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   Chapter 19 SHIPWRECKED

The Adventure Club Afloat By Ralph Henry Barbour Characters: 18538

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Afterwards the boys looked back on the ensuing five minutes as a dream rather than a reality. The cruiser grounded with an impetus that set pans rattling in galley, lifted again and once more thumped her stern down, as she did so swinging her stern slowly around in a last frantic effort to pull clear. Then the boat careened, a sea washed clean across the deck and, with her keel forward of the engine firmly imbedded in the sand, she lay still save for the tremors that shook her when the angry surf rushed in across her beam.

There was confusion enough, but on the whole the six alarmed boys behaved sensibly. Steve, wet to his waist, turned off the engine and banged shut the chart-box even as he shouted his orders. "Life preservers, fellows! Han, get the big cable from the locker. Keep your heads now!"

Clinging like a leech to the canted roof of the forward cabin, Steve himself worked along with the rope and, half-drowned in rain and surf, made it fast to the cleat. The others, struggling into life-belts, clung to the stanchions or whatever they could find. Steve crawled back with the coil, drenched and breathless.

"We've got to get off, fellows," he said. "It's only a dozen yards to the beach and we can make it all right. Close every hatch. Ossie, fetch a can of biscuits. See that the lid's tight." Wave after wave struck on the starboard beam and fell hissing across the boat. The side curtains were ripped from the stanchions and fluttered wildly about them.

"Going to swim for it?" asked Joe above the roar of waves and tempest.

"Yes! We've got to. The boat would swamp in an instant. I'll start ahead with the line. You fellows wait and then follow it in."

"Better let me go along," said Joe, his hands formed into a speaking-trumpet.

"No need. I'll make it."

"Look out for back-tow!"

The other nodded. He had pulled off his coat and unlaced his shoes and now he dropped these things through the forward hatch and wrapped the big rope around his waist. "Better not try to swim with your coats, fellows," he instructed. "Nor shoes. Don't take any chances. Last man off see that this hatch is shut tight." He crawled around the stanchions on the starboard side and crept along to the bow, the others, huddled together on the sloping bridge, watching anxiously. Then he slipped from sight. Once they saw his head, or thought they saw it, a darker blot in the grey-green welter. Joe was already creeping toward the bow, and, having reached it, he crouched there, blinded by rain and spray, and waited for the rope to tauten. It seemed a long while before he waved an arm to the watchers behind and swung himself off. They saw his hands travel along the rope a moment and then he was smothered up in the spume.

One by one the others followed without misadventure save when Han slipped on the deck and would have rolled across and plunged over the further side had he not fortunately caught the iron support of the searchlight in front of the funnel. Phil was the last to go. With a final look about the deck as he clung to an awning pipe, he followed Ossie. The latter was swinging himself hand-over-hand by the rope with the waves surging to his shoulders. Then Phil saw him strike out and the waters hid him. The beach was visible at moments from the bow, and once Phil, as he prepared to swing himself off, thought he saw figures there. Then he, too, was battling. The waves swept him under the rope and would have wrenched him from it had he not clung on desperately. Holding to it with his right hand, he sought to find it with his left and so draw himself on, but the surf swirled him about dizzily and he gave up the attempt. Instead, almost drowned in the smother, he used his left arm and his legs for swimming, edging his right hand along the cable as best he could, and presently, although none too soon, felt the churning gravel beneath his stockinged feet. But when he tried to stand, the receding water swept his legs from under him so unexpectedly and forcibly that he lost his grasp of the rope. He went down and felt the water tugging him back, swam mightily and was lifted to the top of an in-rushing breaker, filled his lungs with air and felt blindly for the rope. Then hands seized him and Joe and Han, clinging to the cable, dragged him ashore.

