THE ROCKING STONE

When I opened my eyes it was broad daylight, and at first I could not
remember where I was. But as I sat up I saw before me Nux and Bryonia,
seated calmly side by side, with the wilderness all around me and the
distant voices of the robbers echoing faintly in my ears. The sun was
up, for I could see it glinting through the trees; so, as a recollection
of my surroundings came back to me, I asked Bry what was going on.

He said the men were breaking camp, having slept late, and that
presently they were going to travel still further into the interior. I
could not imagine what they had in view, or where they expected to hide
from the vengeance of the men they had plundered; but Bry declared we
could follow them without ourselves being seen, so I decided not to give
up until we had tracked them to their hiding place—if, indeed, they had
one.

Presently we could see them tramping away to the southward, carrying the
gold and provisions they had tied up in the blankets. There must have
been two or three hundredweight of the gold, so the packages were heavy,
and they had to take turns carrying them. But men seldom feel
overburdened by the weight of gold, so we heard no complaints from the
bearers.

Bry went on alone, hiding behind rocks and trees but keeping the men
well in sight. After him trailed Nux, keeping Bry in sight; and then, as
far away as I dared, I followed Nux, trying to imitate the example of
the blacks and to hide myself as well as possible.

Before noon I grew hungry, for we had brought no provisions of any sort
with us. The robbers paused to lunch, and then went on; but although I
searched carefully, I could not find a morsel of food that they had cast
aside. Of water there was plenty, for we crossed several small streams;
but food began to be more precious than gold to me, and I vaguely
wondered if I should die of starvation before I got back to camp.

At evening the men made camp again, this time in a little clearing
strewn with fallen logs; and when Bry rejoined me in a clump of trees
where Nux and I had halted, I told him frankly that I was faint with
hunger, and that unless I could find something to eat I could not go on.
I have no doubt the blacks were hungry, too; but they were more inured
to hardship, and could bear it better.

But Bry volunteered to try to secure some food, and as soon as darkness
had fallen he crept toward the camp, managing to approach to within five
yards of the camp fire, around which the robbers sat smoking and
talking. He was concealed by a huge log, behind which he hid, listening
carefully to the conversation, which he afterward retailed to me.

“So far,” Larkin was saying, “we couldn’t have done better. By this time
I guess we’re pretty safe from pursuit.”

“No one could find their way here in a year,” boasted Daggett, his lean
face grinning with delight. “I’m the only man on the island as knows the
trails.”

“Are you sure you can lead us to that queer rock you tell of?” asked
Judson, a little uneasily.

“Sure. And once there, we could defy an army,” returned Daggett. “Then
we can make our raft, row out to where the ship is, and sail away home.”

Larkin gave a rude laugh, ending it with an oath.

“There’ll be some tall cussin’ in the camp,” he said.

“Major’ll be crazy,” assented Daggett.

“I swiped every grain o’ gold he had, while he lay a-snorin’,” chuckled
Hayes, a big ruffian who was called “Dandy Pete,” in derision, because
he was so rough and unkempt. “Pity we couldn’t ’a’ got all there was in
camp.”

“There’s enough to make us all rich, my boys, anyhow,” remarked Larkin.
“It’s nearly broke my back, luggin’ of it, an’ there’s only four of us
to divide.”

At this they seemed to grow thoughtful, and all sat silently smoking for
several minutes.

“What bothers me,” said Judson, breaking the silence, “is how we’re to
get that blasted ship into some civilized port. There ain’t a man here
as knows anything about sailin’.”

“That’s all right,” said Larkin, confidently. “The sun rises in the
east, don’t it? Well, all we’ve got to do is h’ist the sails and let the
wind blow us towards the east. Some time or other we’ll get to the
American continent, and then we can run down the coast to ’Frisco. It’s
no trouble to sail a ship.”

“We’ve got to get away, somehow,” grumbled Judson, “or our gold won’t be
of any use to us. When are we going to divide?”

“When we get on the ship,” said Daggett, promptly.

“When we’re at sea will be better,” added Larkin.

They looked at one another suspiciously.

“It’s got to be a fair divvy,” said Dandy Pete, with an oath, “or else
there won’t be so many to divide up with.”

“What do you mean by that?” demanded Larkin, angrily.

“I mean I’ll stick a knife in your ribs, if you try any trickery with
me,” replied Pete, scowling. “You made the terms yourself, and you’ve
got to live up to ’em. It’s a quarter each, all around.”

“That’s wrong!” yelled Daggett, springing to his feet. “I’m to have a
third, for guiding you. If it hadn’t been for me, you couldn’t get away
with the gold at all.”

“Who promised you a third?” asked Hayes.

“Larkin.”

“Well, let Larkin make it up to you, out of his own share. I’m going to
have a quarter.”

“And so am I,” said Judson, fingering his revolver.

Larkin glared at them with a white face.

“We won’t quarrel about it, boys,” he said, after a time. “There’s
plenty for all, and we must hang together till we’re out of danger. I’ll
take what you think is right, for my share.”

“I’ll take my third, an’ no less,” growled Daggett.

No one looked at him. Each seemed to be busy with his own thoughts.

Bryonia had chosen this especial log to hide behind, because the robbers
had placed their sack of provisions upon it. While listening to the
conversation I have recorded, the black had stealthily reached up his
hand and managed to extract from the bundle a tin of corned beef and a
handful of ship’s biscuits. Then he wriggled carefully away, and in a
few minutes had rejoined Nux and me, where we hid among the trees.

I think no food has ever tasted quite so delicious to me as did that
tinned beef and stale biscuit. When divided amongst three there was
little enough in each share, but it sufficed to allay our hunger and
give us fresh strength and courage.

After we had eaten, Bry decided to go back again for more, since another
opportunity to purloin from the bundle of provisions might not be
offered us.

As it was very dark by this time, Nux and I crept nearer, to where a big
rock lay; and here, hidden by the deep shadows, we were able to
distinguish clearly all that transpired around the camp fire.

Bry being between us and the light, we could follow his creeping form
with our eyes until we saw him lying safely hidden behind the log, with
the bundle of food just over him. By this time all the robbers had lain
down to sleep except Larkin, who had taken the watch and sat moodily
smoking beside the fire, on which he tossed now and then a handful of
fuel.

Suddenly, as he looked toward the sack that rested upon the log, he saw
it move. In an instant a pistol shot rang out, and the robbers sprang to
their feet with cries of alarm.

“Somebody’s behind that log!” shouted Larkin, who was himself trembling
with fear.

At once Bryonia arose to his feet, stepped over the log, and calmly
advanced into the light of the fire, holding out his hand in greeting
and smiling broadly into the angry faces confronting him.

“Don’ shoot poor Bry,” he said, pleadingly. “I’se run ’way to j’ine
you.”

“Run away!” exclaimed Larkin, while the others looked at the black
suspiciously. “Why did you do that?”

“So’s I won’ haf to work any mo’,” answered Bry. “Dey’s jest killin’ me
in dat camp, luggin’ bags o’ sand an’ washin’ gold all day.”

“Who came with you?” asked Daggett.

