THE WAY IT HAPPENED

I have several times been in danger of a violent death, and yet I still
survive. “No man can evade his fate,” said the Crooked One; yet it is
equally true that no man knows or can foresee his fate. One who
frequently escapes death learns to fall back upon philosophy and ceases
to worry overmuch.

I must have fallen asleep after a time, for when I opened my eyes the
sun was flooding the room and my usual breakfast of milk and fruits
stood upon the bench near me. I had scarcely finished the meal when in
came a dozen Faytan warriors, headed by the Crooked One himself.

“Are you ready?” he asked.

“What if I am not?” I retorted. “You intend I shall go with you, of
course.”

He inclined his head gravely—not mockingly. Even he, standing in the
presence of death, respected my feelings.

They did not bind me, but led me out between close files of the
warriors. In the square was a vast crowd, silent and attentive. With my
guard I passed to the east and took the broadest thoroughfare—that
leading to the bay.

I had never been in this direction before, but I remembered seeing the
water front from the airship when Joe and I first entered the city. The
crowd swayed back to let us pass and then closed up behind us, following
after in a long procession.

It was not far to the beautiful landlocked bay before which the Pearl
City had been built, and when it came into full view I found the water
thickly covered with boats of every description. The entire populace
seemed to have turned out to witness my execution, and the occasion
partook of the nature of a festival, for boats, barges and buildings
were gay with the peculiar banners these people use for decoration. They
were of all colors and shapes, and every one was bordered with pearls.

One of the biggest flat-bottomed barges, manned by a score of oarsmen,
lay at the foot of the street waiting to receive us. I stepped aboard,
the guards followed and the Crooked One took a seat beside me. Then,
while the crowd scrambled for all the empty boats remaining, our oarsmen
dipped their paddles and we moved slowly away toward the center of the
bay.

A clear space, several hundred feet in diameter, had been left for my
exclusive use, and I looked at it rather disapprovingly because the
clear, smooth stretch of water was destined, seemingly, to extinguish
all my future hopes and ambitions. Death by drowning may be a merciful
mode of execution, but I do not think any condemned person can look with
composure upon death in any form. For my part I took a sudden aversion
to water, although I had always loved it before.

First we drew up before the royal barge, in which sat the young king
upon a high seat. Around this place, and indeed all around the clear
space in the bay, were clustered hundreds of boats, so densely packed
that their sides touched. Every boat had as many passengers as it would
hold, but the natives were quiet and no shouts nor jeering did I hear.

Standing up beside me the Crooked One bowed low before the king and said
in a loud voice:

“Here is a stranger who has dared to land upon the shores of Faytan.
What shall be done with him, King of Faytan?”

“Let him die,” answered the king, speaking so that all might hear.

With an abruptness that startled me, all that vast concourse repeated
the sentence after him:

“Let him die!”

It was a veritable roar of voices, expressing all the restrained
repugnance of the people for a stranger and their demand for vengeance.
It was not so much personal hatred on their part as a desire that I
should pay the long deferred penalty for my crime—the crime of being
shipwrecked on their coast.

The chieftain resumed his seat and motioned to the oarsmen. With their
former deliberation they paddled us out into the clear space, until we
had reached the very center of it. Quite naturally I had expected to be
bound and have a weight attached to me before I was thrown overboard to
drown, but it transpired that this was not the Faytan custom. The king
had said he was merciful and did not torture his victims, yet it was
with a thrill of horror that I realized my death was to be made a
spectacle for the delectation of the natives, who were assembled to
watch and enjoy my struggles as I slowly drowned.

Two strong warriors caught me up and tossed me into the water without
any warning or preparation. Then the barge receded to a position beside
that of the king, leaving me to my fate.

I am a good swimmer, having lived on the water all my life. After the
plunge I arose to the surface, supported myself and looked about me. My
clothes were a drag upon me, so I managed to divest myself of my coat
and my shoes while I trod water.

Why I should make what appeared a useless struggle for a brief period of
life was not clear to my mind just then. I was the center of a great
theater and thousands of eyes watched me with grave interest. At the
edge of the clearing a man was stationed in the prow of every boat with
an uplifted spear to prevent my clinging to the side. They wanted me to
struggle. The longer I tried to keep above water the longer the
spectacle would last. No matter how powerful a swimmer I might prove I
would wear out my strength in time, and they were prepared to wait
patiently to witness my antics and my final conquest.

The thought came to me to disappoint them by letting myself quietly
drown at once; but so strong is hope in the human breast that I
abandoned the idea and determined, instead, to fight it out to the very
end.

