Making the Best of Things
The children were all hungry again. Andy thought it would be better to bring everything up from the shore, and put it near their tent.
"We may have to make our tent a sort of home," he said. "We don't want to have to keep climbing up and down that rocky cliff every time we want a cup or a kettle! Besides, we are quite near the spring here, and we can easily get water whenever we want to."
So for the next hour or so the children fetched all their belongings. Some of them were very difficult to get up the cliff. The gramophone was almost impossible till Andy thought of the idea of tying a rope round it and hauling it gently up by that.
"Golly! All the records are broken!" said Tom in dismay, as he picked up the cracked records.
"Yes—they fell and broke when that dreadful storm was on," said Jill. "Leave them behind. They're no use. There's just one that's not broken—now, where is it?"
They found it at last and looked at it.
"What a pity! This is a silly record—it would be the only one that's left unbroken!" said Mary. "On one side it's a girl singing a kind of lullaby, without even any music—and on the other it's nursery rhymes. The silliest one we've got!"
"Oh well—bring it along," said Tom. "And where's my camera? It doesn't look as if I'll find any good pictures to take—but I may as well have it."
By the time they had got everything to the tent they were really very tired. They cooked the rest of the fish and opened a tin of peaches. They ate an apple each, broke a bar of chocolate into four pieces, and then drank some hot cocoa. It was a good meal and they enjoyed it. The sun was now almost gone and the first star was shining brightly.
"Well, we've had an adventurous day," said Jill, yawning. "I slept all the morning—but I feel awfully sleepy again already."
"We'll turn in early," said Andy. "I'm tired too."
"We can't clean our teeth," said Jill, who was always very particular about nails and teeth and things like that. "I wish I had a tooth-brush."
"Well, here's a brush for you," said Tom, with a grin, handing Jill the brush that was used to sweep bits of fish off the deck. "Brush your teeth with this."
Jill took it and at once brushed Tom's hair with it. Tom was disgusted.
"Don't, you cuckoo!" he said. "I shall smell of fish all night long."
"Come on," said Andy. "We want more heather for our beds. Tom, stamp out the fire. We don't want to set the hill alight, and the heather is very dry."
Tom stamped out the fire. The girls filled the tent with more, heather. Andy took the largest rug and spread it all over the springy pile.
"You girls can sleep on this side of the tent, and Tom and I will take the other," he said. "There are plenty of rugs, luckily."
Nobody undressed. For one thing they had no night-clothes, and for another they didn't even think of it Life seemed quite different on an unknown island. Nobody even thought of going to wash—though Tom's hair smelt so much of old fish that Andy threatened to pour a kettle of water over it.
"I'll wash my head under the spring to-morrow morning," said Tom sleepily. "I really can't go now. I'm simply dropping asleep whilst I talk!"
They rolled themselves up in their rugs and lay flat on the heathery bed. It was beautifully soft and springy, and very comfortable once they had pressed down several sharp bits that stuck into them.
Tom was asleep at once. The girls lay awake for a minute or two. Jill felt very hot, for the tent was airless, and the four of them made quite a crowd in it. The — roof was not more than arm's length above their heads.
"Andy," said Jill, in a low voice. "I'm so hot. Could we get some air in, do you think?"
"Yes," said Andy. He raised one side of the sail and let the breeze in. It was lovely, for now the girls could see out. The moonlight lay on the hillside and everything was clear till the clouds sailed across the moon. Mary fell asleep as she watched bracken outside waving, in the wind. Then Jill fell asleep. Only Andy lay awake, leaning on his elbow, looking out down the hillside, and listening to the sound of the waves in the distance, under the cliff.
He was old enough to feel that this adventure might not turn out at all well. He wondered what would be the best thing to do for them all.
"We must certainly hang out a signal every day," he thought. "It might be seen by some passing ship. We must find a better place to live their too, for if the weather should break up, this tent won't be any use. And I wonder if it's possible to get the ship off the rocks and patch her up. If we could do that, maybe we might have a shot at sailing home."
As he lay worrying about all these things his eyes closed. He was soon dreaming that he had got the boat off the rocks, but it changed into a large steamer that seemed to have hands and was fishing busily in a pool. There was such a strong smell of fish that Andy opened his sleepy eyes again—only to find that Tom's fishy-smelling head was just under his nose. Andy turned over, grinning. "What a silly sort of dream!" he thought—and then, in half a second, he was dreaming again.
All the children slept soundly that night, and even when the clouds piled up over the moon and a sharp downpour of rain came they didn't wake. The raindrops pattered over the tent, but did not soak through to the sleeping children. Some came through the side where Andy had raised the sail to let in the air, but the children felt nothing.
They awoke when the sun was fairly high—about eight o'clock in the morning. Andy as usual awoke first and rolled out of the tent quietly. But he had waked Tom, and when the boy yawned loudly the girls awoke too.
It was a fine sunny morning with clouds scudding across the sky like big pieces of cotton-wool. The first thing, of course, was breakfast—but it had to be caught!
So Andy and Tom went fishing on the rocks and the girls managed to catch about twenty large prawns in a pool on the sandy shore. They cooked their catch and ate hungrily.
"I do feel dirty," said Jill. "I shall go and wash at the spring. Coming, Mary?"
"Yes," said Mary. "And I vote we all have a bathe to-day. That will clean us up a bit too."
They all felt cleaner after a rinse and splash in the spring. Tom and Andy made the fixing of the signal their next job. They found a good tree—at least, it was a good one for their purpose, for it had been struck by lightning at one time and now stood straight and bare OB the top of the cliff.
It took the two boys about an hour to climb the tree and fix the sail-signal. It flapped out well in the breeze and. Andy was sure it could be seen from a great distance. They climbed down again and went back to the girls.
"What about exploring the island now?" asked Tom. "I feel just like a good walk!"
"Well, the island may be too small for a good walk!" said Andy. "We'll just see. Ready, you girls?"
They were all ready for their walk. First they climbed the bill and stood on the top, looking to see what they could spy.
From the top of the hill they could see all around their island—and certainly it was not very big—only about a mile and a half long and about a mile wide. They could see the blue water all around it.
But not far off were other islands! They lay in the sea, blue and misty in the distance. But as far, as the children could see, there were no houses or buildings of any kind on them. They seemed as desolate and lonely as their own island. The cries of sea-birds came as they stood on the hill, and big white gulls swooped around them—but except for that sound, and the far-off splash of waves, there was no other sound to be heard. No shout—no hoot of a horn—no drone of an aeroplane. They might be lost in the very middle of the ocean for all they could see or hear!
"I don't believe a single soul lives here on these islands," said Andy, his face rather grave. "Come on—let's go down to this side of the hill. We may as well find out all there is to know."
As they went down the hill and came to the level ground again, Tom stopped in astonishment "Look!" he said. "Potato plants!"
The children looked—and sure enough, growing completely wild around them were plants that looked exactly like potatoes! Andy pulled one up—and there, clinging to the roots, were a dozen or more small white potatoes!
"That's queer!" said Andy, staring round. "At some time or other there must have been people living here—and they grew potatoes. Some have seeded themselves and grown wild. But the thing is—if people lived here—where did they live? They must have lived somewhere!"
"How queer," said Tom, looking all round as if he expected houses to spring from the ground.
And then Jill gave a shout. "I believe I can see the chimney of a house! Look! Where the ground dips down suddenly over there."
The others looked. They saw that the ground did suddenly dip down into a kind of hollow, well protected from the wind—just the place where people might build a house. They tore over the rocky ground to the dip, expecting they hardly knew what.
And what a surprise they got when at last they reached the hollow and looked down into it!