The Fire Baby

Eight miles east of Pingaree lies the eight-sided island of King
Ato the Eighth. While not so large as Pingaree, the Octagon Isle is
nevertheless one of the tidiest and most pleasing of the sea realms
that dot the great green rolling expanses of the Nonestic Ocean. And
Ato himself is as pleasing as his island, enormously fat and jolly with
a kind word for everyone.

In his eight-sided castle, he has every modern convenience and comfort
and some of which even an up-to-date country like our own cannot boast.
For instance, take Roger, his Royal Read Bird. Roger, besides knowing
eight languages, can read aloud for hours at a time without growing
hoarse or weary. So Ato never has to strain his eyes poring over his
eight hundred huge volumes of adventure and history, nor his arms
holding a newspaper or court document, nor his jaw pronouncing the
names of kings and countries in Ev and Oz and other curious places on
the mainland west of his own island. And Roger is as handsome as he
is handy, his head and bill rather like a duck’s, his body shaped and
colored like a parrot, but much larger, while his tail opens out into
an enormous fan. This is extremely fortunate, for the Octagon Isle
is semi-tropical in climate, and on warm sultry days, Roger not only
reads to his Majesty, but fans him as well. All in all, Ato’s life is
decidedly luxurious and lazy.

Sixentwo, Chief Chancellor of the realm, and Four’nfour, its treasurer,
attend to all the business of governing, so that Ato and Roger have
little to do but enjoy themselves. The Octagon Islanders, one hundred
and eighty in number, are a sober and industrious lot, rarely giving
any trouble.

Once, it is true, they sailed off and deserted the King entirely, but
Ato, with Peter, a Philadelphia boy, and Samuel Salt, a pirate, who
landed on the Island at just the right moment, immediately set out
after them, using the pirate’s stout ship the _Crescent Moon_, for the
purpose.

By a strange coincidence, Samuel Salt’s men had also mutinied and
sailed away, so that there were two sets of deserters to seek out
and discover. After a dangerous and lively voyage, the _Crescent
Moon_ reached the rocky shores of Menankypoo on the Mainland. Here
they learned that the Octagon Islanders and Samuel Salt’s men had
been enslaved by Ruggedo, the former Gnome King, and marched off to
conquer the Emerald City of Oz. How Peter and the Pirate, Ato and a
poetical Pig outwitted the Gnome King is a long and other story. You
have probably read it yourself. But ever since their hair-raising
experiences with Ruggedo, and their rescue by Ato, the Octagon
Islanders have been perfectly satisfied with their own ruler and
country. In fact, they were so docile and devoted, so fearfully anxious
to please, Ato often wished they would revolt or sass him a little just
to relieve the monotony and make life more interesting.

To tell the truth, after serving as cook, mate and able-bodied seaman
on the _Crescent Moon_, Ato found it quite boring to settle down to
a humdrum life of a monarch ashore. Roger, too, missed the gay and
carefree life he had led as a pirate and could not even pretend an
interest in the books of adventure he still dutifully read to his
Master. He and Ato now spent most of their time on the edge of the
Island–the King in a comfortable hammock swung between two palm
trees, Roger on a tall golden perch set close beside him. Whenever the
Read Bird paused to yawn or turn a page, Ato would pull himself up to
a sitting position, raise the telescope he always had with him and
gaze long and wistfully out to sea. Many ships passed Ato’s Island,
but never a one in the least resembling the splendid three-masted fast
sailing ship belonging to the Pirate.

“You’ll give yourself a fine squint there,” warned Roger one morning,
as Ato for about the hundredth time raised his spy glass. “And what is
the use of it, pray?” inquired Roger grumpily, ruffling the pages of
the Book of Barons. “Samuel Salt has probably forgotten all about us
and gone off by himself on a voyage of discovery.”

“No! No! Sammy wouldn’t do that,” said the King, shaking his head
positively. “He promised to stop by for us on the very first voyage he
made as Royal Discoverer of Oz.”

“Ho, one of those seafaring promises!” muttered Roger. “A pirate’s
promise. Humph! His new honors have gone to his head. Quite a jump from
pirating to exploring. I’ll wager a wing he’s gone back to buccaneering
and forgotten us altogether!”

“Now, Roger, how can you say that?” Heaving up his huge bulk with
great difficulty, Ato looked reproachfully at his Royal Read Bird.
“Sammy never cared for pirating in the first place,” wheezed the King
earnestly, “and he was so soft-hearted about planking the captives and
burning the ships, his band sailed off and left him. They only made him
Captain because he was clever at navigating, and you know perfectly
well he spent more time looking for flora and fauna than for ships and
treasure.”

“Ah, then I suppose some wild Flora or Fauna has him in its clutches,”
observed Roger sarcastically, “and a likely thing that is, seeing the
poor Captain weighs but two hundred and twenty pounds and stands six
feet in his socks.”

