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CHAPTER IX MAROONED
What was to happen when they finally landed, Roberta could not even guess, but she determined to be on the alert. She judged they had maintained a high altitude, and this fact was promptly verified as she watched Mrs. Pollzoff attend to the plane. Soon she took time to slide the cover from over the cock-pit and all that could be seen was a thick fog which enveloped them. The woman scanned the earth beneath her and as she did that Roberta managed to catch a glimpse of the fuel indicator, the needle of which showed that they could go very little further.

The fact promptly banished a sudden idea of pushing the woman out and racing back150 into the heavens, for such a scheme would be foolhardy, inasmuch as Nike could carry her only a short distance. Her second plan depended greatly upon what happened when the plane’s wheels touched the ground, if they did, but Roberta made ready to snatch any opportunity which offered itself. She hated to abandon the machine; that would have to be her last resort, for she realized that the woman wasn’t coming down any place where she did not expect to find friends and accommodations. Carefully drawing up her right hand, she found the latch to the door at her side, and at the same time got loose her safety strap so that it could not hold her back. The chute would also hamper any quick movement, but before she could manage to rid herself of the awkward bulky thing, Nike touched ground.

A few feet away was a huge fire, which looked as if it had been built as a beacon for the woman, but even its blaze was veiled by the swirling fog which surrounded it. As the plane curved, its wheels bumped first one side, then the other; once they struck something so large that they jumped, so Mrs. Pollzoff151 was fully occupied in bringing the machine to a stop. Blurred figures of men moved between them and the fire, and at last when Nike stopped, they came forward. There was a confused murmur of voices.

“Hurry and help me,” Mrs. Pollzoff snapped, but her voice cracked shrilly.

“We’re here—”

“Been waitin’ fer hours,” snapped one who seemed in charge of the party. “Keeping this fire going. What kept you?”

“Think I could do any better through that storm—”

“Aw, that’s it, eh? Flew yourself. The boss said you’d probably try that fool trick.”

“What was the matter with the girl doing it—she’d have—”

“Shut your fool mouth. Get her out and be quick about it, you think she’s so wonderful—” Mrs. Pollzoff swore roundly.

“She’d have done it quicker. It’s only fool’s luck that you didn’t have a smash-up.”

“Get her out—” Mrs. Pollzoff stamped her feet furiously.

“Did you kill her?” One of the men came152 close to the woman, and his tone was threatening. “You’ll get yours from the boss if she’s hurt; he needs her in this business and you had your orders.”

“I tell you she’s all right, only asleep. Get her out. We’re both nearly dead.”

But Roberta didn’t wait to hear anything more. She threw her weight against the door, jumped out under the shelter of Nike’s wing, and leaped into the dense fog. Instantly three men who had been coming around the plane, sprang toward her. There followed a wild scramble of feet as the girl ran desperately from the scene, but the chute interfered, although she tried hard to get out of it as she fled.

“Bring up some of those torches,” one of the men bellowed. “She can’t get far.”

Immediately a dozen firebrands were being brandished through the fog, in a moment her footprints were discovered and panting men rushed in pursuit. The rough ground, the unwieldy chute, and her own weariness were almost too much for the fleeing girl, but she pushed on as fast as she could, hoping to find some place into which she could dodge,153 and trying to plant her feet on rocks which would leave no tell-tale trail. It was amazing that she managed to keep going so long, but suddenly the leader of the men caught sight of her.

“You ain’t going to be hurt, Miss, and you’re headin’ out to sea,” he called, and although his voice was rough, there was nothing in it to fear. Just at that moment a wave splashed over Roberta’s ankles, verifying the last part of his statement; but a wave of discouragement even larger and more formidable than the water piled over her, completely dispelling every hope of escape.

“Oh, please,” she cried—but that was all she could say, for her head seemed ready to burst open with pain, sharp daggers stung her eyes, and just as the man reached her, her body grew limp.

“That wild cat gave you a hard time,” he remarked as he picked her up in his arms, but what he said or did was lost to the girl, for she had fainted dead away. It was lucky he was there, because she would have slumped into the water, been tossed helplessly on the in-coming tide, and no one could have154 saved her from being crushed among the rocks.

Being a healthy girl the state of unconsciousness did not last long and a bit later she opened her eyes again. A dark woman, who looked like an Indian had her in charge; while one of the men stood ready with a flask, some of the contents of which was still stinging her throat. Her flying suit had been opened and she was stretched out on a rough bed of boughs, and another Indian, a younger one, unfastened her shoes. It wasn’t a comforting sight, but it was evident that every one of them was bent on bringing her to and making her as comfortable as possible.

“Here, that’s the girl! Take a bit more of this and it will knock the kinks out of you,” the man urged. He was the man who had picked her up, and there was a smoldering light in his eyes as if, regardless of what the situation might really be, his sympathies were with Roberta.

