mates could they have thereby earned a right to form part of the crew.
"You're the luckiest fellow under the sun, Hubert," said his especial middy friend, Phil Paddon; "you always manage to get in for all the fighting sprees somehow. Now, look at me, I haven't been in one single scrimmage since the commission began. It's too bad, upon my word it is!"
"Perhaps your turn will come next, old chap," answered Hubert, putting his arm through his chum's; "I'm awfully sorry you're not coming in the pinnace too, for we should have a rare spree together."
"Couldn't you ask the skipper to let me go, too?" asked Paddon, his eyes lighting up with sudden excitement; "I really believe he'd do it for you, Hubert, for you're tremendously in his good books."
"That would be fearful cheek, Phil, when you come to think of it! It would be contrary to all the Queen's Regulations and Admiralty Instructions, as the paymaster would say! I tell you what I will do, though, I'll ask the first luff to put in a good word for you with the skipper; and he may be able to work the oracle."
"You're a brick, Hubert! Strike while the iron's hot, old fellow; there's the first lieutenant talking to the boatswain in the waist. You'll find me below in the gun-room after your confab with him;" and so saying Phil Paddon dived below by the adjacent companion ladder.
As soon as Mr. Knowles had done talking to the boatswain, our hero went up boldly and proffered his request.
"Quite out of the question, Mr. Ashley," said the first lieutenant; "the commander particularly desired me only to take one midshipman, so it would be useless to ask him. I think your friend Paddon a smart young fellow, nevertheless; and when a chance of active service occurs again, he shall not be forgotten. He may rely upon that."
"Good-bye, old fellow," said Paddon, with a mournful look upon his face, as he shook hands with our hero. "I feel somehow as if something was going to happen to you on this cruise, and that I ought to be in the pinnace too, to lend you a hand if anything unusual should turn up."
"Don't croak, there's a good chap!" exclaimed our hero, laughing in spite of himself at his chum's lugubrious countenance. "You may depend upon it I shall take care of myself, and at the worst I can only get a scratch from an Arab's spear or a touch of African fever."
But Paddon shook his head with a melancholy air.
"I only remembered just now a very rum dream I had last night, Hubert," he said, laying his hand on his chum's arm, and earnestly gazing into his frank tawny eyes. "I wish you could back out of this expedition, and ask the first lieutenant to get some one else in your place."
But Hubert's eyes flashed indignantly.
"Fancy giving it up on account of a stupid dream!" he exclaimed with considerable heat. "I'm not such a muff as all that, Phil; and I didn't know that you were superstitious. You're as bad as Dr. Joyce, who believes in the banshee!"
Phil Paddon did not seem to hear his friend's banter. He was looking meditatively on the deck, with a preoccupied expression upon his usually joyous countenance.
"I wish I had remembered the dream sooner," he muttered at length; "I'd have put a spoke in his wheel somehow. I saw the cruel, hungry-looking cannibals quite distinctly, and their horrid knives and flesh-pots; and Hubert, with his arms and legs bound, lying on the ground close to a roaring fire, which sent great sparks flying—"
He was interrupted in his soliloquy by a loud laugh from Hubert.
"I believe you're dreaming now, Phil, and want to take me into the land of Nod with you! Shall I give you a good shaking and wake you up?"
"You're going to take a picked crew with you, aren't you?" asked Paddon, ignoring his chum's remarks.
"Yes, we are."
"Is Dixon, your coxswain, to be one of them?"
"I'm glad to say he is, for his wound turned out to be a very slight affair after all."
"I'm awfully delighted he's going," responded Paddon thoughtfully; "he's as good as three other men as far as strength goes, and has got a head on his shoulders as well."
"You think he'll do for a good dry-nurse for me, I suppose!" said Hubert, with a fresh laugh. "But I must be off now, as it's nearly time for us to be shoving off."
"Good-bye, old chum!" exclaimed Paddon, wringing his friend's hand fervently; "take care of yourself, and don't forget me if the Fates should separate us."
"I'm not likely to forget such a jolly good friend as you are, Phil; and you may safely bet a month's pay that we shall meet again in a fortnight's time."
"I trust so," responded his friend, making an effort to look more cheerful; "and I hope you'll have good luck with the slavers, and earn a lot of prize-money for us."
"The first lieutenant wants you on the quarter-deck, sir," put in a quarter-master, coming up and touching his cap to our hero.
"Muster the boat's crew, if you please, Mr. Ashley," said the first lieutenant. "It's time we were off."
As Hubert was engaged in this duty, he caught a hasty glance of his chum, Phil Paddon, engaged in earnest conversation with Charlie Dixon, the coxswain, who was a general favourite with all the middies.
Ten minutes later, amid the cheers of their shipmates on board the Spiteful, the steam pinnace slowly gathered way, and steamed off in the direction of Socotra, in the neighbourhood of which island the sloop had been cruising for the last day or two.
HUBERT felt a strange sinking of the heart as the steam pinnace began to forge ahead at full speed, and leave the dashing little sloop rolling gently on the long undulating land-swell far behind. The Spiteful had been his ocean home for so long now that he had become quite attached to her, and he genuinely felt the parting with his chum, Paddon, even for a fortnight, although the excitement of preparing for the separate cruise in the pinnace had hitherto prevented his feelings from rising much to the surface.
As the middy gazed at the gradually fading vessel, lost in a somewhat sad reverie, he was roused by the first lieutenant's cheerful voice.
"The old hooker looks well under canvas, doesn't she, Mr. Ashley?"
"Yes, sir. I never saw her look better, and her sails stand out splendidly against the blue sky."
"There goes a parting gun!" exclaimed Mr. Knowles, shading his eyes with his hand as he gazed over the shimmering glare of sunlit water; "that's good-bye, good-luck, and a speedy reunion all in one."
As he spoke, a little puff of white smoke gushed from the muzzle of one of the sloop's forecastle guns, and slowly floated away to leeward as it mingled with the breath of the sea breeze. Then faint and subdued the sullen report came booming through the over-heated, palpitating atmosphere, and died echo-less away in the distance.
"Phil Paddon fired that gun, I know," exclaimed Hubert eagerly; "I heard him ask the gunner to let him do it."
"It's an especial farewell to you then," answered the lieutenant, with a smile; "would you like to fire a charge from our bow gun in response?"
"Oh, may I, sir? How awfully good of you!"
"Shove a cartridge into the twelve-pounder, and screw up the breech, Dixon," ordered the lieutenant.
Hubert sprang forward over the thwarts in the greatest delight, and as soon as the little ordnance had been loaded with a blank charge, he grasped the trigger line and fired it off.
"They'll hear that plain enough, sir," remarked Dixon; "these here Armstrong pets makes no end of a shindy when they're discharged—beats a sixty-four pounder in my opinion."
"Yes, they've heard it, no doubt," assented Hubert meditatively. "I expect Phil is up in the fore-rigging looking at us through a telescope."
"Take you a squint back in return, sir," said Dixon with a grin, as he handed up a large spy-glass; "you'll make him out through that little chap, or Pm a nigger born and bred."
Hubert laughed, and took a long look through the telescope, which was a remarkably powerful one.
"Yes, there's Phil as plain as possible!" he exclaimed; "he's half-way up the fore-rigging. I hope he isn't dreaming still, or he'll probably tumble overboard!"
"Mr. Paddon ain't much of a dreamer, is he?" asked Dixon, looking rather quizzically out of the corners of his eyes at our hero.
"Not generally," said the middy; "but he seems to have had some queer dreams last night. Didn't he tell you anything about it this morning, Dixon, when you were holding that mysterious conversation? I suppose you thought I didn't see you!"
The coxswain looked somewhat confused.
"Mr. Paddon was just saying good-bye to me, and wishing us a jolly cruise," he said, rather hesitatingly. "Bless your heart, Mr. Ashley, it wouldn't be of much account to stuff dreams down my throat, for I don't hold with them much; though I'm a bit superstitious now and again, like most sailors."
"The Spiteful is swinging her main-yard," shouted the first lieutenant from the stern-sheets at this juncture; "she'll soon be out of sight now."
Bringing the sloop once more into the field of the glass, Hubert saw that she was no longer hove-to, but had filled on the port tack and was standing away to the westward with a slow and majestic motion. Before long she was hull-down, then slowly her long tapering spars and filmy, indistinctly outlined canvas appeared to be absorbed in the violet blue of the Indian Ocean at the horizon's verge, and the pinnace seemed to be the only moving thing left within the great circle of sea, with the exception of some swooping snow-white gulls that followed in the foaming wake which the fast-revolving twin screws of the little steamer resolutely churned up.
As the Spiteful faded away from sight, the first lieutenant seized his spy-glass, and anxiously swept the horizon to the southward and eastward.
"Nothing in sight at present," he remarked; "but that is a state of affairs that won't last very long, I expect."
"Has the commander any news about slavers, sir?" asked Hubert.
"Nothing definite; but the interpreter found out from that batch we released the other day that more vessels were loading up with slaves on the coast of Africa, somewhere to the southward of Ras Hafoon."
"Then wouldn't it be a good plan to swoop down on them, sir, before they can make an offing from their port of departure?"
"A very good plan indeed, and we shall eventually make that part of the station our cruising ground, for we are to meet the Spiteful again in a fortnight's time at Brava; but before we turn our nose to the southward, I intend to try and make some captures off the island of Socotra."
"How far distant are we from the island, sir?"
"About thirty miles, I should say."
"Then we shall sight it this afternoon, sir?"
"Yes, undoubtedly, for the mountains there are very lofty. How is her head, helmsman?"
"W. by S. ½ S., sir," answered the man, who was perched up abaft all holding the tiller.
"Keep her on that course," said the lieutenant; "and let one man be stationed forward with a glass to keep a look-out for passing vessels."
"And now I should like to see what sort of a crew we've got, Mr. Ashley," he continued, turning to our hero; "I left it to you and the coxswain to pick them out, you know."
"Well, sir, first and foremost there's Charlie Dixon, the coxswain of my cutter. He's the strongest man in the ship, and a capital fellow all round; can cook, and carpenter, and sing a jolly good song."
"Oh! a first-rate fellow is Dixon," assented the lieutenant. "It isn't the first time we've been shipmates, and I hope it won't be the last. You couldn't have chosen a better man."
"Then there is my servant, Jack Hudson, the marine, sir; he's 6 feet 4 inches, and a deadly shot with a rifle."
"Humph!" observed Mr. Knowles as he looked with a doubtful smile at the Herculean marine, who was chatting with Dixon forward; "I should say an Arab couldn't fail to hit him with the most ancient blunderbuss that ever was made. However, he may do for spare ballast! Well, who's the next on the muster-roll?"
"Fred Morgan, sir; one of the smartest young seamen in the ship. He's captain of my gun, and a splendid hand with the singlesticks. He's talking now to the leading stoker."
"I like his look most decidedly. He's not only a very handsome fellow, but there's character in his face as well, which is a very unusual combination."
"He is a gentleman by birth, sir, I believe," said Hubert, sinking his voice. "Dixon told me about it, but I have never asked Morgan himself as to whether the story was true or not."
"What did Dixon say about it?"
"He only told me that it was all the talk on the lower deck about Morgan being a gentleman. The ship's company say that he was very badly treated by his parents; ran away to sea, and went to the West Indies in a sailing barque; but found the life so hard and rough that he took the first opportunity of engaging himself as ordinary seaman on board a man-of-war."
"It is quite possible the story is a true one," observed the lieutenant, eying Morgan attentively, "and I dare say it is a very sad one, for truth is often stranger than fiction."
"The remaining bluejacket on the list, sir, is Parker, the second captain of the foretop. You know how steady and reliable he is. Then there are the two stokers, the coxswain, and Ugly- Mug, the Krooman, who is to act as ship's cook and interpreter."
"Let him cook for the men by all means," said the lieutenant, with a slight shudder, "but let us enlist Dixon on our own behalf. I believe he can make an excellent sea-pie."
"You don't know how well Ugly-Mug can fry fish, sir," said Hubert with some surprise. "The last time we went for a night's seining, he turned us out such a jolly dish of fried mullet; and he can spin yarns like anything, only it's rather difficult to understand what he says."
"This muster-roll rather reminds me of the 'Hunting of the Snark,'" observed the lieutenant laughingly. "You remember how it recounts in that funniest of books:—
'The crew was complete; it included a boots,
A maker of bonnets and hoods;
A barrister brought to arrange their disputes,
And a broker to value their goods.
A billiard marker, whose skill was immense,
Might perhaps have won more than his share;
But a banker, engaged at enormous expense,
Had the whole of their cash in his care.'"
"Really, sir, you're most awfully uncomplimentary," exclaimed our hero, with a laugh. "I wonder if you class me as the boots or the billiard marker!"
"You can be the banker when we have made some prize-money, if you like," said the lieutenant; "and judging from the elaborate way your boots are polished up, it wouldn't be difficult to assign Jack Hudson his part in the 'New Hunting of the Snark.'"
"Naturally you will represent the bellman, sir!" observed Hubert, his eyes dancing with fun.
"I suppose so," assented the lieutenant; "but I shall content myself with only angrily tingling my bell every half-hour for the sake of recording the time."
"As you are the bellman, sir, you must listen to my quotation," said Hubert, with a mischievous look at his superior. "You can make any comments afterwards that you please.
'This was charming, no doubt, but they shortly found out
That the captain they trusted so well
Had only one notion for crossing the ocean,
And that was to tingle his bell.
He was thoughtful and grave—but the orders he gave
Were enough to bewilder a crew;
When he cried, "Steer to starboard, but keep her head larboard,"
What on earth was the helmsman to do?
Then the bowsprit got mixed with the rudder sometimes,
A thing, as the bellman remarked,
That frequently happens in tropical climes,
When a vessel is, so to speak, "snarked."'"
"You young monkey!" exclaimed Mr. Knowles, very much tickled with the absurdity of his midshipman's retort; "you've torn my character into shreds and tatters, and the crew will probably mutiny!"
Sounds of suppressed laughter and giggling from abaft all attracted the lieutenant's and midshipman's attention at this moment, and turning round suddenly they saw, much to their astonishment, the stalwart bronzed steersman endeavouring vainly to stifle a fit of laughter by stuffing a huge red handkerchief into his mouth.
"For goodness' sake, man, have your laugh out," cried the lieutenant half angrily; "you're as purple in the face as an old turkey cock."
The coxswain willingly obeyed, and immediately burst into a loud series of guffaws, which mightily astonished the rest of the crew, who had not overheard their officers' conversation, ending up by shouting incoherently, "That was a good un, anyhow!"
"Are you off your chump, mate, or what?" asked Dixon. "Perhaps you finds the sun a bit hot on the back of your head there in the starn-sheets, and had better let me—"
"Sail on the starboard bow!" pealed at this minute from the look-out man who was stationed forward.
Intense excitement at once reigned fore and aft the pinnace, for the strange sail might very well prove to be a slaver.
"HOW does the sail bear?" shouted the lieutenant to the look-out man.
"About two points on the starboard bow, sir."
"I see her! I see her!" exclaimed Hubert, who had been straining his eyes in the hopes of getting a glimpse of the stranger. "Look just abaft the foremost awning stanchion."
"I've got her now," said Mr. Knowles, who was gazing through a telescope. "She is a large dhow, I can see that, and she is running free in the direction of Socotra."
"Do you think she is a slaver, sir?"
"It is quite impossible to say at present. Of course she may be a trader making for the island in the ordinary course of business."
"I doubt it, sir. You may depend upon it she has got no end of slaves stowed away on board."
"We shall soon know, for as soon as she has sighted us she will try and evade us if she is a slaver."
"She is carrying a press of sail," observed Hubert, as he glanced at the dhow through a spy-glass, "and has evidently got a stronger breeze over yonder than we have, judging from the way she is bowling along."
"There is no doubt about that," said Mr. Knowles, "and we must put all the pressure we can upon the engines. Keep her head E.S.E., coxswain."
"Ay, ay, sir!"
The pinnace now tore along at a very much increased rate of speed. The south-westerly breeze seemed to be momentarily increasing in strength, and ever and again the crest of a wave broke over the boat's weather bulwarks in a shower of spray.
"Dis put de galley fire out in less dan no time, I tink," observed Ugly-Mug, showing his white teeth in a wide grin; "and den how can dis chile boil de cocoa for ship company supper? De gale ob wind and de ship cook am neber de best ob friend; dat for sartin, God help 'em!"
"Never mind the cocoa at present, old ebony-shanks," said Hudson, the marine, as he began overhauling his rifle; "we've got a boat-load of niggers to set free over yonder, and you'll find the bullets whizzing about your frizzed old noddle before very long."
The Krooman drew himself up angrily and defiantly.
"My golly!" he ejaculated, almost choking with rage, "what de impidence you speak ob nigger like dat, Mr. Lobster Marine? I tink black bery good colour, else why de Englishman always wear de black clo' when he get the chance? Dat I ask you."
"Had you there, mate, I think!" laughed Dixon; "after all, it ain't fair to make fun of Ugly-Mug's black skin, for he can't help what he was born with, can he?"
"Oh, I don't want to make fun of him," answered the marine lightly; "he's a decent chap enough, though with an onnatural look about the gills. I shouldn't advise him to call me sich a thing as a lobster agin though, or I may be under the painful necessity of pitching him overboard by the scruff of the neck."
Ugly-Mug, who was an athletic, muscular fellow, was about to make an angry rejoinder to this speech, when silence was enjoined by the first lieutenant, and an order was passed round to load the bow gun.
"Overhaul your rifles and cutlasses, lads!" said Hubert; "you may depend upon it we're in for a scrimmage."
"The sooner the better, sir," said Dixon, with a glance of approval at the middy; "and we're the lads will teach them thieving, kidnapping Arabs a thing or two, you bet your life!" And so saying the seaman drew his glittering cutlass from its sheath, and began testing its edge with his finger.
"That'll do," he said in a satisfied tone; "this here cutlash has seen some service in its time, and it'll see some more unless Charlie Dixon gets stowed away in Davy Jones's locker, and then he'll be out o' the running, and no mistake!"
"I'd back you against half a dozen Arabs, Dixon!" said the middy, glancing admiringly at his coxswain's wiry, muscular figure and long brawny arms. "I don't think they'd stand much chance against you!"
"Pretty good odds that, Mr. Ashley," answered the seaman grimly; "but I ain't yarning at all when I tell you that I'd sooner have to do with six Frenchmen than with six Arabs, and I'd a deal rather tackle a dozen Portugooses than six Frenchmen!"
The middy laughed.
"I don't suppose you ever had a set-to with a dozen Portuguese, had you, Dixon? It must have been glorious fun if you had!"
The coxswain winked, and looked mysterious.
"Once upon a time, sir, as the story books say, I did have a rough-and-tumble scrimmage with a good dozen of Portugooses! I think there was more of 'em than that, but I hadn't time to count the land-sharks. 'Twas at Goa the row came off, and it warn't no fault o' mine. But there, I mustn't be spinning yarns now, or I'll have the commanding officer a jumping down my throat, and that's a thing I ain't accustomed to, Mr. Ashley, as you know."
"All right, Dixon, I'll let you off now; but you must promise to tell me the story some other time."
"It's a mighty inconvenient thing to make promises, I've always found, Mr. Ashley; they're rocks that I give a wide berth to as a rule, for fear of broaching-to and getting wrecked upon 'em."
"Is the twelve-pounder loaded?" sung out Mr. Knowles at this juncture.
"She's all ready, sir," replied Dixon, "and all the rifles are loaded too."
Hubert now turned his attention once more to the chase, and was surprised to find how fast the pinnace had been overhauling the swiftly sailing dhow. The latter was still staggering along under two lofty lateen sails, and appeared to be holding tenaciously on the same course. She was evidently a large, well- found vessel, and there was no doubt that her crew must by this time have perceived that they were being chased by a man-of-war's boat. They made no attempt, however, to shorten sail, although the wind had risen to a single-reefed topsail breeze, which must have strained their canvas and cordage to its utmost capacity.
The grey serrated mountains of the island of Socotra had now risen above the horizon to the eastward, and several small fishing craft were observed cruising about in the neighbourhood of the land. The sun had begun to sink down towards the western horizon, and its powerful rays had abated much of their fierceness; but the near approach of evening was a source of anxiety to Mr. Knowles, who knew that as soon as the brief tropical twilight was merged into night, the dhow he was chasing would stand a very much better chance of escape.
"I'm afraid she's not within range yet," he said at length, "but I think you might try and throw a shot across her forefoot, Dixon."
A few moments later the little gun discharged its iron messenger, but the shot plunged into the waves a long way short of the dhow, and then ricochetted away in a different direction, throwing up miniature columns of water as it did so.
"It's no good. Belay firing!" ordered the disappointed lieutenant; "our shot are too precious to be thrown away."
The dhow still sailed sullenly on, the firing of the gun having produced no effect upon her crew. Every moment her speed was increasing as the breeze freshened, and her canvas still gave no signs of yielding to the blast.
Hubert turned impatiently to Mr. Knowles, his fingers toying with the handle of his dirk.
"I know quite well what you are going to say, Mr. Ashley," said the lieutenant, with a smile; "you wish to inform me that you think that the dhow is drawing away from us, eh?"
"Isn't it too bad, sir? It will be blowing half a gale soon, and she'll escape us to a certainty!"
"I intend to capture her, nevertheless," said Mr. Knowles in a resolute tone; "she may escape us for a time, but our prize she shall be, and before twenty-four hours have elapsed too."
"I am glad to hear you say that, sir," responded our hero in a relieved tone, "for I was afraid it was going to be a wild-goose chase. You feel sure that she is a slaver now, don't you?"
"No doubt about it, I should say. Ugly-Mug had better brew some cocoa now for the crew, so that they may have their supper in good time."
As the men joked and chatted over their evening meal, which was frequently interrupted by copious drenchings of spray from the rising sea, the sun descended to the horizon in a flaming background of crimson sky, above which were suspended vast purple bars of storm-charged clouds, the serrated edges of which glowed with a bronze-like radiance which gradually faded away into an ashen grey. To the eastward the bold purple masses of the lofty island of Socotra stood out prominently in the evening light; the reflection of the western glories illuminating the sky above the jagged topmost heights with a warm carmine glow, which momentarily grew fainter and fainter as the intenser lights diminished and paled before the onward march of the fast- approaching sombre twilight.
Like a spectral vessel manned by a ghostly crew, the great dhow glided swiftly along the southern coast of Socotra, which was now being wrapped in gloom, pursued at an ever-increasing distance by the pertinacious pinnace. At length a rocky projecting tongue of land, almost invisible in the fast-gathering darkness, swallowed up the tall lateen sails, and the dhow seemed to vanish mysteriously and unaccountably from sight.
As the pinnace neared the land the wind perceptibly fell, and the spirits of our friends rose in proportion.
"My only fear now," said the first lieutenant to our hero, "is that the captain of the dhow has friends in the island who will assist him in secreting his vessel. The inhabitants of Socotra are a set of piratical robbers, I know very well."
"Have you ever landed there, sir?"
"Yes, several times when I was out on this station previously. I did a good deal of surveying work here at one time, and consequently am well acquainted with the navigation. I have a very shrewd suspicion as to the spot that slaver will anchor in."
"Then we could cut her out under cover of the darkness!" exclaimed Hubert with great animation. "What a spree it will be, to be sure!"
"That is my intention at present, certainly," said Mr. Knowles, smiling at the middy's enthusiasm; "but, of course, circumstances may arise to prevent this plan being carried out. We must be prepared for any eventuality."
Night had now fallen upon the scene, and it was intensely dark. The pinnace was slowed down to half speed, and every light on board—with the exception of the one that illuminated the compass—was extinguished, whilst the stokers took necessary precautions to see that no tell-tale sparks were emitted from the funnel. Absolute silence prevailed, and the only sound that broke the stillness was the low throbbing of the screws and well-oiled machinery, and the hiss of the little vessel's stem as it cut its way through the phosphorescent waters. A twinkling light here and there betrayed the whereabouts of the land; but Mr. Knowles had taken bearings of some of the promontories, and consulted the chart before night fell, and knew exactly how near he could venture to the treacherous shore, having himself taken the tiller, and sent the coxswain forward to take a spell of rest.
As my readers may suppose, Hubert's nerves were wound up to an extreme tension by the exciting and adventurous incidents in which he had thus suddenly become involved, and which at any moment might develop with scarcely a moment's notice into a bloodthirsty hand-to-hand conflict with the cruel and savage members of a slaver's crew. In accordance with the first lieutenant's wishes, he was crouching down in the stern-sheets of the pinnace, within hearing of a whisper from his superior. The middy could hear his heart beating with suppressed excitement as he listened anxiously for the faintest sound that might indicate the proximity of the slaver's crew; one hand grasping the butt of a loaded revolver which was stuck into his belt, and the other nervously handling the hilt of a cutlass which Dixon had lent him, as a more serviceable weapon than a middy's dirk, which is more ornamental than useful.
The indigo sky was now strewn with most brilliant stars, and there was perceptibly a little more light than there had been in the earlier part of the night. The wind and sea had both very much gone down since sunset, and the reflections in the dark sea of the gorgeous orbs of heaven were beautiful beyond description as they flickered and danced in the trough of the phosphorus- crested waves.
"Creep forward, Mr. Ashley, and tell the coxswain to stand by to come to an anchor as silently as possible," whispered the lieutenant at length. "Tell the stokers, too, to be ready to shut off steam when I give them the word."
Hubert as silently as possible delivered these orders, and, as he regained the stern-sheets, saw that the first lieutenant was gradually putting the helm over, as if he wished to steer the pinnace in towards the coast.
"I wish this water was not so phosphorescent; it may betray us," the lieutenant muttered to himself.
The pinnace still glided on through the darkness at a reduced pace, and Hubert fancied that he could detect right ahead a huge barrier of lofty black cliffs beetling up in gloomy precipitous masses, and looming ominously out against the starlit sky.
Not a sound, however, came from the shore, and not a light was now visible. A mysterious silence reigned supreme, and the whole island seemed plunged in a Cimmerian darkness as profound as it was unaccountable.
Hubert felt an eerie feeling creeping over him, such as he had once experienced when crossing at midnight a churchyard that was reputed to be haunted.
"Shut off steam!" suddenly whispered Mr. Knowles.
Scarcely were the words out of his mouth than the pinnace bumped with terrific force into some obstruction ahead, which had the immediate effect of dismounting her bow gun; and the shock had not died away when a chorus of angry shouts and yells rose in a piercing and discordant clamour into the still night air. Then the sombre darkness was weirdly lit up by the ruddy death-flames that gushed simultaneously from several musket barrels.
THE flashes of the tell-tale muskets at once revealed to the astonished gaze of those on board the pinnace the great black outline of an immense dhow—doubtless the very one they had been so assiduously chasing all the afternoon.
Quite by chance Mr. Knowles had run the pinnace, stem-on, right into her; and it was evident that those on board the native vessel had been keeping a careful watch, and were prepared for an encounter with the Spiteful's men.
If any doubt had previously existed in the lieutenant's mind as to the character of the dhow, it was now rudely dispelled by the whizz of a hostile bullet past his ear.
Fortunately this first volley from the Arabs had been fired somewhat wildly, and most of the slugs passed harmlessly over the heads of the pinnace's crew.
"Hang on to her there forward!" thundered Mr. Knowles, as he levelled his revolver and fired several shots on board the dhow. "Stand by to board, my brave lads!"
The pinnace, however, had recoiled with bows somewhat stove in from the shock of the violent concussion, and it was necessary to give the engines several turns ahead in order to regain the dhow's quarter. Meanwhile a smart fire was kept upon both sides; Hudson, the marine, especially distinguishing himself by picking off an Arab every time he fired, in spite of the darkness that prevailed. Close beside him in the bows stood the black figure of Ugly-Mug, who was yelling like a distracted demon and waving a portentous-looking cutlass with vehement gestures over his head.
As for our hero, the sudden excitement had proved rather too much for his youthful nerves, and he had, within a few seconds of the sudden rencontre with the slaver, wildly fired away every charge in his revolver; only one of which took effect, wounding the Arab captain in his sword-arm.
With a crash the pinnace was now once more alongside her huge enemy, and as lanterns were now flashing on board both vessels, it was possible to see in a feeble, glimmering way what was going forward.
All the starboard quarter and waist of the dhow was black with a crowd of ferocious-looking Arabs and half-breeds, many of whom seemed to be well-armed, and therefore capable of offering a determined resistance to the pinnace's crew. Several had, however, been already rendered hors de combat by the fire from the pinnace. In spite of this circumstance the Arabs largely outnumbered their opponents, a fact which emboldened them to show a most defiant front to Her Majesty's jack tars.
And now arose the terrible din of a hand-to-hand conflict. Spear and scimitar clashed with the well-tempered cutlass; pistols and revolvers exchanged deadly shots with each other; clubbed rifles and muskets wielded by brawny arms were dealing ferocious resounding blows as they whirled and fell; and high above all this warlike clamour rose shrieks and yells of defiance, mingled with the heartrending moans and groans of the injured and dying.
Hubert had quite recovered his presence of mind by the time that the pinnace had once more dashed alongside the dhow, and, cutlass in hand, had rushed forward with great impetuosity to endeavour to cut his way through the swarthy threatening horde of fierce Arabs who resolutely lined their bulwarks. Close to the middy's side, Dixon pressed on, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, and his death-dealing cutlass doing such havoc amongst the enemy that they already began to give way before him. In the bows of the pinnace the marine and Ugly-Mug were fighting side by side like the most devoted chums; the former dealing crushing blows with his clubbed rifle, which he swung around at the full reach of his immensely long arms, whilst the Krooman slashed away valiantly with a cutlass, although he was already wounded in the chest by an Arab spear.
Mr. Knowles, supported by Fred Morgan and Parker, endeavoured to force his way in over the high quarter of the slaver, but was twice repulsed by overpowering numbers; upon which he and his allies joined our hero and Dixon, who were fighting in the waist, and the four made a desperate and simultaneous rush forward, and in spite of the strenuous and fanatical resistance offered by the Arabs, succeeded in planting their feet firmly upon the slaver's bulwarks.
"Down with the ruffians!" yelled Dixon, as his cutlass flashed hither and thither amongst the retreating slaver's men; "there's some fighting in the copper-coloured sarpents still."
"That you may depend, mate," shouted Parker, who was now fighting at Dixon's side; "it ain't no child's play to cross swords with an Arab when his blood is up."
The marine and Ugly-Mug had now gained a footing on the dhow's forecastle, and were gradually driving their opponents in upon the flank of those who were still endeavouring to check the onset of Mr. Knowles and his followers. The coxswain of the pinnace and the stokers had remained in charge of the boat, according to the lieutenant's orders, and were now busily employed in lashing her securely alongside the Arab vessel.
Great confusion ensued amongst the main body of the slaver's crew when Hudson and the Krooman, showering their blows right and left, and driving their adversaries before them like a flock of sheep, descended like a whirlwind upon their disordered flank. This proved the critical point of the conflict, and Mr. Knowles and Hubert at once took advantage of the circumstance to make a desperate endeavour to end the fight, and in this they were fortunately aided by the death of the captain of the dhow. This intrepid individual, in spite of the wound he had received from the middy's revolver, had been resolutely fighting at the head of his men, but on perceiving Ugly-Mug amongst the boarding party, had detached himself from the main body of his followers and rushed to single out the Krooman as an object of special attack, doubtless taking that sable worthy for a spy. Ugly-Mug, however, remained perfectly cool and collected, for he perceived that his fiery antagonist was half-mad with rage at the turn affairs were taking, and seemed hardly responsible for what he was doing. This the crafty Krooman was well aware gave him a great advantage over his enemy, and he warily defended himself for some time against the Arab's wild and ferocious attacks; and then suddenly seizing a much-coveted opportunity, when his antagonist unwittingly laid himself open to a point, drove his cutlass with all his force into the other's naked breast. The cruel sharp blade had pierced the savage's heart, and without even the utterance of a groan he fell lifeless upon the deck, close to the spot where in silent horror and terrified confusion a hundred and fifty slaves were pent up on a temporary bamboo deck, amid the reeking filthiness of a dark confined space such as pigs could not long survive in.
The remaining Arabs lost heart when they saw their leader fall dead at the victorious Krooman's feet; threw down their weapons, and begged for mercy. This, of course, was at once granted them, for Mr. Knowles was averse to shedding blood, and only too willing to grant terms to a brave foe, however ignominious their calling. The Arabs were therefore seized, promptly disarmed, and put under a guard, who had orders to shoot the prisoners should they make the least attempt to recover the dhow or make their escape.
By the greatest good fortune not a single person upon the English side had been killed in this brief though fierce struggle. Several were suffering from slight wounds and blows and contusions, but Ugly-Mug's was the only one that gave any anxiety to his shipmates, for he had lost a considerable amount of blood during his severe single combat with the Arab captain. The wound, however, was now carefully dressed by Dixon, who had some knowledge of ambulance work; and it was pronounced by the cutter's coxswain to be nothing very serious.
It was now necessary to assemble and count the unfortunate slaves. These poor, ill-used, helpless creatures were at first very much terrified by the appearance upon the scene of their white rescuers; but the lieutenant was slightly acquainted with some of the African dialects, and addressed a few reassuring words to them, which quickly assuaged their terrors, and the elder ones of the party soon recovered confidence enough to tell their miserable tale, which was of the usual revolting type—a raid by the predatory Arabs upon an unoffending and peaceful village during the absence of the major part of the male population; the seizure of a number of the inhabitants, who were yoked to one another, and driven by forced marches to the coast, suffering grievously from the want of food and water, and from fatigue and the pain of the lash. Then followed the hurried embarkation at the mouth of some river, or in the unfrequented waters of a petty harbour or road-stead, and the putting to sea under cover of night, so as to avoid the cruisers which might be in the neighbourhood. Then began the awful subsequent torture of being pent up in the stifling hold of the ill-ventilated vessel, with scarcely room to move or air to breathe, and receiving the very smallest modicum of the wretchedest food and the dirtiest water from their cruel captors, with the chance of being thrown overboard to the sharks should disease break out amongst the miserable captives, which is only too often the case during these hideous enforced voyages.
Hubert had been very fortunate in this engagement with the slaver's crew, only having had one of his shoulders contused by a rather severe blow from the butt end of an Arab musket. Very soon after the engagement had terminated, an idea occurred to our hero, which the more he revolved it in his mind, the more practicable and yet full of possible adventures it seemed to be. The difficulty, it appeared to him, would be to obtain Mr. Knowles' consent.
"I'll tell Dixon, and see what he says," said the middy to himself; "there's nobody like that jolly old coxswain of mine for giving one advice about this sort of thing."
Dixon had just finished attending to Ugly-Mug's wound when Hubert sought him out, and the coxswain saw at once, by the eager expression on the boy's face, that he had something of importance to disclose.
"Well, Mr. Ashley, I'm right glad to see you looking so lively after the scrummage, for it was pretty hot work whilst it lasted; and I know as how you did your dooty well, for I kept one eye on you as long as I could. Them thieving sons of guns kept the other one pretty busy, I can assure you, for they was as muscular and ferocious a set of haythen as I've ever set eyes upon, and I've seen a good many of the land-sharks at one time and another."
"Oh, hang the land-sharks, Dixon!" exclaimed Hubert impatiently, and not very politely; "I've got an idea!"
"You don't say so, Mr. Ashley!" said the coxswain, with a quizzical look at the middy. "Well! that is something new, isn't it?"
"My idea is this," continued Hubert excitedly, and paying no attention to his coxswain's remark; "we've got a jolly fine dhow in our possession, a fast sailer and a good sea boat, and why shouldn't we make use of her to capture other slave-dhows? We could take a small prize crew on board and do no end of mischief, for the Arabs would never suspect that we were on the look-out for them. Do you twig now, Dixon, and don't you think it's a jolly good plan?"
The coxswain scratched his head, with a mingled look of mystification and perplexity, which lasted for some seconds, and then gradually merged itself into a broad smile.
"And who is to take command of this here craft, sir, if so be as the first lieutenant agrees to fit her out as a cruiser?"
"Why, I am, of course, Dixon; how awfully dense you are to-day! It's the hot sun, I suppose! And if you would like the post, I'll make you my boatswain. We'd make a ripping lot of prize-money; that you may be sure of, and get no end of kudos from the skipper when we fell in with the Spiteful again."
The coxswain laughed.
"Oh! that's the lay of the land, is it, sir? Let's see, how would it sound? Mr. Charles Dixon, boatswain of H.M.S.—What do you mean to call the little hooker, Mr. Ashley?"
"Oh, I think the Indian Chief would be a very good name," said Hubert, after a pause.
"Mr. Charles Dixon, boatswain of H.M.S. Indian Chief," said the coxswain, with a broad grin irradiating his bronzed, manly face. "Don't sound bad, does it, sir? I think I'll take the warrant, and try and keep things shipshape for you. It'll be a rum sort of a voyage, I take it: a sort of cruise of H.M.S. Pinafore, Mr. Ashley, eh?"
"I think I shall make Morgan boatswain," said our hero laughingly, "and enter you upon the ship's books as an ordinary seaman. You're not half respectful enough for a warrant officer, Dixon. Keep things ship-shape for me, indeed! that is a rich idea of yours, and no mistake!"
"What is a rich idea?" asked Mr. Knowles, coming up at this minute.
Hubert looked a little confused at this unexpected question. He soon, however, recovered himself, and thinking it best to make a bold plunge into the subject, lost no time in laying his project before the first lieutenant, taking care to expatiate freely upon the probable good results which would follow upon such unusual tactics.
For some moments the lieutenant made no response, but looked thoughtfully upon the deck.
"You have forgotten one thing, Mr. Ashley," he said at length; "there are 150 slaves on board the dhow, so it would be impossible for you to take her upon a separate cruise."
The middy's face fell.
"I had not thought of that, sir," he said reluctantly. "Can't we get rid of the slaves somehow?"
"I don't see my way at present. They must either be landed at the Seychelle Islands or Aden."
"But you don't disapprove of my plan, sir?" asked Hubert anxiously.
"By no means. On the contrary, I give you full credit for a novel and otherwise quite practicable scheme; but still at the same time you would find it very tantalizing to be without the aid of steam or oars, if you should have a head wind to contend with, and spy a possible prize to windward."
"Oh, we should manage somehow," responded the middy, with all the sanguine confidence of boyhood.
The lieutenant laughed, and the subject dropped, for it was necessary as far as possible to see to the comfort of the unfortunate slaves. It was resolved that both vessels should remain at anchor till dawn broke, when it would be necessary to take the dhow in tow, and steer for some neighbouring port.
It was about two o'clock in the morning before Hubert felt at liberty to roll himself up in a rug and throw himself down in the stern-sheets of the launch to try and get a little sleep, after the fatigue and excitement of the night's adventures.
The first glimmering of dawn was just faintly illuminating the eastern quarter of the heavens with a cold, pallid light, when the middy was awoke by a shake from Dixon.
"We've sighted the lights of a biggish craft out there in the offing, Mr. Ashley," he said. "I thought you'd like to know about it, though I'm main sorry to cut short such a nice caulk as you seem to have been having."
HUBERT, in spite of his previous fatigue, was on the alert in a moment, for he conjectured, and not unnaturally, that some fresh adventure might be developing; and his youthful imagination immediately conjured up in connection with the strange sail that Dixon had reported wild and phantom visions of a possible privateer or colossal slaver hovering about the lonely, rock-bound coast of Socotra.
When, however, day really broke, and the sun burst forth from its regal couch of russet and gold, and permeated the sea and sky with its life-giving beams, all the middy's castles in the air were rudely dissipated, for it was at once seen that the mysterious new arrival was no other than the Spiteful herself, which, ignorant of the proximity of her steam pinnace, had been cruising on and off the island for some hours, in the hopes of intercepting the very dhow which had been captured by Mr. Knowles, and of whose existence Captain Chetwynd had been made aware through communicating with a trading dhow on the previous evening.
Great, therefore, was the surprise of the sloop's officers and ship's company when they perceived the pinnace, with a large captured slaver in tow, standing out to intercept them. The Spiteful at once fired a gun and hove-to, to await the arrival of her boat and accompanying prize.
Our hero was in high delight at the turn affairs had taken, for he now saw a prospect of being allowed by the commander to go away on a separate cruise in the captured dhow.
"Do try and get leave for me, sir," he said beseechingly to the first lieutenant, with his cheeks all aglow; "you know you said that the idea was a good one."
"Did I?" asked Mr. Knowles mischievously; "perhaps I was a little precipitate, and did not weigh the dangers and difficulties sufficiently."
The middy's face fell, but there was no time to pursue the conversation, for they were new close alongside the Spiteful. The bulwarks of the dhow were black with the liberated slaves, gazing in an ecstasy of astonishment and wonder at the—to them—strange apparition of a large man-of- war, with her menacing guns frowning out of the row of open portholes.
The Spiteful's hammock-nettings and chains were crowded with bluejackets and marines, who raised a hearty cheer when the pinnace steamed alongside. Phil Paddon was waving his cap to our hero from the gangway with the greatest enthusiasm.
Hubert had not been ten minutes in the gun-room when he received a message from the commander desiring his presence in the cabin.
Half dreading the interview, our hero hurried aft, and the sentry threw open the cabin door and at once admitted him.
Captain Chetwynd, who was busily engaged in writing despatches to the Admiralty, pushed his papers on one side, and glanced approvingly at our hero.
"I am very glad to hear a good report of you from the first lieutenant, Mr. Ashley," he began, "and I hope you'll go on as well as you've begun. If you do, you will be a credit to the service, I firmly believe; and as I think you deserve encouragement, I have decided to accede to your request to take the dhow away on a separate cruise, and I hope you may be successful in your quest for slavers. I have placed the matter entirely in Mr. Knowles' hands, so you will get all necessary instructions from him."
"Thank you very much, sir," said Hubert, hardly able to contain himself for joy. "I'll certainly do my best to capture some slavers, and think I shall have a very good chance of overhauling some of them."
"You mustn't be too sanguine," said the commander, with a smile; "you young gentlemen always see everything through rose- coloured spectacles! You had better now report yourself to the first lieutenant, and get your orders."
Hubert at once made his bow, and retired.
A few hours later he was once more saying goodbye to his chum, Phil Paddon, at the gangway. The slaves had all been turned over to the sloop's upper deck, and the dhow had been fumigated and scrubbed out, and provisioned for a short cruise.
"How about your rum dream, old chap?" asked Hubert slily, as be prepared to go down the side in the wake of the first lieutenant; "has it come true yet?"
"No, it hasn't," allowed his friend; "but who knows what's going to take place in the future? I don't like the idea of your going away for a cruise in that old Noah's ark of a thing at all!"
"Noah's ark, indeed!" exclaimed Hubert indignantly; "she's a jolly fine craft, I can tell you, and can sail like a witch. You should just have seen her the other day when she drew away from the pinnace in a single-reefed topsail breeze!"
"That's all very fine, but you forget that she was then being handled by her own people, who knew very well how to manage her, and get the best speed out of her."
Our hero laughed in spite of the annoyance he felt at the way his chum was exerting his powers of ridicule.
"You won't get a rise out of me, Phil," he said good- naturedly, "and I know very well you'd give anything to be in command of the dhow yourself. Confess now!"
"I won't confess anything!" retorted his friend, digging Hubert rather severely in the ribs; "go at once and take command of your Noah's ark, and mind you don't run her figure-head on the rocks."
"Her name is the Indian Chief," said our hero loftily, "so none of your larks; and she is tender to H.M.S. Spiteful. Mr. Hubert Ashley, commander; and Mr. Charles Dixon, boatswain."
"Oh, Dixon is rated as boatswain, is he?" laughed Paddon.
"Yes, you see I couldn't do without my dry-nurse; we should have been—"
"Mr. Ashley!" sung out the first lieutenant, who had just established himself in the pinnace, "have your crew manned the dhow?"
"Yes, sir," answered our hero, looking rather confused, for he ought by this time to have taken his own place on board the Indian Chief.
"Carry on then, please! Stow yourself away, and we'll cast off the boat rope."
In a few seconds Hubert had gained the dhow, which was to be towed clear of the ship by the pinnace; the order was given to shove off; the engines were once more set to work, and both vessels were soon well under weigh, and steering a southerly course; whilst the Spiteful, with her cargo of slaves and prisoners on board, steamed away at a rapid pace with her nose turned in the direction of Aden.
It was a glorious sunny day, with a gentle southerly breeze blowing. The air was of extraordinary clearness, and the bold serrated outlines of the island of Socotra stood out in bold relief against a sky of cerulean blue; whilst the scarred ravines and rocky bluffs and cliffs revealed their tortured and fantastic shapes with almost phenomenal exactitude. A scattered village could here and there be detected, surrounded by cocoa-nut and banana trees, through whose leafy branches the blue smoke curled lazily upwards into the clear atmosphere. The greater part of the island, however, appeared bare, arid, and uninviting, as if the sport of many successive volcanic upheavals; and the many vast ridges and conglomerations of lava rocks, which abounded in every direction, seemed to lend some colour to the theory, though doubtless the fiery craters had been extinct for many centuries, and could present but few traces of their former activity.
The Spiteful soon became a mere blotch upon the horizon line, though her long trail of dark smoke was visible for some time after she had herself become hull-down, sullying the clear blue sweep of sky where in glorious amplitude the latter swept down to embrace its sister ocean.
"You've got my written instructions safely, I hope, Mr. Ashley?" sung out the first lieutenant from the pinnace.
"Ay, ay, sir," answered the middy, waving a bundle of papers in his hand.
"Very good! We shall cast off your hawser now, and you can steer a course for Cape Guardafui. I shall keep a more southerly course in the pinnace, and remember that we are to meet off Ras Haffun this day week, if all goes well."
Hubert waved his hand in token of assent, and the next moment, to his great delight, the hawser was cast off and was hauled wet and dripping into the bows by one of the crew.
"Let go the brails, Dixon!" shouted our hero in excited tones; "send some men aft here to the sheet. Let her go off on the port tack. The sail will soon fill with this nice little breeze."
The Indian Chief dipped her nose into the briny waves, and slowly obeyed her somewhat clumsy rudder. Her enormous lateen sail swelled out its straining cloths under the influence of the warm south wind which was racing up from the equatorial regions, and the quaint-looking vessel gently heeled over to starboard, her sharp stem catting the liquid blue like a knife, and the foaming water hissing away into the line of wake astern as if out of a bubbling cauldron. The dhow was fairly under weigh, and with her bows turned in the direction of the Somali coast, was gliding steadily along at about five knots an hour.