“Nobody ’t all,” declared Bry. “I seen yo’ all leave de camp, an’ so I
crep’ along after yo’. Wouldn’t have let yo’ know I was here, sure
’nough, but I got so hungry. I couldn’t stand it no longer, so I tried
to steal somefin’ to eat, an’ Mars Larkin he shot de gun at me.”

“How did you know we had quit the camp for good?” enquired Pete, in a
surly tone.

“Saw you take de gold, suh. So I ’pects you ain’t comin’ back agin’, an’
thought I’d j’ine yo’. If you’ll take me ’long an’ feed me, Mars Hayes,
I’ll help tote de gold.”

Bryonia’s statement was so simple that the miners were inclined to
believe him. Nux and I, who had crawled nearer to the fire when the
pistol shot rang out, could hear distinctly every word, and for a moment
I was horrified that Bry should prove false and desert to the enemy. But
Nux was chuckling gleefully, and whispered: “Dat Bry, he mighty clever
boy, Mars Sam!” So I began to comprehend that Bry was acting a part,
with the idea of saving Nux and me from discovery and ultimately
recovering the gold. Therefore I kept silent and listened eagerly.

Evidently the miners were not of one opinion concerning the new arrival.

“Let’s kill the nigger,” said Daggett. “Then we won’t run any chances.”

“Don’t be a fool,” retorted Larkin. “Bry can be useful to us. He’s the
cook of the ‘Flipper’, I’m told, and besides helping to carry the gold,
he can cook our meals when we get to sea, and help sail the ship.”

“If he’s run away from camp, why, he’s one of us,” said Judson, yawning
and sitting down again. “And if it comes to a fight, he counts for one
more on our side.”

“But he don’t get any gold,” added Dandy Pete.

“Not an ounce!” declared Daggett.

“Don’t want any gold,” said Bry, composedly. “Only want to get away.”

“All right,” decided Larkin. “You can come along. But you’ve got to obey
orders, and the first time I catch you at any tricks, I’ll put a bullet
into you.”

Bry grinned from ear to ear, as if he considered this a good joke, and
then he warmed his hands over the fire while Judson brought him
something to eat from the bundle.

Afterward all lay down to sleep again except Larkin, who resumed his
watch. It was too soon to put any trust in Bry, so the black, having
eaten his fill, lay down beside the others.

Nux and I cautiously retreated to the rock, and consulted as to what we
should do under these circumstances. The black man had perfect
confidence in his comrade, and proposed that we should still follow the
band of robbers and wait for Bry to find a way to communicate with us
and assist us. This seemed reasonable to me, also.

As we were chilled to the bones in the cold night air, Nux suggested
that we go into camp until morning, and led me a long distance back into
the woods, where we finally came to a deep hollow. Here there would be
little danger that a fire could be seen by the robbers; so we gathered
together some twigs, and as I had matches in my pocket a fire was soon
started that proved very grateful to us both. We then agreed to take
turns watching until daylight, and while Nux lay down to sleep I took
the first watch. But in some way—perhaps because the fire was so cosy
and agreeable,—I gradually lost consciousness, and when morning came
both Nux and I awoke with a start to find the fire out and the sun
glinting brightly through the trees.

We made all haste toward the camp of the robbers, but when we arrived at
the place we found it deserted. They could not have been gone long,
however, for the embers of the fire were still aglow; and Nux, who was
keen as a bloodhound on a trail, declared he would have no trouble in
following the band.

Before we left, however, we made a search for food, and to our joy
discovered behind the log a can of beans and some more biscuits, which
Bry had evidently found an opportunity to hide there for our benefit. We
began the chase even while we ate, for Nux picked out the trail with
ease and threaded his way between the trees with absolute confidence.

It was nearly noon when he halted suddenly.

We had come to the edge of the forest. Before us lay a broad table-land,
barren of any trees or brush whatever, and beyond this strip of rock the
blue sea stretched away to the horizon.

“Why, we’ve crossed the island!” I exclaimed.

“Only one end of de island,” corrected Nux. “De bay where our ship lays
ain’t half a mile away.”

It surprised me that the shrewd black should know this, but I did not
question his statement. Just now my attention was drawn to the robbers,
who had halted upon the further edge of the table-land, which even from
where we stood, could be seen to form a high bluff above the ocean. At
this place it ran out into a little point, and just beyond this point,
but separated from the mainland by a wide gulf, stood an island-like
peak of rock, its flat surface on a level with the bluff. It must at one
time have formed a part of the mainland, but some convulsion of nature
had broken it away, and now a deep fissure isolated it from the bluff.

Nature was responsible for two other curious freaks. One was a group of
tall pines, three in number, which grew on the separate peak where there
seemed scarcely enough soil covering the rock to hold the roots of the
trees. Yet on the main bluff there were no trees at all.

The other phenomenon was a great rock, that must have weighed thousands
of tons, which lay upon the edge of the bluff so nicely balanced that it
almost seemed as if a good push would precipitate it into the gulf
below. It was triangular in shape, and the base rested on the bluff
while its outer point projected far over the gulf till it towered almost
above the isolated point of rock I have described.

The robbers, when we first saw them, were engaged in earnest
consultation. It appeared that Daggett was explaining something about
the great rock, for he pointed toward it several times, and then at the
islet. The others leaned over the edge of the gulf, looked into the
chasm below, at the triangular rock, at the barren islet, and then drew
back and shook their heads.

Then Daggett, whom I had always considered a coward, did what struck me
as being a very brave act. He climbed upon the sloping rock, and
gradually crept upward on his hands and knees. When he reached a point
above the center the huge rock began to tremble. Daggett crept a little
further along, and now the entire mass of rock, which was poised to a
nicety, raised its vast bulk and tipped slowly outward. Daggett slid
forward; the point of rock under him touched the islet and came to rest,
and then he leaped off and stood safely upon the peak, while the
rocking-stone, relieved of his weight, slowly returned to its former
position.

A cheer went up from the men, and they hesitated no longer. Bry crept up
the stone next, and was tipped gracefully upon the islet. One after
another Hayes, Judson and Larkin mounted the rocking-stone and were
deposited upon the rocky point, together with their bundles of gold and
provisions.

We could not see very well what became of them, after this, for the big
rock hid them from our view; but as it was evident they could not get
back again—at least by the same means they had employed to reach the
islet,—Nux and I made bold to creep out of our shelter and approach the
point that jutted outward into the sea.

Then, to our surprise, we saw that the flat top of the rock was
deserted. The robbers, together with Bry and the treasure, seemed to
have vanished into thin air!

Continue Reading

THE OUTLAWS

There were many curious characters at the camp, as I suppose there are
everywhere that a number of men are gathered together. I used to amuse
myself studying the various phases of human nature that came under my
observation, with the result that some men attracted me and some
repelled me.

Aside from the miserly Daggett the man who caused me the most trouble
was the surly, scowling Larkin, whom the Major had threatened to shoot
on sight if he did not pay me for everything he obtained at my shop. He
was a lazy fellow, and did not seem to get ahead as fast as his
companions, for that reason. Sometimes, in the heat of the afternoon, he
would strike work and come into my hut, where he threatened and bullied
me and cast longing glances at the sacks of gold I had accumulated.
Uncle Naboth, who, by the way, labored doggedly day after day, as he was
commanded, often warned me against Larkin, but I had no fears, being
assured the Major would protect me from the villain’s hatred.

