THE PEARL CITY

Nothing happened this second day of our imprisonment. The Faytans
evidently had some plan of campaign mapped out, or they would not have
established the patrol of canoes. We began to consider what their
intentions could be.

“Let’s give ’em credit for a leetle intelligence,” said Uncle Naboth,
who had been studying the natives through his binoculars. “The chief
that runs this place must have some ability, and as soon as he
discovered us here he must ’a’ thought it all out. Mebbe he lay awake
doin’ it, for next mornin’ we found them canoes on guard. That was the
first trick in the game.”

“Not a bad one, either,” I remarked.

“Not from the chief’s standpoint. It kept us from escapin’ in the boats,
which is the one thing, it seems, he don’t intend to let happen. Now,
our boys here,” pointing to Bryonia and Nux, “have a notion that the
Pearl People don’t want any strangers around. They never let ’em land,
if they can help it, and drive ’em away or kill ’em. Accordin’ to that
theory the Faytans ought to be glad to have us go. But here they are,
keepin’ us fast prisoners. Why’s that, Bry?”

Bryonia had stood moodily silent. He now looked up and shook his head.

“Can’t say, Mars Nabot’,” he answered. But he spoke in a hesitating way
that led me to think he preferred not to speak frankly.

“It’s really a puzzler,” resumed Uncle Naboth. “If they mean to kill us,
why don’t they start in and fight it out?”

“Perhaps they realize our position is impregnable,” I suggested.

“It ain’t exactly that,” declared my uncle. “If they happen to think to
shoot some burnin’ arrers at us, they can easily set fire to the ship,
an’ then we’re done for.”

“Not knowin’ about ships, they may not think of that,” said my father,
uneasily.

“Well, what then?” asked De Jiminez.

“Then,” replied Joe, “the wily islanders expect to conquer us in one of
two ways. First to starve us out, and—”

“They can’t do that in a hurry,” muttered the Captain.

“And second to let us die of thirst,” continued Joe.

We all became thoughtful at this suggestion. I knew we had supplies of
fresh water sufficient for an ordinary voyage, and an aërator to doctor
it with if it became stagnant and unpalatable; but barreled water is not
the safest thing to depend upon, and thirst was a greater menace than
lack of food. Yet it seemed improbable that a savage chieftain would
have thought this all out and determined upon so tedious and unwarlike a
plan of conquest.

Afterward I found Bryonia alone and said to him:

“Why do you think the Faytans wish to keep us here?”

“Don’ know, Mars Sam.”

“Yes you do, Bry. Anyhow, you’ve some idea.”

“I may be wrong.”

“This is in confidence, Bry. You may trust me.”

He hesitated a moment.

“I wish, Mars Sam,” he said in a low voice, speaking his native tongue,
“that the lady passengers had not showed themselves.”

“Oh, that’s it!” I exclaimed. “Are the natives partial to white women,
Bry?”

“I know other chiefs,” he said, “and I know they like to take women of
other nations for wives. In my own island it is like that. I think if we
were only warriors the Faytans would drive us away, or let us take the
boats out. That is the only way I can explain the strange manner in
which they are acting.”

“You may be right,” I returned, and walked away to think it over.

The third day brought no more incident than the others that preceded it.
I had abandoned the idea that the Faytans intended to besiege us until
we succumbed to hunger or thirst, and told Joe so. Also I confided to my
chum Bry’s theory that they were concocting a plan to get our women.
This made Joe look grave and anxious.

When Alfonso joined us, presently, I thought it best to acquaint him
with our fears.

“If that is so,” said the boy, “we will see that the women never fall
into their hands alive. But I am confident there will be some way of
escape open to us before our condition gets desperate.”

“What is your father doing?” I asked, thinking I would like a conference
with Señor de Jiminez.

“He is writing a speech to deliver before the Colombian Congress when he
becomes president,” replied Alfonso with a smile. “Poor father! He
doesn’t know what despair means. I’m sure he has no real conception of
our present position.”

“I wish,” said Joe, musingly, as he stared out over the island, “that I
could see into that forest yonder. I wonder if it’s full of watching
natives, or if they’re all lying snug in the big Pearl City we’ve heard
about.”

