For a long time the boat went on and on, its little rag of sail still flapping. Tom thought that the sail itself must have reached the great dark cloud that still covered the sky, the wind was so strong.
"I should think this wind's almost a hurricane, isn't it?" yelled Tom.
"Pretty near," shouted Andy. "But it's blowing itself out now."
Sure enough, it was. Every now and again there was a lull when the wind dropped to a stiff breeze. Then it would blow again furiously. The thunder was no longer overhead, but far off to the east. The lightning shimmered now and again, but did not light up the sea with the fierce brilliance it had two or three hours back.
Then, just as suddenly as it had come, the storm flew off It was most astonishing. A sheet of bright blue sky appeared in the west, and swiftly grew bigger as the great cloud flew to the east The world grew light again. The rain stopped. The wind died down to a breeze, and the boat no longer seemed to climb up and down steep hills.
The cabin door opened, and two green faces looked out sadly. "We've been awfully sea-sick down here," said Jill. "It was dreadful."
"What a frightful storm!" said Mary. "Are we nearly at the island?"
"We've passed it, Andy says," said Tom gloomily. "We don't know where we are."
"Goodness! Look, the sail's gone!" said Mary, shocked. "What are we to do for a sail?"
"There's an old one down in the cabin," said Andy. "Fetch it, will you—and I'll see if I can do something with it."
The sun shone down again. It was gloriously hot. Poor Tom, who had been chilled to the bone, loved it. He stripped off his wet bathing-suit, and put on his jersey. Ah, that was better!
Andy did not seem to feel either cold or wet. He took the old sail and had a good look at it. He thought he could rig it, with Tom's help. They must have a sail of some sort to get anywhere.
"I've heard my father say there are some desolate, rocky islands up away to the north of Little Island," said Andy, his wet jersey steaming in the hot sunshine. "We'll make for those. Maybe there might be someone there—or we could signal a ship for help. I don't reckon we're going to get home any too easily now."
At last the old sail was flying in the breeze. Andy headed due north. It was about five o'clock now, and all the children were very hungry.
Jill and Mary had forgotten their sea-sickness and went below to get some food. Soon they were, all eating heartily, and felt much better. They drank all the water before Andy knew there was none left.
"We shouldn't have done that," he said. "If we don't strike these islands I'm thinking of, we'll have no water to-morrow. Leave those apples, Mary. We might be glad of the juice in the morning."
Mary had been about to bite into a juicy apple, but she hastily put it down. In silence she and Jill packed the apples away carefully in the cabin. Both the girls felt worried. Whatever would their mother be thinking, when that terrible storm blew up? They wished they were safely back at home.
The boat sailed on to the north. The sun slipped low into the west, and the boat's shadow lay purple on the sea. It was a beautiful evening.
"Look! Gulls!" said Andy, at last. "Maybe we are nearing land. Can't see any, though. We'd better anchor for the night, I should think."
And then the children got a great shock. There was no anchor! Andy stared in horror. How could he possibly have forgotten that his father had warned him to take the old anchor because he was lending Andy's uncle his own? How could he have forgotten? Now they couldn't anchor their ship. Now they would have to ride on the sea until they came to land—and in the night they might strike a rock!
Andy stared over the restless sea in dismay. Well—there was nothing for it but to hope for the best. One of them must be at the helm all night long. It would be a moonlight night if only the sky was not clouded. Perhaps they would be lucky and sight land.
Jill and Mary were tired out. Andy ordered them to go below and rest. "You'd better go too, Tom," he said. "You'll have to come up and take your turn on deck to-night, and you'd better get a nap whilst you can."
"But I don't want to," said Tom. "I shall be able to keep awake all right."
"Go below, Tom," said Andy,in the kind of voice that had to be obeyed. Tom weitt into the little cabin with the girls. They left the door open, for it was warm. The girls lay on the bunk and Tom curled up on the pile of rugs on the floor. In, two minutes he was asleep. He did not know how tired he was. The wind, rain and sea had taken all his strength out of him for a time.
Andy stayed alone on deck. The sun had gone down in a blaze of gold. The sky had turned pink and the sea had turned pink too. Now it was evening and the first stars were winking in the darkening sky.
The little boat drove on and on. Andy hoped desperately that land would soon come in sight. He remembered so clearly what his father had said. Right past the Little Island, far to the north, lay other islands, desolate now, but once owned by a few farmers, who tried to get a hard living from the rocky soil. If only they could get help there!
