Dick Hamilton's Steam Yacht/Chapter 29
With soft clams for bait, Paul Drew and Tim Muldoon made up the fishing party next day, while Dick, Henry and Widdy, aided by the two Cubans, put the finishing touches on the raft. Beeby went off with his camera, which he had brought to the island. He said he wanted to get some last views of the place where they had been marooned.
The fishing, which was done off some rocks that jutted out from shore, was good, and soon the two youths had a fine supply. The old sailor cleaned them, and then, laid on a network of sticks, over a slow fire, the fish were smoked, to preserve them for use as food when the voyage of the raft should have been started.
The tins and cask were filled with water, and fastened to the raised platform in the centre of the craft. What little food remained was carefully stored aboard, together with as many soft clams as could be gathered.
"We can catch some fish as we sail along," remarked Frank Bender, "but we'll have to eat them raw."
"Raw? Not a bit of it!" cried Dick. "I've just thought of something. We can make a stone fireplace aboard the raft, and take along some wood. Then, when it doesn't rain—and it's not likely to for a while—we can cook. I never thought of that before, but I've often seen fires built on big lumber rafts, and ours is large enough. We won't have to eat our fish raw, if we're luckyenough to catch any. And another thing, I'm going to rig up some sort of a sail. We can do it with pieces of the bagging. Then we can get some motion beside that of drifting. Oh, before we get through with this we'll have a regular ocean steamer," and he laughed gaily.
He was soon constructing the fireplace on the raft, with a bed of dirt beneath the stones to avoid danger from fire. Henry Darby helped, and Frank Bender gathered a supply of dry wood, which was stored in one of the wooden boxes under the platform. Then a mast, with a boom at top and bottom, to hold distended a square sail of bagging, was made, and erected.
"Now, we begin to look like something," declared Dick, as he surveyed the raft. "We'll float her at high tide to-morrow, and then we'll see how she rides. She may not be as swift as my steam yacht, but she'll answer, I hope."
"What are you going to christen her?" asked Henry.
"Guess we'll call her the Albatross II," said Dick, and that name was selected.
It was now time for the scanty dinner, which was all that could be served, for rations were scarce, when Beeby came panting from the woods, and dashed down the beach toward his companions, w^ho were grouped around Dick.
"I got 'em!" he cried. "I got 'em!"
"Got what?" asked the young millionaire, anxiously.
"A whole lot of birds! They're like chickens, nice, and plump, and fat! I got 'em. I sneaked up on 'em, and they didn't hear me, and I got 'em! They ought to make fine eating!"
"Good for you!" cried Dick. "Like chickens, eh? Well, we'll wait dinner and cook some now, and also take some cooked ones along on the raft. You're all right, Beeby, if you are fat. Where are they, and how many did you kill?"
"Kill? I didn't kill any!" was the surprising answer. "I meant that I snapshotted 'em. I'll make a dandy picture! There must have been a hundred birds! I used my last film on 'em!"
For an instant Dick looked at the fat cadet. The hope that had risen high in all their hearts was rudely dispelled. Beeby gazed about, trying to understand wherein he had offended, for the silence was ominous.
"Throw him down, and stuff sand in his mouth!" cried Dick, at length. "The idea of telling us you have a whole lot of birds like chickens, and we about to eat some scraps of corned-beef, and cold clams, and then, when our mouths are all watering, you say you snapshotted 'em! Snapshotted 'em! You ought to be made eat some fricasseed clam shells, Beeby."
"Why—why, didn't you want me to take a picture of 'em?" asked the stout youth, blankly.
"Take a picture of 'em? Why, in the name of the sacred cat, didn't you shoot some for dinner?" asked Dick.
"I—I didn't have the rifle. But I'll go back and see if I can pot some. There are hundreds of 'em."
"No, we'll have grub first, and then we'll see what we can do. It sounds good, and I guess, after all, you're entitled to a vote of thanks, Innis, for discovering them."
Dick and Beeby went hunting that afternoon, and the young millionaire, who was a good shot with the rifle, managed to get a number of the plump birds. They were roasted, and furnished a good supper, while a quantity of the cooked fowl were put aboard the raft for future use.