Alfonso was thoughtful. For awhile he, too, stared at the forest. Then a
sudden idea occurred to him, for his face brightened and he laughed
aloud.

“Fellows,” said he, “I’ve a notion to go over to that city and see what
it looks like. Also, I’ll take a peep into the forest as I pass by.”

I looked at him in amazement, saying:

“Have you gone crazy, then?”

Again he laughed, quite gleefully.

“I don’t wonder you suspect my sanity,” he answered; “but the truth is
that I had forgotten all about a certain important shipment of mine that
is now in the hold of this ship and may be of great help to us in our
present emergency. However,” he added, more soberly, “the thing was
intended for a far different purpose.”

“A shipment? What is it?” I inquired.

“Why, nothing more nor less than one of those new fashioned biplanes. I
bought one of the latest improved _Antoinettes_ when I went over to
Paris, during the time father was purchasing the arms in Australia. He
sent me there on some banking business, you know, and I naturally took
in the aviation exhibition. It did not take me long to decide that a
biplane would be of great assistance to the revolution and I induced the
great Bleriot himself to teach me how to work it. Before I left Paris I
could manage the thing beautifully, and I’ve made a good many successful
flights. It is all packed in three cases, with bands of red paint around
them so they can be identified from the arms, and I have many extra
parts in separate cases. It must seem queer to you to realize I have a
flying machine in this out-of-the-way place—where we’re shipwrecked on a
savage island.”

“It is strange,” I admitted.

“The _Antoinette_ would make even you fellows stare, I guess,” continued
Alfonso.

“Oh, as for that,” said Joe, “both Sam and I have done some aërial
stunts in our time, and made some pretty long flights. But a biplane’s a
new invention to us.”

“It occurred to me that I could put the machine together here on deck,”
announced Alfonso, “and make a trip over the forest to the Pearl City. I
won’t land there, of course, but I’ll circle around and find out what we
want to know, and then come back again. What do you think?” he asked a
little anxiously.

“Seems like a brilliant idea,” I said approvingly.

“Will you fellows help me to get it together?”

“Of course,” said Joe. “And the sooner the better.”

“Then order your men to fetch up the boxes with the red bands. There are
three of them.”

I went to Uncle Naboth and my father and explained what Little Jim
wanted to do. They both considered the thing impracticable and
foolhardy, but said we could give the young Colombian whatever
assistance he needed.

So the boxes were sent for and presently hoisted from the hold by means
of the cranes provided for such purposes. Only one was at all heavy, and
that contained the motor and tools.

The carpenter unscrewed the covers and soon a confused mass of canvas
planes, braces, platforms and other odds and ends lay upon the deck.
Alfonso, with his coat off and sleeves rolled up, began to select the
pieces and connect them. He had written instructions for setting up the
machine, but did not need to refer to them often, being evidently quite
familiar with the details of its mechanism.

It did not seem to me that the thing was at all serviceable; it was very
frail and more like a toy than a flying machine; but the boy assured me
it was an exact duplicate of the one that held the world’s record for
altitude and speed.

“Aren’t you afraid to trust yourself to it?” asked Joe.

“Afraid! Of course not,” was the reply. “It is perfectly safe if
operated intelligently—barring unavoidable accidents.”

We both assisted, being guided by his directions, and all three of us
worked the remainder of that day. Lucia discovered us at about the time
we began assembling the airship, and was so fascinated by the
proposition that she remained constantly by our side, watching every
move we made. She made no remarks, but her dark eyes missed no detail,
and whenever Alfonso instructed us she listened as carefully as we did.
It seemed queer for a girl to take such an interest in a flying
machine—a thing that some men do not care to fool with. In addition to
the girl a curious group of the sailors surrounded us, for I have found
that those who sail the seas have a certain sympathy for those who sail
the air.

I had myself become enthusiastic over the machine, as I began to
understand the theory of its operation. The _Antoinette_ was as
scientifically constructed as it was delicate and graceful. I could see
possibilities in the thing, now, and that night was a sleepless one for
me, so eager was I to continue our work the next morning. We got the
frame complete the second day, and set the engines in position.

