So the crew trooped forth, rather fearfully, and began to reef the sails and put the ship into condition to weather the storm.
Rob paid no further attention to them. He looked at his traveling machine rather doubtfully and wondered if he dared risk its power to carry him through the air. Whether he remained in the ship or trusted to the machine, he stood a good chance of dropping into the sea at any moment. So, while he hesitated, he attached the machine to his wrist and leaned over the bulwarks to watch the progress of the storm. He might stay in the ship until it foundered, he thought, and then take his chances with the machine. He decided to wait until a climax arrived.
The climax came the next moment, for while he leaned over the bulwarks the buccaneers stole up behind him and suddenly seized him in their grasp. While two of them held his arms the others searched his pockets, taking from him the electric tube and the silver box containing his tablets. These they carried to the cabin and threw upon the heap of other valuables they had stolen. They did not notice his traveling machine, however, but seeing him now unarmed they began jeering and laughing at him, while the brutal captain relieved his anger by giving the prisoner several malicious kicks.
Rob bore his misfortune meekly, although he was almost ready to cry with grief and disappointment. But when one of the pirates, to inflict further punishment on the boy, came towards him with a heavy strap, he resolved not to await the blow.
Turning the indicator to the word "up" he found, to his joy and relief, that it would yet obey the influence of the power of repulsion. Seeing him rise into the air the fellow made a grab for his foot and held it firmly, while his companions ran to help him. Weight seemed to make no difference in the machine; it lifted the pirate as well as Rob; it lifted another who clung to the first man's leg, and another who clung to him. The other two also caught hold, hoping their united strength would pull him down, and the next minute Rob was soaring through the air with the entire string of five buccaneers dangling from his left leg.
At first the villains were too astounded to speak, but as they realized that they were being carried through the air and away from their ship they broke into loud shouts of dismay, and finally the one who grasped Rob's leg lost his hold and the five plunged downward and splashed into the sea.
Finding the machine disposed to work accurately, Rob left the buccaneers to swim to the ship in the best way they could, while he dropped down to the deck again and recovered from the cabin his box of tablets and the electric tube. The fellows were just scrambling on board when he again escaped, shooting into the air with considerable speed.
Indeed, the instrument now worked better than at any time since he had reached the cannibal island, and the boy was greatly delighted.
The wind at first sent him spinning away to the south, but he continued to rise until he was above the air currents, and the storm raged far beneath him. Then he set the indicator to the northwest and breathlessly waited to see if it would obey. Hurrah! away he sped at a fair rate of speed, while all his anxiety changed to a feeling of sweet contentment.
His success had greatly surprised him, but he concluded that the jar caused by dropping the instrument had relieved the pressure upon the works, and so helped rather than harmed the free action of the electric currents.
While he moved through the air with an easy, gliding motion he watched with much interest the storm raging below. Above his head the sun was peacefully shining and the contrast was strange and impressive. After an hour or so the storm abated, or else he passed away from it, for the deep blue of the ocean again greeted his eyes. He dropped downward until he was about a hundred feet above the water, when he continued his northwesterly course.
But now he regretted having interfered for a moment with the action of the machine, for his progress, instead of being swift as a bird's flight, became slow and jerky, nor was he sure that the damaged machine might not break down altogether at any moment.