“What a tremendous fellow he was,” sighed Ato, sinking dreamily back in
his hammock and half closing his eyes. “I’ll never forget how high and
handsome he looked when Queen Ozma asked him to give up buccaneering,
and serve her instead as Royal Discoverer and Explorer for Oz! And
a fitting reward it was, too, for capturing Ruggedo and saving the
Kingdom. Aha, my lad, THAT was a day! And we had our share of glory,
too! Remember how they cheered us in the Emerald City of Oz?”

“Aye, I remember THAT day and a good many other days since,” sniffed
the Read Bird disagreeably. “Six months from that day Samuel Salt was
to sail into our Harbor. Well, King–it’s been six times six months,
and nary a sail nor a sign of him have we seen.”

“That long?” said Ato, blinking unhappily.

“That long and longer. Three years, eleven months, twenty-six days and
twelve hours, to be exact!”

“Dear, dear and dear! Then something’s happened to him,” murmured
Ato. “He’s either been shipwrecked, captured or enchanted! I’ll never
believe Sammy would forget us or break his promise. Never!”

“Well, whatever you believe, the results are the same.” Flapping open
his book, Roger prepared to go on with his reading. “And depend upon
it,” he insisted stubbornly, “we’ll never see Samuel Salt again, so
you may as well put up your telescope and put your mind on something
else for a change. Maybe it’s your cooking that’s keeping him away,”
finished the Read Bird, who felt cross and fractious and contrary as a
goat.

“My cooking?” roared Ato, roused to honest anger at last. “I’ve a
notion to have you plucked and roasted for that. My cooking, indeed!
Show me the fellow who can beat up an omelette, a cake, a batch of
biscuits, faster than I; who can brown a fowl, broil a steak or toss
out a pan of fried potatoes to compare with mine. I–I, why, I’m
surprised at you, Roger!”

Roger, ruffling his feathers uncomfortably, was rather surprised at
himself, for the King was speaking the exact truth; a more skillful man
with a skillet it would be impossible to find in any kingdom. Ever
since his voyage on the _Crescent Moon_, cooking had been Ato’s chief
pleasure and pastime. The castle chef, though he heartily disapproved
of a King in the kitchen, could do nothing to discourage him, so
finally stood by in grudging envy and admiration as Ato turned out his
delectable puddings, pies, roasts and sauces.

Muttering with hurt pride and indignation, his Majesty continued to
frown at the Read Bird, and realizing he had gone too far, Roger
started to read as fast as he could from the Book of Barons. As he read
on, he could see the King growing calmer and finally, pausing to turn a
page, he let his gaze rove idly over the harbor.

“Anchors and animal crackers! What was that?” Stretching up his neck,
Roger took another look, then, flinging the Book of Barons high into
the air, he spread his wings and started out to sea.

Soothed by the droning voice of the Read Bird, Ato had closed his
eyes and the first warning he had of Roger’s departure was a terrific
thump as the Book of Barons landed on his stomach. Leaping out of the
hammock as if he had been shot, the outraged Monarch looked furiously
around for his Read Bird. This really was too much. Not satisfied with
insulting him, Roger must now be bombarding him with books, cocoanuts
and what not.

Shading his eyes with his hand, Ato glared up and down the beach and
finally out over the rippling blue ocean. At what he saw there, the
King forgot his anger as completely as Roger had forgotten his manners.
For, swinging jauntily into the Octagon Harbor was the _Crescent Moon_
herself! No mistaking the high-prowed, deep-waisted, powerful craft of
the Pirate. But a new and gayer pennant fluttered from the mizzenmast
today. Instead of the skull and bones, Samuel was flying the green and
white banner of Oz, as befitted the Royal Discoverer and Explorer of
the most famous Fairyland in History.

“He’s here! He’s come!” shouted Ato, running wildly up and down.
“Samuel! SAM-U-EL!” In his delight and excitement the King forgot the
Royal dock and began wading out into the bay. Peering around his
wheel, Sammy saw him coming and broke into a loud cheerful greeting.

“Hi, King! Ho, King! How are you, you son of a Lubber! Wait till I
ease her in and I’ll be ashore quicker than quick.” Roger had already
reached the _Crescent Moon_ and, perched on the Captain’s shoulder, was
chattering away at such a rate Samuel could hardly keep his mind on his
steering. But he was an old hand at such matters, and before Ato had
half recovered from the shock of seeing him, the shining three-masted
vessel was made fast, and its Master striding exuberantly up the wet
planks of the royal dock.

“Ahoy! Ahoy!” he boomed boisterously. “What a day for a voyage! Is it
really my old cook and shipmate?”

“None other!” puffed Ato, seizing both of the former pirate’s hands.
“But what have you done to yourself, Sam-u-el? Where’s your sash and
scimiter? And what’s that on your head, may I ask? You don’t look
natural or seaman-like at all.”

