Tom Swift and his Wireless Message by Victor Appleton
Chapter XIV. A Night in Camp
The rumbling and roaring continued for perhaps two minutes, during which time the castaways found it impossible to stand, for the island was shaking under their feet with a sickening motion. Off to one side there was a great fissure in the earth, and, frightened as he was, Tom looked to see if it was extending in their direction.
If it was, or if a crack opened near them, they might be precipitated into some bottomless abyss, or into the depths of the sea. But the fissure did not increase in length or breadth, and, presently the rumbling, roaring sound subsided. The island grew quiet and the airship travelers rose to their feet.
"Bless my very existence! What happened?" cried Mr. Damon.
"It was an earthquake; wasn't it, Tom?" asked Mr. Fenwick.
"It sure was," agreed the young inventor. "Rather a hard one, too. I hope we don't have any more."
"Do you think there is any likelihood of it?" demanded Mr. Damon. "Bless my pocketbook! If I thought so I'd leave at once."
"Where would you go?" inquired Tom, looking out across the tumbling ocean, which had hardly had a chance to subside from the gale, ere it was again set in a turmoil by the earth-tremor.
"That's so--there isn't a place to escape to," went on the eccentric man, with something like a groan. "We are in a bad place--do you think there'll be more quakes, Tom?"
"It's hard to say. I don't know where we are, and this island may be something like Japan, subject to quakes, or it may be that this one is merely a spasmodic tremor. Perhaps the great storm which brought us here was part of the disturbance of nature which ended up with the earthquake. We may have no more."
"And there may be one at any time," added Mr. Fenwick.
"Yes," assented Tom.
"Then let's get ready for it," proposed Mr. Damon. "Let's take all the precautions possible."
"There aren't any to take," declared Tom. "All we can do is to wait until the shocks come--if any more do come, which I hope won't happen, and then we must do the best we can."
"Oh, dear me! Bless my fingernails!" cried Mr. Damon, wringing his hands. "This is worse than falling in an airship! There you do have some chance. Here you haven't any."
"Oh, it may not be so bad," Tom cried to reassure him. "This may have been the first shock in a hundred years, and there may never be another."
But, as he looked around on the island, he noted evidences that it was of volcanic origin, and his heart misgave him, for he knew that such islands, created suddenly by a submarine upheaval, might just as suddenly be destroyed by an earthquake, or by sinking into the ocean. It was not a pleasant thought--it was like living over a mine, that might explode at any moment. But there was no help for it.
Tom tried to assume a cheerfulness he did not feel. He realized that, in spite of his youth, both Mr. Damon and Mr. Fenwick rather depended on him, for Tom was a lad of no ordinary attainments, and had a fund of scientific knowledge. He resolved to do his best to avoid making his two companions worry.
"Let's get it off our minds," suggested the lad, after a while. "We were going to get something to eat. Suppose we carry out that program. My appetite wasn't spoiled by the shock."
"I declare mine wasn't either," said Mr. Damon, "but I can't forget it easily. It's the first earthquake I was ever in."
He watched Tom as the latter advanced once more toward the wreck of the airship, and noticed that the lad limped, for his right leg had been cut when the Whizzer had fallen to earth.
"What's the matter, Tom; were you hurt in the quake?" asked the eccentric man.
"No--no," Tom hastened to assure him. "I just got a bump in the fall--that's all. It isn't anything. If you and Mr. Fenwick want to get out some food from the wrecked store room I'll see if I can haul out the gasolene stove from the airship. Perhaps we can use it to make some coffee."
By delving in about the wreck, Tom was able to get out the gasolene stove. It was broken, but two of the five burners were in commission, and could be used. Water, and gasolene for use in the airship, was carried in steel tanks. Some of these had been split open by the crash, but there was one cask of water left, and three of gasolene, insuring plenty of the liquid fuel. As for the water, Tom hoped to be able to find a spring on the island.
In the meanwhile, Mr. Damon and Mr. Fenwick had been investigating the contents of the storeroom. There was a large supply of food, much larger than would have been needed, even on a two weeks' trip in the air, and the inventor of the Whizzer hardly knew why he had put so much aboard.
"But if we have to stay here long, it may come in handy," observed Tom, with a grim smile.
"Why; do you think we will be here long?" asked Mr. Damon.
The young inventor shrugged his shoulders.
"There is no telling," he said. "If a passing steamer happens to see us, we may be taken off to-day or to-morrow. If not we may be here a week, or--" Tom did not finish. He stood in a listening attitude.
There was a rumbling sound, and the earth seemed again to tremble. Then there came a great splash in the water at the foot of a tall, rugged cliff about a quarter of a mile away. A great piece of the precipice had fallen into the ocean.
"I thought that was another earthquake coming," said Mr. Damon, with an air of relief.
"So did I," admitted Mr. Fenwick.
"It was probably loosened by the shock, and so fell into the sea," spoke Tom.