I rested leisurely upon my back, trying to avoid giving way to
excitement and wondering how long I could last, when suddenly a dark
object swept across the sky, approaching me with marvelous rapidity. In
an instant I knew it was the biplane, and the knowledge so excited me
that it was almost fatal. I rolled over and began to sink; then I
struggled to the surface to find the airship just over me.

“Catch hold of the frame—here—anywhere!” called an eager voice—eager
though it strove to be calm.

I raised myself and made a frantic effort to obey, but failed and sank
again. When I came to the surface a moment later the biplane was
circling over the bay. Again it came toward me, and this time it dipped
until it nearly touched the water. I grabbed the frame as it passed by
and clung to it desperately, for it nearly jerked my arms from their
sockets.

Arrows were whizzing about me in a cloud; the natives were shouting
angrily and a thousand boats were rushing toward us; but the next
instant I was high in the air, dangling from the frail crossbar of the
lower plane, and my safety was only a question of whether I could hang
on or not.

A face bent over me from the seat and stared into mine—a girl’s face.

“Lucia!” I cried in wonder.

“Save your breath and hold on!” she returned. “Can you manage it, Sam?”

“I’ll try—for awhile.”

“Till we get to the ship?”

“I—I’m afraid not.”

Indeed, this rush through the air was fast driving the life out of me.
My arms and hands were so numb there was no feeling in them at all.
Lucia had straightened up to attend to the machine, and the next thing I
knew I bumped the earth, lost my hold, and went rolling over and over.

“Quick!” cried the girl. “Let me help you.”

I sat up, quite dazed, and glanced about me. We were in an open field,
just now deserted by the natives, and Alfonso’s _Antoinette_ rested upon
the ground a short distance away. I could not have stood alone, but
Lucia dragged me to my feet and half supported me while I tottered to
the machine. It was a great effort to climb aboard, but the girl,
naturally strong and rendered doubly so by excitement, got me into the
seat and then deftly started the motors as she sprang up beside me.

The machine rolled along the ground a little way, lifted its nose and
then soared into the air like a bird. I was still marveling at the
girl’s wonderful control of the aëroplane when the ship came in sight.
We dipped downward, the motor ceased to whir and the next moment we
gracefully alighted full upon the deck of the ship.

A mighty cheer rang in my ears. Then all turned black and I lost
consciousness.

When I recovered I was surrounded by my friends. Father and Uncle Naboth
were administering restoratives while Ned Britton, Alfonso and Señor de
Jiminez stood by in a sympathetic group with the sailors for a
background. Lucia, squatted in a heap upon the deck, was sobbing into a
wet handkerchief. Evidently, now that the adventure was over, the brave
girl was wholly unnerved.

Still dazed, but trying to collect my thoughts, I sat up.

“Where’s Joe?” I asked.

My father was silent and Uncle Naboth shook his head. Lucia redoubled
her sobs. This made me anxious. I got upon my feet with an effort and
said:

“Isn’t he here?”

“No,” said Lucia, spreading out her hands with a piteous gesture. “He is
in the Pearl City. I left him there.”

Then, by degrees, they explained it all to me. Joe could not rest
contented while he knew I was in danger, and from his knowledge of King
Attero he believed the savage ruler would drown me as soon as I ceased
to interest him in my tales of the civilized world. He confided his
fears to Lucia, and suggested that as the biplane was still reposing
upon the roof of the house in the Pearl City, he might rescue me by its
aid if he could succeed in getting there. He had already crossed the
island twice, and believed he could make the trip in a single night.
Lucia encouraged him to make the attempt, and offered to go with him;
but he would not allow her to do that. When Joe mentioned the matter to
father and Uncle Naboth they both disapproved the idea, considering it a
hopeless and foolhardy adventure. They did not forbid him to go,
however, but said if he undertook the thing he must do so on his own
responsibility.

My friend would not be dissuaded, but he confided no further in my
relatives and went about his preparations in his own way. With Lucia’s
aid he made a stain that dyed his skin to a copper color, and then
stripped himself of all clothing except a loin cloth such as the Faytans
wore. He took a blanket and his revolvers and then, when all was ready
and night came, Lucia let down a knotted rope for him and he climbed
down the side unobserved and began his journey.

The girl, meantime, had made up her mind not to be deprived of the glory
of a share in the adventure. With the impulsiveness of a Spaniard in her
was united the athletic training of an American girl, and her romantic
nature impelled her to an act that was no less than folly. She silently
followed Joe and tracked him more than half way across the island before
he discovered her. Then he was in a dilemma. She positively refused to
return to the ship, and he did not like to have her do so unattended. On
the other hand he had an intuition that I was in immediate danger and
time pressed, so he dared not go back and postpone the event. Therefore
he unwillingly permitted the girl to accompany him.