One or two others—Hayes and Judson, for instance—were evidently
disreputable characters, and affected the society of Larkin when they
were not at work. But in the main the miners were decent enough fellows,
and seemed to have no thought above securing a fortune from the wealth
of the golden sands. They paid me liberally, were just in their
dealings, and labored industriously day by day so as to lessen the time
of their captivity upon the island.

In the evenings the officers and crew of the “Flipper” were wont to
gather in my hut, where they smoked their pipes and conversed more or
less gloomily together. None of them, however, was greatly distressed at
his fate, and it was wonderful how cheerful Uncle Naboth remained
through it all. His silent merriment and sly winks were by no means
lacking in these days of tribulations and hard work, and he found many
opportunities to exercise his keen sense of humor. In one way his
fortunes were really prospering, and each evening he weighed out the
day’s receipts, in golden grains, and calculated the profits to us on
the sales. I suppose these must have been satisfactory, for he never
complained.

I always slept in my hut, surrounded by the store of merchandise and my
sacks of gold; but the rest of the crew of the ship had huts of their
own, Nux and Bryonia occupying one together.

One night, after I had been asleep for some hours, I was suddenly
awakened by the muzzle of a pistol pressed close to my forehead. I
opened my eyes, and saw Larkin standing beside me. A tallow candle had
been lighted in the hut, and I could see his evil features distinctly.

“Now, my lad,” said he, “keep quiet an’ you won’t get hurt. But if you
raise any rumpus or make a sound, I’ll blow your brains out.”

So I lay quiet but I kept my eyes open and eagerly watched what was
taking place in the room. Besides Larkin, there were present Daggett,
Judson and Hayes—the worst characters in the camp. While Larkin remained
beside me to threaten me with his pistol, the others spread out a
blanket and dumped into it every sack of gold I possessed. This they
secured by tying the corners of the blanket together. Next they spread
another blanket and threw into it a quantity of canned meats and other
provisions, afterwards tying them up as they had the gold. Then Hayes
took the pistol and stood guard over me while the others crept from the
hut. They were back in a few minutes, however, bearing another blanket
heavily loaded. And now Larkin resumed his place beside me and the
others caught up the three parcels and after extinguishing the candle
slipped out of the doorway. There was a moon outside, I knew, but it was
quite dark in the hut, and the consciousness of being at the mercy of
the scoundrel beside me sent cold shivers creeping up my spine.

After waiting a few moments in silence Larkin spoke.

“Look a-here, Sam,” he said gruffly, but in a low voice, “we’ve took
some gold and other stuff, as ye know; but we ain’t goin’ to do murder
unless we has to. If you’ve got sense enough to keep still for a solid
hour, an’ make no fuss, you’ll live to get as much gold, or more, as
we’ve just grabbed. But if you try to raise the camp, or foller us, I’ll
kill you before you know it. Now, I’m goin’ to stand outside the door
for a solid hour—you lay still an’ count sixty seconds to a minute an’
sixty minutes to an hour. If you move before that, you’re a dead one;
after the hour ye can howl all ye please, and the louder the better. I
ought to stick a knife into you now; but I guess I’ll wait outside the
door, an’ see if you mind what I tell you.”

Then with a threatening flourish of his pistol, he slunk away, and as
soon as he was outside the door I rose up and followed.

I knew he was lying, well enough, and that his threats were merely meant
to terrify me into keeping silent until he escaped. He considered me a
mere boy, and believed I would be too frightened to cause him any
trouble.

But where could he and his fellow thieves go? How could they penetrate
the wild thicket? That was the question that puzzled me. And then I
remembered that Daggett was with them, who was reputed to be able to
travel at will throughout the interior of the island.

When I reached the door and looked around I could at first see no signs
of the man who had just left me. Then I discovered a dark form creeping
along the edge of the jungle, and at once I sprang into the shade myself
and crept after him. He was going slowly, and in my eagerness I closed
up most of the distance between us, until I was dangerously near. But he
did not look around, and while my eyes were fastened upon him he dropped
to his knees, pushed aside a thick bush, and disappeared into the
thicket.

That was all the information I wanted, just then; so I hastily marked
the place by heaping a mound of sand before the bush, and then ran back
to my hut as fast as I could go. I was terribly humiliated at being
robbed so coolly of the gold that had been placed in my care, and rashly
resolved that I would recover it by my own efforts, without disturbing
the slumbers of my uncle or the Major. So, entering the hut, I secured
three revolvers, of the Colt type, and several boxes of cartridges for
them, all of which I had secretly smuggled from the ship and hidden
among the groceries, for the Major had forbidden any of our crew having
fire-arms. I had thought that an emergency might arise, some time, when
these revolvers would be useful to us, and now I blessed my foresight in
secreting them.

Having secured the weapons I ran quickly to the hut of Nux and Bryonia,
and cautiously awakened them. At my first touch Bry sprang into the air
and alighted on his feet.

“What’s matter, Mars Sam?” he demanded.

“I’ve been robbed, Bry!” I panted.

“Robbed!” echoed Nux, who was now beside us.

“Yes; Larkin and his gang have taken every bag of our dust.”

Through the dim light I could see their white eyeballs glaring at me in
amazement.

“What you goin’ do, Mars Sam?” asked Bry.

“I’m going to give chase, and make the rascals give it back. That is, if
you will be my friends, and stand by me,” I said. “By daybreak every bag
must be in my hut again.”

“Sure ’nough,” murmured Nux.

“We ready, Mars Sam,” announced Bry, quickly.

“Then take these revolvers, and follow me.”

I gave a weapon to each, having hastily loaded them; and then I turned
away, followed by the dark forms of the two Sulus.

“They’re thieves, you know; burglars and outlaws,” I said. “So if we
have to shoot them down, no one can blame us.”

They made no answer to this remark, and soon we had left the camp behind
and reached the bush underneath which Larkin had disappeared. In a low
voice I related what I had seen, and Bryonia, who was a master of
woodcraft, at once dropped to his knees and vanished into the thicket. I
followed closely after him, and Nux brought up the rear. After creeping
a few paces through the underbrush Bry grasped my hand and raised me to
my feet, and I discovered that we were now in a well-defined but narrow
path which allowed us to stand upright.

It was dark as pitch in the grim forest, and we could only feel our way
along; but it was not possible for us to get off the path, which had
doubtless been cut by Daggett to afford his entrance into the interior
of the island, and if our progress was slow those whom we pursued could
not proceed at much greater speed themselves; so we crept along,
stumbling over roots and tearing our clothes by brushing against the
briars on either side, for a period of nearly an hour. Bryonia glided
before us as stealthily as a panther, and often I was not certain but
that he had left us far behind; but Nux made as much noise as I did, and
puffed much harder to get his breath, so I did not fear being abandoned
in the black wilderness.

The ground seemed to rise gradually as we penetrated into the wild
interior, but the path remained as narrow as at first. Now that my first
excitement and indignation had cooled, this midnight pursuit began to
look doubtful of result. The robbers knew the way much better than we
did, and they were so far ahead of us that we heard no sound of any sort
to guide us. More than once I was tempted to abandon the chase, for my
folly in undertaking it grew more and more evident; but the two blacks
had no thought of turning back, and I was ashamed to call a halt.