By evening the biplane seemed all ready to fly, but Alfonso asserted it
must be adjusted and tested with the utmost care, as all depended on the
tenseness and equalization of the planes. He told us, however, he hoped
to make the flight the following morning.

Our relations with the natives had remained unchanged. The only event of
each day was the arrival of food and supplies for the floating
besiegers. These were brought in canoes around the island and a share
distributed to each of the line of boats. Then the commissary department
silently withdrew and the excitement was over. As for the guard, their
patience seemed untiring. The warriors must have been more or less
cramped in their canoes. If some of them were relieved at times, it was
during the nights, for darkness fell upon the silent line and daybreak
found it still unbroken. Perhaps some slept, lying in the bottoms of the
canoes, while others watched. I have no means of knowing.

Finally our youthful and adventurous Colombian got his machine adjusted
to suit him, explaining to Joe and me, as he worked, all the details of
equilibrium and shifting the balance, and how to handle the wheel and
run the motors. The engines were not unlike those used on automobiles,
yet lighter in weight and made as delicately as a watch. The wheel
answered the slightest touch, and any change in direction required a
quick eye and quick thought. Indeed, to fly in a biplane is no dreamy
man’s job, for every nerve and muscle must be tense and responsive and
lend life to the inanimate thing he directs.

Alfonso was cool as a cucumber while making his tests and I could see
that his eager enthusiasm was due more to the delights of an
exhilarating flight through the air than a desire to see the Pearl City,
or discover what our enemies were doing. Doubtless he had for some time
been aching for an opportunity to use his novel machine, and his present
attempt was mainly due to this wish.

Being of a mechanical turn of mind and interested in all such
propositions, I followed intently every movement that Alfonso made in
putting the biplane together, adjusting it and preparing for the flight.

“I almost believe I could work it myself,” I remarked with a smile.

“That ‘almost’ qualifies your egotism,” replied Little Jim, with
assurance. “It is the flight itself—the management of the machine in the
air—that really requires knowledge and skill.”

“But that can only come with experience,” I said. “How many flights have
you made?”

“Several,” he declared proudly. “Once I remained in the air for
thirty-seven minutes. I can do better than that, now, for I have here an
improved machine and the condition of the atmosphere in these latitudes
is almost perfect, since the storm cleared.”

He took his seat in the machine. We had cleared a long run along the
deck, from stern to stem, for his use in starting.

“First,” said he, “I’ll take a turn among those boats over the reefs. I
may land here on my return, or I may keep on over the island; it will
depend upon circumstances.”

Every soul aboard had gathered to watch this interesting attempt, and I
noticed that Lucia’s eyes were big and sparkling with excitement.
Alfonso was quite the hero of the hour and it filled him with pride and
elation to be the observed of all observers. His father, who had always
vigorously opposed his son’s experiments with airships, but realized the
fact that the biplane might be of much service to the revolution, was a
curious and silent spectator. He had indulged in a stiff argument with
Alfonso the night before, but had met defeat at the hands of his wayward
son. The boy’s courage and confidence were indisputable, and perhaps
Señor de Jiminez was a bit proud of his son’s progressive ideas.

“The airship is bound to be a great factor in the future history of
nations,” asserted Alfonso, and this could not be successfully
controverted until the future revealed itself and became history.

Joe and I followed directions in turning the motor and running the
machine along the deck for a start. It rose just before it reached the
bow, soared over the rail and headed straight out to sea, still
ascending. Absolute silence pervaded the anxious group on deck. We could
plainly hear the whir of the motors as the biplane, swift as a dart,
flew over the reefs, descried a graceful curve and circled around the
boats a hundred feet or more in the air.

The Faytans were certainly a stolid lot, as we afterward proved; but the
flight of the airship was so startling that they craned their necks to
watch it, and some rose in the canoes while others ducked down and
covered their heads as if in terror. Fear was unknown to this people,
but superstition bound them in chains, and this surely seemed like a
demonstration of the gods.

I must admit the boy handled the machine beautifully, and it responded
to his touch like a thing of life. Several times he circled around, then
swept out to sea until he was a mere birdlike speck, and finally came
back and headed directly for the ship. Perhaps it had been five or six
minutes since he left us, but to us it seemed an hour, so excited were
we by his daring and his success.

