"If what you say is true, and you find that they have already departed on this supposed journey, my private yacht is at your disposal. It lies in the mouth of the river at Landensport. The captain and engineer are on board. You will need no further crew. She is the fastest private engine-driven yacht afloat. If necessity demands, do not hesitate risking her destruction, but you will not, of course, endanger your own life."
"All right; then I guess everything is settled. You will wire instructions to the captain of the yacht. I must hurry to my train." Curlie hastened from the room.
Joe was awaiting Curlie at the depot. Filled with an eager desire to know what was to be the nature of this new adventure, he could wait scarcely long enough to buy tickets, reserve sleeper berths, and to board the train before demanding full details.
The train was a trifle slow in pulling out. As he outlined the situation to Joe, Curlie kept an eye out of the window. Once he caught sight of a slight girlish figure which seemed familiar. He could not be sure, so heavily veiled was her face.
He had quite forgotten the incident when, a few hours later, he entered the diner for his evening lunch. What then was his surprise, on entering, to see Gladys Ardmore calmly seated at a table and nibbling at a bun.
She motioned him to a seat opposite her.
"You didn't expect to have me for a fellow-passenger, did you?" she smiled.
Curlie shook his head.
"Well, I didn't expect to go until the last moment. Then the professor came with the translation of the writing on the map all written out. Father thought you should have it, so he sent me with it. I arrived just in time and decided all at once that I ought to—Oh, that I wanted—that I must go with you." There was a pathetic catch in her voice that went straight to Curlie's heart.
"After all," he told himself, "he's her brother and that means a lot."
When he looked at her the next moment he discovered there the strangely determined look which was so like her father's, and which he had seen once before on her face.
"Here is the translation," she said simply as she passed over a roll of paper. "Order your dinner; we will have plenty of time to look over the papers later."
"She's a most determined and composed little piece of humanity," was Curlie's mental comment. "I don't like her following me, but since she's here I suppose I better make the best of it!"
Had he known how far she would follow him and what adventures she was destined to share with him, he might have been tempted to wire her father to call her back. Since he did not know, he ordered meat-pie, French fried potatoes, English tea biscuits, cocoa and apple pie, then settled himself down to talk of trivial matters until the meal was over.
When at last he saw the waiter remove the girl's finger bowl, Curlie put out his hand for the paper. The hand trembled a trifle. Truth was, he was more eager than he was willing to admit to read the French teacher's translation of the writing on the back of the map.
Now as he held it in his hand one question came to the forefront in his mind: Was this photograph a reproduction of the map that had looked so much like it, the one in the great volume at the library? The translation would dear up that point.
But then it might not be, he reasoned. The book said that the original of this map had belonged to an English lord something like a hundred years ago; that it had disappeared and nothing had been heard of it since.
"The professor said," smiled the girl, a trifle anxiously, "that the writing was in very, very old Spanish and for that reason he might not have understood every word of it correctly but that taking it all in all he thought he had made the meaning clear."
"We'll have a look," said Curlie, unfolding the paper.
"He said it was the photograph of a very unusual manuscript, rare and valuable." There was something about the way the girl said this which led Curlie to guess that she might know who was in possession of the original. He was, however, too much excited over the first lines of the translation to ask her any questions.
"The Island of Lagos." He read the title to himself. Beneath this in brackets were the words:
"Being the account of how the good ship Torence was cast ashore on an unknown island in the midst of the great sea; an island whereon there are many barbarians having much gold."
Curlie caught his breath. Save for one word the translation was the same as that he had read in the book. That word was of no consequence.
"It's the same map!" he told himself. "The very same!"
The girl, leaning over the table, watched him eagerly. She was both excited and elated over the find.
"Isn't it wonderful?" she exclaimed, clasping her hands. "I think it's great! And to think that my brother and his chum were the ones who found it!"
"Haven't read it all," Curlie mumbled.
"Then read on. Read it all. Please do."
"MANY BARBARIANS AND MUCH GOLD"
Curlie, obeying her instructions, read on and with every line his conviction grew stronger that the conclusions he had come to were well formed.
This is what he read:
"Having spent Good Friday with his family, our captain, deeming further delay but loss of time, determined to cast anchor and sail for the coast of Ireland. Here he hoped to do a brisk business at barter with the peasants and fisher-folk who inhabit the shores.
"But Providence had determined otherwise. Hardly had we been from shore a half day's journey, when, without warning, from out the night there rose a great tumult. This tumult, coming as it did from the shore, grasped us in its mighty arms and hurled us league by league in directions that we would not go. And being exceedingly tossed with the tempest we lightened the ship. On the fourth day we, with our own hand, cast out the tackle of the ship. And when not sun nor moon nor stars had appeared for many days, we counted ourselves for lost; for, having been carried straight away these many days, we expected nothing but that we would come soon to that dark and dreadful place which is the end of all land and all seas."
"Isn't it wonderful?" whispered the girl.
Curlie was too much absorbed to answer her.
"When we had given up all hope," he read on, "Markus Laplone, a very old seaman, said we were nearing some land.
"We took soundings and found it forty fathoms. Then again it was thirty. Then with hopeful hearts we looked for that land. But when at last it broke through the fog it was no land that any of the men had seen, no, not the oldest seaman.
"But fearing to be cast upon rocks, we kept a good watch that we might find some harbor. At last we were rewarded, for to the right of us there was a river flowing into the sea.
"The storm having somewhat abated, we took oars, such as had not been broken by the storm, and some with two men to the oar and some with but one, we made shift to enter this river; having accomplished which, we dropped anchor and gave thanks to God for the preservation of our lives.
"Now, on coming on shore we found this to be indeed a strange land. Not alone were the trees and all vegetation of a sort unknown to us, but the barbarians who came about us were of a complexion such as not one man of us had ever before beheld.
"And, what was more astounding, as we made a fire to cook us food, there passed by us bearing on their backs strangely woven baskets, a caravan of these half-naked barbarians. And, when we motioned to show them we would see within his basket, one of these lowered his basket.
"What we saw astounded us much, for it was all filled with finely-beaten gold. The fellow had as much of it as a stout sailor would be able to carry. And there were many such baskets.
"When I made as though I would take the gold, he became very angry, and would have struck me down with an ugly spear which he bore.
"But when I laughed, making as though it were a joke, he gave me a small piece, the which is at this time in my possession, as proof that what I have written here is truth and no lie.
"Now this island I have shown on the map, the nether side upon which I am writing, as a star with six points to it; though the shore marking nor the extent of the island is as yet unknown to any but those barbarians who live upon it."
There ended the main portion of the story, but in a bracket at the bottom was written:
"In some other place will be found the account of our miraculous return from this strange and mysterious island of many barbarians and much gold."
As Curlie finished, he glanced up with a sigh.
The girl was staring at him so intently that he could not but think she was attempting to read his thoughts.
"Isn't it wonderful?" she breathed at last.
"Yes," said Curlie quickly, "you expressed it even better before. It's great!"
He looked away. His head was in a whirl It was the long-lost map; he was sure of that now. He remembered the figures he had copied from that other reproduction. They were blurred and unreadable on this one. Should he tell her?
His lips opened but no sound came out. No, he would not tell her, not at this time. There might be some other way.
"Your brother and his chum," he said evenly, "have gone in search of that island of gold."
She stared at him in silence.
"If they haven't gone already, they may be gone before we reach the coast," he continued. "They will probably go in Alfred Brightwood's seaplane."
"Yes, yes," she broke her spell of silence. "That is the way they would go. It's—it's a wonderful plane! You—you don't think anything could happen to them, do you?"
"Supposing they do not find the island?"
"But they will."
"It is to be hoped that they will find an island—some island."
"It's a wonderful plane. It would cross the Atlantic!" She clasped and unclasped her hands.
"But supposing," he rose from his chair in his excitement, "supposing they don't find the island exactly where they expect to find it? Supposing, in their eagerness to find that gold, they circle and circle and circle in search of the island until there is no longer any gas in the tank to bring them home."
"Oh, you don't think that!" She sprang to her feet and, gripping his arm to steady herself, looked up into his eyes. There was a heartbreaking appeal in those blue eyes of hers.
"I think," said Curlie steadily, "that my pal, Joe Marion, and I, if we find them gone when we get there, will take your father's speedy yacht and go for a little pleasure trip in the general direction they have taken. Then if they chance to get into trouble, we can give them a lift. Besides," there came a twinkle in his eye, which was wholly lost on the girl, "they might need the yacht to carry home the gold."
"Oh, will you?" she exclaimed, gripping his arm until it hurt. "That will be grand of you. For you know," she faltered, "I—I feel a little bit responsible for what they have done and if anything should happen I could never forgive myself. I—I'll tell you about it some time."
For a moment they stood there in silence, she steadying herself from the rock of the train by clinging to his arm.
"I think," she said soberly, "if you go in father's yacht, that I shall go along with you."
"And I think," said Curlie in a decided tone, "that you won't."
She said not another word but had he taken a look at her face just then he would have found there the expression that he had seen there before, the expression which she had inherited from her father, the self-made millionaire.
That night in his berth, as the train rushed along on its eastward journey, Curlie narrated to Joe Marion all the events which had led up to the present moment, and as much of his conclusions as he had told to Gladys Ardmore.
"So you see, Joe, old boy," he concluded, "if those young millionaires are away before we arrive we're destined to take a little trip which may have an adventure or two in it; that is, at least I will."
"Count me in," said Joe soberly. "I go anywhere you do."
"Good!" exclaimed Curlie, gripping his hand. "And in the end," he concluded, "I think we shall have told the world in a rather effective way that the air must be free for the important messages; that Uncle Sam has the right of way in the air as well as on land or sea and that he has ways of defending those rights."
At that they turned over, to lie there listening to the click-click of wheels over rails until sleep claimed them.
