Then I took my seat

Suddenly the deck slid from beneath my feet and I fell flat upon my
face. The ship heaved and rolled as if it were tossing upon the waves of
the ocean, and her timbers creaked and groaned mournfully. At the same
time crash after crash echoed around us, accompanied by a strange
rending sound, as if all creation was being torn asunder.

Then the ship stood firm, as it had been before, trembling slightly at
times but no longer tossing at its rock anchorage. The blackness
continued, however, and our men lighted the lanterns, disclosing our
white, pallid faces as we peered at one another questioningly.

Black Nux had raised me to my feet and was even yet partially supporting
me.

“What is it?” I whispered.

“Eart’quake, Mars Sam,” he replied in a calm voice. “Guess it all over
now.”

There were a few more trembles, and then came the rain—in a deluge, as
it had rained before. We were all driven to seek shelter below, and
there we waited anxiously for the sky to clear, that we might discover
what cataclysms the quake had wrought.

It rained for two solid hours. The darkness continued for an hour or so
longer. It lightened gradually, so that the first intimation I had of it
was the clearing away of the shadows that had lurked in the corners of
the cabin, where the lamplight did not penetrate. I went on deck, where
I found Ned, with Nux and Bryonia and most of the crew, all peering
anxiously through the dim light in the direction of the sea.

“What is it, Ned?” I asked, joining them.

“The reefs!” he said, pointing with a trembling finger. “Where are they,
Sam?”

I also looked, straining my eyes to discover the two jagged lines of
rock jutting out of the sea between us and the open water, as well as
the boat patrol that had guarded them ever since the day of our
shipwreck. But through the gray atmosphere I could see nothing but the
broad expanse of ocean. The waves rolled in, one after another, and
broke against the very rocks that held the _Seagull_ a prisoner.

There was something queer about the position of the ship, too.
Heretofore we had been perched between the two points of rock, full
twenty feet above the sea. Now the waves almost lapped our sides, and
instead of the rocky points being below us, they reared themselves far
above the deck on either side.

I turned toward the island, from whence not a sound was heard. The light
had strengthened sufficiently for me to see the forest line, and
presently I was aware that some of the trees near the edge had tottered
and fallen their length upon the plain. Otherwise the landscape seemed
unchanged, and the open space between us and the forest, which had been
the scene of such deadly conflict, looked just as it had before.

Truly the earthquake had wrought wonders, and in some ways had benefited
us. The most startling change was the destruction of the reefs, leaving
the sea free before us. The boats filled with warriors, placed to guard
us from escaping, had been swallowed up with the reefs, and no vestige
of that formidable array remained except a few fragments of the canoes
which washed ashore.

Perhaps inspired by a common hope we all descended the ladders to the
ground. There we were better able to appreciate all that had happened.
Except that the sky was still gray and forbidding, we now had plenty of
light to examine our surroundings clearly.

One glance at the _Seagull_ dispelled our half formed hopes. Although
her keel was now on a level with the ocean, which even lapped her bow,
the ship was wedged fast between the two huge rocks. These must have
separated during the earthquake and allowed her to settle down into her
present position; but they still held her as in a vise.

“If another quake comes, which ain’t unlikely,” observed Uncle Naboth,
“them rocks is liable to come together again, in which case they’d crack
the _Seagull’s_ sides like a nut in the jaws of a nutcracker.”

It was quite possible, and the statement did not reassure us in the
least.

“If we could but manage to launch her,” said Alfonso, “we have now
plenty of deep water for her to slide into.”

My uncle looked at the young Colombian reproachfully.

“Them ‘ifs’ seem to excuse a lot of fool remarks,” he said. “The only
way to launch the _Seagull_ would be with dynamite, and after that she
wouldn’t be likely to float.”

It was now the middle of the afternoon, and although the sky continued
gloomy there was no air stirring and I dared not wait longer if I meant
to rescue Joe. I was very uneasy about my old chum, for the earthquake
was likely to have created as much havoc at the Pearl City as it had at
this end of the island.

My father had gone into the hold with the carpenter and Ned to examine
the condition of the ship. The little damage we had sustained from the
typhoon which had tossed the ship to her elevated perch had already been
repaired—quite foolishly we thought. But the _Seagull_ was still dear to
the heart of Captain Steele, and he took as much care of her now that
she was useless as when she was proudly riding the waves.