“I’m lots better,” she managed to gasp. “Thank you so much.”

“Sure, but you’ll be better still. Come along, this won’t hurt you, and you surely do155 need it. The natives will do the little things to help you.” He went over with the flask and Roberta obeyed without further protest. Her good sense told her that she must do everything possible to regain her strength if she expected to get away from the place. She wanted to ask where she was, but decided it might be better to wait until she was more sure of herself and those around her.

“I ain’t never been in favor of this kidnaping business, Wat,” said one of the men who was standing by. “It always sets the crowd against you.”

“Well, keep your shirt on, Slim,” Wat answered under his breath. “Better yell fer some of that soup,” he added.

“Come along with the soup,” Slim shouted.

“Think I’m at the Pole.” A third man appeared with a tin of steaming soup, which the woman took from him.

“That’s good. Let Nomie feed you a little at a time, and if they don’t treat you right, yell for Wat and I’ll come running.” He grinned down at her, then spoke to Nomie,156 who nodded that she understood, but Roberta didn’t catch the words.

“Good,” said Nomie, as she sniffed the contents of the bowl. Then she took a crust of hard bread, dipped it into the liquid. “Too hot,” she told Roberta. “Eat little from crust.”

It was an odd way of taking nourishment, but Roberta was glad that she wasn’t required to sit up and eat, for although the brandy she had swallowed was tingling warmly, she was woefully tired and making any sort of physical effort seemed impossible. The “soup” tasted of clams and milk, and she thought she had never eaten anything better. Conscientiously Nomie fed her, a little at a time, until finally it was cooler and she used a spoon instead of the bread, but she did not hasten the performance. The men had withdrawn tactfully to the other side of the huge bon-fire which was being raked into a smaller space as it was no longer needed as a beacon. Roberta wondered dully how it had helped Mrs. Pollzoff to know where to come down, but just then she saw Slim passing with a bundle of rockets and157 understood that the gang must have been shooting them intermittently while they waited, and more frequently when they heard the plane roaring toward them out of the fog.

“More bye and bye,” Nomie said at last, and she handed the dish to the young girl. “Fix bed, Natell,” she added. The Indian girl hurried away, and presently Wat returned.

“Feel able to walk?” he asked gruffly.

“Guess so,” Roberta answered. She managed to get to her feet, and although she felt better, she was still wobbly.

“Give her a hand there,” Wat ordered.

“Good,” agreed Nomie and she slipped her strong arm about Roberta’s waist. “This way.” They proceeded slowly away from the fire, and presently, a few yards ahead, she saw a small blaze through the fog.

“Here you are!” Natell was standing in a low doorway.

“Now, get some sleep. Nobody’s going to hurt you,” Wat said quietly, and the two native women helped her stumble inside.

Roberta was too weary to pay much attention to anything, except that the room she158 entered appeared to be a long, low one with many bright colored draperies hanging on the wall. In a moment she was led to a rude bed, the top of which was piled high with pillows, and as she seated herself on the edge, she saw another one a few feet away. Across the top of it lay Mrs. Pollzoff, already sound asleep. Nomie and her young daughter made short work of helping their charge out of a part of her clothes, but they hadn’t finished, when her weary lids closed over her eyes as she fell asleep.

Although she had no idea what time it was when she opened her eyes again, the girl Sky-Pilot had slept around the clock. The Indians had certainly made her very comfortable among the huge pillows, and now she yawned and stretched luxuriously. Turning over she saw that close to the bed the girl, Natell, was seated, her small brown hands busily darting back and forth over a piece of weaving. Her keen ears must have been alert for a sound from her charge, for she immediately called shrilly. “No-mee, No-mee!” Nomie came at once and glanced at the blinking young pilot.

159 “Good,” she greeted soberly.

“She is awake,” announced Natell.

“Of course I am awake, but—” A bit of the recollection of the horrors through which she had gone, returned to her mind, and instinctively she glanced toward the second bed where she had seen Mrs. Pollzoff recovering from her own exhaustion, but the woman wasn’t there and the bed had been smoothed. As far as she could tell there was no one in the room but the natives and herself. “Where am I? I mean, what is this place?” she asked curiously.

“Island,” Nomie answered. She was getting the white girl’s clothes out of a queer sort of chest that looked as if it had been made of pieces of driftwood. As the woman showed no inclination of imparting more information, Roberta decided that it might be the better part of wisdom to be content with what she had learned.

“Fine!” Natell spread the garments before their owner with true feminine interest, and in another moment, Nomie produced the traveling bag from behind one of the curtains, as well as the wrist watch they had taken off160 to add to her comfort while she slept. The time-piece was going but Roberta stared at it in amazement, for it showed less than two hours later than the hour they had landed.

“How long did I sleep?” she asked quickly.

“One sun,” Nomie smiled at her.