Phil found himself under the frowning battlement of the huge cliff on a ledge of sand and shingle scarcely twenty feet wide. But there was less sweep for the rain here and the Adventurer was plainly visible through the strange semi-darkness. Steve had made the shore end of the cable fast to a boulder that stood, half out of the shingle, at the base of the cliff. For a long minute the six boys huddled there in the storm and disconsolately gazed at the boat. It was Han who voiced the thought of most of them.

"She won't stay together long, I guess," he said sorrowfully. "Those waves will batter her to pieces."

"She'll stand a lot of battering," answered Steve hopefully. "It's hitting her on the beam and she hasn't swung much since I left her. The tide's still coming in and-" He stopped. Then: "I ought to have dropped the stern anchor over," he went on. "What an idiot! If she had that to hold her from swinging broadside-"

"Would it hold her?" asked Joe dubiously.

"It would help." Steve tightened his belt. "I'm going back," he said.

They remonstrated, but to no purpose. Then Joe and Han wanted to go along, and were denied. "It's no trick," said Steve resolutely. "I can do it easily. You fellows stand by when I come ashore again. That's the only tough part of it. Someone might see if there's a way up from this beach. If the tide comes much higher it's going to be a bit damp here."

It was Perry who undertook that task, while the others followed Steve to the breakers' edge and watched him return to the Adventurer. He made no attempt to swim, but pulled himself along by the line, hand-over-hand, his head for the most of the time under the water. But presently he emerged and they saw him clamber to the deck, crawl along it and disappear. He seemed a long time there, but he came into sight again eventually and began the return trip. Perry was back by then and they formed a line by clasping hands and Joe stood well above his waist, battered by the surf, and Steve was helped along from one to another and presently they were all back on the beach once more.

"I got it over," gasped Steve, "but it was hard work. I think it will hold. If the storm will only go down pretty soon she may get through. I think some of her planks are sprung, though. There's a foot of water in the after cabin. I got some matches and this cup." He pulled a tin cup from a trousers pocket. "Can we get up the cliff a way?"

"Yes," answered Perry. "There's a sort of a shelf about a hundred feet beyond there. I'll show you the way."

"Those waves will batter her to pieces"

They followed. Real darkness was coming fast now and Perry found difficulty in retracing his steps. But in a few minutes, by dint of scrambling and pulling themselves upward, they reached the shelf. It was barely large enough to hold them all and was scarcely ten feet above the level of the beach below. Nor was it at all level, for it had been formed by the accumulation of falling debris from the cliff and sloped outward at a steep angle. Some dwarf firs and low bushes had gained rootage, however, and it was possible for them to huddle there without fear of rolling to the rocks beneath. Steve tried to find some dead branches to build a fire, and did succeed in getting a few, but his first attempt to set them alight proved the futility of the undertaking. There was nothing for it save to lie as close together as they could, for warmth, and await the morning.

That was a miserable night. They all slept at times, and by changing places they all, for a while at least, found some degree of warmth. But they had been drenched through to start with and when, at last, the stormy world began to lighten their garments were still sodden and they shivered whenever they stirred. Ossie was ill toward morning, but there was nothing they could do for him except huddle closely about him. He complained of intense pains in his chest and Steve had horrible visions of pneumonia until Ossie, asked to locate the trouble more definitely, laid a trembling hand on a portion of his anatomy and muttered "Here" through chattering teeth.

"That's not your chest, you idiot," said Steve, vastly relieved. "That's your stomach!"

"Is it?" returned the sufferer miserably. "Well, it hurts just the same!"

But after an hour he felt considerably better and went off to sleep. By that time it was early morning and they could see about them. The rain had almost ceased, but the wind still blew hard and the surf was still pounding. Once during the darkness the waves had, from the sound, entirely covered the little beach. Now, however, they had receded and, as the light grew, they saw that the Adventurer lay, with regard to the tide, about as they had last glimpsed her. But she had swung her stern further around, in spite of the anchor Steve had dropped, and the waves were breaking almost squarely across her. She was a pathetic sight. Her side cu

rtains were waving in ribands, the forward flag-pole held nothing but one tiny rag of blue bunting and the tender, torn from the chocks, was jammed between the stanchions ahead.