OUT TO SEA IN A COCKLESHELL
Darkness was falling when at last Curlie and Joe reached the station at Landensport. In spite of the fact that they had had no supper and were weary from travel, Curlie insisted on going at once to the hangar where the Stormy Petrel, Alfred Brightwood's seaplane, was kept.
"Yes," said the keeper of the hangar, "they hopped off six hours ago. Seemed to be preparing for somethin' of a journey; they filled the tanks with gas and loaded her cabin full of things to eat. Some sort of a picnic, I reckon. Strange part of it was," he said reflectively, "I watched 'em as they went and sure's I'm standin' here they shot out to sea, straight as an arrow, and far as you could see 'em they was going right on. Couldn't be tryin' to cross the Atlantic, but you can never tell what'll get into that Brightwood boy's head. He's darin', he is. Jest some picnic, though, I reckon."
"Some picnic all right!" said Curlie emphatically. "Some picnic for all of us!"
"Eh? What?" the keeper turned on him quickly.
Curlie did not answer.
"Vincent Ardmore went with him, I suppose," Curlie said after a moment's silence.
"Of course. Just them two."
"Was the plane equipped with wireless?"
"Yes. They spent two days tending to that; seemed to be mighty particular about it."
"Yes, of course they would."
"Eh? What?" the man turned sharply about.
Curlie was silent again.
"It's funny about them wireless rigs for a plane," said the keeper at last. "You git your ground by hanging a wire seventy-five er a hundred feet down from the plane, then you get ground just the same as if the wire was dragging through the sea, don't matter whether you're up a hundred miles or five thousand. Strange stuff, this radio."
"Yes," said Curlie, "it is. By the way," he exclaimed suddenly, "do you know about this new Packard-Prentiss equipment?"
"Yes, sir; was tryin' one out only yesterday. Fine thing."
"Know where I can get one?"
"Over at Dorrotey's sea-goods store on the dock. He's got one er two for sale."
"Thanks." He and Joe started away.
"Next place is Dock No. 3. The Kittlewake, the Ardmore yacht, is tied up over there. Unless I miss my guess we'll be off to sea in less than two hours," said Curlie to Joe. "Speed's the word now. Those two young dreamers have gotten away by plane. We've got to stand by in the Kittlewake or they'll never be seen again. I don't propose to allow the sea to rob me of my first important offender against the laws of the air."
"By the way," said Joe, "where is Gladys Ardmore? I haven't seen her since we left New York."
"I don't know and I'm glad I don't," said Curlie. "She let fall a remark in the dining car that I didn't like. She said she thought she'd go along with us on this trip. A five hundred mile trip straight out to sea in a fifty-foot pleasure yacht with a fifteen-foot beam, is no sort of trip for a girl. I was afraid she'd try to insist. That would have caused a scene, for unless I miss my guess she's the determined sort like her father."
"It's queer she gave us up so quickly."
"Yes, but I'm glad she did."
Suddenly Curlie started. As they rounded a corner he caught sight of a trim, slender figure. This girl had been standing in the light of a shop window. Now she dodged inside.
"Huh!" he grunted. "Thought that looked like her, but of course it couldn't be. Some ship captain's daughter probably."
They arrived on board the Kittlewake just as the captain, a red-faced old British salt, and the engineer, a silent man who was fully as slim and wiry of build as Curlie himself, were finishing lunch.
"Pardon me," said Curlie, "but did you get Mr. Ardmore's wire?"
"You're this wireless man, Curlie Carson?" asked the captain.
"'Is message is 'ere; came this morning."
"Then you're ready to put off at once."
"At once!" The captain stared his amazement. "'Ere it is night. At once, 'e says!"
"It's very necessary that we go at once," said Curlie firmly, "and I believe you have your orders."
"To be hat your service in hevery particular."
"All right then, we must be on our way in an hour."
"Wot course?" The skipper rose to his feet.
"This is the point we must reach with all speed," said Curlie, drawing the photograph of the mysterious old map from his pocket and pointing to the star near the center. "Compare that with your own chart, locate it as well as you can and then mark out your own course."
The skipper stared at him as though he thought Curlie crazy.
"That! Why that—"
Turning quickly, he disappeared up the hatch, to return presently with a chart. This he placed upon the table, beside the photograph.
After five minutes of close study he turned an astonished face upon the boy.
"That, as I 'ave thought, is five 'undred miles hout to sea. Five 'undred miles in a cockleshell. Man, you're daft."
"All right," said Curlie; "the trip's got to be made. I thought you might be afraid to undertake it; that's why I wanted to know at once. I'll go out and hunt another skipper. There's surely plenty of them idle these dull times."
"Hafraid, did 'e say! Me! Hafraid!" The skipper was purple with rage. "Hafraid 'e says. 'E says it, a bloomin' Yankee kid, an' me as 'as 'ad ships sunk under me twice by the bloody German submarines! Me, Captain Jarvis, hafraid."
He turned suddenly upon Curlie. "Go git yer togs an' shake a leg er the bloomin' Kittlewake'll be off without you on board."
"That's the talk!" smiled Curlie. "Never fear! We'll be here."
He turned to Joe. "You go ashore and buy us each a suit of roughing-it things, a so'-wester and the like. We'll need 'em. I'll be back in less than an hour."
When Curlie returned from his mission ashore he carried but one bundle. That resembled a fencepost in size and shape. It was carefully wrapped and sealed in sticky black tar cloth.
"Going to throw a message overboard in case we're lost, I suppose," laughed Joe.
"Something like that," Curlie laughed back. Nevertheless, he carried the thing with great care to his stateroom and deposited it beneath his berth in the cabin forward on the main deck.
An hour later the two boys were standing on deck watching the shore lights fade. Each was busy with his own thoughts and wondering, no doubt, in his own way how much of adventure this trip held for him.
A GHOST WALKS
"Ever take much interest in gasoline engines?" Curlie suddenly inquired of Joe.
"Yes, quite a bit; had a shift on one of those marine kinds last summer on the Great Lakes."
"Good! You'll have to take a shift here on the Kittlewake. This trip can't be made without sleep. I'll spell the captain at the wheel and you can relieve that lanky engineer."
Again they lapsed into silence. Half unconsciously each boy was taking stock of the craft they had requisitioned, trying to judge whether or not she was equal to the task she had been put to. Speed she had in plenty. "Do forty knots a 'our," the skipper put it, "an' never 'eat a bearin'."
She was a trim craft. Narrow of beam, a two-master with a steel hull that stood well out of the water forward, she rode the water with the repose and high glee of the bird she was named after.
"Yes, she's a beauty, and a go-getter," Curlie was thinking to himself, "but in a storm, now, four or five hundred miles from land, what then?"
Had he known how soon his question was to be answered he might well have shuddered.
"Better go down and have a look at the engines before you turn in for a wink of sleep," he told Joe.
When Joe had gone below, Curlie still sat there on the rail aft. The throb of the engines beneath him, the rapid rush of air that fanned his cheek, was medicine to his weary brain. He had been caught in a whirlwind of events and here, for a time, he had been cast down in a quiet place where his mind might clear itself of the wreckage of thought that had been torn up and strewn about within it.
It had been a wild race. He had lost thus far; would he lose in the end? Had he, after all, trusted too much to theory? Had these two sons of rich men really only gone for some picnic trip to a well-known island farther south along the coast? Or had they, as he had assumed, guided by their ancient map, gone in search of the island of "many barbarians and much gold," an island which he was convinced existed only in name?
The girl, too; what had she meant when she said she was in some ways responsible for her brother's actions? There was something queer about the whole affair. Who had taken the wireless equipment from the wrecked car out there by the Forest Preserve? Did young Ardmore have the ancient original of that interesting map or only the photograph? If he did not have it, who was in possession of it? Strange thing that it would be lost for a hundred years only to have a brand-new photograph of it show up all at once. Rather ghostly, he thought. He had meant to ask Gladys Ardmore about that. He'd ask her now if she were here. But he was more than glad she was not here.
"No trip for a girl," he told himself, "and she said she'd go. Strange she gave it up so easily. Strange that—"
His thoughts broke off suddenly as he stared forward. The Kittlewake was equipped with three cabins; a forecastle and aftercabin, both below the main deck, built largely for stormy weather, and a fair-weather cabin in the center of the main deck. The night was dark, the moon not having come up. It was difficult to distinguish objects at a distance, but, unless his eyes deceived him, Curlie saw some object, all white and ghostly, rising slowly from the hatchway leading to the forecastle. Cold perspiration sprang out upon his brow, his heart beat madly, his knees trembled as he involuntarily moved forward. That was the way he had of treating ghosts; he walked straight at them.
In the meantime, had one been on some craft three hundred miles farther on in the direct course of the Kittlewake, he might have caught the thunderous drumming of two powerful Liberty motors. He might also have seen a spot of light playing constantly upon the black waters. While this light was constant, it moved rapidly forward in a wide circle. The circle was never the same in size or location, yet the spot of light did not move more than twenty miles in any direction from a certain given center. The spot of illumination came from a powerful searchlight mounted upon a seaplane. It was manipulated by a boy in the rear seat. A second boy drove the plane. These boys, as you have no doubt long since guessed, were Vincent Ardmore and his reckless pal, Alfred Brightwood.
This light had been playing upon the water since darkness had fallen, some three hours before. They had been circling for four hours. Their hopes of completing their search before dark had been thwarted by a defective engine which had compelled them to make a landing upon the sea when the journey was only half completed.
At this particular moment the plane was climbing steadily. It was a perfect "man-bird" of the air, was this Stormy Petrel. With broad spreading planes and powerful motors, it was the type of plane that now and again hops off from some point in England during the dewy morning hours and carries her crew safely to Cuba without a single stop.