We kept the deck clear, pressing close to the rail, and it seemed
Alfonso’s intention to land. He came toward us in a straight line; then
the machine dipped, for as it neared us it was fully three hundred feet
above the sea. Now the aëronaut shut down the motors and glided
gracefully downward at an angle of nearly forty degrees. We were
preparing to shout our applause, when like a great bird the biplane
swept over the deck, struck the mainmast at about its middle and came
crashing down in a heap—operator and aëroplane being mixed in a confused
jumble.

Joe and I rushed in first of all and pulled Alfonso out of the wreck. He
was insensible and bleeding profusely from a cut across the forehead.
Others eagerly took the boy from us and carried him below, his father
sobbing that his son was dead, dead, dead! and now could never become
the president of Colombia.

I knew well enough Alfonso wasn’t dead, and told Lucia so when she asked
me with a white, startled face.

“A little damaged, that’s all,” said I, and watched her as she hurried
away, womanlike, to render what assistance she could.

“It were surely wonderful!” cried Uncle Naboth, viewing the mangled
biplane that lay at the foot of the mast; “but he’s spoilt his flying
machine the first trip.”

“Oh, I’m not at all sure about that,” I replied. “What do you think,
Joe?”

“Why, it’s like Alfonso—a little damaged, that’s all,” he answered with
a grin. “The motor seems all right, and that’s the main thing.”

We made an examination, then, and found some of the framework of the
planes splintered. Otherwise nothing was injured and a little work would
soon restore the thing to good working order.

Bryonia and “Capstan Bob,” the latter having been a poor doctor before
he became a good sailor, attended the injured boy, and soon word came up
that Alfonso had regained consciousness. He had broken his left arm and
cut his scalp open, but was not seriously injured. Late in the afternoon
he asked to see me, and when I went down to his room I found him quite
cheerful over his personal mishap, but worried about the condition of
his biplane. This I assured him could easily be repaired, and he told me
there was a supply of extra frames in one of the boxes, and asked me to
look after the airship and rig it up again.

“I want to make another trip in it as soon as I am able,” he told me.
“This broken arm is an unfortunate thing, but I guess I can manage the
wheel with my right hand. Are you sure the motor is uninjured?”

“It worked smoothly when I tested it,” I answered; “but I’ll go over it
again more carefully and make sure.”

“Do,” he urged. “You and Joe can do the work, and to-morrow I’ll come on
deck and direct you. I’ll be all right by that time.”

The morning, however, found Alfonso so stiff and sore from his bruises,
his gashed forehead and his cracked arm, that he could not leave his
berth. The women waited upon him tirelessly and Joe and I, left to our
own devices, decided to get to work on the biplane without the owner’s
assistance. It interested us more than ever, now that we had seen what
the thing could do, and I had acquired a powerful desire to test its
virtues myself. If we could restore the machine to good condition, and
should our safety demand knowledge of the movements of the natives, I
felt I would not hesitate to undertake a flight.

All that day we worked, finding spare parts to replace those that had
been damaged. It was evident that accidents to the frame were expected
and anticipated, since duplicates of almost every part of them had been
furnished. Only the motor and steering gear were without duplicate
parts; but these were little likely to become injured, even by a direct
fall.

On the following morning Joe and I arose before daybreak and got Bry to
make us some coffee while we finally adjusted the biplane. I had decided
to attempt a flight secretly, as I feared Señor de Jiminez or his son
would refuse us permission had we asked to go. The seat was so arranged
that it would carry two; so, both Joe and I being light in weight ought
not to prove too great a burden for the machine. I had intended to go
alone, at first, but Joe begged so hard that I did not like to refuse
him, and he agreed to allow me to manage it without interference.

We instructed Bry and Ned Britton how to start us, but we took our run
on the deck from stem to stern, so as to head over the island.

The _Antoinette_ rose like a bird—just as the sun came up—and with a
sense of elation and delight I realized we were actually flying. Up we
shot, right over the forest, which came beneath us so suddenly that for
the first time I recognized the marvelous speed of the machine.