"But she's still whole," said Steve from between blue lips. "And the storm's going down. If she isn't sprung too much, and we could only get her off of there-"

"Getting her off," said Joe with a pessimism born of hunger and cold and the gloom of the early morning, "will be about as easy as moving a house with a toothpick. I dare say the sand's bedded around her two feet high."

"I'm afraid so," Steve agreed. "Well, let's have something to eat. Will you have steak or chicken, Joe?"

"Broiled ham and a baked potato, please, and a couple of eggs. Not more than two minutes for the eggs. And you might bring me a couple of hot biscuits-"

"Oh, shut up," begged Steve miserably.

"Well, you started it! Who's awake here?"

"I am," muttered Perry. "Seems to me I haven't been anything but awake for ten years."

"Well, want to order your breakfast now, or will you wait?" asked Joe cheerfully.

"Guess I'll wait," answered Perry grimly. "Where are those crackers?"

They got Ossie awake with difficulty and Steve doled out six crackers to each. The tin cup came in handy, for there was a pool of rain water in a ledge below them.

"What I can't see," grumbled Ossie, "is why we didn't stay on board the boat. It would have been a lot drier than this place."

"You may think so now," replied Steve, "but wait till you get aboard again. We might have stayed on her, as it's turned out, but the boat didn't look very homelike to me yesterday!"

"How the dickens were we to know that it would hold together, or even stay on its keel?" asked Joe disgustedly. "Don't talk like a sick goldfish, Ossie!"

As soon as they had consumed breakfast they scrambled down to the beach with many groans and stretched their cramped and aching limbs. The rain, although now little more than a very heavy mist, limited their vision to a hundred yards or so in any direction. Steve hazarded the opinion that they were not more than two miles from the mainland, although he made no attempt to give a name to the island they were on. The fate of the Follow Me worried them all, but Phil, always the most sanguine in times of stress, pointed out that as the other craft had not followed them onto the island she was probably safe.

"She may be piled up further along somewhere," suggested Joe. "I say we'd better have a look. It would help a bit to know what sort of a place we've struck, anyway. For all we know there may be a house just around the corner!"

So they set out in two parties, Steve, Ossie and Phil going one way and the rest the other. It was agreed that they were to be back in an hour at the most. Twenty minutes later, each exploration party having stuck to the beach, they came together again, much to their mutual surprise.

"The pesky thing isn't more than a few acres big!" exclaimed Joe disgustedly.

"And it's entirely surrounded by water," added Perry brightly.

"Most islands are," said Ossie. "We can get up on top easily enough here, fellows. Let's see what it looks like."

Their island was little more than a rock stuck out of the water. Just how big it was was difficult to determine since the haze of driving mist allowed but little view. From the beach, at a point presumably directly opposite the place where they had come ashore they climbed by the aid of rocky footholds and bushes to a broken but generally level summit clad with a tangled growth of blueberry and briars and sprinkled most liberally with boulders. The ground arose gradually as they advanced, guided by Steve's pocket compass, and before very long they reached the wind-swept edge of the cliff against which they had spent the night. From the summit they could see dimly at brief intervals the form of the Adventurer far below.

"Well, I don't see that we've accomplished much," said Han. "We're here, but where are we? And how the dickens are we going to get back again? If anyone thinks that I'm going to risk my neck sliding down here he's mistaken."

"We don't ask you to, Ossie dear," said Han. "Your little neck is much too precious. One thing is certain, anyway, I guess: there's no hotel on the place!"

"Hotel!" said Joe. "Gee, I'd be satisfied with a-um-cow-shed!"

Nevertheless, they made the return journey in better spirits, for they had walked the aches from their limbs and warmth into their bodies. On the way Steve made them gather fagots of dead branches and they found a number of larger pieces of wood on the beach. By the time they were once more "at home," as Perry put it, they had all the material for a fire save paper or some other form of kindling. Steve experimented with twigs from the fir trees on the ledge, but they were too wet to burn. No one had any paper, or if they had it was too damp.