“Oh, don’t mind these,” grinned the Pirate, touching his three-cornered
hat and satin coat apologetically. “These are my shore togs for
impressing the natives. Can’t look like pirates when we go ashore this
voyage, Mates. We’re explorers and fine gentlemen now, and when we set
the flag of Oz on lofty mountains and rocky isles, when we bring savage
tribes and strange races under the beneficent rule of Ozma of Oz, we
must look like Conquerors. Eh, my lads?”

“Yes–I sup-pose–so!” puffed the King, skipping clumsily to keep up
with the long strides of Captain Salt. “But I’m sorry this is going to
be a dressy affair, Sammy. How’m I to cook in a cocked hat and lace
collar and swab down the deck in velvet pants?”

“Ho, ho! You’ll not have to,” exploded the Pirate, giving the tail
feathers of the Read Bird a sly tweak. “On shipboard we’ll dress as we
please, for the sea is MY country and free as the wind and sun.”

“Well, well, I’m glad to hear you say that. Have you still got my old
pirate suit and blunderbuss aboard?” inquired the King anxiously.

“Certain for sure, and a couple of new ones, and WAIT till you see your
galley all fitted out with copper pots, and provisions enough below
to carry us anywhere and back. Wait till you cast your eyes on ’em,
Lubber!”

“Don’t you call ME a Lubber!” chuckled Ato, giving Samuel a hearty poke
in the ribs. “I’m as able-bodied a seaman as you, Sammy, and you know
it.”

“SIR Samuel, if you please!” roared the former Pirate, striking himself
a great blow on the chest with his clenched fist. “Sir Samuel Salt,
Explorer and Discoverer Extraordinary to the Crown of Oz.”

“So–oooh! You’ve been knighted?” breathed Roger, peering round into
the Captain’s face,

“Ho pass the salt and ring the bell
And bend the knee to Sir Sam-u-el!”

“Sir Samuel Salt! Well, I’ll be peppered!” gasped Ato, sinking down on
the lower step of the palace which they had reached by this time.
“Sir Samuel!”

“Yes, SIR!” boasted the Pirate, rubbing his hands together, “but come
on, step lively, boys; how long’ll it take you to pack up and heave
your dunnage aboard? Mustn’t keep a Knight of Oz waiting, you know!”

“Keep _you_ waiting?” Suddenly and determinedly, Ato rose to his feet
and shook his finger under Sammy’s nose. “Keep YOU waiting? Why, we’ve
been ready and waiting for this voyage three years, eleven months,
twenty-six days and twelve hours. Where’ve you been, you great lazy son
of a sea-robber?”

“Four years?” choked the Pirate, falling back in real consternation and
dismay. “Never! It’s never been four years, Mates. Why, I’ve scarcely
had time to sort out the shells and specimens we picked up on the last
voyage, and to fit out the _Crescent Moon_ for the next.”

“Where have you been?” repeated Ato, wagging his finger sternly.

“Why, home on Elbow Island, of course. Where else should I have been?”
muttered Samuel, looking distinctly worried and crestfallen.

“Then have you no clocks or calendars in your cave?” demanded the King
accusingly. “And what would the _Crescent Moon_ be needing? I thought
she was about perfect as she was.”

“Ah, but wait till you see her now!” exclaimed Samuel, cheering up
immediately at mention of his ship. “The _Crescent Moon_, besides a
new coat of paint, has self-hoisting sails and a mechanical steering
control in case we wish to take it easy occasionally. The Red Jinn
paid me a visit and presented us with these and several other magical
contrivances and improvements. I’m minded to make this voyage with no
crew but ourselves. It’s cozier so, don’t you think?”

“Yes, but am I still on bird watch and lookout duty?” demanded Roger
jealously.

“Aye, aye!” Samuel Salt assured him heartily.

“I suppose the Red Jinn has supplied you with a mechanical cook in my
place as well as a mechanical steering wheel,” murmured Ato, tugging
uneasily at the cord round his waist.

“In your place!” thundered the Pirate. “Why, shiver my timbers, Mate!
Only over my prone and prostrate body shall another man enter my galley
to shuffle my rations, sugar my duff or salt my prog!”

“Hooray, then let’s get going!” squealed Roger, bouncing up and down
on Sammy’s shoulder. “I was only saying this very morning that you’d
never forget your old friends and shipmates or go on a voyage without
us!”

“Huh! So THAT’S what you were saying!” grunted Ato, looking fixedly at
the Read Bird. “Well, well, let it go. Come along then!”

“Yes, yes, and hurry,” screamed Roger, spreading his wings to fly on
ahead.

“Sixentwo! Sevenanone! Where are you?” panted the King, plunging up the
steps after Roger two at a time. “Where is everybody? Pack a bag, a
chest, a couple of trunks. I’m going on a voyage of discovery!”

“And don’t forget the cook book!” bawled Samuel Salt, bounding
exuberantly after the King.