"Good luck!" sung out Mr. Knowles in stentorian tones, and waving his cap over his head. "Take care of yourself, my boy!"
Hubert waved his cap in response, and shouted an adieu. The pinnace's helm was put over, and she steamed away in the teeth of the breeze, raced by a shoal of porpoises, which at that instant came plunging to the surface, their wet gleaming bodies glittering in the rays of the almost vertical sun, as they emerged for a few moments from their watery home, only to dive simultaneously the next moment deep into the crystal depths, as if they were playing with great zest a piscatory game of "Follow my Leader."
To my mind it is always most exhilarating to watch a shoal of porpoises disporting themselves in their natural element, and it is as pleasant a sight to see a family of playful leverets chasing and dodging each other under the shelter of some friendly hedge, whilst the mother hare looks on calmly with sagacious approval, though with ears ever ready to catch the slightest sound or hint of impending danger.
One of the saddest things in this perplexing little world of ours is to realize to what an extent living creatures prey upon one another, and it seems a universal law of Nature, from which not even the timorous hare or lordly elephant is exempt; for when the one munches a blade of grass or the other devours the succulent foliage of some tropical tree, thousands of microscopic creatures—only lately known to science—are simply wiped out of creation.
Every sentient creature is at feud with some natural enemy, and man is one of the worst offenders, for he often slays merely for the barbarous pleasure of slaying—into which category comes elephant shooting in Ceylon, where there is not even ivory to reward the sportsman, and the great carcases are left to moulder and rot in the gloomy recesses of the tropical forest, or to feed the ever-hungry and keen-scented jackals and vultures.
However, we must not digress too largely into the regions of natural history, for our hero is at last afloat in a quaint but capable vessel of his own, and bent upon achieving some deeds of renown and valour which he hopes may follow upon the adventurous career which with all a boy's ardent hopes he sees stretching out in a long and tempting vista straight before him.
I have a strong suspicion myself that something strange and wonderful is going to happen to Hubert Ashley before long.
That sounds mysterious, dear reader, doesn't it?
Mind I say it is merely a suspicion, and that is rather a vague thing to found one's hopes and fears upon.
Enough of this bothersome beating about the bush! Let's end this twaddling chapter and hurry to pastures new!
THE Indian Chief had been considerably metamorphosed during her few hours' detention alongside the Spiteful, having been thoroughly scrubbed, fumigated, and ventilated. Her spars, canvas, and cordage had also been overhauled by the boatswain, and pronounced to be in first-rate condition, being indeed nearly new. Under the great raised poop, which gave the vessel such a clumsy look, was a fairly roomy cabin, which Hubert took possession of, a portion of it being reserved for a store and spirit room, and armoury. A small cabin had also been partitioned off from it for Dixon's use.
The bamboo decks, on which the unfortunate slaves had been cooped up in a sitting posture during their enforced voyage, had been removed by the ship's carpenters, and the requisite amount of ballast, ammunition, etc., stowed away below, as well as a good supply of drinking water in casks. An awning, made out of some old canvas, had been rigged up to protect the crew from the overpowering rays of the sun; a small cooling apparatus had been fixed up in a rude deckhouse forward, and as much provision made for the comfort and convenience of the men as was possible under the circumstances. Amongst other things Hubert took care to lay in a stock of books from the ship's library, and some bundles of newspapers. He also provided himself with charts, sketch-books, a sextant, chronometer, telescope, some carpenter's tools, sailmaker's requisites, and a spare compass, as well as a Nautical Almanac, Inman's Tables, and other necessary books for working out observations.
A capital crew had been detailed for duty under the middy's command, most of them being our old friends who had formerly served in the pinnace. First came the redoubtable Dixon, who was very proud of his position as second in command, but nevertheless always ready to put his hand to any necessary of requiring strength or ingenuity. Then Hudson, the gigantic marine, had been told off to form one of the Indian Chief's crew, in virtue of being personal attendant to the middy. Fred Morgan was also of the party, Hubert having specially begged for his services, as he had a great regard for the young seaman. Two other bluejackets, steady and tried men, and Ugly-Mug, made up the vessel's complement; six picked hands in all, and a very efficient little ship's company they formed.
Hubert had wished the Krooman to remain on board the Spiteful, and get thoroughly cured of his wound by rest and the doctor's care; but Ugly-Mug laughed such an idea to scorn, and begged the middy so hard to take him in the dhow as cook that our hero felt bound to acquiesce in the honest blackamoor's wish, though before doing so he took the precaution of consulting Dr. Joyce, who gave his verdict in the Krooman's favour, he having examined the wound and found it rapidly healing up under the sanative influences of a tropical climate, which with a clean-cut wound are extraordinary.
The pinnace, being comparatively a small boat, soon disappeared from the ken of those on board the Indian Chief; and the blue hills of Socotra were beginning to dwindle and fade away in the misty distance, as the dhow sullenly clove her way through the translucent waters, with the warm breath of the southerly breeze on her port beam.
In the night, however, the wind completely died away, and it fell a stark calm, in which the dhow lay motionless with flapping sails. Towards morning a light air set in from the westward, and Dixon proposed to our hero that the Indian Chief's nose should be turned in the direction of Socotra—which was still visible through a telescope—in the hopes that some suspicious vessel might have taken advantage of the Spiteful's absence to run in and anchor. To this course Hubert assented, and the dhow was put before the wind. All day she was kept cruising on and off the island, but without sighting any vessels, and at sunset, as the wind still remained contrary, Hubert anchored his little craft in a bay on the southern coast.
In the middle of the night a sudden and unexpected attack was made upon the Indian Chief by a number of the predatory inhabitants of the island, who stealthily put off in their boats, and almost surrounded the dhow before they were discovered by the look-out man. Hubert, Dixon, and the others were soon roused up, and rushed to repel these piratical villains; but they were largely outnumbered, and after some desperate fighting, which lasted at least half an hour, found to their indignation and dismay that, if they wished to escape an ignominious capture, they must cut their cable and stand out to sea. Richards, the look-out man, had paid for his carelessness with his life, for he had been shot through the heart almost at the first moment of attack; Hudson had been most severely wounded in a hand-to-hand fight with some of the Socotrans who had attempted to board, and Ugly-Mug had also been very roughly handled in going to the assistance of his shipmate; so Hubert deemed that he was justified in clearing out as quickly as possible, so as to save a useless effusion of blood. In this view Dixon concurred, and leaped forward and cut the cable with an axe, whilst one of the other hands loosed the sail to the westerly breeze, which had considerably freshened since sunset, and in a few moments the Indian Chief was gliding rapidly through the phosphorescent water, pursued by the flotilla of native boats, the occupants of which kept up a desultory fire, and screamed and shrieked with baffled rage and fury as they saw the dhow slowly but surely drawing away from them in the darkness, her ghostly lateen sail becoming fainter and fainter as the distance increased, and at length fading from view altogether. They then relinquished the chase, and Hubert and Dixon were able to turn their attention to the wounded sufferers, who were made as comfortable as possible under the circumstances.
About four hours later, Dixon went to arouse Morgan, and as he walked forward, his quick eye caught the gleam of the moon upon several lateen sails almost dead ahead, and many miles distant. Having called his relief, the coxswain returned aft and procured Hubert's night-glasses, which had been left upon deck for his use. He was gazing long and fixedly at the strange sails, when Morgan came up and joined him.
"Ha! I see there are some vessels in sight," observed the young seaman, rubbing his eyes and looking earnestly ahead; "do you think they are slavers, Dixon?"
"Impossible to say at present; but I've my suspicions about 'em, mate, and I wouldn't mind betting a few rupees that them craft are slavers, and that they was in league with the longshore ruffians that we had the scrummage with last night. It's just the sort of dirty trick they'd be up to."
"I shouldn't wonder in the least," said Morgan; "but we are rather short-handed now to tackle three or four large slavers."
"That's true," allowed the coxswain meditatively; "and the only chance, perhaps, would be to cut off one or two of 'em from the main body."
"The wind seems to have almost died away," observed Morgan, glancing aloft; "but I fancy that those dhows have got a nice breeze with them."
"Their sails are holding more wind than ours, there ain't no doubt as to that. Our lazy hooker is only just making two knots through the water."
"Had I better rouse up Mr. Ashley?" asked the young seaman.
"Not on no account!" rejoined Dixon emphatically; "the poor young gentleman was dead-tired, and there ain't no call to make a fuss just at present, you see, because the wind is that light we've no chance of overhauling anything. If the wind freshens at all, call me and Mr. Ashley too. Keep her head E.N.E., mate, and keep a bright look-out. I'll go and get a bit of a caulk now, for my head feels summat like a squashed pumpkin;" and so saying, the coxswain resigned the tiller to his young shipmate, wrapped himself up in an old sail, placed his head on a coil of rope, and was instantly in the arms of Morpheus.
About six bells in the morning watch, Hubert, who had enjoyed a deep and refreshing slumber, was aroused by a shake, and starting up in some confusion—for he fancied he had overslept himself—found he was confronted by his stalwart coxswain, who had a telescope tucked under his arm in orthodox style.
"The breeze has freshened a bit, sir, and we're in chase of a squadron of dhows, so I thought you'd like to be called."
On hearing this exciting intelligence, our hero leaped out of his bunk, donned a pair of trousers and an old peajacket, and rushed upon deck with all a boy's impetuosity and untiring love of adventure.
DIXON had preceded our hero on deck, and was busily engaged, with Phillips' help, in flattening aft the main sheet, for the Indian Chief had hauled her wind in an endeavour to cut off the dhows, and was now sailing with a fresh breeze a point or two before the starboard beam. Morgan was at the helm, and looking anxiously to windward, where a heavy bank of clouds seemed to be gathering up in a rather portentous fashion.
It was now broad daylight, and the coast-line of Socotra was very indistinctly visible, rising in a hazy succession of grey, featureless hills. There were no vessels in sight except the fleet of dhows, which bore upon the weather bow about eight miles distant, and were now known to number four vessels. The westerly breeze had completely dropped in the early hours of the morning watch, and had been succeeded by a S.E. breeze, which, however, was giving signs of veering to the southward.
"The dhows don't seem afraid of us, Dixon," remarked Hubert, after taking a squint at the squadron through his glass; "I wonder they don't wear and stand back for the coast if they're slavers."
"They think they're too strong, I take it, sir, and that we'll be afraid to attack 'em. They knows who we are, that I'm sartin of; for you may depend they're in league with the longshore louts that we had the rough-and-tumble with a few hours agone."
"It's quite possible that they're only traders," put in Morgan, "and that their appearance just now is only a coincidence."
Dixon shook his head doubtfully.
"Are we gaining on them?" demanded Hubert, glancing over the taffrail at the gargling, seething water which was rushing past.
"I don't know as how we are, sir, and that's the truth. They seem to keep a capful more of wind than what we do, but I don't doubt that we'll get the benefit of the stronger breeze as we makes an offing, and likely enough we'll overhaul 'em then."
"The Indian Chief doesn't sail well on a wind," observed the middy; "it's evidently her worst point of sailing."
"These dhows are all alike in that respect," answered Dixon; "they likes a flowing sheet behind 'em, and a moderately strong breeze."
"There's a moderately strong breeze brewing away there to windward, if I'm not mistaken," said Morgan, pointing to the heavy bank of purple clouds which was gradually rising higher and higher above the sunlit horizon.
"It looks uncommonly squally," admitted Hubert, "and it will give us something more than steerage way on her, I expect! Doesn't some of the rigging want looking to, Dixon?"
"I've seen to that, sir, and we can carry on a bit now if you should want to; but there's more remains to be done yet, which I've not had time to attend to, but it ain't very important."
"There is one thing I want to speak to you about, Dixon," said the middy in a sad voice; "I think we ought to bury poor Richards."
"You're quite right, sir," answered the coxswain, pointing to where the poor fellow's mortal remains lay upon the forecastle, stretched out under a flag. "I intended to mention it to you."
"He is a great loss, for a braver fellow never stepped a deck," observed Morgan, "and it's a thousand pities he should have lost the number of his mess."
"Ah! a sailor has often to think of the truth of them words, 'In the midst of life we are in death,'" said Dixon solemnly. "I'll just go and sew the poor fellow up in some spare canvas, Mr. Ashley, and then we'll commit his body to the deep. 'Tis a pity the chaplain ain't here to give him a proper burial accordin' to the Prayer-Book, that it is."
Whilst the coxswain was engaged in his painful task, Hubert paid a visit to Hudson and Ugly-Mug, who were both exceedingly delighted to see him. The marine was still very weak, and the middy saw plainly enough that some time must elapse before he would be able to get about again. A bullet had lodged in his left shoulder, but three other wounds were the most painful, being spear and scimitar stabs, though fortunately there was no reason to suppose that any of these weapons had been poisoned. Ugly-Mug was doing very well, and declared emphatically that he felt no inconvenience whatever from a cut which he had received on his forehead, and should soon be at his duties as cook again.
"How you eat enof to lib widout Ogly-Mog?" he asked, with a grin; "eberyting in de galley go wrong for sho', Massa Ashley! How you fry fis'? How you make pukka curry? How you even boil de salt junk, or make cocoa?"
"Oh, we can manage splendidly with tinned provisions," answered Hubert, laughing at the Krooman's idea of his own importance. "And besides that, Morgan knows something about cooking, I believe; so you must just rest and keep quite quiet for a day or two."
Ugly-Mug held up his dingy white palms in horror, whilst a look of disgust spread itself over his swarthy tattooed face.
"Morgan know how to cook!" he almost shrieked. "Perhaps he can make one sea-pie which can do for de pigs to eat, or boil a 'tato till him skin bust from off him; but de white man know noddin ob de pukka cookery, 'cept a Frenchman here or dere."
"Well, I won't argue the matter with you, Ugly-Mug," said the middy, highly amused at this unexpected tirade, "and we shall all be uncommonly glad when you are out and about again."
"The body is all ready to be hove overboard, if you please, sir," interrupted Dixon, coming into the deckhouse and touching his cap respectfully.
With a slow and sad step, and in profound silence, Hubert followed his coxswain out, and the latter led him into the lee waist, where the body of Richards—sewn up in canvas and with a piece of iron ballast at the heels—was tying to await its watery grave. The mournful proceedings were necessarily brief. Hubert repeated the few words of the service that occurred to his memory, and Dixon and Phillips, with their caps removed, and in the most reverent manner, raised their burden on to the taffrail, and then let it slip over the side into the blue translucent waters, through which it darted like a flash of light, and was almost instantly lost to view.
Trying in vain to shake off the gloomy thoughts which this episode had engendered in his mind, Hubert turned his attention to the four dhows, and also to the threatening aspect of the weather. To his great disgust, the middy realized that the Indian Chief was being dropped astern by her rivals, in spite of the fact that the breeze had freshened, and had drawn a point or two further abeam. This was very tantalizing, but there was no doubt about the matter, as Hubert ascertained by consulting Fred Morgan, who was still at the helm.
"They've been dropping us quietly for the last hour, sir," observed the young seaman. "I've been watching them narrowly. What we have to do now is to prepare for dirty weather."
"It looks very stormy indeed," said the middy, glancing anxiously to windward. "I'll go and look at the barometer in the cabin."
There was not much comfort to be derived from the weather- glass. It was falling with an ominous rapidity. Hubert returned quickly on deck, and found Dixon awaiting him near the poop ladder.
"We'd better reef the hooker's sail, sir," he said hurriedly. "I don't like the look of that lowering sky yonder; it looks mischievous. How's the glass?"
"It's falling fast. But you don't think we need give up the chase, Dixon?"
"Not at present, sir, certainly; and if it only turns out to be a bit of a squall which'll pass over, why, there won't be much harm done."
Hubert now took the helm, and sent Morgan to assist the others in reefing the great, unwieldy sail, which, when the dhow was luffed into the wind's eye, shook and flapped tumultuously about with a resounding clamour, causing the three seamen no little trouble. However, the reef was at length taken in; but the halliards were scarcely belayed, and the Indian Chief brought to her course again, than the long-threatening storm burst upon the vessel with great violence and velocity, causing her to heel over at a considerable angle and ship a good deal of water. The reefed sail withstood the blast gallantly, and so did the somewhat frail-looking coir cordage.
The middy put the helm up as his eye caught the white scudding breakers, which, in strong contrast to the inky blackness of the sky above, were lashed into foam as the relentless storm bore them on before its dark, outstretched wings. At the same moment Dixon eased off the sheet, and the Indian Chief scudded at a prodigious pace before the raging tempest, which howled around her like a ravenous pack of pursuing wolves in the act of closing in upon their helpless prey. Sheets of rain descended in torrents, and in the temporary darkness that prevailed the four dhows were quickly swallowed up and lost to view.
Hubert had donned his oilskins and a sou'-wester hat before going to the helm, so he did not much mind the rain, and ordered the men to set to work and bale out the water that had been shipped. Under Dixon's directions this was soon accomplished; and after narrowly examining the weather rigging, and seeing that everything was secure, the coxswain went aft and made his report to the middy, who relinquished the helm to him, whilst he went below to consult the barometer and the chart.
Whilst endeavouring, by the aid of the log-book, to ascertain approximately upon the chart the position of the Indian Chief, our hero was suddenly startled by feeling the vessel heel tremendously over, as if struck by an unusually heavy squall, and at the same time he distinguished the leonine voice of Dixon, which rose high above the roar of the elements, and the creaking and groaning of planking and spars.
"By Jove, she's on her beam-ends!" exclaimed the astonished middy, as he cast the log-book from him, and made a bolt for the door. "She'll capsize in a jiffey."
And perhaps she would have turned turtle, if there had not been a tried veteran seaman at the helm, and others ready to obey his orders at the peril of their lives.
On gaining the deck, Hubert was almost knocked down by the fury of the wind; but he grasped a rope, and managed to support himself for a few moments till he had recovered his sea-legs, and the wind had somewhat abated in strength.
"Sudden shift o' wind, sir," yelled Dixon, when he caught sight of the middy. "But we've got her before it now, and that's a proper bit of canvas we've got aloft—not a blessed stitch of it gone."
The Indian Chief was now tearing along before the gale, and the surf-crested rollers ever and again towered up above her lofty stern, as if threatening to overwhelm her with their merciless waters, then sinking again as the dhow's sharp bows descended into the trough of the sea amid showers of briny spray and scud.
"We must keep her going through it," shouted Hubert, as he staggered with difficulty aft to the spot where, with his legs wide apart, and bronzed face dripping with spray, Dixon stood grasping the tiller with both his horny, muscular hands.
"Ah, we'll not be pooped, sir; the old hooker is snoring through it pretty comfortably now, but it was touch-and-go for her just now, and that's the truth."
"The wind seems to veer about in an odd manner," said the middy, glancing anxiously at the dog-vane, and then to windward. "I hope we're not in for a cyclone, for that would be a serious matter."
"Ay, that it would, Mr. Ashley, and I've never had much experience of them circular storms; but I've heard tell that the wind is always a-shifting round the compass, and that it blows tremendous great guns at the same time."
"There's one important rule to remember," said Hubert, "and it was only the other day I learned it off by heart: 'In the case of a cyclone, look to the wind's eye; set its bearing by the compass; take the eighth point to the right thereof, and that will be the bearing of the centre of the storm, if in north latitude; or, if in south latitude, the eighth point to the left of the direction of the wind.'"
"Well, that'll help us a bit," said the coxswain thoughtfully; "and maybe we'll be able to steer clear away from the edge of it. What latitude are we in at present, sir?"
"About 10" N., and in these latitudes the rotation of a cyclone would be N.W.S.E., or contrary to the movements of the hands of a watch. At the Mauritius it would be just the opposite, because the island is in south latitude."
"Dear me! what queer things they be now," observed the seaman; "almost seems something uncanny about 'em to my mind; but then I ain't had the eddication that you have, Mr. Ashley, and that makes a powerful lot of difference; there's no question as to that."
The storm, which for a few moments had considerably lulled, now burst forth with greater fury than ever, and all Dixon's attention was taken up in steering the Indian Chief, and keeping her before the wind, which every minute was chopping and changing, and playing all sorts of mad pranks. The other hands were kept constantly employed baling out, for the rain still descended like a waterspout, and ever and again the crest of a green sea toppled in over the quarter, and deluged the vessel fore and aft.
Hubert—full of his theory of the laws of storms, and anxious to put it into practice—staggered over to the compass, with the idea of taking a bearing of the wind's eye; but, as he was endeavouring to do so, the atmosphere suddenly darkened ominously, and the rush of a mighty blast was heard as it swept through the air in gyrating circles, and careered along over the storm-swept sea.
"Ease off the sheet, Morgan; bear a hand!" shouted Dixon in peremptory tones.
The young seaman heard the order, and rushed across the deck to execute it, but in his haste caught his foot in a coil of rope and came heavily to the deck.
Knowing that every moment was precious—for the appalling darkness and the sound of the approaching squall filled his heart with misgiving—our hero resolved to go to the rescue, and floundered with some difficulty in the direction of the belaying- pin to which the main-sheet was made fast.
"Off with the turns!" yelled the coxswain, with considerable anxiety in his tones.
Hubert exerted himself to the utmost, but his fingers were numb with the wet and cold, and the rope was slippery. Like a whirlwind the squall swept down upon the unfortunate Indian Chief, and as the middy was striving to release the straining sheet, he heard and felt the rush of the tempestuous blast as it beat upon his head and howled amidst the cordage and spars with its terrible and destructive breath.
Hark! what is that sudden sharp report, like the discharge of a field-piece, and that loud crash and ominous crack of splintered woodwork which rise high above the noise and tumult of the storm?
Hubert had no time to think of what had happened, for he felt himself torn from his hold and dashed into the lee scuppers, amid a seething mass of angry water, which had stove in the bulwarks and poured in over the quarter close to the spot where he had first been standing.
FOR the first few moments the middy thought that he had been washed overboard by a sea, and would have to swim for his life amid the towering, battling waves; but he soon realized his position, and, as he made frantic efforts to regain his legs, heard the cheery voice of Morgan exclaiming close to him,—
"Give us your fin, Mr. Ashley, and we'll soon have you out of that. We may thank our stars the hooker didn't go to the bottom!"
Hubert now felt his arm grasped firmly by the young seaman—who had been washed into the scuppers by the same sea—and he was soon assisted to his feet again; when the first object that met his eye was the set, stern face of his hardy coxswain, which bore a horror-struck expression quite foreign to that jolly tar's usually radiant look. Following Dixon's fixed, earnest gaze, which was directed to the fore part of the vessel, our hero gave a start of astonishment and horror as he saw that the Indian Chief's mast had gone by the board, the sail having been rent from its fastenings at the same moment and hurtled into the darkness "like a torn cloud before the hurricane."
"Tomahawks, lads!" shouted Dixon. "Cut away the wreck to leeward; bear a hand."
The greatest fury of the squall seemed to have expended itself, as if aghast at the havoc it had committed in so short a time, and it was now possible to move about on deck a little more freely, the dhow being hampered in her movements by the great weight of the wreck of her mast, which had considerably damaged the bulwarks in its fall.
Hubert instantly sprang forward, almost up to his knees in water, and seizing a tomahawk, cut away vigorously at the rigging, which, strained to its utmost tension, still kept the chafing spar bound to its parent hull in a highly dangerous fashion, for it rose and fell heavily with every succeeding wave, bumping and grinding against the planking with angry dissonance.
With the aid of two such active and resolute seamen as Morgan and Phillips, the middy soon accomplished his task, and had the satisfaction of seeing the heavy spar and its entangled mass of cordage disappear in the foaming wake of the dhow. Relieved from this obstruction, the Indian Chief commenced rolling heavily in the trough of the sea, though still borne onwards by the force of the wind, which seemed to be steadying down into a fresh gale from the westward. The former darkness had disappeared and given place to a lowering rack of storm-cloud, which swept by unceasingly on the wings of the wind, and obscured all the brightness of the sky with its murky, dense vapours. The rain had ceased.
Every exertion was now made to bale out the dhow, and Hubert worked unceasingly at this duty, only breaking off for a minute to run into the deck-house and assure Hudson and Ugly-Mug that all danger was past for the present—those helpless patients having been considerably alarmed, as the reader may suppose, by the advent of the gale and the carrying away of the foremast.
The middy now felt convinced that it was only a succession of violent squalls that the Indian Chief had encountered, and not a regular cyclone. In this view Dixon concurred. The barometer still remained low, though it had ceased to fall, and it was necessary to keep the almost helpless dhow running under bare poles before the gale, the said poles consisting of her mizen-mast, which still stood intact, and the stump of the foremast.
"I'll rig her up a jury-mast by-and-by," observed the practical acting boatswain; "but I'm afraid our slave-cruising days are over, for we shall get no speed out of her now, worse luck!"
"We must try and fall in with the Spiteful again," observed Hubert, who was almost ready to cry with vexation; "I'm sure the captain would soon give us a refit."
The coxswain shook his head doubtfully, but did not give expression to his thoughts, as he knew full well that his young commander would emphatically scout anything that savoured of pessimism.
All day and all night the Indian Chief fled before the "keel compelling gale," and as the wind and sea had somewhat subsided by the following morning, the crew set busily to work to rig a jury-mast. Dixon had previously repaired the smashed bulwarks to the best of his ability, and got things in general a little shipshape after the late disasters.
Ugly-Mug was now sufficiently convalescent to take a trick at the helm, so he was sent to that important post, whilst Hubert and the three seamen set vigorously to work to shift the mizen- mast, which they soon succeeded in stepping in the place of the lost foremast. As soon as the rigging was set up, the Lilliputian sail was set, and as the wind was falling fast, this gave the dhow steerage-way. In the evening the wind veered to S.W., and it seemed as if the regular monsoon breeze was about to assert its sway once more in the region of the Indian Ocean. There was still a tumbling sea, but in spite of this the dhow's head was brought N.W. by W., so as to make a stretch towards the now far-distant African coast. Under such reduced canvas, however, the Indian Chief made but little way; and Hubert realized with a feeling of disgust that he was a long way out of the track of slavers, and that even if he sighted any, his only chance of capturing them would be with his little dinghy, which would only hold three men, and, at the expense of much muscular exertion, could only be propelled through the water at the rate of four knots an hour.
At about midnight on the day on which the Indian Chief was headed N.W. by W., Hubert went below to snatch a few hours' sleep, thoroughly tired out by the exertions and anxieties of his responsible post. Everything was quiet on deck when he quitted it. Morgan was at the helm; the breeze was steady, and the dhow making about three knots an hour through the water. The sky was somewhat overcast, though a few stars peeped out here and there amid the hurrying rack. The waning moon not having yet arisen from her cloudy russet bed in the eastern heavens, it was very dark; though the long broken lines of phosphorescent spray which capped the rushing, hurrying waves lit up the gloomy expanse of troubled sea to some extent, and lent a weird fascination to the scene.
In his dreams our hero imagined himself once more on board the Spiteful, keeping the middle watch on a dark and tempestuous night, with the wind howling above and the sea raging and surging beneath. The clouds were scudding through the darkened heavens at a prodigious pace, and completely obscured the heavenly bodies; whilst the sloop was heeling over under double-reefed topsails till the muzzles of her guns dipped their dripping mouths into the seething brine that swirled in foaming eddies beneath. Suddenly the middy became aware of the appalling fact that every one on deck, with the exception of himself, was a grinning, flesh-bereft skeleton. The two men at the wheel especially excited his dread and horror, for their sightless eye- sockets gleamed with a glaring red light, which was reflected upon the objects near them in patches the colour of blood, and lent to these ghostly steersmen a ferocious and terrifying aspect, As Hubert gazed with fascinated eyes, but with loathing and abhorrence, at these frightful spectres, the latter simultaneously raised their grisly, gleaming arms, and with their flaming eye-cavities turned full upon the trembling midshipman, pointed in the direction of the vessel's weather bow with their long bony forefingers. So fierce and overpowering was the glare from their blazing red orbs, that Hubert felt as if he should be blinded, and was only too glad to turn his head away to see what the skeleton steersmen were pointing at. To his unutterable dismay and horror, he saw a great black ship looming palpably out of the darkness ahead, and bearing straight down upon the doomed sloop. Vainly the middy endeavoured to give a warning shout to those on board the stranger. He was tongue-tied, and in spite of his almost superhuman efforts, he was unable to utter a sound. A chorus of unearthly shrieks, mingled with the fearful colliding crash of two heavy vessels, rent the air, and . . . Hubert awoke to find himself trembling violently and in a cold perspiration.
Was it a dream? If so, what were those excited vociferations on deck, and that horrible grinding and bumping noise which almost drowned the voices of the men?
Full of dismay, Hubert—who had lain down with his clothes on—bounded out of his bunk, and rushed upon deck.
AS Hubert emerged from the door of his cabin, he came into violent collision with Ugly-Mug, who had been sent by Dixon to call him, and nearly capsized that sable worthy.
"What's up?" demanded the midshipman eagerly; "have we run into another vessel?"
"Anoder wessel! oh no, massa, wussa dan dat. . . . Oh! oh! massa take all my breaf away when he prog me in de 'tummick! De sip am—oh, my breaf, my breaf! where am he?" and uttering these confused and meaningless ejaculations, the Krooman clasped himself round the middle with both dingy paws, and writhed about like a demented python or an orang-outang that had been suddenly seized with the colic!
As the reader may suppose, our hero did not wait for Ugly-Mug to recover his wind, but continued his headlong course on deck, where he almost immediately encountered Dixon, who had apparently just left the forecastle.
"A bad job, sir; a bad job!" exclaimed the coxswain; "the poor hooker's hard and fast ashore."
"Nonsense, Dixon," burst out the middy; "there's no land about here; you know that just as well as I do!"
"Well, it's a reef o' rocks what's uncharted, I suppose, sir; anyhow, stuck we are, and I reckon it'll be a job and a half to haul her off again."
The grinding and buffeting of the dhow against the sharp, serrated rocks amply proved the truth of Dixon's statement; and as the middy realized the full force of the calamity, be could only stand in painful silence, looking helplessly and hopelessly at the weather-beaten face of his acting boatswain, which wore at the moment a disturbed and anxious expression which did not tend to reassure him.
"Maybe it isn't so bad as we think," said Dixon after a pause. "I'm just going to see if there's any water coming in below, for it's likely enough a plank or two has been started. Cheer up, Mr. Ashley! I've got out of a worse quandary than this in my time; and, if it's possible to do it, I'll get the old hooker afloat again—dash my buttons if I won't!" and so saying the coxswain hastily departed on his mission below.
A little cheered by Dixon's hopeful expressions, our hero ran forward—where he perceived the flashing of lights—to see if he could render any assistance to Morgan and Phillips, whose voices he heard proceeding from the bows of the Indian Chief. It was still very dark, but delicate aerial shafts of light which began to shoot above the eastern horizon showed that the Queen of Night was about to assert her short and waning reign.
On arriving forward, Hubert found that Morgan had swung himself over the bows, and was standing upon the rocks up to his middle in water, prodding about with a spar to endeavour to ascertain the size of the reef and other important particulars; whilst Phillips was dangling a lantern over the side so as to throw some light upon the scrutiny.
"Shiver my timbers if ever I seed the like o' this, sir!" exclaimed the latter seaman on perceiving the middy; "'tis most onnatural-like that there should be these rocks in the middle of the ocean where no Christian heerd tell of 'em afore. 'Tain't shipshape, and that's all I've got to say about it."
"What do you make of the reef, Morgan; does it extend far?" demanded Hubert, leaning over the bulwarks and anxiously scanning the dark expanse of waters beneath.
The face of the young seaman looked rather pale by the spectral light of the flickering lantern, as he raised it in response to the middy's query, and stood leaning upon his spar with the waves surging about him.
"As far as I can make out, sir, the reef stretches away a long distance right ahead; but it's dangerous work exploring, and I had to swim for it just now, having stumbled into a deep pool."
"You'd better come on board again till the moon rises," said Hubert; "we shall be able to see better then what we are about."
"I can't do much good here at present, certainly;" and so saying Morgan tossed his spar on board, and commenced to clamber up himself by the help of a rope which hung down over the bows.
Just at this moment Dixon, accompanied by Ugly-Mug, rejoined his shipmates, and the latter saw at a glance that he was the bearer of bad news.
"There are several leaks down below, sir," he said hurriedly, "and the water is pouring in pretty fast. We can patch 'em up in a way, but the dhow will have to be abandoned eventually, for we can't save her from going down."
Hubert stood as still and silent as a statue, the thought flashing through his mind that they only possessed one pigmy boat, which was merely capable of holding three men.
How then could he embark his crew of four men, and take provisions, water, and other necessaries for a voyage to the African coast?
"We must make a raft, sir," said Dixon, divining his young commander's thoughts, "and must carry on pretty smartly about it. There are some empty casks and spars knocking about, and plenty of lashings."
"Garamighty!" struck in Ugly-Mug, who was looking as solemn as a black grave-digger; "how de water rush in, like de Georgewater at Sierra Leone! I tink we all find ourself in kingdom-come if no make plenty mosh hurry to jomp ober de side; and den perhaps de ogly shark come and gobble we up, and dat wussa dan eber! Golly! what can do, Massa Ashley?"
Nobody paid much attention to the Krooman's disjointed pigeon- English, for as he was speaking the horns of the yellow moon protruded themselves above the distant horizon, and a soft radiance began to permeate the atmosphere, and shed a pale silvery light over sky and ocean. The purple night faded into sombre grey; and the stars which had shone out luminously from between the rifted clouds veiled their lustre and shrunk away from the satellite's superior light, even as the phosphorescent fires, which had sparkled and glimmered in the sea, were dimmed and almost extinguished.
Suddenly Hubert gave a loud shout of astonishment, and pointed wildly over the bows of the Indian Chief.
The seamen grasped each other's hands with amazement, when, following the direction of their commander's eager gaze, their eyes lighted upon the strange and unexpected apparition of a small, but lofty, palm-clad island, stretching away right in front of them, and on an outlying reef of which the Indian Chief had evidently grounded with such disastrous consequences.
"Jeehoshaphy!" shouted Ugly-Mug in the highest excitement, "where am all dis queer land jumpy up from?"
"Well, I'm jiggered!" exclaimed Dixon in astonished accents, and emphatically smacking his leg.
At this moment a tall, bent form was seen staggering forward with feeble, uncertain steps. It was Hudson, the marine. His face was ghastly pale, and his deep-sunk eyes burned with a feverish lustre.
"The dhow is half full of water, mates," he said in a voice tremulous with weakness; "are we all going to drown like rats in the hold?"
THE sudden appearance of the island had so absorbed the attention of our friends that they had almost forgotten their critical situation; but Hudson's words brought it back to their minds with forcible emphasis, and they glanced at Hubert as if awaiting his orders.
"We must get the dinghy launched at once," said our hero promptly; "I suppose there's no necessity to make a raft now, for I see that we can reach the shore by wading along the rocks."
"That's right, sir," said Dixon approvingly. "Come along, lads; we'll swing the little punt over the side in a jiffey, and send our sick-bay patient ashore in it, and as much stores as there's room for."
Hubert quickly ascertained that Hudson's alarming report had not been exaggerated, and that the Indian Chief was fast filling with water. The situation was undoubtedly a very serious one, as the dhow might at any moment, and without an instant's warning, slide down off the rocks and be immersed in the deep water astern.
Aware of the critical state of affairs, the men worked with feverish energy, and the dinghy was soon launched. Hudson was then helped over the side into her, and, on Dixon's suggestion, a change of clothes for all hands was stowed away in the bows, as well as a couple of bags of biscuit, some pork, a few slabs of cocoa, a canister of tea, some sugar and flour, and a few cooking utensils and boxes of matches. Some rifles, revolvers, and ammunition were also placed under Morgan's charge—who was told off to row the boat—as well as Hubert's silver watch, instruments, and log-books.
"Shove off at once," said the middy, taking the young seaman aside, "and make for that little inlet to the right of where the reef of rocks juts out into the sea. I think you'll be able to land there in safety; but if any hostile natives appear, don't beach the boat, but lie off until we appear upon the scene."
"Very good, sir; I'll manage all right, you may depend upon that;" and so saying, Morgan sprang into the little boat, where Hudson was already seated holding the yoke-lines, shoved her off from the ill-fated dhow, and dropping astern, got his oars out and pulled away in the direction of the clear water, which appeared to stretch for some considerable distance to the southward of the treacherous reef.
Girding their cutlasses on around their waists, the remainder of the little ship's company lost no time in evacuating the water-logged dhow, and under Dixon's directions lowered themselves over the bows into the water, and soon found a rough and somewhat insecure footing upon the slippery, seaweed-strewn rocks. Hubert was the last to leave the Indian Chief, and he felt a choking sensation in his throat as he clambered upon the bulwarks and turned to take a last look at the quaint vessel and her now deserted deck, littered with débris and articles which had been dropped by the seamen in the hurry of quitting a sinking ship.
As the young midshipman gazed with moist eyes at the sad scene, he felt a perceptible tremor pass through the dhow's shattered frame, and then to his alarm he became aware of the fact that the whole fabric had begun to slowly and almost noiselessly glide down from off the rocks into the deep water astern.
"For God's sake, jump, sir!" yelled Dixon, splashing forward under the dhow's forefoot, and holding out his arms.
"Massa, massa, jomp!" shouted Ugly-Mug in a horrified tone; muttering in a lower voice, "He go to kingdom-come for sho', if he no tink to jomp ober de bow bery, bery quick."
But our hero was quite equal to the occasion, and at the first motion of the vessel sprang from off the bulwark, and would have tumbled headlong into the water if his fall had not been broken by Dixon and Phillips, who were on the watch for him.
At the same moment a rushing, surging noise was heard, and the waters divided into long frothing phosphorescent ridges as they yawned into a giant grave to receive the weather-worn fabric of the Indian Chief. Slowly and sullenly the dhow became submerged under the moonlit waters, her heavy old-fashioned stern becoming swallowed up first. Then the jury-mast, with its hastily brailed-up sail and disordered rigging, gradually disappeared from view; and a few seconds later the billows ebbed and flowed, and rose and sank over the spot, as if nothing out of the common had occurred to disturb their serenity. The only traces of the late disaster were the ever-widening circular ripples which, glowing under the yellow beams of the moon, spread out and onwards in fairy-like orbits, gradually dissipating themselves in the immensity of the ocean beyond.
Dixon's voice was unusually grave as he turned to address the middy.
"We may thank Providence, sir, that we didn't all go to the bottom. We've had a narrow squeak for it, that's sartin, for the poor old hooker went down mortal sudden at the last."
Hubert made no response, for his feelings were too much for him; and the coxswain, with good-hearted tact, turned the attention of his companions to the more practical question of effecting a landing upon the island.
In a few minutes the trio had splashed and struggled their way to the more elevated reefs of rocks which lay above high-water mark, and here they paused for a few minutes to recover their breath, and wring the water as best they could from their dripping garments.
"The sea-water ain't very good for our cutlasses," observed Phillips, as he emptied the fluid out of his scabbard.
"It was best to bring 'em, you see, mate," answered Dixon, "for who knows what savages we may encounter upon this here island? And they may take it into their ugly noddles to dispute our landing."
"Can any one see the dinghy?" asked the middy, speaking for the first time.
"There she be, sir," said Phillips, pointing across the moonlit waters; "just dodging out from behind that rock what's shaped summat like a bear."
"Ah! I see her now," exclaimed Hubert; "let's push on at once, and perhaps we shall reach the shore first."
In an instant the little party was once more in motion, and though the rocks were rough and in places slippery, they made good progress and rapidly drew near the head of the little inlet towards which Morgan was slowly propelling the heavily laden dinghy.
"I can see no sign ob de native," observed Ugly-Mug, who had been carefully scanning the aspect of the shore and the low palm- clad hills which sloped up from it; "I tink we no hab to fight wid' de sharp cutlash dis time."
"There may be none close at hand," said Dixon, with a doubtful air; "but it ain't possible to tell in this light, and there might be a good few lurking about among the palm-trees yonder."
"I think it must be an unknown and uninhabited island," observed Hubert, "or it would have been marked upon the chart."
"Maybe you're right, sir; but I've heerd tell that these seas have never been properly surveyed. Howsomever, we must be on the look-out for treachery, and ready to fight for our lives if necessary."
"Perhaps the natives are all caulking," put in Phillips, "and don't know anything about the wreck of the dhow."
"I tink most-likely him sleep wid' one eye open, like de alligator," said Ugly-Mug, with a guttural laugh, "and den him bery mosh cruel and sly. If him brown man, den look out and hab de cutlash sharpen up ready for what Massa Dixon call de 'scrummage.' If him real pukka black man like Ogly-Mog, den have no fear, and eberyting come in de good and peaceful way for sho'. I tell massa true word!"
"I hope we shall discover neither black nor brown men," said Hubert; "for even if they appeared to be friendly, we should have to be constantly on our guard against treachery."
Our friends had now reached the shores of the inlet, which were of firm sand sprinkled here and there with shells and fragments of coral. It was an admirable place to beach a boat, as the neighbouring rocks formed a very efficient breakwater, and completely broke the power of the surf.
As far as Hubert could ascertain in the deceptive moonlight, the place appeared to be deserted, although there were some large boulders at the head of the beach which might easily serve for an ambuscade of natives if necessary; and these he determined to examine as soon as the dinghy had been beached, and communications opened with Morgan.
As the latter seaman, in response to orders from the middy, gave way with a will, and sent his tiny craft snoring through the water towards the shore, Dixon came up and accosted our hero.
"Beg pardon, sir, but if I was you, I wouldn't have the dinghy hauled up high and dry till so be as we've found out whether or no there are any natives skulking about; because if we should be suddenly attacked by overwhelming numbers and obliged to retreat, why, the boat would save at any rate three of us, and the rest must swim for it, hanging on to a rope over the starn."
"You're a splendid fellow, Dixon, and think of everything!" exclaimed Hubert; "I think your plan is a capital one."
The dinghy was now aground in the clear shallow water, and the middy was delighted to find that Hudson had not suffered in any way from his enforced removal from the Indian Chief. Indeed, he had insisted on being provided by Morgan with a loaded rifle, which he had carried across his knees whilst steering the boat to the shore.
The water was so smooth that the boat required but little attention, but Ugly-Mug was told off to keep an eye upon her; and as Hudson was not allowed to disembark for the present, he remained in the stern-sheets, impatiently and nervously handling his loaded rifle, as if in anticipation of the immediate appearance of armed natives, though the poor fellow had scarce strength enough to lift the heavy weapon to his shoulder.
Armed with rifles and revolvers, Hubert and the rest of his followers advanced rapidly and in profound silence towards the before-mentioned boulders of rock, which loomed out huge and indistinct in the moonlight, throwing broad dark shadows upon the tawny sand.
To the great relief of the party, they found no lurking enemy lying in ambuscade for them; but it was still necessary to make a brief examination of some thickets of dense shrubs and underwood which intervened between the upper limit of the shore and a wide- stretching palm-grove beyond.
Whilst pursuing this necessary but troublesome investigation, Hubert fancied that he heard a suspicious rustling amongst some stunted jungle which he was at the moment passing at the head of his followers. Coming abruptly to a halt, and giving a warning exclamation, the midshipman, with a loaded revolver in his hand, peered intently into the shadowy recesses of the dense underwood. As he did so, he was startled by seeing a head suddenly pop out from behind an umbrageous leafy shrub within a few feet of the spot where he was standing.
Thoroughly alarmed, and suspecting an ambuscade of natives, the midshipman instantly levelled his revolver and fired full at the dark apparition.
A wild shriek and a crash amongst the underwood followed, and then came a deep pathetic groan as from a grievously wounded man.
"DASH my toplights if that chap ain't a gone coon!" exclaimed Dixon, as with drawn cutlass in hand he dashed into the brake; "look out for the rest of 'em, lads!"
Hubert, who was feeling rather ashamed of having fired so precipitately at what might turn out after all to be a harmless native, was preparing to follow his coxswain's example, when he was somewhat startled by hearing a loud guffaw at his elbow. Turning in astonishment, he at once saw that the laugh—which seemed singularly out of place—proceeded from Phillips, who was going through all sorts of absurd contortions, both in form and feature, in order apparently to prevent himself from going off into an uncontrollable fit of laughter.
"What's the matter?" asked the middy rather sternly; "have you been swilling at the grog-bottle, or what?"
"Bless your heart, no, sir," responded the seaman, making a vigorous effort to pull himself together; "but that there animal you bowled over was a chimpanzee or summat of the sort. It worn't no man, I seed that as plain as a pikestaff, though it's dark enough under them trees for a young gent like you to make a mistake."
The middy flushed up to the roots of his hair with annoyance, for he had little doubt that Phillips' keen eyes had judged more correctly than his own.
Dixon at this moment settled the matter by bounding out of the underwood into the midst of the little group. The coxswain's face was irradiated with a broad grin, and in his arms he bore the dead body of a large monkey, which he deposited on the ground at Hubert's feet.
"'Twas a good shot of yours, Mr. Ashley," he said, with an amused twinkle in his eyes; "but if there ain't no worse natives on the island than this, I don't think as how we shall have much fighting to do."
"But surely you thought it was a man, too, Dixon," said the middy in a very disconcerted tone, as he bent down to examine the defunct animal.
"So I did, sir; so I did; but I hadn't any idea until you fired that anything had hove in sight. When I heard the crash and the shriek, and that there weary human kind of groan, I made up my mind that we'd stumbled on a gang of thieving varmints what was going for us, and that you'd spotted one of 'em and driven a bullet through his ugly carcass. I felt a regular kind of shock like when my eyes fell upon a poor expiring monkey, and shiver my timbers if I could even laugh, I was that took aback!"
"I'm very glad it wasn't a man," said the middy thoughtfully; "I should have felt like a murderer if I had killed him without any provocation."
"Them feelings does you honour, Mr. Ashley," said Dixon approvingly; "but in coorse, as we quite understood, you broached-to a bit with the suddenness of the thing, and the bullet was out of the muzzle of your pistol afore you could sing out 'Old Billy O'!"
"I don't think we need trouble ourselves any further about exploring," observed Hubert; "I feel almost certain that the island is uninhabited."
