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'Nothing 'll divart me,' said Hunter, sullenly.
when that raft's built, I'm off.'
Right or wrong,
He devoured his allowance of food rapidly, wild with impatience to fall to his work again. Tripshore, noticing the general sympathy with the man's scheme, made haste to finish his supper, so that the others might not think he was reluctant to assist his mate. I kept silent, resolved to say nothing more on the subject.
As Hunter was leaving the hut, he said to me, I suppose you'll let me have the compass, sir?'
"It is Sir Mordaunt's property,' I answered.
Certainly you may have it,' exclaimed the baronet.
'Remember,' said I, 'should we ultimately have to betake ourselves to a raft, we shall want that compass, to know in what direction we drift.'
'But what raft do ye mean to build ? ' inquired Hunter. 'Where's the wood? It'll be pretty nigh all used up by the time I'm done.' 'There's plenty here,' said I, pointing to the hut. 'Oh, I forgot that,' said he.
'Let him have the compass, Walton,' cried Norie.
"Yes, if he goes alone, he should be furnished with every requirement our miserable stock will yield,' said Sir Mordaunt. risks his life for us, remember, Walton,'
'He knows,' said I, 'that my objections are not made to defeat his wishes, but to protect ourselves, and him too, for the matter of that.'
The man, without answering, walked swiftly away, Tripshore following leisurely. It was not very pleasant for me to look round, and to see on the faces of our little company that they considered my timidity was trying to deprive them of a chance of escape. Yet I could not mistake their manner. I would particularly refer to Miss Tuke and Mrs. Stretton and Norie. This touched me to the quick. Was it not to my interest as much as to theirs that Hunter should venture his life, if he chose, to find us help? I objected to his enterprise because I could not endure that the man should sacrifice his life to no purpose; and also because it seemed an unmanly thing to let him go forth alone into the great sea upon a little raft, though any one of us who had offered to accompany him would, in my opinion, have acted with criminal folly.
Depressed by the behaviour of my companions, and greatly vexed by it for I could put my hand on my breast and say with an honest heart that I had done my best for them all, and would strive to do more if time were given me-I took the glass and walked to the hill, partly to search the sea, and partly that I might be alone.
As I passed the fire, I stopped to throw some wood upon it. It was nearly out, but the wood soon kindled, and sent up a volume of smoke, the twigs and stems of the bushes being almost as dry as dead wood, whereas the leaves, being green, damped the blaze, and made a smoke like one of those burning heaps of leaves and stubble and
rubbish which you have seen in. fields. The sun was still very hot, but it was westering fast, and its noontide fierceness was gone. The first thing I noticed on reaching the top of the hill was Lady Brookes' grave. Sir Mordaunt must have worked very hard, and I wondered where he had found all the stones and pieces of rock he had piled upon it. He had raised them very near as high as a man's waist. There was no fear of that grave being missed, should the baronet ever be able to send for the poor lady's remains.
I sat down on top of the hill, with my knees up in front of me, upon which I rested the telescope. The gentle wind that was blowing was very sweet, though warm, and greatly qualified the heat of the sunlight. As I gazed around me, I thought, Wbat a little bit of an island is this! What a speck upon the mighty Atlantic, whose vast waters washed the eastern heavens, and interposed nearly four thousand miles of ocean betwixt us and home! I searched the horizon all that way, wondering, since the atmosphere was so clear, whether there would be land in sight; but I could see nothing that looked like land, nor any appearance of a vessel. All that was visible upon the water were the reefs I have before described, with here and there a shadow, that might well have passed for the reflection of a cloud, had the sky not been clear, but which I could not doubt would be a shoal.
I then brought the telescope to bear upon the south and west, and scanned those quarters very closely and narrowly. Nothing rewarded my search beyond the point of land we had before descried. I tried hard to determine its features, but it was too far off: it was not more, indeed, than a faint blue cloud in appearance.