With the help of eighteen serving men, eight courtiers, Sixentwo,
Sevenanone, and Samuel Salt, who was not above carrying a sea chest
or hamper, Ato began stowing his belongings on the _Crescent Moon_.
There was little court apparel or finery in the King’s boxes. Most
of it consisted of bottles of flavoring extract, spiced sauces, cook
books, minced meats, fruits in jars for pies, numerous frying pans, egg
beaters, and rolling pins.

“Are we gypsies, pan handlers, peddlers or what?” panted Samuel Salt as
he dumped the last load breathlessly on the main deck. “Goosewing my
topsails, Mate, many’s the fish we cleaned with a jackknife, and potato
we pared with a dagger on the last voyage. Mean to say an explorer
needs to use all these weapons on his pork and beans?”

Checking off a list as his stuff was placed in the galley, Ato nodded
determinedly, then winking good-humoredly at the perspiring Captain,
ducked into the cabin to don his old sea clothes. Samuel was not long
following suit and soon, in short red pants, open shirts and carelessly
tied head kerchiefs, the two went below to inspect the stores Samuel
had laid in for the voyage. Roger, having nothing to bring aboard but
a few books and a bottle of feather oil, was already perched in the
crosstrees of the fore topgallant mast looking longingly toward the
east and waiting impatiently for the ship to get under way. But the
booming voice of the Pirate soon drew him to the lower deck and from
there he swooped down an open hatchway to the hold.

This huge space, usually reserved by the pirates for captives and
treasure, had been neatly divided into two sections. In one were
the tinned, dried and salted meats, the groceries, vegetables and
extra supplies of rope, tar and sail. In the other section there were
numerous shelves, many iron cages, aquariums and sea chests.

“For any strange animals or wild natives we may encounter and wish to
bring home with us,” explained Samuel Salt as Roger looked curiously at
the cages. “In those chests are the flags of Oz we shall plant here,
there and everywhere as we sail onward!”

“And to think a new and mighty Empire may grow from this flag
planting,” mused Ato, opening one of the sea chests and thoughtfully
fingering one of Ozma’s green and white silken banners. “But surely you
don’t expect to plant all these, Samuel?”

“Why not?” demanded the Royal Discoverer of Oz with a wave of the
scimiter he had resumed with his old pirate pants. “The sea is broad
and wide and no one’s to tell us when we may start or sail home again.
But look, Ato, my lad–these will interest you.” Turning from the
chests, Samuel pointed to a stack of long poles lashed to the side of
the ship with leather thongs. “Stilts!” grinned the Pirate as Roger
and Ato stared at them in complete mystification. “Fine for keeping
the shins dry when we wade ashore and don’t feel like lowering the
jolly boat. All my own idea.” Samuel cleared his throat with pardonable
pride. “Of course, it takes a bit of practice, but we’ll try ’em on the
first island we come to. Eh, boys?”

“Well, thank my lucky stars for wings!” breathed Roger after a long
disapproving look at Samuel’s stilts. “Two steps and you’ll smash
yourself to a jellyfish, Ato. Stick to the boats, men. That’s MY
advice!”

“Too bad he has no confidence in us!” roared Samuel, giving Ato a
resounding slap on the back. “Just wait, my saucy bird, and we’ll show
you how stilting is done. And now, gaze upon this corner I’ve set aside
for my specimens; for rare marine growths, for seaweed, for curious
mollusks and other crustacean denizens of the darkest deep.”

Samuel coughed apologetically as he always did when he mentioned
his collecting mania, and Roger and Ato, exchanging an amused grin,
swung about to examine the long shelves with iron boxes clamped down
to prevent them from shifting with the motion of the vessel, huge
aquariums fitted into brass holders, and large trays bedded with dried
moss and sand for Samuel’s collection of shells.

“You might even bring home a mermaid in this,” murmured Ato, touching
the side of an enormous aquarium.

“No women!” snapped Samuel Salt, growing red in the face, for he did
not like to be teased about his specimen collecting. “I’ll–I’ll have
no women or mermaids switching their tails around my ship and turning
things topsy turvy.”

“Right,” agreed Ato, giving his belt a vigorous tug. “Then how about
shoving off, Sammy? Everything’s shipshape, there’s a good wind and
the best way to begin a voyage is to start.”

“I’m for it!” roared the Captain, swinging hand over hand up the wooden
ladder. “All hands on deck! Up with your Master’s flag, Roger. Cast off
the mooring lines, Ato, while I make sail and we’ll be out of here in a
pig’s jiffy.”

“Aye! Aye!” croaked Roger, seizing the cord that would send Ato’s
octagon banner flying to the masthead, directly under the flag of Oz.
“Goodbye, all you lubbers ashore! Goodbye Sevenanone. Mind you keep
the King’s Crown polished and don’t forget to feed the silver fish.”

“GOODBYE!” called the one hundred and eighty Octagon Islanders drawn up
on the beach and dock to see his Majesty sail away. “A fine voyage to
your Highness!”

“And neglect not to return!” shouted Sixentwo, using his hands as a
megaphone. “You know there is a Crown Council eight days and eight
months from yesterday.”