Suddenly I ran plump into Bryonia, who grasped my arm as firmly as if it
were in a vice, and held me rigid. Nux immediately ran into me, but
stopped short at the moment of contact.

“What is it, Bry?” I asked, in a whisper.

“Look!” he answered, and swung me around in front of him. Then, as I
peered into the darkness, a faint ray of light became visible. In a
moment I perceived that it was growing bigger and brighter, and then I
knew what it meant.

“They’ve gone into camp, and lit a fire!” said I, pleased to have
overtaken them.

“Dey do’n’ know we’s coming,” chuckled Nux, from behind.

But Bry stood like a statue, holding fast to my shoulders and peering
over my head at the enemy. We could now see that the forest was much
thinner here than at the point we had entered, and just beyond, in a
little hollow where Larkin and his men were encamped, the trees grew
quite scattered.

“Our best plan,” said I, after a moment’s thought, “will be to creep up
to them and make a sudden attack.”

“One, two, free, fou’,” counted Bry, in his deep voice. “No use to
’tack, Mars Sam. Dey got guns, an’ kill us all quick.”

“We have our revolvers,” I suggested, rather disappointed at his
prediction.

“Nux an’ I _might_ hit somefin’, an’ we might not,” said Bry. “If we hit
somefin’ it might be a man, an’ it might not.”

This was discouraging, and it called to mind the fact that I was not
much used to fire-arms myself.

“Still, I don’t mean to go back without doing something to recover our
gold,” said I.

“Wait!” whispered the black, and swung me around back of him again. How
he managed this I do not know, for the path was very narrow. Next moment
he disappeared, as if the earth had swallowed him up.

Nux gave a laugh, and sat down upon the ground. After a few moments I
followed suit, squatting in the place I had been standing, for even from
that distance I could see by the flickering firelight the dim forms of
the robbers gathered around it.

And now I perceived that Bry’s decision was wise. We were too far from
camp to expect assistance in case of an emergency, even if our friends
succeeded in finding the entrance to the jungle that was so cleverly
concealed under the bush. So whatever was to be done must be done by
ourselves—a boy and two black men against four desperate and well-armed
villains, who would stop at no crime to retain the gold they had stolen.

Evidently they did not fear pursuit now, for we could hear the murmur of
their voices as they laughed and shouted at one another.

We waited in silence for a long time, and as the gloom of the silent
forest became intensified by the distant light I began to feel for the
first time a thrill that was akin to fear.

Finally I noticed a black body wriggling its way toward us through the
brush like some huge snake, and a moment later Bryonia stood before me.

“I creep close an’ hear what dey say, Mars Sam,” he reported. “Dey goin’
watch all night. I watch, too. Tomorrow maybe we catch ’em. You an’ Nux
go sleep.”

I protested at once that I was not sleepy; but Bry led us away from the
path to a quiet place where he had found a bank of moss, and here he
cautioned us to remain quietly. He himself crept once again toward the
camp fire, and a moment later was wholly invisible. Nux whispered to me
tales of Bryonia’s skill as a woodsman, wherein it seemed he had
excelled in his native land; but they grew monotonous, in time, and
before I knew it I had fallen fast asleep on the mossy bank.

Continue Reading

THE SANDS OF GOLD

The sun had now arisen and flooded the scene with its glorious rays. We
were given some of the coffee and a scant allowance of food for our
breakfast, the care with which the latter was doled out being evidence
that our captors did not know that the “Flipper” was loaded down with
provisions.

As soon as the meal was concluded we all gathered around the Major’s hut
again, and he began to make us an address.

“At the conference held last evening,” he began, in his smooth tone, “we
decided to allow you to choose your own fate. It is death on the one
hand, and life as our paid employees on the other. What do you say?”

“We’d like to know, sir,” said Uncle Naboth, “what you are doing on this
island?”

“Washing gold.”

“Gold!”

“To be sure,” said the Major. “Are you so ignorant that you cannot see
that these sands upon which you are standing are wonderfully rich in
gold?”

“Why, I hadn’t noticed,” said my uncle, and then we all curiously stared
at the bright billows of sand that filled the beach on both sides of the
inlet.

“It will do no harm to explain to you how we came here, and what we are
doing,” said the Major. “It will help you to make your decision.”

“Seems like a queer place to look for gold,” said Uncle Naboth,
reflectively. “But even then I can’t see why you’ve treated us like you
have, or why you’re so blamed secret about the thing.”

“Can’t you?” was the reply. “Then I must jog your reason with a few
sensible suggestions. Every gold field yet discovered has been a magnet
to draw men from every part of the civilized world. The result has been
that the first discoverers seldom profit to any extent, while the horde
they draw around them get the lion’s share. That has been our experience
time and time again, for every member of our band is an experienced
miner. We’ve been crowded from Colorado to Idaho, from Idaho to
California, from California to the Black Hills, and back again. Finally
we got word of a rich find of gold in Alaska; so, banding together, we
chartered an old ship and started for the Yukon. On the way we
encountered a gale that blew us to this island. We don’t know what
island it is, and we don’t care. While our vessel was undergoing repairs
we rowed up the inlet, as you did, and discovered these sands, which are
marvelously rich with grains of pure gold. Before your eyes, gentlemen,
lies the greatest natural accumulation of gold the world has ever
known.”

He paused, after this impressive statement, and again we looked around
wonderingly.

“We can’t get it all, that’s true,” resumed the Major; “but we have
decided to stay here and defend our secret until each one of us has
secured an independent fortune. Then the swarms of gold-hunters can
settle here as thickly as they please. Of course we had our tools with
us, and a good supply of provisions; so we were glad to let Alaska take
care of itself and go to work washing out the wealth that lay at our
feet. We knew the food wouldn’t last till we were ready to leave here,
so we decided to send the ship home for more provisions. The captain was
bound to secrecy by promise of a big share for himself, but soon after
he sailed away a great storm arose, and probably the old, leaky craft
never weathered it, for that was over a year ago, and no ship has
reached this harbor until yours appeared.”

We listened to this recital with eager interest, for it explained much
that had puzzled us. And Uncle Naboth remarked:

“It’s a strange story, sir. But I don’t see why you treated us as
enemies when we came here.”

“Suppose you had been prospectors, like ourselves. What would become of
our secret then?”

“But we’re not,” was the reply.

“It was even possible our captain might have reached shore and betrayed
us. In that case you might be the forerunners of an army of invaders. We
couldn’t take the chances, sir. We’ve been disappointed too many times.
But it appears that you were merely the victims of the elements, and
like ourselves were driven to this shore in a gale. So the only danger
to be feared from you is your getting away before we’re ready to go with
you. That was why we hesitated between murdering you and using your
services to enable us to accomplish our task sooner than we otherwise
could. We are not cut-throats, believe me, nor do we care to be
responsible for the death of so many decent men. But the lust for gold
has made my fellows desperate, and with immense fortunes within their
grasp they will stick at nothing to protect themselves and their
treasure.”

“That’s only natural,” growled Uncle Naboth.