"I think it would be quite safe to encamp near the landing- place for the rest of the night," said Dixon cautiously. "We can have summat to eat, and snatch forty winks, and then we shall be pretty fresh for what daylight may bring to the fore; for I ain't quite satisfied yet in my own mind as to there being no savages upon the island, and it won't do to run our heads into the lion's mouth, so to speak."
Our friends returned at a brisk pace to the beach, where they found Hudson and Ugly-Mug eagerly awaiting their re-appearance, for they had heard with considerable anxiety the sharp echoing report from the middy's revolver. As the reader may suppose, they were excessively amused at hearing of the episode which had led to the shot being fired.
The dinghy was soon hauled up high and dry, and then Hudson was carefully lifted out and carried by his stalwart shipmates to a sheltered spot under the lee of one of the large rocks near the head of the beach. Here the wounded man was made as comfortable as possible, with a roll of canvas as a pillow, whilst his shipmates busied themselves in preparing some food from their scanty store. It was resolved not to light a fire for fear of attracting any possible inhabitants to the spot, and so our friends, having donned their dry suits of clothes, contented themselves with a hasty meal of cold viands; and then having stretched themselves out upon the sand, they quickly fell into the deep and dreamless sleep which fatigue and exhaustion engender, Hubert deeming it unnecessary to post a sentinel.
So worn out with the anxieties and exertions of the night was our hero, that Dixon found considerable difficulty in arousing him at about 7 o'clock in the morning; and much amused was the coxswain at the blank look of amazement with which Hubert gazed around him on first opening his eyes.
"It's all right, sir! We're encamped on Monkey Island, and thinking about having some breakfast; will you have a cup of tea?"
"Monkey Island!" exclaimed the middy, looking around him in a bewildered way; "oh, I remember all about it now, but really I thought at first I was dreaming, Dixon."
"You'll be as fresh as a daisy when you've had a cup of tea, sir; but I'm sorry there ain't no milk or cream for you. There aren't no cows on this here dairy-farm so far as we know, and Ugly-Mug forgot to stow away any tins of Swiss milk amongst the stores. Poor sort of a caterer I calls him!"
Hubert's eyes now lit upon the Krooman, who was upon his knees on the sand, before a small wood fire, energetically blowing with his blubber lips at the red-hot sticks—the principal result of the manoeuvre being that clouds of fine wood-ash were propelled into the black cook's face!
"Gosh and golly!" he exclaimed at length, as he sprang to his feet and energetically rubbed his irritated eyelids. "What him play de fool like dis for? But nebber mind, de kittle boil ober presently and gib him toko for yam, ha, ha!" and the Krooman chuckled at his own joke, and wagged his woolly head in a highly ludicrous manner.
"You've managed to find some water, then?" observed the middy interrogatively.
"Bless you, sir, yes; there's a stream quite handy up in the jungle yonder," responded Dixon. "Phillips and I found it out quite an hour agone; and as we didn't see no natives or nothink, we determined to light up a bit of a fire and have a drop of hot tea."
"How's Hudson?" asked Hubert.
"Still asleep, sir," answered Phillips, with a grin; "nothing won't wake him, I reckon, unless somebody will capsize some hot tea upon his nose—and perhaps even that won't have any effect."
The marine certainly seemed to be in a very deep slumber, but it was easy to tell by his regular and tranquil breathing that there was nothing wrong, and that Nature was merely doing her best to resuscitate the tired-out and feeble frame.
Hubert stepped out a few paces from the sheltering rock and gazed curiously about him. It being now broad daylight, he was enabled to take a clear and comprehensive survey of that portion of the island which lay within his ken. It was a glorious tropical morning, and a gentle but invigorating breeze was pouring in from the offing, rippling the blue sea into glittering wavelets, and stirring the heavy drooping leaves of the palm trees into a faint semblance of activity, as it swept with cool briny breath amongst their great fan-like fronds. The tide had receded since our adventurers had landed, and the sands were consequently more uncovered, as well as the treacherous reef of rocks which had proved such a fatal stumbling-block to the unfortunate Indian Chief. But it immediately struck our hero that the view from the spot where he stood was very circumscribed, for a lofty jutting point, thickly clothed with palms, completely shut out any prospect to the northward; whilst in the opposite direction a somewhat elevated plateau or table- land, dotted with scrubby bushes, effectually prevented any distant view being obtained, falling away shorewards as it did in an abrupt cliff-like escarpment of reddish sandstone, honeycombed with small caves.
Shading his eyes with his hand, Hubert gazed long and anxiously out to sea, in the faint hope that some passing sail might be in sight, gleaming under the rays of the morning sun; but nothing rewarded his earnest scrutiny, even upon the distant and rather hazy horizon. The ocean seemed a blank, and the middy felt only too forcibly in his own mind that the chance of vessels approaching the island was remote indeed, owing to its situation being so far removed from the principal trade routes in the Indian seas.
Hubert's somewhat unpleasant train of thought was soon interrupted by Ugly-Mug, who had at length succeeded in producing an excellent brew of tea, proclaiming the fact in triumphant pigeon-English, and with many wide grins and knowing wags of his woolly cranium.
There had been, no time to secure crockery or knives and forks when abandoning the Indian Chief; but this was no serious loss in the eyes of our adventurers, who drank their tea out of large hollow shells which Morgan had discovered upon the beach; and their pocket-knives answered admirably for spreading cold fat pork—a fid of: which the Krooman had taken especial care to secure—upon ship's biscuit. Hunger is an excellent appetiser, and our friends made a capital repast off their scanty rations.
"How long will our supply of food last, do you suppose, Ugly- Mug?" asked our hero, as he held out his shell for a second allowance of tea.
The Krooman looked dubiously at the somewhat scanty supply of stores which was scattered about near him, and after deliberating gravely for some moments, replied, "You see, sar, we five men hab all got de big mouth and de big 'tummick, and—"
"Speak for yourself, old ebony-shanks!" here interrupted a deep bass voice, "and don't be so rude and personal in yer remarks."
It was Hudson, the marine, who spoke. The fragrant fumes of the tea had evidently roused him from his slumbers in time to overhear the Krooman's remark.
"Hallo, mate!" exclaimed Dixon cheerily; "you're all alive and kicking then!"
"Ay, that I am, sonney, don't you make any mistake! I feels a sight better this morning, but have got a doosid rum feeling about the innards, and that's the truth of it!"
"Oh, that's the lay of the land, is it!" said the coxswain jocosely; "what'll you take for breakfast—a fricasee o' monkey, a snake-pie, or a stuffed albatross?"
"Massa Hudson get noddin from me!" put in Ugly-Mug angrily; "let him go fis'. Ebony-shank indeed! and den him talk about de rude an' personal remark. Ha, ha! bery good, bery good for sho'! Ha, ha, ha!"
"I ax your pardon, I'm sure, Mr. Ugly-Mug," said Hudson, with a wink at Dixon; "you're a true gentleman of colour, and I'll trouble you for a thimbleful of that excellent bohea of yours, if so be as you've got a drop to spare for a disabled old hulk."
The Krooman at once recovered his good temper, and handed the marine some tea, remarking, "You bery cibil when you please, Massa Hudson, dat I know ob coorse. Take plenty care you no burn your troat wid de scaldin' tea, for him as hot as Ole Nick!"
"But about the stores, Ugly-Mug," put in Hubert; "how long do you think they'll last?"
"I tink one week, massa, dat all."
"Only one week!" exclaimed the middy, rather aghast; "it's to be hoped we shall find something upon the island then, if we're not taken off meanwhile."
"Massa, I go fis'," said Ugly-Mug, "dat better dan noddin; and dere is plenty mosh green cocoa-nut, tousand and tousand ob dem. Good cup de shell make too when Ogly-Mog get him down off de tree—oh, bery good cup, you bet your Sunday hat!"
"You'll find it rather difficult to get hold of the cocoa- nuts," observed Hubert; "the trees are so very high, and there are no branches beneath to give you a lift up."
"Gosh and golly!" exclaimed Ugly-Mug, rolling his eyes round and round in astonishment; "what him want branch for? I learn to climb de cocoa-palm when one piccaninny ob seben year old. Plenty ob dem in de jungle near Sierra Leone, massa, dat am sartin."
"Plenty of cocoa-nuts, or seven-year-old piccaninnies, Ugly- Mug?" asked Hudson facetiously.
"Ha, ha! you bery fonny man, Massa Hudson; you makes all de peoples laugh like anyting. Eben you make your grandmudder jomp wid' sich hombog, I tink, eh?"
But the marine only laughed at this sally.
"It's all very fine to talk about fishing," observed Morgan to the Krooman, "but I'm afraid we've no fishing tackle in the dinghy, worse luck!"
"Which you like me make, Massa Morgan," answered Ugly-Mug, looking solemnly at the speaker with his great black eyes; "one fis' net, or de hook and line what am lower ober de side? Den, too, I can build a shanty ob timber dat one can lib in as snog as a toad in him hole!"
"Why, you're quite a genius, Ugly-Mug!" exclaimed Hubert delightedly; "you're cook, carpenter and climber all rolled into one—a regular Jack-of-all-trades."
"Ay, he's got the right sperrit in him," observed Dixon approvingly, "and is generally to the fore when he's wanted. And now, sir, if so be as you've no objection, I think it would he a good thing to hold a bit of council of war like, and decide upon our operations for the day."
"I'm quite of your opinion, Dixon, and I should be glad to know what you yourself propose."
The seaman looked thoughtfully upon the ground for some moments, then took a short clay pipe primed with tobacco out of the lining of his cap, and commenced slowly and deliberately smoking without uttering a word.
"I declare you are like a taciturn old Turk or Red Indian, Dixon," said Hubert impatiently; "a penny for your thoughts, if they are worth it!"
"I don't know as how they are, sir," answered the coxswain, with a smile, as he withdrew the pipe from his lips; "for I was thinking at that moment how doosid little baccy we'd brought ashore with us!"
There was a laugh at Dixon's expense, and then that worthy salt delivered himself of a more practical speech.
"Fust of all," he observed, "let's see, my lads, what weapons and ammunition we can muster, and overhaul everything what come ashore in the dinghy."
This proposition was at once acted upon, and presently the sands in the immediate proximity of the rock were strewn with firearms, cutlasses, cartridge-cases, and other paraphernalia.
"We've got a rifle and a revolver apiece, that's sure enough," said Dixon; "and here's a shot-gun what belongs to Mr. Ashley, and which ought to be very useful indeed, if there's any game upon the island. Of ammunition there ain't very much, and we must be as sparing as possible of it, or likely enough we'll come to grief. Then here's an axe-head which I found stowed away in the dinghy's locker, and which is worth its weight in gold to us just now, I take it. We'll soon fix a handle to him, when we get into the jungle yonder. Of provisions Ugly-Mug thinks there's enough for a week, and if not I reckon we must forage for ourselves, lads, and find summat for our stowage either on sea or shore till such time as we can shape a departure course from the island."
"And I propose," struck in Hubert excitedly, "that we set to work and build a vessel large enough for a cruise to the coast of Africa, and then we may fall in with the Spiteful."
"Hear hear! that sounds shipshape, that do," exclaimed Phillips.
"I can build canoe or catamaran bery well," put in the Krooman with his spacious grin; "but I tink him capsize widout mosh bodder, and then eberyting go to de locker ob Massa Davy Jone."
"We should find it difficult to build a vessel without nails or metal fastenings of any kind," observed Dixon thoughtfully; "but I don't think as how we need discuss that question just at present, Mr. Ashley. What I propose is that we at once undertake an exploration of the island, to find out if it is really inhabited or not."
"Yes, that will be glorious fun!" exclaimed Hubert, with flashing eyes; "let's start off at once!"
"Some of us must remain here to look after Hudson, and guard the boat and provisions," said Morgan.
"Right you are, sonney," observed Dixon, "and if I'm not mistook, it would be better for only two of us to go exploring, and for the rest to guard the camp. It would be a terrible bad look-out if we lost our boat and all the grub."
"I'll head the exploring expedition, then," cried our hero, "and take you or Morgan with me. I've got a pocket-compass, and will take my gun in case we see any game."
"You'll want a steady hand with you, Mr. Ashley, just to see you don't do nothing rash," observed the coxswain laughingly, "and I think Morgan might go with you, for he's got an old head on young shoulders. As for me, I think I'd better bide where I am, and keep a bright look-out for anything unbeknownst that may turn up. I hope you won't be away more than a couple of hours, sir, or I shall grow uneasy."
"Oh, we'll be back in that time," said the middy, snatching up his gun. "Come along, Morgan."
HUBERT had stuck a loaded revolver into his belt, and as he did not wish to be over-weighted, had discarded his cutlass in favour of the more serviceable fowling-piece, which was a twelve-bore breechloader. Morgan carried a rifle, cutlass, and revolver, and was also pretty heavily laden with ammunition; but he was a strong, stalwart young fellow, who thought lightly of such matters, especially when anything which promised excitement or adventure was in the wind, for though naturally cool, cautious, and calculating where much was at stake or danger loomed in the distance, he nevertheless enjoyed with all the zest of a schoolboy anything which broke in upon the dull, monotonous routine of a sailor's life.
"Steer to the norrard, sir," shouted Dixon after the two explorers, "and mind you don't lose your compass bearings."
Hubert waved his hand in token that he understood, and after slipping a couple of cartridges into his gun, which he left at half-cock, strode out at such a rapid pace along the hard sands in a northerly direction that even the active and wiry-limbed Morgan had some difficulty in keeping up with him.
"I'm dying to get to the other side of that cape," observed Hubert, pointing in the direction of the palm-clad promontory which, as we mentioned before, formed the extreme boundary of the bay to the northward.
"Ah, and so am I, sir. We ought to get a much more extensive view of the island from the other side, and if there are any inhabitants, I suppose we shall see some signs of them."
"I hope that it will turn out to be an uninhabited island," said the middy, "for I want to hoist our flag, and take possession of it for the British Government. Such a jolly lark it would be!"
"There's an ensign in the dinghy's locker, I know," observed the young seaman; "I saw it there this morning, but of course it isn't much bigger than a pocket-handkerchief."
"That doesn't matter a bit. We'll rig up a flagstaff by-and-by on some high point, and take possession in a formal manner. Perhaps the island will do for a coaling-station."
"We must find some sort of a harbour, sir, first. That bay we landed in wouldn't be safe for vessels to enter."
"No, that it certainly wouldn't; but I'm sure that we shall discover a safe anchorage along the coast somewhere. Oh, I say, Morgan, look what a lot of monkeys there are in those trees near the end of the beach; there must be hundreds, I should think, and they seem to be enjoying themselves tremendously."
"Yes, they appear to be having a high old time of it," answered the seaman, with a laugh, as he glanced in the direction Hubert had indicated; "it'll be some amusement to us watching their tricks and gambols, for I expect we shall find the life a bit monotonous on this island, sir."
"But we're not going to stop here very long," said the middy, throwing his gun over his shoulder with an energetic gesture; "we'll just explore the island, and find out all its capabilities and resources; and then sail away in search of the Spiteful."
"That's all very fine, Mr. Ashley, but where's the vessel to come from? You know Dixon doesn't think it possible that we can build even a boat."
"Don't you think we could enlarge the dinghy so that it would hold us all?" asked the middy. "I believe that it might be managed; and Ugly-Mug knows something about boat-building, he says."
"The Krooboy knows how to dig out a canoe or make a catamaran, I don't doubt, sir; but I suspect he doesn't know much about the lines of a dockyard-built boat."
"It was a happy idea of Dixon's calling this Monkey Island," observed Hubert, as he and his companion struck off from the beach and began to ascend a sloping bank which led up into the palm-grove. "There are such heaps of monkeys that no name could be more appropriate, and I hereby dub myself the Rajah of it."
"You'll make Dixon Prime Minister, I suppose, sir; and if you've no objection, I should like to be First Lord of the Admiralty,—without salary, of course!"
Hubert gave a ringing laugh.
"I could pay you in cowrie-shells," he said; "I see there are any amount of them on the beach, and, as you know, they pass for money upon the African coast."
"I think I can undertake to do the work for nothing, as it's not very heavy," rejoined his companion in the same bantering tone; "and Ugly-Mug can be chief constructor, as he's up to making a catamaran."
"It strikes me that Ugly-Mug will have too much power in my kingdom," observed the middy laughingly; "he's already cook, carpenter, climber, and chief constructor, which is enough to make any one all at sea.* He may become an ambitious schemer, and plot to depose the Rajah!"
(* All at C, I suppose our hero meant! He ought to have been sent to Coventry for such a fearful pun!—A.L.K.)
"Then you'll have to cry, 'Off with his head!' like the Queen in 'Alice in Wonderland,'" said Morgan, with a smile. "There is nothing like nipping treason in the bud, you know, sir."
"Upon my word, I think you ought to be Chief Secretary for Ireland, Morgan, instead of First Lord of the Admiralty. You're evidently cut out for that billet!"
"And be called every name under the sun for doing my duty, and stamping out crime, and brutality to helpless dumb animals! No, thank you, sir; my temper wouldn't stand that sort of thing, and I should be continually in hot water, specially if I strung up the agitators to the nearest trees!"
Hubert placed his hand familiarly on the young seaman's shoulder, and looked at him earnestly.
"Morgan, I'm quite convinced that you're a gentleman by birth, and I wish you would confide in me and tell me your history, for I take a real interest in you, and should like you to look upon me as a friend."
The bluejacket's eyes glistened as he gratefully glanced at his young companion for a moment, but almost instantly their expression changed to one of sadness and gloom.
"It's true enough that I'm a gentleman by birth," he remarked in a mournful tone. "For your sympathy and interest in me, Mr. Ashley, I thank you most heartily. God only knows how much I've had to put up with from those who should have been the first to befriend me. My name is not Morgan in reality, but Davenant, and I'm heir to a baronetcy, the title being at present held by my uncle. The fact is that my father behaved with great cruelty to me when I was a boy, and eventually I ran away to sea and shipped on board a Barnstaple brig. Later on, when I had become a thorough seaman, I managed to exchange into the navy. But we won't talk of this now. Here we are close to the jungle, and must keep our weather eyes lifting in case of any natives or wild animals being about."
Our explorers had just traversed a narrow grove of cocoa-nut palms—which they noticed were laden with fruit—and then dipping down on the other side of a low ridge had found themselves face to face with a broad belt of forest trees, underneath whose umbrageous branches a dense undergrowth was flourishing, amid which myriads of creepers were hanging down in natural festoons, forming an ideal gymnasium for the acrobatic monkeys that swarmed in these shadowy jungle depths.
Astonished, and evidently not a little alarmed at the advent of human beings into their forest home, these active little animals darted with wonderful celerity to the topmost branches of the tallest trees, ensconcing themselves behind the thick overhanging foliage, and chattering and screaming in an angry, noisy, and perturbed manner.
"I should say that those monkeys had never seen human beings before," observed Hubert; "they seem to be quite terrified, don't they?"
"Perhaps they've never seen white men before," suggested Morgan. "If there are any inhabitants upon this island, you may depend upon it they're copper-coloured like the Malays or Singhalese."
"I see no signs of a path or beaten track through the jungle," said the middy, "so I vote we strike straight downwards in the hope of emerging upon the beach again. It can't be a very broad belt of timber, for I see the sea glimmering through the trunks here and there."
Morgan having assented to this plan, our explorers plunged into the forest, which was pleasantly shady and cool after the somewhat scorching heat outside. The thorny shrubs and network of creepers and climbing plants, however, proved a very serious obstacle to a rapid advance, and Hubert in a very few minutes got his clothes sadly torn and his face and hands badly scratched—and Morgan did not fare much better.
"I wish I had a sharp billhook here," exclaimed the middy, as he resolutely forced his way onward; "I'd soon cut out a jolly good path here."
"I'm almost sorry we didn't stick to the shore," said Morgan; "we could easily have worked our way round the promontory, and so avoided the jungle."
"Oh, I think this is rather a spree altogether," laughed Hubert, "though I suppose I shall be in rags and tatters by the time we get out of the forest. Never mind! ventilation is an excellent thing in the tropics, and then we get an opportunity of meeting with game."
"Or snakes, leeches, scorpions, and centipedes," added the young seaman grimly.
"Ugh! shut up, Morgan, do; you make me feel quite creepy!" exclaimed our hero, with a shudder.
At length, fatigued and out of breath, our adventurers found themselves upon the confines of the belt of almost impervious jungle, and a charming scene burst upon their view. They found themselves standing at the top of a gentle grassy slope or open savannah of turf, which, studded here and there with natural groups of fine trees, fell away in peaceful undulations to the low cliffs which bounded the shore. Carrying the eye on, it encountered a wide stretch of glistening golden sands, on whose firm expanse the snowy surf broke with a low thunderous boom; and beyond, in a wide and unbroken expanse of rippling, sparkling water, lay the glorious summer sea smiling under the blue arching canopy of heaven, its pure transparent hues of ultramarine paling away here and there amid the shallows into long irregular bars of translucent green. Here and there a broad purple cloud-shadow sailed slowly and majestically across the bosom of the ocean, and quantities of sea-gulls and other marine birds swooped and swam and dived in evident exuberance of spirits—rejoicing in the clear air and glorious sunshine, and bathing their flashing wings in the spray-capped waves that fretted the surface of nature's vast natural mirror.
Both the middy and his companion eagerly scanned the distant curve of the horizon, but there was no trace of any vessel to be seen; so they turned their attention to the somewhat extensive view of their temporary home which lay stretched out before them, including a considerable coast-line, and a long, somewhat lofty, serrated ridge of forest-clad hill which like a backbone appeared to bisect Monkey Island and divide it into eastern and western districts. The coastline immediately beneath them trended away in a semi-circular sweep to the westward, guarded here and there by reefs of outlying rocks, over which the sea broke in showers of foam. The same firm sands which were in existence on the southern side of the promontory were here even more extensive, and Hubert longed to rush down to them and indulge in a plunge into the foam-capped arching breakers that were dashing themselves so invitingly upon the shell-strewn strand. From prudential motives, however, he felt compelled, at any rate for the present, to defer indulging in this greatest of all tropical luxuries.
Far as the eye could reach, no traces of any inhabitants were visible. No canoes were drawn up upon the beach or ploughed the glittering waves in proximity to the island; nor could any huts be discerned in any direction, or anything in the shape of habitation. No blue smoke curled up amongst the umbrageous trees which dotted the landscape and clothed the sides of the fertile hills, nor did any sound of the human voice or echoing resonance of hatchet or hammer rise into the warm air in rivalry of the quaint bird and animal cries which continually ascended from the shades of their cool forest home.
"I'm more sure than ever that Monkey Island is uninhabited," exclaimed Hubert triumphantly to his companion. "Certainly it's something like looking at the moon: we can only see one side from this point."
"You may depend upon it, sir, that the population wouldn't live upon one side of the island, and not upon the other," responded Morgan; "but still the only way to prove it is either to climb to the summit of that dividing range, or else to walk right around the coastline of your little kingdom—for I think I may venture to call it yours now."
"Well, I vote for climbing to the top of the ridge," said Hubert; "it isn't very far, and the country appears to be pretty open till you get to the base of the hills."
"Right you are, sir!" said the young seaman, shouldering his rifle; "I think it would be a capital place to reconnoitre from, for one ought to be able to see the whole of the island from the highest point."
Hubert now cocked his gun, for he fully expected to get a shot at some bird or beast. Nor was he disappointed in this expectation, for as he strode on through the somewhat long grass of the savannah a small covey of birds resembling partridges suddenly arose out of the herbage with a noisy whirr, and took to flight. Hubert's gun was at his shoulder in a moment, and he had the good fortune to knock over a bird right and left, Morgan acting as retriever and picking them up.
"Larger and fatter than most partridges!" he exclaimed, as he held them up to view. "You may depend upon it they're very good eating."
"Won't old Ugly-Mug be pleased!" said Hubert, as he proceeded to reload his gun; "they'll replenish his larder famously, and it'll be fun seeing him make a sort of gipsy's spit to roast by. I tell you what, Morgan, I wish my chum, Phil Paddon, was here. He just would enjoy this sort of thing—shooting, camping out, and roughing it in regular Robinson Crusoe fashion."
"I don't doubt it, sir, and I expect any of the midshipmen in the Spiteful's gun-room would give their eyes to be standing in your shoes at this minute."
Hubert began to whistle a merry tune, for he felt particularly light-hearted at that moment. The discovery of game upon the island had been a great relief to him, inasmuch as he had dreaded the idea of provisions running short; and he felt perfectly convinced in his own mind that there was nothing to be feared in the shape of savage or cannibalistic inhabitants.
"Phil said he had a rummy dream about me," he muttered laughingly to himself, "and evidently thought I was coming to grief in some way. He little thought that within a week I should become the Rajah of Monkey Island! Poor fellow! I'm awfully sorry for him though, for he'll be in a deuce of a funk when he finds we don't turn up."
Our adventurers had now walked inland for some considerable distance, and were relieved to find that their advance was not much impeded by forest, and this fact enabled them to cover the ground with rapidity. They had crossed a stream, quitted the savannah, and were just commencing to ascend a rather steep slope which was thickly studded with rocks and boulders of various shapes and dimensions, when our hero suddenly felt his arm gripped tightly by Morgan, who whispered in a startled tone, "Look at that cave!"
Hubert stopped abruptly, and his eyes following the direction in which his companion was gazing, instantly fell upon the yawning mouth of a cave, near which an old battered musket was lying.
FOR a few moments Hubert stood petrified with astonishment, staring vacantly at the suddenly revealed cave and the mysterious-looking musket, which latter looked as if it had been carelessly thrown down at the entrance by some inmate of the place. Only a few moments previously the middy had been loud and emphatic in his assertions that the island was uninhabited, and now without any warning he and his companion had stumbled upon the entrance of a cave which had all the appearance of being occupied by human beings. It was apparently the work of Nature, being a vast hollow in some of the cliff-like rocks which rose up like a rampart and obstructed the way.
Silently and with a swift gesture Morgan pointed to a clump of bushes growing amid some rocks close at hand, which would apparently afford them concealment; and in a moment the pair had ensconced themselves behind the sheltering foliage in a somewhat bewildered state of mind. From the spot where they were crouching they could observe the mouth of the cave without being themselves seen, but of course it was within the bounds of possibility that their arrival upon the scene had been perceived by the inmates of the cavern, who might be deliberating as to what course to pursue.
A few minutes of intense anxiety to our adventurers followed, during which they silently got their weapons in readiness so as to be prepared for all eventualities. Then, as no one emerged from the cave, or even peeped out to reconnoitre, their spirits rose, and it began to dawn upon them that, after all, the inmates might be absent on some shooting or fishing excursion in another part of the island.
"I tell you what, sir," whispered Morgan to the middy, "if there had been any one in the cave when you fired at those birds, they would have been certain to hear the discharge, and rush out to try and discover who we were."
"Then you think there's nobody inside?" said Hubert in the same low tone.
"Well, I can't be certain, sir, because you see the inmates might be fast asleep; but barring that, I think it's most probably empty," answered Morgan cautiously.
"In that case it would be dangerous to stay here for long," observed Hubert musingly, "for they may return at any moment and discover us."
"My advice is to return at once to our bivouac and give Dixon the alarm," urged the young seaman, "for the inhabitants of this cavern may be desperate chaps that would think nothing of murdering us in cold blood; and your shots may already have given them the alarm if they happened to be within hearing."
"That's true," observed the middy, "but I must say I should like to find out before returning whether the inmates are Europeans or natives. Let's search the cave and try and find some clue!"
"There's nothing I should like better, sir; but I mustn't let you run your head into danger," said Morgan doubtfully.
"I'm determined to go inside," asserted the middy, with an air of decision; "and if you want to prevent my doing anything rash, you'd better come with me, Morgan."
"I'll go with you if you're bent upon it, Mr. Ashley; but I don't know what Dixon will say if anything disastrous happens."
"Hang Dixon!" exclaimed the middy irreverently; "he mustn't try and exercise too much influence over his Rajah's movements, or he'll come to grief."
So saying, Hubert rose to his feet, cocked his gun, and saw that his revolver was ready for use. Then taking a rapid survey of his immediate surroundings, and ascertaining that no human beings were visible, he ran rapidly up the slope to the mouth of the cave, accompanied by Morgan, who held his rifle ready for use.
Without stopping to examine the musket, our adventurers at once entered the cave, treading with stealthy silent footsteps, and with every faculty on the alert to discover a possible lurking enemy. It was an intensely exciting moment, and Hubert could hear his heart beating with mighty throbs.
The interior of the cavern at first appeared to be very dark, but the glare of the sunlight outside had been very intense, and it was some moments before our explorers' eyes could accustom themselves to the semi-gloom of the dark rock-chamber, the atmosphere of which felt chill and dank. The floor appeared to be even, and to have had sand strewn over its surface, and in a corner near the entrance Hubert noticed a heap of dry grass, which had undoubtedly been used as a couch. Turning for a moment to point this out to his companion, the middy felt his foot come into contact with something hard, which on being picked up turned out to be the handle of a hatchet.
Being now able to distinguish objects much more definitely, our explorers paused for a few moments to take a rapid survey of their surroundings. As far as they could tell the cave was deserted, but as at the further end it took a circuitous turn to the left and the actual extremity was not visible, it was impossible to decide this point without a more complete examination. The sides and roof of the cavern were of grey rock, much hollowed and fissured, but there was no appearance of the trickling damp so often found in these subterranean dwellings, and it was evident that the chilliness of the atmosphere was merely caused by the inability of the sun's rays to penetrate into the interior. A faint light struggled in through a long natural cleft or crevice in the roof towards the further end of the cave, but otherwise the sole illumination proceeded from the yawning passage by which the middy and his ally had just entered.
"We'd better go right to the end," whispered Hubert, putting his mouth close to the seaman's ear; "I don't believe there's any one there, and we may find something of importance."
Morgan nodded his head in sign of approval, and the two silently glided forward on their strange quest, Hubert with a loaded revolver held ready in his hand, and the seaman with his rifle firmly clenched and half-raised to his shoulder.
Certainly there had been no momentous discovery made in the outer cavern. With the exception of the rude bed of grass and the hatchet handle, the place appeared to be absolutely bare as far as could be ascertained during such a cursory examination.
In a moment our friends had passed through a dark winding passage in the rock, and then suddenly found themselves in a small elliptical chamber well-lit from a huge fissure in the roof, which was partially obscured by a mass of lichen, some straggling portions of which hung down some distance into the cave.
"There's no one here," exclaimed the middy in a relieved tone, "so we can overhaul the place without fear of interruption."
"We must be as quick as possible, nevertheless," answered the more cautious seaman, "for if the fellows should return and find us here, it would be no joke."
Realizing the truth of his follower's remark, Hubert instantly set to work to examine the contents of the cave, in the hope of discovering some clue to the identity of the mysterious inmates. The first thing to attract his attention was a small kind of sea- chest which stood in one corner, and which bore upon its lid the initials "H.M.," underneath which was scrawled in yellow paint the word "Alcide." As the box proved to be unlocked, our hero lifted the lid and peered in, but to his astonishment it was nearly empty. A sailor's pea-jacket, which looked as if it had been saturated with salt water, lay rolled up at the bottom, and near it was lying a broken comb, a rusty pocket-knife, and a small empty keg which emitted a smell of brandy.
"Well, this is a rum go," said Morgan, who had been assisting his young commander in the search; "it's evident this chest belongs to a sailor, but it's equally evident that he hasn't much valuable property to bless himself with."
"I'll have a look in his pockets," said Hubert, "and see if there are any papers in them that might throw any light on the subject;" and so saying he held up the pea-jacket and proceeded to turn the linings of the pockets inside-out. There was nothing whatever in these receptacles, however, and the middy slammed-to the lid of the chest, and proceeded impatiently to rummage about in another part of the cave, desiring Morgan to take the opposite side so as to save time.
There were several beds of grass and moss ranged around the walls, and near one of these Morgan discovered some copper coins strewn about, which appeared on examination to have come from the Singapore Mint. Meanwhile Hubert had lighted upon a scabbardless cutlass, a pistol, a broken compass, a coil of rope, and some canvas,—all of which were heaped together in a corner in a most untidy fashion. Near this miscellaneous collection were a few cooking utensils, which did not look as if they had been lately used, a pile of fire wood, two or three boxes of matches, some cocoa-nuts, and a sack half full of yams.
Hubert was examining the pistol, which appeared to be of foreign manufacture, when he was startled by an exclamation from Morgan, who had been groping about in the darkest part of the cavernous chamber.
"Hullo!" exclaimed the young seaman, "here's something that ought to unfold a tale of some kind and so saying he held up to view a torn, discoloured piece of blue paper, on which was scribbled in pencil in a shaky hand an almost indecipherable scrawl in French. It ran as follows:—
"A Ceux qui Trouvent ce Document.
"Je suis le dernier survivant de l'équipage infortuné du corsaire français "l'Alcide" de Bordeaux. Ce vaisseau s'est brisé sur les rochers de cette île. Un grand nombre d'entre nous étaient, a cette époque, malades de la fièvre, et quatre hommes de l'équipage se sont noyés en essayant de gagner la côte. La fièvre de Java a emporté un à un tous les survivants. C'est moi qui les ai tous enterrés, et maintenant je suis moi-même atteint de la maladie, et si le bon Dieu n'a pas pitié de moi je mourrai aussi. Hélas! quelle terrible fin que moi, mais je remercie la Sainte Vierge de ce que ma chère Marguerite ne sait rien de ce qui est arrivé, ni des méchants crimes dont nous sommes rendus coupables dans la mer des Indes. Je n'ai pas la force d'en écrire davantage car la fièvre me consume; mes souffrances sont horribles; et là mort est la qui me guette."
"Une partie de notre trésor était au nombre des épaves trouvées sur le rivage, et nous l'avons enterré en lieu sur derrière le—"
"Well, here's a rum start!" said Morgan, as he walked underneath the fissure in the roof of the cave and pored over the document. "It's all in French, and I can't make head or tail of it, for the little I ever knew of that language I've clean forgotten. Perhaps you can make something out of it, sir!"
Hubert ran his eye over the Frenchman's scrawl, but was forced very unwillingly to allow that though he could make out a few words here and there he could not translate the mysterious letter.
"Tell you what, sir," exclaimed Morgan suddenly, "Charlie Dixon hails from Jersey, and can jabber French just as well as English, so let's make the best of our way back to the bivouac and take this paper with us."
"Right you are!" assented Hubert. "There's nothing more to be seen here, so I vote we forge ahead at once. Won't the others be astonished just when we tell them about this cave?"
"Hush! what is that noise in the outer cavern?" exclaimed Morgan in a subdued but alarmed tone, as he laid a hand on the middy's arm; "don't you hear a footstep?"
Anxiously Hubert bent forward to listen.
Yes, undoubtedly there was the sound of stealthy footfalls in the outer chamber. They seemed to be drawing nearer and nearer.
Fred Morgan hastily crammed the Frenchman's letter into his pocket, and with a determined look upon his bronzed face brought his rifle to the present.
"The first man that pokes his nose around that corner will get a bullet in his brain," he whispered fiercely to our hero; "it's everything to strike the first decisive blow."
Cool and determined, Hubert prepared for a desperate conflict, for he did not doubt that the inmates of the cave would be enraged at the discovery that a couple of armed strangers were apparently in possession of their cavernous home.
MUCH surprised at hearing no sound of voices in the outer cave, and concluding from this circumstance that only one person had entered, Hubert signed to the seaman to follow him, and advanced noiselessly along the tortuous passage connecting the two portions of the cavern, keeping his fowling- piece ready for use.
The sound of the mysterious footfalls had ceased just at the very moment when it seemed to our adventurers that the unseen inmate of the cave was about to penetrate into the inner recesses where they had taken up their defensive position.
Could his suspicions have been aroused in any way?
With some slight inward trepidation Hubert marched into the large cave, and to his intense astonishment and alarm found himself face to face with—a handsome, fine, full-grown brown bear!
When our hero's eyes fell upon the huge beast, it was standing stock-still in the centre of the cave, staring straight at him with evident wonder. Then it suddenly reared itself on its hind legs, and thinking that this was done in anger, and that it was about to attack him, Hubert rather hastily levelled his gun at the creature and pulled the trigger.
A deafening echoing report rang through the low-roofed cavern, and the curling smoke from the discharge slowly drifted about on the stagnant air and obscured everything from view.
Hubert and his sailor-ally stood for a few moments silent and motionless, waiting for the smoke to dissipate itself. Then as the vapours cleared away, they saw the bear—to their great surprise—calmly lying on the floor of the cave, apparently unwounded, and blinking and winking his eyes at them in a most friendly and unconcerned manner.
Morgan burst into a peal of laughter.
"Was there ever such a complacent, good-natured old Bruin!" he cried at length; "why, it's a tame bear, Mr. Ashley, that's what it is!"
"Nonsense!" exclaimed Hubert, "you try and go near him, that's all!"
For answer, Fred Morgan laid his rifle upon the floor of the cave, and walked boldly up to the bear, which arose to its feet and shook itself vehemently. Then it poked its head forward and sniffed a little suspiciously at the hand which the young seaman held out-stretched in its direction.
"Good old chap!" said Morgan coaxingly, "jolly old fellow; we won't do you any harm unless you go for us first!"
Bruin seemed reassured by the seaman's manner, and to the intense surprise of the latter, reared itself upon its hind legs, and placing its huge fore-paws upon his shoulders, nuzzled its cold nose against his cheek.
"What a confiding old fellow!" exclaimed Morgan, delighted at this proof of the bear's affectionate disposition. "Do you believe me now, Mr. Ashley, or shall I read you the name on his collar?"
But our hero, as may be supposed, required no additional proof of the bear's harmless nature and domesticity. His first impulse, on seeing the animal rear to embrace Morgan, was to rush forward to his assistance, for he imagined that the bear was about to give that bold young tar a specimen of his hugging powers; but when he saw that the creature was only endeavouring to bestow a friendly caress, he threw down his fowling-piece and darted forward with a cry of genuine delight.
"Oh, you stunning old Bruin!" he exclaimed, patting the animal's massive head, "and I was brute enough to try and shoot you. Will you ever forgive me?"
"I don't believe he was touched, sir," said Morgan, with a laugh; "I expect you were too excited to aim straight, or else he moved just at the right moment."
"It was a jolly muff shot anyhow. Who do you suppose he belongs to, Morgan?"
"To the people who inhabit this cave, I should say, sir. There's a collar here, you see, half hidden by the long hair. There's a brass plate on it engraved with the words 'François, Corsaire Alcide, Bordeaux.'"
"There was something in that Frenchman's letter about 'the last survivor,' I fancy," said the middy thoughtfully; "the whole matter is rather a mystery in my opinion."
"Dixon will clear it all up, sir, without doubt, when he's had a sight of that document. Let's steer a departure course at once. If the bear was left to guard the cave, he's been a bit forgetful of his duty, hasn't he?"
"Here's a bit of biscuit for you, old chap," observed Hubert, who had picked up his gun and was preparing to quit the cave; and so saying he held out to the bear a piece of ship's bread which, he happened to have in his pocket.
The animal gravely took the proffered biscuit, turned it over curiously, and then put it into his capacious maw and ate it up with evident relish.
"Well, good-bye, Monsieur François," said Morgan, shouldering his rifle and patting the bear's shaggy coat; "I think your owners must be a pretty good sort, whoever they are."
Quitting the cave, our adventurers ran lightly down the slope of grass, with the intention of taking the shortest cut possible back to the bivouac, for they were doubly eager to recount to their shipmates the strange adventures which had befallen them.
"The coast seems clear," said Morgan; "I don't believe that the inmates of the cave are anywhere near at hand."
Hubert was on the point of making some remark, when he fancied he heard footsteps behind, and turning suddenly, found to his astonishment that the bear was deliberately following in their track, as if it wished to attach itself to their fortunes. This seemed to the middy a strange proceeding, and savouring strongly of fickleness.
"I tell you what, sir!" exclaimed Morgan eagerly, "it's my opinion that François' owners have died upon the island, and he is left to shift for himself, poor beast."
"I believe you're right, Morgan; the last survivor was the man who scribbled off that letter, and he must have subsequently died."
"And yet if that is so," observed the seaman musingly, "how is it we didn't discover his dead body in the cave?"
"That's mysterious, certainly," said the middy; "do you think wild beasts could have dragged the corpse away into the forest to devour it?"
"I should say there are no savage or carnivorous beasts upon this little island, sir; and I was taken aback, I can assure you, when my eyes lit upon that monstrous great bear in the cave yonder, for I felt sure that he couldn't be a native of the place, as you may say."
"Come along, old fellow," said our hero to François; "we'll give you a home and make a tremendous pet of you; but you'll have to forage for your own grub."
Resuming the route, our explorers made their way over the savannah and through the patches of forest with considerable speed, closely followed by their huge ursine friend. With great glee did Hubert look forward to the sensation their return would create amongst the absent members of the party, when the latter should perceive the enormous bear approaching the camp in such a matter-of-fact way.
At length our friends, hot and out of breath, gained the ridge from which the first view of the bivouac could be obtained, and Hubert gave a shrill Australian cooee which might have been heard a mile away.
Around the camp-fire, from which blue wreaths of curling smoke were slowly rising into the palpitating overheated atmosphere, an instant bustle and movement was apparent, and presently our hero observed that Dixon and Ugly-Mug had detached themselves from the other members of the party, and were rapidly advancing along the sands in the direction of the spot whence the cooee had sounded.
"Now we'll astonish their weak minds," exclaimed the middy laughingly, as he and his companion commenced to descend through the palm grove towards the beach. "Come along, François, you shaggy old ruffian!"
"I take it that Ugly-Mug will pretty well faint at sight of a bear," said Morgan, with a grin; "I dare say he's never seen one before in his life!"
"What a joke! I wonder if a nigger can turn pale with fright, Morgan! It would have rather a ghastly effect, wouldn't it?"
Our two explorers had now set off at a sharp run, with which François gravely kept pace a few yards in the rear at an awkward shamble. It was evident that the big beast quite looked upon himself as a member of the expedition, and intended to assert his rights!
The instant that Hubert and Morgan reached the sands, they and their attendant bear were thrown out into strong relief, and became very plainly visible to the coxswain and his black shipmate, who were now within fifty yards of the spot.
Ugly-Mug suddenly stopped short, and with his eyes nearly starting out of their sockets clutched at Dixon's arm, and ejaculated in an alarmed tone: "Oh! my golly, Massa Dixon, am dat a bar?"
"Well, shiver my blessed timbers!" sung out the coxswain, coming to a dead halt as his eyes fell upon the animal, "if ever I seed the like in all my born days! A bear it is, there ain't no question as to that; but how it come athwart their hawse bothers me; and it seems as tame as any old granny's tortoiseshell cat! Choke my luff if I ain't took flat aback now, and that's the long and the short of it."
"Why don't you come on, Dixon?" shouted our hero, in the greatest delight at seeing the reluctant attitude of the pair; "we've got all sorts of news for you!"
Before the coxswain and Ugly-Mug could say or do anything, Hubert and Morgan, out of breath and streaming with perspiration, had rushed up to them, and begun pouring out their story with such volubility and incoherence that Dixon felt quite bewildered. François, who had been left somewhat in the rear during the last spurt, was meanwhile gently ambling up towards the group in a most nonchalant manner.
"Handsomely, lads, with your yarn!" exclaimed Dixon in perplexed tones; "but tell us how in the name of all that's wonderful you come to be convoying a great bear across the island! I can't help thinking I'm dreaming!"
"Gosh and golly!" here broke in the Krooman, who was trying in a most highly ludicrous fashion to shelter himself behind Dixon's stalwart form, "if dat am bar, him go for me for sho', cos' Ogly- Mog am black man! Oh, Massa Ashley, for de lub ob Heaben keep him off for two tree minute, and I can den run back to de camp out of him way. Massa Dixon! you hab one gun, I tink. Oh, shoot de bar, and you hab de tanks ob poor Krooboy for ebberlastin' and ebberlastin'."
Every one was in such fits of laughter at poor Ugly-Mug's genuine and unaffected terror that for some moments not a word could be spoken. François was about to join the group, lifting his bead with some surprise to gaze at the new-comers; and Dixon was on the point of attempting to allay the fears of the Krooman, when the latter, alarmed at the bear's proximity, and too excited to notice its placid expression, broke from his cluster of shipmates, took to his heels, and set off as hard as his muscular legs could carry him in the direction of the bivouac, shrieking out all sorts of guttural exclamations of terror in his native tongue. The bear, which had been trained by its former masters to perform all sorts of feats and tricks, on seeing the frightened Krooman careering over the sands at such a prodigious pace, took it into its great good-natured ursine bead that the black man had challenged it to a race, and then taken a mean advantage by securing to himself an uncommonly good start; so with a snort of defiance it bolted off at a rapid run in the track of the flying Krooboy, in the hope that it might be able to overtake him.
There was such a fresh roar of laughter at the bear's tactics, that Ugly-Mug—who now deemed himself out of harm's way—looked back over his shoulder to see what had occasioned such an outburst of mirth. To his intense horror he beheld the great bear scampering in his track as fast as his four massive legs could be put to the ground! Breathless and terrified, the poor blackamoor tore along the sands, shouting to Phillips—who had stayed in the camp—to come to his rescue, for he fully believed that the bear was intent upon making a meal off him!
Hubert and his companions, however, seeing that the matter had gone far enough, yelled loudly to François to stop, and that obedient and highly trained animal at once checked itself in its mad career, and turning round began slowly to pace back to its starting point; whilst Ugly-Mug, without for a moment relaxing in his headlong course, ran swiftly on, and fell in a state of collapse into Phillips' arms, that seaman having advanced with outstretched hands to meet him.
"Well, that there bear is as sensible as any Christian!" exclaimed Dixon in the greatest astonishment. "I never saw anything to come up to it in all my born days."
"Aren't you dying to hear all our adventures, Dixon?" exclaimed Hubert excitedly. "Such adventures! We found a great cave in the side of the hill which had evidently been used by wrecked people; and as there was no one in it, we overhauled everything, and Morgan came across this paper in a dark corner, and as it's all in French, and you're a Jersey man, we want you to translate it for us;" and so saying the middy pulled the mysterious document out of Morgan's pocket, and handed it over to his amazed coxswain.