“Crown Council be jigged!” sniffed Ato, leaning far over the rail to
wave to his cheering subjects. “I’m a cook, an explorer–and a bold bad
seafaring man out to collect islands and jungles and jillycome-wiggles
for Samuel’s shell box. Crown Council, indeed! Don’t care if I never
see a castle again.”

“Me neither!” squalled Roger, flying up to his post in the foremast.
“Seven bells and all’s well! Buoy off the beam and no land in sight.”

“Unless you look behind you,” laughed Samuel, grabbing the wheel
with a practiced hand and squinting cheerfully up at the sun. “East
by southeast it’ll be this voyage, Mates. There’s ice in the North
Nonestic and I’ve a craving for tropical isles and the hidden rivers
of some deep and mysterious jungle!”

“Remember Snow Island?” smiled Ato, coming over to stand beside the
wheel.

“Shiver my shins! DO I? No more of that, me lads! But Ho! Isn’t this
like old times?” Stretching up his arms exultingly, Samuel Salt let his
hands fall heavily on the wheel, and the great ship lifting with the
wind plunged her nose eagerly into the southeast swell.

“M–mmm! Like old times, except for the boy,” agreed Ato slowly.

“Aye, and we’ll surely miss Peter on this trip,” sighed the Captain,
shaking his head regretfully. “Wonder where the little lubber is now?
That’s the trouble with these real countries and peoples, there’s no
getting at them when you need them most. Well, maybe we’ll pick up
another hand somewhere to serve as cabin boy and keep us lively on the
voyage. But take a look at my sail controls, Ato. We can hoist, trim
and furl by just touching different buttons, nowadays; set this wheel
for any course and just let her ride.”

“Splendid!” grunted Ato, rising reluctantly from a coil of rope. “But
since there are no buttons on my stove, I’d best be thinking about
dinner.”

“Tar and tarpaulin, why didn’t I have the Red Jinn fix you some?”
exclaimed the Pirate regretfully. “I’m sorry as a goat, Mate.”

“Ho–I’m not,” laughed Ato, waddling happily off toward his galley.
“That would have spoiled everything. What’ll it be, Captain–a fried
sole, a broiled steak, or a roaring huge hot peppery meat pasty?”

“All of ’em!” yelled the Royal Explorer of Oz, exhaling his breath
in a mighty blast of anticipation. It seemed to Roger, high in the
foremast, that the ship gave an extra little skip at its Captain’s
mighty roar, then settling easily into her usual graceful pace she ran
smoothly before the wind.

Morning found the _Crescent Moon_ forging ahead with a stiff breeze, a
choppy sea and the last known island far behind her.

“Ahoy, and this is the life, Mates!” bellowed Samuel Salt, bracing his
legs against the pitch and roll of the vessel, and waving largely to
the ship’s cook who sat on an overturned bucket mending his second best
sea shirt. “Anything can happen now!” Lovingly Samuel let his gaze rove
over the sparkling Nonestic, and Ato, squinting painfully as he pushed
his long needle in and out, nodded portentously.

“By the way, Sammy, what are your plans for this flag planting and
discovery business?” inquired the portly cook somewhat later. Having
finished his mending, he had dragged a canvas chair and a pot of
potatoes aft by the wheel. “Do you look for resistance and rebellion
when we start taking possession of this land and that land for the
crown of Oz?”

“No, no, nothing like that,” mused Samuel, removing his pipe and
blowing a cloud of smoke into the rigging. “Everything’s to be polite
and peaceable this voyage. No guns, knives or scimiters. Queen Ozma
particularly does not want any country taken by force or against its
will.”

“And suppose they object to being taken at all?” said Ato, beginning to
pare a fat potato. “What then?”

“Well, then–er then–” Samuel rubbed his chin reflectively, “we’ll try
persuasion, my lad. We’ll explain all the advantages of coming under
the flag and protection of a powerful country like Oz. That ought to
get them, don’t you think?”

“Yes, if they don’t get us first,” observed Ato, popping a potato
dubiously into the pot. “Suppose while we stand there waving flags and
persuading, some of these wild fellows have at us with spears, clubs
and poison arrows?”

“Well, that would be extremely unfortunate,” admitted Samuel, glancing
soberly at the compass, “and in that case—-”

“I hope you will remember you were once a pirate and act accordingly,”
Ato blew out his cheeks sternly as he spoke. “The one trouble with you,
Sammy, is that you take too long to get mad. So I shall go ashore armed
as usual with my kitchen knife and blunderbuss. I don’t intend to be
sliced into sandwiches while you’re talking through your three-cornered
hat, and waving flags at a lot of ignorant savages. And I’ll have Roger
carry the books ashore too.”

“Ho, ho!” roared the Captain of the _Crescent Moon_, giving his knee
a great slap. “Just like old times, Ato. Rough, bluff and relentless,
Mates, remember?”