"What would Robinson Crusoe have done?" asked Steve, frowning thoughtfully.

Joe, who had seated himself tiredly on the wet sand and was digging his stockinged heels into it, sneered at Mr. Crusoe. "He'd have made a trip on his raft," he said, "and fetched ashore a bundle of kindling. If it hadn't been for that wreck to draw on Robinson Crusoe would have starved to death in twenty-four hours!"

"Of course!" exclaimed Steve. "That's the idea!"

"What, starve?" asked Joe distastefully.

"No, you idiot, go out to the Adventurer and get some gasoline!"

"Sure!" agreed Ossie. "Only-just when we were getting dry at last-"

"What's the matter with stripping," asked Steve cheerfully, suiting action to word. "Is there a can or anything I can put it in, Ossie?"

"There's a jug in the starboard locker. There's about a pint of vinegar in it, but I guess we can sacrifice that."

"Drink it, Steve, and save it," suggested Perry.

The tide had retreated further by now and the bow of the cruiser was almost beyond the breakers and Steve's journey was not difficult. When he got back, with the vinegar jug filled with gasoline hung around his neck, he reported the Adventurer waist-deep in water at the stern. "You fellows start the fire," he said, "and I'll go back and bring some grub ashore. There's no reason for starving with food handy."

Joe volunteered to accompany him, and, after disrobing and putting his damp clothes under a stone to keep them from blowing away, he and Steve plunged back into the water. Meanwhile success met the efforts of the firemen and soon a good-sized blaze was roaring in spite of wind and mist. They had located it as near the foot of the cliff as possible and, although the smoke made itself disagreeable by billowing out in their faces, it was thereby somewhat sheltered from the elements. Steve and Joe made three trips and brought back frying-pan, coffee-pot and smaller utensils, as well as provisions, and a half-hour later they were beginning a supplementary breakfast of bacon and coffee. And if anything in all the wide world, from the time of Noah to that of the Adventure Club, ever tasted sublime to a shipwrecked mariner it was that same bacon and coffee!

When they had finished, Phil's watch-the only one of six which had neither run down for lack of winding or been incapacitated by immersion in salt water-gave the hour as twenty minutes past seven. Comforted by food and drink, they warmed themselves at the fire and waited for the tide to recede far enough to allow a survey of the Adventurer. The comfort was too much for Perry and he fell asleep with his feet almost in the embers and his head on a rock and slumbered emphatically. At last the line of breakers was well astern of the cruiser and the boys, leaving their stockings to dry by the fire and rolling their trousers up, began their investigation.

On the whole the Adventurer had so far come off easily. Her planks had been strained in several places, but there were no breaks. Steve, hanging over the stern, tried to get sight of the propeller but failed, as the sand had settled about it. Joe, wading out into the water, had better success when he investigated. He came up, dripping, with the welcome announcement that the blades were intact and that, so far as he could ascertain by feeling, the shaft was not bent. But things looked pretty dismal below-decks. The forward cabin was awash, as was the engine-well, and the after stateroom was knee-deep. They gathered on the bridge deck and held council.

"We can plug her seams, all right," said Steve, "and by keeping a pump going get to port, if we can only get her off the beach. But I can't, for the life of me, see how we're going to do that. Her bow's settled a foot deep in sand and it's piled up along this side of her. Even her propeller's buried!"

"Not very much," said Joe. "If we start her she'll kick it away in a minute."

"But there isn't any use starting her," said Steve thoughtfully, "unless she's afloat a good deal more than she was this morning. If only we had something to fix a line to astern we might pull her off with the windlass." His gaze ran seaward and in an instant he was on his feet gazing intently through the mist. "What's that back there?" he demanded eagerly. "Isn't it a rock, fellows?"

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