“What’s the programme?” asked Uncle Naboth, as I prepared to start.

“I’m going to try to get to the city and find Joe. If possible I’ll get
him aboard and fetch him back with me. That’s as far as I can plan now,
Uncle.”

“You won’t be foolhardy?”

“I’ll try not to be.”

Then I took my seat, Lucia started the motors, and a moment later I was
flying over the forest.

Ascending to an altitude of several hundred feet I attempted what is
called the “spiral dip,” circling, in the air while gradually
descending. But the shadows lay so thick in the forest that I could not
tell whether any Faytans remained there or not. So I rose again and
headed east across the island in the direction of the Pearl City.

I must have covered five of the ten miles in the next five minutes, and
the machine was working perfectly, when on glancing down I discovered a
native sprinting across the fields at a rapid pace. After him, but
nearly a quarter of a mile away, rushed a horde of savages. There must
have been at least two thousand of them, all intent upon the chase.

This was so peculiar that I did another spiral dip to get a little
closer to the scene of action, and as I neared the ground and could see
more plainly it suddenly flashed upon me that the flying native was Joe.
Lucia had said that he had stained his skin and dressed himself in the
native loin cloth, but I had forgotten that until now. It explained the
scene perfectly. Joe had been discovered in the Pearl City, but had
managed to escape and was now heading for the ship, followed by a host
of pursuers.

My friend was a mighty runner; I knew that. It was Joe’s especial
athletic accomplishment, and with such a lead I believed he could keep
the Faytans behind him until he reached the ship, unless—unless the
forest still harbored an army of warriors, in which case they could
easily head him off.

With this contingency in mind I resolved to pick him up and take him
with me; so, judging the distance as accurately as I could, I swooped
downward and landed about a hundred yards ahead of the fugitive.

“Climb aboard, Joe!” I called. “Take it easy, old man. We’re safe enough
now.”

He dashed up, panting but still full of energy, and said:

“How can we start her, Sam?”

“Take your seat, and I’ll show you,” I replied. I had seen Lucia do the
trick and thought I could repeat it. The motor started, but the machine
would not rise. It bumped along the rough ground a way until I became
alarmed and stopped it.

“Try again,” said Joe, coolly.

I glanced over my shoulder and found the Faytans were getting
uncomfortably near. But I kept my wits and took time to readjust the
machine a little, so it would rise more quickly. A half dozen or so of
the pursuers were well in advance of the others, and I suspected they
might interfere with our start. So I faced about and carefully emptied
my revolvers at them, halting all but one. Then I turned back to the
machine, started the motor and ran beside it a few paces before I sprang
into the seat.

Just then I heard a revolver crack beside me, but could pay no attention
to it because the biplane was speeding into the air at a tremendous
clip. It persisted in mounting upward, because I had adjusted it that
way, and in working the steering gear to obviate this the machine got a
side motion that was both unpleasant and dangerous.

“Steady her, Sam!” called Joe; but I couldn’t.

To add to my perplexity it grew dark again; the moaning sound was
repeated, and looking down I saw the earth shaking under me like a bowl
full of jelly. It was a horrible sight, and in my agitation I must have
bungled in some way, for the fearful side motion increased, and both of
us had to hold fast to keep from being hurled from our seats.

Suddenly the biplane took a dive—swift as a bullet, but was supported
from falling by the outstretched planes. I lost all control, but managed
to shut off the motor and then cling to the frame with all my might.

Down, down we went, but fortunately still gliding diagonally in the
direction of the ship. It was a regular tumble by this time, and I am
positive the biplane turned over and over several times. We just skipped
the further edge of the forest and crashed into the branches of a fallen
tree—one of those felled by the earthquake. With a jar that drove the
breath out of me I bounded from the branches and fell prone upon the
ground. Joe landed near me, and aside from the severe shock we both
escaped serious injury or the breaking of bones and soon scrambled to
our feet.

I had turned to glance at the biplane, now a hopeless mass of junk, when
Joe suddenly caught my hand and said:

“We must run for it, Sam!”

Bursting in a stream from the forest came hundreds of Faytan warriors,
brandishing their weapons as they ran. They were so near that an arrow
or a well thrown spear might have caught us easily, but the savages
seemed intent on capturing us.