"I reckon I'll want a pair of spectacles to make head or tail of it, it's that blurred and indistinct," the latter observed as he ran his eye over the document. "But surely you can make out this here French lingo, Mr. Ashley!"
"Oh, I made out some of it," answered the middy, colouring. "Go on, Dixon, spout away, and mind your accents and stops!"
François having now rejoined the party, our friends seated themselves upon the sands, with the bear lying down peacefully beside them; and Dixon, after many vain attempts to decipher the faint writing, at length announced that "he had got things a bit shipshape at last, but no thanks to the fellow that scrawled such an outlandish fist." He then proceeded slowly and deliberately to translate as follows:—
"To the Finders of this Document.
"I am the last survivor of the unfortunate crew of the French privateer Alcide of Bordeaux, which vessel went to pieces on the rocks of this island. Many of us were suffering from fever at the time, and four men were drowned in endeavouring to reach the shore. One by one the survivors died from that terrible Java fever. I buried them all, and now it has seized upon me; and unless the good God has mercy upon me, I shall die too. Alas! how terrible an end for me, but I thank the Holy Virgin that my Marguerite knows nothing of what has happened, or of the villainies we have been guilty of in the Indian seas. I have no strength to write more, for the fever racks me with fearful agonies, and death stares me in the face.
"Some of our treasure was washed ashore, and we buried it for safety behind the—"
"The poor fellow evidently died before he could finish the postscript," observed Dixon, as he handed the paper back to Hubert; "'tis a sad story, indeed!"
"But there was no dead body in the cave!" exclaimed the middy; "how do you account for that?"
"I can't account for it at all," responded the coxswain, looking thoughtfully and gravely into the middy's eyes; "'tis past my comprehension altogether. Did you find this bear in the cave, sir?"
Hubert at once gave the seaman a detailed account of all that had happened since he and Morgan had left the camp in the morning, and showed him the address on the bear's collar.
"Fancy if we could discover the buried treasure!" said the middy when he had concluded his narration; "I should think it must be somewhere near the cave."
"And if they are all dead, it will belong to those who can find it," said Morgan with some excitement in his tone, "and we're the boys to go through with the business, or I'm mistaken."
"Could anything be more tantalising than the abrupt way that postscript ends?" exclaimed Hubert, as he closely examined the paper in the vain hope of finding some additional directions. "It was too bad of the fellow to leave us in the lurch like that!"
"You managed to knock over some game, sir, I see," observed Dixon, glancing approvingly at the birds Morgan had deposited upon the sands.
"Poor Ugly-Mug will be too frightened perhaps to cook them," said Hubert, with a laugh; "it was really as good as a play to see him and the bear together! Let's go and see how he is."
Rising to their feet, the little party, followed sedately by François, sauntered slowly towards the camp.
ON their arrival at the bivouac, our hero and his companions found that Ugly-Mug's fears as to the bear's savage proclivities had been to some extent allayed by Phillips and Hudson, who had after some trouble managed to convince him that the great beast was merely a tame pet, and that he had no aversion to black men—having, on the contrary, a strong partiality for all members of the human family, irrespective of colour. The Krooman had at first shaken his woolly head, and demanded with some show of warmth if the two men had not seen the bear pursuing him along the sands on gastronomic thoughts intent,—and it was this argument which Hudson and his companion found it most difficult to combat, as the reader may suppose!
And though the worthy Krooman professed himself at length as satisfied with his shipmates' explanations and refutations, yet he took an early opportunity—on the arrival of the bear in camp—to ask leave of Hubert to be allowed to go and collect driftwood upon the beach, averring that it was the best fuel possible wherewith to replenish the camp fire!
Our hero and Morgan, having left their weapons in camp, and handed over François to Dixon's care, ran helter-skelter down to the margin of the sea, threw off their clothes, and plunging amid the cool foaming waves, enjoyed a most delightful and invigorating bathe—there being little fear of sharks with such a breakwater of rocks close at hand.
It was now long past mid-day, and the bathers were not sorry to see, on returning to the bivouac, that Ugly-Mug, who now and again cast sidelong distrustful glances at François, was busily engaged in roasting on a novel gipsy-spit of his own contriving—consisting of two upright bamboos, a crosspiece, and a length of string—the plump birds Hubert had that morning shot. The odour they emitted was certainly most appetising, and as our friends were all ravenously hungry, the Krooman's operations were keenly watched by all the other members of the party.
The bear was lying half-asleep under the shade of an enormous rock, and Hubert threw himself on the sands beside the animal, and began questioning Dixon as to his doings during the forenoon.
"Well, we ain't been idle, sir," said the coxswain, in answer to the middy's queries; "in the fust place, we've been looking around for a suitable site to build a hut on, and we thought as how that there plateau yonder would be a nice dry airy spot, and I make no doubt we can find some large bamboos or other suitable timber for the walls and floors; and as to the roof, why, there are palm-leaves galore that'll come in handy enough."
"The plateau would be a very healthy spot, no doubt, and we should get a good view seawards," answered the middy, turning to gaze in that direction; "but I can't help thinking, Dixon, that we ought to run up our shanty in a more secluded place, for fear of pirates or savages landing upon the island."
"Why not take possession of the cave?" put in Morgan; "it isn't a bad place to hang out in, and would be very easy to defend from an enemy if necessary."
"If you're not above taking a marine's advice," exclaimed Hudson, "you'll thoroughly explore the island before deciding where you'll pitch your tent. Why, bless my heart, you ain't seen one half of the 'right little, tight little island' yet, as far as I can make out."
"I think Hudson's quite right," observed our hero, glancing with a smile at his wounded servant. "I vote for a thorough exploration; and I think, as Rajah of Monkey Island, it's my duty to issue a proclamation to my subjects by word of mouth."
"What am dat you say, massa, 'bout the subjeck for de mouth? Here he am true enof, cook to one turn ob de spit;" and so saying, Ugly-Mug came triumphantly forward, grinning from ear to ear, and bearing the roasted birds on a broad palm leaf. "Dat am dinner fit for one rajah, I tink," he continued, as he deposited his burden upon the sands and gave a sly look at our hero.
Our famished friends made short work of the birds, which turned out excellent eating, for they were plump, tender, and well-flavoured, tasting very much like wild duck. Ugly-Mug had employed himself during a portion of the forenoon in scaling one of the less lofty cocoa-nut trees, in order to obtain a supply of nuts; and these he now produced with an air of great triumph, and cutting off the tops with the large blade of his pocket-knife, presented each of his shipmates with the brimming, cool, pellucid contents, and bade them quaff it—which every one did with alacrity.
"I say, Ugly-Mug, you are a trump!" exclaimed Hubert, as he cast his empty nut upon the sands; "that is the most delicious drink I ever had in my life."
"Better dan sampagne!" ejaculated the Krooman in astonishment.
"Yes, better than champagne," answered the middy promptly; "I only wish we could get green cocoa-nuts in England during the summer months! How jolly they would be when one was playing cricket or lawn-tennis!"
"'Tis better than rum and water by a long chalk, that's sartin," put in Dixon, smacking his lips, "and I reckon the ship's company would give summat to have a few hundred of 'em for their messes when they're knocking about in the Doldrums."
"And de shell make eber so good cup," observed Ugly-Mug with a chuckle; "by-and-by I make plenty ob dem, and carve plenty mosh picture on him—anyting you like: monkey up in de tree, Massa Rajah catchin' bar, Ogly-Mog hookin' fis' in de boat, or Massa Hudson proggin' nigger wid him bayonet!"
"I'd give you a life-like illustration of that last scene, sonney, if I was only well enough, and had my rifle and bayonet handy," said the marine, with a laugh; "I reckon you'd look something like a big fid of black bread stuck on the end of a toasting-fork."
Ugly-Mug's great goggle eyes flashed indignantly at this allusion; but as he could not think of a retort at the moment, he very wisely kept silence.
"And now about the further exploration of Monkey Island," exclaimed Hubert with animation; "what do you propose, Dixon?"
"Why, that we work our way round to the southward, sir, and see what we can make of t'other side of the island. Maybe we shall find traces of them French pirates that hung out in the cave you discovered this morning, or light upon some of their loot, or the wreck of their vessel."
"I wonder how long it is since they landed upon the island," said the middy musingly; "there's no date upon the documents."
"Considering that the bear seems well and hearty," said Morgan, "and that the weapons in the cave were not very rusty, I should say they had not been dead very long."
"We don't know as how the last fellow has kicked the bucket yet," put in Phillips, with a knowing shake of the head; "he may have gone off his chump, and be wandering about the island. 'Tis strange his body worn't to be found in the cave, and no mistake."
"Look here, mates! I shan't want any one to look after me," said Hudson; "I'm mending fast, and mean to toddle about a little by-and-by, so just you all make up a party and have a regular good afternoon of it, and I'll remain as garrison in case Phillips' mad Frenchman should turn up."
But Hubert would not hear of his wounded servant being left alone, and insisted that one of their number should remain behind at the bivouac. As nobody was particularly anxious to volunteer for this service, lots were drawn, and Phillips proved to be the unfortunate one, which made him look a little disconsolate.
"It's a matter of dooty, sonney, I take it," said Dixon encouragingly; "that's the way a seaman must always look at things, whether he likes 'em or not."
"How about the bear?" asked the other, trying to look cheerful; "am I to nurse him as well, or will he march along with you?"
"Perhaps we had better take him," put in Hubert; "I expect the old chap would like to go with us exploring, and I'm sure that Ugly-Mug will be glad of his company."
"Oh, dat bar!" exclaimed the Krooman in despairing tones; "him like one great fetish, all ober de place at de same time. All de day and all de night he am eber and eber make mosh bodderation wid we; dat I make sure widout saying anoder word, whateber massa tink."
The preparations for the start were soon made, and the party set out briskly along the sands in the direction of the plateau of which Dixon had spoken, and which, as before mentioned, bounded the view to the southward. François seemed to be reluctant to set out again upon his travels, so was left behind in charge of Hudson and Phillips—much to the relief of Ugly-Mug, who looked upon the good-humoured beast as a veritable bête noire.
Hubert was in high spirits, and with his gun thrown over his shoulder led the way at a rapid pace, eager to surmount the plateau and ascertain how the coast-line of Monkey Island trended away in a westerly direction. All this portion of the middy's little kingdom was as yet a terra incognita to our explorers.
It was found to be rather a tedious scramble to the summit of the bluff; and when this point was reached, the view turned out to be not nearly so extensive as had been anticipated.
"Not much to be seen, arter all," exclaimed Dixon in a disappointed tone; "but as we shall be hove-to here for a minute or two, we'd best take a squint seawards on the chance of sighting a craft of some kind."
"It's a jolly place for a look-out," observed the young Rajah of Monkey Island, as he shaded his eyes with his hand and gazed over the glittering expanse of sea which lay beneath; "we ought to rig up a flagstaff here, or some sort of beacon to attract ships."
"We'll make shift with summat of the sort, by-and-by," answered the coxswain; "and I tell you what, Mr. Ashley, we'll have a big bonfire up here when it gets dark, and have a fine old flare-up."
"That would be splendid fun," assented the middy, with sparkling eyes, "and I should think there would be plenty of brushwood not far away."
"Wid' our axe we soon cut him, massa," chimed in Ugly-Mug. "I fit handle to him dis mornin', sharpen him up like one razor blade, and make him all pukka sort."
"All right," said Hubert, with a smile; "we'll set you to work, Ugly-Mug, when we've done exploring. Well, as there are no vessels in sight, Dixon, we'd better be nipping out of this, and steer a course around the coast."
"Right you are, sir! We'd best bear along the cliffs as far as the next point, for 'tis easier walking, and we shall get a better view of the interior as we go along."
"I certainly shouldn't like to walk on that beach," said Morgan, pointing to the strip of shore beneath, which was nothing but a mass of boulders and jagged rocks, honeycombed and clad with tangled seaweed; "I'd almost rather do a month's cells!"
It was a genuine pleasure to walk on the short springy turf which carpeted the uplands uniting the two capes. These headlands, which much resembled each other in shape and altitude, appeared to be the guardians of the island's southern boundary, and together with the intervening rocks looked as if they were quite capable of resisting any fierce encroachments the sea might attempt to make when in a furious mood.
Ten minutes' fast walking brought our explorers to the summit of the other cape, from whence they obtained an extensive view of the western shores of the island, and also of the gentle undulations of the backbone hills of the interior, which on this side appeared to be broken up into pleasing fertile dells and picturesque ravines overhung with bamboos and tree ferns. Between these natural hollows and winding vales lay park-like stretches of verdure studded with groups of fine trees, with here and there long irregular belts of cocoa-nut palms and brushwood interspersed with groups of grey lichen-covered rocks amidst which the flowering mimosa and the tall elegant areca palm shot up in friendly rivalry, and mingled their flattering foliage in interlacing and inwoven masses—a truly arboreal paradise for parroquets and monkeys.
The most prominent object upon this western stretch of shore was a long low jutting promontory which, like a natural breakwater, threw its rocky arm for a considerable distance out into the blue sea, and owing to the scantiness of soil and its exposure to the full force of the S.W. monsoon, was entirely destitute of any traces of vegetation. This low-lying cape bore a strange and marked resemblance to a recumbent alligator, and appeared to divide the western coast-line into two equal parts, each of which consisted of a series of miniature bays and inlets, guarded here and there by outlying reefs of rocks, some of which were treacherously concealed beneath the surface of the water.
"We'll work our way all around the coast, I vote," exclaimed Hubert, after taking a careful survey of the scene which lay stretched out before him. "I can see no signs of human beings on this side of Monkey Island."
"Nor shall we, sir, I take it," responded Dixon, who was engaged in filling a pipe. "I'm pretty chock sure now that there are no regular inhabitants hanging out in this island; and if the Frenchman who wrote out that dokkyment ain't gone to his last account on heaven's half-deck, may I never dance a hornpipe again."
Fred Morgan laughed.
"That's a matter we ought to be able to clear up this afternoon," he said; "for the island isn't very large, after all, it seems to me. The question is whether we shall ever succeed in finding the treasure which the Frenchman took such trouble to stow away in some secluded spot."
"Ah! dat am de question for sho'," chimed in Ugly-Mug, fixing a solemn gaze upon the last speaker's countenance; "if we can't find de dead corpus of dat rascal Franchman, we must dig all ober de island till we find him dollar. Oh, garamighty! how we shall dig and dig in ebery direction. Behind de rock near de cave I tink de most likely place. What you say, Massa Rajah?"
"I think certainly that it would be worth while to rummage about among the rocks there," he said, in answer to the Krooman's query; "but I don't know why you should call the poor Frenchman a rascal, Ugly-Mug."
"Why, him rascal because for one ting he am owner of dat ogly great bar," answered the Krooman, with a guttural laugh, "and den for anoder ting he talk bery mosh of willainy in him letter, which he tink eber too bad for him sweetheart to know ob. Ah, him bery good-for-noddin, bloodstain rascal, you bet bottom dollar, massa!"
"Perhaps you're right, Ugly-Mug," assented Hubert, with an amused smile; "but I'm quite sure that he and his companions were kind to François, and that certainly scores in their favour, for I consider that people who are cruel to animals are cowardly brutes only deserving of the lash."
"You're about right there, sir," remarked Dixon approvingly; "they should be made to experience some of the pain and discomfort they're so fond of inflicting on poor dumb creatures. Why, sir, it do make my heart bleed when I'm in Lunnon town to see the way them cabmen lash their horses about; and then the muzzling the poor dogs, or dragging 'em about with a chain around their blessed necks. Why, a-course they makes a bolt of it when they can, and small blame to 'em, says I; and then into the Dogs' Home they goes, and if not claimed is slaughtered along with the few hundreds that's put out of the way every month. A civilized city they calls Lunnon town, too!"
"There's a good deal of hydrophobia in London," observed Morgan; "there's no question about that, I believe; and the scientific men seem to be in favour of muzzling as a means of stamping it out."
"Scientific men be hanged!" said Dixon, emphatically slapping his thigh; "they're always quarrelling among themselves about this theory and that theory, and as to passing laws about muzzling dogs and the like, I'll just ask you a straight question, shipmate, and mind I looks for an answer on behalf of your scientific pals. Why should you muzzle dogs to prevent 'em biting people, when you allow drunkards, who are bent upon dashing their wives' or somebody else's brains out, to go freely about the streets, without being clapped into strait-waistcoats? How many murders and violent assaults are committed by drunkards every week in Great Britain, my lad?"
"I'm sure I don't know," answered Morgan, "but I think the list must he rather a long one; and as to your question, I'm afraid I can't answer it. I'm quite of opinion myself that we're rather apt to take up with fads; and then when one leader sets the fashion, the silly mob follow like a flock of sheep."
"I didn't know you were such a philosopher, Dixon," put in the middy, giving his coxswain a bright look, "and I'm always glad to hear people staunch on the subject of cruelty to animals, for there are plenty who will not trouble themselves to give the matter a thought."
"I'm no philosopher, bless your young heart," answered Dixon, with a smile; "I'm just one of Her Majesty's bluejackets, who never intends to disgrace his calling in life by behaving in a cruel manner to God's creatures, whether speaking with tongues or otherwise; and if I ever catch any cowardly skunks at it, they must stand from under and look out for squalls, for I reckon the Creator didn't give me biceps and a fist for nothing! Look at them keeper fellows that the gentry think such a lot on. Why, they're always a-trapping everything, and never seems to think of the agony they causes the poor animals and birds!"
"Sailors have the kindest hearts of any people in the world, that I firmly believe," said Hubert warmly.
"I'm right glad you think so, sir," responded Dixon simply, "and I'm right glad too that you're one of us, and likely to be a credit to our splendid service."
DURING the conversation recorded in the last chapter, our explorers had been gradually descending from the high ground of the headland, and wending their way through grassy glades and groves of broad shadowy palms in the direction of a little cove, which lay nestling under the protective cliffs of the precipitous cape. The water was extraordinarily clear in this tiny inlet; and the beach, which was of a dazzling whiteness, was formed entirely of the broken fragments of innumerable shells.
"What a ripping place for a bathe!" exclaimed the middy delightedly. "I vote we call it 'Shell Cove.'"
"And a very good name, too," observed Dixon, taking up a handful of the shell-dust and eyeing it curiously, for our friends had now gained the beach.
"I think we ought to name the headlands and bays as we go along," said Hubert. "That long point yonder I shall certainly call Alligator Point, and that sweeping bay to the southward of it, Alligator Bay."
"That'll do capitally, sir," said Morgan; "but we ought to give names to the two capes we've just passed before going ahead with the others."
"This is great fun," said the young Rajah excitedly, "and makes the island seem really and truly our own. Suppose we call the first headland Cape Bluff?"
"That'll do splendidly," observed Morgan; "and if you don't mind, sir, I should like to christen the other one Cape Bluster, for I fancy it catches the full force of the S.W. monsoon, when there's a bit of a gale blowing."
"Capital!" exclaimed the middy. "I shall have to try and scratch out a chart upon a palm leaf by-and-by, and put in all the names."
After giving a cursory examination to Shell Cove, our friends resumed their march along the coast, keeping on the lower slopes of the park-like ground, which here rose in gentle undulations to the forest-crowned dividing ridge, which now stood out in marvellous distinctness against a sky of the deepest azure.
Suddenly from a compact group of trees emerged a flock of long-tailed green parroquets, giving vent to ear-piercing screams as they winged their frightened way towards the hills.
In an instant the middy's gun was at his shoulder, and two jets of flame gushed forth amidst puffs of grey smoke. Then three of the parroquets fell dead to the earth, and Hubert ran eagerly forward to pick them up.
"Nice plump little birds!" he exclaimed, as he rejoined his friends. "Are you a good hand at cooking parrots, Ugly-Mug?"
"Me make a pore ting ob dem, massa, widout one pie-dish," answered the Krooman, with a melancholy look, "but make spatchcock perhaps, or roast, before de fire. Ah, Massa Ashley, dis Monkey Island am what you call bery one-horse place! What wid dat bar a-cruisin' about eberywhere, and no oven or oder cookin' ting for make dis or dat dish, I bery mosh like to cut my troat, I tink, and den you can make Massa Morgan dere de ship-cook."
"The fright with the bear has made Ugly-Mug's liver out of order, I think," said Morgan, giving that sable worthy a resounding slap on the back; "cheer up, old ship, and strike up 'Begone, dull care'; we'll all join in the chorus!"
"De only song dat I know," answered the Krooman, "am dat ting about 'I lubbed a dark-eyed yaller gal, and thought dat she lubbed me!"
"Bravo!" cried Dixon; "strike it up, sonney, and we'll give you a rousing chorus that'll blow the blues out o' you, and frighten all the birds on the island out to sea!"
After a little more persuasion, Ugly-Mug burst forth in guttural tones into the well-known negro melody, "Oh, down in Alabama;" and to this air the party marched gaily forward, making the welkin ring with the stentorian and vociferous notes of the chorus.
"If there's any Frenchman knocking about on the island," observed Dixon, as the echoes of the last stave died away on the hillsides, "why, he ought to shove out his figure-head to see what all the row is about. That's my poor opinion, mates."
"We're not likely to see any human beings except ourselves," observed Morgan; "but I think we may at any moment come upon the corpse of the last of the Alcide's crew, for I believe he must have dragged himself away to die somewhere."
"Why couldn't he lie down in the cave, and die like a Christian?" asked Dixon half angrily. "I've no patience with such tomfoolery!"
"He may have crawled out whilst in delirium," suggested Hubert; "but in any case, I don't expect to find his remains on this side of the island."
"Mosh more likely to find de body where de dollar am bury, dat what I tink!" hazarded the Krooman, who had somewhat recovered his usual good spirits.
"Upon my Sam, that's not a bad idea o' yourn, Ugly-Mug!" exclaimed Dixon; "he had been writing about the treasure, and that made him break off abruptly, and betake himself off to the spot to see if it was all safe and securely hidden."
"Then he found he hadn't strength left to return, and fell down and died then and there, close to the place," continued Morgan. "Well, when we find him, we'll have a good search all around and see what we can discover."
"We've passed Alligator Point now," observed Hubert, glancing seawards, "and I see that there's a curious rock in the next bay, with a lot of sea-birds hovering over it."
"Not unlike a dog in shape," observed Dixon. "I think it's my turn now to name something, so I'll call it Dog Rock."
"And I call dis Turtle Bay!" almost shrieked Ugly-Mug, in the greatest excitement, and pointing wildly in the direction of the beach with a sable forefinger. Then, without another word, he tore off as hard as his legs could carry him towards a large sandy bay, which extended for half a mile or more to the northward of Alligator Point.
"What's up with the nigger? Is he mad?" asked Hubert in a bewildered tone.
"If he is, I hope he won't get many lucid intervals," answered Dixon, with a laugh, "for he's sighted a monstrous great turtle there on the beach;" and so saying, the coxswain darted after Ugly-Mug at the top of his speed, yelling with excitement.
In a moment Hubert had caught sight of the turtle, which appeared to be crawling leisurely down to the margin of the water, apparently quite unaware of the proximity of such fleet- footed enemies.
As may be supposed, the middy and Fred Morgan were not long in joining the hue and cry, and dashed off in the wake of their shipmates as hard as they could tear, in the vain hope of catching them up before they reached the beach. Ugly-Mug indeed was so fleet of foot, and so regardless of the tropical heat, that even the athletic Dixon found it impossible to keep pace with him.
Out of breath and streaming with perspiration, the middy and his sailor friend at length burst through a grove of mangrove bushes which fringed the shore and found themselves upon a long, wide stretch of the firmest sand, strewn with broken masses of red coral and various beautiful shells common to the tropics. Dixon was running across the beach without his cap—which he had lost in the excitement of the chase—and on the margin of the shore, close to the curling breakers, stood Ugly-Mug, gazing seawards and vehemently shaking his black fist at a small dark object which appeared to be slowly moving away from the land. The irate Krooman was evidently denouncing the escaped turtle in no measured language, for his guttural shouts were distinctly audible, though no sense could be attached to them at that distance.
In a few moments Hubert and his companions had gained the Krooman's side.
"What a duffer you are, Ugly-Mug, to let the brute escape!" exclaimed the breathless middy, as he threw himself upon the sands and mopped his head with a handkerchief. "Oh, what a hot run we've had!"
"Was it a green-turtle, mate?" queried Dixon, "or a hawk's- bill, or what?"
"How was it you didn't nobble him, old Krooboy?" asked Morgan ironically; "it strikes me you're as green as any turtle!"
"Why you tree people no catch him yourself?" demanded Ugly-Mug hotly, as he wheeled around and faced his interrogators with rolling eyeballs and contracted brows; "I run as fast as eber I can, and lose all de breaf in my body, and den massa and de oder sailorman come and larf at Ogly-Mog, and call him name and eberyting when him do noddin' himself.—Oh, you rascal and willin!" continued the excitable black, turning again in the direction of the placidly swimming turtle, "how I cut your troat if I catch you, you good-for-noddin' ogly shellback! I make you larf de oder side ob your grinning mouf one ob dese days, and den make you into soup and cotlet for Massa Rajah here."
All this time Hubert and the seamen were alternately gasping for breath, and shouting with laughter till the tears ran down their cheeks—for the anathemas hurled at the poor inoffensive turtle's head by Ugly-Mug tickled them immensely.
"And now I go and make hunt for de yegg you leave in de sand, you ongrateful roffian," roared the Krooman as a last parting shot; "and anoder day I come and look for you in de boat and take you in tow wid' a noosed rope."
And suiting the action to the word, he commenced a diligent hunt in the hot sand, and, as he had anticipated, discovered a quantity of fine eggs, which the turtle had deposited a few minutes previously, in the fond hope that they would be metamorphosed in the fulness of time into a quaint little progeny of crawling green-turtles. For the escaped reptile belonged to that edible species so beloved of fat-paunched aldermen!
Ugly-Mug having thus revenged himself for the slight the turtle had put upon him, recovered his equanimity, carefully wrapped the eggs up in a flaring handkerchief which he usually wore upon his oily crown, and announced with a bustling air of importance, "good supper to gib ebery one to-night, dat you makee sho'."
"It's a great piece of luck to find that turtle frequent the island," observed the young Rajah, as the route was resumed; "it'll prevent our running short of food, at any rate."
"The difficulty will be to find a substitute for flour when we run short of that commodity," said Dixon thoughtfully; "it's really of more importance than meat."
"Quite true, O wise coxswain," said Hubert jauntily; "but as I was telling Morgan this morning, I really don't see why we shouldn't manage to enlarge our boat so that she would hold us all, and then we might sail for the coast of Africa."
"The same idea has occurred to me, sir," said Dixon, "but I ain't much of a boat-builder myself, and of course we'd have to arrange to take at least a fortnight's provisions and water with us, which would take up a tidy amount of room, to say nothing of our six selves. Then, again, we're very badly off for tools in the carpentering line, having only one axe and our pocket- knives."
"It seems rather hopeless when you look at it in that way," said the middy rather despondingly; "the only other way, I suppose, would be to build a whacking big raft. There is plenty of timber in the woods, and we could no doubt find a quantity of tough creepers that would serve instead of rope."
The coxswain shook his head doubtfully.
"A raft would be a terrible risky thing for six people to cross the Indian Ocean upon," he remarked; "and though I believe there's a small sail in the dinghy, it wouldn't propel such a heavy craft as you're suggesting, Mr. Ashley, at more than about a knot an hour, and then the wind must be a very favourable one."
"We might fall in with some merchant vessel," suggested the middy, "and then we should be safe enough."
"We might do so, of course," answered the coxswain cautiously; "but there ain't no doubt about it, you know, we're a long way out of the usual track of vessels here."
"Then do you mean to say," exclaimed Hubert, thunderstruck, "that we shall have to remain upon this island till some chance vessel calls here and takes us off? Why, we might be here for years!"
"True enough, sir; but I reckon we must leave everything to God's providence, and trust that it'll be worked out for our good in the end somehow, though perhaps we can't see how it's to come about at this minute."
The middy was silent, and strode along with his gun at the trail, buried deep in thought. He had hitherto looked upon the island as quite a temporary refuge, never supposing for a moment that such a practical seaman as Dixon would be unable to formulate some plan of escape in the event of the Spiteful not arriving upon the scene as rescuer.
What if he and his followers should be forced to remain upon the island for years and years, like Robinson Crusoe? It was a terrible thought, but Hubert sensibly determined not to brood over this possible unpleasant contingency and make himself unhappy, but endeavour, upon the contrary, to look upon the bright side of things, and trust that either Captain Chetwynd, in scouring the seas, would have the good fortune to light upon Monkey Island, or else that some passing vessel might perchance be attracted by their signals of distress and bear down to their assistance. The one thought that now oppressed our young hero most deeply—and this he could not entirely succeed in shaking off—was that in the event of he and his followers being left for some time upon the island, his friends would be communicated with by the Admiralty and informed of the mysterious disappearance of the Indian Chief and all on board; and Hubert could not help feeling with a shudder that his captain would be sure to dwell, in his despatch, upon the fact of a fierce gale having swept over the western portion of the Indian Ocean at the very period of the dhow's cruise, which might be taken as an undoubted reason for supposing that she had foundered with all on board. Indeed, if Captain Chetwynd entertained this supposition—and there was only too much reason to suppose that he would do so—it was but too likely that he would not cause a very protracted search to be made for the missing members of his ship's company. As Hubert's mind dwelt upon the painful uncertainty as to his fate to which those near and dear to him might be subjected in the near future, his eyes filled with tears, and all his boyish lightness of heart seemed to vanish away like evanescent smoke. That his companions might not witness his emotion, he kept well ahead of the rest of the party, feigning to be absorbed in a reverie.
Grief, however, does not for long reign paramount in the breasts of the young—for which be duly thankful, dear reader!—and by the time that our hero had waded across a broad stream about half a mile from Alligator Point, and had approached the confines of a small but dense forest, he had recovered a good deal of his usual lightness of spirits.
"This shade will be a pleasant change after the oppressive heat," said the voice of Morgan at his elbow; "and just look at the monkeys, Mr. Ashley,—their name is legion!"
MONKEYS certainly seemed to abound in this little island forest which our explorers were approaching. They swarmed about amidst the leafy foliage overhead, they nimbly scaled the trunks of the trees, and hauled themselves with marvellous agility hand-over-hand up the swaying, rope-like creepers. Ever and anon some of these active creatures sprang from tree to tree with marvellous leaps, shrieking and screaming with delight; whilst others played hide-and-seek amid the rocks and tree-trunks, or chased each other from one knoll to another. The older and more serious apes, whose limbs and tails were not so supple as of yore, and who looked upon life from a more sober and solemn point of view, sat in groups upon the lower branches of the trees or upon the summit of convenient rocks and hillocks, watching the antics and pranks of their more lively progeny with a sleepy kind of interest, which amusement they varied occasionally by diligently scratching their portly persons, or gravely munching some delectable berry or fruit with all the air of professed epicures.
A considerable amount of excitement and trepidation reigned throughout the monkey world when the approach of our friends was perceived. Those that were upon the ground at the time—warned by the signals of alarm from those above—fled with great precipitation to the highest branches of the trees, and the whole colony set up a most deafening clamour of shrill screams and confused chattering, evidently under the impression that their unwelcome visitants would be driven from the spot by the mere force of the uproar.
Our friends, however, had no intention of molesting these amusing and interesting animals; but coming under the irresistible fascination which these creatures exert—as my readers have doubtless experienced at the Zoological Gardens' monkey-house—they lingered for a considerable time to watch them, vainly endeavouring to coax them into skylarking again.
At length Hubert warned his followers that time was flying away; and plunging into the forest, taking care to keep within sound of the breakers upon the shore, our friends resumed their explorations in a northerly direction, confident that they must soon reach the extremity of the island. The forest, though dense, was fortunately fairly clear of prickly shrubs and impervious underwood, and so no obstruction was offered to their advance.
On emerging from the jungle—in every part of which the ubiquitous monkey had been seen—the explorers found themselves on bare shelving ground, on which nothing seemed to flourish but a long, rank kind of grass. This coarse herbage terminated above at the spot where it encountered the stunted jungle which crowned the central hills. Overlooking this portion of the island was a cone-shaped eminence, resembling an extinct volcano, and Hubert at once decided that this must be the highest point in the island. The coxswain insisted on naming this Lilliputian mountain Ashley Peak, in honour of our young Rajah, but Hubert laughingly deprecated this idea, and suggested that it should be called Mount Dixon! Eventually the matter was put to the vote, and this resulted in the name Ashley Peak being adopted by a large majority, so our hero had unwillingly to concede the point.
After a brisk walk our friends reached the northern extremity of the island—a low, rocky promontory, which they dubbed North Cape. From this point a long, narrow, barren-looking islet became visible, bearing N.E. by N., and distant about two miles. It appeared to be alive with sea-birds, whose wild dirge of wailing cries was distinctly audible as they swooped and soared over their sea-girt home.
"That islet is Bird Island, of course," remarked Hubert. "I shall go and explore it in the dinghy one of these days; now let's start away southward-ho! and we'll soon come upon the cave where we found François."
"Ah! I'm curious to see them diggings," observed Dixon; "for I don't believe, Mr. Ashley, as how you and Morgan half overhauled the cave. There ought to be a lot more things in it than you seem to have found, I take it."
"Don't you believe it," said Morgan; "we had a high old rummage all over the place, and didn't succeed in finding one single object of any value."
"'Ceptin' dat ogly old bar!" observed Ugly-Mug; "him vallable for meat widout doubt, suppoge as how we run short ob ration!"
"Shut up, you bloodthirsty wretch, Ugly-Mug," called out our young Rajah, aiming a playful blow at the black with a stick; "why, how would you cook bear's flesh, I should like to know?"
"Dat bery fonny ting to tink ober for sho'," said the Krooman, scratching his woolly pate in some perplexity; "how you cook bar, Ogly-Mog, you ole sinner, eh? You no can roast him whole, dat sartin as anyting can be. De only way, I tink, am to dry strip ob de meat in de sun, and den pound him up into pemmican."
"I know a much better way than that," said Hubert, with a laugh. "Listen, Ugly-Mug:—
"You boil it in sawdust: you salt it in glue:
You condense it with locusts and tape;
Still keeping one principal object in view—
To preserve its symmetrical shape."
"Waal, waal, massa, dat fonny ting for true!" exclaimed the Krooman, his eyes wide open with astonishment, and his blubber lips parted in a broad grin; "boil him in sawdust and compress him wid' tape, and den preserve him in shape like de calf-foot jelly! Ha, ha, berry fonny for true; and den he slip down de troat as easy as anyting, like de powder in jam dat white piccaninny take when him fader and moder tired ob de noise and de bodder, and wish bery mosh to get rid ob de chile for eber!"
"You seem to have a rum idea of English domestic habits and customs," said the middy, laughing more than ever; "but I suppose you're trying to get a rise out of us!"
"Ah, Massa Rajah," retorted our sable friend, with a knowing wink of the eye, "I know bery well dat de rum hab mosh to do wid' English custom; dat I tink eber an' eber when I hear de grog- bugle sound on board de ole Spiteful!"
"Really, Ugly-Mug, you're incorrigible," began Hubert. "Hullo," he continued, as he began to wade across the deep bed of a stream, whose waters appeared to flow down from the base of Ashley Peak; "I see a nullah filled with brushwood ahead of us. I wonder if we shall discover any wild animals lurking in it?"
In a moment our friends had plunged into the dark stony ravine, which was thickly clothed with dense brushwood and fine specimens of arborescent ferns, mingled with which were trees of a larger growth, from some of the boughs of which hung pendant most gloriously beautiful parasitic orchids, the brilliant blossoms of which enlivened the sombre gloom of the deep, overshadowed nullah, and attracted the attention of the passing wild bees, whose musical hum, mingled with the rippling and brawling of an adjacent mountain stream, filled the air with a drowsy, murmuring sound, which seemed to invite the passer-by to fling himself down in the cool, calm shade, and rest his tired limbs, whilst his mind allowed itself to quietly appreciate the native loveliness which Dame Nature unfolded before his wondering gaze with unstinted hand.
But the Rajah of Monkey Island and his companions were too much pressed for time and too eager to reach the cave to be able to indulge in any further repose, however seductive; and they clambered manfully on, and scaling the opposite side of the rock- strewn nullah, found themselves on the tree-studded slopes which, in steep and fantastic undulations, led up to the cliff-like rampart of rocks, which held the great cave in their adamantine embrace.
The yawning mouth of the cavern was soon disclosed, and Dixon and Ugly-Mug simultaneously expressed their astonishment at its picturesque surroundings and splendid natural position.
"'Tis an A1 place to lie low in, and no mistake," observed the coxswain, halting for a moment to take a rapid survey of the spot; "them Frenchmen knew what they were about when they took possession of this cave, for 'tis an uncommon easy place to defend."
"Bery easy, for sho'," chimed in Ugly-Mug, "if dey only stick dat great ogly bar in de entrance wid' him mouth open and him ivory showin', dat quite enof to frighten ebery one away, double quick countermarsh!"
Everything seemed quiet at the cave, and exactly as Hubert and Morgan had left it in the morning. There lay the old battered musket in the same position and evidently untouched, and not a sound came from the interior to denote the presence of human beings. Deeming it unnecessary to take precautions, our friends straggled into the interior, and, as they had anticipated, found it untenanted. Dixon, with characteristic energy, set vigorously to work overhauling everything in the inner cave; whilst the Krooman, with many strange guttural cries of joy, swooped down upon the few cooking utensils which lay scattered about, and proceeded to appropriate those which he deemed likely to be of use.
"I like Franchman cookin' ting," he remarked, as he carefully scrutinised them under the fissure in the roof of the cave. "Golly! yes, dem always fust rate for de pots and pans for sho'. I once taste de Franch soup at Sierra Leone, and him ebery good as anyting can be in dat branch ob cookin'." And so saying, Ugly- Mug smacked his blubber lips together, as if in his mind's eye he saw this particularly appetising soup simmering upon the fire.
Our young Rajah could not help laughing at the disappointed expression on Dixon's face when that worthy tar had concluded his investigations.
"As you said, sir, there's nought here but a lot of rubbish arter all, and barring the axe-handle, I don't see as how there's any single thing what'll be of any use to us poor shipwrecked mariners! Howsomdever, I think we ought to dig up the floor of the cave one of these days, and make a sarch for that there treasure the Johnny Crapeaus stowed away. Maybe 'tis under our feet, only we don't know it."
"I doubt it," said the middy, shaking his head; "it said in the letter that it was hidden away behind something."
"And why not behind that there sea-chest, sir?" exclaimed the coxswain, pointing triumphantly at that unwieldy-looking, battered box; "there's plenty of sea-room abaft it, I reckon; and 'tain't likely they'd want to carry heavy bullion or anything of that sort a long way off."
"I think they would if they expected to be disturbed by any one," returned Hubert; "but of course we'll make a thorough search in every likely spot."
"We want tools badly," put in Morgan, "and must try and make some out of the wood of the island. I think with our axe and pocket-knives we might manage to manufacture some spades and mattocks."
"Ay, that we will, sonney," remarked Dixon approvingly; "'tis hard if we don't manage to turn out something pretty decent in that line. Now, mates, what do you say to steering a homeward course, for the sun's getting a bit low, and the twilight in these furrin parts is summat like the sunshine in the old country: there ain't too much of it at the best o' times!"
In a few minutes our friends were tramping homewards, enlivening the way with snatches of song and anecdotes, of which latter Dixon had an apparently inexhaustible stock.
Ugly-Mug, as he walked along laden with turtle eggs, frying pans, and other rusty cooking-vessels, kept minutely examining the plants and creepers which grew by the wayside, and presently announced that he had discovered a castor-oil plant bearing seed- vessels. Some of these he proceeded to pluck and stow away in his pocket.
"Dis bery good ting!" he exclaimed; "now widout mosh bodderation I clean all de rusty cutlash and de dirty cookin' ting, for I can presh de oil out of de seed between two stone. And den if any one get seize wid' de tummick-ache, I can bery soon take him away, oh bery soon!"
"Are you sure it's castor-oil, though?" asked Hubert, with a laugh; "perhaps you've got hold of something poisonous by mistake!"
"How massa say soch ting?" said the Krooman indignantly; "why, I lib wid' de castor-oil plant eber since I am one piccaninny, and know him as well as I know my own moder. Him bery good for de 'kin in hot country too, massa; you rub him in well for a long time, and den you shine and glisten, and look so glossy, dat all de gal say to one anoder, 'What a bery fine man he are, eh?' or 'He bery mosh in de fashion, I tink, and I can't help failin' in lub wid him ober an' ober agin!' Dat de way, massa, for sho'."
"If you anoint yourself with castor-oil, Ugly-Mug, you'll be turned out of the camp, and have to go and live with the bear in the jungle," said Hubert severely; "or else we shall treat you as a leper, and banish you to Bird Island."
The Krooman's only answer to these threats was a wide grin, for he did not feel quite sure whether his young commander was in earnest, or only chaffing him.
The camp was now in sight, and in a few minutes our explorers were once more reunited with Hudson and Phillips, who reported that all had remained quiet in their proximity, and that the bear had behaved himself in a most exemplary manner, having, indeed, been asleep nearly the whole of the time.
THE night proving mild and balmy, and no other preparation having been made, our adventurers, after lighting an enormous bonfire on the summit of Cape Bluff, betook themselves to rest upon the sands, and enjoyed a long and dreamless sleep as a reward for all their exertions of the previous day. The big flare upon the lofty plateau had not attracted any vessel, for the young Rajah and his followers had remained there till midnight to replenish the fire, trusting to see some answering night-signal soar up into the darkness that enshrouded the "vasty deep;" but as no results had followed, and the fire was waxing low, they had ceased their exertions and retired to rest.
The whole party, with the exception of Hudson, refreshed themselves with a dip in the sea at an early hour the next morning, François gravely seating himself upon the sands near the margin of the waves, watching with wondering eyes the aquatic gambols of his new friends, and disdaining to take any notice of Ugly-Mug, who took the opportunity, whilst safely in the water, to rain volleys of opprobrious epithets upon the bear's head, accompanied by many pantomimic gestures of defiance and dislike.
"As we can't count upon this here fine weather lasting for ever," observed Dixon, as the party subsequently gathered round for their breakfast of turtle eggs, "and as there ain't no vessels in sight, nor, as far as I can see, likely to be, I think the best thing we can do this morning, mates, is to select a site and run up some sort of a shanty where we can hide our diminished heads, and likewise stow away our stores and such like. 'Tain't no good hanging out here in the open, to be scorched by the sun or soaked by the rain, as the case may be."
"I have been thinking about that all the morning," answered Hubert; "and I think we certainly ought to set about it at once; for, of course, it will be slow work with only one axe and no hammers or nails. When we were on our way to Cape Bluff yesterday, I noticed a spot which I think will do splendidly to run up a hut upon."
"Then you don't approve of the Frenchmen's cave as a place to live in, sir?" asked Phillips. "It would save a deal of trouble if we made it our headquarters."
"I vote for building a house," said the middy; "but if a majority are in favour of the cave, I'm quite willing to agree to it."
Nearly every one, however, was in favour of building a rough bamboo house to be thatched with palm leaves, Hudson giving it as his opinion that "that there cave would be chock-a-block with the Froggies' ghosts so soon as ever night set in, and for my part I'd like to give the uncanny place a goodish wide berth."
"How awfully superstitious you are, Hudson!" exclaimed Hubert, with a laugh. "Anyhow, if we did see a ghost there, it might possibly take it into its head to show us where the buried treasure lies hidden!"
"There's summat in that, sir, sure enough," answered the marine, with several grave nods of the head; "but, dash my buttons, if I'd like to see un, even if there was a sight of rhino to be got out of the job. My great-grandmother once upon a time seed a ghost o' that kind, and it nearly drove the poor old thing crazy, I've been told."
"Do tell us about it!" exclaimed Hubert eagerly; "I love all sorts of ghost stories."
"Bless your heart, it ain't nothing pertickler," said the marine, with a laugh. "It seems that the old dame, who was ninety years old at the time, but as spry and hearty as a woman of forty, fell asleep one winter's evening when sitting in front of the kitchen fire. I must tell you she was a widder, and living entirely by herself. Well, she didn't know for how long a time she'd been nodding and snoring, when she was suddenly awoke by what seemed to be somebody's hand a-touchin' her shoulder. Looking up quickly—for the old lady was as sharp as a needle—she called out, 'Who's there?' To her great surprise, she saw nothing and heard nothing. 'Ah! it was a dream, I'll undertake to say,' she muttered to herself. 'I'll just take forty winks more, then have my drop of gin and water, and go to bed.'
"It didn't take the old lady long to go off into the land of Nod again, for she was that strong-minded there was nothing she couldn't make herself do, if put to it like. In a minute she was snoring agin, as if she had laid a wager to blow the roof of the house off without using gunpowther or dynamite! Well, it was strange, you'll all say, but I'm blowed if she wasn't awoke agin, in just the very self-same way; the only difference being that this time the hand seemed a sight heavier than it did afore, and as cold as ice, as she afterwards took her Bible oath to. This time the old lady was a bit scared, as any lonely body might be. She sprang to her feet all of a tremble, and her spectacles fell off her nose with the fright, and clattered upon the brick floor. I must tell you that the doors had been securely fastened when night came on, and so she knew well enough that none of her old gossips and cronies could have found their way into the house, unless they had clambered down one of the chimneys.
"I'm of opinion that the old lady must ha' been a bit unsteady on her pins, in spite of her strong-mindedness; but after a good search around the kitchen, without discovering anything, she walked to her parlour door and listened at it. This door was closed, but she fancied she heard a queer sound inside the room, summat like the noise a person makes in stamping postmarks upon letters. I needn't tell you, Mr. Ashley and mates, that when my poor great-grandmother realized that there was actually somebody in her parlour who had no business to be there, and that this person, whoever he or she might be, had had the impudence to come into her kitchen on two occasions and wake her up, she began to feel her dander rise a bit, and instead o' trembling with fear, she began to rattle her old hones with rage. Just as the old lady was on the point of busting open the door, and giving her tongue a good run, she turned all cold agin with fright, and struck all of a heap like, for it suddenly crossed her mind that she hadn't heard so much as the creak of a door after the cold hand had been taken off her shoulder, and yet here was the parlour door—t'other side of which the mysterious person evidently was—securely closed and fastened!