The next morning, bidding farewell to the desolate island, where they had been marooned for nearly a week, the little party floated the raft at high tide, got aboard, and, hoisting the rude sail, while Widdy steered with a sweep, which he had improvised from a sapling, and a board from a box, they set off—for where they did not know.
There was a light wind, and the day was fair, and Widdy, who had all the instinct of an old salt, headed the raft, as well as he could, toward Cuba. They did not hope to reach it, or, rather, they hoped they would be picked up before having to sail so far.
Of their voyage on the raft they talked for many years afterward, for it was a novel experience. At first, it was not so bad, for the sea was calm, and they even built a fire and cooked some fish which they caught. Senor Valdez volunteered to serve in the "galley," as Dick called it, the Cuban gentleman proving an expert chef, even with such rude facilities at his command. He and his son were jolly good companions, as well, for, now that they had each other, no hardships seemed too much for them.
The raft, naturally, made slow progress, but to the boys anything was better than remaining on the lonely island, waiting for a vessel to take them off.
For three days they sailed on, uneventfully. They had enough to eat to keep them from feeling hungry, though there was no great variety, and they had water to drink, though it was flat and warm. They even managed to get some sleep on piles of seaweed which had been put on the raft.
But the sea, as if tired of being so calm, kicked up a fuss on the fourth day out, and waves began to come aboard. The fire was put out, and some of the tins of water washed overboard. This was a severe loss, for their scant supply was getting lower each hour. They were wet and miserable, and when it came on to rain, the only consolation in the storm was that they caught a little fresh water.
The next day proved hot and muggy, when the body seemed to want as much water as a sponge. Dick, backed up by Widdy, would let only a little of the fresh fluid be used. The boys were advised to keep their bodies wet, as this helped to slake their thirst. There was little difficulty in this, as the spray and waves kept every one aboard the raft more or less soaked.
They had to eat cold victuals, and on the fifth day, even these were limited in quantity, for the food was giving out.
It was a forlorn and weary raft of adventurers that sailed slowly over the sea, with every one aboard straining his eyes for a sight of a ship that would rescue them.
"It certainly is tough," murmured Beeby, when he was allowed but a mouthful of water. "Terribly tough! Tm awful dry!"
"Think of something else!" counseled Dick. "We may be picked up to-morrow."
They were not, though, and with their supply of food down almost to nothing, and only a little water left, their situation was desperate. Poor Grit whined and looked up into Dick's face, as if trying to understand why he did not have all the meat and water he wanted. The young millionaire (and what a mockery his wealth seemed to him then) shared his rations with the dogs, but would not allow the others to deprive themselves of any of theirs. Dick only drew his belt tighter, and gazed off into space, hoping against hope that he would see a ship. He wet his parched lips, and prayed silently—not so much for himself, as for the others, while Grit whined at his feet, and licked his hand.
The little puppy, not being able to stand the strain, died, and, rather sorrowfully, they cast him overboard.
It was on the ninth day out—a hot, broiling day—when the sun seemed fairly to sizzle through the bagging awning, and force out every drop of moisture from one's body. There was not an ounce of water left, and death stared them in the face. They lay about the raft limply, almost too weak to speak.
It was Widdy who first saw the approaching, ship. At first he feared his eyes were deceiving him, and he rubbed them, and stared again and again, to make sure, before he ventured to cry out:
They all leaped to their feet with new strength at his words, and gazed where he pointed. At first it was but a speck, but they shouted and waved any rag or piece of clothing they could catch up. Of course, their feeble voices did not carry, but they must have been seen, for, presently, when the ship was made out to be a steamer, they saw the course changed, and she bore down upon them.
"We're saved, thank God!" gasped Dick, and there were tears in his eyes, while Grit, as if catching the spirit of hope, leaped about, and barked joyously.
An hour later they were aboard the steamer Trascaron, and were being fed cautiously on soup and weak tea, while their raft was abandoned, and with thankful hearts they learned that they were aboard a vessel bound for Santiago.
"And when we get there I'm going to hire another yacht, and search for mine!" declared Dick, with something of a return of his former energy.