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Chapter 17 ATTACKED BY SAVAGES

"Are we in any danger?" asked Mrs. Johnson.

"I hope not," replied the captain. "If the ship is not strained the rising tide will probably float her safely, and we can continue our trip. We will have to wait until morning to see, however."

"And if the ship is damaged?"

"We will have to do what we can. We will hope for the best, madam."

The professor went on deck. His first opinion of the accident was confirmed. The Porpoise, in emerging from the waves, had slid well up on a sandy shore, where she was held fast because the tide was rapidly falling. It would be twelve hours before there would be a chance of her floating again.

The mishap had occurred because the ship had gotten off her course when Washington's accident occurred, and had not been set right in time.

However, as Mr. Henderson had said, there was no particular danger, unless it was found that some of the plates had been strained, which might cause a leak.

The night was passed with the nose of the Porpoise well up on shore, and before morning, as the tide continued to fall, more and more of the craft became exposed until the whole steel body rested on the sloping beach.

Jack was the first to awaken. He was up with the sun, and went out on the deck to take a view of the country he had often heard about. A stretch of wild landscape met his eyes, and to the left and right of the ship the waves were breaking on jagged rocks.

"It's a good thing we didn't hit the rocks," thought the youth.

Mark came up on deck, and the two boys looked over the scene. It was a strange one. Beyond the beach was a low level country, green in places, with now and then a patch of what looked like trees.

"And what are those brown spots moving about?" asked Mark.

"I guess they are herds of cattle," replied Jack. "You know South America is a great place for them."

For half an hour the two lads gazed about. Except for the stern of the Porpoise all of the craft was now out of water, and one could have jumped from the low deck down to a mound of white sand of the beach.

"Let's go ashore and take a run," suggested Mark. "I've almost forgotten how to walk on dry land."

"Go ahead," answered Jack. "I'm with you."

"All right."

The boys lost no time in getting down to the beach. They found it hard and firm, and made their way to the strip of grass-covered land lying beyond. Up and down they wandered, finding many curious and beautifully marked shells where the waves had washed them.

Suddenly Jack gave a big jump and let out a yell.

"What's the matter?" asked Mark.

"I thought I saw one of those cocoanuts move," answered Jack, pointing to where several of the big shaggy fruits lay under a tree from which they had fallen.

"I guess you're right," spoke Mark. "I certainly saw one of them take a little side step. I wonder what does it."

As the boys watched they were surprised, to see one of the cocoanuts come toward them, apparently advancing without any visible means of locomotion.

"This is a queer country," remarked Jack, getting ready to run in case the strangely moving cocoanut might be a warning of danger.

"Look! There's a whole lot of them moving," cried Mark.

Sure enough a dozen or more of the nuts began to advance toward the lads. The boys were not so much afraid as they were surprised. But a few seconds later the reason for the strange sight was made plain.

As they looked they saw one of the nuts roll down a little mound of sand. Then they noticed that a big land crab was on the tiny hill and it was evident that the nut had fallen from his claws.

"It's the crabs!" exclaimed Mark. "I remember reading about them now. They come ashore from the water where they live part of the time and get the cocoanuts. Then they smash the shells by pounding the nuts on a stone and eat the white meat inside. They are called cocoanut crabs."

"I was beginning to think we were in some enchanted land," spoke Jack.

"Well, it certainly looked queer," agreed Mark.

For some time the boys watched the strange sight. Then they walked along the beach, seeing several large star fish, and some big horse-shoe crabs that had been stranded by the tide.

"Look at that immense turtle!" exclaimed Mark, as one of the creatures scuttled over the sand toward the sea. "I'll bet she's been laying eggs!"

"Perhaps so."

They made a rush for the tortoise but were not quick enough, for she slid into the water and made off.

"Here's her nest, anyhow," called Jack, as he pointed to some eggs, thinly covered with sand. "Let's go back and take them with us. I've heard they are good eating."