I put the glass down, and, folding my arms, looked idly and listlessly about me, with something of that vacancy of soul that had been in me a short time before. The two men were hard at work in the creek. They had made great progress with the raft, which consisted of several planks nailed to short beams; and they had contrived a sort of box annidships, like an open companion batchway, meant, I suppose, for Hunter to sit and paddle in. There was a certain cleverness in the form of the raft, and for fishing, or for inaking short excursions, or even for venturing for the distant glimpse of land, it would have been a very valuable thing on a fine smooth day ; but literally to go to sea in, it looked to me as worthless as a single plank, and I was more than ever persuaded that the man would be acting like a madman to quit the island on so frail and dangerous a contrivance.
The rest of the party had come out of the hut, and were sitting under the trees, which were, I believe, stunted brasilleto. There they could see the men working, and yet be in the shade. They made a sad group for me to watch. It was a cruel situation for women to be in, more particularly for a delicate girl like Miss Tuke, who had been flung on a sudden from the luxury of a fine yacht into a state of absolute homelessness, beggary, and harsh privation,
backed and darkened by the shadow of terrible death. Grievous was it, too, to look at Mrs. Stretton, and think that we had saved her from one desperate peril, only to plunge her into an even worse form of suffering; for suffering is to be measured by time. Another day might have terminated her anguish on the wreck; but who could guess how long our present imprisonment was to last, and how much misery we should have to endure before we were visited by death or succoured by human hands?
My eyes, quitting my poor companions, wandered over the reef on which we had struck, and which from this height I could clearly see gleaming in the crystalline blue water. Only three of the bodies. of the crew had come ashore, and I supposed that the others had been washed by the current away to sea. Thither also, no doubt, had gone the spars of the yacht and the other floating portions, and may be most of those stores which would have been so precious to us in our destitution.
I imagined there was a trickle of tide setting to the westward now, and I was letting my eye run that way, when I caught sight of a black object in the water, about three-quarters of a mile distant from the westernmost point of the reef.
I believed at first that it was a shark, but it looked too big for a shark. I snatched up the glass and pointed it. The instant the object entered the field of the lenses I perceived that it was a boat bottom up.
I would not credit my eyes at first, and continued looking and looking, until it was impossible for me to doubt that the object was a boat, with her keel just above the water, and portions of her bottom glancing in the delicate swell.
I was so agitated, that I trembled as though a wintry blast had struck me; my heart seemed to stop beating, and I felt as if about to faint; a cold perspiration covered my forehead; involuntarily my hands clenched themselves until my finger nails cut into the palm. I closed my eyes tight, to clear the brain, and held them closed for some moments, after which I pointed the glass and looked again; and being now quite sure, I sprang to my feet and hallooed to the men in the creek with all my might. They dropped their work, affrighted by my voice, and stared. I put my hand to my mouth and bawled, There's a boat, bottom up, out yonder! Come up here and look at her!' And I stood pointing in so wild an attitude that they might well have imagined I had taken leave of my senses. However, they instantly came running to the hill, and the others, who had heard my cry, came running too, all save Sir Mordaunt, who half rose, but sank back again.
I gave him the glass, and
Tripshore was the first to reach me. pointed to the boat. Instantly he cried, be the yacht's boat; her that the men launched, and that drownded them.'
What is it?' shouted Hunter, rushing up to us.
'Look, Tom! Isn't that the yacht's boat there?' exclaimed Tripshore.
He peered, and uttered a loud cry. Yes, yes! that's her! that's the boat we launched, and that capsized with us. For the Lord's sake, Mr. Tripshore, let's go and secure her.'
By this time the others had arrived, and a whole volley of questions was let fly at me. They thought it was a ship I had seen. But I had now recovered my composure; and after briefly answering their questions, and giving them the telescope, to look at the boat for themselves, I turned to Tripshore and Hunter.
Is your raft ready to go afloat?' I asked.
'She'll swim as she is,' answered Hunter, in a voice full of uncontrollable excitement.