Yet these boys were not planning a trip across to Europe. They were, as Curlie had supposed they might be, hunting for the island of "many barbarians and much gold."
When they had mounted to a considerable height, Alfred shut off the engines and allowed her to volplane toward the sea.
"Aw, let's give it up and get back," said Vincent downheartedly. "It's not here. Probably that old map-maker made a mistake of a trifling hundred miles or so."
"That's a grand idea!" exclaimed Brightwood, grasping at a straw. "Not a hundred miles but perhaps thirty or forty miles. Old boy, we'll be cooking lunch on a stove of pure gold in half an hour. You'll see! Just get your light fixed right and I'll take a wider circle. That'll get it."
"But if we use up much more gas we won't get back to land," hesitated Vincent.
"Land! Who wants to get back to land!" the other exploded. "If worst comes to worst we've got the wireless, haven't we? We can light on the water and send out an S. O. S., can't we? I must say you're a mighty bum sailor."
"Oh, all right," said Vincent, stung into silence, "go ahead and try it."
Again the motors thundered. Again the spot light traced a circular path across the dark waters, which to the boy who held the light, appeared to be reaching up black, fiendish hands to drag them down. This time the circle they cut was many miles in circumference, miles which drew deeply from the supply of gasoline in their tanks.
THE COMING STORM
As Curlie's feet carried him forward on the deck of the Kittlewake, his eyes beheld the ghost which rose from the hatch taking on a familiar form. A white middy blouse, short white skirt and a white tarn, worn by a slender girl, moved forward to meet him. As the form came into the square of light cast by a cabin window, his lips framed her name:
"Why, yes," she smiled, "didn't you expect me? I told you I thought I'd go."
"And I said you should not." Her coolness angered him.
"You forget that this is my father's boat. A man's daughter should always be a welcome guest on his boat."
"But—but that's not it," he hesitated. "This is not a pleasure trip. We are going five hundred miles straight to sea in a boat intended for shore travel. It's likely to storm." He sniffed the air and held his cheek to the breeze that was already breaking the water into little choppy waves. "It is going to be dangerous."
"But you are going," she said soberly, "to the assistance of my brother. I have a better right than you to risk my life to save my own brother. I can be of assistance to you. Truly, I can. I can be the galley cook."
"You a cook?" He looked his surprise.
"Certainly. Do you think a rich man's daughter can do nothing but play tennis and pour tea? Those times are gone, if indeed they ever existed. I am as able to do things as is your sister, if you have one."
"But," said Curlie suddenly, "I am going from a sense of duty. Having set out to have your brother arrested I mean to do it."
For a full moment she stared at him stupefied. Then she said slowly, through set, white lips: "You wouldn't do that?"
"Why shouldn't I?" His tone was more gentle. "He has broken the laws of the air. Time and again he sent messages on 600, a radio wave length reserved to coast and ship service alone. He has hindered sea traffic and once narrowly escaped being the death of brave men at sea."
"Oh," she breathed, sinking down upon a coil of cable, "I—didn't know it was as bad as that. And I—I—knew all about it. I—I—"
She did not finish but sat there staring at him. At last she spoke again. Her tone was strained and husky with emotion.
"You—you'll want to arrest me too when you know the truth."
"You'll not be dragged into it unless you insist."
"But I do insist!" She sprang to her feet. Her nails digging into her clenched fists, she faced him. Her eyes were bright and terrible.
"Do you think," she fairly screamed, "that I would be part of a thing that was wrong, whether I knew it or not at the time, and then when trouble came from it, do you think that I would sneak out of it and allow someone else to suffer for it? Do you think I'd sneak out of it because anyone would let me—because I am a girl?"
Completely at a loss to know what to do upon this turn of events, Curlie stood there staring back at the girl.
She at last sank back upon her seat. Curlie took three turns around the deck. At last he approached her with a steady step.
"Miss Ardmore," he said, taking off his cap, "I apologize. I—I really didn't know that a girl could be that kind of a real sport."
Before she could answer he hurried on: "For the time being we can let the matter we were just speaking of rest. Matters far more important than the vindicating of the law, important as that always is, are before us. Your brother and his friend, unless I am mistaken, are in grave danger. We may be able to save them; we may not. We can but try and this trial requires all our wisdom and strength.
"More than that," he again held his face to the stiffening gale, "we ourselves are in considerable danger. Whether this 'cockleshell,' as the skipper calls her, can weather a severe storm on the open sea, is a question. That question is to be answered within a few hours. We're in for a blow. We're too far on our way to retreat if we wished to. We must weather it. You can be of assistance to us as you suggest, and more than that, you can help us by being brave, fearless and hopeful. May we count on you?"
There was a cold, brave smile on the girl's face as she answered:
"You know my father. He has never yet been beaten. I am his child."
Then suddenly, casting all reserve aside, she gripped his arm and bestowing a warm smile upon him said almost in a whisper:
"Curlie Carson, I like you. You're real, the realest person I ever knew." Then turning swiftly about, she danced along the deck, to disappear down the hatch to the forecastle.
"Huh!" said Curlie, after a moment's thought, "I never could make out what girls are like. But one thing I'm sure of: that one will drown or starve or freeze when necessity demands it, without a murmur. You can count on her!"
Throwing a swift glance to where a thick bank of clouds was painting the night sky the color of blue-black ink, he hurried below to consult with the skipper about the weather. They were, he concluded, some three hundred and fifty miles out to sea. If this storm meant grave dangers to them, what must it mean to two boys in a seaplane skimming through the air over the sea? He shivered at the thought.
Fifteen minutes later, Curlie was in the small wireless cabin of the Kittlewake. With a receiver clamped over his head, with a motor purring at his feet and with the hum of wires and coils all about him, he felt more at ease and at home than he had been for many hours.
His talk with the skipper had confirmed his fears; they were in for a blow.
"A nor'-easter, sir," he had affirmed, "an' one you'll remember for many a day. Oh! we'll weather 'er, sir; somehow we'll 'ave to weather 'er. With the millionaire heiress aboard we'll 'ave to, worse luck for it. We'll 'ammer down the 'atches an' let 'er ride if we 'ave to but it's a jolly 'ard shaking habout we'll get, sir. But she's a 'arty, clean-hulled little boat, she is, an' she'll ride 'er some'ow."
After receiving this information, Curlie had gone directly to the wireless cabin. He was more anxious than he was willing to admit for the safety of his two charges, the millionaire's children; for Curlie did think of them as his charges. He was used to taking burdens on his own shoulders. It had always been his way.
Just now he was listening in on 600, ready to pick up any message which might come from the boys on the seaplane. That the Stormy Petrel was a doomed aircraft he had not the least doubt. The only question which remained in his mind was whether the Kittlewake or some other craft would reach her in time to save the two reckless boys.
Now and again as he listened he picked up a message from shore. The center of the storm, which was fast approaching, was to the east, off shore. Messages coming from the storm's direction would be greatly disturbed by static. But to the west the air was still clear.
Now he heard a ship off Long Island Sound speaking for a pilot; now some shore station at Boston assigned to some ship a harbor space; and now some powerful broadcasting station sent out to all the world a warning against the rising storm.
Tiring of all this, for a time he tuned his instrument to 200.
"Be interesting to see how far short wave lengths and high power will carry," was his mental comment.
Now he caught a faint echo of a song; now a note of laughter; and now the serious tones of some man speaking with his homefolks.
But what was this? He fancied he caught a familiar whisper. Adjusting his wires, adding all the amplifying power his instruments possessed, he listened eagerly; then, to his astonishment heard his own nickname spoken.
"Hello, Curlie," came to him distinctly. Then, "Are you there? You remember that big bad man, the one who used heaps of power on 1200? Well, he's gone north—very far north. You'd want to follow him, Curlie, if you knew what I know. The radiophone is going to do great things for the north, Curlie. But men like him will spoil it all. Remember this, Curlie: If you do go, be careful. Careful. He's a bad man and the stakes are big!" The whisper ceased. The silence that followed it was ghostly.
"And that," Curlie whispered softly, "came all the way from my dear old home town. She thought I was still in the secret tower room. Fine chance of my following that fellow up north. But when I get back I'll investigate. There may be something big there, just as she says there is. Yes, I'll look into it when I get back—if I do get back."
He shivered as he caught the howl of the wind in the rigging. Then, tuning his instrument back to 600, he listened once more for some message from the seaplane, the Stormy Petrel.
S. O. S.
The spot of light which raced across the waters of the sea where no land was to be seen, where the black surface of the swiftly changing waters shone always beneath the occupants of the seaplane, took on an ever widening circle. There appeared to be no end to Alfred Brightwood's belief that somewhere in the midst of all this waste of waters there was an island.
Vincent Ardmore had long since given up hope of becoming rich by this mad adventure. His only hope, the one that gave strength to his arms benumbed by long clinging to the flashlight and new sight to his eyes, weary with watching, was that they might discover some bit of land, a coral island, perhaps, where they might find refuge from the sea until a craft, called to their aid, might rescue them.
The thought of returning to the mainland he had all but abandoned. The gas in the tank was too low for that; at least he was quite certain it must be.
There was a chance, of course, that if they alighted upon the water and sent out an S. O. S., the international call for aid, they would be answered by some near-by ship. But this seemed only a remote possibility. He dared not hope it would happen. They were far from any regular course of trans-Atlantic vessels and too far from shore to be picked up by a coast vessel or a fishing smack. The very fact that this island, marked so plainly on the ancient map, had been in this particular spot, so remote from the main sea-roads, had strengthened their belief that during all the centuries of travel it had been lost from man's memory and hidden from his view. Now this very isolation, since they were unable to locate this island, if indeed it existed at all, threatened to be their undoing.
Still they circled and circled with great, untiring sweeps. At last, releasing the searchlight, Vincent put his lips to a speaking tube.