"For a moment she considered whether she wouldn't make a bolt for it and rouse the neighbours, but then all the pride of the Clutterbucks—a respectable yeoman family to which she belonged—came to give her a bit of a buck up; and summing up all her courage, she threw open the door and stared into the room. For a jiffey she could see nothing at all, for of course there was no light in the room; the moon was but a young one, and gave very little of its shine through the latticed window—also she'd lost her specs. A very dim oil lamp was a-burnin' in the kitchen, standing upon a rickety old table; but from its position it worn't no use at all upon this occasion.
"My great-grandmother's flesh did creep, I can tell you, when by the faint, very faint moonlight, what stole in at the window, she made out a queer, outlandish-looking man, with a bald head and long beard, a-sitting at a table at the further end of the room, busily engaged in sorting and post-marking a quantity of letters. He did not even look up when the old lady threw open the door, but went straight ahead at his work, as if his life depended upon it, throwing each letter as he stamped it into the fireplace, from whence it appeared to be carried up the chimney by a furious draught, for the grate was perfectly empty. My great-grandmother particularly took notice that this strange visitant was a man of about fifty years of age, evidently prematurely bald. His face was yellow and wrinkled like an old man's, and he appeared to be very gaunt and thin. On his forehead she saw with horror there was the mark of a large red scar, which looked as if it had but lately healed.
"As the man took no notice of her, the old lady tried to say something to him, but not a word could she get out of herself for love or money. It was fright that glued her old tongue down, for of course she knew right well it was some sort of spirit she was face to face with; and the only spirit she had had dealings with afore was her nightly noggin of gin, or drop of square-face; and this, as you'll allow, was summat altogether different. Suddenly, as she was struggling to get a few words out, the stranger stopped his occupation, looked up, and stared straight at her with a pair of the most awful eyes she had ever seen,—just like coals of fire, she said—and they seemed to burn into her very soul, and made her tremble like an aspen leaf.
"After staring at the poor old lady for some seconds without speaking a word, the man rose from his chair, and raising a gaunt finger beckoned to her to approach. She now noticed that he was clad in some old-fashioned sort of uniform, his coat being of dark blue with huge lappets, and his waistcoat of a faded and shabby crimson.
"Again my great-grandmother tried to speak, and demand the reason for his being in her house, but her tongue seemed glued to the roof of her mouth. As you may suppose, she had no intention of obeying his signal, but, on the contrary, was doing her best to summon up enough resolution to turn and make the best of her way out of the room. In spite of these intentions, however, she felt that he was exerting some supernatural power over her, and irresistibly drawing her towards his end of the room. In spite of all her efforts, she found herself slowly but surely walking in the direction of the fireplace, close to which stood the dreaded figure, with its awful eyes fixed upon her, and its bony fingers still beckoning in a ghostly manner.
"Just as my great-grandmother got as far as the middle of the room, the spirit—or whatever it was—turned round and glided towards a door on the left-hand side of the fireplace. On reaching it, the door seemed to fly open without being touched, and quite noiselessly. The ghost turned and once more beckoned to the old lady, and then passed out into a dark narrow passage which communicated with the garden. Quite unable to prevent herself from doing so, my ancient relative followed in the ghost's footsteps. Down the pitch-dark passage, through a little hall, and out through the back-door into the garden went the stranger. As if he was well acquainted with the place, he presently turned aside up a narrow path bounded by a lofty yew hedge, and following this for some distance, passed through a wicket-gate into a tiny orchard. There was just light enough from the moon to give everything a weird, uncanny appearance—quite in keeping with such a strange, unearthly adventure. The wind too was high, and the clouds were scudding across the midnight sky at a tremendous pace. It was just the sort of night for ghosts and witches to be about, and scaring honest folk out of their wits, and my great-grandmother shuddered and trembled more than ever when the cold chill wind came blowing all around her. Several times the poor frightened old thing did her best to get away from the ghost's influence, and rush back to the shelter of the house; but she was for all the world like one of them mesmerized people what have lost all control over themselves, and have to submit to a stronger will than their own. Under the dark shadows of the tall yew hedge, she had felt the horrors so bad on her that she had managed to raise a faint scream, upon which the ghost—who was only a few yards in front of her—had turned sharply round and glared at her in such a threatening manner that the poor old lady used to say she had felt just like turning into a pillar of salt, after the manner of Lot's wife. As to screaming again, after that look the ghost give her, she wouldn't ha' done it, not if you'd promised her £500. Them's her own words, as I've heard my grandmother say many a time when telling the story to my mother.
"Well, mates, this here terrifying ghost, having almost done the pillar of salt business for my old relative, had, as I mentioned before, passed through a wicket-gate into a small orchard, which was the old lady's own property, she having inherited it through being a Clutterbuck, along with the house and garden and a duck-pond. Not a little property to be sneezed at, I can tell you; for, as my great-grandmother used to say with a goodish amount of pride, she always felt that she had a stake in the country, and didn't hold with them Socialist fellows what was greedy of other people's property honestly come by.
"If it was dark and gloomy under the yew hedge, Mr. Ashley and mates, it was ten times worse in the orchard, which was very thickly planted with trees, and as it was early autumn time the leaves had not begun to fall. Two or three times the poor old lady stumbled over mole-heaps and nearly fell upon her nose, and once she caught her foot in a rabbit-burrow and nearly dislocated her ankle. As for the ghost, he took no notice of the obstructions or the darkness, but just went straight ahead under the trees without so much as turning his ugly bald head. One special reason why my great-grandmother put him down as a ghost was that his footfall made no sound as he walked along, although she took pertickler notice that he was shod in heavy, clumsy- looking boots of an old-fashioned make.
"Presently the ghost came to the further boundary of the orchard, where was a low hedge and a paling, with a narrow lane upon t'other side. Here he paused for a few moments, and seemed to be looking about him, as if in search of something. My great- grandmother halted too; not of her own free-will, you must understand, but because she felt suddenly rooted to the spot, so to speak. After groping about for a bit, the ghost turned away sharp to the right in the direction of a pigsty which the old lady had built in one corner of the orchard. My great-grandmother followed as before, feeling as if her last hour had come, for she had now taken it into her poor old noddle that the spirit was going to murder her, and throw her body to the pigs. The sty was now in sight, with the faint moonbeams just flickering down upon it through the overhanging trees. The old lady could hear distinctly the grunts and snores of the two pigs she had in for fatting against the fall came round, and which were to have been killed in a few days' time. On arriving at the sty, what did the ghost do but stop abruptly and turn round to face my great- grandmother, who couldn't faint for the life of her, though she tried her best to have a comfortable bit of a swoon—which is always what women-folk fall back upon, I'm told, when there's nothing better handy to get along with.
"The ghost didn't seem to want to hurt her, however, but only held up a long forefinger, as if he wanted to attract her attention to what he was going to do. Then—still without uttering a word—he began again searching about him like a miser what's dropped his purse and is having a high old hunt for it, and presently he makes his way to a very old apple tree which my great-grandmother specially cherished for its wonderful good- flavoured fruit, and always of a great size. Here the ghost came to a halt agin, and stooped down and appeared to scratch at the earth round the roots, just for all the world like a pig searching for acorns. After a few minutes of this, during which the poor old lady stood gazing at him in horror, with the perspiration streaming off her wrinkled old forehead—for she thought it was a ghost's way of digging a grave—he stopped clawing at the ground, and turning to my great- grandmother, drew himself up to his full height, gazed at her till his eyes seemed to go through and through her, and then pointed to the dreadful scar upon his forehead, which was just visible in the ghastly moonlight. Then a deep sort of groaning noise seemed to float about amongst the apple trees, and woke up the pigs in the sty, who rushed out from their warm bed of straw, and went tearing about the outer enclosure, and then—although fatted up to fifteen score—they sprang over the wall, forced their way through the neighbouring hedge, and bolted up the lane, squealing to that extent one might have thought that they had been dreaming about black puddings and Bath chaps!
"My great-grandmother was terribly upset and flustered at this, but she couldn't take her eyes off the hideous ghost who was the cause of it. He stood still for a few minutes, and then the groanings stopped, and at the same moment the ghost pointed down at the ground beneath the old apple tree, where he had been scratching so lately. As he did this, my great-grandmother noticed, to her intense horror, that the scar upon the ghost's forehead had opened, and that blood was falling from it into the hollow in the ground. This horrible sight was too much even for the awful spell which seemed to have fallen upon the old lady, for she gave a shriek out of her which was heard half a mile away, and fell fainting to the ground.
"Some of her neighbours heard her shriek, and hurried to the house, for they thought she was being murdered on account of the money she had put away in an old stocking. After a prolonged search they found her in the orchard, lying insensible just on the spot where she had fallen. It was two days before she came round agin, and was able to tell her neighbours the gruesome story of her terrible experiences on that never-to-be-forgotten night of horrors.
"Of course, as was to be expected, they one and all enjoyed a good laugh at her expense, and told her that she must have gone off into some sort of a trance whilst sitting out in the orchard, and dreamed the whole thing. The old lady was highly indignant at this view of the matter, and declared that such a thing as trancing had never been known in the Clutterbuck family since the time of Noah! She had her own views about the matter, and as soon as ever she was well enough, she—without saying a word to her jeering neighbours—hired a man from a distance to come and dig up the ground under the apple tree near the pigsty. There had been found no sign of any hole having been scratched under this tree, and no trace of blood; and what is more, the pigs, to the old lady's intense astonishment, had been found safely ensconced in their sty on the morning after the visitation of the ghost. Still she had her own views, as I said before, and obstinacy was a characteristic of the Clutterbucks! Well, mates, I suppose you'll hardly believe it, but it's a fact that after digging for a half-hour or so, the man actually came upon the skeleton of a man, with some shreds of clothing clinging to him exactly corresponding to the garments the old lady had seen the ghost wearing. And the funniest thing of all is, that it was afterwards ascertained beyond a doubt that the remains were those of the postmaster of the neighbouring market-town, who had mysteriously disappeared many years before, and there was little doubt had been foully murdered and robbed when out for an evening walk, though neither the murderers nor the victim's body had ever been discovered.
"That's my yarn, mates, and now I'll trouble Mr. Ugly-Mug for some more coffee."
THE majority of our explorers being in favour of building a shanty in some secluded but healthy spot, it was resolved to select the site without any further delay, and then set vigorously to work to fell the necessary timber for the construction of the building. Hubert therefore undertook to guide his companions to the spot which he had selected in his mind's eye on the previous day, and allow them to judge of its suitability. Hudson was now so much improved in his general health, and his wounds were healing so rapidly, that it was decided to allow him to potter alone about the shore or otherwise amuse himself till the hour of noon, when the rest of the party would return to the bivouac for their midday meal and a short spell of rest.
It did not take long to reach the spot which the middy had pitched upon, and on seeing it every one unanimously agreed that no better place could have been selected for building a habitation upon. Dixon especially warmly approved of his young commander's choice. It was certainly a pretty spot, being an elevated grassy plateau of no great extent, bounded upon one side by a stream of excellent water, and on the other by a picturesque but narrow vale, much frequented by bulbuls, and containing a considerable quantity of small but extremely serviceable timber. Nor was the plateau open to observation from the shore—which might have proved a fatal defect—for owing to the peculiar configuration of the undulating ground in front, and the natural groups of trees and brushwood which were dotted about in all directions, it was entirely screened from view; and it would have been impossible for any one who had landed in what our castaways had named Reef Bay to detect the existence of a human habitation upon this site. Behind the plateau the ground rose upwards in gentle undulations, from which the rocks peeped out here and there, terminating finally in somewhat stunted jungle, from the depths of which arose the more perpendicular elevations of the central hills.
"I vote we build a sort of bungalow," exclaimed Hubert, after measuring off with long strides the available space on the summit of the little plateau. "We'll have a verandah for sitting out in, and four rooms. What do you say, Dixon?"
"That would do fust rate, sir, I take it; but Ugly-Mug knows more about running up shanties than I do, and I think we had better make him head architect, and put ourselves under his orders."
The Krooman grinned like the cat in "Alice in Wonderland."
"Dat just what I like eber so mosh, Massa Dixon, and tank you for tinking ob me in dat line ob life. Suppose we go now and slash at de tree and lop him up, and den when de principal post am ready, we can mark out where de hole shall be dig for de four principal corner."
"Don't forget the verandah, Ugly-Mug," observed the young Rajah; "you'll want some big posts to support that too."
"Massa make him mind quite easy," returned the black, as he swung the axe around his head with delight; "eberyting shall be done exactly as massa wish, and I know well enof de creeper dat grow in de jungle and wid' which we can fasten eberyting togeder in de most approve way; and den de roof, ob course, we can cober in wid' big palm leaf."
"What shall we build the bungalow of, Ugly-Mug?" queried Morgan, who was sharpening his cutlass on a stone; "we've got a choice of bamboo or any other timber."
"Bamboo am fast rate for all dis sort ob ting," answered the Krooman; "and Ogly-Mog know where am de big clump ob him, but it am more dan one mile from here, and so I tink de tree dat grow in dis valley close by am de right ting to try for de wall; but for de floor and de rafter ob de shanty dere am noddin like bamboo, and we'll slash him down for dat by-and-by."
"Come along then, bully-boys," shouted Dixon; "let's tramp off to the wooded valley yonder, and begin felling the trees. We'll let Ugly-Mug have the run of the axe, as he's head bottle-washer on this here job, and we must do the best we can with our cutlasses."
In a few minutes' time the neighbouring valley was ringing with, the strokes of Ugly-Mug's axe and the bluejackets' cutlasses, all of which were vigorously plied for a considerable time without cessation, startling the monkeys and birds from their various retreats, and echoing and re-echoing from rock to rock and tree to tree and upwards from cliff to cliff, till the dying resonance seemed to be lost amid the clouds that slowly sailed over the topmost ridges.
Presently the crash and thud of a falling tree was heard, and Ugly-Mug's first victim fell prone to the ground, bringing two other smaller trees with it. The want of a saw was now severely felt, for dividing the trunks into the necessary lengths for posts; but our explorers were determined not to be daunted, and worked away steadily and perseveringly with the axe and cutlasses, refreshing themselves now and then with a draught of cool cocoa-nut water, the Krooman having brought a stock of young nuts with him for that purpose. The day was a close, sultry one, and the sun shone down with a fierce, scorching heat, which, even under the shade of the umbrageous trees, made itself felt, and caused our friends to perspire pretty freely over their laborious work.
When Ugly-Mug's arms ached from wielding the axe, Dixon bared his brawny arms and took a turn at it, and being an immensely powerful, muscular man—as we have mentioned before—did tremendous execution amongst the trees and saplings, much to the Krooman's loudly expressed admiration and astonishment.
Whilst this felling and lopping was in full swing, Hubert, followed closely by François—who had elected to accompany the party—walked briskly on to the summit of Cape Bluff to take a survey of the horizon, and also to select a spot for the erection of a flagstaff, Dixon having purposely cut down a fine straight young tree for that purpose. Vainly the middy shaded his eyes and attentively scanned the wild waste of waters that environed Monkey Island with its wide, calm expanse of turquoise blue, over which scarce even a stray catspaw played upon this morning of drowsy stillness. The horizon line was distinctly defined against the blue grey of the lower regions of the sky, but not a tiny speck gleamed upon its gracefully curving arc to betray the presence of a passing sail. A whale was lazily spouting in the distance, and here and there a porpoise rose to the surface, and then plunged to the depths again in its heavy, dignified fashion.
Hubert involuntarily sighed, as his eye travelled over the vast, mirror-like expanse of calm water that stretched away for miles and miles from the shores of the lovely island to the great curve-circle where sea and sky met in one long embrace.
"There's nothing in sight, that's certain," he said aloud. "It'll be something more than a spree if we have to stay on this island for months. For a few weeks it would have been a jolly good lark, of course, and every one on board the Spiteful would have envied us the adventure. However, a sail may heave in sight at any time, so the sooner we rig up this flagstaff the better. I'll heave round and get a hole dug at any rate, though what we are to do for a flag I can't in the least imagine, for the dinghy's ensign, which Morgan spoke of, would be much too small."
Soliloquising thus, our young Rajah, closely followed by his ursine friend, started for a little coppice close at hand, on arriving at which he cut a short thick stick with his cutlass, and proceeded to sharpen it at one end. This accomplished, he returned to the summit of the hill, and proceeded to dig out a deep hole, sufficiently capacious to step a large flagstaff in. During this occupation François sat gravely by, intently watching the progress of the work, doubtless thinking that he could have done it much quicker himself with his sharp claws.
"I suppose you think I'm a duffer at this sort of thing, you old ruffian," exclaimed Hubert, pausing for a minute in his task to glance at his solemn-looking pet. "I wish Ugly-Mug was here to see how well-behaved you are!"
The bear here arose and shook himself, as if displeased at the mention of the Krooman's name. Then he walked away a few paces, sat down and calmly gazed out over the sunlit summer sea, as if lost in admiration of the scene.
"He's going to keep the forenoon watch, and look out for a vessel heaving into sight!" laughed our young Rajah to himself; "what a clever old chap it is! I do so wish Phil Paddon could see him."
Returning to his occupation, the middy quickly scooped out a sufficiently deep hole, and was about to return to the wood in which he had left his shipmates, when his attention was again drawn to the bear, who he found to his disgust had lain down and gone fast asleep!
"The lazy old beast!" he ejaculated; "that's what he calls watch-keeping, is it! I'll have a joke out of him now, for I'll scuttle away and leave him there sound asleep, and then when he wakes up he'll be jolly well puzzled to know where he is!"
So saying, and inwardly chuckling to himself, Hubert stole softly away from the spot, and swiftly descended the hill in the direction of the bird-haunted vale beneath, which was afterwards known by the name of Bulbul Valley. The middy found his fellow- castaways seated upon the felled trunk of a tree, proudly surveying the destruction they had created around them, and—in the fashion of elephants—vigorously fanning themselves with branches to try and keep the mosquitoes and other insects at a distance.
"We ain't going to cut down anything more for the present," observed Dixon to his young commander, as the latter ran up, "but are going to shape out some postesses and some of them kind of critturs, and begin to forge ahead a bit with the shanty itself."
"That'll be stunning!" exclaimed Hubert. "I want to see it begun so much; but first of all, Dixon, I want to get the flagstaff rigged up on Cape Bluff. I've dug a splendid hole to step it in, but I can't think how we shall manage about a flag. The dinghy's ensign is, of course, too small."
"I think we can manage it," answered the coxswain, after ruminating for a minute. "If I'm not mistaken, there's some red calico stuff stowed away amongst that rubbish in the Frenchmen's cave, which would do fust rate for a bit of bunting."
"I'll go and look for it," said Morgan, starting to his feet; "I shan't be gone long."
"So do, there's a good lad," said Dixon approvingly; "and meanwhile we'll drag some of the timber clear of this here jungle."
It proved very hard work, even with the help of long tough jungle-ropes, to get the tree-trunks clear of the forest; but each one put his full energy, strength, and zeal, into the job; and Dixon especially worked like a dray-horse, his muscles standing out in great hard masses on his Herculean limbs as he lugged and tugged at the weighty logs, shouting "Yeo heave ho, bully-boys!" every few seconds in his deep thundering tones, so as to prevent his mates relaxing in their exertions.
Presently Morgan returned with a bundle of old, rather faded Turkey-red, which he had rummaged out from the Frenchmen's store; and for want of anything better this was securely fastened by some sharp splinters of wood to the top of the tree which had been selected for a flagstaff, and the latter was then hoisted on to the shoulders of the party, and laboriously carried up the hill.
As our friends staggered along with their heavy burden, Ugly- Mug, who was one of those in front, exclaimed in alarmed tones, "Garamighty! here dat ogly bar a-comin' down de hill so sure as I'm a pore sinner, and him runnin' like a rigger, and frownin' like de master ob a school when him angry wid' a piccaninny! Oh, golly! Massa Ashley, what can do?"
But the Krooman's frightened remarks were only met by roars of unfeeling laughter from his shipmates, to whom the worthy black's terror of the bear was a source of constant amusement.
"Why, you're not afraid of the bear still, Ugly-Mug, surely!" exclaimed Hubert at length; "I shall begin to think you're a coward!"
"Me not coward, massa, for true, only leetle bit—"
The Krooman's sentence remained unanswered, for at that moment François trotted up, full of curiosity to see what huge thing his new owners were carrying; and as he began sniffing about in close proximity to Ugly-Mug's legs, with quite innocent intentions, the terror-stricken black relinquished his hold of the tree-trunk with an exclamation of horror, and darted off into a neighbouring coppice as fast as he could put his legs to the ground.
His companions might have been excused for believing that he was pursued by some malignant fetish invisible to themselves!
However, whilst the rest of the party were resting from their labours on the summit of Cape Bluff, and inspecting the hole which Hubert had dug, the Krooman, with a rather sheepish look, reappeared upon the scene, dragging after him some lengths of a remarkably small but tough creeper, which he announced would serve admirably as guys wherewith to help support the flagstaff.
"When I saw you hauling those jungle-ropes along," said the middy, with a laugh, "I was afraid that you were going to ask permission to hang the bear with them!"
"De bar! oh, I nebber mind him. Nebber tink 'bout such ting, Massa Ashley," answered the negro, with assumed indifference, but nevertheless looking askance at the spot where his bête noire was gravely sitting. "Him leetle bodderation when him poke him ogly nose into eberyting like one hondred monkey roll into one; but Ogly-Mog no want to tie jongle-rope round him troat, 'cos dat am—"
Again was the Krooman's speech interrupted, and this time by the firing of a musket, which appeared to come from the direction of Reef Bay.
It was almost immediately followed by a second shot, and this was succeeded by a shout, which latter, however, only faintly reached the ears of the startled listeners.
"That must be Hudson firing!" exclaimed Hubert, glancing anxiously at his coxswain; "but perhaps he is only having a shot at some game."
Dixon had sprung to his feet—as indeed had all the party—and was intently gazing down in the direction of Reef Bay, which inlet, however, was partially obscured by intervening groups of trees.
"I shouldn't have minded so much about the shots," said he, hurriedly turning to his companions, "but what I don't like is to hear him a-shouting out as if he was in need of our assistance."
"I think it was certainly Hudson's voice," said Morgan; "let's go and see if there is anything the matter with him."
"Off to Reef Bay, double-quick, lads!" shouted Hubert, in excited tones, as he hurriedly snatched up a cutlass; "we don't know what's happening down below there!"
Swiftly our friends descended the hill, and made the best of their way to the bivouac, where they arrived breathless, and in a perfect fever of heat.
Their fears were not allayed by finding the strand deserted.
There was no sign or trace of Hudson.
Dixon shouted again and again in his stentorian tones, but without eliciting any response from the marine.
"WHY, what the dickens has become of the fellow!" exclaimed Morgan; "he seems to have disappeared in a most mysterious fashion, and yet we know that he was here but a few minutes ago."
"Likely enough he's trying to take a rise out of us," said Phillips, a ray of hope illuminating his virile bronzed face, "and if so, he ought to be keel-hauled! Blest if I see how any one can have been here, for our firearms and ammunition are safe enough under yonder rock, and there ain't no strange footsteps about in the sands so far as I can make out."
Ugly-Mug had been narrowly examining the shore at some distance from the bivouac, and in the direction of Palm Point.
"Here am de mark ob him!" he exclaimed at length, with great glee; "here in de sand him footmark lead away eber so far toward de palm grove ober der."
"How do you know they're Hudson's footmarks, Ugly-Mug?" asked Hubert, running up to join the Krooman.
"How I know him? 'Cos him tree time de size ob any oder man foot, dat why. Look der, Massa Ashley, what you tink ob him wid yer own eye? If dat not de mark ob de big marine, den he am spoor ob one elephant, dat all I can say 'bout him;" and the Krooman chuckled in a strange guttural manner, whilst his eyes rolled with subdued excitement.
By this time all the members of the party had assembled upon the spot, and it was unanimously agreed that the footmarks were those of the huge marine. They appeared to lead right away, as Ugly-Mug had remarked, in the direction of the thickly wooded promontory which formed the northern boundary of Reef Bay.
"His rifle is gone, that's sartin," observed Dixon, "for I've overhauled the arms that were stowed away yonder, but there are no revolvers or cutlasses missing. Surely he wouldn't be so foolish as to go on a shooting expedition when he's on the sick list!"
"I'm sure he wouldn't," asserted Hubert; "he promised me that he would only potter about the shore and look for shells. Of course he may have caught sight of some wild beast, and been tempted to go in chase of it."
"Anoder ogly great bar!" said Ugly-Mug, with a grin.
"This is no laughing matter, mates," observed Dixon; "we must arm ourselves at once and follow in Hudson's tracks."
This good advice was at once acted upon, and each man selected a rifle and revolver, and buckled his cutlass on around his waist.
"Do you really think there is any cause for alarm, Dixon?" asked the middy, in a low and anxious tone, as he hurried along the firm broad sands by his coxswain's side.
"I must confess I feel a bit uneasy, sir," answered the seaman cautiously; "but still, of course, Hudson may be as right as a trivet all the time, and have only gone exploring. Still, it ain't like him to break his promise and disobey orders."
"There is nobody upon the island besides ourselves," said Hubert, "so I don't see how anybody can have attacked him."
"There are no inhabitants so far as we know," answered Dixon, in the same cautious tone; "but you must remember that we have not explored the whole of the island. We walked all around the coast and overhauled the cave, and that's about all."
"That's true enough," assented the middy, in a thoughtful tone, "and of course there may be other caves up amongst the hills that we don't know of; but still, if there are natives living in the island, I think we should have encountered some of them before this."
Our friends had now arrived at the end of the sands in close proximity to the palm-grove, and here all trace of the footsteps was lost, for the ground rose in firm, closely swarded undulations, which could not possibly leave any perceptible impress of a man's foot.
"I think we had better push on at once over the hill," said Hubert hurriedly; "he is sure to have gone that way in any case, and when we arrive at the highest point in the palm-grove, Dixon shall test the strength of his lungs again."
As the party pushed on through the palm-grove at the top of their speed, their eyes lit upon something white lying under a tree a little to the right of the route they were following. It proved to be a crumpled-up pocket-handkerchief, bearing Hudson's name in one corner.
"I don't like the look of this, mates," exclaimed Dixon, as he hurriedly deciphered the name; "'tain't ship-shape in my opinion, and looks as if he had been carried off by some one, and had dropped his handkerchief unbeknownst, so as to give us an idea as to the direction his captors were steering for."
It seemed indeed only too likely that this conjecture was a true one, and so thought Hubert, as he hastily thrust the pocket- handkerchief into his pocket, and dashed off into a smart run, followed closely by his alarmed companions.
It was only the work of a few moments to get clear of the palm-grove, and our friends then came to a halt, that they might take a hurried survey of the open country that now lay before them. To their astonishment nothing in the shape of a human being was visible.
Once more Dixon rent the air with prolonged shouts. The echoes seemed to mock his voice in endless tones, but no other sort of answer was vouchsafed.
Ugly-Mug and Morgan closely examined the ground meanwhile, but no clue could they discover as to the route taken by Hudson. All hope as to his being on a shooting expedition had now to be relinquished, for he would undoubtedly have answered Dixon's shouts at once, had lie been only prowling about with a gun.
"I think we had better examine the cave, as we are not far from it," said the middy; "it is possible that Hudson has been taken prisoner and carried off there."
"I was at the cave not half an hour ago," put in Morgan, "and there wasn't a sign of any one there then."
"I think, nevertheless, that we'd best overhaul it," put in Dixon, "for there's no saying but what our young Rajah may be in the right, and it's there we'll find poor Hudson as likely as not."
"De Franchman dat am owner ob de bar hab collar Massa Hudson, I tink bery likely," observed the Krooman, wagging his woolly nut with great gravity.
Hubert could not help laughing in spite of his anxiety. "I should like to see a Frenchman try to tackle Hudson!" he said incredulously. "Why, the marine would tuck him under his arm and walk away with him, like Gulliver and one of the Lilliputians!"
The words had hardly escaped the middy's lips, when a fiendish kind of yell broke upon the stillness that reigned around, and reverberated amongst the surrounding hills, like the voices of many demons crying aloud.
A sort of electric shock seemed to pass with a strange kind of thrill through our explorers' frames, when this weird, uncanny cry smote upon their ears; and they instinctively laid their hands upon their weapons.
"Look there! look there!" suddenly cried Morgan, in an astonished tone, and pointing at the same time in the direction of one of the topmost ridges, a little to the southward of Ashley Peak.
Every eye followed the direction of the young seaman's outstretched hand, and quickly perceived, clearly outlined against the blue of the sky, two tall, dark-looking human forms. These individuals appeared to be half-nude, copper-coloured natives, but it was difficult to judge at the distance at which they were. At the moment that our explorers' eyes fell upon them they were gesticulating wildly, and it was evident that their yell had been one of defiance, for the purpose of striking terror into the minds of their pursuers.
"I'll cut short their caterwauling and semaphore business in a brace of shakes," exclaimed Dixon, with a cynical smile of derision curling his lip. "Just stop there a few seconds longer, my hearties, and I'll send a bullet through one of yer ugly carcasses."
So saying, the coxswain dropped rapidly on one knee, and raising his deadly rifle to his shoulder, took deliberate aim at one of the gesticulating figures on the ridge.
Like lightning Morgan imitated his example, whispering hurriedly, "If you'll take the left-hand fellow, Dixon, I'll aim at the other chap."
"Stop!" cried the middy, in a piercing voice, as a sudden apprehension crossed his mind; "don't fire for Heaven's sake, for fear Hudson should be with them."
Both rifles were instantly lowered.
"Thank you, sir, for that there reminder," exclaimed Dixon, "for it's likely enough that them villains have got our poor shipmate as prisoner along with 'em, and we might have sent a bullet into him by mistake, and should have never forgiven ourselves."
"Gosh an' golly!" chimed in Ugly-Mug, with a horrified face, "dat wus dan meetin' a bar ober in de cave der."
"No need to examine the cave, now, I think," exclaimed Hubert excitedly. "We must pursue those wretches as fast as ever we can, for they evidently come from the other side of the island."
As our young Rajah spoke, the two natives gave a parting contemptuous yell, and then suddenly disappeared from view on the other side of the ridge of hills.
"Forward, lads!" thundered Dixon, as he rushed impetuously to the front; "if we catch 'em, we'll soon make the sarcy fellows sing small, I reckon."
"I wonder if they've a hiding place among the rocks," observed Hubert, as he hurried along by his coxswain's side; "or whether they've landed from some vessel upon the other side of the island."
"Can't say, I'm sure, sir," answered Dixon; "'tis possible enough they've run a craft into Alligator or Turtle Bay without our knowledge, for we wouldn't have seen her from Cape Bluff, if so be as she was anchored close inshore."
"They may kill Hudson when they find we're on their trail," said Hubert, in faltering tones; "I hardly know what it's best to do."
"Our dooty now is to overhaul them sons of guns, there ain't no doubt about that," answered the seaman, in reassuring tones. "You see it's this way, Mr. Ashley: we don't know yet for sartin that Hudson's been collared by 'em. Maybe he's in hiding from 'em somewhere, and afraid to show himself till they've cleared out of it."
The middy shook his head, for he felt it impossible to take this optimist view of the matter, especially considering the mysterious manner in which the marine's handkerchief had been discovered.
All conversation was now, however, abruptly put a stop to, for our friends had reached the steepest part of the ascent to the hills, and all their attention had to be concentrated on the difficulties of the route, and the necessity of husbanding their wind for what might prove to be a long and arduous chase. Should it prove that the mysterious natives were in possession of a vessel, and were anxious to reach the shore, it was undeniable that they had secured a tremendous start. Also, no doubt they were well acquainted with the topography of Monkey Island, and could take advantage of short cuts, which would be naturally unknown to their pursuers.
Full of hope, however, and determined to effect the release of Hudson if by an evil chance he should have fallen into the hands of a hand of desperadoes, our young Rajah and his comrades pressed gallantly on, now swinging themselves up some acclivity by the help of an overhanging tree or shrub, and again scaling a precipitous cliff on their hands and knees, or forcing their way through the tangled creepers or prickly bushes of some belt of thick, almost impervious jungle which obstructed the way. Now and again they stumbled or fell, abrasing their shins, and bruising an arm or a shoulder; but these mishaps only served to stimulate their courage and increase their tenacity of purpose, for every heart throbbed with the excitement of such a startling adventure, and with the determination to grapple with their foes at the earliest possible moment.
With only an occasional laconic cry of encouragement from Dixon of "Forward, mates!" or "Shove along there, bully-boys!" our little party therefore pressed on at topmost speed, though their flushed faces and labouring breath proved that the prolonged and violent exertion was beginning to tell even upon the strongest of the little band.
No trace was seen of any other natives, nor did Hudson reply to the occasional shout which Dixon sent ringing along the hillside.
The marine was undoubtedly a prisoner, or had already fallen a victim to some treachery.
Ashley Peak was a guide to our climbers, and presently, after a most exhausting scramble, they found themselves bruised, scratched, and bleeding, and with torn and tattered garments, standing upon the rocky ridge—about two hundred yards south of that eminence—behind which they had lost sight of the two mysterious figures.
Every one immediately burst into a chorus of excited exclamations, for lying at anchor in Turtle Bay, far, far beneath them, appeared a smart-looking, well-built dhow, with her sails ready loosed. She was not apparently more than a quarter of a mile from the strand, and had a number of men on board who were evidently busily engaged in getting her ready for sea. At the moment that our friends' eyes fell upon this craft, a boat shot from her quarter and made for the shore, rapidly propelled by two skilful oarsmen.
At a considerable distance below the spot where our explorers stood, and in the act of crossing a large open piece of ground, a body of natives could be descried, apparently hurrying towards the shores of Turtle Bay at as rapid a pace as possible. It was evident that they were somewhat retarded in their flight by having to convey some heavy burden with them, but what it was that encumbered them thus could not at that distance be made out.
Directly Dixon's eye fell upon this retreating body of natives, he cried angrily, "Them's the varmints what's carried off our shipmate, lads, and it's my belief he's there amongst 'em now. Double forward again, and we'll overhaul 'em afore they can reach their boat."
The rest of a few seconds on the summit of the ridge had enabled Hubert and his comrades to regain their wind to a certain extent, and they again started in pursuit of the fleeing natives with renewed energy. The descent upon the opposite side, however, proved almost as fatiguing and troublesome as the ascent had been, for the ground fell away very precipitously, and was moreover thickly strewn with small loose stones, which became dislodged at every footstep, and very much retarded the advance of our friends. Once Hubert fell flat on his nose, and received several cuts and bruises in consequence, but he was quickly assisted to his feet by his followers, and with aching limbs and a dizziness in the head, resumed the chase.
About half-way down the hill-slopes the ground improved, but some intervening ridges and trees obstructed the view of the shore, and the body of mysterious natives were lost to sight for the time being.
"Keep up the pace for a bit longer!" panted out Dixon, who was beginning to feel the effects of the long run; "and we'll be in time yet."
Suddenly another loud, prolonged yell rent the air.
"ANOTHER yell!" exclaimed the young Rajah breathlessly; "what can that mean?"
"We shall see in a minute when we reach yonder ridge," answered Morgan; but Hubert noticed that the young seaman's voice did not sound hopeful.
"I wish I was within reach of the rascals," muttered the stalwart coxswain fiercely, as he hurriedly cocked his rifle; "I'd give 'em something to yell for, or know the reason why! Ay, that I would!"
At this moment our friends gained the ridge which Morgan had referred to, and involuntarily paused to survey the scene which lay beneath them—but only for one brief moment!
One glance was sufficient to show them that the active, wiry, and sparsely clad natives had already reached the shores of Turtle Bay, and were busily embarking in the boat which had been despatched from the dhow. A second boat, evidently in response to the recent yell from the natives, was just pushing off from the vessel, and steering for the shore. It was evident that one boat was not sufficient for the whole party.
"We're too late to capture the first lot," exclaimed Hubert, in a sadly disappointed tone, "but we'll be in time to intercept the others, and capture the second boat to attack the dhow with."
"Spoken like a plucky young gentleman," said Dixon. "Shove ahead again, lads!"
"We could let drive at them with our rifles now, if it wasn't for the fear of hitting Hudson," observed Morgan; "we might as well have left them behind us, after all."
"Maybe we'll use 'em yet, sonney," observed Dixon grimly, as he burst into a run again. "Can you keep up with us, Mr. Ashley?"
"I should think so!" answered our hero emphatically. "I've got my second wind now, and could go on for another mile if necessary, though I'm a little bit dizzy still."
"My breaf begin to go like a team-ingine, by golly," panted out Ugly-Mug. "I hab no chance wid de bar now if him gib chase; dat sartin as anyting."
Poor François was not likely to challenge the Krooman to a race just at this time, for when our friends had rushed down from Cape Bluff for the purpose of ascertaining Hudson's whereabouts, the bear had soon dropped far behind the runners and been left to his own devices.
The first boatload of natives had now pushed off from the shore. The little craft was heavily laden, for as many as possible had crowded into her, and she moved very slowly through the water, with her gunwale perilously close to the surface. It was evident that a prisoner was on board this boat, for some men could be distinctly seen holding down by force in the bows a struggling human form. The pursuers could not doubt for an instant that this was their unfortunate shipmate, Hudson.
"He's alive at any rate," observed Dixon, with a ring of satisfaction in his tone; "and if we can't smash up them fellows on the shore before their boat comes in, we must be a lot of old women!"
A group of men, numbering about ten or so, had been left behind upon the beach to await the arrival of the second boat, now only about fifty yards distant. These were wild, fierce- looking fellows, resembling the Arabs of the African coast, and they looked wiry and muscular, and appeared to be well-armed with muskets and scimitars. It was evident, however, that they would prefer escaping to fighting; for, fully conscious of the rapid and threatening advance of Hubert and his comrades, they crowded into the surf up to their knees, and menacingly and imploringly shouted to the boatmen to exert themselves to the utmost to reach the shore in time. These volleys of objurgations were quite thrown away upon the sturdy oarsmen, who were now fully aware of the extent of the danger, and were straining every muscle and sinew in their supple brown bodies in order to defeat the bellicose schemes of the detested white men whom they saw swooping down upon their comrades in such a determined manner.
It was evident that the race between the English sailors and the rescuing boat would be an exceedingly close one; and when this fact was irresistibly borne in upon them, the Arabs upon the beach determined if possible to check the advance of their enemies by a timely volley of musketry. They therefore faced about and delivered a simultaneous discharge, which quickly enveloped them in a cloud of smoke, under cover of which they hoped to embark in safety.
Fortunately for our Spiteful friends, the rapid rate at which they were advancing preserved them from the deadly hail of bullets. These little missiles, however, whistled ominously over their heads, which they missed by only a few inches.
"Give them a return volley!" shouted Hubert excitedly, "and then we'll charge in upon them through the smoke."
In an instant this command was carried out by the bluejackets dropping upon one knee, and firing straight into the curtain of vapour that still hung motionless over the spot where the Arabs had last been seen. A shriek of agony rent the air, and at the same moment a stentorian British cheer arose from the throats of the sailors as they rushed forward and gained the beach. Like a whirlwind they swept on over the firm sands with Hubert at their head, burning to come to close quarters with their swarthy enemies. Fatigue, breathlessness, and the exhaustion consequent upon violent exertion were alike forgotten in the excitement of that supreme moment; for the boat had not yet grounded in the surf, and the Arabs turned wildly to bay, nothing loth to grapple in a life-and-death struggle with their pertinacious foes.
The smoke had now slowly drifted away on the sluggish air, and the rival bands were enabled to distinguish each other for a few brief moments before the hand-to-hand fight commenced. Stretched upon the margin of the sands, with the salt surf dashing over their livid upturned faces, lay two dead Arabs, who had fallen victims to the bluejackets' rifle volley. This made the respective forces more equal, though the natives gained a slight accession of strength by the arrival of the boat upon the scene, one of the crew of which sprang out amid the waves that were dashing themselves upon the beach, and rushed to the assistance of his companions; whilst the other remained in charge of the little craft, which he endeavoured to keep from getting broadside-on to the surf—a task by no means easy.
As the young Rajah of Monkey Island and his supporters bounded forward to close with their antagonists, they threw their now useless rifles down upon the sand, drew their revolvers, and fired as many shots as possible into the advancing line of swarthy, determined-looking Arabs; for the latter, seeing that a conflict was inevitable, declined to remain altogether on the defensive.
In a moment the opposing parties had met in a fierce hand-to- hand struggle, which, as the Arabs were an active and muscular body of men, seemed to give odds in favour of these desperadoes; for not only did they outnumber their foes, but the sailors, perceiving that their revolvers gave them an undue advantage, replaced their shooting-irons in their belts, and rushed into the fray with their cutlasses alone.
At the first onset Ugly-Mug was tumbled over by a crashing blow on the head from the butt end of an Arab musket, bat as his cranium was as hard as a milestone, he suffered no ill effects, and was on his feet again in a second, when, having given vent to an ear-piercing kind of war-cry, he closed with his adversary, and succeeded in transfixing him with his cutlass. Meanwhile our young hero had been attacked in a most determined manner by two fierce-looking Arabs, who showered in blows from their scimitars so fast and furiously that he found it exceedingly difficult to parry them. But, fortunately, as he was almost beaten to his knees by these sturdy ruffians, Morgan, who had already cut down one adversary, perceived his young commander's danger, and rushing to his assistance, cleft the skull of the biggest of these daring fellows; whilst Hubert, reinspirited by this welcome assistance, promptly recovered himself, and taking advantage of an opening given him by his remaining antagonist, got in a point, and cleverly ran the latter through the heart.
Whilst these events had been taking place in one portion of the battlefield—if we may use such a term—Dixon had been performing prodigies of strength and valour in another, and was carrying all before him like a knight of ancient romance. The revolver shots which had been fired at the commencement of the struggle had only inflicted slight wounds upon some of the Arabs, and merely served to exasperate these men still more against their fiery white foes, and they specially singled out the coxswain, as the most resolute-looking and biggest of the party, for attack. With a vengeance did these unsuspecting men catch a magnificent Tartar!
Undismayed by the odds opposed to him, and confident in his own Herculean powers, the redoubtable seaman, after hurling his empty revolver at one Arab and knocking him stunned and motionless upon the sands, dashed headlong into the midst of his enemies, showering terrific blows right and left with his trusty cutlass, and hewing his way through their midst with the strength of his single arm. One after the other the Arabs went down under the strokes of the cutlass like the tall poppies under the stick of Tarquinius Superbus. Vainly did they attempt to stem the torrent of blows which rained upon them with unerring swiftness and vigour. They might as well have attempted to check a mighty torrent of water rushing out through the burst banks of a reservoir! And in addition to his intrepidity and strength, Charlie Dixon had, during this short but desperate scrimmage, the rare good fortune of possessing what is commonly known as "a charmed life." Pistols hurled at him seemed to be turned harmlessly aside in some marvellous fashion; the thirsty blades and points of scimitar and spear were dashed away by the wary, well-tempered cutlass of the seaman, or else these dangerous weapons that menaced his life were hacked to pieces or torn from the grasp of their astonished owners!
Morgan, Phillips, and Ugly-Mug gallantly seconded their shipmate's efforts, and Hubert throughout kept in the thickest of the fight, and was on more than one occasion the means of diverting a dastardly blow aimed at his coxswain from behind by some of the infuriated and less scrupulous Arabs. The issue of the conflict did not long remain in doubt, for in a few minutes every native, with the exception of two, lay dead or dying upon the strand; whilst the survivors dashed into the surf, leaped into their boat, and endeavoured to push her off from amid the breakers. Our young hero and his companions, however, were too quick for them, and vigorously boarded the boat and took possession of her, whereupon the three Arabs, one of whom was wounded, sprang overboard and swam rapidly out in the direction of the dhow, loudly shouting for assistance as they did so.
"Thank God we've got the boat!" exclaimed Dixon, as he seized an oar, and pushed the craft out into deep water; "and now to rescue Hudson!"
"They've got him aboard the dhow, I see," said Morgan, as he assisted his shipmate, "and the first boat is coming back to try and pick up the three swimmers before we can overhaul them."
"All the better for us!" exclaimed the coxswain, glancing in the direction of the Arab vessel, which was preparing to get under weigh. "We'll smash them up first, and then board the dhow."
"Hang me if I don't think we've got our work cut out for us even now," observed Phillips, who was busily engaged in binding up a sword-cut upon his leg which was bleeding rather profusely; "you may take your affy-davy that these fellows are slave- dealers, and will fight to the last gasp."
"I'll astonish their weak nerves for 'em so soon as I get 'em within reach of my old cutlash here," said Dixon grimly. "If I don't play 'Rule Britannia' on some of their hard, ugly pates, may I never dance a hornpipe agin! Sorry to see that you're wounded though, mate."
"'Tain't much, old ship, and I reckon this here handkerchief will stop the bleeding arter a bit."
Hubert, who had seized the helm, hurriedly drew Hudson's handkerchief from his pocket and gave it to Phillips to act as an extra bandage. Most fortunately every one else had escaped with mere scratches and contusions.
"See your revolvers reloaded, lads!" shouted Dixon from the bows. "I've thrown mine away, worse luck, but I hope you've all got yourn about you."
These invaluable weapons were hurriedly produced, and the empty cylinders charged.
"Out oars, men!" ordered Hubert, as he laid his revolver down upon the thwart beside him. "Give way with a will, and we'll soon have Hudson amongst us again."
"Ay, ay, that we will," murmured the seamen, as they bent their backs, and sent the Arab boat flying through the water.
"Steer for t'other craft, sir!" yelled Dixon; "lay us aboard 'em for a scrimmage! Can you see how many of the skulking swabs there are in her?"
Before the middy had time to answer, a fiery jet of flame shot from the dhow's forecastle, followed by a cloudy puff of smoke. Then a round shot crashed into the boat in which our friends were seated, the sea rushed in through a hole below the water-line, and the little craft instantly began to settle down.
WITH hardly a moment's warning did Hubert and his companions find themselves struggling for dear life amid the waves, for the boat had almost instantly gone to the bottom. Most fortunately no injury had been caused to any members of the party by the unexpected shot from the dhow, and all were expert swimmers, with the exception of Phillips, who was also handicapped by his wounded leg.