I am not a great runner, but on this occasion, at least, I did myself
credit as a sprinter. Joe’s hand in mine and his superior swiftness
helped, of course, and we managed to keep a lead till we were near the
ship, when a volley from the deck effectually halted our pursuers.

Even as we clambered up the side by means of the ladders they let down,
the sky darkened again and another tremble shook the earth. It made us
totter, but was not severe enough to cause any especial damage, and we
were all getting used to the quakes by this time, so were not much
frightened. Scientists have told me they are puzzled to explain this
apparent connection between the sky and the earthquakes. Atmospheric
conditions have nothing to do with earth convulsions, and vice versa,
they say. Yet it is a fact that in Faytan we could tell when a “tremble”
was coming by the sudden darkening of the sky.

The Faytans were learning a few lessons by experience. When the light
became strong enough for us to see again we found the plain fairly alive
with natives, and more were constantly pouring in from the forest.

At once all hands were assembled at the rail and our men lost no time in
opening fire, for we did not dare give our enemies time to attempt to
board us in such numbers, and it was now much easier to scale our sides
since the ship had settled down to the sea level.

“Train the howitzers!” called my father, and the gunners leaped to their
posts. We had not used the cannon before, as they had not been required,
but now the savages were massed before us on the plain and a charge of
grape and canister was more effective than many rifle balls.

We took the aggressive and without waiting to be attacked fired the two
cannon, one after another, point blank into the mass of Faytans.

It was still too dark for us to see just what had been accomplished, but
I shudder to think of the wholesale destruction we must have caused.
They were doggedly determined, however, to get the “pale-skins” at any
cost, and if we destroyed hundreds there were hundreds more to take
their places.

Presently they were swarming below us so close that the cannon were only
effective in slaughtering those crowding the plain behind them, and
every one of us able to hold a rifle stood at the rail and picked off
the nearest of our enemies. Their method of getting aboard was curiously
primitive. One man clung to the end of a long pole, which others raised
in the air and lifted so he could catch our rail. We had little
difficulty at first in shooting these down as fast as they were raised
to our level; but the attack was concerted with some skill, and every
inch of the rail needed to be guarded.

“It must be the young king who is directing this battle,” I said to Joe
as we stood side by side, firing whenever we saw a head appear.

“It can’t be the king,” he replied. “I shot him just as you carried me
off in the biplane.”

“You shot the king!” I exclaimed.

“Yes. He was right upon us and about to grab the frame when I let go at
him. Didn’t you hear me shoot?”

“Yes, but I was busy with the machine. I’m rather sorry for Attero,” I
answered, regretfully.

“My opinion is that the Crooked One has planned this onslaught,”
continued Joe, “and that he is bound to get us this time at any
sacrifice. He’s a wily old fox.”

We were too busy after that for further conversation. The smoke and din
of battle was something terrifying, and even now I wonder that the
savages were not disheartened by the noise and the sight of their
comrades falling on all sides of them. When we consider how unused they
were to firearms we must admit their courage was wonderful.

I think we all began to realize that the situation was serious. On deck
Alfonso was fighting as well as he could with his broken arm, while his
father stood at his side and rendered an excellent account of himself.
Below in the cabin Madam de Alcantara had first fainted and then gone
into convulsions. Her shrill screams were not the least disheartening
sounds that reached our ears, yet I knew Lucia and Madam de Jiminez were
with her and that the poor lady was only frightened and not in a dying
condition.

The constant tax on our nerves and the need to be constantly alert was
fast wearing out the strongest of us. Bryonia, who had fought nobly,
came over to me presently and suggested that we get the women into one
of the small boats and launch it while all of us covered the retreat
with our guns. He thought they might escape in that way, whereas we were
almost certain to be overcome at length by sheer force of numbers, and
then all would be doomed.

I did not approve of the attempt myself, but counseled with my father
and Uncle Naboth, who promptly turned down the proposition. Just then
four Faytans succeeded in leaping aboard, and were engaged in a hand to
hand fight with Nux and Bry, who met them, when Ned got a sword through
one and Joe disposed of another with a pistol shot. That evened the
numbers and our blades were not long in ridding themselves of their
opponents.

But this temporary invasion was a warning that we were losing ground and
our enemies gaining confidence, so we redoubled our activity and found
plenty to do in protecting ourselves from the boarders.