"Let's light," he grumbled. "I'm dead. What's the use?"
"What else can we do but keep looking?" Alfred answered.
"Take a look at the gas. Maybe it will carry us back."
Even as he spoke, a strange thing happened. The air appeared suddenly to have dropped from beneath the plane. Straight down for fifty feet she dropped.
With the utmost difficulty Alfred succeeded in preventing her from taking a nose dive into the sea.
"She—she bumped," he managed to pant at last. "Something the matter with the air."
And indeed there was something about the atmospheric conditions which they had not sensed. Busy as they had been they had not seen the black bank of clouds to the northeast of them. With the wild rush of air from sheer speed, they had not felt the increasing strength of the gale. Once Vincent had fancied that the sea, far beneath them, seemed disturbed, but so far beneath them was it that he could not tell.
Now in surprise and consternation, as if to steady his reeling brain, he gripped the fuselage beside him while he shrilled into the tube:
"Look! Look over there! Lightning!"
"Watch out, I'm going down," warned the other boy. "Going to light."
To do this was no easy task. Three times they swooped low, to skim along just over the crest of the waves, only to tilt upward again.
"Looks bad," grumbled the young pilot.
The fourth time, he dared it. With the spray spattering his goggles, he sent the plane right into the midst of it. For a second it seemed that nothing could save them, that the wave they had nose-dived into would throw their plane end for end and land her on her back, with her two occupants hopeless prisoners strapped head down to drown beneath her.
But at last the powerful motors conquered and, tossed by the ever increasing swells, the plane rode the sea like the stormy petrel after which she had been named.
"Quick!" exclaimed Alfred as the motors ceased to throb. "Strip off your harness and get back to the tank."
A moment later Vincent was making a perilous journey to the gas tank. Twice the wind all but swept him into the sea; once a wave drenched him with its chilling waters. When at last he reached his destination it was only to utter a groan; more gas had been used than he had dared think.
"Can't—can't make it," he mumbled as he struggled back to his place.
"Have to send out an S. O. S. then. What wave length do you use?
"You ought to know," exclaimed Vincent almost savagely. "You were the one who insisted on using it when we were making up our plans."
"Six hundred? Oh, yes," Alfred said indifferently. "Well, what of it?"
"Just this much of it," said Vincent thoughtfully. "I've been going over and over it in my mind the last little while. What if we send out our S. O. S. now and some selfish landlubber such as we were is talking about matters of little importance and muddles our message? We might be left to drown."
"Aw, can that sob stuff," grumbled Alfred angrily. "Are you going to send that S. O. S. or am I?"
"I will," said Vincent, preparing to climb to a position on the plane above him where the radiophone was located. "But"—he suddenly began to sway dizzily—"but where are we?"
He sank back into his seat. For a full moment, with the waves tossing the plane about and the black clouds mounting higher and higher, the two boys stared at one another in silence. Yes, where were they? Who could tell? They were not trained mariners. They could not have taken a reckoning even had they been in possession of the needed instruments.
"Why," said Alfred hesitatingly, "we must be somewhere near that spot where the island was supposed to be located. That's as near as we can come to it. Send out that latitude and longitude; then we'll climb back into the air. We'll be safer there than on the water and we can keep the searchlight shooting out flashes in all directions. A ship coming to our aid will see the light."
"If they come," Vincent whispered.
"Hurry!" exclaimed Alfred, as a giant wave, rising above its mates, threatened to tear their plane into shreds.
With benumbed and trembling fingers the boy unwrapped his instruments, adjusted a coil, twisted a knob and threw in his switch. Then his heart stood still. The motor did not start. Had it been dampened and short-circuited? Would it refuse to go? Were they already lost?
Just as he was giving up in despair, there came a humming sound and a moment later the well-known signal of distress had been flashed out across the waves. Three times he repeated it. Three times in a few sharp words he told their general location and their plight. Then with wildly beating heart, he pressed the receivers to his ears and awaited a reply.
A moment passed, two, three, four; but there came no answering call. Only the buzz and snap of the ever-increasing static greeted his straining ears.
Once more he sent out the message; again he listened. Still no response.
"C'm'on," came from the boy below. "It's getting dangerous. You can get a message off in the air. Gotta get out o' here. Gotta climb. May not be able to make it even now."
As the other boy glanced down at the white-capped waves all about them he realized that his companion spoke the truth.
Hurriedly rewrapping his instruments, all but the receivers, which by the aid of an extension he brought down with him, he made his way to his seat and strapped on his harness.
"All right," he breathed.
Once more the motors thundered. For a long distance they raced through blinding spray. Little by little this diminished until with a swoop, like a sea gull, the magnificent plane shot upward. The next instant they felt a dash of cold rain upon their cheeks. Was the storm upon them? Or was this merely a warning dash which had reached them far in advance of the deluge? For the moment they could not tell.
For an hour Curlie Carson had been seated in the radiophone cabin of the Kittlewake. During that time his delicately adjusted amplifier and his wonderful ears had enabled him to pick up many weird and unusual messages. Listening in at sea before a great storm is like wandering on the beach after that same storm; you never can tell what you may pick up. But though fragments of many messages had come to him, not one of any importance to the Kittlewake had reached his ears. If during that time any message from the Stormy Petrel had been sent out, it had been lost in the crash and snap of static which now kept up a constant din in his ears.
Again doubt assailed him. He had no positive knowledge that the boys in the plane had gone in search of that mysterious island of the old chart. They might, for all he knew, be at this moment enjoying a rich feast on some island off the coast of America.
"Cuba, for instance," he told himself. "Not at all impossible. Short trip for such a seaplane."
"And here," he grumbled angrily to himself, "here I am risking my own life and the life of my companions and crew, inviting death to all these, and this on a mere conjecture. Guess I'm a fool."
The gale was rising every moment. Even as he spoke the prow of the boat reared in air, to come down with such an impact as made one believe she had stepped on something solid.
Just when Curlie's patience with himself and all the rest of the world was exhausted, Joe Marion opened the door. The wind, boosting him across the threshold, slammed the door after him.
"Whew!" he sputtered. "Going to be rotten. Tell you what, I don't like it. Dangerous, I'd say!"
"Nothing's dangerous," smiled Curlie, greatly pleased to see that someone at least was more disturbed than himself. "Nothing's really dangerous since the invention of the radiophone. Ocean, desert, Arctic wilderness; it's all the same. Sick, lost, shipwrecked? All you've got to do is keep your head clear and your radiophone dry and tuned up. It'll find you a way out."
"Yes, but," hesitated Joe, "how the deuce you going to pack a radiophone outfit, all those coils, batteries and boxes, when you're shipwrecked? How you going to keep 'em dry with the rain pelting you from above and the salt water beating at you from below? Lot of sense to that! Huh!" he grunted contemptuously. "That for your radiophone!" He snapped his finger. "And that for your old sloppy ocean! Give me a square yard of good old terra firma and I'll get along without all your modern inventions."
"It can be done, though," said Curlie thoughtfully.
"Radiophone kept dry after a wreck at sea."
Curlie did not answer the question. Instead, he snapped the receiver from his head and handed it to Joe.
"Take this and listen in." He rose stiffly. "This business is getting on my nerves. I've got to get out for a breath of splendid fresh sea breeze."
"Nerves?" said Joe incredulously. "You got nerves?"
"Sometimes. Just now I have."
On the deck Curlie experienced difficulty in walking. As he worked his way forward he found that one moment his legs were far too long and his foot came down with a suddenness that set his teeth chattering; the next moment his legs had grown suddenly short. It was like stepping down stairs in the dark and taking two steps at a time when you expected to take but one.
"Never saw such a rumpus on the sea," he grumbled. "Going to be worse," he told himself as a chain of lightning, leaping across the sky, illumined the bank of black clouds that lay before them. "Going to be lots worse."
Poking his head into the wheel-house, he bellowed above the storm: "How's she go?"
"Seen worse'n 'er," the skipper shouted back.
"Ought to be at the spot we started for in half an hour—that island on the old chart."
"Never was no island," the skipper roared.
"Supposin' we get there, what then?"
"Don't know yet."
The skipper stared at Curlie for a full moment as if attempting to determine whether he were insane, then turned in silence to his wheel.
The wind blew the door shut and Curlie resumed his long-legged, short-legged march.
He had done three turns around the deck when his eyes caught a small figure crumpled up on the pile of ropes forward.
"Hello," he cried, "you out here?"
Gladys did not answer at once. She was straining her eyes as if to see some object which might be hovering above the jagged, sea-swept skyline.
"No," said Curlie, as if in answer to a question, "you couldn't see the plane. You couldn't see it fifty fathoms away and then it would flash by you like a carrier pigeon. No use if you did see it. Couldn't do anything. But there's one chance in a million of their coming into our line of vision, so it's no use watching. Only chance is a radiophone message giving their location."
"But I—I want to. I—I ought to do something." For the first time he noticed how white and drawn her face was.
"All right," he said in a quiet voice, "you just sit where you are and I'll sit here beside you and you tell me one or two things. That will help."
"Tell me this: Did your brother have the original of that old map?"
"Yes," her tone was already quieting down, "yes, he did, or Alfred Brightwood did. His father is very rich and he has a hobby of collecting very old editions of books. He pays terrible prices for them. He bought an old, old copy of 'Marco Polo's Travels'; paid fifteen thousand dollars for it. And inside its cover Alfred found that old map with the curious writing on the back of it.
"He thought right away that it might hide some great secret, so he had it photographed and sent the photo to Vincent. Vincent got a great scholar to read the writing for him. He never told me what the writing was; said that no one but he and Alfred should know; that it was a great secret and that girls couldn't keep secrets, so I was not to know.
"But they can keep secrets!" she exploded, breaking off from her narrative. "They do keep secrets—more secrets than boys do. Wonderful and terrible secrets sometimes!"