“Aye, and I should say I do. And I remember Roger had to drop a good
many books on your head before you got mad enough to fight. What
makes you so calm and peaceable, Sammy? A big born fighting man like
yourself.”

“Sea life, I reckon,” answered the former Pirate, extending his brawny
arms in a huge yawn. “The sea’s so much bigger than a man, Mate–it
rather makes him realize how small and unimportant he really is. But
don’t fret, Cook dear, no one shall tread on your toes, this voyage.
But avast there–it grows warmer and the air smells a bit thunderish.
Had you noticed?”

“‘Hoy, ‘hoy! Deck ahoy!” bawled a shrill voice from above. “Island
astern.” Both Samuel and Ato stared up in amazement, for Roger was
supposed to be resting in the cabin. But the Read Bird, after
snatching an hour’s nap, had slipped out an open port and, unnoticed,
taken his position in the foremast. The Read Bird did not trust Ato,
who was supposed to be on watch. Besides, he wanted to be the first to
report a new island to the Captain.

“Looks like a mountain,” mumbled Ato, setting down his potatoes and
waddling over to the rail. “Heave to, Skipper, here’s our first
discovery.”

“Now how in sixes did that get by me?” muttered Samuel Salt, hurrying
to shorten sail for the zigzag course, back and in, he would have to
take to reach the island at all.

It showed plainly enough now, a rugged gray and purple mass of rock,
with apparently no vegetation or dwellings of any kind. As the
_Crescent Moon_ drew nearer, the sea became smooth and oily, and the
air sulphurous and hot.

“Think likely this is an island we might well pass by,” murmured Ato,
peering critically through his telescope. “Positively deserted so far
as I can see–but there might be valuable minerals in those rocks.”

“Don’t doubt it!” Samuel Salt curved himself all the way round the
wheel in his interest. Mechanical devices were well enough for the open
sea, but Samuel preferred to handle his own ship on occasions like
this. As there was no harbor or safe place to put in, he decided to
anchor off shore and land in the jolly boat. The anchor had just gone
clanking and rattling over the side when a horrid hiss and boom from
the center of the island made all hands look up in alarm.

“K-kkk cannons!” quavered Ato, dropping his bread knife with a clatter.
“Stand by to man the guns!”

But Samuel Salt, instead of heeding the cook’s warning, began to sniff
the air. “Volcano, Mates,” announced the Captain calmly. “And in that
case we may be a bit close for comfort. Still, I’ve always wanted
to observe a volcano in action. I’ve a theory there may be living
creatures in the center.”

“Living creatures in the center!” raged Ato, tearing off his white
apron and dashing it on the deck. “How long will we be living if that
fire pot starts boiling? We mayn’t be killed, being of magic birth, but
we can be jolly well singed, fried, boiled and melted. And after that
who’d care to be alive? Quick, Roger, heave in on that chain! Anchors
aweigh!”

While Samuel stood in rapt contemplation of the volcano, and Ato began
frantically winding up the anchor, a long tongue of flame leaped out
of the crater and a great jet of bubbling lava shot clear over the
_Crescent Moon_. This occurrence soon brought Samuel out of his revery,
and snapping into action and forgetting all about his mechanical
devices, he began working like a mad man to get the ship in motion,
tugging at the sheets, throwing his whole weight against the halyards,
till the ship with quivering sail sped away like a frightened bird, the
hot winds from the volcano whistling and rattling through her rigging.

“Where’s Roger?” yelled Ato, staggering across the deck with two
buckets of water. “Oh, woe! Is he a Read Bird or a just plain Goose?
Look yonder, Sammy, he’s flown ashore.” Outlined against the sky in
a sudden flare from the volcano they could see Roger poised over the
center of the smoking island. In his claw was a large rippling banner
of Oz and as they looked he lifted the banner high above his head and
flung it straight into the center of the boiling crater.

“We hereby take complete and absolute possession of this island and
declare all its inhabitants lawful subjects of her Majesty, Queen Ozma
of Oz!” screamed Roger hysterically.

“Well, hurray, and three cheers for a real Explorer!” shouted Samuel
Salt. “He’s done it all by himself, the only man among us who
remembered his duty under fire. There’s a bird for you, Mates. Not even
a volcano can turn him from his duty. All we thought of was safety.
Poh!” Rubbing the back of his hand across his eyes, which were full of
smoke, Samuel looked glumly across at his cook.

“Now, now, don’t be too hard on yourself,” puffed the King, setting
down the fire buckets. “A Captain must think of his ship, even if he
is an Explorer. Besides, having wings gives Roger an advantage of us.
Still and all, it was a brave and timely act.” Ato’s further remarks
were drowned out in a second tremendous explosion. Sky and sea turned
red, whole flaming boulders shot above the ship’s spars, while great
sullen waves of lava boiled over the crater’s edge and rolled smoking
and hissing into the sea.

“Missed us again,” panted Samuel Salt, hanging desperately to his wheel
as the _Crescent Moon_ plunged and pitched in the angry seas. “Wonder
what started that?”

