On the first of these islands, the smaller one, the Sea Mist had been wrecked. Driven out of her course by a typhoon, she staggered through day after day and night after night of terrific wind and storm until, at last, there was promise of fair weather. Captain Nat, nearly worn out from anxiety, care, and the loss of sleep, had gone to his stateroom and the first mate was in charge. It was three o’clock, the wind still blowing and the darkness pitchy, when the forward lookout shrieked a warning, “Breakers under the lee!” Almost the next instant the ship was on a coral reef, full of water, and the seas breaking over her from stem to stern.
Morning came and showed a little patch of land, with palm trees and tropical vegetation waving in the gusts and green in the sunshine. Captain Nat ordered the boats to be lowered. Much as he hated the thought, he saw that the Sea Mist had made her last voyage and must be abandoned. He went to the cabin, collected papers and charts and prepared to leave. The ship’s money, over ten thousand dollars in gold belonging to the owner and to be used in trade and speculation among the East Indies, he took with him. Then the difficult and dangerous passage through the opening in the reef was begun.
Only the captain’s boat reached the shore. The mate’s was caught by a huge breaker, dashed against the reef and sunk. Captain Nat, his second mate and five of his men were all that was left of the Sea Mist’s company. And on that island they remained for nearly two weeks. Provisions they had brought ashore with them. Water they found by digging. Nat hid the gold at night, burying it on the beach below high-water mark.
Then, having made sure of his location by consulting the chart, he determined to attempt a voyage to the second island, where he knew the English colony to be. Provisions were getting short, and to remain longer where they were was to risk starvation and all its horrors. So, in the longboat, which was provided with a sail, they started. Charts and papers and the gold the skipper took with them. None of the crew knew of the existence of the money; it was a secret which the captain kept to himself.
A hundred miles they sailed in the longboat and, at last, the second island was sighted. They landed and found, to their consternation and surprise, that it, too, was uninhabited. The former residents had grown tired of their isolation and, a trading vessel having touched there, had seized the opportunity to depart for Tahiti. Their houses were empty, their cattle, sheep, goats, and fowl roamed wild in the woods, and the fruit was rotting on the trees. In its way the little island was an Eyeless Eden, flowing with milk and honey; but to Captain Nat, a conscientious skipper with responsibilities to his owners, it was a prison from which he determined to escape. Then, as if to make escape impossible, a sudden gale came up and the longboat was smashed by the surf.