"All right," smiled Curlie, "I agree with you, absolutely, but what did they do then?"
"Well," the girl pressed her temples as if to drive the thoughts of the present from her. "They—why then Alfred called Vincent by radiophone on 600. Vincent was terribly afraid to answer on 600, but he did. And then, because he thought the discovery of the map was so awfully important, he rigged up a radiophone on his auto and I—I"—she buried her face in her hands—"I helped him. I was with him in the car; drove while he sent the messages, all but that last night, when the car was wrecked.
"I—I know I shouldn't have done it. I knew all the time it was wrong, but Alfred was stubborn and wouldn't talk on anything but 600—said he had as much right on 600 as anyone else—so we did it."
"And then the car was wrecked?" suggested Curlie. He felt a trifle mean about making the girl tell, but he knew she would be more comfortable once she got it out of her system. People are that way.
"Yes," she said, "someone shot his tire and wrecked his machine. I found the car, first thing in the morning, and when I saw Vincent wasn't there I got two big packing baskets that we once used in the Rockies and put them on my horse. Then I went back and got all that radio stuff and took it home and hid it. Do you think I did wrong?" The eyes she turned to his were appealing ones.
"Maybe you did," said Curlie huskily, "but that doesn't matter now; you're paying for it all right—going to pay for it in full before this voyage is over. The thing you must try to think of now is the present, the little round present that is right here now. And you must try to be brave."
"And—and"—she said in a faltering voice—"do you think Vincent is paying for what he did?"
"I shouldn't be surprised."
"Then you won't have to arrest him if he's already punished?" The appealing eyes were again upon him.
At that moment Curlie did a strange thing, so strange that the words sounded preposterous to his own ears:
"No," he said slowly, "I won't, unless—unless he asks me to."
"Oh!" she breathed, "thank you." She placed her icy-cold hand on his for a second.
"You're freezing!" he exclaimed suddenly. "You'll be making yourself sick. You must get inside!"
"I'll go to the lounging cabin in mid-deck. The forecastle is so—so lonesome," she stammered. "If you need me, you'll find me there."
Feeling her way along the rail, she disappeared into the darkness.
At almost the same moment there came the bellowing sound of a voice that could be heard above the roar of the storm:
"Curlie! Curlie! Come here! Something coming in. Can't make it out!"
It was Joe Marion. Stumbling aft, now banging his feet down hard and now treading on empty air, Curlie made his way to the radiophone cabin.
A BLINDING FLASH OF LIGHT
"It's an S. O. S.," screamed Joe at the top of his voice, as Curlie came hurrying up. "They sent that much in code and I got it all right. Then they tried to tell me their troubles and all I got was a mumble and grumble mixed with static, which meant nothing at all to me. Repeated it three times. Very little space in between. Should have called you, I guess, but there really wasn't time; besides I kept thinking I'd start getting what he sent."
"Where'd it come from?" Curlie asked as he snapped the receiver over his head.
"Straight out of the storm. Fifty or sixty miles northeast."
Curlie groaned. "That's what I get for being impatient. Ought to have stayed right here. It's those boys all right and we've missed them; may never pick them up again."
For a time there was silence in the wireless cabin, such a silence as one experiences in the midst of a rising storm. The flap of ropes, the creak of yard-arms, the rush of waves which were already washing the deck, the chug-chug-chug of the prow of the brave little craft as she leaped from wave-crest to wave-crest; all this made such music as an orchestra might, had every man musician of them gone mad. And this was the "silence" Curlie did not for a long time break.
"Well!" he shouted at last, "that settles one thing. I was right. They did go in search of that mythical island."
"You can't be sure," said Joe. "Might have been a fishing boat led off her course by a chase after a whale. You never can tell."
"No, that's right," Curlie agreed.
"What makes you so sure the island on that map is mythical?" asked Joe.
"Doesn't sound reasonable."
"Lots of things don't. Take the radiophone; it wouldn't have sounded reasonable a few years ago. Lot of new things wouldn't. A new island is discovered somewhere about every year. Why not around here?"
"Anyway, I don't believe it," shouted Curlie.
Yet, after all, as he thought of it now he found himself hoping against hope that there was some such island. It wasn't the gold he was thinking of, but a haven of refuge. This storm was going to be a bad one. He fancied it was going to be one of the worst experienced on the Atlantic for years. If only there were somewhere a sheltered nook into which this cockleshell of a craft they were riding on might be driven, it would bring him great relief. He thought a little of Joe, of the skipper and the engineer, but he thought a great deal about the girl.
"No place for a girl," he mumbled. "Perhaps," he tried to tell himself, "there is an island, a very small island overlooked for centuries by navigators; perhaps those boys have found it. Perhaps they were merely sending out an S. O. S. to get someone to bring them gas to carry them home. But rat!" he exploded, "I don't believe it. Don't—"
He cut himself short to press the receivers tight against his ears. He was getting something. Quickly he manipulated the coil of his radio compass. Yes, it was an S. O. S.! And, yes, it was coming directly out of the storm. But what was this they were saying? "Two boys—" He got that much, but what was that? Strain his ears as he might, he could not catch another word.
But now—now he believed he was about to get it. Moving the coil backward and forward he strained every muscle in his face in a mad effort to understand. Yes, yes, that was it! Then, just as he was getting it a terrible thing happened. There came a blinding flash of light, accompanied by a rending, tearing, deafening crash. He felt himself seized by some invisible power which wrenched every muscle, twisted every joint in his body, then flung him limp and motionless to the floor.
When he came to himself, Joe and the girl were bending over him. Joe was tearing at the buttons of his shirt. The girl was rocking backward and forward. All but overcome with excitement, she was still attempting to chafe his right hand. When she saw him open his eyes she uttered a little cry, then toppled over in a dead faint.
"Wha—what happened?" Curlie's lips framed the words.
"Lightning," shouted Joe. "Protectors must have got damp. Short-circuited. Raised hob. Burned out about everything, I guess."
"Can't be as bad as that. Tend to the girl," Curlie nodded toward the corner.
Joe ducked out of the cabin, to appear a moment later with a cold, damp cloth. This he spread over the girl's forehead. A moment later she sat up and looked about her.
Curlie was sitting up also. He was rubbing his head. When he saw the girl looking at him he laughed and sang:
"Oh, a sailor's life is a merry life, And it's a sailor's life for me.
"But say!" he exclaimed suddenly, "what was I doing when things went to pieces?"
Joe nodded toward the radiophone desk where coils and instruments lay piled in tangled confusion.
"You were getting a message from out the storm."
"Oh yes, and they gave me their location. It was—no, I haven't it. Lightning drove it right out of my head. Let me think. Let me concentrate."
For a full moment there was silence, the silence of the raging sea. Then Curlie shook his head sadly.
"No, I can't remember," his lips framed the words. It was unnecessary that he shout them aloud.
"Oh!" exclaimed the girl, and for a moment it seemed that she would faint again. But she controlled herself bravely.
"We'll find them yet," she forced a brave smile. "It's a comfort just to know they're still alive, that they're near us, at least not too far away for us to save them if we can only find them."
Again there was silence. Then Curlie rose unsteadily to his feet.
"Give us a hand here, Joe, old scout," he said. "We'll get this thing back in shape. There are extra vacuum tubes, tuning-coils and the like, and plenty of all kinds of wire. We'll manage it somehow—got to."
The girl rose, to sink upon a seat in the corner.
"That's right," shouted Curlie. "You stay right here. We'll be company for each other. Fellow needs company on a night like this. Besides, I've got something to say, a lot to say, to you and Joe as soon as the radiophone is tuned up again. Got to say it before I get killed again," he chuckled.
THE STORMY PETREL GETS AN ANSWER
The dash of rain which beat like a volley of lead upon the fuselage of the seaplane as she rose above the spray lasted but a moment.
"Just a warning of what's to come," Vincent called through the tube. "Think we could run away from the storm?"
"We'd just get lost on the ocean and not know what location to radiophone," grumbled his companion. "Better keep circling. We can get above the storm if we must."
Once more the weary circle was commenced. With little hope of sighting land, Vincent still fixed his gaze upon the black waters below, while he sent the flash of light, now far to the right, now to the left, and now straight beneath them.
"Someone must have caught our S. O. S." he told himself. "We ought to get sight of their lights pretty soon. But then," his hopes grew faint, "not many ships in these seas. Might not have heard us. Might not be able to reach us. Might—"
He broke off abruptly. A blinding flash of lightning had illumined the waters for miles in every direction. In that flash his eyes had seen something; at least, he thought they had; some craft away to the left of them; a craft which reminded him of one he had sailed upon many a time; his father's yacht, the Kittlewake.
"But of course it couldn't be," he told himself. "Nobody'd be crazy enough to—"
A second flash illumined the water, but this time, strain his eyes as he might, he caught no glimpse of craft of any sort.
"Must have dreamed it," he muttered. He closed his eyes for a second and in that second saw his sister Gladys clearly mirrored on his mind's vision. She was staggering down a pitching deck.
"Huh!" he muttered, shaking himself violently, "this business is getting my goat. I'll be delirious if I don't watch out."
Again he fixed his gaze upon the spot of light as it traveled over the water.
He had kept steadily at the task for fifteen minutes, was wondering how much longer the gas would hold out, wondering, too, whether the storm was ever going to break, when he caught the pilot's signal in the tube.
"How about trying another message?" his companion called.
"Up here?" he asked in dismay.
"I know—awful dangerous. But we've got to risk something. Lost if we don't."
"All right, I'll try." He began cautiously to unbuckle his harness.
Scarcely had he loosened two of the three straps which held him in place when the plane gave a sudden lurch. Having struck a pocket, it dropped like an elevator cage released from its cable, straight down.