Needless to recount, the Arabs were highly elated at the success of their tactics, and raised loud shouts of triumph, which came pealing over the sea, and caused a considerable increase of mortification to our unfortunate friends in the water. The first boat had by this time reached the native swimmers, who were the survivors of the combat on shore, and had hauled them inboard. The crew had then turned the bows of their craft in the direction of the dhow, without paying any attention to the struggling Englishmen, and commenced pulling at a rapid pace towards her.
Our hero had only had time to sing out, "We're foundering!" before he felt himself sucked under by the sinking boat, and some seconds had elapsed before he had found himself on the surface of the water again, for he had been weighed down by his saturated clothes and heavy cutlass.
Dixon had promptly secured an oar which was floating about, and, with Morgan's assistance, conveyed Phillips to this useful life-buoy. Ugly-Mug was like a duck in the water.
"Glad to see you're all right, Mr. Ashley," the coxswain called out. "We must strike out for the shore at once, or those beggars will take advantage of this mishap to come and finish us off whilst we're helpless in the water."
"Just what I was thinking," observed Morgan. "Fortunately we're not far from the shore."
"There's a boat shoving off from the dhow now," said the middy, in an alarmed tone.
It was only too true. The craft which had returned alongside the dhow with the survivors was shoving off from the gangway, filled with armed men. Almost at the same moment, flames again streamed from the fore part of the vessel, and another round shot came ricochetting over the waters and flew over our friends' heads, eventually pitching ingloriously upon the neighbouring sands, where it effectually buried itself out of sight for ever.
"That's their little game, is it!" growled Dixon. "I'll pay 'em out when I get a grip of my rifle agin."
The Arabs in the boat put on a tremendous spurt in the hopes of being able to annihilate their enemies before the latter could reach terra firma again; but the middy and his companions in misfortune were determined to effect an escape. As the oar only seemed to impede their movements, Dixon and Morgan thrust it aside, and supported Phillips between them; and as they were both powerful swimmers, the delay did not prove a very serious matter.
With a great sense of relief did our hero find himself in shallow water, and as he scrambled to his feet, glanced back to see how the dhow's boat was progressing. He saw at a glance that, though still some distance away, she was nevertheless intent on pursuit; but as the little craft was now well within the line of fire, it was impossible for the Arabs on board the dhow to fire any more for fear of hitting her, which was at any rate a consolation to our fatigued and dripping friends.
"Double forward and gain your rifles, lads," shouted Dixon, the instant he emerged—like an impersonation of the sea-god Neptune—from the watery element. "I reckon we'll wire into them sons of guns in the boat; and if they'd only venture ashore, we might stand a chance of seizing the dhow yet."
Putting their best feet foremost, as the saying is, Hubert and his companions, the instant that they had gained the beach, ran towards the spot where their rifles had been left.
As they neared the place, our hero stopped suddenly, with a look of profound dismay upon his face.
"What duffers we are!" he cried; "we've quite forgotten that our rifle cartridges were in our pockets when the boat foundered, and are therefore entirely ruined;" and so saying the middy put his hand into a jacket pocket, drew out one or two cartridges, were saturated with sea-water, and threw them at his companions' feet.
The seamen looked aghast at their young leader, as the fact that they were practically unarmed in the presence of an enemy became more and more patent to their minds. Every one of their revolvers had gone down in the boat, their cutlasses were jammed in their sheaths, and their rifles could only be used as clubs.
"Jiggered if we ain't jolly well up a tree!" ejaculated Dixon. "I counted on them rifles serving us a good turn."
"It is lucky, at any rate, that they didn't go down in the boat," observed Morgan, as he lugged at his cutlass. "We've got ammunition at the camp, that's one consolation."
The coxswain eyed the approaching boat disdainfully and angrily.
"I'd fight the whole lot of the swabs with my fists," he growled out, "if I could be sure that they'd come to the scratch! To think that they should be able to carry off Hudson, after all! 'Tis enough to make a man go off his chump—ay, that it is."
As Dixon finished speaking, the dhow again fired a shot, which ploughed up the sand not many feet distant from where our friends were standing.
"The beggars will get the range on in a minute," said Hubert. "We'd better get in shelter behind yonder rocks, and then talk over some plan of action."
"A plan of inaction it'll come to, I'm afraid," said Morgan, as they moved off.
"That depends upon whether the boat lands or not, I take it," observed Phillips, who with a violent effort had liberated his cutlass from its wet and dripping scabbard, and was waving it over his head. "If she does, give the Arabs who are in her a touch of cold steel, say I."
"All jolly fine to talk of cold steel," said the middy; "but my cutlass is stuck as hard and fast as the poor old Indian Chief was!"
Our hero and his comrades in misfortune had now reached the sheltering rock they had been making for, and were not sorry to rest themselves for a short time and wring the water out of their saturated garments. From the spot where they were now ensconced, they could see the dhow at anchor in the bay, but were unable to distinguish the boat which had been sent in chase of them.
"Ugh! how disagreeable it is to be obliged to keep on one's wet clothes," said Hubert, as he took off his boots and emptied out the water they contained.
"'Tis lucky it's piping hot," answered his coxswain, "for I reckon we'll steam like a London cab-horse, and soon have our togs dry agin."
At this moment Ugly-Mug, evidently in a high state of excitement, bounded to his feet, and with rolling eyeballs and quick nervous gait approached the spot where Hubert was sitting.
"Massa! I tell you troof," he said; "I troo away seberal cartridge when we am running down de hill, 'cos him bery heavy, and I tink I got plenty oder to shoot de Arab wid."
Hubert did not at first understand the drift of the Krooman's observation, and looked smilingly up into his anxious face.
"You ought not to have done it," he answered; "for we might have run short of ammunition. Mind you never do such a thing again, Ugly-Mug."
But Dixon had sprung to his feet, and given the black such a resounding smack on the back that it as nearly as possible felled that worthy to the ground.
"And you know where you chucked 'em away, don't you, old ebony shanks?" asked the coxswain, with the utmost eagerness of voice and manner.
"I tink I do," answered the Krooman, recovering his equilibrium with some difficulty, and trying hard not to lose his temper; "but why you try to make me jomp head ober heel, Massa Dixon? Dat bery 'toopid for sho'."
"Show me where them cartridges are, you black rascal, and don't go snivelling and snuffling like a hungry pig," roared the seaman.
"I'll make you Lord High Admiral of Monkey Island, Ugly-Mug, if you only find them quickly," shouted Hubert, now fully as excited as his coxswain.
Before this sentence was finished, however, or the Krooman had a chance of provisionally accepting the brilliant appointment offered to him by his young Rajah, he was hurried away by the impatient Dixon.
During the absence of these two members of the party, Morgan crept towards the shore in order to reconnoitre the Arab boat; whilst the rest of the party set themselves to work to free the remainder of the clogged cutlasses.
The young seaman soon returned, and reported that the crew of the boat were in the act of landing upon the beach, and that they appeared to be numerous and well armed.
"That's good news!" said the middy, "for we can now perhaps seize their boat, and make another attempt to rescue Hudson."
At this moment Dixon and Ugly-Mug came bounding back into camp. They were in high glee, for they had recovered the lost cartridges—eight in number.
Ugly-Mug was grinning from ear to ear, evidently convinced that he had done a remarkably clever thing!
"Now we'll warm them Arabs up, mates!" cried the coxswain, as he hurriedly served out a rifle-cartridge apiece.
"They've landed from the boat," said Morgan.
"Ay, I know they have, sonney. We see'd 'em from up along there, and a pretty good amount of swagger and side they've put on too, the varmints."
"We'll soon take the swagger out of them, I hope," exclaimed Hubert, snatching up a rifle and loading it; "but I'm afraid we can't do much with only eight cartridges."
Buckling on their cutlasses again, which were now ready for active service, our friends set out to confront the Arabs. The latter, having noted the retreat of their foes, had at once divined the reason, and supposing, not unnaturally, that there was now a chance of annihilating the British sailors, had no sooner set foot upon the beach than, filled with martial ardour, they started at a run in order to discover the whereabouts of the absconders, laughing and joking amongst themselves as they discussed the situation.
Suddenly flames streamed over a knoll in front of them, and three of their number fell dead—shot through the heart. As they came to an abrupt halt, dismayed at this sudden and unexpected catastrophe, they were still further alarmed by hearing a loud cheer from Hubert and his men, whom they perceived at the same moment rushing down upon them from over the knoll, fixed cutlasses in hand.
Utterly dismayed—for they had supposed the sailors to be without any ammunition—the Arabs were instantly seized with an uncontrollable panic, and leaving their dead upon the ground, took to their heels and fled like frightened deer in the direction of their boat, which had been left stranded upon the beach.
With a loud hurrah of triumph, and burning with indignation, the Spitefuls tore after their fleeing enemies, trusting that they might be in time to prevent the embarkation.
The Arabs, however, had secured too good a start, and were too fleet of foot, to allow of their enemies coming up with them. They raced along the sands with their loose white garments flying in the air, seized their boat and hastily launched it, tumbled pell-mell into it, and pushed off from the shore with the utmost expedition, whilst those amongst them who were possessed of muskets opened a desultory and perfectly innocuous fire upon their enraged and disappointed pursuers. The latter returned this salute with the two or three cartridges they had left, but also without effect.
"Smash my toplights if I couldn't eat those fellows alive without any sauce," exclaimed Dixon, as he reluctantly lowered his now useless rifle and shook his prodigious fist at the retiring boat.
"A light breeze has sprung up," observed the middy; "so if the Arabs want to make an offing they can easily do so, and we are powerless to prevent them."
"It's most aggravating to think that we must leave poor Hudson to his fate," said Morgan, in a sorrowful tone; "but I see no help for it."
"I'll put to sea in the dinghy, and try to overhaul 'em that way," said Dixon resolutely.
"I'll go with you," said Morgan; "but it will be a wild-goose chase, I'm afraid."
The Arabs now opened fire again from the dhow, and as some of the shot hissed by in close proximity to the heads of our friends, they deemed discretion the better part of valour, and retired in the direction of the hills. As they recrossed the topmost ridge they saw the dhow spread her broad sail to the breeze, and stand out of Turtle Bay in a westerly direction.
Half an hour later the Indian Chief's dinghy, rowed by Dixon and Morgan, might have been seen doubling North Cape and heading in pursuit.
HUBERT and the rest of the party were not sorry, on returning to the camp, to strip off their still damp clothes and spread them to dry in the sun, whilst they themselves took a dip in the sea, with the exception of Phillips, whose wound was somewhat painful. A hastily eaten meal followed, consisting of a few turtle-eggs—which the Krooman had reserved—and some pork and biscuit. A cup of cocoa followed, and then Phillips and Ugly-Mug drew out their pipes and proceeded to enjoy a little post-prandial tobacco, whilst our hero searched for François amid the rocks which strewed the upper part of the beach; for as the bear had been found absent from the bivouac on the return of the party, it was supposed that he might be enjoying a siesta somewhere in the shade. No trace, however, of the huge beast could the middy find.
"De bar all right, Massa Ashley, dat you make sure," observed Ugly-Mug, when our hero returned to the bivouac and announced his non-success. "He too big a willin to come to mosh harm!"
"I suppose it is for the same reason that you came to no harm in the scrimmage with the Arabs, Ugly-Mug!" retorted Hubert. "You didn't seem to feel that whack on the head from the butt-end of a musket one atom."
The Krooman rubbed his woolly pate with an affected air of astonishment.
"Why, an' dat de troof den, massa! Der am no bomp on my head dat I can find, an' no shore place. Oh, you make larf at de pore Krooboy, I tink, 'cos he no got one wound dat bleed eber so mosh, like Massa Phillips der."
"We must think how we can employ ourselves until Dixon and Morgan return," he said, turning to Phillips; "perhaps Ugly-Mug and I could get on a little with the bungalow, whilst you sat down and watched us."
"Bless you, sir, I could lend a hand a bit at any job of that sort, I reckon. Now that I've washed and bandaged the leg, it feels a deal easier, though I suppose I'll hobble for some days to come."
"There's one thing we must be sure and not forget," pursued Hubert, "and that is to bury the unfortunate Arabs who fell in the engagement to-day."
"To-morrow morning will do for that, I expect, sir; we shan't be so short-handed then."
"I'm uncommonly sorry that Dixon and Morgan have gone on that wild-goose chase in the dinghy," observed the middy, in a concerned tone; "they may come to grief in some way, and their overhauling the dhow is an impossibility."
"Dixon's one of them terrible energetic fellows what must be at summat or another," replied Phillips, with a smile; "but I think you may count upon it, sir, that he won't do anything actually foolhardy for fear of losing our only boat."
"I'm very much tempted to cross the island again, and find out what is going on," said Hubert; "but I think we should be better employed at the bungalow."
"Nothing will go on, sir, you may depend upon that," remarked Phillips, with a laugh; "so soon as ever Dixon has worked off his superfluous energy, he'll head the boat back for the island."
"I can't bear to think of poor Hudson's fate," said Hubert; "it's too dreadful to think about."
"'Tis terrible hard lines on him, sure enough," assented Phillips, with much concern, "and particularly as the poor fellow was on the sick-list at the time, and couldn't stick up for himself as well as he might."
"It's all very sad," said the middy, "but I hope that one of our cruisers may fall in with the dhow, and release him."
"If they don't kill him meanwhile," observed the seaman significantly; "I should be afraid of them Arabs playing the poor chap a dirty trick to pay us out for slaughtering their shipmates."
"Well, we mustn't dwell upon unpleasant conjectures," said Hubert, who felt that the conversation was drifting into a depressing channel. "Let's set out at once for the site of the bungalow, and get to work."
Ugly-Mug had a natural aptitude for running up log-houses, and Hubert was astonished and delighted to see how the work progressed in spite of the scarcity of labour. Phillips insisted on digging holes for the uprights, and assisting in other ways; so the middy consented to his doing so, provided he took an occasional rest. The monkeys from the adjacent woods seemed to be much interested in what was going on, for they ventured out of their shady groves, and came in wondering groups to stare at the busy workmen, keeping, however, at a respectable distance, as if afraid of the possible consequences of coming into contact with the lords of creation!
So busily were our friends at work, that when, a couple of hours later, Dixon and Morgan appeared upon the scene, they did not notice their approach, till the two seamen were within a few paces.
"Hullo! here you are then, back again!" shouted Hubert, springing to his feet and gazing anxiously into his coxswain's face. "Have you had any luck at all?"
Dixon looked extremely chap-fallen and disgusted, and for a moment or two did not answer.
"You've been better employed than we have, Mr. Ashley, by a long chalk," he said at length; "we couldn't get within miles of 'em, for the dhow sails like a witch in a light breeze. It makes me terrible low to think that poor Hudson is aboard her, and that we can do nothing for him."
"We've done our best to rescue him, at any rate," said Hubert, who was alarmed at the lowness of spirits exhibited by his stalwart coxswain; "and I think it was splendid of you and Morgan to pursue the dhow in that cockle-shell of a dinghy."
But Dixon only flung himself down upon the ground, and relapsed into a moody silence.
"We'd better leave him alone for a bit, I think," whispered Morgan to the middy; "he's terribly cut up by what's happened, and if I'm not mistaken he's pretty well tired himself out."
The young seaman, however, was mistaken in the latter supposition, for Dixon was one of those men whom nature casts in an iron mould, and he presently shook off his gloomy thoughts and turned-to and assisted in working at the bungalow, much to the satisfaction of his shipmates.
François did not put in an appearance at the camp till the following day, and then his jaws were seen to be dripping with honey, so it was conjectured that he had been making raids on the nests of wild bees, and robbing them of their stores. Ugly-Mug did not fail to denounce his bête-noire for thus meanly abstracting food that did not belong to him; calling him an "ogly tief," and other opprobrious epithets—though on being sharply cross-examined by Hubert, the Krooman was forced to admit that he had himself frequently eaten wild honey at Sierra Leone!
The dead Arabs were duly buried in the sand above high-water mark, and every day our castaways toiled to the summit of Ashley Peak, in order that they might sweep the horizon in search of a sail. It seemed a forlorn hope to expect to see the escaped dhow again; but yet they did not like to give up all hope, and Hubert still clung to the idea that the Arabs might be captured by a British cruiser, perhaps by the Spiteful herself. Day followed day in rapid succession, but no sail hove in sight to reward the anxious watchers, who were forced to the conclusion that they were probably doomed to a lengthened exile upon Monkey Island, owing to its being so far removed from the usual track of ships.
To our hero the outlook would not have been by any means a disagreeable one, had it not been for the thought of the anxiety his relatives would be undergoing when the news of his disappearance reached them. Monkey Island was in many ways a delightful place of residence, and the complete freedom of the life, after the irksome restraints of shipboard existence, had an irresistible charm for a boy with adventurous instincts; and every day Hubert realized this fact more and more strongly. The weather continued truly magnificent, and the building of the bungalow was pushed on efficaciously and rapidly under Ugly-Mug's superintendence. The Krooman had suggested that it should only consist of two rooms instead of four, and that a small building—resembling an Indian godown—should be erected immediately behind, which could be used as kitchen, larder, and storeroom. This scheme met with the approbation of all, though the middy threw out doubts as to Ugly-Mug being a sufficiently clever builder to run up a chimney. The honest black, however, only laughed and kept his own counsel, from which it was inferred by the others that he was up to a thing or two!
The flagstaff was duly erected on the summit of Cape Bluff, and the strange-looking bunting daily shook out its folds in the sea breeze in a somewhat vain attempt to make itself both useful and attractive. By its side the middy planted a small bamboo flagstaff, to which was secured the dinghy's little ensign, as a proof that Monkey Island had been duly taken possession of by her Britannic Majesty's self-elected Rajah and representative, Mr. Midshipman Hubert Ashley, R.N.
One broiling afternoon our hero and Morgan sallied out together in search of game; for provisions were beginning to get low, and Ugly-Mug had announced that unless he could soon manage to catch a turtle, he should very reluctantly be obliged to replenish the Frenchmen's stockpot with monkey or bear's flesh! As a turtle had not been seen since the day that the circuit of the island had been made, Hubert had come unwillingly to the conclusion that these valuable and very appetising creatures were not often in the habit of landing upon the island; though Dixon gave it as his opinion that the turtle whose eggs they had secured, had been so terribly alarmed on that occasion by the Krooman's wild and savage manner, and bloodthirsty threats, that it had not only relentlessly boycotted the inhospitable and dangerous shores of Monkey Island itself, but had likewise warned all its brethren of the probable fate awaiting them should they have the temerity to paddle into the shallows, or attempt to land in any of the bays or coves.
Intent, therefore, on getting something in the shape of game for the stockpot, Hubert, on this particular afternoon, threw his gun over his shoulder, and started in the direction of Cape Bluster and Shell Cove; whilst the young seaman armed himself with a rifle and cutlass—the latter weapon being often very useful for cutting paths through some of the jungles where the underwood was dense—and strode along by his young commander's side.
"We mustn't throw away a shot," observed the middy, when he and his companion had got about half a mile from the bivouac; "for our stock of ammunition is beginning to run short."
"Not only our ammunition," answered Morgan gravely, "but our store of provisions, and that's a very serious matter."
"Do you know I think it will be rather a spree providing all our own food," said our hero, with sparkling eyes; "we shall become regular hunters and fishermen; and as soon as the bungalow is finished, we shall be glad of some occupation of that kind."
"All very fine to talk of hunting, sir; but when the ammunition is finished, we shall—"
"Go in for bows and arrows, boomerangs, and slings," broke in Hubert, with a merry laugh. "Necessity is the mother of invention, you know! By the bye, Morgan, I object strongly to your calling me 'sir,' so please to drop it, at any rate whilst we are upon the island."
"Very well," answered Morgan, with a pleasant smile, "I'll do as you wish in that respect. But with regard to the scarcity of ammunition, it isn't only the providing ourselves with food we must think about, but also the defending ourselves against the attacks of possible enemies. We should have to sing small if we couldn't use our firearms."
"You're thinking of those horrid Arabs that kidnapped Hudson, I suppose. I should hardly think they'd venture here again after the drubbing we gave them."
"I'm not so sure about that! They might return on purpose to try and get a ransom out of us for Hudson. They wouldn't have run the risk of capturing him for nothing, that you may depend upon. Your Arab is much too subtle a fellow to hazard his life without any reason."
Hubert looked thoughtful.
"It would put us in a nice fix," he said at length, "if they did land and demand a ransom for the release of Hudson, for I don't suppose we could muster five rupees amongst us, and that wouldn't ransom a grasshopper."
"If we could find the Frenchmen's treasure," suggested Morgan, "we should be all right. Dixon talks of digging up the floor of the cave to-morrow to see if he can discover anything."
The middy suddenly stopped and grasped his companion's arm.
"Suppose that those Arabs have been to the island before, Morgan!" he said, speaking quickly and excitedly; "and that they discovered the treasure and took it away! In that case you may depend upon it that they returned the other day to try and find some more."
"And found Hudson instead! Well, really it's not impossible when one comes to think of it! Still it would have been extremely difficult for them to find the treasure without any clue. Even if they had seen that document which we found, it is not likely they would have understood one word."
"And even if they had, they wouldn't have been much the wiser, for we ourselves are quite in the dark. By Jove! I tell you what they may have done, though!"
"What?" asked the young seaman, with great curiosity, for Hubert had relapsed into thought.
"When they landed upon the island upon a former occasion," answered the middy slowly, "they may have discovered the cave, and in it the last dying Frenchman. Suspecting that he might have coin stowed away somewhere, they would have threatened him and made him reveal the place where the loot was hidden. After securing it, they may have murdered the poor Frenchman, and buried his body out of sight somewhere, which would account for our not having been able to find it."
"You were cut out for a detective, that's my opinion," said Morgan, with a laugh; "now I should never have thought of that theory of yours if I had ruminated for a month of Sundays!"
"Perhaps not," said Hubert, laughing in his turn; "and I suppose from what you have said that you think that I've probably got the sow by the right ear."
"I think it's not unlikely," answered Morgan, "but I hope it's the wrong ear you've got a grip of, or good-bye to our chance of discovering the treasure. Hullo! what's that bird—a pigeon?"
Hubert's gun was at his shoulder in a moment, and he quickly brought down the bird which Morgan had referred to. It proved to be a fine plump wood-pigeon.
A FEW minutes later, our hero secured another wood-pigeon; and Morgan was fortunate enough to get a shot at a tiny deer, which ran across a glade studded with pink-flowered tamarisk shrubs, and which apparently led from the south-western slopes of the island downwards in the direction of Shell Cove. This deer proved to he a very pretty little creature, common in Eastern jungles, and known to naturalists as the muntjac. It was fawn-coloured, with delicately shaded markings. Its limbs were extremely symmetrical, and the horns very small, but exquisitely proportioned.
"I wouldn't have had the heart to shoot it if I had known what a beautiful little beast it was!" exclaimed Morgan, as he bent over to examine his victim, which was quite dead.
"Isn't it a jolly little brute!" said Hubert. "Never mind, it was killed instantaneously, and could not possibly have suffered. Ugly-Mug will be overjoyed at such a contribution to his larder!"
"It won't do to be too squeamish when the grub is running short, of course," said Morgan, as he reloaded his rifle; "but I'll follow your advice, and not throw away a shot."
"The question at present is what we are to do with this liliputian carcass; for if we leave it here till our return, we may find it half-eaten."
"I think I've got a bit of twine in my pocket," observed Morgan, "and if so, we'll trice it up to a branch of that tamarisk tree close by."
"Good idea; and I'll do the same with my brace of pigeons."
Having thus disposed of the victims of the chase, our friends resumed their walk, and soon saw that they were approaching the blue and limpid waters of Shell Cove.
"What an afternoon for a bathe!" exclaimed Hubert. "I've always longed to take a dip in that cove, so let's delay no longer about it."
"I'm always ready for a plunge into the sea," answered Morgan with alacrity, "especially on such a hot afternoon as this."
Shell Cove proved to be quite an ideal bathing place, and Hubert and his companion spent over half an hour swimming, diving, and plunging about in the crystal waters. The bottom proved to be strewn with shells in some places, as well as the shore, and many were the fine specimens which our hero dived for and brought to the surface—specimens to make a conchologist's mouth water, even to hear about!
The bathe finished, our friends once more shouldered their firearms, and set off to explore a region of the island which they had not yet visited. This was the upper slopes of the park- like ground which led upwards from the shores of Alligator Bay towards the centre of the island. Studded with fine natural groups of trees, the scenery was here extremely pretty and diversified, and the rolling, undulating prairie-like sward was very springy and pleasant to walk upon. Here Hubert managed to shoot some small birds, very much resembling snipe, and, in the hope that they might prove edible, crammed them into his jacket pockets. Soon after this the two sportsmen, feeling rather hot and fatigued, threw themselves down under the shade of some mimosa trees to rest, and enjoy the magnificent panorama which was stretched out before them. In a very few minutes, however, our hero, seeing some strange-looking wild-flowers growing in the clefts of some cliff-like rocks above them, ran off to try and obtain some of them.
Drowsy from his bathe and the heat, Morgan dropped off into a kind of doze, from which he was presently aroused by a loud shout from his more volatile companion. Somewhat startled, the young seaman started to his feet, rifle in hand, and gazed upwards in the direction from which the midshipman's voice had come. Perched upon one of the highest rocks, and waving his gun in the air, was Hubert, evidently in a high state of excitement.
"You needn't look so scared, Morgan," he yelled, at the top of his voice; "I haven't discovered any more Arab pirates or slave- dealers. Come up here, and I'll show you something awfully jolly for your trouble."
"None of your larks, Mr. Ashley! There's nothing there but a lot of rocks, I'm certain."
"Honour bright! I'm not humbugging," shouted the middy back; "look sharp and come up, or I'll heave a rock down upon you to wake you up a bit!"
"Well, I won't risk having my bones broken," sung out Morgan, with a laugh, as he began to clamber up the hillside.
It took him some time to reach the spot, where, girt round by gigantic rocks, the young Rajah of Monkey Island stood erect and smiling, with an expression of subdued excitement upon his handsome young face. By his side stood François, the bear.
"Now what do you think of that for a view, Morgan, and also what do you think of my finding old Bruin here gallivanting about by himself?" exclaimed he, as, hot and breathless, the young seaman came springing up amongst the rocks to his side.
It was in truth a striking scene which at this moment opened out suddenly before Morgan's astonished eyes. A beautiful little lake, the water of which was perfectly tranquil and as clear as crystal, revealed itself in the immediate foreground, its area perhaps consisting of about a couple of acres. Its smooth mirror- like surface reflected with marvellous fidelity the picturesque groups of trees and boulders, which here and there broke the uniformity of the banks; though now and again some ripples spread in ever-increasing circles over the profound calm, as proof that a fish had risen to the surface in search of its prey. With a young sportsman's eye, Hubert did not fail to notice this latter fact, and made an inward vow that he would try hard to manufacture some sort of a hook and line, in the hopes of landing some fresh-water fish.
At the farther end of the little lake was a bed of thick reeds, mingled with which were some tall plants like bulrushes; and as our two explorers were gazing in this direction, and hazarding conjectures as to the probability of there being any snipe in the neighbourhood, out flew two large wild duck with a loud quack, quack, steering a course which brought them within easy range of their enemies.
Hubert's gun was at his shoulder in a moment, and down one of the ducks came tumbling to the ground, stone-dead. Morgan had let drive a bullet at its companion, but not unnaturally had to record a miss. Seeing this, the middy gave it the contents of his second barrel; but the escaping duck was now almost out of range, and our hero had the poor consolation of seeing a mere feather or two come fluttering to the ground.
"I say! we are in luck, Morgan," he exclaimed, as he ran to pick up the dead duck; "I never expected to get such sport as this, by Jove!"
"Yes, upon my word, we're really in luck," answered Morgan, as he dug his fingers into the breast feathers of the defunct bird; "and I tell you what, that duck is as fat as butter, and a young one into the bargain."
"I wish we could train François to go into the water after them," observed Hubert; "if it had fallen into the lake we should have lost it."
"If the old chap was a polar bear, there might be some chance," said the young seaman, with a laugh.
"I tell you what, though—I believe Ugly-Mug could build a sort of rough catamaran for us, and manufacture a couple of paddles. Then we could manage splendidly. What fun it would be!"
"Anybody can build a catamaran," said Morgan. "I'll undertake to launch one for you in the course of a few days."
"You're determined that Ugly-Mug shan't be head shipwright, I see," said our hero laughingly. "This professional jealousy mustn't be allowed to exist in my little kingdom, or I shall have to strike off some of my subjects' heads with a 'cheap and chippy chopper on a big black block.' A regular Tower Hill business!"
"There's no jealousy, O Rajah!" he said. "I think the Krooman is a splendid fellow, and I really don't know what we should have done without him. He's running up that shanty, for instance, in first-rate style."
"I say, what can old François have been doing up here all by himself?" asked the middy, changing the subject of conversation. "I found him prowling about the banks of the lake, just as if he was in the habit of coming here for a constitutional—the old frump!"
"I expect he's been searching for honey amongst the rocks, for robbing the bees seems to be a favourite amusement of his."
"We'll call this Bear Lake, anyhow. Let's go and see if there are any more wild duck amongst those reeds, Morgan."
Arrived at the farther end of the lake, Hubert threw some stones into the thickest part of the reeds, and made as many loud and queer noises as a London cats' meat man or knife- grinder—but with no result; a few small birds resembling sandpipers being the only representatives of the winged creation that were disturbed from their shelter.
Behind the bed of reeds, a narrow deep ravine, overgrown with trees, was discovered, and this led upwards amid rocks and cliffs, and served as the bed of a small mountain torrent, which evidently served as the main feeder of the little lake. Although our friends narrowly inspected the banks at the opposite end, they could not, however, discover any outlet, and were forced to the conclusion that the surplus water must find its escape by a subterranean passage. Several fish, resembling mountain-trout, could easily be distinguished swimming about, more especially near the upper end of the lake, where the stream found its way through the reeds into the calm and tranquil basin.
"I wish my chum, Phil Paddon, was here now more than ever," observed Hubert, as he idly watched the darting to and fro of the startled trout; "for he's awfully gone on fishing, and if he couldn't get them any other way, would tickle them."
"I've heard that the skipper is a great salmon-fisher," said Morgan, "but I don't suppose he'd think much of these little chaps."
"I don't expect old Chetwynd will ever have any chance of trying," rejoined Hubert, "for I scarcely think the Spiteful will ever find her way to this lonely island."
"But you don't think we are going to stay here for the rest of our natural lives," said Morgan, in astonishment.
"No, I don't think that; but I've had a sort of presentiment lately, that we shall be here for a long time."
"I don't believe much in presentiments," said the young seaman, with a laugh; "but of course it's true enough that we're very much out of the track of vessels here."
"I wonder if those Arabs who kidnapped Hudson were slave- dealers or pirates," said Hubert musingly, "and if they have often touched here in their dhow."
"I'm inclined to think they were pirates, but they may have been both," answered Morgan; "they looked villainous enough for anything."
"Poor old Hudson!" sighed our hero, "we shall never see him again. What a splendid fellow he was—the finest man I think I ever saw!"
"Here's a delicious shady nook between these rocks," said Morgan, anxious to distract the middy's attention from unpleasant thoughts; "if you're as sleepy as I am, you'll like to lie down on the grass and have a short siesta."
"Happy thought! The bathe and all this roaming about in the open air have made me very drowsy."
In a few minutes the two young fellows were fast asleep, and I am sorry to have to recount that François, instead of keeping awake and mounting guard over his slumbering friends, deliberately lay down, blinking and winking, and was soon in the land of Nod himself!
Well, it was a delicious afternoon for a siesta certainly, and poor old Bruin had somewhat overeaten himself (if the truth must be told).
How long he had slept the middy never knew, but he suddenly awoke with a start, and a kind of involuntary shudder. To his horror he saw standing over and close to him the tall, stalwart form of an Arab, whose olive-tinted face and limbs stood out in bold relief against the white burnous and turban which he wore carelessly draped over his head and figure.
OUR plucky young Rajah was promptitude itself, for he was convinced that this strange and mysterious Arab meant mischief. He was on his feet in a second, and giving vent to a loud cry of alarm—to awaken Morgan, who was still fast asleep—sprang at the tall, dark-skinned intruder with a fierce rush, hoping to be enabled to grapple with and bear him to the ground.
To the middy's astonishment, however, he felt his arms tightly pinioned to his sides by his opponent, who appeared to be a man of gigantic strength, with unusually long sinewy limbs and prodigious biceps. As the stranger thus held our impetuous hero as in a vice, he laughed in a deep guttural manner that somehow seemed strangely familiar in the latter's ears. At the same instant, Morgan, aroused by his young commander's cry, had started to his feet, rifle in hand.
"Let go of him this instant, you scoundrel," he cried to the Arab, "or by the powers I'll blow your worthless brains out!"
"Pipe belay all that, mate!" cried the Arab, in deep tones; "you'll know your old shipmate's voice, at any rate, if you can't see through his disguise."
"It's Hudson!" shrieked Hubert, disengaging himself from the soi-disant Arab's iron grip.
"You dear old fellow, I am so glad you've escaped from those rascally villains!" he continued.
Morgan had dropped his rifle in his astonishment, and rushed forward to grasp the new-comer's hand, which he vehemently shook.
For it was indeed the kidnapped marine who had thus suddenly appeared upon the scene in the garb and with the skin of a swarthy Arab.
"Of that there is no manner of doubt—
No probable, possible shadow of doubt—
No possible doubt whatever."
"What has happened to you, Hudson? How did you escape? Are you wounded anywhere? What's become of the Arabs, and why are you transformed into a native? How did you find us out here?" were the questions that poured from impetuous Hubert's lips.
Hudson seated himself upon a rock. (It was wonderful how becoming his scanty but picturesque Eastern dress was to him.)
"Ease off handsomely, Mr. Ashley," he said, with a laugh; "you make me feel as if there was a house on fire somewhere! Well, first of all I'm as well and hearty as could be expected, for my wounds have all healed, and I feel as strong as a horse."
"I can testify to the latter statement," observed Hubert, with a smile; "I'm sure my arms will be covered with bruises to-morrow."
"I ax your pardon, I'm sure, sir," said Hudson apologetically, "but you went for me before I could get out a word of explanation. Such a young tiger-cat I never did see in all my born days, and that's the truth!"
"Of course I went for you," said Hubert, "and you may thank your stars that—"
"Morgan didn't put a bullet through you, you ought to say," laughed the marine, finishing his young commander's speech for him. "By the bye, how are Dixon and the rest of our boys—pretty flourishing?"
"As lively as crickets, with the exception of Phillips, who was hurt in one of the scrimmages with the Arabs," said Hubert; "but we're simply dying with impatience to hear your story."
"I'd better tell it in camp, I'm thinking, and then every one will hear it."
"Are you hungry, Hudson?" asked the middy, "because if you are we'll shape a course for the bivouac at once."
"Not I, sir, thank you, nor thirsty neither."
"And you haven't got the influenza or a sore throat?" pursued our hero, with a mischievous wink at Morgan.
"I don't know that I'm just aware what them complaints are," answered the marine gravely; "but if I ain't got 'em, I suppose it's about time I had, seeing as I'm the wrong side of forty this very blessed day."
"Then you must spin us the yarn at once," said Hubert peremptorily, "and you can tell it all over again round the camp fire to-night. It's the only way we can celebrate your birthday, and your wonderful escape from the Arabs!"
"Oh, you were always one for a bit of chaff and nonsense, sir," said the marine laughingly, "and so was Mr. Paddon, only he was a bit more mischievous like."
"Fire away, and don't be libellous," said Hubert, putting himself into a comfortable attitude; "spin no benders, mind, or I'll disrate you to dinghy-boy!"
"In the fust place I'd better say," began the marine, "that it was quite by chance I lighted upon you here. The little boat in which I managed to fetch the island was pretty well all to pieces, and it was with the greatest difficulty that I managed to paddle her into the shallows in the bay below there. I then thought as how I'd better take a short cut across the island in the direction of our old camp, and it was in trying to do this that I suddenly found myself on the banks of this lake, and spied the old bear stretched out asleep on the grass.
"Well, so far so good. Now I'll make a start from the beginning, and first I should just like to ask if you heard me fire off my rifle and shout to you on that morning I was kidnapped?"
"To be sure we did," answered Hubert, "and we were much alarmed, and at once set off in search of you."
"Ah! so I supposed! Well, the fact is I fell into a regular ambush of them blessed Arabs, who nobbled me very cleverly indeed, I must confess. Still, if it hadn't been that I was feeling ill and weak at the time, I'm inclined to think that I should have made short work of the ruffians, in spite of my having no weapon but my rifle. It was in this way it happened. I was strolling about the beach, not far from the bivouac, and quite unarmed, when, happening to glance in the direction of the palm-grove, I caught sight of a native cruising about there, and apparently steering a course for the beach. 'A rum start this,' says I to myself; 'where in the name of all that's wonderful have you dropped from, you copper-coloured sarpent?' However, I didn't see as how there was any need to be alarmed, seeing as the fellow was alone, though as he drew nearer I caught sight of a musket he was carrying over his shoulder. 'Fair play's a jewel, my friend,' says I, and I just hied me off to the bivouac to get a rifle, for I didn't see the fun of being potted like that dead mallard lying there.
"No sooner did the beggar see me running than I suppose he took it into his noddle that I was afraid of him, for he gave a shout out of him, and commenced to pursue me, as I twigged by a glance over my shoulder. 'Get up a spurt, my hearty,' says I to myself, with a chuckle; 'but I reckon you'll go back faster than you came, barring, indeed, you don't get a present from us of six feet of sand just above high-water mark!'
"Directly I got a grip of my rifle, and faced about with it in my hand, sure enough this native chap—who I now saw was an Arab, and a big muscular-looking one too—turned tail like a thrashed hound, and began to sneak off along the sands towards the palm-grove again. Well, I was in a bit of a quandary at this, though I was relieved to see the fellow hooking it. As he hadn't actually threatened or attacked me, I didn't like to let drive at him, though of course I was pretty morally certain that his intentions hadn't been over and above friendly. So I determined, at any rate, just to follow him up and try to find out if his diggings were actually somewhere in the island, or whether he had merely landed from some vessel. In my hurry to keep him in sight, I started off without any arms but my rifle, for as you know I wasn't at that time able to run very fast, and I was uncommonly afraid of his dodging me in the palm-grove. Still, it struck me, when I was half-way across the sands, that it was of the greatest importance that I should endeavour to let you all know what was up. So I discharged my rifle and yelled like a Red Indian off his chump. My eye! what a funk my Arab was in when he heard all this! He jumped about ten feet off the ground, thinking, of course, that I had fired at him; but I suppose he was relieved at not hearing the whistle of a bullet over his ugly head, for he set off again faster than ever, and I saw that there was precious little chance of my overhauling him, though I determined to follow on and try to keep an eye on the direction he took.
"Whilst crossing a ravine in the palm-grove, where there was some difficulty in forcing a way through the underwood, I was suddenly surrounded by a body of cut-throat-looking Arabs, who threw themselves upon me like wild beasts. Unluckily I had not reloaded my rifle, and could only use it clubbed. However, I was weak from my exertions, and the beggars were too many for me by a long chalk. In a few moments I was overpowered, and my rifle taken from me. Then I was bound and hurried off by my captors in the direction of the hills. The whole thing was so sudden and unexpected that I felt quite dazed and stupid, and hardly knew what I was about. The first thing that regularly roused me was hearing some of the Arabs, who had dropped to the rear, just as we were crossing the dividing range of hills, giving yells out of 'em as if they were demented. I guessed that this was done in defiance of you, and that you were therefore on our trail. I made sure now that I should be rescued, though it made me shudder a bit when I came to think that the ruffians might kill me rather than let me escape. However, I determined to keep quiet, and just trust to Providence. 'You've been in a worse quandary afore this, Jack Hudson,' says I under my breath, 'and just you lie low till the time comes to show what you're made of.'
"I saw you all come pelting down the hill after me, and I twigged what a precious near thing it would be. Of course, the Arabs were delayed by having to drag me along, and you may bet your Sunday togs (begging your parding, Mr. Ashley, for the remark) that I made myself as heavy as possible—not that I'd do for cox. of a racing gig at any time! The Arabs, I think, were precious sorry by this that they had made such a screeching on the top of the hill, and so given you a clue as to their line of march. Those that did it came in for a good jawbation from the others—at least, as far as I could make heads or tails of their dirty lingo, which is worse than Double-Dutch in my poor opinion!
"Of course, I'd seen their dhow anchored in the bay by this time, and guessed that the beggars were bent on lugging me on board her, if they could only manage it in time. Whether they were pirates, or slave-dealers, or what, I couldn't make out for the life of me, but they looked as dare-devil a lot of chaps as ever I clapped eyes upon—and I've seen some queer blokes in my time, I can assure you!
"When I saw, to my disgust, that you'd be just too late, and found that the beggars were hurrying me off to the boat, which had already been beached in readiness, I felt a bit mad, and tried to struggle and get free; but, bless you! it worn't no good. I might just as well have kept quiet, as I had originally intended. I was bundled unceremoniously enough into the boat, and two rascals with pistols kept guard over me, whilst the rest pulled away like blazes for the dhow. I had heard 'em shouting for another boat, and seen her shove for the shore, so I knew there was still a chance for me, and I tried to console myself with the hope that you'd smash up the fellows that had been left behind, and seize their boat. Worse luck though, I couldn't see what was going on, because very soon afterwards I was thrust on board the dhow, and sent below into a stuffy little sort of cabin, where there was precious little light, and precious little air, whilst as for the smells—well! by the powers, shipmates, I'd better say as little as possible about 'em, for when I think about 'em, it makes me feel doosid queer. You bet though, I heard what was going on; and didn't I long to be in the scrimmage just! You'll have to tell me by-and-by all about that part of the business. I only know that there was a fine hullaballoo amongst the Arabs left in the dhow, and I heard a boat shove off as if to go to the rescue. I was pretty well deafened when they let fly with their swivel gun, for the wretched thing was just over my head."
"That shot jolly well sent us to the bottom," interrupted Hubert; "we had seized their boat, and were pulling off to board the dhow, and rescue you."
"To think of that!" exclaimed Hudson admiringly; "'twas more than my wretched carcass was worth, and I can only be too thankful that none of you came to grief over it, though you say that poor Phillips got knocked about a bit, which I'm main sorry to hear. Well! to go ahead with my yarn. Later on I heard what sounded like a distant volley of musketry, and every now and then the dhow fired a shot; but presently all was quiet, and then about half an hour afterwards the boat returned alongside. When I heard the splash of her oars, how I hoped that it might be a rescue-party! But I was precious soon undeceived when I heard the hubbub and swearing and growling that was going forward amongst the Arabs in the boat, and t'other chaps aboard the dhow. By the powers! you might as well have been in Billingsgate Market. Some wounded fellows were brought on board, and then there was a fine old shindy all round. Some of the Arabs came and shook their daggers in my face, and others progged me up with muskets, and went through all sorts of threatening pantomimes; but I took it all as coolly as I could, as I wasn't particularly anxious to have my blessed throat cut. 'You'll just bide your time, Jack Hudson,' I kept muttering to myself; 'bide your time, lie low, and don't get in a tearing rage, or you'll spoil everythink.' Whilst this was going on below, I knew by the noise on deck that the rest of the Arabs were busy getting the dhow under weigh; and this made me feel terrible low; but I still clung to the hope that you had bagged one of the boats, for, of course, I didn't twig that she'd been sent to the bottom. What I was most afeard on was that some of you might have been killed in the scrimmages, for I knew right well that the fighting must have been pretty severe all round.
"I soon knew by the motion of the vessel, and the swirling noise of the water under the counter, that we were fairly under weigh. By this time I was pretty well aching all over, and feeling as low and seedy as a man well can feel. No wonder, too, under the circumstances! It was pretty rough on me altogether, and that's saying very little about it when you come to put two and two together! Well, what did these dirty sons of guns do by-and-by, but come below and strip me of my clothes, though I can tell you my dander rose up a bit at this, and I gave them something for their trouble, for they were obliged to unlash my limbs in order to get the duds off. I soon saw what the varmints were up to, for no sooner had they got me stripped, and tied me down again, than they set to work to stain me brown all over with some stuff that had such a strong pungent smell that it nearly made me faint. This made the work easier for them, for I was forced to take it in like laughing-gas, specially when they were rubbing in the nasty stuff over my face. I remembered nothing very clearly till the next morning, when I awoke and found myself stretched out in the little cabin, as brown as a berry, and rigged just as you see me now, in these white duds and turban. There could be no doubt about it! The Arabs were afraid of falling in with some European vessel, and of my being recognised, and forcibly taken from them. No doubt they intended to land me at some out-of-the-way port on the coast, and either sell me into slavery, or try to get a heavy ransom for me from the admiral. However, I sold them rather neatly, as it turned out!
"I must say one thing for the Arabs—they fed me uncommonly well; but as for the water they gave me to drink—well, all I can say is, it was a caution to snakes and alligators, and must have come out of the bilges! The smell of it was enough to knock down a London bobby, and that ain't an easy job, I can tell you—though, mind you, I'm not speaking from personal experience in that respect!
"I quite suddenly discovered one day that I should find very little trouble in making my escape, and this put me into such high spirits that I was mortally afraid the wily Arabs would twig that there was something in the wind. The discovery I made was, that the rope with which my wrists were usually kept bound was of such light and new material that it would stretch considerably, if only sufficient force was expended upon it. The first time I was left alone, I proceeded to try experiments upon this very elastic kind of hemp, and found that by working my wrists about for a considerable time with all my strength, I could, with the greatest ease, stretch it to such an extent that it would be possible to slip one hand free of the lashing. As the swabs hadn't deprived me of my knife, it would then be easy to sever all the rest of the lashings, and so free myself. The Arabs invariably left me alone for a couple of hours late in the evening, and I determined to take advantage of this circumstance on the very night of my discovery, for I knew well that every hour was taking me farther and farther away from Monkey Island, and that even if I escaped at once, that I should find it extremely difficult to hit off the land, for we were now three days out. Anything, however, was better than remaining cooped up as a prisoner on board the dhow, with a chance of having one's weasand slit at any moment! And now I suppose you're wondering what my dodge was for securing a boat without the Arabs knowing anything about it. As good luck would have it, the beggars hadn't hoisted in the boat before tripping anchor, because they were in a doose of a hurry to get clear of the island, and afterwards, I suppose, they didn't think it worth while, for she was towing astern with a long grass hawser. I knew this, because every day the Arabs allowed me on deck to get a mouthful of fresh air, always, however, keeping an eye upon me. The question was, how on earth was I to get possession of the boat?