Determined to investigate this threatening barrier, I turned the wheel
so as to descry a succession of circles and descended until we were just
above the tallest tree tops. Joe had a pair of powerful glasses, and
while I watched the biplane he examined the forest.

“The woods are full of savages,” he remarked, attentively looking
downward; “but most of them are lined up facing the ship.”

“What are they doing?” I asked.

“Stripping the trees of bark, and flattening it out. That’s queer. All
are working at this except the double line of sentries at the edge of
the forest.”

“Perhaps they’re making shields of the bark,” I suggested; “in which
case they intend to attack us presently. But if they think we use bows
and arrows, which a bark shield will stop, they’re much mistaken.”

“Who knows what they think?” muttered my companion.

“And who cares? Keep your balance, Joe; I’m going to explore the rest of
the island.”

First I rose to quite an altitude, so that we might determine the extent
of the island. Then I spied a large settlement at the far east of us—the
farthest point from the ship—and deciding that this was the Pearl City I
headed directly for it.

A few moments only sufficed to bring us above the city, a journey of
perhaps ten miles from our starting point. Here again I circled while we
inspected the place.

The city was of tremendous extent; for here, we afterward learned,
resided every inhabitant of Faytan. There was a pretty landlocked bay
before it, and the water front was thick with craft, mostly with canoes
such as we had seen, although there were some ponderous flat-bottomed
boats that resembled rafts more than ships. These I thought might be
used for the pearl fishing, although they were gaudily decorated and had
many seats with rudely carved backs.

Between the forest and the city were large cultivated fields, with
groups of cocoanut and date palms showing here and there, and we
discovered several bands of workers on these farms, all calmly engaged
in performing their proper tasks.

But the city itself was far more interesting than its surroundings. The
buildings were of clay bricks, of a light gray color, little wood being
used in their construction. They were of great size and laid out in
regular order, forming streets that radiated in all directions from a
central square. Directly in the middle of this space was a great
circular building which was painted a dark blue color—the only painted
building in the city—and lavishly decorated with pearls. The doorways,
windows and cornices, and even portions of the dome, were thickly set
with these precious gems, only pearls of great size and luster being
chosen for the purpose. This was the temple; but I ought to explain that
many of these details were not perceived by us at that time, while we
circled in the biplane over the city and looked curiously down upon it.
Perhaps it was this very curiosity that was our undoing, for I must have
neglected the machine in some way to send it suddenly swerving, first to
one side and then the other, in an erratic motion that was bewildering
and instantly destroyed my cool confidence. The strain on the planes was
dangerous, and although we managed to keep our balance I could not
steady the thing nor bring it to a stable equilibrium. We were at a
dangerous elevation should we fall, and to avoid this catastrophe I
involuntarily descended, without any regard as to where we might land.

It was almost a fall, as it was. We first dove headlong, at a dangerous
angle, and then I swung her head up, shut off the motor, and she
fluttered, rocked and came to a sudden stop with a jolt that well nigh
drove the breath from our bodies. Joe pitched from the seat and rolled
over a few times; then he sat up and looked at me in a dazed way that
would have made me laugh had I not been wondering just then how many
bones I had broken. But after the jar on my nerves had subsided I
crawled out of the machine, which dropped its planes as if ashamed of
its rude action, and found we were on the flat top of one of the high
buildings that overlooked the place of the Pearl Temple.

I crawled to the edge, which had a low parapet, and looked over. A
hundred eyes met mine, staring at me with wonder in spite of the stoic
nature of these remarkable islanders.

It was not strange that they marveled. Airships are not yet everyday
affairs in our own country, so this one might well startle the natives
of a secluded South Sea island which even ships do not sight. I am not
certain which party was at first most bewildered, Joe and I or the
Faytans; but we were first to recover, and our desperate situation
called for decisive thought.

Hastily I ran over the machine. A guide rope had parted, and I promptly
knotted it together again. In all other respects the _Antoinette_ seemed
uninjured.

“Get aboard, Joe!” I cried; “we must make a run for it the best way we
can.”