Night fell darkly on the waters. The moon sailed into the sky, but clouds kept hiding her light. First the sea was gleaming silver, then ft was black, then it was silver again. Andy wished he could see something besides the sea. But there was nothing.
The boy stayed on deck until midnight. He felt the night wind and wrapped a rug round his shoulders, though he did not feel really cold. After a while he whistled to Tom.
Tom awoke. "Coming," he said sleepily, and went up on deck. He shivered and Andy threw the rug round Jim. "Keep her heading straight," he said. "Give me a call if you see anything."
It was queer up on deck all alone. The old sail flapped and creaked a little. The water went plash-lash-lash against the sides of the boat. The moon sailed in and out of the clouds as if she were a silver boat in the sky.
Then came a thick mass of clouds and the moon disappeared altogether. Tom couldn't see anything at all. He strained his eyes to try and pierce through the darkness but except for the gleaming white top of a near by wave now and then, he could see nothing.
But he could hear something, quite suddenly. It sounded like crashing waves. Tom longed for the moon to come out—and as he wished for it, it came sliding out from a cloud for a second before it disappeared again.
And in that tiny space of time Tom saw something that gave him a shock. The sea was breaking over big rocks just ahead!
"Andy! Andy!" yelled Tom, wrenching the tiller round. "Rocks ahead!"
Andy came tumbling up the steps, wide awake at once. He heard the sound of breaking waves and knew at once there were rocks ahead. He took the tiller.
And then there came a grating noise and a long groan from the ship. She was on the recks! She had run straight on to them—and there she lay, groaning, half over, slanting so much that the girls in the little cabin were thrown out of the bunk.
"Hold on, Tom," shouted Andy, clutching at Tom, who seemed about to slide overboard. "Hold on! She's settling!"
The ship did settle. She seemed to be wedged between two rocks that were holding her tightly, all on the slant. Waves splashed over one side of her deck.
For a few minutes the children hardly dared to breathe—and then Andy spoke.
"She's fast," he said. "She may have a hole in her bottom, but she won't sink while she's held like this. We must wait till dawn»
So they waited, clinging uncomfortably to the slanting sides of the ship. Dawn was not far off It silvered the eastern sky as they waited The light grew stronger, and then a gold edge appeared on the horizon. The sun was about to rise.
And in the golden light of the early sun they saw something not far off that made them shout for joy.
"Land ho!" they yelled, and would have danced in delight if only the deck had not been so slanting. And land ho there certainly was!
A sandy shore stretched to a rocky cliff Stunted trees grew further inland, touched with gold by the rising sun. It was an island of some sort, desolate, rocky and lonely—but it was at least land! Somewhere where they could light a fire and boil water to make themselves warm. Somewhere where other people might be to give them a helping hand.
"We'll have to swim for it," said Andy. "It's not very far. Once we're clear of these rocks we'll be all right. In fact, now that the tide has gone down a bit we could almost walk over the rocks, to the shallow water that runs up the shore."
Andy held out his hand to Mary. Tom helped Jill. Half-wading, half-swimming, they made their way over and between the reef of rocks, and paddled to shore. The sun had warmth in it now and warmed their cold bodies. How glad they all were that they had taken Andy's advice and had put on warm clothes!
"Well," said Andy, when they had reached the shore, "we'll climb up these cliffs and see if we can spot anyone's house."
They climbed the rocky cliffs. When they got to the top they looked around. A small stunted wood grew a little way off, on a hillside. Low bushes crouched here and there as if to hide from the strong wind that blew always across the island. Grass crept over the rocky earth, and a few daisies flowered. But there was no sign of any house, or of any human being.
Andy made up his mind quickly.
"If we've got to be stranded here for a time we must get out of our ship everything that's in her," he said. "Thank goodness we've got a certain amount of food and some rugs. The tide is at its lowest now—when it is high it will completely cover the deck of our boat—so we must wade back to her and take off everything of value in her. Come on, Tom. You girls can stand halfway to the boat in that shallow water, and we'll cany things to you over the rocks. Then you can take them back to the shore. It will be better than us all scrambling about on the rocks and dropping everything."
And so they began to empty the ship of all it held-" food, rugs, gramophone, camera, field-glasses, stool, table, tools, crockery, kettle, matches, little stove, everything! It took a long time—but before they had finished the tide had risen and the decks were awash. The cabin was full of water I
"We can't do anything more," said Andy. "Let's go and have a rest—and something to eat. I'm simply starving."