“The Oz flag, probably,” gasped Ato, feeling around in the dense smoke
for his fire buckets. “Hope Roger got off safely. Where is that fool
bird? Ho, Sammy! Hi, Sammy! Quick, they’ve hit us amidships.”

Hastily setting his mechanical steering gear, the former Pirate rushed
forward to where a glowing lump of lava was burning its way slowly but
surely through the deck.

“Fire! Fire!” shrilled Roger, who had dropped down on the rail
unnoticed in the smoke and confusion. “Water, Ato! Water, you old Slow
Poke!”

“Avast!” puffed Samuel Salt, staring down in astonishment at the
glowing lump at his feet. “It’s alive, Mates, and lively as a grig.
It’s a FIRE baby, that’s what! HAH! Didn’t I just say there was life on
a volcano? Well, this proves it and I’m taking this young one along for
proof.”

“Now stop talking like a book and act like a seaman,” choked Ato, in
his agitation tripping over a rope but still managing to keep his hold
on the water buckets. “Fire baby or not, can’t you see it’s burning a
hole in the deck, you seventh son of a sea-going Jackass? Here, put it
out! Dash this water over it before it burns up the whole ship!”

“Avast! Avast and belay!” roared Samuel Salt in a terrible voice as Ato
raised his bucket. “I’m still Captain here. Do you wish to destroy a
rare specimen of volcanic life? Fetch a shovel from the hold, Roger. A
shovel, I said, and don’t stand there dithering.”

“Aye aye, sir!” sputtered the Read Bird, half falling and half flying
down the companionway. Now a bird is a quick and handy fellow about a
ship and in half the time it would have taken a seaman, Roger was back
with a long handled shovel. Snatching the shovel, which he had often
used on former treasure hunts, Samuel scooped up the bawling fire baby
and started on a run for the galley.

“It’s turning black, it’s turning black,” wailed the disconsolate
collector, crooning to the ugly infant as he ran along as if he were
its own mother. “Aye, aye–it’s going out!”

“And a good thing, too,” panted Ato, who was close behind him. “What in
tarry barrels are you fixing to do with it, Sammy?”

Roger, sensible bird that he was, stayed long enough to douse the two
buckets of water on the smoking deck, then he, too, made a bee line for
the galley. He was just in time to see Samuel lift the lid of the range
and slide the baby down on top of the hot coals. No sooner had the
squat infant touched the glowing fire than it stopped yelling at once
and began to purr and sing like a teakettle set on to boil.

“Well, I’ll be swizzled!” gulped Ato, and snatching a wet dish towel
from the rack, he wound it round and round his aching head. “Whatever
made you think of that?”

“It’s my scientific mind,” the Pirate told them blandly. “The proper
place for any infant that size is bed and I naturally figured that
a fire baby belonged in a fire bed, and a bed of hot coals was the
nearest to it, so here it is!” Winking solemnly at Roger, who was
regarding the little Lavaland Islander with fear and loathing, Samuel
picked up the poker and gave the baby an affectionate poke. “It’ll do
fine here,” he predicted happily, “and prove beyond a quibble that
volcanos are inhabited.”

“It’ll do nothing of the sort!” exploded Ato, bringing his fat fist
down with a resounding thump on the drain board. “You may be the
Captain of the ship, Sammy, but I’m the boss of this galley, and that
fire baby will have to go. GO! Do you understand? How’m I to cook with
the ugly little monster lolling all over the fire bed and like as not
falling into the soup when my back is turned?”

“Hark!” interrupted Roger. “More trouble! Something’s up, Master Salt,
and it’s not an eruption either.” And Samuel had to agree with him as
groans, moans, shrieks and hisses came whistling after the flying ship.

“Ah, that’ll be the rest of them!” exulted the Royal Discoverer,
pounding out on deck. “Hah! It’s the Lavaland Islanders themselves.
Ho–this WILL be interesting!”

“Well, just invite them over and we’ll all burn up happily together,”
suggested Ato bitterly.

Hanging over the taffrail, Samuel paid no attention to the King’s
sarcastic suggestion. Indeed, he was much too interested, for just
showing above the flaming circle of the volcano’s crater was a row
of immense and thunderous looking natives. They were of transparent
rock-like structure and burned and glowed from the molten lava that
coursed through their veins. With upraised arms and furious faces they
were yelling over and over some strange and indistinguishable threats
and phrases. One, shaking the blackened stick of the Oz flag, danced
and screamed louder than all the rest put together.

“They do not wish to become subjects of Oz, I take it,” sighed Samuel,
undecided whether to sail back and argue the matter, or sail away and
save his ship from possible destruction.

“That’s not it! That’s not it!” cried Roger, flapping his wings
triumphantly. “I know what’s the matter. They want that baby back.
You’re probably making off with the Crown Prince of the Volcano. See
that woman yelling louder than the others and holding out both arms?
Well, look–she has a crown on her head and is likely the Queen. She
wants her baby back.”