"You'll want a couple of paddles,' said I.
mile, and by paddling you'll fetch her easily.'
That boat is within a
A couple of planks 'll do for paddles, Tom,' exclaimed Tripshore.
Come along!' shouted the other.
'Take a tow-line with you!' I bawled after them, as they dashed down the hill.
Two were enough to launch the raft, and as they were both seamen they knew what to do. Though I had pulled myself together again, my heart beat strongly. That boat, unless damaged beyond all possibility of repair, might save our lives. If she were indeed the boat that the yacht carried amidships, then she would be big enough to receive the whole of us. And never had I seen the hand of God plainer in any circumstance than in this; for Hunter's raft, against the building of which I had put my face, lay almost ready to shove off in, so that we should be able to get the boat at once and save precious time, and be beforehand with the darkness, or with any wind that might come with the darkness.
Seeing the baronet wave his hand to us, I asked Mrs. Stretton to go to him, and tell him that the yacht's boat was there, and that the men were about to bring her in. She went at once, whilst the rest of us stayed on the hill-top to watch the boat and the movements of the men.
As I have said, the frame of the raft was finished, and, indeed, this was not a job that need have been long in doing, for the planks and pieces of timber were all ready there. The size of the raft was not bigger than the top of a dinner table, and there were two of them to put it together. Yet it was very nearly half an hour before they got away in the raft, in spite of Hunter having told me that she would swim as she was; the cause of the delay being they had nothing to serve them for paddles but planks, which they had to taper with the chopper at one end, in order to grasp them. In all
this time, however, the boat barely drifted a hundred yards to the westward, showing the languor of the tide and its direction at that time. Yet my impatience was so great that it was a positive torture. I would not shout to the men, for I could see they were doing their best; yet it would have eased me to stand and roar, for I was mad to secure the boat, and every minute that passed seemed to my crazy anxiety like the mouldering away of our chance.
I was greatly tormented also by Norie's questions. He would ask me first one thing, then another; was miserably importunate; one moment wringing his hands, and saying the men would lose the boat; then shouting that the boat had vanished, and begging me for the love of God to look for her, and tell him if I could see her; and then, when I had pointed her out, raving again at the men's slowness. Miss Tuke hardly spoke; but her excitement and anxiety were fully as great as mine and Norie's. Her eyes were on fire, and yet she was mortally pale ; her bosom panted as though she was fresh from a race, and once she caught Carey's arm and held it, as though she were about to sink down. The sun stood over the point of reef where the yacht had beaten, in the south-west sky, and the heavens beirg cloudless, the sea within the compass of the reflection of the luminary was like a sheet of flashing gold. It was impossible to look at
a it; it was nearly as blinding as the sun himself. Fortunately the boat was to the eastward of that splendour, where the water was dark blue, beautifully pure in tint, and that which helped me to keep the boat in sight was the light swell, that would heave it up an instant and expose a portion of the streaming frame, which the sunshine touched and set on fire, so that at such moments the brilliant reflection in the wet planks might have passed for a sun-bright star shining in the soft deep azure of the ocean.
At last the raft was ready. Hunter got into the box amidships, that was big enough for one only, and Tripshore sat just before it, his legs under him, like a tailor. Both men kept their faces forward. They paddled nimbly, and though the raft was not more shapely than a stage that a carpenter works upon over a ship's side, they managed to impel it at a fair pace. They had to come down the creek, and strike the sea at the opening between the beach and the reef; but the water was very smooth, there was scarcely any tide, and in five minutes they were clear of the reef, and propelling the raft very steadily towards the boat.
I ran down the hill to the beach to watch them from that point, and the others you may be sure followed me. I found that I could see the boat as plainly from the beach as from the hill, and perceived that the men had it in sight too, by the steadiness with which they aimed the raft at it. We all stood in a breathless state, watching the strange figure of that raft, and the sparkle of the paddles as the men flourished them. Our lives might depend upon the amazing discovery of that boat, that veritable godsend, which lay floating there,