“I’m glad to find you so reasonable,” said the Major. “Having discovered
this field ourselves, we do not intend to share the gold with anyone;
but we will make you a reasonable proposition. We will pay each one of
you two dollars a day, in grains of gold, for your labor, and you must
buckle to and help us to get out the gold. We will also pay you, in
gold, for whatever provisions you have on your ship, or other supplies
we may need. And when we have enough to satisfy ourselves, and are ready
to sail back to civilization, we will pay you a reasonable price for
passage in your ship. That seems to me to be fair and square. What do
you say?”

“Why,” answered Uncle Naboth, with a gasp, “that’s all we could look for
if we got to Alaska. We’re traders, sir, an’ expect to make our money in
trade. The only thing we object to is workin’ like dogs to wash gold for
somebody else.”

“You’ll have to put up with that objection,” returned the man, dryly.
“Your labor will shorten our stay here a full year, and it’s the penalty
you must suffer for being in our power.”

My uncle turned to his crew.

“What do you say, boys?” he asked.

Some grumbled, and all looked grave; but a glance at the lowering faces
of the miners assured them that discretion was the better part of valor,
so they yielded a reluctant consent to the arrangement.

“There’s one p’int, howsomever, as I should like to argufy,” said Uncle
Naboth. “This here lad’s too small an’ delicate to work at the washin’,
an’ somebody’s got to give out the provisions an’ collect the pay for
’em. Let him out o’ the deal, sir, an’ make him clerk o’ the supplies.”

“I will agree to that,” said the Major, promptly. “When we get back to
the States we don’t want to have anything against our record; so this
bargain shall be kept faithfully on our side. I’ll prepare a paper,
which every man here must sign, stating that you accept the agreement
freely and without compulsion, and will be satisfied with your wages and
the payment for your groceries and supplies. Also you must each one take
an oath not to betray to anyone the whereabouts of this island after you
leave it, for it will be a valuable possession to us even after we’ve
taken enough gold from it to make us rich. Meantime you’ll be well
treated, but carefully watched. To some extent you’ll be, morally, our
prisoners; but the only hardship you will suffer is to labor hard for a
few months at a small salary.”

“That’s agreeable, sir,” said my uncle; and the men accepted the
arrangement with more or less grace.

Then the conference broke up. Our sailors, as well as Captain Gay, the
mate and my uncle, were at once set to work washing gold on the banks of
the inlet, their numbers being distributed among the miners, who showed
them what to do and supervised the work. It appeared that all the gold
gathered by our people was to go into a common pot, to be distributed
equally among our captors; but each miner worked for himself alone, and
was entitled to whatever he secured. In this way a premium was set upon
individual industry, and they worked eagerly and persistently, at the
same time insisting that the “Flipper’s” crew did not loiter.

The Major, whose influence over his rough comrades was undoubted,
retired within his tent to draft the paper we were to sign, and I, left
to my own devices, wandered here and there, watching the men and
wondering what would be the outcome of this singular adventure.

At noon the paper was ready, and it set forth clearly and fairly the
terms of the agreement. We were all required to sign it, as well as
every miner in the camp, and then the Major took possession of it, there
being no duplicate.

After the midday meal six of our sailors were selected to man the long
boat, and then accompanied by the Major, who was fully armed, and by
myself, they rowed down the inlet to the harbor, and we boarded the
ship.

I selected such of the provisions as were most needed by the half
starved miners, and also carried away a number of blankets, as the
nights were chill and the blankets would prevent much suffering.

Two trips we made that afternoon, and when the miners stopped work for
the day I had quite a heap of groceries piled upon the sands. Instantly
they surrounded me, clamoring for supplies, which I served to each man
as he demanded them.

They paid me in grains of pure gold, which they drew from sacks, old
stockings tied with a string, and even pockets cut from their clothing.
How much to demand I did not know, and some paid me too much, I suppose,
and some too little. One of them, a low browed, black bearded fellow
called Larkin, obtained a quantity of goods and then said he would pay
me some other time; but the Major insisted that I be paid then and
there. So the man laid down a pinch of gold, saying it was enough, and I
was about to accept it when the Major drew his revolver and said,
quietly:

“This is a fair deal, Larkin. Shell out!”

The fellow uttered a string of angry oaths, but he added to his first
offering until his leader was satisfied, and then went away vowing “to
get even with the robbers.”

To avoid further trouble, I brought a small pair of scales from the ship
next day. They were not very accurate, I fear, but they were much better
than guesswork. The Major and I figured out exactly what weight of gold
should stand for a dollar, and I was allowed to put my own price on our
supplies; but I took care not to be exorbitant in my demands, and most
of the men expressed themselves as well satisfied with the arrangement.

As a good share of the provisions would suffer by being left out in the
night air, it was decided to build a warehouse for my use: “a reg’lar
grocery store,” Uncle Naboth described it; so the men all set to work,
and under the direction of our ship’s carpenter soon constructed a roomy
and comfortable hut for this purpose. By repeated trips to the ship in
the long boat, I soon accumulated a good stock of everything our cargo
represented, and by taking off the covers of the boxes and then piling
them on their edges, in rows, I soon made my hut look like a prosperous
mercantile establishment. Surplus and unopened boxes were utilized to
form a counter in front of my stock, and here I placed my scales and
weighed the gold that was offered in payment.

The men were as prodigal as all miners are, and denied themselves
nothing so long as they had gold to pay for it. So my stock gradually
increased in gold and diminished in merchandise, and the men were well
fed and comfortable.

But the sands upon which we so carelessly trod were wonderfully rich in
the precious metal, and any sort of industry was sure to be repaid
enormously by the glittering grains scattered about. It was not dust,
you understand, but tiny grains resembling those of granulated sugar.
The richest yield was derived from the sands at the bottom of the
shallow inlet, and the practice of the miners was to wade a little way
into the stream, scoop up a basin off the sandy bottom and wash it until
only the specks of sparkling metal remained. As it was difficult to care
for this properly, I brought from the ship a quantity of sail-cloth,
which I made, during my leisure moments, into stout bags, about the size
of salt-sacks, sewing the seams firmly. These bags I sold readily to the
miners, who, when they filled one, would usually bury it beneath the
sand in their hut, so that it would be safe. I did not do this with my
supply, however, but piled my sacks into an empty box in one corner of
my grocery store, feeling sure there would be no theft of them in the
confines of our little camp. Neither did the Major secrete his hoard,
which lay plainly in sight of anyone who entered his hut; and the
Major’s store of gold was enormous because he took charge of all that
our men washed out, until the time for final division should arrive.

There was no game of any sort, that we knew of, upon the island; but the
men caught plenty of fish in the upper part of the inlet and in the bay
upon the ocean frontage. The thickets surrounding our camp were
considered absolutely impenetrable, on account of the underbrush and
creeping vines that formed such a thick network at the foot of the
trees. Yet there was a man named Daggett who, it was rumored, had found
a way to traverse the forest with comparative ease.

This Daggett was quite a remarkable person, and enters now into my
story.

