A few minutes sufficed to give our adventurers a tolerably accurate notion of the general features of the place on which they had landed. It was a considerable portion of the reef that was usually above water, and which had even some fragments of soil, or sand, on which was a stinted growth of bushes. Of these last, however, there were very few, nor were there many spots of the sand. Drift-wood and sea-weed were lodged in considerable quantities about its margin, and, in places, piles of both had been tossed upon the rock itself, by the billows of former gales of wind. Nor was it long before Jack discovered a turtle that had been up to a hillock of sand, probably to deposit its eggs. There was enough of the sportsman in Jack, notwithstanding the business he was on, to turn this animal; though with what object, he might have been puzzled himself to say. This exploit effected, Jack followed Rose as fast as his short legs would permit, our heroine pressing forward eagerly, though almost without hope, in order to assertain if Mulford were there.
“I am afraid this is not the rock,” said Rose, nearly breathless with her own haste, when Jack had overtaken her. “I see nothing of him, and we have passed over most of the place.”
“Very true, Miss Rose,” answered her companion, who was in a good humour on account of his capture of the turtle; “but there are other rocks besides this. Ha! what was that, yonder,” pointing with a finger, “here, more toward the brig. As I’m a sinner, there was a flashing, as of fire.”
“If a fire, it must be that made by Harry. Let us go to the spot at once.”
Jack led the way, and, sure enough, he soon reached a place where the embers of what had been a considerable body of fire, were smouldering on the rock. The wind had probably caused some brand to kindle momentarily, which was the object that had caught Tier’s eye. No doubt any longer remained of their having found the very place where the mate had cooked his supper, and lighted his beacon, though he himself was not near it. Around these embers were all the signs of Mulford’s having made the meal, of which Jack had seen the preparations. A portion of the turtle, much the greater part of it, indeed, lay in its shell; and piles of wood and sea-weed, both dry, had been placed at hand, ready for use. A ship’s topgallant-yard, with most of its rope attached, lay with a charred end near the fire, of where the fire had been, the wood having burned until the flames went out for want of contact with other fuel. There were many pieces of boards of pitch-pine in the adjacent heap, and two or three beautiful planks of the same wood, entire. In short, from the character and quantity of the materials of this nature that had thus been heaped together, Jack gave it as his opinion that some vessel, freighted with lumber, had been wrecked to windward, and that the adjacent rocks had been receiving the tribute of her cargo. Wrecks are of very, very frequent occurrence on the Florida Reef; and there are always moments when such gleanings are to be made in some part of it or other.