After they had succeeded in passing the warriors in the forest they met
no delays on their journey and before daybreak arrived at the city. Joe
found the house where we had left the airship, but could not get in. He
secreted himself and Lucia in a nook between two rear buildings until
morning, when the family that inhabited the place arose. By good luck
they managed to creep in unobserved and made their way to the roof,
where they found the biplane had been left undisturbed. The natives knew
nothing of its operation and perhaps regarded the machine with
superstitious awe.

In overhauling the machine Joe discovered that Lucia understood it as
well as he did. She had watched us put it together and repair it after
Alfonso’s accident and had listened carefully and intelligently while we
were instructed in its use. Now she helped Joe adjust it, and they got
it in order just as I was led out for my execution.

Peering over the edge of the roof Joe watched me being led away and at
first could not understand what was up. But when the entire population
not already gathered at the water front hurried after us, he gave a
shrewd guess that the hour of my execution was at hand.

He knew pretty well what the programme would be. I was to be drowned in
sight of the watching Faytans. The water front was not visible from
their station on the housetop, but Lucia proposed she should take a
flight in the airship and find out how seriously I was in danger.

He allowed her to go for two reasons. One was that he believed he could
start the machine all right from the roof, which she could not do. And
then, if she found a chance to rescue me, we could go back to the ship
in the biplane and Lucia and I would both be saved. To go himself meant
to leave her there alone upon the roof, in a strange city and surrounded
by enemies.

Of course her mission was a desperate one at the best; but Joe
considered it less hazardous than for her to be left upon the roof, and
the biplane could not be trusted to carry three.

He questioned Lucia closely, and her knowledge of the machine was more
accurate than his own. She had never operated it, but neither had he,
for that matter, so in the end he let her go.

The biplane was started safely at the first attempt, and Lucia rose well
into the air and circled around until she got her bearings and could
overlook the tragedy being enacted on the bay. Then, seeing my danger,
she headed directly for me—and the result you know.

“Where is he now?” I asked Lucia.

“Still in the Pearl City,” she replied. “Before I left him he said he
would hide until to-night and then make his way back across the island.”

“Did he say where he would hide?”

“Yes. He was afraid some one would visit the roof as soon as the natives
found that the airship had been taken away. So, while every one was on
the water front, he intended to steal away and hide in the room that
used to be your prison, at the back of the temple. He said no one would
think of looking for him there, and he could get in through the windows
and get out again when it grew dark.”

I didn’t like that plan very well, and began to be worried about my
friend. I found my strength returning rapidly and as soon as I could get
about I began to examine the airship, to see if it was in proper order.
Alfonso, his arm in a sling and his head well bandaged, sauntered up to
me and said:

“You fellows seem to have little respect for the property of others. See
what trouble you’ve caused by stealing my _Antoinette_.”

“You are right,” I admitted. “What will you take for the machine?”

“I won’t sell it. It belongs to the revolution.”

“Well, the revolution can’t use it just now, and I can,” I returned. “So
if you won’t sell it I’ll borrow it.”

“What are you going to do?” he inquired.

“I’m going to look for Joe. Those Faytans are in an ugly temper just
now, and they’ll make a quick end of him if they find him.”

“Don’t be a fool, Sam,” cautioned Uncle Naboth.

“Joe can take care of himself,” added my father.

“I thought I could, too; but if Joe hadn’t tried to help me I’d be
drowned by this time. Do you think I ought to desert a comrade, father?”

He looked at me thoughtfully a moment. Then he muttered as he turned
away:

“Do as you like, Sam. You know best.”

I turned to Alfonso.

“How about the biplane?” I asked. “Can I borrow it, or must I steal it
again?”

“Take it and welcome,” he replied. “Joe’s a good fellow. I wish I could
go after him myself.”

Alfonso wasn’t half bad for a South American. He had his faults, but a
lot of good qualities with them.

“You can’t go just now,” warned Lucia, who had been listening to us with
nervous attention.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Look!” She pointed to the sky, and for the first time I noticed that it
was a leaden gray. The sun had not wholly disappeared, but was a half
luminous ball glowing through murky clouds.

“Another of them blamed storms is comin’,” remarked Uncle Naboth; “but
we don’t have to shorten sail for ’em while we’re floatin’ on dry land.”

“The other storm didn’t come that way, sir,” observed Ned Britton,
gravely.

We were silent now, for darkness fell upon us suddenly. It was almost as
if a light had been extinguished at night. There wasn’t a breath of air
stirring and the sea was like glass, but a queer moaning sound came to
our ears and we could not discover what caused it.

“Better get below, Lucia, and look after your mother,” said Alfonso.

I could hear her move away obediently, but was unable to see any of the
forms that stood around me.

We waited for we knew not what, and the unseen but recognized danger
filled us with awe.