He was a thin, withered little man, about fifty years of age who had
been an unsuccessful miner all his life until now. So eager was he, at
first, to take advantage of the great opportunities here afforded to
secure a fortune, that he would work by moonlight washing gold, while
his companions slept and rested from their labors. But soon he conceived
an idea that these golden sands were deposited from some point in the
mountains of the interior of the island, where solid gold abounded in
enormous quantities. So he quit washing, and began a search for the
imaginary “mountain of gold,” cutting a secret path through the thicket
to the more open interior, and passing day after day in his eager quest.
At first he urged some of his comrades to join him, but they only
laughed at his idea, being well content to obtain the coveted gold in an
easy way, where it lay plainly before their eyes.

But Daggett did not desist, spending day after day in roaming through
the wild hills in his fruitless search. During the time he lost in this
way his mates were accumulating a vast store of golden grains, while
Daggett was as yet only in possession of the result of his first eager
labors; and after I opened my grocery store he was obliged to exchange
pinches of his small substance for supplies, so that it gradually
dwindled away to a mere nothing. He haggled so over the price of every
article he secured that his fellows jeered him unmercifully, calling him
“the miser” and berating him for neglecting his opportunities. Indeed,
the poor fellow was well-nigh desperate, at the last, for he alone of
all the camp was still poor, and his only salvation, he considered, was
to find the hills of solid gold before the time came for all to abandon
the island. So he was gone for days, returning to camp to secure
provisions; and no one knew where he wandered or seem to care.

Continue Reading

THE MAJOR

Presently we shot into the opening and passed swiftly up the smooth
waters of the inlet. The hills were gradually sloping, at first, and we
could look into the tangled mass of forest that lay on either hand. But
soon the sides of the channel became rocky and precipitous, rising
higher and higher until we found ourselves in a deep gorge that wound
between gigantic overhanging cliffs. The waters of the inlet were still
smooth, but it narrowed perceptibly, all the time curving sharply to the
right and then to the left in a series of zig-zags; so that every few
minutes we seemed to be approaching a solid rocky wall, which suddenly
disclosed a continuation of the channel to right angles with it,
allowing us to continue on our course.

It was indeed necessary to watch out, in such a place as this, for we
were passing through the heart of the mountain, and could not tell from
one moment to another what lay before us.

There was barely room on each side for the sweep of the oars, so that we
had to pull straight and carefully; but after a time the deep gloom in
which we were engulfed began to lighten, and we were aware that the
slope of the mountain was decreasing, and we were approaching its
further side.

On and on we rowed, twisting abruptly this way and that, until suddenly,
as we turned a sharp corner and shot into open, shallow water, the
adventure culminated in a mighty surprise.

We were surrounded by a band of men—big, brawny fellows who stood waist
deep in the water and threw coils of rope about us before we were quite
aware of their presence. At the same time they caught the boat and
arrested its progress, jerking the oars from the hands of our rowers and
making us fast prisoners.

Only Bryonia was quicker than the men who sought to entrap him. Before
the noose could settle over his shoulders he leaped into the air and
dove headlong beneath the water. But the brave attempt to escape was all
in vain, for as he rose to the surface a dozen hands caught him and drew
him to the shore, where, despite his struggles, he was bound as securely
as the rest of us.

So unexpected was the attack and so cleverly were we mastered that
scarcely a word was uttered by our little party as we stared in
astonishment into the rough and bearded faces of our captors. Only
Captain Gay muttered a string of naughty words under his breath; the
rest were silent, and Uncle Naboth, bound round and round with rope so
that he could not move, sat in his seat and looked across at me with one
of his quaintest winks, as if he would cheer me up in this unexpected
crisis.

Nor had a word been spoken by the men who entrapped us. Wading slowly
through the water, they drew our boat to a sandy shore and beached it,
while we looked curiously around upon the scene that was now clearly
unfolded to our view.

The cliffs had ended abruptly, and the center of the island, flat and
broad, lay stretched before us. The waters of the inlet from here became
shallow, and a wide beach of strangely bright sands extended for two
hundred feet on either side of it. Then came the jungle, thick and
seemingly impenetrable, beyond which all was unknown. Straight and
without a ripple the water lay before as a full quarter of a mile,
disappearing thence into the forest.

On the thick sands of the east shore, where we now were, a number of
rude huts had been erected, shaped something like Indian tepees and made
of intertwined branches covered with leaves from the forest. These stood
in a row near to the edge of the jungle, so as to take advantage of its
shade.

But more strange than all this was the appearance of the men who had
bound us. They were evidently our own countrymen, and from their dress
and manners seemed to be miners. But nearly all were in rags and
tatters, as if they had been long away from civilization, and their
faces were fierce and brutal, bearing the expression of wild beasts in
search of prey.

One of them, however, who stood upon the beach regarding us silently and
with folded arms, was a personage so remarkable that he instantly
riveted our attention. His height was enormous—at least six feet and
three inches—and his chest was broad and deep as that of ancient
Hercules. He was bearded like a gorilla with fiery red hair, which
extended even to his great chest, disclosed through the open grey
flannel shirt. There was no hat upon his head, and he wore no coat; but
high boots were upon his feet and around his waist a leathern belt stuck
full of knives and revolvers.

No stage pirate, no bandit of Southern Europe, was ever half so
formidable in appearance as this terrible personage. He stood motionless
as a pillar of stone, but his little red eyes, quick and shrewd, roved
from one to another of our faces, as if he were making a mental estimate
of each one of us—like the ogre who selected his fattest prisoner to
grace his pot-pie.

I own that I shuddered as his glance fell upon me; and we were all more
or less disquieted by our rough seizure and the uncertainty of the fate
that awaited us.

This man—the red giant—was undoubtedly the leader of the outlaw band,
for having pulled our boat upon the beach and dragged Bryonia to a
position beside it, all eyes were turned enquiringly upon him.

He strode forward a few steps, fixed his eyes firmly upon Uncle Naboth,
and said:

“Did you leave anyone aboard the ship?”

I gave a start of surprise. The voice of the huge bandit was as gentle
and soft as that of a woman.

“No,” said my uncle.

“I guess, Major, we’ve got ’em all now,” remarked one of the men.

The giant nodded and turned again to Uncle Naboth.

“You must pardon us, sir, for our seeming rudeness,” said he, with a
politeness that seemed absolutely incongruous, coming from his coarse,
hairy lips. “My men and I are in desperate straights, and only desperate
remedies will avail to save us. I beg you all to believe that we have no
personal enmity toward you whatever.” Then he turned to his men, and
with a wave of his hand added: “Bring them along.”

[Illustration: Captured by the gold-hunters.]

Thereat we were jerked from our seats in the boat and led away over the
sands toward the edge of the jungle. I noticed that our arms and
provisions, being confiscated, were carried into one of the huts, but we
ourselves were dragged past these and through an opening in the trees
just large enough to admit us single file.

A few steps from the edge we entered a circular clearing, perhaps a
dozen paces in diameter, hemmed in on all sides by a perfect network of
tangled brushwood and vines. Here, to our great joy, we came upon our
lost comrades, all seated at the base of slender trees, to which they
were bound by stout ropes.

“Hurrah!” cried Bill Acker, a smile lighting his careworn face. “It’s a
joy to see you again, my boys, although you seem to have fallen into the
same trap we did.”

“Beg parding, Cap’n, for getting myself caught,” said Net Britton, quite
seriously. “The brutes jumped me so quick I hadn’t time to fire a shot.”