"This was how I managed it. When the guard left me in the tiny cabin that evening, I worked off my wrist-lashings in the way I told you, and then with my knife made short work of the others. There was a small porthole in the cabin, which I had hoped I could squeeze my great body through, but found, to my horror, that it was impossible! I daren't go on deck and let myself over the side, for I felt sure that some of the rascally Arabs would see me, although the night was a very dark one. After making vain attempts to enlarge the porthole with my knife, I groped my way carefully all round my little prison, passing my hands over the bulkheads to see if I could find any other outlet of any kind, for it was very dark in the cabin. Presently I knocked my fist against some sort of a round projection, which I instantly caught a hold of, and pulled and pushed about in every direction, but for some time without any avail. At last, after a violent effort, I felt a slight movement, and heard a low, creaking noise, and to my joy and astonishment found that I was unconsciously sliding back a little door, which fitted into the vessel's stern. I found that there was just room for me to squeeze myself through, and there I found myself out in the chill night air, and overhanging the foaming water, which was lashing about under the dhow's stern. Just a mass of phosphorus it was, which enabled me to see a little what I was about. There was no moon, but the night was very clear, and the stars were brilliant enough in the black sky overhead. I looked anxiously to see if the boat was still towing astern, and found she was there right enough, so I made up my mind to at once jump overboard, and take my chance of seizing a hold of her as I was swept by. I knew, of course, that I might easily make a muff shot, as the dhow was buzzing along at a good pace, and I was never what's called a powerful swimmer. Still, I felt determined to run the risk, for I believed it to be my best chance of escape. Well, I was no great height above the water, and at once plunged in, doing my best to come to the surface at once. Luckily I succeeded in this, and, more by good luck than good management, got a firm grip of the boat's gunwale, and held on to her like grim death. What I was afraid of now was that some of the Arabs might be looking over the taffrail abaft all, and catch a glimpse of me. Most fortunately there was no one there, and I scrambled into the boat without haying been perceived, and with my knife at once severed the towing hawser. In a jiffey the horrid old dhow was out of sight, though not before I had had time to notice by the stars pretty well what course she was steering. Then I got a couple of oars out, and pulled like fury in the opposite direction. There was a mast and sail in the little craft, and some cocoa-nuts—nothing more. I made use of the canvas until a rousing breeze came on, which obliged me to douse it, and I've subsisted on the cocoa-nuts ever since. Good meat and drink I found 'em too, and the fresh sea air and the exercise of rowing seemed to do me a powerful lot of good, though I felt the heat a good deal in the middle of the day. I never saw anything more of the dhow, but I was very uneasy until I sighted Monkey Island again, as to whether I should ever find it, for I could only shape but a rough course, and I can only say it's a mercy of Providence that I'm amongst you all once more, and I thank God for it most heartily. I was a long way to the norrard of the island when I first sighted Ashley Peak, having been, I believe, six days knocking about. Twice I got in a bit of a gale, and the boat got smashed about a bit, and then, last of all, we struck on a submerged rock when close in, and I had to pull like fury for the nearest beach, which happened to be Turtle Bay, or we should have gone to Davy Jones' locker just at the last moment! Not a single vessel of any kind did I sight from first to last, though I kept a bright look-out. There ain't much danger of collisions in these seas, I'm thinking! That's my yarn, Mr. Ashley and mate, and I've nothing more to tell you that I know of. Now I'll have a plunge into this lake, and see if that will take this horrid stain off my skin!"
When Hudson emerged from the waters of the lake, he was just as brown as ever, and Hubert laughingly told him he would evidently always remain so, and had better turn Mussulman at once!
HUDSON was much concerned at finding that the colour with which his skin had been stained appeared to be indelible, and he made some strong and uncomplimentary remarks upon the kidnapping Arabs, which those wild gentry would not have relished could they have heard and understood them!
Nor was the marine at all mollified by Hubert's attempts to console him, for he suspected very strongly that the young Rajah of Monkey Island was thoroughly enjoying the unfortunate predicament which he—Hudson—had fallen into. I have given one sample of the middy's unfeeling remarks on this subject, and I am tempted to give one more.
As the trio were descending from Bear Lake, followed closely by François, and wending their way towards the spot where the little deer and the game had been left, Hubert, who had been silent for some time, suddenly remarked:—
"What a pity it is we haven't any of Snook's soap with us!"
"Why?" asked his followers, in astonishment.
"On account of poor Hudson, of course," answered the middy, with a sly glance at the brown marine, who was striding along in a rather disconsolate manner, every now and then trying to furtively rub off a bit of the foreign colour from his hands. "Have you never read 'An Unpacific Yarn'?"
"No, what is it?" asked Morgan.
"Oh, it's all about a white and a black bishop who were superintending missions in some islands out in the Unpacific Ocean—wherever that may be!" answered the mischievous middy. "The black bishop got on very well with the natives until the white one appeared upon the scene, but then the fickle inhabitants seemed inclined to forswear their allegiance, which caused great grief to their old pastor, and the upshot of it all was that he was persuaded to try a cake of Snook's soap, and to his intense astonishment found that the effect had been to turn him perfectly white; and of course after this he regained the affections of the populace, and lived happily ever afterwards."
"It's hard lines to be made a butt of by one's Rajah now, ain't it?" asked the marine plaintively; "but I'll try my level best not to give way under it! But so sure as I come across them villainous Arabs again, I'll prove to them fast enough that I am a Muscleman; and as for your Unpacific soap, Mr. Ashley, or whatever you calls it, I reckon it wouldn't be a patch on Hudson's soap for my skin—for though I've no relations in the soap and taller business as I knows on, yet maybe there's summat in being a namesake-like, and that!"
"Well, you can use any soap you like," he said, "but I think you'll have to make it yourself. By Jove! we must push ahead; it's really getting quite dark."
It was quite dark before the trio came in sight of a huge watch-fire which Ugly-Mug had lit in close proximity to the bivouac. Hubert and Morgan were looking forward to witnessing the astonishment that would be produced by Hudson's sudden appearance in camp, to say nothing of the amusement and curiosity that would be aroused by his stained skin and Arabic dress!
Dixon and his companions were evidently having a jovial evening of it, for as our tired and belated friends approached, the notes of a rousing song smote upon their ears, mingled with shouts of approval and laughter.
"Don't seem to miss us much, do they?" observed Hubert, giving Morgan a nudge; "but we'll break in upon their horrible orgie with a sort of Red Indian war-whoop!"
It was Dixon who was singing, and the concluding words of his ditty came floating on the gentle night wind:—
"My precious limb was lopp'd off,—
I, when they eased my pain,
Thank'd God I was not popp'd off,
And went to sea again."
At this point our trio simultaneously gave vent to a most outlandish yell, which was enough to frighten all the monkeys in the island into hysterics; besides giving Ugly-Mug such a fright that, as he afterwards expressed it, "wid' dat my heart jomp into my mouf like ole Jim Crow!"
The astonishment of Dixon and his comrades, when they perceived by the flickering light from the camp fire that Hubert and Morgan were accompanied by an apparent stranger resembling a gigantic Arab, may be imagined by the reader! When, however, the discovery was made that it was the long-lost and deeply regretted Hudson, the excitement and the joy became intense, and the marine was almost overwhelmed with congratulations, hand-shakings, and pattings on the back, which he at length terminated by declaring that he was as hungry as a hunter, and must forthwith fall-to upon some grub!
"Gosh an' golly!" shrieked Ugly-Mug, on hearing this demand for provender, "we hab eat up almost eberyting, but I soon gib you some hot cocoa, which am bery good for de empty tummick."
"Look here, old ebony shanks!" said Hudson, grasping the Krooman by the arm, and leading him to the spot where the game had been deposited. "Don't you say you've got nothing to eat! Look at that beautiful little deer."
"My gum! dat bery good for true," said Ugly-Mug rapturously. "I make some venison cook in de hot ash, and him eat eber an' eber so good! As for de ebony shank, Massa Hudson, you am dat yourself, I tink, jos' now, an' your old clo' only good to scare de bird and monkey away—to say noddin' of dat ogly ole bar der!"
DAYS passed by, and nothing more was seen of the kidnapping Arabs or their vessel, though a bright look-out was kept for them by our castaways, who were determined not to be caught napping a second time by such unscrupulous and vindictive enemies. Ugly-Mug's bungalow had now been finished and taken possession of, which was a fortunate circumstance, for the weather almost immediately afterwards changed for the worse, and storms of wind and rain swept the island, and did some damage amongst the trees in the forests. The fury of the elements afforded a good test of the stability of the roughly-built shanty, and most nobly did it prove that its builders' trouble and perseverance had not been thrown away; for though a small portion of the roof at the most exposed corner was blown away, the rest of the building remained quite uninjured, and stood remarkably firm. The flagstaff on Cape Bluff was blown down; but this was very easily replaced in position, none the worse for its downfall. The storms quickly passed away, and the glorious sunshine and balmy breezes once more reasserted their sway, and allowed our friends to resume the exploration of their island home, their exertions being now specially directed to the discovery of the Frenchmen's hidden treasure. One day—on Dixon's suggestion—the cave was thoroughly examined, and the whole of the floor was turned up by means of rude tools, fashioned out of a certain very tough-grained wood which Ugly-Mug had discovered in Oriole Grove (a small wood lying between the bungalow and the palm-grove, and so named from the number of golden orioles that frequented it) and which had been previously used in the construction of the bungalow. The coxswain, as we know, had thought it probable that the treasure was buried behind the big sea-chest in the cave; but the most minute investigation brought nothing to light, either in this spot or in any other part of the dead Frenchmen's habitation. Then the rocky ravines, and the ground under notable trees in proximity to the cavern, were subjected to the same rigid and untiring search; but all proved of no avail, and at length the castaways began to feel convinced that the idea—once before mooted—of the predatory Arabs having somehow obtained possession of the loot, and shipped it away, was the only possible explanation. Hubert was the only one who did not give up hope altogether.
Hudson had been strongly advised by Ugly-Mug to rub castor-oil liberally into his skin every day, and then go and bathe in the fresh waters of Bear Lake; and though the first part of the prescription was eminently disagreeable, the marine agreed to carry it out, and was soon rewarded by finding that the dark stain was slowly but surely becoming fainter, and bid fair to presently disappear altogether, although the process produced a somewhat leprous appearance on the skin, which was anything but becoming whilst it lasted!
On one of these expeditions to Bear Lake, Hubert discovered the cause of Francois' excursions to that neighbourhood, for that wily animal was found making a raid upon a store of wild honey deposited in a cleft in the rocks by the wild bees, and which sticky but delectable food he was devouring with much apparent gusto. On searching about, the middy discovered several ingeniously constructed combs, one or two of which he managed to abstract without getting stung. It subsequently turned out, however, that this wild rock-honey—which was of a very dark colour—was anything but agreeable to the taste; and though the sailors considered it fairly palatable, it was unanimously agreed to leave the remainder of the store entirely for the bear's benefit!
One morning Hubert and Morgan, who had just returned to the bungalow from taking a dip in the sea, found the Krooman seated on the ground outside the verandah, busily engaged in carving something out of a shell which he had picked up on the beach.
"Hullo! Ugly-Mug, what are you up to?" asked the middy, halting in front of his sable follower, and eyeing the latter's handiwork curiously.
The Krooman looked up with a grin.
"Dis one fis-hook dat I make, Massa Ashley, and I tink him do fuss rate. Wal den, as de store hab run out, Ogly-Mog will jus' go an' fis' in de dinghy, or look for one turtle. No good to 'tarve, I tink; oh golly no! no good to 'tarve!"
"Do you mean to say that we've no biscuit or cocoa left, Ugly- Mug?" asked Hubert, in rather an alarmed tone.
"Massa, we hab gobble up eberyting for sho'; for, as you know well enof, der nebber was mosh brought ashore from de pore old Indian Chief, an' it no can last for ebber an' ebber."
"Well, we can't starve whilst our powder lasts, that's one thing," observed Morgan cheerfully; "we must go in for being regular hunters."
"Do you really think you'll be able to catch fish with a hook made from a shell?" asked Hubert curiously.
"Sure enof, massa, oh yes. Dis one no finish at all, but I hab one or two on de shelluff in de kitchen which am fuss rate, an' de line too made from dat fibre I show massa de oder day."
"Then let's go out at once, and try our luck!" exclaimed the young Rajah; "the sea is calm, and the boat will hold three persons very well."
Half an hour later, the dinghy had been launched, and rowed out clear of the reefs of rocks. Ugly-Mug had kept back a little dough for bait, which he hoped would answer the purpose, and the fish-hooks were really marvels of ingenuity and skill, being apparently quite strong enough to hold a moderate-sized fish. This latter qualification was soon put to the test, for before the lines had been over the side more than five minutes, Hubert got a bite, and amid great excitement and numerous guttural exclamations from Ugly-Mug, drew up a fish of about half a pound weight, which was promptly secured and disengaged from the hook. Though somewhat resembling a mullet, this denizen of the sea was much more gorgeous in colouring, and its scales sparkled and scintillated in the bright sunlight like frosted silver.
"A good beginning!" said Hubert, as he ended the poor fish's existence by a blow against the gunwale of the boat. "I think your hooks and lines are a first-rate invention, Ugly-Mug."
A guttural laugh and numerous deep chuckles were the Krooman's only response to this flattering testimony of his skill, but he looked immensely pleased with himself and every one else.
Fish seemed scarce nevertheless, for very few were hauled up; and after an hour had passed, the middy proposed that the dinghy should be rowed across to the neighbourhood of Bird Island, for he thought that would be likely to prove a good fishing ground, and was also anxious to get a nearer view of the islet, and ascertain if it contained anything besides the countless flocks of sea-birds which frequented it. Morgan and Ugly-Mug raised no objection to this proposal; and as there was a light southerly breeze blowing, the boat's tiny lug-sail was hoisted, and the little dinghy glided along the coast with a flowing sheet and scarcely any perceptible motion. Hubert had taken the helm, and was especially careful to guide the boat clear of the many dangerous reefs of outlying rocks which on this particular bit of the coast of Monkey Island were numerous, and not always clearly defined.
"There's a bit of a wreck, I do believe!" exclaimed our young Rajah suddenly, and pointing towards a large reef, which formed one of the boundaries of a deeply indented bay that the boat was at that moment passing.
The two men instantly turned to gaze in the direction Hubert was indicating.
"You're right, it is a portion of a submerged vessel," said Morgan excitedly. "No doubt it's all that's left above water of that French privateer, the Alcide!"
"Yander am her figure-head, dat sartin," chimed in the Krooman; "all else am kiver up by de water. I s'pose she strike on de rock jus' 'bout dat time de Indian Chief go to de bottom ob de sea."
"Bless your old gills, she was wrecked long before our little hooker," said Morgan, with a laugh. "I think you must have a private stock of toddy stowed away somewhere!"
"Bress yer ole gums, Massa Morgan!" retorted Ugly-Mug, with a grin which seemed to have the effect of bisecting his head, "dat not de ting I mean for sho'. It bery fonny ting dat de English people no can tell what um say in der own langwidge—oh, bery funny, like 'possum up a gum tree! Whar am I? Jes' let me tink one moment. Ah, wal den, I hab him now like one fis' on de hook dar; and what I say is dis, dat de Franchman sip am run amuck on de rock in de drefful blackness ob de night, same way as de Indian Chief, not at de same moment. Dat quite anoder madder, sipmate!"
This long speech of the Krooman's caused great amusement to his companions, though it was evident that the swarthy spokesman was unable to see in what way he had excited their risible faculties.
"I name this part of the coast Alcide Bay," observed Hubert, waving his hand towards the shore. "It's there the Frenchmen and their bear landed without doubt."
"And it's there the treasure was washed up, I suppose," added Morgan significantly; "but I'm much afraid it's now in the hands of those rascally Arabs."
"I'm not so sure of that," observed the middy mysteriously.
"Have you discovered any clue?" asked the young seaman eagerly.
"No, I haven't; but I feel almost certain that it's buried upon the island somewhere."
"Maybe you're right," said Morgan; "but even if it is, you may depend upon it, Mr. Ashley, that we will never see the shine of the dollars, for buried treasure is not so easily found as some people believe. It reads all very fine in story-books, no doubt; but that's neither here nor there."
"And why shouldn't our adventures go into a storybook, whether we find the treasure or not, I should like to know?" demanded the middy, with considerable animation. "If we ever escape from this island, I expect they will he written fast enough, for I know a fellow in England who's not half bad, and is a jolly dab at that sort of thing."*
(* I presume I am the person thus irreverently alluded to by this vivacious young midshipman. —The Author.)
"Massa, you no put pore ole Ogly-Mog into one 'tory-book!" exclaimed the Krooman, who had been listening attentively to the conversation. "Dat would sorely make all and ebery one larf at him till der side crack, and dey bust into one tousand piece."
"We couldn't leave you out," replied Hubert laughingly, "you're much too important a personage, Ugly-Mug; and, what's more, I'm certain that every one who reads about you will vote you a jolly trump and everything else that's stunning!"
The Krooman looked completely puzzled, for he did not understand his young commander's slang expressions.
"Bird Island is now broad on the starboard bow," observed Morgan, in a low tone.
The middy put the helm over, so as to give the boat a little offing. At the same instant the sail jibed, and Morgan flattened in the sheet a little.
"We'll go as near the island as we safely can," observed Hubert, "for I want to see what it's like."
The little boat bowled along smoothly and rapidly, and our voyagers soon became aware that they were nearing the solitary rock, for the harsh screams and wailing cries of the numerous sea-fowl which inhabited it seemed to fill the air and prevent any other sounds being heard.
"What fun it would be to land there and collect some eggs!" exclaimed Hubert. "I wonder if we could shove the boat in anywhere?"
Morgan was on the point of making some response, when all the occupants of the boat were astonished and alarmed at hearing and feeling a tremendous blow dealt upon the dinghy somewhere in the neighbourhood of the keel. Almost at the same instant the prodigious double-toothed snout of an enormous saw-fish came crashing through the bottom boards forward and remained fixed there, the creature being unable apparently to extricate itself from its unpleasant and dangerous predicament. Impelled forward by the frightened saw-fish, the little boat was borne along through the water with incredible swiftness, the sea pouring in with great rapidity through the rents in the planking.
SO sudden was this attack of the saw-fish, and so unexpected and alarming, that for a moment our voyagers lost their presence of mind, and seemed transfixed to their seats with horrified astonishment. This only lasted for a moment, however, for the next instant Morgan had sprung to his feet and doused the lugsail, whilst Ugly-Mug vainly endeavoured to free the great jagged snout of the monster of the deep from the planking in which it was embedded. Throwing aside the yoke-lines, the middy seized a baler, and began quickly emptying out the water which had accumulated in the bottom of the boat—a task which seemed as hopeless as that undertaken by Hercules in connection with the Augean stables!
Directly the sail was down—which considerably checked the way of the boat—Morgan went to the assistance of the Krooman; but the more the two men endeavoured to free the saw- fish, so much the more did the water rush in and threaten to swamp the boat. The huge creature, too, began to get alarmed at its strange situation, and by its vehement and frightened plunges threatened either to smash the boat into splinters in a very short time, or to cause her to capsize and founder.
"There's no hope of getting the brute clear, and the boat's filling fast!" exclaimed Morgan, in dismayed tones.
"All hands to bale!" shouted Hubert; "there's a chance for us yet."
There were, fortunately, two balers in the boat, and Ugly-Mug enlisted his hat in the service.
Notwithstanding this access of force, however, the water steadily gained, and our adventurers' hearts sank in the same proportion. It was in vain to contend with such an inrush, and in despair Hubert rushed again to the helm, in hopes of being able to guide the boat in the direction of Bird Island, which now bore on the port bow about half a mile distant. The only remaining hope was that its rocky shores might be reached by swimming, for they were much nearer than those of Monkey Island. Morgan and Ugly-Mug still worked indefatigably at baling the boat out, and though they had thrown off nearly all their clothes, the perspiration streamed from them ceaselessly, for the sun was beating down fiercely from the cloudless sky above in all its tropical intensity.
"'Tis no good!" cried Morgan, throwing away his baler at length; "the boat's settling fast, and will go to the bottom in a few moments."
"Take off yer clo', massa!" shouted the Krooman, as he splashed his way aft through the water. "We hab to schwim, dat sartin; but no bery far to de island yander—noddin at all."
Hubert saw instinctively that his companions were right, and that the critical moment in their fortunes had arrived. The boat was three-quarters full of water, and owing to her great weight and to the fact that the monster fish was becoming exhausted by its superhuman efforts to free itself, had lost almost all her way through the sea and was visibly sinking from under her unfortunate occupants' feet.
Throwing off his jacket and kicking off his boots with the utmost alacrity, the middy was ready for the plunge overboard.
"If you should become exhausted or get the cramp, be sure to sing out to us, Mr. Ashley," cried Morgan warningly, as he poised himself for a moment on the dinghy's fast disappearing gunwale.
In another moment our three adventurers had committed themselves to the mercy of the deep. Looking back over their shoulders, after swimming a few yards, they found that the dinghy had sunk beneath the surface, the spot where she had gone down being marked by numerous eddies and ripples, which were clearly enough defined upon the almost calm bosom of the treacherous ocean which had engulphed her.
And how fortunate it was that the breeze was so light as to hardly ruffle the calm expanse of water which environed the struggling swimmers; for had it been rough, it would have added very materially to their risk of being drowned, for the very fact of having to buffet the waves of a stormy sea would have quickly exhausted the strength of the most powerful athlete.
For a boy, our young hero was an excellent swimmer, and on this trying occasion never lost his presence of mind. He found he could well keep up with Morgan, though not with the amphibious Ugly-Mug; but the latter at once slackened his pace to suit that of his companions, and our three adventurers swam on bravely together, keeping anxious eyes on the alert for any treacherous and cruel sharks that might be cruising about in the vicinity on the look-out for a tempting meal.
The boldest and most reckless man must feel a thrill of terror pass through his frame when, far from his vessel or the shore, he is suddenly exposed to such a horrible danger as an attack from a voracious creature like the hungry shark. There is no escaping from his awful fate if he is once spied by his relentless enemy. Resistance is vain. The average man is almost helpless in this respect, no matter how powerful a swimmer he may be. It is no wonder that the sailor holds this strong-jawed fish in the greatest abhorrence, and gloats over his capture and destruction with almost fiendish signs of triumphant joy, only paralleled by the exuberant exultation evinced by the inhabitants of an Indian village when some notorious man-eating tiger falls a victim to the Englishman's deadly rifle.
To the great relief of our hero and his companions, however, no sharks were encountered, though upon one or two occasions an alarm had been raised that the fins of the brutes were visible upon the surface of the water at some distance. These objects were doubtless some of the wreckage of the dinghy.
The distance to the islet was soon traversed by such good swimmers; and a little fatigued and out of breath, our adventurers were not sorry to feel terra-firma once more beneath their feet. Although the little island was very steep and rock-bound, the smoothness of the sea enabled the swimmers to scramble ashore without much trouble. It was a dreary and uninviting scene which met their gaze. The islet was simply a bare conglomeration of honeycombed rocks, rising in the centre to a considerable elevation, and perfectly bare of any vestige of vegetation or water. The cries of the innumerable sea-birds were simply deafening, for doubtless they were troubled and alarmed at witnessing the unexpected arrival of three dripping human beings upon their desolate shores, and thought it only consistent with their dignity to expostulate with as much noise as possible, trusting that their outrageous clamour would have the desired effect of quickly driving away the unwelcome intruders.
How many political and social agitators win their way with the ignorant by pursuing the same noisy tactics! to say nothing of the other innumerable faddists who shriek and push and revile throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. They care not how inconsistent they are, and their reverence for logic and reason is of the very thinnest description. Clamour and invective is their fetish, and how many there are, carried away by a counterfeit eloquence, who fall down and worship it! Reader, beware of hateful shams and everything that savours, however slightly, of hypocrisy, and train your mind to habits of thought, that you may be enabled to pierce through the disguise of the dissembler and the humbug who would rule the world by noise and abuse, and is delighted to enlist disciples under his banner on almost any pretence. Again I say, beware of quacks and impostors, for the soil of Great Britain seems particularly well suited to the growth of these rank and injurious weeds! May they be some day all ruthlessly rooted up and their power of evil quenched!—though this seems almost too much to hope for, in spite of the Board School rates!
Revenons à nos moutons! Our three adventurers had no sooner scrambled ashore, than they threw themselves down upon an almost level stretch of bare rock, in order to rest their tired limbs and regain their exhausted breath. So scantily were they now clad—having no garments on but their trousers, shirts, and socks—that the burning rays of the midday sun soon enabled them to feel comparatively dry. The temperature of the sea-water had been almost tepid, so no inconvenience from cold had been experienced, as might have well been the case had the accident occurred in colder climes.
The situation of our castaways was anything but a pleasant one, for there was absolutely nothing to eat or drink upon this bare rock; and even if their unfortunate position was discovered—as eventually it was sure to be—by Dixon and his comrades on Monkey Island, there was now no boat in which the latter could come to their rescue. This fact made the position rather an alarming one, for it would have been a great risk to have endeavoured to swim across to the larger island, the distance being considerable. Ugly-Mug offered willingly to accomplish this feat, should it turn out that Dixon remained in ignorance of their fate; but this was an idea Hubert would not entertain for a moment, as he had supreme confidence in his faithful coxswain's penetration and resource.
"As soon as we feel pretty well rested," observed our young Rajah, to his followers, "I vote we clamber up to the top of the rock and wave a shirt in the air to try and attract Dixon's attention. He will soon begin to wonder where we are, I should think."
"Let's make a start at once," said Morgan, springing to his feet, "or we shall get simply broiled sitting on these hot rocks. One might almost as well be in a frying-pan over a slow fire."
"It am bery locky you and de Massa Rajah hab 'tuck to yer ole hat troo it all," exclaimed the Krooman, as he and his companions commenced to scale the rocks; "or yer catch de sunstroke faster dan de bonito catch de flyin'-fis', and dat bery bad ting for sho'."
"You're right there, old chap," answered Morgan, as he took off his tattered hat and eyed it reverentially; "a friend in need is a friend indeed, and must be stuck to through thick and thin!"
"Ugly-Mug has the advantage of us," laughed the middy, "in that his skull is so thick that you might pour boiling oil over it, and he would be quite oblivious of the fact."
The Krooman grinned, as if in complete acquiescence of this view. He was the only one of the trio who had lost his hat, but of course in his case the matter was not of the least importance, for the fierce rays of a vertical sun poured down upon his woolly pate without producing the slightest impression!
The scramble to the summit of the islet proved a very disagreeable one, not only on account of the great heat which radiated from the rocks and scorched and blistered the feet of the climbers, but also by reason of the large deposits of guano which met them at every step, giving out an offensive odour which made Hubert feel quite faint and ill.
From the topmost rock of Bird Island a capital view was obtained; but it was impossible to see Reef Bay, owing to the projecting cape of Palm Point, which intervened. Morgan quickly divested himself of his shirt and waved it continuously in the air, whilst Hubert and Ugly-Mug narrowly watched the elevations of Monkey Island to see if any answering response was made by Dixon.
"We should be sure to see Hudson if he was knocking about anywhere," observed Morgan, as he at length desisted from his efforts with aching arms; "he's about as tall as an ordinary lighthouse!"
"And being dressed in white, he would be all the more conspicuous," added Hubert.
"By the bye," said Morgan, "how about that little boat that Hudson escaped from the Arabs in? Couldn't she be made seaworthy enough to come and take us off?"
"No chance in that quarter," answered the young Rajah, "for Hudson went over to examine her the other day, and found her completely broken up upon the beach."
"Den dey'll hab to build one raft, dat all I can say," chimed in Ugly-Mug, "an' I hope dey look sharp about him, for der is noddin to eat or drink upon dis drefful island, by gum!"
"They don't even know yet where we are," said Morgan, "for there has been no answering signal yet. I wish we could make fast this shirt to some sort of a staff and leave it planted here, for then we might be able to find some shelter from this blazing sun."
"Dis chile go and look for one 'tick, to be sure," exclaimed the Krooman eagerly; "p'raps I find somedin washed up by de sea here or dere;" and so saying Ugly-Mug bounded off on his downward descent, and was quickly lost to view behind a projecting rock.
"Are you very thirsty, Morgan?" asked our hero.
"Yes, my mouth and throat are very dry," answered the young seaman, "and I'm much afraid yours must be the same; but we must hope for a speedy deliverance."
"Yes, I am very thirsty, too; but perhaps the feeling will go off when we cool down a little. I'm beginning to get a little bit peckish, too."
"I suppose you haven't your watch about you, Mr. Ashley?"
"No, indeed; I'm thankful to say I left it in the bungalow, or it would have been utterly ruined or lost altogether."
"By the sun," observed Morgan, shading his eyes and gazing upwards, "I should say it was somewhere about two o'clock. Now, it strikes me that Dixon and the rest are probably eating their dinner just at this time, and in no way anxious about us, for if you remember we told them that very likely we shouldn't turn up till towards evening."
"You don't think it likely that any of them witnessed the disaster and saw the boat go down?"
"No, I certainly don't; for if that had been the case, I'm certain they would have fired rifles off, or made some sort of signal to us."
"I suppose they would. What do you think of Ugly-Mug's proposition of swimming over to Monkey Island, Morgan?"
"I think it's a very plucky thing of him to offer to do it, and if it becomes necessary he shall undertake it, for he's quite at home in the water, and they say that sharks don't like black flesh!"
"I wonder if they will be able to see this shirt from such a distance," observed Hubert doubtfully.
At this moment, and before the seaman could answer, Ugly-Mug returned with a jaunty step. Over his shoulder was thrown a short spar, which looked suspiciously like a portion of a wreck—perhaps that of the ill-fated Alcide.
"Dis bedder dan noddin, Massa Rajah!" he cried triumphantly. "I find him wedge in between two rock ober on de oder side der."
"Well done, Ugly-Mug! Now we can fly a signal of distress in proper style."
The good-natured Krooman, however, would not hear of Morgan's shirt being used for this purpose, but insisted upon substituting his own somewhat tattered garment; for as he very pertinently remarked, "Your 'kin, Massa Morgan, will be burn and blister like ole Jim Crow in dis 'corching sun; but Ogly-Mog 'kin like de rhinosceros,—he no feel noddin! Dis mornin', too, plenty ob castor-oil am rubby rubby in to make him shine and smooth, and eberyting nice."
Our hero looked sternly at the blackamoor.
"I suppose you remember my threat of marooning you upon this island, if ever you made such a pig of yourself, Ugly-Mug," he remarked. "Now you're convicted upon your own confession, and must take the consequences."
The Krooman, however, only laughed, and stripping off his shirt, bent it on to the end of the spar. The latter was then firmly wedged into a crevice in one of the rocks, and made a very efficient flagstaff.
Seeking a shady spot close by, our castaways threw themselves down, and keeping their eyes steadfastly fixed upon Monkey Island eagerly watched for an answering response from their shipmates.
FOR fully half an hour Hubert and his companions in misfortune sat perfectly still, without speaking, eagerly watching for the expected signal from Monkey Island. The Krooman's shirt flew out bravely in the gradually rising breeze, as if anxious to do its part efficaciously in spite of rents and tatters; but apparently without avail, for no answering response had as yet been vouchsafed in any shape or form from the larger island.
"Does any one know what Dixon was intending to do this afternoon?" asked the middy at length, as, with an anxious look upon his face, he crossed and re-crossed his legs with an impatient gesture.
"I heard him tell Phillips that he would climb to the top of Ashley Peak after dinner," replied Morgan. "No doubt he wanted to see if there were any vessels in sight."
"That makes it all the more odd!" exclaimed our hero; "for on reaching the summit he could hardly fail to notice that the dinghy was no longer afloat, and I should have thought our signal of distress would have been sure to catch his eye, for he has remarkably keen sight."
"'Tis strange, perhaps," assented Morgan, who was also beginning to look a little uneasy; "but we mustn't be down- hearted on any account. There may have been some delay in setting out, or our shipmates may have made some signal which has escaped our notice."
"You're right; we must keep up our spirits," said the middy more cheerfully. "If it comes to the worst, I suppose we shall only have to pass one night upon this wretched rock amongst the sea-birds."
"In dat case," said Ugly-Mug, with a grin which no hardships could banish from his honest, snub-nosed face; "in dat case I sall find massa some sea-bird egg for him supper. Oh yeth, him bery good when dere am noddin else for de tummick!"
"Ugh!" exclaimed Hubert, with a gesture of disgust, "don't talk about eating such things, Ugly-Mug, or you'll make me ill!"
"Well, massa, I no talk about him for sho'," replied the Krooman, with a laugh; "but if no raft sall come to take us off bery quickly, my gosh! I sall run about and collect dem before de sun go down."
"How long do you think it would take three men to make a raft?" queried our young Rajah, looking earnestly at his black follower.
"Tree Krooboy make him in about two hour, massa, I tink; but wid only one axe it take mosh longer, ob coorse."
Again the attention of our castaways was concentrated upon Monkey Island—especially upon the acclivity of Ashley Peak—and they once more relapsed into silence, which was only broken by the "harsh and hungry dirge" of the innumerable sea-fowl wheeling over their heads in mazy circles of flight.
Hours went by, and the burning sun began to sink down lower and lower towards the western horizon. Soon the short twilight would have set in, quickly to be merged in the darkness of night, which would enshroud both land and sea in its purple pall and shut out everything from view. There was no signal from Monkey Island, and no sign of the advent of a rescue party!
When the sun, in a blaze of flaming and golden glory, had dipped its glowing orb beneath the finely cut horizon line, and everything grew dusky and dim with the exception of the refulgent western sky, our castaways gave up all hope of being rescued before the morrow, and resigned themselves to their adverse fate with as much philosophy as they could muster up for the occasion. Their situation was undoubtedly a very uncomfortable one, for the air grew chilly at sundown, and their scanty garments, shrunk by their contact with so much salt water, offered but the slightest protection from the night winds. They were also suffering much from the effects of thirst and from the pangs of hunger; for though Ugly-Mug had collected some sea-birds' eggs, neither Hubert nor Morgan could overcome their repugnance to this form of food, and unhesitatingly rejected it; and the honest Krooman, who was secretly longing to suck the contents of some of the eggs—which were very large ones—declared he would not eat anything which his companions were unable to, and deliberately threw them away in spite of Hubert's remonstrances.
It was a consolation to our friends that the weather continued fine; for, although the wind seemed to be gradually rising, there was no rain, and the sky remained clear and starlit. A certain amount of shelter was found under the lee of some large rocks, but in spite of this the searching wind kept the middy and his companions in a constant shiver, and they huddled together to get what warmth they could from each other's proximity. Not a wink of sleep did any of the trio get during those long cold night hours, for they were too full of anxiety and suspense as to what the morrow would bring forth; though to a certain extent the time was beguiled by the recounting of adventurous stories and legends, of which Morgan was the chief reciter.
It was a great relief to our adventurers when, by the pale streaks of light in the eastern heavens, they knew that day was at hand. The light of the silver stars was quenched, the warm breath of the sun-god diffused itself through the chilled atmosphere, and once more brought light and life to the lately slumbering creation, as the majestic orb, arrayed in its panoply of ruby-strewn purple, rose with imperial grandeur above the horizon's verge, and threw a golden pathway of beams across the waste of waters.
As my readers may suppose, our hero and his companions at once repaired to the highest point on the islet, and Ugly-Mug once more bent his shirt to the rude flagstaff to act as a signal; for he had taken possession of it over-night, with the idea of keeping himself as warm as possible.
Hubert looked pale and anxious as his eye swept the intervening stretch of sea, and then travelled on to the wooded and rocky heights of Monkey Island, which were bathed in the warm beams of the revivifying sun. Signs of life, however, there were none, and the island might have been uninhabited for aught that an observer could tell.
"I can't make out what Dixon and the others are up to!" exclaimed the middy somewhat petulantly; "do they intend to leave us here to die of starvation?"
"It seems queer, doesn't it?" said Morgan, who by the tone of his voice was evidently rather alarmed. "They must have missed us last night, and ought to have been able to make out this signal of distress of ours. I can only suppose that they are busy making some sort of a raft, and have not had time to let us know that they are aware of our accident."
"Then they ought to have found time," rejoined Hubert angrily; "they had nothing to do but fire off some rifles."
"It is very unlike Dixon, certainly," said Morgan. "I never knew him fail in anything of the kind before; but you may depend upon it all will come right in the end, and we shall have a good laugh over this adventure by-and-by."
"Well, they can't surely be later than this afternoon in coming to our rescue," observed the middy, somewhat mollified. "Of course it will take them some time to propel a raft over, as the paddles will be of the very roughest description."
"Massa, you make sure dat ogly ole bar am at de bottom ob all dis delay; he willin enough for anyting!" chimed in the Krooman, with a broad smile irradiating his ebon visage. "Oh yeth! you may depend he gib Massa Dixon mosh trouble ober der."
The imperturbable good-humour of Ugly-Mug made Hubert feel ashamed of his petulance, and he at once recovered his good temper, and even laughed at his sable henchman's absurd remarks.
"I think you're quite right as to our being relieved by this afternoon, Mr. Ashley," said Morgan, "and till then we must hold out against hunger and thirst the best way we can. Dixon will, of course, bring some provisions and water with him, and that will make us as right as a trivet."
"I propose that we refresh ourselves with a bathe in the sea when the sun gets a little higher," observed our hero, "and then we must lie down under the shade of some of the rocks and try to sleep, for we shall then, I think, feel the pangs of hunger and thirst less."
"Very good idea!" responded Morgan; "but I would suggest that Ugly-Mug and I take it in turns to do watchman near the flagstaff."
"I shall take my turn, of course—the idea of such a thing!" said Hubert indignantly. "Now let's go and have our dip."
As Ugly-Mug did not feel inclined for a bathe, he elected to take up his post as sentry, and might have been seen a few minutes later resolutely marching up and down in front of the flagstaff, amusing himself by alternately gazing fixedly in the direction of Monkey Island, humming the air of some favourite negro melody, and, with a comic look upon his honest, swarthy face, pausing to stare admiringly at the tattered folds of his weather-worn shirt as it flaunted itself out gaily in the morning breeze.
"Oh, what a bery fonny ting it is to be wash ashore on an island like dis!" muttered the Krooman to himself, "where am noddin to eat or to drink; oh, bery fonny ting for sho'! Whar am dat lazy Massa Dixon, I like bery mosh to know, and de big marine, and Massa Phillips! P'raps de ole bar hab eat dem all up, and I sall find noddin but de bone if I schwim ober der!"
After an hour had elapsed, Morgan came to relieve Ugly-Mug, and informed him that Hubert had been taken ill after bathing, and was now lying down in the shade to try and sleep.
"Ah, I'm bery mosh sorry to hear dat," exclaimed the Krooman; "Massa Ashley, you see, hab noddin to eat, and den him get cramp in de tummick widout doubt. He must try and eat some ob de bird egg, for dey not so nasty as de Rajah tink."
"I should say we had better all make a breakfast off them," answered Morgan, who was looking rather haggard and pale. "I think I can persuade Mr. Ashley to take some. Is there nothing in sight?"
"Noddin whateber!" replied the Krooman emphatically, "and I tink it one bad business altogeder. Now, Massa Morgan, come wid me, and I show you where to find de egg."
Hubert was feeling so faint and ill for want of food, and his mouth and throat were so parched and dry, that he overcame his reluctance to swallowing the contents of the sea-fowls' eggs, though he made many wry faces over the meal, as the reader may suppose! Nevertheless, he felt much the better for even this slender sustenance, and the internal pain he had been suffering from passed away. Morgan and Ugly-Mug also ate the contents of several eggs, the latter evidently enjoying his strange meal, for he smacked his blubber lips, and evinced many other signs of epicurean pleasure!
At midday Morgan and Ugly-Mug returned to the look-out place, and once more eagerly and anxiously scanned the sea and the shores and heights of Monkey Island.
There was nothing whatever in sight.
FOR some time the young seaman and his black companion stood motionless, with their eyes fixed upon the island opposite. Both looked anxious and terribly disappointed, for they had fully expected that ere this Dixon and his mates could have got afloat on some hastily contrived raft or canoe, and started in search of them. There was absolutely no sign of any rescue party, however, and no signal of any kind betrayed the fact that the fate of the three unfortunate castaways was known to their shipmates on the main island. The flagstaff on Cape Bluff could be faintly discerned, and it was seen that the flag was flying as usual upon it; but it was the solitary sign of life that met the gaze of the weary watchers upon the rock. Other indications there were none.
Even Morgan, who was amiability itself, began to lose patience.
"This is getting past a joke, I'm dashed if it isn't!" he exclaimed at length. "I didn't think that Dixon was such a dunderheaded fellow as to carry on like this!"
"I gib dem two hour more," said Ugly-Mug emphatically, "an' den if dey no come by dat time, I trip off my clo' an' schwim across to de oder side."
"You haven't got many clothes to strip off just at present, old chap, have you?" said Morgan, with a laugh.
"No, I habn't; but I leab dem in your charge Massa Morgan, till I come back—leettle as dem are."
"Upon my word, I don't know if we ought to let you attempt it," said the seaman doubtfully; "there may be lots of sharks cruising about, and in any case it's a long way to swim."
"De shark I no care anyting about," answered Ugly-Mug, snapping his fingers contemptuously; "and as to schwimming two or tree mile, bress you, Massa Morgan, I tink one Krooboy piccaninny can do him widout mosh bodderation!"
"Well, I think it's very plucky of you, all the same," rejoined his white ally; "and if Dixon doesn't turn up in a couple of hours' time, perhaps your plan would really be the best."
"Mosh de best, ob coorse. I tink it take me someting more dan one hour to git across to de oder side, and den I help Massa Dixon and de oders to launch de raft and paddle him ober. Oh, yeth, we sall be here long before sunset, that you can make sure."
"I hope you won't have to go at all, for I cannot believe that Dixon can be so stupid as not to make a start before two o'clock or thereabouts."
"You don't tink dat dem rascal Arab come back, and murder 'em all. Dey owe Massa Hudson a grudge, dat sartin for true!" exclaimed the Krooman, as the sudden idea flashed across his mind.
"I never thought of that!" answered Morgan, in a dismayed tone. "It really might be so, but surely we should have heard shots fired, for our shipmates would fight to the last gasp."
"De Arab might fall upon dem out ob one ambush, like dey did on Massa Hudson," continued the Krooman. "And den what can eben brave man do? Noddin at all! Dere is no time to fire him rifle or pistol. He can fight at close quarter wid him cutlash, p'raps; but mosh likely de Arab oberpower him before der is time to do anyting."
"If anything so dreadful has taken place," said Morgan, with a blank look, "I really don't see what is to become of us, for I'm quite sure that our young Rajah couldn't swim over to Monkey Island, for he is feeling much too weak and ill."
The Krooman remained buried in thought for some moments.
"I no like de look ob tings," he observed at length; "but, after all, it am no good to look at de blackness ob all dis till we find him all true. De Arab willin may be too mosh afraid to land again upon de island, 'cos I no see how dey can find out dat tree ob we am cast away on dis bressed ole rock."
"You must act with great caution if you do swim across, nevertheless. If there are any Arabs upon the island, you will soon discover it, and must act as you think proper. Whatever you do, don't fall into their hands, Ugly-Mug."
"I sall be as cunnin' as one sarpent, Massa Morgan, dat you make sore. It will be bery big conundrum if de Arab am dere, dat sartin; but we must do de best we can, and leab de rest to Providence—dat what I say 'bout him."
The young seaman took a last but fruitless look around, and then proposed that they should rejoin Hubert, and acquaint him with their plans.
"Don't say a word about the Arab pirates, Ugly-Mug," said he warningly, as the pair retraced their steps. "It might only alarm him without any reason, and I don't think the idea has occurred to him."
The Krooman nodded assent, and winked significantly, as if to show that he was up to a thing or two.
Hubert quite roused up when he heard that Ugly-Mug was really going to put his daring resolve into execution, and discussed the matter with much animation. Though extremely anxious for the safety of the brave Krooman, he clearly saw the necessity for some prompt action being taken if Dixon did not very shortly put in an appearance upon the scene, and he could think of no better plan than that which his faithful black follower had devised.
"If you should be obliged to swim across, Ugly-Mug," said he, "you can tell Dixon and the others how astonished I am at their being so dilatory, and desire them to shove across on a raft at once, unless they wish to find only our bleached skeletons here."
"Gosh and golly! I gib dem one big piece ob my mind, massa, dat you make sore, de lazy willin dat dey is. Now, I tink I eat 'bout fifty bird-egg to keep up my 'trength for de v'yage."
"The sea-fowl will surely follow you all the way over, and peck your eyes out," he said, with a faint smile. "You'd better not aggravate them too much, Ugly-Mug."
But the Krooman only grinned, and disappeared in search of some fresh nests.
An hour later, accompanied by Hubert and Morgan, he descended to the point nearest Monkey Island, and prepared to start upon his adventurous swim. His clothing only consisted of a thin pair of trousers, which had been rolled up above his swarthy knees, so there was no danger of his being encumbered and weighed down by saturated garments. A last survey from the flag-staff had revealed no signs of a rescue party, and it had been unanimously decided to wait no longer.
"Take care of yourself, dear old Ugly-Mug," exclaimed our hero in a weak voice; "and come back as soon as you can."
"Make no bodderation 'bout me, massa; you see me again bery soon, dat sartin, onless one ogly ole whale gobble me up like Massa Jonah on him v'yage, and dat I tink bery onlikely—oh, yeth, bery onlikely!"
So saying, the courageous Krooman plunged into the clear waters, and rising to the surface almost immediately, breasted the waves gallantly, and struck out for the opposite shore with long powerful strokes. The sea was slightly choppy, but not sufficiently so to interfere much with a clever swimmer. Anxiously did the two watchers stand gazing at their faithful companion's black head and shoulders, as they rose and fell upon the slopes of the waves; and both mentally prayed that success might crown such a devoted effort to save their lives.
