Chapter 29

“Fool!” I cried aloud in my vexation.

I had unloaded the boat and carried its contents high up on the beach, where I had set about making a camp. There was driftwood, though not much, on the beach, and the sight of a coffee tin I had taken from the Ghost’s larder had given me the idea of a fire.

“Blithering idiot!” I was continuing.

But Maud said, “Tut, tut,” in gentle reproval, and then asked why I was a blithering idiot.

“No matches,” I groaned. “Not a match did I bring. And now we shall have no hot coffee, soup, tea, or anything!”

“Wasn’t it - er - Crusoe who rubbed sticks together?” she drawled.

“But I have read the personal narratives of a score of shipwrecked men who tried, and tried in vain,” I answered. “I remember Winters, a newspaper fellow with an Alaskan and Siberian reputation. Met him at the Bibelot once, and he was telling us how he attempted to make a fire with a couple of sticks. It was most amusing. He told it inimitably, but it was the story of a failure. I remember his conclusion, his black eyes flashing as he said, ’Gentlemen, the South Sea Islander may do it, the Malay may do it, but take my word it’s beyond the white man.’”

“Oh, well, we’ve managed so far without it,” she said cheerfully. “And there’s no reason why we cannot still manage without it.”

“But think of the coffee!” I cried. “It’s good coffee, too, I know. I took it from Larsen’s private stores. And look at that good wood.”

I confess, I wanted the coffee badly; and I learned, not long afterward, that the berry was likewise a little weakness of Maud’s. Besides, we had been so long on a cold diet that we were numb inside as well as out. Anything warm would have been most gratifying. But I complained no more and set about making a tent of the sail for Maud.

I had looked upon it as a simple task, what of the oars, mast, boom, and sprit, to say nothing of plenty of lines. But as I was without experience, and as every detail was an experiment and every successful detail an invention, the day was well gone before her shelter was an accomplished fact. And then, that night, it rained, and she was flooded out and driven back into the boat.

The next morning I dug a shallow ditch around the tent, and, an hour later, a sudden gust of wind, whipping over the rocky wall behind us, picked up the tent and smashed it down on the sand thirty yards away.

Maud laughed at my crestfallen expression, and I said, “As soon as the wind abates I intend going in the boat to explore the island. There must be a station somewhere, and men. And ships must visit the station. Some Government must protect all these seals. But I wish to have you comfortable before I start.”

“I should like to go with you,” was all she said.

“It would be better if you remained. You have had enough of hardship. It is a miracle that you have survived. And it won’t be comfortable in the boat rowing and sailing in this rainy weather. What you need is rest, and I should like you to remain and get it.”

Something suspiciously akin to moistness dimmed her beautiful eyes before she dropped them and partly turned away her head.

“I should prefer going with you,” she said in a low voice, in which there was just a hint of appeal.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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