Jack and Mark started to gather up as many of the eggs as they could in their hats. While they were thus engaged they heard a call from the ship and looked up to see coming toward them, all of the ship's company except Washington.

"I wonder if anything could have happened," spoke Mark.

He and Jack dropped the eggs and started on a run toward the stranded ship. They were reassured, however, when they saw the professor waving his hand at them. When he got within hailing distance the inventor called:

"It's all right, boys. We're just taking a little walk, before breakfast, for an appetizer. It's been some time since we were on land. Washington says he'll have some fine fried ham for us in a little while."

"And here are the eggs to go with it," spoke Jack.

"Have you found a hen house?" asked Mr. Henderson in some wonder.

"No, but we discovered a turtle, which is just as good," replied Mark. The professor agreed with him, and called for Washington to come and get the eggs.

"Wall I 'clare to goodness!" exclaimed the colored man as he gathered the product of the turtle up in his cook's apron. "Dis suttinly am a queer contraption of a country to find eggs growin' in de sand."

He shuffled back to the ship, while the others walked up and down on the beach. In about half an hour the professor suggested that they return.

"Washington must have breakfast ready by now," he said, "and I, for one, am hungry enough to enjoy it."

They turned toward the stranded Porpoise but no sooner had their eyes taken in the sweep of the ocean that lay before them than they uttered cries of fear.

Spreading out from the beach in a big half circle that enclosed within its curve the submarine, were three score of canoes, each one filled with half naked savages.

"The natives are going to attack the ship!" cried the professor. "We must hurry back or we are lost!"

He started on the run, accompanied by the boys and men. Mrs. Johnson and her daughter brought up the rear. The adventurers had gone from one misfortune into another.

At the top of their speed they approached the stranded ship. The natives saw them coming and the next instant hundreds of paddles broke the waves into a mass of sparkling water as the wily savages urged their canoes swiftly toward the submarine.

"If we can only reach it first we can hold them off until the tide floats us, and then we can escape," said the professor.

He increased his pace though the run was beginning to tell on his aged frame. The adventurers were now within an eighth of a mile of the ship, but the savages were closer, and had the advantage of being able to make greater speed. The two forces approached nearer and nearer. Finally the first of the canoes reached the submerged end of the Porpoise.

With wild shouts a score of the brown men leaped from the boats and scrambled up the steel sides. An instant later they were joined by several canoe loads of their companions. They swarmed up on the deck, and some peered down the winding stairs that led to the interior of the ship.

"Too late!" cried the professor. "They have captured the Porpoise!"

"But Washington is aboard!" shouted Jack.

As he spoke the colored man was seen clambering up out of the companion way. He gave one look at the wild natives who swarmed over the ship, and then, with a yell to be heard a long way off, disappeared below.

The shouts and cries of the savages grew louder and they seemed to be doing a sort of war dance.

"We must make one effort to drive them away," said the professor in desperation.

"We haven't even a revolver," spoke Andy.

"Let's use stones," suggested Jack, grabbing up a handful from the beach.

"Look out!" yelled Mark. "They are going to shoot some arrows!"

A second later a flight of the weapons filled the air. Fortunately the natives were too far away to permit the shots taking effect, but it showed that they intend to fight and take possession of the ship.

Even this did not frighten Mr. Henderson. His vessel was more than life to him and he kept on. Several arrows fell dangerously close and he might have been hurt had not old Andy run after him and induced him to go farther up the beach and out of harm's way.

"They will kill Washington!" cried Jack as he thought of the colored man at the mercy of the savages.

"There he comes!" yelled Mark.

He pointed toward the ship and as they all looked in that direction they saw the colored man climbing out on the deck. Under one arm he bore a long narrow box, and in the other hand he carried one of the electric guns.

"He's goin' to fight 'em!" exclaimed Andy. "He's got a gun and he will show 'em what's what!"

But Washington did not seem to have any such intentions. With a yell that equalled the savage cries of the natives, he sprang over the side of the ship, onto the sand and ran toward the group of adventurers. A flight of arrows followed him, but he was not hit.