The Master Key

Page 40

But the sailors had no interest whatever in the relation. Their disappointment was something awful to witness, and one of them laid his head upon his comrade's shoulder and wept with unrestrained grief, so weak and discouraged had they become through suffering.

Suddenly Rob remembered that he could assist them, and took the box of concentrated food tablets from his pocket.

"Eat these," he said, offering one of each to the sailors.

At first they could not understand that these small tablets would be able to allay the pangs of hunger; but when Rob explained their virtues the men ate them greedily. Within a few moments they were so greatly restored to strength and courage that their eyes brightened, their sunken cheeks flushed, and they were able to converse with their benefactor with calmness and intelligence.

Then the boy sat beside them upon the grass and told them the story of his acquaintance with the Demon and of all his adventures since he had come into possession of the wonderful electric contrivances. In his present mood he felt it would be a relief to confide in some one, and so these poor, lonely men were the first to hear his story.

When he related the manner in which he had clung to the Turk while both ascended into the air, the elder of the two sailors listened with rapt attention, and then, after some thought, asked:

"Why couldn't you carry one or both of us to America?"

Rob took time seriously to consider this idea, while the sailors eyed him with eager interest. Finally he said:

"I'm afraid I couldn't support your weight long enough to reach any other land. It's a long journey, and you'd pull my arms out of joint before we'd been up an hour."

Their faces fell at this, but one of them said:

"Why couldn't we swing ourselves over your shoulders with a rope? Our two bodies would balance each other and we are so thin and emaciated that we do not weigh very much."

While considering this suggestion Rob remembered how at one time five pirates had clung to his left leg and been carried some distance through the air.

"Have you a rope?" he asked.

"No," was the answer; "but there are plenty of long, tough vines growing on the island that are just as strong and pliable as ropes."

"Then, if you are willing to run the chances," decided the boy, "I will make the attempt to save you. But I must warn you that in case I find I can not support the weight of your bodies I shall drop one or both of you into the sea."

They looked grave at this prospect, but the biggest one said:

"We would soon meet death from starvation if you left us here on the island; so, as there is at least a chance of our being able to escape in your company I, for one, am willing to risk being drowned. It is easier and quicker than being starved. And, as I'm the heavier, I suppose you'll drop me first."

"Certainly," declared Rob, promptly.

This announcement seemed to be an encouragement to the little sailor, but he said, nervously:

"I hope you'll keep near the water, for I haven't a good head for heights--they always make me dizzy."

"Oh, if you don't want to go," began Rob, "I can easily--"

"But I do! I do! I do!" cried the little man, interrupting him. "I shall die if you leave me behind!"

"Well, then, get your ropes, and we'll do the best we can," said the boy.

They ran to the trees, around the trunks of which were clinging many tendrils of greenish-brown vine which possessed remarkable strength. With their knives they cut a long section of this vine, the ends of which were then tied into loops large enough to permit the sailors to sit in them comfortably. The connecting piece Rob padded with seaweed gathered from the shore, to prevent its cutting into his shoulders.

"Now, then," he said, when all was ready, "take your places."

The sailors squatted in the loops, and Rob swung the vine over his shoulders and turned the indicator of the traveling machine to "up."

As they slowly mounted into the sky the little sailor gave a squeal of terror and clung to the boy's arm; but the other, although seemingly anxious, sat quietly in his place and made no trouble.

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