“All right, Ned; you’re not to blame,” said Captain Gay, and while we
were interchanging greetings our captors were busily engaged in securing
us to trees, in the same manner the others were bound. We protested,
very naturally, at such treatment, but the men, surly and rough,
answered us not a word, and after making sure we could not get away they
withdrew and left us alone.

As the trees to which we were fastened were at the edge of the clearing
we were seated in a sort of circle, facing one another.

“Well, boys,” said Uncle Naboth, “here’s a pretty kettle o’ fish, I must
say! The whole crew o’ the ‘Flipper,’ officers an’ men an’ supercargo,
has been caught like so many turtles, an’ turned on their backs; an’ all
we can do is to kick and wish we had our legs agin.”

We all seemed rather ashamed of ourselves. Captain Gay heaved a most
dismal sigh, and turning to Acker asked:

“Who are these people, Bill?”

“Can’t say, I’m sure, Tom. We rowed up the inlet, not expecting any
danger, when suddenly the whole lot jumped us and made us prisoners in
the wink of an eye. They brought us before a red devil called the Major,
who pumped us to find out how many men were aboard ship. When we refused
to give them any information they brought us to this place, and here
we’ve been ever since, fast bound and half starved, for I guess the
fellows haven’t much to eat themselves.”

“How did they come here?” asked my uncle.

“Really, sir,” replied Acker, “they haven’t told us one word about
themselves.”

“Fer my part,” said Ned Britton, speaking in his deliberate manner, “I
think these pirates has been spyin’ on us ever since we anchored in the
bay. They must have a path over the mountains that we don’t know of, for
when the mate come up the inlet in the gig they was ready an’ waitin’
for him, and he didn’t have a chance to resist. ’Twere the same with me,
sir. I crep’ along the edge o’ the channel, goin’ slow an’ swingin’
myself from tree to tree over the gulch—for the trees was too thick to
get between ’em—until I come to this here place, where two men grabbed
me an knocked me down an’ tied me up like a pig sent to market. The
Major were with ’em, and swore he’d murder me if I didn’t tell him how
many more were aboard the ship, an’ what her cargo was, an’ where we are
bound for, an’ a dozen other things. But I kep’ mum, sir, as were my
duty, an’ finally they brung me to this place, where I was mighty glad
to find the mate and his men safe and sound.”

We then related our own anxiety over the fate of those who had so
mysteriously disappeared, and our final expedition in search of them.

“We’ve found you, all right,” said Uncle Naboth, in conclusion; “but now
the question is, what’s goin’ to become of us, an’ what shall we do to
escape from these blamed pirates that’s captured us?”

“Before you answer that question,” said a quiet voice, “it may be as
well for you to listen to what I have to say.”

We looked up and saw the great form of the Major standing in the
clearing. How much of our conversation he had overheard we did not know;
but after a lowering glance into our startled faces he calmly seated
himself in the midst of the circle.

“Thirteen, all told,” he said. “You seem shorthanded, for so big a
schooner.”

“We lost three men in the storm,” said Uncle Naboth.

“What are you, the owner?” asked the Major.

“Part owner.”

“What is your cargo?”

“Mixed,” replied Uncle Naboth, non-committally.

The Major reflected a moment.

“We shall soon find out all we wish to know,” he said. “We have both
your boats, and we can examine the ship for ourselves.”

“I s’pose you know this is a hangin’ matter?” suggested my uncle.

“It may be,” was the calm reply. “At any rate, it is illegal, and I
regret that circumstances force us to act illegally with you. As a
matter of fact, I wish that I might have treated you with more courtesy.
But you had no business to come to this island, and having come here,
and surprised our great secret by penetrating into the center of the
land, you must take the consequences of your folly. We did not want you
here, and we kept out of your way as long as you would let us. When you
invaded our private domain we were forced to protect ourselves.”

“I don’t understand,” said my uncle, much puzzled by this speech. “We’re
no robbers, ner pirates. We’re peaceful, citizens of the United States.”

“So are we,” retorted the Major. “But we’re also the creatures of fate,
and our condition here forces us to wage warfare upon any who intrude
into our privacy.”

“We put in here for repairs, an’ it was natural we should want to
explore the island,” returned my uncle, doggedly.

The Major appeared lost in thought. For several minutes he sat staring
at the ground with a great frown wrinkling his brow. For our part, we
watched him curiously, wondering the while what would be the outcome of
the queer condition in which we found ourselves. Finally the man spoke:

“Under the circumstances,” said he, “there are but two courses open to
us. One is to murder every man of you, and bury you underneath the
sands. I imagine you would be safe there, and not a soul on earth would
ever know what had become of you.”

I shuddered. The soft tones could not disguise the horror of the words.

“The alternative,” continued the Major, “is to swear you to secrecy, to
induce you to work for us for fair wages, and finally to sail back with
you in your ship to San Francisco, where we may part good friends.”

The contrast between these propositions was so great that we stared at
the man in amazement.

“If we are to take our choice,” said Uncle Naboth, “it won’t be the
grave under the sands, you may be sure.”

“The choice does not lie with you, but with my men,” returned the Major,
coolly. “For my part, I am neither bloodthirsty nor inclined to become a
murderer; so I shall use my influence in your behalf.”

With this he slowly rose to his feet and stalked from the clearing,
leaving us to reflections that were not entirely comfortable.

The hours passed drearily enough. Toward evening some of the men brought
us a few moldy ship’s biscuits and a bucket of sweet drinking water, and
after partaking of this we were left to ourselves until the next
daybreak.

As it grew dusk Nux suddenly rose from his seat, and we saw that he was
free. In some way he had managed to slip his bonds, and he passed
quickly from one to another of us until we were all released from the
dreadful ropes that had been chafing us.

Then a council of war was held. Our captors numbered about thirty, and
all were fully armed. To attempt to oppose them openly would be madness;
but if we could manage to slip away and regain our boats we should be
able to reach our ship and so escape. Bryonia agreed to spy out our
surroundings and see where the boats lay, so he fell upon all fours and
silently crept from the clearing.

We awaited his return with impatience, but he was not gone long. He
re-entered the clearing walking upright and indifferent to crackling
twigs, and then we knew our case was hopeless.

“Dere’s men sleepin’ in de boats, an’ men on watch,” said he; “an’ dey
all has swords an’ pistols. Can’t get away anyhow, Mars Perkins.”

“How about the woods?” asked my uncle. “Can’t we escape through them?”

Bry shook his head, decisively. He was an expert woodsman, and declared
no man could penetrate the thick jungle that hemmed us in. Ned Britton
also bore testimony to this fact; so we were obliged to sadly abandon
any hope of escape, and stretched ourselves as comfortably as we might
upon the ground to await the approach of morning.

With the first streaks of day the Major and a dozen of his men arrived,
and without appearing to notice that we had slipped our bonds they drove
us in a pack from the clearing and out upon the sands that bordered the
inlet.

Here we saw others of our captors busy preparing breakfast before the
entrances to the rude huts, and it was evident that they were using the
provisions they had captured from us, for I scented the aroma of the
coffee that Uncle Naboth was so proud of, and carried with him wherever
he went.

We gathered before the hut of the Major, which was somewhat larger than
the others, and then the leader said, in a tone of stern command: “Take
off your clothes.”