Hubert's eyes were moist as be turned away, and proposed that he and his companion should retrace their steps to the summit of the islet, and endeavour to watch from that point of vantage the progress of the swimmer.
"I can't help feeling nervous about sharks," he said anxiously to Morgan, as the two toiled up the guano-strewn ascent. "I should never forgive myself if anything happened to Ugly-Mug, for I should blame myself for having let him go."
"The Krooboys are quite accustomed to sharks, that's my opinion, Mr. Ashley; so don't you be a bit uneasy on that score. I think it must be really true that the brutes fight shy of black flesh when they can get anything better."
Although Morgan spoke thus reassuringly, so as to keep up his young commander's spirits, he nevertheless felt extremely anxious for Ugly-Mug's safety, and felt that he should not know a moment's peace until he saw that honest, grinning ebon visage once more.
Our hero was rather exhausted when he reached the flagstaff, and was glad to sit down and rest himself. The long abstention from food and water was beginning to tell terribly upon him, as Morgan could not fail to see, for the poor boy's features were assuming a pinched, haggard look, which proved more eloquently than words how much he was silently suffering, and his voice had become harsh and unnatural in tone. He made no complaint, however, being resolved to bear any privations with fortitude and resignation.
Ugly-Mug could still be seen swimming rapidly across the straits, but it was evident that he would not remain much longer in sight, for even now he only appeared as a mere speck upon the blue waters. Our hero and Morgan strained their eyes to keep the faithful black in sight to the very last moment; and even when he had completely disappeared from their ken, they still remained intently gazing at the stretch of sea where they imagined him to be, without exchanging a word.
"Thank God he's escaped the sharks so far!" ejaculated the young seaman at length. "Now what wouldn't I give for a telescope to keep him in sight with. That Krooboy is a trump, and no mistake!"
As Hubert made no response to this observation, Morgan turned round hastily to look at him, and was alarmed to see what a pallor had overspread the young middy's countenance, and how sunken his eyes were.
Our hero raised a hand with rather a feeble gesture, and gave a faint smile.
"I've got such a rum feeling in my head," he said hurriedly; "it seems to go round, and—"
Before he could finish his sentence, the poor young fellow had fallen back in a dead faint.
Under Morgan's care the fit of unconsciousness soon passed away, and Hubert was prevailed upon to swallow the unpalatable contents of a few sea-birds' eggs, which somewhat revived and invigorated him, though he was feeling wretchedly weak and ill. His now solitary friend and companion was also beginning to feel a good deal exhausted and depressed; but still he was gifted with a very strong constitution, and had reached the age of manhood's prime.
After making his young Rajah as comfortable as possible in a shady nook near the flagstaff, Morgan once more turned his attention to the neighbouring shores of Monkey Island, and eagerly watched for a signal from Ugly-Mug, for that redoubtable swimmer had promised to let his friends know of his safe arrival by some means or other at the earliest possible moment.
"Do you think he's got there yet, Morgan?" asked Hubert, in a faint voice.
"As near as I can calculate, he ought just to have about landed. How I do hope he's safe, and that he's found nothing wrong with Dixon and the others."
"That idea has been haunting me for a long time," said the middy sorrowfully. "Surely something dreadful must have happened! Dixon would never, never have deserted us, and Hudson and Phillips were both as true as steel too!"
"That they were," concurred Morgan emphatically, but evasively. He then turned the conversation into another channel, for he did not wish the middy's thoughts to wander off to the forbidden subject of the predatory Arabs who had kidnapped Hudson. In his own mind the young seaman now felt convinced that this was the only possible explanation of Dixon's strange non- appearance.
Half an hour passed, and still Morgan kept his eager eyes rivetted upon the opposite shores. There was as yet no signal, and he felt as if the prolonged suspense was almost more than he could bear in his now weakened state.
"Hurrah!" he suddenly cried, in excited and joyous tones. "There goes a rifle!"
FAINTLY, very faintly, came to the ears of the watchers upon the rock the sound of a discharge from a rifle on Monkey Island; and rousing himself by a strong effort of will, Hubert sat up and gazed earnestly in the direction of Reef Bay. From amid a grove of trees in close proximity to the bungalow was curling up into the heated air a light puff of grey smoke, and it was this which had caught Morgan's watchful eye, and caused him to make the joyous exclamation recorded in the last chapter.
"That doesn't look as if the Arabs were in possession," muttered he; "if they had taken our shipmates prisoners, they would have taken jolly good care to secure all our weapons and ammunition. This makes it more mysterious than ever."
"That signal means that Ugly-Mug has landed in safety," said Hubert, in a relieved tone. "Thank God for that, at any rate!"
"The Krooboy will stir them up, I'll be bound," observed Morgan, glancing at our hero. "We shall soon be rescued now, Mr. Ashley."
But the middy made no response. He had closed his eyes, and appeared to be trying to doze. Morgan quietly sat down on a rock close at hand, and, folding his arms, continued to gaze in the direction of Reef Bay. He was not long in making the discovery, however, that poor Hubert was suffering intolerable agony from violent shoots of pain in the region of the stomach. Morgan felt keenly that he was powerless to do anything to relieve the young middy from these violent paroxysms; but the latter begged him not to mind, attributing the attack to having eaten the sea-birds' eggs, which he declared nothing would induce him to touch again.
Fortunately this attack passed off, but it left its victim perceptibly weaker, and Morgan dreaded a return of the malady, for fear it should cause a serious illness. Both were now suffering much from the effects of thirst, for the day had been an intensely hot one, and a long time had now elapsed since water had passed their dry and parching lips. Tearing off a portion of his shirt, Morgan descended to the sea, dipped this improvised bandage into the water, and then returning to the flagstaff, bound it around the middy's hot and throbbing temples. This gave the poor boy some slight relief.
One hour passed! two hours passed! and the genial daylight began to fade out of the sky, as the sun pursued his unerring course downwards into the glowing regions of the west. The swift, brief, dusky twilight of the tropic zone would shortly assert itself, and then good-bye to any hope of a rescue for that night.
As the refulgent sunset tints permeated the sky like the changing but delicate hues of the resplendent opal, Hubert turned his haggard face, and looked at his companion with sunken eyes that burned with feverish light.
"Another night upon the rock," he said, in a broken voice; "we must try and bear it bravely."
"I don't give up hope yet!" observed Morgan, in a tone of encouragement. "Ugly-Mug will be to the fore if possible, that I'm convinced of."
"That he will," assented the middy; "but it may not be in his power to come till the morning. You see, if anything has happened to Dixon and the others, he would have to build a raft all by himself."
Morgan could make no response to this, so he walked across to the very highest point of Bird Island, where still flew the tattered shirt of Ugly-Mug, and took a long survey of the opposite shores. The larger island was fast assuming a purple tint in the waning light, like the bloom upon a ripe plum, whilst the intervening waters were reflecting the golden and roseate tints of the changing sky in soft gradations of waxing and waning colour. Earnestly as the young seaman gazed in the direction of the sheltered haven of Reef Bay, he could detect nothing in the shape of a raft or canoe putting forth upon the tinted waters, and turned away with a sigh of heartfelt disappointment.
"'Tis evident that Dixon and his mates are not there," he muttered; "and yet if the Arabs have been there, how is it the rifles are left intact! unless, indeed, the rascals captured our shipmates somewhere away from the bungalow, and never discovered its existence."
Revolving this idea in his mind, and feeling heavy at heart, the seaman returned to the sheltered spot where he had left his young charge.
"Well," said Hubert inquiringly, "is there anything in sight?"
"I'm sorry to say there is not, and I think we must take your advice and make up our minds to remain here another night with as much philosophy as we can muster up."
"I'm ready," said the young middy bravely; "you may depend upon it I won't give in just at the last moment."
"That's right!" cried Morgan encouragingly; "our motto must be, 'never say die.' I wish with all my heart you would try and eat a few more of those eggs, Mr. Ashley."
"Never. You don't know how ill they made me feel, Morgan."
"Oh, for a shower of rain! That would be the greatest blessing God could send us just now."
The middy's feverish eyes wandered to the glorious refulgent dome above him. No sign was there of the tiniest cloudlet.
"No hope of that," he said faintly. "Don't let's think about it, for I'm sure it only makes the pangs of thirst more severe."
There was certainly no chance of any rain falling that night; but as the sun sank, the air grew refreshingly cool, which revived our exhausted castaways somewhat.
The hours passed wearily away. Night fell. Thu stars flashed out in the blue-black firmament with their usual dazzling lustre. There was no moon to shed her pale ghostly light over the rolling dark waters which stretched around, or to irradiate the sombre and star-gemmed heavens. The wind had fallen to a mere light draught of air; the waves had lowered their foam-flecked crests, and the only perceptible motion on the water was caused by the long heaving swell which came rolling in from the offing. The restless sea-birds which made this desolate island their home seemed reluctant to fold their wings and go to roost, for they still flew hither and thither in endless mazes, now and again making a dash at the darkened waters to secure a fish, and never ceasing their discordant, deafening screams, which seemed to pierce the brains of the poor, tired watchers upon the rock.
Morgan endeavoured to beguile the long, wearisome night hours by telling Hubert all about his expectant baronetcy, and described his uncle's—the present holder of the title—peculiarities and whimsical habits, in an interesting manner and with no little humourous power. Being gifted with a retentive memory, the young seaman was also able to remember and relate many anecdotes and adventures of which he had heard; and this served to distract our hero's attention from painful thoughts, and enabled the hours to pass more quickly than they would otherwise have done.
Towards morning, worn out by exhaustion and fatigue, our two castaways went off into a fitful, feverish slumber, which was somewhat disturbed by the advent of all sorts of terrible, blood- curdling dreams.
When day broke over the scene, and just as the sun's upper limb, rosy and huge, showed coyly over the horizon line to the eastward, Morgan awoke with a dull, heavy feeling in his head, and painful shoots of neuralgic pain over his whole body. To his surprise he saw that Hubert was awake, and standing near the flagstaff, gazing, not towards Monkey Island, but seawards. The middy's face looked pinched and wan, and the expression it wore was a strangely anxious and perturbed one.
"Any sign of Ugly-Mug?" sung out Morgan, dragging himself wearily to his feet.
"Hush!" answered the middy, lifting his hand with a warning gesture; "I've tried to murder him, but he's not quite dead yet!"
A horrible thought crossed the seaman's mind as he staggered forward as fast as his aching limbs would allow him.
WHEN Morgan heard his charge's extraordinary observation, and went forward, he was fully imbued with the idea that Ugly-Mug had returned to Bird Island at early dawn, and that Hubert, seized with an attack of homicidal mania, had intercepted him, and with all the superhuman strength of a maniac, done him some mortal injury. Great was his relief, therefore, to find that there was no trace of the Krooman, at any rate in the immediate vicinity. There was no doubt, however, that poor Hubert was in a state of delirium. He eagerly seized Morgan's arm, on seeing that young seaman approach, and poured out a whole string of incoherent sentences, which apparently had no connection with his opening speech about the murder. With some difficulty Morgan induced his young friend to come and lie down, and he then sat down beside him, holding his hot feverish hand, and determined not to lose sight of him for a moment, for fear he should throw himself over the cliffs or into the sea. In about an hour's time our hero went off into a heavy sleep, but still Morgan watched beside him with the utmost vigilance and loving care, but with a deeply distressed feeling at his heart, for he knew not how this distressing and serious attack might end.
Whilst ruminating thus, the young seaman heard a loud shout, undoubtedly in Ugly-Mug's tones, come sounding over the waters. Filled with renewed hope, he rose silently to his feet, without disturbing the patient, and walked forward to the spot where then flagstaff stood. His eyes immediately fell upon the faithful Krooman, who was seated upon a rough, extraordinary-looking catamaran, which he was paddling with great vigour towards the island, from which he was now only distant about two hundred yards. Morgan excitedly waved his hat, to which Ugly-Mug responded by flourishing his paddle. In ten minutes the two men were warmly shaking hands at the brink of the water, and Morgan at once explained that they must immediately return to watch over Hubert, who was delirious but asleep.
"Him come round wid de cocoa-nut dat I bring ober wid me, dat sartin," exclaimed the Krooman triumphantly, as he made fast the clumsy catamaran to a projecting rock, and seized the aforesaid nuts, which were scattered upon the logs. "Here, take a swig ob him fust, Massa Morgan, for you must be die ob thirst by dis time."
"No, I'll touch nothing just for the present," said Morgan, relieving his comrade of some of the nuts; "come along as quick as you can, Ugly-Mug, and tell me as we go along what has happened to Dixon and the rest of our shipmates, for I'm dying to hear the news about them."
"I don't know one leetle bit where dey gone," answered the Krooman with grave emphasis. "Dey not on de island, and I find no trace ob dem anywheres, so I had to make one catamaran by myself, and it bery hard work I can tell you, and to launch him in de sea too. It bery good luck I cut out two paddle about a week ago, and hide dem in de jongle, when Massa Rajah say he want to spear turtle from one catamaran, and so I hab no trouble about dat."
Morgan was greatly shocked at finding that his worst fears regarding their absent shipmates were thus verified by Ugly-Mug; but there was no time now to discuss the matter, as the pair had reached the spot where lay the still sleeping Hubert, and it was absolutely necessary to administer some nourishment to him. Nothing could be better suited for this purpose than the sweet, refreshing liquid of the green cocoanut. Hubert, when awoke, proved to be still wandering in his mind, but he was quite quiet and submissive, and his followers found no difficulty in persuading him to gulp down the contents of a nut. Almost immediately afterwards he went off into a heavy sleep again; and Morgan, after fortifying himself with some dried pieces of venison which the Krooman had brought over, and some cocoa-nut water, was at liberty to discuss the situation with his black companion, and endeavour to settle an immediate plan of action.
"Did you see the bear, Ugly-Mug? was his first question.
"De ole bar not der, dat I knows on," was the response. "Ogly- Mog see noddin ob him, tank de Lor'."
"And you saw no signs of any Arabs or other natives having been upon the island?"
"Nebber any trace in Reef Bay or at de bungalow; dat de only place I look for dem, for I know bery well de time short for making catamaran, and I hab to work like one nigger!"
"And with regard to the arms and ammunition, I suppose you found them all right?"
"Ah! dat one bit fonny ting for sho'. I find one rifle hab disappear, and one cutlash also."
"That's very peculiar, certainly. Did you notice anything else strange at the bungalow?"
"I see dat de bed ob grass no been slept in quite lately, nor de fire lit, and der is all de food in de kitchen dat I leab der when we go a-fissin' de oder day."
"But there were no signs of a struggle anywhere near, and no strange footmarks?"
"Dixon talked of going to the summit of Ashley Peak that afternoon. No doubt he took Hudson and Phillips with him, and the three fell into an ambush, and were carried off by the same Arabs who kidnapped the marine."
"I don't belieb him."
"You don't believe who?"
"Lissen, Massa Morgan, I no belieb dat de Arab play dis trick on dem!"
"'Cos der only one rifle and one cutlash a-missin', an' de tree men nebber go on dat journey widout der weppin."
"There is something in that, but people are apt to do foolish things sometimes."
"Massa Dixon no do foolis' ting. Him bery clebber, ob, bery clebber. And den him as strong as one gorilla, and would kill all de Arab before dey take him prisoner."
"Then what has happened to them? Tell me that, Ugly- Mug!"
"Dat I no can tell. Him jus' one mystery, dat all I can make head or tail ob, Massa Morgan; but I bet my bottom dollar de Arab hab noddin to do wid dis affair."
Morgan looked thoroughly perplexed. "I'm sure I can't make head or tail of it either," he said; "but perhaps we may discover something to throw light upon the matter when we return to Monkey Island."
"Yeth, dat am so! Dis sort ob ting am like dat game ob 'croarth question an' crookum answer'! We'll put de Massa Rajah on the catamaran, and paddle to de oder side as quick as greased lightnin'."
To the unbounded joy of his two followers, Hubert, on being aroused, proved to have quite recovered from the delirium from which he had been suffering, though naturally he was still feeling extremely weak and ill. His delight at seeing Ugly-Mug may be imagined, though the pleasure was very much damped when the faithful black related the story of the mysterious disappearance of the trio who had been left behind upon Monkey Island.
Morgan now prevailed upon the middy to eat some of the dried meat which Ugly-Mug had provided himself with, and also to drink the contents of another cocoa-nut. Much refreshed and invigorated by this al-fresco meal, Hubert announced that he was ready to start, for he too deemed it of paramount importance to return without delay to Monkey Island. Morgan and the Krooman assisted our hero to the spot where the catamaran had been left. The three then at once embarked, and pushed off from the guano-strewn rocks of Bird Island. The middy was too weak to do anything but lie helplessly upon the rude logs of wood which formed the raft, and which were very ingeniously bound together by tough sinuous creepers out of the forest. The two men seized the paddles, and plying them with great vigour, propelled the clumsy catamaran at a slow pace through the waters in the direction of the large island. Most fortunately the weather was extremely propitious, the sea being as calm as a mill-pond. Had it not been so, there would have been some considerable danger, for the raft was hardly large enough to bear the weight of three persons, and even as it was, the logs of which it was formed became occasionally submerged, much to the discomfort of the voyagers, and of the middy, who was obliged to keep in a recumbent position, in particular.
Thus did the Rajah of Monkey Island return to his kingdom after a brief but exceedingly disastrous and painful exile.
Napoleon did not feel more joy on pressing once more the soil of La Belle France, after his escape from the island of Elba, than did our hero when he found himself, after along and tedious voyage, once more upon the shell-strewn sands of Reef Bay.
The catamaran having been hauled up upon the beach out of reach of the tide, Ugly-Mug shouldered the paddles and then gazed anxiously about him.
"No sign ob dem!" he exclaimed, in a disappointed tone. "What can do?"
"We must take Mr. Ashley to the bungalow, that's the first thing," said Morgan, "and then we must decide upon some plan of action."
With the assistance of his followers, the middy safely reached the bungalow, which was found quite untenanted and deserted, except by Ugly-Mug's old enemy, François, the bear, who seemed greatly pleased at the arrival of the party.
"DAT ole bar am arrive on de scene den anyhow!" exclaimed the Krooman, as his eyes lit upon the sagacious beast as it shambled up to greet Hubert; "but what de good ob him when he can't say one leetle word out ob him ogly ole mouf, and tell us what am become ob de oder men."
"Very likely he knows nothing about it," observed Morgan; "he may have been away foraging on his own account at the time."
"Dat bery likely de troof, for him always eatin' or sleepin'—one or de oder."
The catamaran had proved itself such a slow voyager, that when our hero and his companions reached the bungalow, the day was already beginning to close in. The Krooman therefore busied himself in preparing a hasty meal, which all partook of with considerable appetite; and then Morgan set out to search for his missing shipmates, taking a loaded rifle with him and some spare ammunition. Ugly-Mug remained behind to take care of the middy, who was still weak and feverish, and racked with neuralgic pains.
Morgan paid visits to Palm Point and the cave, and on his return made his way in the gloaming to Cape Bluff, where he found the flags still flying. But at none of these places could he find the slightest trace of those he sought for. Vainly did he discharge his rifle again and again, and shout at the top of his voice till he was as hoarse as an old crow. The monkeys grinned and chattered, the parrots screamed, the deer barked, and the night-birds commenced their fiendish concert of unearthly sounds,—but there came no response from a human throat in answer to the repeated signals.
The young seaman's heart sank as he retraced his weary steps homewards. Spiritless he felt and strangely depressed.
"I suppose we shall never see them again," he muttered, as in the gathering darkness he once more came in sight of the little bungalow; "but oh! the pity of it!"
"Never mind, Morgan!" said Hubert, with a brave attempt to be cheerful; "I didn't expect you to bring any good news to-night, but to-morrow we'll thoroughly explore every nook and corner of the island."
"I'm much afraid that you will be on the sick-list for some days, Mr. Ashley," the seaman answered, with a faint smile.
"Not I!" said the middy, with some of his old energy. "I believe I shall be as right as a trivet by to-morrow. By the bye, Ugly-Mug is going to try and catch some trout in Bear Lake at sunrise to-morrow, so that we shall have a ripping breakfast."
Sure enough the deft-fingered Krooman was busy fashioning some new fish-hooks out of shells, similar to those which had gone down in the ill-fated dinghy.
Our three friends slept long and soundly that night, for they were all more or less exhausted with what they had gone through. Ugly-Mug was the first to awake, and he quietly slipped out with his fishing gear and strode off to Bear Lake. In an hour's time he returned with half-a-dozen nice trout, about three-quarters of a pound weight each, and found Hubert and Morgan just ready for breakfast. The trout were soon frizzling over the fire, and during this necessary operation the Krooman related the story of their capture, and also stated that he had seen no traces of the missing men.
Hubert had made such strides towards recovery, that Morgan only insisted upon his staying one day in the bungalow, promising that he would allow him to join the exploration parties without fail on the following morning. To this Hubert demurred, and was in the midst of an eloquent harangue, which he thought would undoubtedly convince the young seaman that he was in the wrong, when he was suddenly interrupted by hearing a loud shout, apparently at some distance from the bungalow. It was undoubtedly the voice of an European!
Seizing their rifles, the middy and his companions rushed to the door in the highest state of excitement.
Not a soul was visible.
"We must be ready to repel an enemy if necessary," sung out Morgan. "Let's return indoors and get our cutlasses and plenty of ammunition."
Whilst engaged in this task, several fresh shouts rent the air—very much louder in tone.
"Why, it's Dixon and the rest of them, by all the powers!" shouted Morgan, dropping his rifle upon the floor in his astonishment; "I can swear to their voices!"
"It is! it is!" yelled Hubert and Ugly-Mug.
In a second the trio had rushed again into the verandah, when they almost fell into the arms of Dixon, Hudson, and Phillips, who with sunburnt faces and in tattered clothes had just bounded up the slope from the direction of the sea, apparently well and hearty.
The reader may imagine the greetings that passed, and the innumerable questions that poured forth from every one's lips, and to which no answers were forthcoming.
"But where have you been all this time, Dixon?" asked Hubert for the twentieth time; "can't you tell a fellow!"
The coxswain looked earnestly and attentively at his young questioner.
"You're looking very ill, sir, I'm sorry to see," he observed, ignoring the middy's question; "I suppose you've been down with an attack of fever."
"Nothing of the kind," answered Hubert impatiently. "We've been cast away upon Bird Island for days, without anything to eat or drink!"
"Cast away upon Bird Island!" ejaculated the coxswain in the greatest astonishment. "Well, I reckon that beats everything to smithereens, that do."
"It's evident you know nothing about our adventures then, mate," put in Morgan; "and though I'm dying to hear about yours, I'll just spin you our yarn first, and that'll be something out of the way;" and so saying, and in as few words as possible, the young seaman related the strange story of the last few days, laying much stress on the plucky way in which Ugly-Mug had swam across to Monkey Island, and so saved them from a lingering and terrible death.
"Now look here!" said Dixon, "I'm just jolly well jiggered if you three ain't had a narrow squeak for it—firstly from sharks, secondly from hunger and thirst, and thirdly from drowning—for I gather from what you say that Ugly-Mug's raft is a cranky sort of a craft even for a millpond, and it's a wonder she didn't send you all to the bottom! Now—"
"'Scuse me, Massa Dixon!" interrupted the Krooman very excitedly, "de catamaran am not finiss; he only knock togeder by myseff in one great horry, and yet he schwim like one fis' in de water! Oh, yeth."
"Belay all that!" shouted Dixon, with a laugh. "I won't say anything more against your old catamaran, or you'll go blowing your brains out in a fit of despair. Now, you're all dying to hear our story, and it's a rum 'un too, mind you; so here goes! Morgan says he quite thought we'd been captured by them thieving Arabs, whilst Ugly-Mug stuck out agin that idea and wouldn't have it at no price. Well, Mr. Ashley and mates, the Krooboy was quite right as it so happens, for we haven't sighted an Arab from that day to this! We've just been on a cruise on our own hook—a very unwilling one, I must allow—but still 'twas a cruise right enough, as you shall hear and agree. You hadn't been gone long upon your fishing excursion, when Phillips here came running in to say he'd caught sight of two or three turtle a-swimming about off Cape Bluster, and—"
"Golly!" interrupted the Krooman, rolling his eyes and rubbing his dingy hands; "my golly! how I like to catch him."
"Shut up, old ebony shanks!" cried Hudson, "and let the man tell his story without such unseemly interruptions!"
"Sosh what? I tink you pick up some bery fonny word on your last voyage for sho', Massa white-shank Hudson!"
"Directly I heard about the turtle, I said, 'Look here, mates, it would be a bit of a spree, instead of going up Ashley Peak, to cut out t'other fishing party, and bring home a ripping fine turtle, and—'"
"Oh yeth, oh my, yeth!" exclaimed Ugly-Mug, bending forward eagerly; "and what den?"
"'And we'll knock up some sort of a raft, launch her, and take some hard pointed sticks with us,'" continued Dixon, "'to try and spear one with. Ugly-Mug says he can build a catamaran—'"
"Dat so, oh yeth!" again interrupted the irrepressible black.
"'And why can't we do the same? Let's put our shoulders to the wheel!'—Hudson and Phillips were delighted at the idea! We found some nice pieces of timber ready to hand which had been cut up when building this shanty."
"Ah, how foolis', I nebber tink ob dem; but how you make paddle, Massa Dixon? Ha, ha! You know noddin' ob my paddle in de jongle, dat I know!"
"No, I didn't! you're such a cunning old rascal; but I'll trouble you not to interrupt any more, Master Ugly- Mug!—Well, we put our raft together at Shell Cove—for the turtle were working their way round to that side of the island—and found that it held together very well, and seemed likely to prove serviceable. For paddles we could muster nothing better than some large pieces of split bamboo—"
"Wal, dat am a good un, anyhow! What um tink ob next, my gosh!"
At this juncture, Hudson administered a sly kick to the Krooman, which made the latter start back so suddenly, that he stumbled against a rude bench standing near him, and tumbled flat upon his back, where he lay for a few moments in a sprawling position!
"That's just the sort of attitude we wanted to catch our turtle in," continued Dixon laughingly, and pointing at the recumbent Krooman. "Well, we put to sea in this queer craft of ours, and found some difficulty in trimming the dish, or in making her go through the water at all, but—"
"Wal den! what you larf at my catamaran for, Massa Dixon?" asked Ugly-Mug—who had now regained an upright position—"ob coarthe mine de best in ebery way!" and the Krooman contemptuously snapped his fingers.
"Very well, then! This raft of ours, which was far inferior to Ugly-Mug's," recommenced the coxswain, with a sly wink at Hubert, "put out to sea, and we soon caught sight of a turtle apparently making for Alligator Bay. It changed its mind, however, when it saw us coming, and made out to sea. Of course we followed in pursuit, but I saw that it was going to be a long job, on account of the little way we made. It was about an hour before we came up with the brute, and then arose the grand difficulty of spearing it with our pointed sticks, for you all know how hard the shell of a turtle is. Well! his hash was settled at last by Hudson giving him such a crack over the head that his stick was smashed into smithereens, and the animal was stunned by the force of the blow and lay helpless in the water. We quickly made a noose out of some spare jungle rope we had with us, and slipping it around the brute's body took it in tow of the raft. All this had taken up some time, mind you, and so intent had we been in securing the turtle, that I hadn't noticed how the blessed old catamaran was drifting. We now found, very much to our alarm, that some powerful current must have got a hold of us, for we seemed to have been swept out to sea in a southerly and westerly direction, and at a rapid pace. I'm jiggered if Monkey Island wasn't nearly hull-down to the nor'-eastward. However, there was no help for it, and securing the turtle alongside the best way we could, we set to work to paddle the raft homewards. We soon saw that we were making no way—in fact, we were still drifting in the opposite direction. To make matters worse, we smashed most of our bamboo paddles in our tremendous efforts to get way on our heavy craft. Away we floated to sea, just as if we were in the grip of the Gulf Stream, and I soon began to see that the matter was a serious one, for I knew that if we couldn't manage to gain the island that night, that the dinghy fishing party would be in a fine fright about us on their return. I didn't anticipate much danger for ourselves.
"There was very little wind blowing luckily, or we should have been precious uncomfortable. We tried to rig up some sort of an old sail with a coat spread on a couple of bamboos, but when night set in we had very little idea of the direction we were moving in, as we had no compass. The wind soon dropped, however, to the merest catspaws. Before sunset we had managed with immense difficulty to get the turtle on board the raft, when I cut its throat with my knife. Well, it'll seem mighty strange to you, Mr. Ashley, no doubt, but all these days we've been drifting and sailing about, out of sight of Monkey Island, and subsisting on that there blessed old turtle, and another one which we managed to capture. Fortunately we had one or two heavy showers, and caught the water in our hats; but I don't believe we should ever have fetched the island again if we hadn't by the greatest good fortune picked up some real genuine paddles, which must have been washed overboard from some native vessel These enabled us to get a good way on once more, and at night we were enabled to steer by the stars to a certain extent. However, here we are again, well and hearty, and I says, 'Thank God for it and all His other blessings,'—that's what I says."
HUBERT'S joy at seeing his old friends back again was so great that it materially helped forward his recovery, and in a few days' time he was quite well and strong again, and able to resume his exploring and shooting expeditions. It was now necessary, however, to husband the remaining stock of powder with great care, as it was running extremely short. In connection with this matter it was earnestly hoped that no more descents upon the island would be made by the predatory Arabs, for another fight with these lawless gentry would inevitably lead to a large consumption of gunpowder,—which, now that the original stock of provisions saved from the Indian Chief had run out, was veritably worth its weight in gold!
Ugly-Mug had evinced so much jealousy with regard to Dixon's catamaran, that it was determined to hold a regatta on Bear Lake, when the respective claims of the rival craft and of their builders could be settled by a trial of skill! The rafts were therefore taken to pieces, conveyed to the shores of the lake, and there reconstructed. Then, on a fine, hot afternoon, they were launched,—Hubert, Morgan, and Ugly-Mug being on the latter's craft, all armed with paddles and long poles of bamboo; and Dixon and his two companions, similarly provided, being on the other. It was a scene of great excitement, and Hubert especially was in the highest spirits, and chaffed Dixon unmercifully about the build and clumsy appearance of his catamaran, which he mischievously designated the Noah's Ark!
"It wouldn't take a very strong current to wash that old thing away," he observed to Ugly-Mug. "I'm sure we'll beat them in the race!"
"Yeth, massa, dat I tink too for sho'!" answered the Krooman, with a grin. "My paddle betterer dan Massa Dixon too, for him no shape dem properly, though he take mosh time ober him."
The race was to be down the whole length of Bear Lake, commencing from the bed of reeds and terminating on the lower shore. Francois had accompanied the party—presumably to see fair play—and whilst the rival crews embarked, and pushed out from the shore, he prowled up and down, watching everything with the keenest interest, and occasionally indulging in a good roll upon the warm sand.
Off went the rival catamarans amid a flourish of paddles, a lashing up of the placid waters of the lake, and a perfect babel of shouts and screams of laughter, which startled the wild-fowl from their haunts, and made even the stolid old bear gaze in astonishment at the scene being enacted before him. For a little distance the rafts kept pretty even, but before very long Ugly- Mug's drew slightly ahead, amid the triumphant yells of that sable worthy and the excited shouts of Morgan and Hubert, which were answered by defiant yells from the opposite party, who vainly endeavoured to put on a spurt and regain their lost ground.
As the flagship of the Rajah of Monkey Island drew ahead, the Krooman, who found it exceedingly difficult to direct his clumsy vessel, endeavoured to steer her across the bows of Dixon's catamaran, and take that stalwart coxswain's water; and he had nearly succeeded in this manoeuvre, when, through some default in the steering, the two rafts came violently into collision, and so fell foul of each other, much to the dismay and disgust of every one.
"Sheer off, old ebony-shanks!" yelled Hudson. "What do you mean by playing us this dirty trick?"
"It your fault! You no understand how to manage him!" retorted the excited Krooman. "Shove your long pole overboard and back him out of dis, or you smash up my wessel, sah!"
"I'll back you out of it in less than no time," said the marine, with a loud laugh; and suiting the action to the word he levelled one of the bamboo poles, and endeavoured to push Ugly-Mug overboard with it The Krooman, however, was as quick and active as a cat, and deftly avoided the pole, and then, before the heavy great marine could recover himself, he ran a pole full- tilt against that warrior's broad chest, and sent him flying overboard into the waters of the lake, beneath which he disappeared with a mighty splash, which pretty well drenched Dixon and Phillips with spray.
"Dat one for Massa White-shank! Shove him off! Shove him off!" yelled the Krooman. "Now we forge ahead and win de race eber so quick!"
Hubert and Morgan rushed to the assistance of their audacious black ally, and succeeded in getting their own catamaran free, when they promptly resumed their paddles and got their clumsy craft under weigh again. Meanwhile Dixon and Phillips, who were dying with laughter, were busily engaged in rescuing the luckless marine, and hauling him on board the raft again. Ugly-Mug's party now won the race easily, of course, but there is no doubt that they would have done so in any case. Hudson took his mishap very good-naturedly, for he felt that he had only suffered the fate which he had fully intended for the Krooman, and that the latter was justified in making reprisals.
After this queer regatta had ended, Hubert tried fishing off one of the catamarans, and managed to catch a few small trout and a large fish resembling a carp; and whilst this was going on, Francois went in search of wild honey and any other provender that might be likely to suit his epicurean palate. Our friends finished up the afternoon by a bathe, and it was resolved to leave one raft permanently on the waters of the lake, whilst the other was to be utilised for sea-fishing or chasing turtles—though with regard to the latter sport, our hero had resolved on issuing an order that it was on no account to be pursued off that portion of the coast of Monkey Island where Dixon had been swept out to sea by a powerful unknown current.
Week after week passed by, and it seemed to our castaways that the hope of being taken off by some vessel grew fainter and fainter. The flags were kept continually flying at Cape Bluff, but brought no response from any passing vessel. It is possible that one or two sails may have passed during the night hours, but in the daytime a very strict watch indeed was kept, and Hubert often climbed to the summit of Ashley Peak and took a long and careful survey of the great expanse of blue ocean that environed his little island kingdom. Nothing rewarded his patience and perseverance, however, and the weeks lengthened into months without a single sail being sighted. The Arabs did not return any more, which was a source of great comfort to the exiles; and they gradually accustomed themselves to looking upon the island as their home, exerting all their ingenuity and skill in making themselves as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. When the stock of gunpowder became absolutely exhausted, new devices had to be invented for killing game, and this was principally done by learning to hurl with great dexterity short heavy sticks somewhat resembling an Australian boomerang. In using these Ugly-Mug was especially skilful, and Hubert also in time became quite a proficient in wielding these novel weapons.
A great deal of our friends' spare time was taken up in hunting for the Frenchmen's buried treasure. Dixon was compelled again and again to read out the mysterious letter which had been found in the cave, and this recital always had the effect of stimulating the energy—and I am afraid the cupidity!—of our friends, and they would immediately sally forth on a fresh exploring expedition, determined to leave no stone unturned in their endeavours to lay bare the mysterious hidden booty. All their exertions, however, proved fruitless, and many of the party openly expressed the opinion that the Frenchman's letter was a hoax, and that he was one of those eccentric individuals who are fond of perpetrating jokes upon their deathbeds!
Hubert believed firmly in the existence of the buried treasure, and he attributed the non-finding of the Frenchman's body to its having been either buried or carried off by the predatory Arabs.
One morning at an early hour our hero and his followers were awoke by hearing the noise of firing at no great distance, and apparently coming from the direction of Reef Bay. In a moment every one was on his feet, for the consternation and alarm was general. A few charges of powder had been reserved for the use of the pistols if it should become necessary and hastily loading these weapons, and girding on their cutlasses, our friends, headed by Hubert and Dixon, sallied out from the bungalow and ran as hard as they could go in the direction of Reef Bay. In a few moments they had gained the beach, and saw to their astonishment that a miniature battle between two vessels was raging upon the clear, still waters. As far as could be seen through the smoke, one of the combatants appeared to be a small steamboat and the other a heavily-rigged dhow.
When Dixon's eyes fell upon the vessels, he stopped short and gasped out, "Why, I'm jolly well jiggered if it isn't our own steam-pinnace!"
"And t'other craft is the dhow that I was kidnapped aboard; I'd know her anywhere!" yelled Hudson, in the greatest excitement.
"Hurrah! hurrah! we're saved!" shouted our hero at the top of his voice, and raising his pistol into the air he fired it off—an example followed by Morgan.
These shots were apparently heard on board the pinnace, for a loud shout came sounding over the water from some one on board her.
At this moment the dhow hauled down her flag and surrendered, and the officers and men of the pinnace immediately proceeded to board and take possession of her. Whilst this was going forward, our hero and his companions ran along the beach at the top of their speed, and soon found themselves at no great distance from the vessels, which were now alongside each other, the English seamen being busily engaged in disarming and securing their Arab prisoners.
For it was indeed the pinnace of the Spiteful which had thus providentially appeared upon the scene in such an unexpected manner; and the dhow was really the one on board which Hudson had been taken as prisoner, and that had now met with a well-merited doom.
To our hero's great joy he discovered that his chum, Phil Paddon, was one of the officers in the pinnace, and that Mr. Archer, the lieutenant of his watch, was in command of the party. Very soon a boat was detached from the little steamer—which, together with the dhow, had now been anchored—and pulled rapidly towards the shore.
A few seconds later Hubert and his friend with beaming eyes were wringing each other's hands as if they would fain wring them off, whilst Dixon and his companions were exchanging joyous greetings with their shipmates in the boat.
It was indeed a happy, happy meeting!
The officers and men of the Spiteful had long given up all hope of ever finding their missing shipmates, for they had heard of the terrible gale that had raged in the Indian Ocean, and had come to the conclusion that the Indian Chief had foundered in it and gone to the bottom. Though fully imbued with this idea, a protracted but fruitless search was made before all hope was relinquished. The existence of the island had come as a great surprise upon Mr. Archer, who had been chasing the Arab dhow for days without being able to overhaul her. At daylight that morning Monkey Island had suddenly burst into view, and the lieutenant had not failed to observe the flags flying on Cape Bluff, and had determined to land and investigate matters as soon as he had captured the dhow. Then Hubert and his men appeared upon the scene, and the mystery was immediately cleared up.
Our hero and his chum were walking arm-in-arm a little way apart from the others.
"Do you know, Hubert, I think you've got rather jolly diggings here on the whole. I shouldn't mind living here for a few months at all."
"In many ways I've enjoyed it very much," answered the middy; "but when I tell you all our adventures, you'll have to acknowledge that it wasn't altogether a bed of roses. By the bye, Phil, have you heard anything from my people, or has the skipper?"
"Yes, we've had lots of letters from them, of course. You can't imagine what a state of mind they were in on hearing the news; but not one of them, I assure you, would believe that you were dead!"
"I'm so glad! It's just like them. How stunning it'll he writing to tell them that I'm all right. They'll pretty well stand on their heads with joy!"
"You'll be able to telegraph to them from Aden, for we're going there in a few days' time."
"That'll be jolly! By the bye, where is the Spiteful now, Phil?"
"We're to meet her at a certain rendezvous about three days' sail from here. Archer knows the latitude and longitude; I don't."
"Oh, I say, come and see our bungalow," cried Hubert; "it's no end of a swell place, and Ugly-Mug was the architect."
"What awful fun you must have had! I do so wish I had been with you!"
The boys ran off helter-skelter in the direction of the bungalow, and on the way thither Hubert gave his friend a brief outline of his adventures on Monkey Island. Paddon was much struck with the account of the cave and supposed buried treasure, and proposed that there should be a grand hunt for the latter. He was also much interested in hearing of the bear, and longed to see that sagacious beast, who had not as yet put in an appearance.
"I don't believe the skipper will ever let you take him on board the Spiteful, Hubert," he remarked.
"He must. I won't go without him! that's all I know about it. By the bye, Phil, we think that these rascally Arabs you've just captured may know something about the treasure. I told you about Hudson being kidnapped—well, these are the very identical fellows that did it."
"We'll just wring the truth out of them, then. I'll tell Archer all about it!"
Paddon was very much interested in seeing the bungalow, in the verandah of which François was found curled up; and Hubert made his friend laugh by telling him of Ugly-Mug's abhorrence of the bear, and how the two first met and had a race upon the sands!
From the bungalow the boys, followed closely by François, went to visit the cave, when the chest was duly examined, and a fruitless hunt made for treasure. Then, fearful that they had been absent too long, the pair ran back to Reef Bay as hard as they could go, and found that all preparations had been made for embarking. Mr. Archer warmly welcomed Hubert, and congratulated him on the many narrow escapes he had had. He stared, however, at the bear, and protested against having to take him with the party. It was at length settled, however, that the beast should be put on board the dhow, which was a roomy vessel—and this was done without any trouble. The pinnace then took her prize in tow, and steamed out from the anchorage.
"I've heard all about the buried treasure from Dixon," said the lieutenant to Hubert, "but I haven't much faith in the story, I can assure you, besides which I could not wait to search for it, as if I did we should probably miss the Spiteful at the rendezvous. I may tell you that we have closely examined the Arabs, and they declare that they know nothing about it; though they acknowledge that they found the last Frenchman dying in the cave, murdered him, laid their hands on everything valuable they could find, and then decamped, taking the dead body with them, which they afterwards buried upon the sea-shore."
"But the document, sir; have you seen it?"
The lieutenant laughed.
"Yes, I've seen it right enough," he said. "You may depend upon it the poor fellow was delirious when he wrote it.
"You may be right, sir; but I firmly believe in the existence of that treasure, and I'd like to go back and look for it some day."
"How quixotic boys are, to be sure! I suppose, however, one must make allowances for one who has been—but is now no longer—Rajah of Monkey Island!"
"You don't know what a stunning island it is, sir, or you wouldn't chaff about it. I hope the British Government will take possession of it. Look at the dinghy's ensign flying there on Cape Bluff!"
"It's an extraordinary thing that the island should never have been discovered," said the lieutenant,—"quite extraordinary; and I've no doubt the Admiralty will make a stir about it, for it might do for a coaling station, or something of the sort."
In three days' time, after an uneventful voyage, the Spiteful was discovered hove-to, and looking out for her absent boat. The joy and astonishment of every one on board at seeing Hubert and his companions may be imagined. They were simply overwhelmed with congratulations and kindness; and Captain Chetwynd was in such a high good humour that he made no difficulty about the bear, and his ursine majesty was duly installed on board, and made such a pet of by every one that he bid fair to be completely spoilt. Fortunately, however, the Spiteful was very soon afterwards ordered home to be paid out of commission. Before leaving Aden, Captain Chetwynd ordered the pirate Arabs to be tried before the courts, and they were condemned to long terms of imprisonment. They persisted to the last in affirming that they knew nothing of the Frenchmen's treasure. As soon as the trial was concluded, the Spiteful sailed for England.
THREE months after he had been at home—where he was looked upon as a perfect hero—Hubert received an unexpected letter from Morgan, telling him that he had actually inherited the expectant baronetcy, and was now Sir Frederick Davenant, and possessor of a fine property in Devonshire. The writer begged the middy to come and pay him a visit at once, and assured him of a warm welcome. A few days later, our hero—whose home was in Hampshire—set out in answer to this invitation, and on arriving at Tiverton station—near which Davenant Park was situated—found a brougham awaiting him, in which he was whirled away into the country. In half an hour the carriage drew up at the door of a charming old Tudor mansion, and Hubert sprang out and eagerly rang the bell. The door was almost immediately thrown open by a black servant attired in a gorgeous livery, and whose ace was beaming with a smile of welcome. To the middy's great astonishment he recognised Ugly-Mug!
"Why, Ugly-Mug!" he cried, in surprised tones, "how came you here? Have you really taken service with Sir Frederick?"
"Yes, sah, dat so!" answered the delighted Krooman, as he ushered in his masters young guest; "but, sah,"—bending down to whisper,—"please no call me by de ole name, 'cos I take de name in dis household ob Jeremiah—dat my title in de servant hall, sah; please excuse de liberty in speakin' ob him!"
"But why have you been given such a name as Jeremiah?" he asked.
"'Pon my word I don't know, sah; I tink it must be 'cos I sometimes 'blow de fire'!"
"Perhaps so! By the bye, where is Sir Frederick?"
"He bery sorry, sah; him call away on important business 'bout an hour ago. Come into de library, sah, nice fire der, and den I bring you some tea."
"How is the bear, Jeremiah? Sir Frederick wrote and told me that he would give him a home, and that he had built a nice house for him in the park."
"Oh yeth, de ole bar am alive and kickin', sah, and I tink him bery happy indeed; but you know he nebber like me—no, nebber!"
An hour later the baronet returned, and welcomed his young guest with the greatest cordiality and affectionate warmth. One of the first questions Hubert asked him was in what manner his family had met him on his return to England.
"Oh, nothing can exceed their politeness and attention now that I am a rich and influential personage," answered Sir Frederick, with a quiet but somewhat contemptuous smile; "I suppose that's the way of the world, or I should say, perhaps, the worldly majority. Now, Hubert, there's one thing I want to talk to you seriously about."
"What's that?" asked the middy, in surprise.
"You remember that mysterious document that the Frenchman left behind him on Monkey Island? Well, I've got it here"—tapping a box—"and I've read it over several times, and can't help thinking that there's something genuine about it."
"Of course there is," said our hero impetuously; "I firmly believe that the treasure lies buried somewhere on Monkey Island at this moment."
"Should you like to go out with me and Dixon and the rest of the party and search for it?"
"I should rather think so," replied Hubert emphatically, his eyes sparkling with excitement. "What a perfectly glorious adventure it would be!"
At this moment the Krooman entered with a letter, which he handed to his master upon a salver. As he passed Hubert, in order to leave the room, he bent down and whispered,—
"Please, sah, am it arrange wid dat gentleman dat you say write de book, dat de 'tory ob our adventure on Monkey Island sall be put in de print?"
"Yes, it's being written now, and you shall certainly have a copy of it when it's published."
"Oh, sah! as I say to you one time before, for de lub of Heaven leab out pore ole Ogly-Mog, for ebery one who read de book larf very mosh at de foolis' Krooboy! Oh, sah! leab him out."
"It's quite impossible, Ugly-Mug," exclaimed the ex-Rajah of Monkey Island, with a roar of laughter. "My friend says that by right you ought to be the hero of the yarn, and not me; and all I can say is that I jolly well agree with him!"
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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