“Someone has to push the thing,” he returned. “I’ll start it and you
take it away, Sam. If you reach the ship safely you can come back with a
rescue party.”

“That’s nonsense!” I exclaimed. “I won’t go without you, and you know
it. Here, help me run it over to the edge, and we’ll see what we can do.
It may dip at first, but there is lots of room in the square down there
for us to get a start and rise again.”

“And lots of savages to grab us if we bump the ground. My way’s best,
Sam.”

“Your way is impossible!” said I. “We will either go together, or we’ll
both stay right here.”

The speech was prophetic. Before I had the words well out of my mouth
the natives began to pour in a stream out upon the roof, coming through
a square hole in the center which we had not thought to guard.

Each of us was armed with a brace of revolvers, but we hesitated to use
them. As we backed away to the furthermost edge I said to Joe:

“Don’t shoot. They’ll capture us anyhow by force of numbers, and we’ll
stand better with them if we don’t hurt anyone. Keep your pistols out of
sight, for a better time may come to use them.”

Joe nodded.

“You’re right,” he said briefly.

The Faytans lined up before us, a score of great muscular fellows with
singularly intelligent features and of grave, dignified demeanor. As I
looked upon them I decided to adopt a certain plan of action. Extending
my hand and smiling in a fearless, friendly manner, I slowly advanced
toward the man directly in front of me. There seemed to be no captain or
leader among them.

“Greeting, good friends,” I said in the language of Tuamotu, the island
Nux and Bry had come from, and which they had long ago taught me to
speak. All the natives of the South Seas have, I believe, a common
language, although each island seems to use a dialect or “brogue” of its
own. At any rate the islanders seem able to understand one another when
they meet in peace or war, and for that reason I hoped to make myself
understood.

That I succeeded was soon apparent. The man did not take my extended
hand, but he said in a deep, musical voice:

“We are not friends. It is not possible.”

“No?” I returned, as if astonished. And, indeed, his frankness was
surprising, for these islanders are usually subtle and deceptive,
claiming friendship when they intend murder. “Why is it not possible for
us to be friends?”

“Because you come unasked. Because we do not harbor strangers. Because
intruders deserve death, and the laws of the Faytans decree it.”

This was not at all pleasant.

“We came not here of our own will,” I said after a moment’s hesitation.
“The gods of the Storm and Wind thrust us upon your island. We wish to
go away; to return to our own country.”

“That cannot be,” said another standing near the first speaker. “To
allow a stranger from the world beyond the sea to escape would be to
allow him to carry tales of Faytan to his countrymen. Then they would
send many boats here to rob us of our pearls and make us trouble.”

“Therefore,” added another, “you must die to save Faytan.”

“In what way?” I asked, more to gain time than because the mode of dying
interested me just then.

“The King will determine that. We will take you to the King.”

“Very well,” I responded cheerfully. “Come, Joe; let’s visit the King.”

He grinned at this, for Joe isn’t easily scared, and we allowed the
Faytans to escort us from the roof, going so docilely that they did not
bind us or even touch our bodies. They merely surrounded us in a dense
mass, and since they were of gigantic size and strong as bulls that was
as secure a method as any.

The house through which we passed was not badly arranged or furnished.
We saw numerous rooms from the corridors we traversed, and they were
more pleasant and homelike than you might suppose, considering this to
be an uncivilized island which the world’s progress had never yet
thought of.

The square outside—it was a circle, really—was thronged with men, women
and children, all scantily clad as far as clothing was concerned, but
the humblest wearing a fortune in pearl ornaments.

This island of Faytan must be very populous. There were at least two
hundred men in the boats guarding the reefs; the forest was full of
them; many were working in the fields, and still the Pearl City was
packed full, as far as we could see. The natives were of superior
physique and intelligence. We had thought Nux and Bry exceptionally well
built fellows, for South Sea Islanders, and we had often proved their
fidelity and keenness of intellect; but the Faytans were fully their
equals in every respect, and I knew from the reports of Tuamotu that
they had no such capital as the Pearl City and lived in a more primitive
manner.

Crossing the square between close ranks of silent, staring natives, we
were escorted to the steps of the Great Temple and in through a high
arched doorway.