"Oh—ah!" he exclaimed as he caught at a rod just in time to escape being hurled away.
"Got to be careful," he told himself, "awful careful! Have to hold on with one hand while I work with the other. Feet'll help too."
When the plane had settled again, he loosened the last strap, then began with the utmost caution to drag himself to the surface of the plane above him.
Once a vivid flash of lightning showed him the dizzy depths beneath him. He was at that moment clinging to a rod with both hands. His legs were twined about a second. Thus he hung suspended out over two thousand feet of air and as many fathoms of water.
For a moment a dizzy sickness overcame him, but this passed away. Again he struggled to gain the platform above. This time he was successful.
Even here he did not abandon caution. The straps were still about his waist. One of these he fastened to a rod. Then with one hand he clung to the framework before him, while with the other he worked at the task of adjusting instruments.
"Slow business," he murmured. "Maybe it won't work when I get through. Maybe too damp. Maybe it—"
Suddenly he found himself floating in air, like the tail of a kite. Only the strap and his viselike grip saved him. The plane had struck another pocket.
He was at last thrown back upon the platform with such force as dashed the air from his lungs and a large part of his senses from his brain.
After a moment of mental struggle he resumed his task. He worked feverishly now. The fear that he might be seriously injured before he had completed it had seized him.
"Now," he breathed at last, "now we'll see!"
His hand touched a switch. The motor buzzed.
"Ah! She works! She works!" he exulted.
Then with trembling fingers he sent out the signal of distress. He followed this with their location, also in code. Three times he repeated the message. Then snapping on his receiver, he strained his ear to listen.
"Ah!—" his lips parted. He was getting something. Was it an answer? He could scarcely believe his ears. Yet it came distinctly:
"Yacht Kittlewake, Curlie—"
Just at that moment the plane gave a sickening swerve. Caught off his balance, the boy was thrown clear off the platform. The receiver connection snapped. He hung suspended by the single strap. Madly his hands flew out to grasp at the pitching rods. Just in time he seized them; the strap had broken.
With the agility of a squirrel he let himself down to his old place behind his companion. To buckle on the remaining straps was the work of a moment. Then, in utter exhaustion and despair, he allowed his head to sink upon his chest.
"And I was getting—getting an answer," he gasped.
His companion had seen nothing of his fall. Glancing behind him for a second, he saw Vincent in his seat in the fuselage.
"What'd you come down for?"
"Got shaken down."
"Was getting. Queer thing that! Got the name of my father's yacht and the word 'Curly.' Then the plane lurched and spilled me off. Jerked the receiver off too. Queer about that message! Thought I saw the Kittlewake on the sea a while ago, but then I thought it couldn't be—thought I was getting delirious or something."
"Going back up?"
"I—I'll—In a moment or two I'll try."
A few moments later he did try, but it was no use. His nerve was gone. His knees trembled so he could scarcely stand. His hands shook as with the palsy. It is a terrible thing for a climber to lose his nerve while in the air.
"No use," he told himself. "I'd only get shaken off again and next time I'd be out of luck. Shame too, just when I was getting things."
Again he caught his companion's call.
"Storm's almost here! Guess we'll have to climb."
Even as he spoke, there came a flash of lightning which revealed a solid black bank of clouds which seemed a wall of ebony. It was moving rapidly toward them; was all but upon them.
"Better climb; climb quick," he breathed through the tube.
THE MAP'S SECRET
While all these things were happening to the boys on the seaplane, Curlie Carson and Joe Marion were working hard to repair the damage done to their radiophone set by the lightning. With the boat pitching about as it was, and with the wind and waves keeping up a constant din, it was a difficult task.
Just what coils and instruments had been burned out it was difficult to tell. All these must be tested out by the aid of a storage battery. When the defective parts had been discarded, it was necessary to piece together, out of the remaining parts and the extra equipment, an entirely new set.
"Have to use a two-stage amplifier," shouted Curlie, making himself heard above the storm.
"Lower voltage on the grid, too," Joe shouted back.
"Guess it'll be fairly good, though," said Curlie, working feverishly. "Only hope it didn't burn out the insulation on our aerials. Want to get her going again quick. Want to bad. Lot may depend on that."
The insulation on the aerials was not burned out. After many minutes of nerve-racking labor they had the equipment together again and were ready to listen in.
Curlie flashed a short message in code, giving the name of their boat and its present location, then, with the receiver tightly clamped over his ears, he settled back in his chair.
For some time they sat there in silence, the two boys and Gladys Ardmore.
The beat of the waves was increasing. The wind was still rising, but as yet no rain was falling.
"Queer storm," shouted Joe. "Haven't gotten into it yet. Will though and it's going to be bad. Skipper says the only thing we can do is to fasten down all the hatches and hold her nose to the storm."
"Better see about the hatches," shouted Curlie.
Throwing open the door, letting in a dash of salt spray and a cold rush of wind as he did so, Joe disappeared into the dark.
Curlie and the girl were alone. The seat the girl occupied was clamped solidly to the wall. It had broad, strong arms and to these she clung. She was staring at the floor and seemed half asleep.
When Joe disappeared, Curlie once more became conscious of her presence and at once he was disturbed. Who would not have been disturbed at the thought of a delicate girl, accustomed to every luxury, being thrown into such desperate circumstances as they were in at the present moment.
"Not my fault," he grumbled to himself. "I didn't want her to go. Wouldn't have allowed her, either, had I known about it."
"Not your fault?" his inner self chided him. "Suppose you didn't plan this trip?"
"Well, anyway," he grumbled, "she needn't have come along, and, besides, circumstances have justified my theories. They are out here somewhere, those two boys, and since they are it's up to someone to try to save them."
Then suddenly he remembered that he had something to say to the girl. He opened his mouth to shout to her, but closed it again.
"Better wait till Joe comes," he told himself. "The more people there are to hear it, the more chances there are of its getting back to shore."
Joe blew back into the cabin a few moments later.
"Everything all right?" Curlie shouted.
At the sound of his voice, the girl started, looked up, then smiled; Joe nodded his head.
"Say, Joe, I'm hungry," shouted Curlie. "There's bread in the forward cabin and some milk in a thermos bottle. Couldn't manage coffee, but toast and milk'd be fine."
The girl sprang to her feet as if to go for the required articles, but Joe pushed her back into her chair.
"Not for you," he shouted. "It's gettin' dangerous."
"Joe," said Curlie, "there's a small electric toaster there in the cabin. Disconnect it and bring it in here. We'll connect it up and make the toast right here."
When the toaster had been connected, the girl, happy in the knowledge that she was able to be of service, toasted the bread to a brown quite as delicate as that to be found on a landlubber's table.
"Now," said Curlie as they sat enjoying this meager repast, "I've got something to tell you, something that I want someone else beside me to know. It's going to be an ugly storm and the Kittlewake is no trans-Atlantic liner. We may all get back to shore. We may not. If one of you do and I don't, I want you to tell this. It—it will sort of justify my apparent rashness in dragging you off on this wild trip."
He moved his chair close to the stationary seat of the girl and, gripping one of the arms of the seat, motioned Joe to move up beside them. It was only thus that he might be heard unless he were to shout at the top of his voice.
"You know," he said, a strange smile playing over his thin lips, "you folks probably have thought it strange that I should go rushing off on a trip like this without any positive knowledge that those two boys had started for that mysterious island shown on the map and spoken of in the writing on the back of the map, but you see I had more information than you thought. This I know for an almost positive fact," he leaned forward impressively: "The mysterious island of the chart does not exist."
"Oh!" the girl started back.
"It's a fact," said Curlie, "and I'll give you my proof."
He paused for a second. The girl leaned forward eagerly. Joe was all attention.
"When I went into that big library," he continued, "I was determined to find all the truth regarding that map that was to be had there. While you were looking at those ancient maps," he turned to Gladys, "I went into a back room and there the lady in charge gave me some bound reproductions of ancient maps to look at and some things to read, among them a volume of the 'Scottish Geographic Magazine.' I read them through carefully and—"
Suddenly he started violently, then clasped the receivers close to his ears.
"Just a moment. Getting something," he muttered.
A second later he seized a pencil and marked down upon a pad a series of dots and dashes.
Then, wheeling about, he put his fingers on a key to flash back an answer.
"It's the boys," he shouted. "Got their location. Joe, decode what I wrote there, then go ask the skipper how much we're off it."
He turned once more to click off his message, a repetition of the first one; then he shouted a second message into his transmitter.
Joe Marion studied the pad for a moment, then rushed out of the cabin.
All alert, Curlie sat listening for any further message which might reach him. Presently Joe returned. There was a puzzled look upon his face.
"Skipper says," he shouted, "that the point you gave me is the exact location of the island shown on that ancient map and that we must be about ten knots to the north of it. When I told him that the boys were in a seaplane at that point, he suddenly became convinced that there must be an island out there somewhere and refused to change his course.
"'For,' he says, 'if they've been sending messages from a plane in a gale like this they must be on the ground to do it and if on the ground, where but on an island? And if there's an island, how are we going to get up to her in the storm that's about to hit us. We'll be piled on the rocks and smashed in pieces.' That's what he said; said we'd be much safer in the open sea."
Curlie stared at the floor. His mind was in a whirl. Here he had been about to furnish proof that the mysterious island did not exist and just at that instant there came floating in from the air proof of the island's actual existence, proof so strong that even a seasoned old salt believed it and refused to change his course. What was he to say to that!
Fortunately, or unfortunately, he was to be given time enough to think about it, for at that moment, with an unbelievable violence the storm broke.
As they felt the impact of it, it was as if the staunch little craft had run head on into one of those steel nets used during the war for trapping submarines. She struck it and from the very force of the blow, recoiled. The thing she had struck, however, was not a steel net but a mountain of waters flanked by such a volume of wind as is seldom seen on the Atlantic.
