And Now for the Third Island!
The children were very glad that the seaplane had gone. "It's a jolly good thing our signal was taken down before it flew over the island," said Andy, eating the food that the others had brought to him. "I couldn't warn you. It started up its engine all of a sudden, taxied over the smooth water there, and then rose into the air."
"Andy, do you think there's anything to be seen over on the other islands?" asked Tom.
"There may be," said Andy, "I think we ought to try and find out. That third island looks a peculiar shape to me—very long indeed, but very narrow. On the other side of it might be a fine natural harbour for seaplanes. There may be heaps there."
"Well, we've only heard one so far," said Tom. "It doesn't seem as if they're very busy, if there are lots over there."
"No—you're right, Tom," said Andy. "Well, what about going to see what we can find? I don't quite know how we'll get to the third island—have to swim. I think. I don't believe the girls could swim so far, though."
"I don't think I could," said Jill, remembering the long stretch of sea between the second and third islands. "You boys would have to go without us. Mary and I will stay behind and be as patient as we can."
"Shall we go to-morrow?" asked Tom eagerly. "We could cross to the second island at low tide in the morning and swim across to the third island. We could carry a little food with us, wrapped up in your oilskin."
"Yes—we'lldo mat," said Andy. A great feeling of excitement came over the children—a feeling as if some big unknown secret was going to be theirs. Jill shivered a little—it was almost too exciting.
"There's one thing I'm worried about" said Andy. "Just suppose we are discovered, by any chance—we must find some hiding-place."
"Well, there simply isn't any on this island," said Tom. "So we must hope we won't be discovered."
Nothing more happened that day. No seaplane came to the calm harbour in the waters of the second island. No sound but the sea-gulls came through the air. It was a lovely day and the children enjoyed themselves bathing and sunning their brown bodies.
Thanks to the store of food they had discovered on the second island they had plenty to eat. Andy caught some nice little fish, and Jill fried them in tine tinned butter. They were delicious. Now that they had tinned mule-powder they could make a milk-mixture and use it with their tea or cocoa, and could also sweeten their drinks with the sugar they had brought.
"We are really very well off now!" said Tom, who as usual was thoroughly enjoying his meal. "we'll take another exciting lot of tins away from the Round Cave next time—I saw some baked beans in tomato sauce. I should like those."
The children took turns at keeping watch on the second island from the rocky ledge. But nothing was to be seen at all. They went to bed early because the boys would have rather a hard and long day the next day.
"We shall have to clamber over that line of rocks first," said Andy. "And then we must cross the island and swim to the third one. We shall have to be back on the second island in time to clamber over the rocks at the next low tide. You girls mustn't worry about us. We shall be back all right."
"I do wish we were going too," said Jill. "Don't you think Mary and I could climb over the rocks to the second island and wait for you there? It would be more fun for us to play about there than on this bare island. There are lots of bilberries there we could pick—they are lovely and sweet now."
"All right," said Andy. "But just keep a watch for any seaplane arriving. Lie down fiat under a bush or something if you hear one. You mustn't be seen."
"All right," said Mary. "You can trust us to do that."
So the next morning the four children once again climbed over the line of slippery rocks at low tide. The boys had on only their bathing-suits. Andy had tied his oilskin packet safely to his shoulders, and in it was plenty of food for the day. The girls could get what they wanted from the cave.
All four went across the second island, over the heather and bracken to where they could see the third island. It lay in the sea before them, like a long blue and brown snake. Beyond they could see one or two more islands.
"Do you really think you can swan so far, Tom?" asked Mary doubtfully, as she looked at the wide spread of water between the second island and the third.
"Of course," said Tom, who wasn't going to give up this adventure for anything. All the same, the distance was further than he had ever swum before.
"Well—good-bye for the present," said Andy to the girls. "We'll get down to the shore here, wade out as far as we can, and then swim. Have you got Tom? field-glasses, Jill? Good—you can watch us through them all the way to the third island!"