We hesitated, not quite understanding the purpose of the order.

“Strip, my boys,” said another of the pirates, with a grin. “We want
your togs. We drew cuts for ’em last night, and now we’ll trade you our
rags for ’em.”

So we stripped and tossed our clothes upon the ground, where they were
eagerly seized by the outlaws and donned with great satisfaction. The
Major did not participate in this robbery; but, indeed, no garment that
we wore could possibly have fitted his huge frame.

When we had put on the rags discarded by the others we were a curious
looking lot, you may be sure. Uncle Naboth had a fit of silent merriment
at my expense, but if he could have seen himself I am sure he would have
choked and sputtered dangerously. A more disreputable appearance than
that we now presented would be hard to imagine; but our enemies did not
profit so greatly by the exchange, after all, for the garments fitted
them as badly as theirs did us. However, they seemed very proud of their
acquisition, and strutted around like so many vain peacocks.

Continue Reading

THE LAND OF MYSTERY

Captain Gay examined his chart with minute care, and solemnly shook his
head.

The island was not there. Either the chart was imperfect, or we had
reached a hitherto undiscovered land. The latter conjecture was not at
all unreasonable, for so many islands lay in this neighborhood that even
when sighted by chance an outlying islet was little liable to tempt one
to land upon it. This was doubtless one of the numerous group lying to
the south-east of the Alaska peninsula, which are of volcanic origin and
as a rule barren and uninhabited.

I have said this island was well wooded, but not until we were opposite
the mouth of the natural harbor did we observe this fact. From the sea
only a line of rugged headlands and peaks showed plainly, and had we not
been in distress we should never have thought to stop at this place.
Once within the harbor, however, the scene that met our view was not
unattractive.

Bordering the bay was a sandy beach a full hundred yards in width,
broken only by an inlet toward the left, or south, which seemed to lead
into the interior of the island, winding between high and precipitous
banks and soon becoming lost to sight. Back of the beach was the
clean-cut edge of a forest, not following a straight line, but rising
and falling in hills and ravines until it seemed from the bay to have
been scalloped into shape by a pair of huge scissors. The woods were
thick and the trees of uniform size, and between them grew a mass of
vines and underbrush that made them almost impenetrable. How far the
forest extended we were unable to guess; nor did we know how wide the
island might be, for back of the hills rose a range of wooded mountains
nearly a thousand feet in height, and what might lie beyond these was of
course a matter of conjecture. Uncle Naboth, however, advanced the
opinion that the island ended at the mountain peaks, and dropped sheer
down to the sea beyond. He had seen many formations of that sort, and
supposed we had found the only possible harbor on the island.

There was no apparent indication that the island had ever before been
visited by man. Even signs of native occupation were lacking. But
Captain Gay decided to send a small boat ashore to explore the inlet
before we could relax all vigilance and feel that we were not liable to
attack or interruption.

So the gig was lowered, and four of the crew, accompanied by Bill Acker,
the mate, set off upon their voyage of discovery. They rowed straight to
the inlet, which proved to be navigable, and soon after entering it we
lost sight of the boat as it wound between the wooded cliffs.

We waited patiently an hour; two hours; three hours; but the boat did
not return. Then patience gave way to anxiety, and finally the suspense
became unbearable. After the loss of our three sailors during the storm
we were reduced to eleven men, besides Uncle Naboth and myself, who were
not counted members of the crew. Thirteen on board was not an especially
lucky number, so that some of the men had been looking for disaster of
some sort ever since we sighted the island. Those now remaining on the
“Flipper” were the Captain, Ned Britton and two other sailors, Nux and
Bryonia, my Uncle and myself; eight, all told. To send more men after
the five who were absent would be to reduce our numbers more than was
wise; yet it was impossible for us to remain inactive. Finally, Ned
Britton offered to attempt to make his way through the woods, along the
edge of the inlet, and endeavor to find out what had become of Acker and
his men. He armed himself with two revolvers and a stout cutlass, and
then we rowed him to the shore and watched him start on his expedition.

Not expecting that Ned would be long absent, we did not at once return
to the ship. Instead, the Captain backed the boat into deep water and
lay to, that we might pick up our messenger when he reappeared.

It had been agreed that if Ned came upon the mate he was to fire two
shots in quick succession, to let us know that all was well. If he
encountered danger he was to fire a single shot. If he wished us to come
to his assistance he would fire three shots. But the afternoon passed
slowly and quietly, and no sound of any kind came from the interior to
relieve our anxiety. The boat returned to the ship, and Bryonia served
our supper amid an ominous and gloomy silence on the part of those few
who were left.

There was something uncanny about this mysterious disappearance of our
comrades. Had they been able to return or to communicate with us there
was no doubt they would have done so; therefore their absence was
fraught with unknown but no less certain terror. Big Bill Acker was a
man of much resource, and absolutely to be depended upon; and Ned
Britton, who had been fully warned and would be on his guard against all
dangers, was shrewd and active and not liable to be caught napping.

What, then, had they encountered? Wild beasts, savages, or some awful
natural phenomenon which had cruelly destroyed them? Our imaginations
ran riot, but it was all imagination, after all, and we were no nearer
the truth.

An anxious night passed, and at daybreak Uncle Naboth called a council
of war, at which all on board were present. We faced a hard proposition,
you may be sure, for not one of us had any information to guide him, and
all were alike in the dark.

To desert our absent friends and sail away from the island was
impossible, even had we desired to do so; for our numbers were too small
to permit us to work the disabled “Flipper” in safety, and the ship’s
carpenter, on whom we greatly depended, had gone with the mate. All
repairs must be postponed until the mystery of the men’s disappearance
was solved; and we firmly resolved that those of us remaining must not
separate, but stick together to the last, and stick to the ship, as
well.

Good resolutions, indeed; but we failed to consider the demands of an
aroused curiosity. After two days had dragged their hours away without a
sign of our absent comrades human nature could bear the suspense no
longer.

Uncle Naboth called another council, and said:

“Boys, we’re actin’ like a pack o’ cowards. Let’s follow after our
friends, an’ find ’em, dead or alive. We oughtn’t to shrink from a
danger we sent ’em into; and if we can’t rescue ’em, let’s run the
chance of dyin’ with ’em.”

This sentiment met with general approval. All felt that the time for
action had arrived, and if there was a reluctant man among us he made no
sign.

Early next morning we partook of a hasty breakfast and then tumbled into
the long boat to begin our quest. Every one on the ship was to accompany
the expedition, for no one cared to be left behind. Uncle Naboth at
first proposed to leave me on board, in the care of Bry; but I pleaded
hard to go with the rest, and it was evident that I would be in as much
danger aboard as in the company of the exploring party. So it was
decided to take me along, and we practically deserted the ship, taking
with us a fair supply of provisions and plenty of ammunition. The men
were fully armed, and my uncle even intrusted me with a revolver, for I
had learned to shoot fairly well.

It was a beautiful morning, cool and fresh and sunny, as we rowed away
from the ship and headed for the inlet. That unknown and perhaps
terrible dangers lay ahead of us we had good reason to expect; but every
man was alert and vigilant and eager to unravel the mystery of this
strange island.

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