"It's the end of the Kittlewake," thought Curlie. "You take care of her," he shouted in Joe's ear, at the same time jerking his thumb at Gladys. The next second he disappeared into the storm.
A SEA ABOVE A SEA
When Alfred Brightwood had tilted the nose of the Stormy Petrel upward and away from the threatening bank of clouds she rose rapidly. A thousand, two thousand, three, four, five thousand feet she mounted to dizzy heights above the sea.
As they mounted, the stars, swinging about in the sky, like incandescent bulbs strung on a wire, made their appearance here and there. They came out rapidly, by twos and threes, by scores and hundreds. In clusters and fantastic figures they swam about in the purple night.
Almost instantly the sea disappeared from beneath them and in its place came a new sea; a sea of dark rushing clouds. Rising two thousand feet above the level of the ocean, this mass of moisture hanging there in the sky took on the appearance of a second sea. As Vincent looked down upon it he found it easy to believe that were they to drop slowly down upon it, they would be seized upon and torn this way, then that by the violence of the storm that was even now raging beneath them, and that their plane would be cast at last, a shapeless mass, upon the real sea which was roaring and raging beneath it.
"How wonderful nature is!" he breathed. "It would be magnificent were it not so terrible."
He was thinking of the gasoline in their tank and he shuddered. Would it last until the storm had passed, or would they be obliged to volplane down into that seething tempest?
He put his lips to the tube. "You better use just enough gas to keep us afloat," he suggested.
Alfred muttered something like, "Think I'm a fool?" Then for a long time, with the black sea of clouds rising and falling, billowing up like the walls of a mammoth tent, then sagging down to rise again, they circled and circled. They were not circling now in search of adventure, to find some island which might bring them great wealth, but to preserve life. How long that circling could last, neither could tell.
* * * * *
When Curlie Carson left the wireless cabin of the Kittlewake, he grasped a rail which ran along the cabin, just in time to prevent himself from being washed overboard by a giant wave. As it was, the water lifted his feet from the deck and, having lifted him as the wind lifts a flag, it waved him up and down three times, at last to send him crashing, knees down, on the deck. The wind was half knocked out of him, but he was still game. He did not attempt to regain the wireless cabin but fought his way along the side of that cabin toward his own stateroom door.
Now a vivid flash of light revealed the water-washed deck. A coil of rope, all uncoiled by the waves, was wriggling like a serpent in the black sea.
"No use to try to save it," he mumbled. "No good here, anyhow."
A yellow light, hanging above his stateroom door, dancing dizzily, appeared at one moment to take a plunge into the sea and at the next to dash away into the ink-black sky.
Curlie was drenched to the skin. He was benumbed with the cold and shocked into half insensibility at the tremendous proportions of the storm. He wondered vaguely about the engineer below. Was the water getting at the engines? He still felt the throb of them beneath his feet. Well, that much was good anyway. And the skipper? Was he still at the wheel? Must be, for the yacht continued to take the waves head-on.
Short and light as she was, the craft appeared to leap from wave-crest to wave-crest. Now she missed the leap by a foot and the water drenched her deck anew. And now she overstepped and came down with a solid impact that set her shuddering from stern to keel.
"Good old Kittlewake," he murmured, "you sure were built for rough service!"
But now he had reached his stateroom door. With a lurch he threw open the door, with a second he fell through, a third slammed it shut.
One second his eyes roved about the place; the next his lips parted as something bumped against his foot.
Stooping, he lifted up a long affair the size and shape of a round cedar fencepost. It was this he had brought aboard just before sailing. It had been shaken down and had been rolling about the floor.
Having examined its wrapping carefully, he shook it once or twice.
"Guess you're all right," he muttered. "And you had better be! A whole lot depends on you in a pinch."
His eyes roved about the room. At length, snatching a blanket from his berth, he tore it into strips. Then, throwing back his mattress, he placed the postlike affair beneath it and lashed it firmly to the springs.
"There!" he exclaimed with much satisfaction, "you'll be safe until needed, if you are needed, and—and you never can tell."
* * * * *
The end of the seaplane's last flirt with death and destruction came suddenly and without warning. Overcome as he was by constant watching, dead for sleep and famished for food, Vincent Ardmore had all but fallen asleep in his seat on the fuselage when a hoarse snort from one of the motors, followed quickly by a rattling grate from the other, startled him into complete wakefulness.
The silence which followed these strange noises was appalling. It was like the lull before a hurricane.
"Gas is gone," said Alfred. There was fear and defiance in his tone, defiance of Nature which he believed had treated him badly "Have to go down now."
"Go down!" Vincent shivered at the thought. Go down to what?
He glanced below, then a ray of hope lighted his face. The storm was passing—had all but passed. The clouds beneath them were no longer densely black. A mere mist, they hung like a veil over the sea.
"But the water?" His heart sank. "It will still be raging."
The storm had not so far passed as he at first thought. The plane cut a circling path as she descended. Her wings were broad; her drop was gradual. As they entered the first layer of clouds, she gave a lurch forward, but with wonderful control the young pilot righted her. Seconds passed, then again she tipped, this time more perilously. But again she was righted. Now she was caught in a little flurry of wind that set her spinning. A nose-dive seemed inevitable, but once more she came to position. Now, as they neared the surface of the sea, a wild, racing wind, the tail of the storm, seized them and hurled them headlong before it. In its grasp, there was no longer thought of control. The only question now was how they would strike the water and when. The very rush of the wind tore the breath from Vincent's lungs. Crushed back against the fuselage, he awaited the end. Once, twice, three times they turned over in a mad whirl. Then, with a sudden rending crash and a wild burst of spray, they struck.
The plane had gone down on one wing. For a second she hung suspended there. Vincent caught his breath. If she went one way there was a chance; if the other, there was none. He thought of loosening his straps, but did not. So he hung there. Came a sudden crash. The right motor had torn from its lashings and plunged into the sea.
The next second the plane settled to the left. Saved for a moment, the boy drew a deep breath. A second crash and the remaining motor was gone. During this crash the boy was completely submerged, but the buoyant plane brought him up again. Then, for a moment, he was free to think, to look about him. Instinctively his eyes sought the place where his companion had been seated. It was empty. Alfred was gone.
Covering his eyes with his hands, he tried to tell himself it was not true. Then, suddenly uncovering them, he searched the surface of the troubled sea. Once he fancied he caught a glimpse of a white hand above a wave. He could not be sure; it might have been a speck of foam. Only one thing he could be sure of; his throbbing brain told it to him over and over: Alfred Brightwood, his friend, was gone—gone forever. The sea had swallowed him up.
THE BOATS ARE GONE
When Curlie Carson had fastened the mysterious post-shaped affair to the springs of his berth, he fought his way against wind, waves and darkness back to the radiophone cabin.
"Anything come in?" he asked as he shook the dampness from his clothing.
"Nothing I could make out," shouted Joe. "Got something all jumbled up with static once but couldn't make it out." Rising, he took the receiver from his head and handed it to Curlie. Then, as the craft took a sudden plunge, he leaped for a seat. Missing it, he went sprawling upon the floor.
In spite of the seriousness of their dilemma, the girl let forth a joyous peal of laughter. Joe's antics as he attempted to rise were too ridiculous for words.
There was tonic for all of them in that laugh. They felt better because of it.
Some moments after that, save for the wild beat of the storm, there was silence. Then, clapping the receivers to his ears, Curlie uttered an exclamation. He was getting something, or at least thought he was. Yes, now he did get it, a whisper. Faint, indistinct, mingled with static, yet audible enough, there came the four words:
"Hello there, Curlie! Hello!"
At that moment the currents of electricity playing from cloud to cloud set up such a rattle and jangle of static that he heard no more.
"It's that girl in my old home town, in that big hotel," he told himself. "To think that her whisper would carry over all those miles in such a gale! She's sending on 600. Wonder why?"
"Ah, well," he breathed, when nothing further had come in, "I'll unravel that mystery in good time, providing we get out of this mess and get back to that home burg of ours. But now—"
Suddenly he started and stared. There had come a loud bump against the cabin; then another and another.
"It's the boats!" he shouted. "They've torn loose. Should have known they would. Should have thought of that. Here!" He handed the receiver to Joe and once more dashed out into the storm.
The Kittlewake carried two lifeboats. As he struggled toward where they should have been, some object swinging past him barely missed his head.
Instantly he dropped to the deck, at the same time gripping at the rail to save himself from being washed overboard.
"That," he told himself, "was a block swinging from a rope. The boat on this side is gone. Worse luck for that! We—we might need 'em before we're through with this."
Slowly he worked his way along the rail toward the stern. Now and again the waves that washed the deck lifted him up to slam him down again.
"Quit that!" he muttered hoarsely. "Can't you let a fellow alone."
Arrived at last on the other side, he rose to his knees and tried to peer above him to the place where the second lifeboat should be swinging. A flash of lightning aided his vision. A groan escaped his lips.
"Gone!" he muttered. "Should have thought of that! But," he told himself, "there's still the raft!"
The raft, built of boards and gas-filled tubes, was lashed to the deck forward. Thither he made his difficult way.
To his great relief, he found the raft still safe. Since it was thrashing about, he uncoiled a rope closely lashed to the side of a cabin and with tremendous effort succeeded in making the raft snug.
"There, now, you'll remain with us for a spell," he muttered.
Clinging there for a moment, he appeared to debate some important question.
"Guess I ought to do it," he told himself at last. "And I'd better do it now. You never can tell what will happen next and if worst comes to worst it's our only chance."
Fighting his way back to his cabin, he returned presently with the post-shaped affair which he had lashed to the springs of his berth.
This he now lashed to the stout slats of wood and crossbars of metal on the raft. When he had finished it appeared to be part of the raft.