“And she should have it, too,” stated Ato, blinking his eyes at the
frightful racket the Lavaland Islanders were making. “You can’t steal
people’s children like this, Sammy, unless you’re going back to
buccaneering. It’s just plain piracy.”

“She threw it at us, didn’t she?” muttered the Captain, who was
unwilling to part with so valuable a specimen.

“It probably blew out of its cradle when the volcano erupted. Give it
back to her, Sammy,” begged Ato, who was determined to get rid of the
terrible infant at any cost. “After all, she’s its mother.”

“But do you expect me to sail back there and endanger all of our
lives?” Samuel jerked his head angrily. “And how else can it be done?”

“Er–er–let Roger carry it back in that old wire basket we use for
clams,” proposed the cook eagerly.

“Not on your life,” protested Roger in a sulky voice. “The basket would
grow red hot and burn my bill. Besides, I’m no stork. Tell you what we
could do, though, and we’d better be quick before they start throwing
things.”

“What?” inquired the Captain, gazing uneasily at the infuriated
Islanders.

“Why, simply shoot it back,” Roger said calmly. “Stuff it in the port
cannon and blaze away. You never miss your mark, Master Salt, and if
you can’t shoot that baby back into its mother’s arms, I’ll walk on my
wings and be done with it.”

“Why, Roger, how clever! The very thing!” rejoiced Ato. “I’ll go fetch
it with the fire tongs and you’ll have to hurry, Sammy, or we’ll be out
of range.”

“But it might injure the young one,” objected the Captain of the
_Crescent Moon_, shifting his feet uncomfortably.

“Nonsense, it’ll be just like a ride in a baby carriage for that little
rascal. Prime your gun, Sammy, while I get the child.”

By this time the clamor from the Island had become so alarming that
even Samuel realized something would have to be decided. So, somewhat
mollified by Roger’s compliment on his aim, he made ready to fire the
port cannon. The baby, hissing lustily, was brought without accident
from the galley. Ato held it gingerly before him, using the fire
tongs, Roger following along to hold a lighted candle under the little
fellow to keep him from going out before he was shot.

The baby fitted nicely into the cannon’s mouth and stopped crying
instantly. At the last moment Samuel almost lost his courage, but urged
on to action by both Ato and Roger, he carefully made his calculations
and then shutting both eyes pulled the cord that set off the gun. The
terrible explosion shocked the Lavalanders into silence, and almost
afraid to look, Samuel opened his eyes.

“Yo, ho, ho! Three cheers for the Skipper!” squealed Ato, snatching
the towel from his head and waving it like a banner. “The neatest shot
you ever made, Mate, and a lucky shot, too.” The baby and the cannon
ball which would have shattered a less durable lady had struck the Lava
Queen amidships. Dropping the cannon ball carelessly into the crater,
the giantess clasped her child in her arms, smiling and screaming her
thanks across the tumbling waters.

“Well, was I right, or was I right?” chuckled Roger, teetering backward
and forward on the rail and preening his feathers self-consciously.
“And I’ve another idea just as good in case you should be interested.”

“Oh, keep it till tomorrow,” grumbled Samuel Salt, who felt terribly
depressed at the loss of his rare specimen.

“But tomorrow will be too late,” persisted Roger, settling on the
Captain’s shoulder. “Now, while these savages are in a good humor, let
me fly over and drop another Oz flag on the Island. Maybe this time
they’ll let it stand and once it flies over the crater the Island is
Ozma’s.”

“By the tooth of a harpooned whale, you’re right! I’m forgetting my
duty to Oz,” breathed Samuel, straightening up purposefully. “But our
kind of flag won’t stand the climate yonder.”

The Read Bird, however, had thought even of that. Taking a sheet of
iron from the hold, the resourceful fellow stopped in the galley long
enough to burn in the word OZ with the red hot poker. Then, thrusting
the poker itself through two slits in his iron banner, he flew jauntily
back to the Island.

“Ahoy, and there’s a standard bearer for you!” Rubbing his hands
together, Samuel strode to the rail. “Bless my buttons, the boy
deserves a medal for this, and shall have one, too.”

This time the Lavaland Islanders watched Roger’s approach with quiet
interest and as he hovered uncertainly over their heads held up their
hands for the iron flag. But Roger, made daring by their friendliness,
swooped down suddenly to the crater’s edge, and jamming his banner
between two smoking boulders soared aloft.

“Lavaland Islanders!” screamed the Read Bird hoarsely. “You are now
under the protection and rule of Queen Ozma of Oz. Lavaland Islanders,
you are hereby adjured to keep the peace and the law and LAV one
another!”

His voice cracked from fright and excitement, but finishing
triumphantly, he spread his wings and skimmed back to the _Crescent
Moon_.

“Hung wung wah HEEE!” yelled the Islanders all together, nodding their
heads and waving their arms cheerfully. “Hung wung wah HEEE!”