The boys went down to the shore, waded into the water, and then, when they were out of their depth, began to swim. Andy was by far the stronger swimmer—but he kept close to Tom, just in case the younger boy got into difficulties.
On and on they swam, using the breast-stroke because Andy said it was the least tiring. When Tom began to pant a little, half-way across, Andy spoke to him.
"Let's do a spot of floating, Tom. That will rest us a little. It's a long way."
The two boys lay on their backs in the water. It was a little rough and choppy, but quite warm. They floated like logs of wood, spread out flat on the water. It was a fine rest for Tom.
Then once more they swam on—but it began to seem as if Tom would not reach the shore of the third island. His arms felt so tired. His legs seemed to have no push in them. He gasped and panted, and Andy began to feel alarmed.
"Tread water a bit," he called to Tom. "Do you think you'll be able to swim the rest of the way?"
"I don't know," said poor Tom, dreadfully ashamed of himself. But he could not seem to make his arms work properly. He was really tired out.
Andy was not in the least tired. He was as strong as a horse, and he trod water beside Tom, wondering what to do.
"Try again, Tom," he said. "It's no use going back! We are more than half-way across."
Tom looked at the cliff of the third island. It seemed a long, long way away still. He tried again, striking out bravely with his tired arms. But after about six strokes he could not swim any more. He turned on his back and floated again.
Andy was really alarmed. "Tom, you can't do any more," he said. "I'D have to help you. I'll swim on my beak and you must lie on your front and put your hands on my shoulders. I can drag you along in the water that way, but it will be rather slow."
"Thanks, Andy," said Tom, very angry with his poor swimming, but quite unable to do anything else. He took hold of Andy's shoulders, and Andy, lying on his back with his head towards the third island, began to strike out valiantly with his brown legs.
It was very slow indeed. And now Andy began to get tired! Taking two people wasn't nearly so easy as only one, and he began to gasp. Now what were they to do? If they both got into difficulties it would be a very serious matter.
It wasn't long before neither Tom nor Andy had any strength left—and goodness knows what would have happened if Andy, striking out desperately with his legs, had not fit something hard beneath him. It was a rock! He felt about with his feet and at last discovered a rock below the water. They had come to a kind of rocky reef rather like the one they had climbed over from their own island to the second one—but this line of rocks was not uncovered by the tide.
"Tom! Tom! Put your feet down and feel where the rocks are!" gasped Andy. "We can stand there—and maybe feel our way along a bit till we come to the sandy bottom."
Tom soon found foothold on the rocks under the water. He felt better at once. He and Andy held hands iSarf together made their way very cautiously over tins i sunken rocks, bruising their poor feet, but getting gradually nearer to the shore. And at last they felt the rocks stop, and there was sand beneath their feet! Good,
"Golly! I didn't enjoy that very much," said Tom. "Sorry I was so feeble, Andy."
"It's all right," said Andy. "You did your best. We're all right now."
But in his own mind Andy didn't think they were at all all right! How in the world was he going to get Tom over that stretch of water back to the second island gain? He would never, never do it! Andy was very worried indeed.
But he didn't show it. He grinned at Tom, his blue eyes shining in his wet brown face. "We're here at last!" he said. "And maybe we shall get a few surprises!"
They lay on the sandy shore in the sun for a while, drying themselves. Tom felt very much better alter a meal out of the oilskin packet. He almost felt as if he could swim back home again! It was wonderful what food did to Tom.
"I feel a new man now," he said, leaping to his feet. "Come on, Andy, old chap. Let's go up to the cliff-top and go across to the other side of this island, to see if we can spy anything."
Andy got up too. The two boys climbed up the rough cliff and sat on the top to get back their breath. The island seemed to be about the same as the other two—covered with heather, bracken and grass, and with white gulls soaring over it.
They crossed the narrow width of the island and at last came to the cliff on the other side.
"Wriggle along on the ground now, just in case there's anyone about," said Andy. So both boys wriggled along on their fronts, and came at last to a lace where they could see down to the water far below.
And what they saw there filled them with such astonishment and alarm that for at least five minutes neither boy could say a word!