"There, my sweet baby," he murmured, "sleep here, rocked on the cradle of the deep, until your papa wants you. You're a beautiful and wonderful child!"
Then, weary, water-soaked, chilled to the bone, stupefied by the wild beat of the storm, aching in every muscle but not downhearted, he fought his way back to the radio cabin.
* * * * *
Nature has been kind to man. She has so made him that he is incapable of feeling all the tragedy and sorrow of a terrible situation at the time when it bursts upon him. Vincent Ardmore, as he clung to the wrecked plane, with his companion gone from him forever, did not sense the full horror of his position. He realized little more than the fact that he was chilled to the bone, and that the wind and waves were beating upon him unmercifully.
Then, gradually there stole into his benumbed mind the thought that he might improve his position. The platform above him still stood clear of the waves. Could he but loosen the straps which bound him to the fuselage, could he but climb to that platform, he would at least be free for a time from the rude beating of the black waters which rolled over him incessantly.
With the numbed, trembling fingers of one hand he struggled with the stubborn, water-soaked straps while with the other he clung to the rods of the rigging. To loosen his grip for an instant, once the straps were unfastened, meant almost certain death.
After what seemed an eternity of time the last strap gave way and, with a wild pounding of his heart, he gripped the rods and began to climb.
As he tumbled upon the platform, new hope set the blood racing through his veins.
"There might yet be a chance," he murmured, almost joyfully; "the storm is breaking." His eyes wandered to the fleeting clouds. "Dawn's coming, too. I—I—why, I might send a message. The motor's gone dead, of course, but there are still storage batteries. If only the insulations are good. If water has not soaked in anywhere!"
With trembling fingers he tested the batteries. A bright flash of fire told him they were still alive. Then with infinite care he adjusted the instruments. At last he tapped a wire and a grating rattle went forth.
"She's still good," he exulted.
Then slowly, distinctly, he talked into the transmitter, talked as he might had he been surrounded by the cozy comforts of home. He gave his name, the name of his aircraft; told of his perilous position; gave his approximate location and asked for aid. Only once his voice broke and fell to a whisper. That was when he tried to tell of the sad fate of his companion.
Having come to the end, he adjusted the receiver to his ears and sat there listening.
Suddenly his face grew tense with expectation. He was getting something, an answer to his message.
For a full moment he sat there tense, motionless. Then, suddenly, without warning, a new catastrophe assailed him. A giant wave, leaping high, came crashing down upon the wreckage of the plane. There followed a snapping and crashing of braces. When the wave had passed, the platform to which he clung floated upon the sea. His radiophone equipment was water-soaked, submerged. His storage batteries had toppled over to plunge into the sea.
So there he clung, a single individual on a mass of wreckage, helpless and well-nigh hopeless in the midst of a vast ocean whose waves were even now subsiding after a terrific storm.
THE WRECK OF THE KITTLEWAKE
"I'm getting a message!" exclaimed Curlie excitedly. "Getting it distinct and plain, and it's—it's from them."
"Oh, is it?" the girl sprang from the seat.
"From your brother. They've been wrecked. They're not on an island but on the sea. Safe, though, only—" he paused to listen closely again—"I can't just make out what he says about his companion."
"Oh! Please, please let me listen!" Gladys Ardmore gripped his arm.
Quickly Curlie snatched the receiver from his head and pressed it down over her tangled mass of brown hair.
She caught but a few words, then the voice broke suddenly off, but such words as they were; such words of comfort. The voice of her only brother had come stealing across the storm to her, assuring her that he was still alive; that there was still a chance that he might be saved. She pressed the receivers to her ears in the hopes of hearing more.
In the meantime Curlie was answering the message. In quiet, reassuring tones he gave their location and told of their purpose in those waters and ended with the assurance that if it were humanly possible the rescue should be accomplished.
"And we will save them," he exclaimed. "At least we'll save your brother."
"You don't think—" Gladys did not finish.
"I hardly know what to think about your brother's chum," Curlie said thoughtfully. "But this we do know: Your brother is clinging to the wreckage of a seaplane out there somewhere. And we will save him. See! the storm is about at an end and morning is near!" He pointed to the window, where the first faint glow of dawn was showing.
For a moment all were silent. Then suddenly, without warning, there came a grinding crash that sent a shudder through the Kittlewake from stem to stern.
"What was that?" exclaimed Joe Marion, springing to his feet from the floor where he had been thrown.
"We struck something!" Curlie was out upon the deck like a shot.
He all but collided with the skipper, who had deserted his wheel.
"We 'it somethin'," shouted the skipper, "an' she's sinkin' by the larboard bow. Gotta' git off 'er quick. Boats are gone! Everythin's gone."
"No," said Curlie calmly, "the raft forward is safely lashed on."
The engineer appeared from below. The engine had already ceased its throbbing.
"She's fillin' fast," he commented in a slow drawl.
"You two get the raft loose," said Curlie. "I'll get the girl."
Dashing to his stateroom he seized two blankets and a large section of oiled cloth. With these he dashed to the radio room.
"Got to get out quick!" he exclaimed.
Before she could realize what he was doing, he had seized the girl and had wrapped her round and round with the blankets, then with the oiled cloth. Joe had rushed out to help with the raft. Curlie carried the girl outside and, when the raft with the others aboard was afloat, handed her down to the skipper.
"Try and keep her dry," he said calmly. "We'll all get soaked, but we can stand it for a long time; a girl can't."
"Now push off!" he commanded. "Get good and clear so that the wreck will not draw you down."
"You'll come with us," said the skipper sternly. Curlie had not intended going with them. He had meant to remain behind and send a call for aid, then to swim for the raft. But now, as he saw the water gaining on the stricken craft, he realized how dangerous and futile it would be. He was needed on the raft to help get her away. Having seen all this at a flash he said:
"All right; I'll go." Having dropped to the raft, and seized a short paddle, he joined Joe and the engineer in forcing the unwieldy raft away from the side of the doomed Kittlewake.
They were none too soon, for scarcely two minutes could have elapsed when with a rush that nearly engulfed them the boat keeled up on end and sank from sight.
"And now," said Joe addressing Curlie as he settled back to a seat on one of the gas-filled tubes, "you can test out what you said once about keeping your radiophone dry and tuned up under any and every circumstance. Suppose you tune her up now and get off an S.O.S."
There was a smile on the lips of the undaunted young operator as he said with a drawl:
"Give me time, Joe, old scout, give me time."
The girl, staring out from her wrappings, appeared to fear that the two boys had gone delirious over this new catastrophe.
But only brave and hardy spirits can joke in the midst of disaster, and as for Curlie, he really did have one more trick up his sleeve.
As the old skipper sat staring away at the point where his craft had disappeared beneath the dark waters, he murmured:
"'Twasn't much we 'it; fragment from an iceberg 'er somethin', but 'twas enough. An' a good little craft she was too."
The storm had passed, but the waves were still rolling high. The raft tilted to such an angle that now they were all in danger of being pitched headforemost into the sea, and now in danger of falling backward into the trough of the waves.
Soaked to the skin, shivering, miserable, the boys and men clung to the raft, while the girl bewailed the fact that she was not permitted to suffer with them. Wrapped as she was, and carefully guarded from the on-rush of the waves, she escaped all the miserable damp and chill of it.
"Shows you're a real sport," Curlie's lips, blue with cold, attempted a smile, "but you've got to let us play the gentleman, even out here."
When the waves had receded somewhat, Curlie began digging at one of the tubes beneath his feet. Having at length unfastened it, he stood it on end to unscrew some fastenings and lift off the top.
"Canisters of water and some emergency rations!" exclaimed Joe, as he peered inside. "Great stuff!"
They had taken a swallow of water apiece and were preparing to munch some hardtack and chocolate when Gladys exclaimed:
"Look over there. What's that?"
"There's nothing," said the engineer after studying the waves for a moment.
"Oh, yes there was!" the girl insisted emphatically. "Something showed up on the crest of a wave. It's in the trough of the wave now. It'll come up again."
"Bit of wreckage from our yacht," suggested Joe.
"Not much wreckage on 'er," said the skipper. "All washed off 'er long before she sank."
"What could it be then?" The girl was fairly holding her breath. "It couldn't be—"
"Don't get your hopes up too high," cautioned Curlie. "Of course miracles do happen, but not so very often."
They were all straining their eyes when at last the thing appeared once more on the crest of the wave.
"Wreckage! A mass of it!" came from the skipper.
"And—and there's a hand!" exclaimed Curlie.
"The paddles, boys! The paddles! Every 'and of you, hup an' at it," shouted the skipper.
The wildest excitement prevailed, yet out of it all there came quick and concerted action. Three paddles flashed as, straining every muscle, they strove to bring the clumsy raft nearer the wreck. With tears in her eyes, the girl begged and implored them to unwrap her and allow her to have a hand in the struggle.
A minute passed. No longer chilled but steaming from violent exertion, they strained eager eyes to catch another glimpse of the wreck.
"There—there it is!" exclaimed the girl, overcome with joy. "You're gaining! You're gaining!"
Five minutes passed. They gained half the distance. Eight minutes more; the hand on the wreckage rose again. They were getting nearer.
Suddenly the girl uttered a piercing cry of joy:
"It is Vincent! It is! It is!"
And she was right. A moment later, as they dragged the all but senseless form from the seaplane, they recognized him at once as the millionaire's son.
He had drifted in the benumbing water so long that had they been delayed for another hour they would have found nothing more than a corpse awaiting them.
As Curlie tore Vincent's sodden outer garments from him he saw the girl carefully unrolling the blankets and oiled covering from about her. He did not protest. To him the thought of seeing this girl half drowned and chilled through by the spray which even now at times dashed over the raft, was heartbreaking, but he knew it was necessary if the life of her brother was to be saved.