“Good sleep,” Natell added, with a wide grin.

“I should say so,” Roberta replied laughing. She had a hunch that it might be greatly to her advantage to be as friendly as possible with the people of the island, because recalling the dialogue which had passed between Wat and Slim after the arrival of Nike, their attitude toward her abduction, or kidnaping was one of strong disapproval. The native women, too, were kindly disposed and Roberta wondered to what tribe they belonged. She had seen any number of American Indians in the United States and in Canada also, when she was touring with the Wallaces, but while the two who were caring for her had high cheek bones, dark eyes, and skin, they looked as if they belonged to another race entirely. While she put on her clothes, Nomie was fussing about a small oil stove,161 and presently the odor of coffee permeated the dwelling. Ready at last she noticed that Natell’s eyes were attracted by a string of red beads among the articles in the tray of her bag.

“Eat,” invited Nomie.

“You may have these,” Roberta picked up the beads and fastened the strand about the younger girl’s neck.

“No, no, no,” she said quickly, and glanced with evident anxiety around the room as if she expected someone to step out.

“What?” demanded Nomie coming to the girl.

“See.” Natell looked wistfully at her mother, who also took a hasty glance over her shoulder.

“Please let her keep them!” Roberta pleaded. “If you do not want anyone to know I gave them to her, slip them out of sight. I have more. See!” She pointed to other ornaments in her bag, and after a few words exchanged in their own tongue, Nomie nodded her head.

“Good,” she agreed, and immediately Natell fixed the neck of her homespun dress so162 that the treasure could not be seen. Her mother drew a chair, cut from the stump of a tree, before an equally primitive table and spread out a meal of cornbread, fish and coffee. To this she added, surreptitiously, as if as a special treat, a tablespoonful of honey.

“Thank you very much,” Roberta said, for she had an idea that the settlement did not boast of very much of the sweet.

“Good,” the woman replied, but she kept her eyes on the door while Natell stood just outside of it until the girl Sky-Pilot had consumed the delicacy.

Roberta wondered why the great secrecy and reached the conclusion that Nomie’s general orders had been that she was to do nothing more than absolutely necessary for the prisoner. When the meal was finished, she rose to go outside partly because the place was stuffy, and partly because she wanted to know if she were to be kept within certain limits. Neither of the natives made any move to detain her and once beyond the low entrance her first thought was for Nike, but the plane was nowhere in sight.

The day was clear and in front of the163 dwelling the rocky land sloped toward the water. Here and there were stretches of white sand, washed up by the high tides, and a bit further back the girl could see a few clusters of shrubs and trees whose sturdy trunks were bent and twisted as if they had maintained their place despite the gales which had beaten them without mercy. Walking slowly toward the edge of the Island, she paused to look back and then discovered that there was really no house; that the entrance was cut or dug from the face of a low cliff, nor was there a sign of another habitation.

Roberta’s next thought was to find tracks of her machine, but she didn’t, nor did she come across any blackened spot which the bon-fire had left. Trying to reconstruct the place from when she landed on it she discovered that the highwater mark came to within a few yards of the cliff, and calculating quickly she figured that there had been at least two changes in the tide while she slept, so all marks would be completely obliterated.

As there appeared to be no one to object to her walking about wherever she chose,164 the girl proceeded slowly along the edge of the beach, which was rugged and irregular. Locating the position of the sun did not help her reach any solution to the question of where she was marooned, but a bit later when she climbed to the top of a hill she knew without doubt that she was on an island; and because of the coldness in the air and the course Mrs. Pollzoff had set when they left Charleston, she was positive that she was pretty far north. How far, she had no way of telling. Every few minutes she scanned the sky for a glimpse of Nike or a rescuing plane, but the heavens were as empty as the vast expanse of sea that surrounded her.

Figuring the time since anyone she knew had heard of or from her the girl Sky-Pilot felt positive that a search of some kind must be already started. She had no hope of the second glove’s having been found, but if the first one was picked up and passed on to any authority, at least they would have something upon which to work. Then, if Mr. Wallace’s invention had not failed, and had been heeded, the men of Lurtiss field would certainly have further assistance in finding her. Again165 she looked about for a trace of the gallant little plane, but found nothing.

“Wonder if anyone has gone up in her,” she remarked to herself. Then she wondered where Mrs. Pollzoff had gone. She guessed that the woman was not on this particular island, anyway, then suddenly she sat down and chuckled. “I’ll bet she’s gone off in Nike, and if she has, that little buzzer will be her Waterloo, for with the spring down, it will start again whenever the plane is taken into the air. Wouldn’t it be topping if Mrs. Pollzoff gets herself caught!” But, although the idea was certainly amusing, Roberta sighed. “She’s got too much sense, anyway, to go flying over the country in Nike—she’ll know everyone will be on the lookout for the machine.”


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