Their momentary fright over, the castaways proceeded to get their breakfast. Tom soon had water boiling on the gasolene stove, for he had rescued a tea-kettle and a coffee pot from the wreck of the kitchen of the airship. Shortly afterward, the aroma of coffee filled the air, and a little later there was mingled with it the appetizing odor of sizzling bacon and eggs, for Mr. Fenwick, who was very fond of the latter, had brought along a supply, carefully packed in sawdust carriers, so that the shock had broken only a few of them.
"Well, I call this a fine breakfast," exclaimed Mr. Damon, munching his bacon and eggs, and dipping into his coffee the hard pilot biscuit, which they had instead of bread. "We're mighty lucky to be eating at all, I suppose."
"Indeed we are," chimed in Mr. Fenwick.
"I'm awfully sorry the airship is wrecked, though," spoke Tom. "I suppose it's my fault. I should have turned back before we got over the ocean, and while the storm was not at its height. I saw that the wind was freshening, but I never supposed it would grow to a gale so suddenly. The poor old Whizzer--there's not much left of her!"
"Now don't distress yourself in the least," insisted Mr. Fenwick. "I'm proud to have built a ship that could navigate at all. I see where I made lots of mistakes, and as soon as I get back to Philadelphia, I'm going to build a better one, if you'll help me, Tom Swift."
"I certainly will," promised the young inventor.
"And I'll take a voyage with you!" cried Mr. Damon. "Bless my teaspoon, Tom, but will you kindly pass the bacon and eggs again!"
There was a jolly laugh at the eccentric man, in which he himself joined, and the little party felt better. They were seated on bits of broken boxes taken from the wreck, forming a little circle about the gasolene stove, which Tom had set up on the beach. The wind had almost entirely died away, though the sea was still heaving in great billows, and masses of surf.
They had no exact idea of the time, for all their watches had stopped when the shock of the wreck came, but presently the sun peeped out from the clouds, and, from knowing the time when they had begun to fall, they judged it was about ten o'clock, and accordingly set their timepieces.
"Well," observed Tom, as he collected the dishes, which they had also secured from the wreck, "we must begin to think about a place to spend the night. I think we can rig up a shelter from some of the canvas of the wing-planes, and from what is left of the cabin. It doesn't need to be very heavy, for from the warmth of the atmosphere, I should say we were pretty well south."
It was quite warm, now that the storm was over, and, as they looked at the vegetation of the island, they saw that it was almost wholly tropical.
"I shouldn't be surprised if we were on one of the smaller of the West Indian islands," said Tom. "We certainly came far enough, flying a hundred miles or more an hour, to have reached them. But this one doesn't appear to be inhabited."
"We haven't been all over it yet," said Mr. Damon. "We may find cannibals on the other side."
"Cannibals don't live in this part of the world," Tom assured him. "No, I think this island is practically unknown. The storm brought us here, and it might have landed us in a worse place."
As he spoke he thought of the yacht Resolute, and he wondered how her passengers, including the parents of Mary Nestor, had fared during the terrible blow.
"I hope they weren't wrecked, as we were," mused Tom.
But there was little time for idle thoughts. If they were going to build a shelter, they knew that they must speedily get at it. Accordingly, with a feeling of thankfulness that their lives had been spared, they set to work taking apart such of the wreck as could the more easily be got at.
Boards, sticks, and planks were scattered about, and, with the pieces of canvas from the wing-planes, and some spare material which was carried on board, they soon had a fairly good shack, which would be protection enough in that warm climate.
Next they got out the food and supplies, their spare clothing and other belongings, few of which had been harmed in the fall from the clouds. These things were piled under another rude shelter which they constructed.
By this time it was three o'clock, and they ate again. Then they prepared to spend the night in their hastily made camp. They collected driftwood, with which to make a fire, and, after supper, which was prepared on the gasolene stove, they sat about the cheerful blaze, discussing their adventures.
"To-morrow we will explore the island," said Tom, as he rolled himself up in his blankets and turned over to sleep. The others followed his example, for it was decided that no watch need be kept. Thus passed several hours in comparative quiet.
It must have been about midnight that Tom was suddenly awakened by a feeling as if someone was shaking him. He sat up quickly and called out:
"What's the matter?"
"Eh? What's that? Bless my soul! What's going on?" shouted Mr. Damon.
"Did you shake me?" inquired Tom.
"I? No. What--?"
Then they realized that another earth-tremor was making the whole island tremble.
Tom leaped from his blankets, followed by Mr. Damon and Mr. Fenwick, and rushed outside the shack. They felt the earth shaking, but it was over in a few seconds. The shock was a slight one, nothing like as severe as the one in the morning. But it set their nerves on edge.
"Another earthquake!" groaned Mr. Damon. "How often are we to have them?"
"I don't know," answered Tom, soberly.
They passed the remainder of the night sleeping in blankets on the warm sands, near the fire, for they feared lest a shock might bring the shack down about their heads. However, the night passed with no more terrors.