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Chapter 1
The aged Schooner.—The Ancient Mariner.—The Waste of Waters.—Perplexity.—Solomon and the Saw-dust Soup.—The decrepit Compass.—The baffled, Navigator.—The despondent Boys.—A sudden Squall.—The Sails come to Grief.—Captain Corbet to the Rescue.—No Use! Too far gone!—The Antelope at the Mercy of the Winds and Waves.

THE waters of the Atlantic Ocean were reddened far and wide by the rays of the rising sun. The glorious beams had flashed over tract after tract of the watery expanse as they came from the east, until at length they poured in a full blaze upon a certain gay and gallant bark which lay tossing upon the tide somewhere within a hundred miles or so of the shore of the western world.

Yet though undeniably gay and gallant, the hand of time was visible on that bounding bark. For her buoyant hull was worn, and torn, and aged, and weather-beaten, and in fact decrepit. Aloft, over that battered hull, whose dilapidated sides, covered with bruises and bare of paint, showed gaping seams, from which the oakum protruded, rose the rickety masts and rotten old rigging. The sails, all torn, and worn, and rent, and patched, were spread to catch the breeze, while on high floated a gallant but dingy flag, bearing the blazonry of a now undecipherable emblem, together with letters now half effaced, which looked like “B. O. W. C.”

Such a disreputable craft, and such preposterous sails, had surely never before met the eye of the astonished sun in these waters, and great must have been the hardihood, or else the ignorance, of those who dared commit themselves and her to the merciless ocean. Whether bold or ignorant, however, there they were, all of them—Captain Corbet, the mate, Solomon, and the boys of the “B. O. W. C.;” and these now all stood on the deck of the Antelope, looking at the reddening dawn.

At the helm of his gallant bark stood her bold commander, as wise, as vigilant, and as care-worn as ever, shading his venerable brow with his hand, while, with eagle eye, he sought to make out some floating object or some friendly shore. But to that eagle eye the wide waste of waters showed nothing of the kind; and so it came to pass that, at length, the aged Corbet heaved a gentle sigh, and his eyes rested with mournful meaning upon his young companions.

“Well, captain,” said Bart, who was standing near him, “we don’t seem to have made land yet—do we?”

The captain shook his head slowly and solemnly. “Kine o’ curous, too,” he ejaculated, after a thoughtful pause.

“I don’t suppose you have any more idea of where we are than you had yesterday.”

“Wal,” said Captain Corbet, “not to say much of an idea; but I’m kine o’ comin round, an mebbe I’ll get the hang of it yet.”

“Well, why not head her west? We’ll be sure to come in sight of land then.”

Again the captain shook his head.

“Wal, I don’t know,” said he, “about that. Thar’s currents, an thar’s eddies; an thar’s the Gulf Stream to be considered. Now, if we’d kep straight on at fust, when we got out o’ Canso, we’d been all right; or even after we left Louisbourg, ef we’d only kep along the coast, in sight—but thar’s the mischief of it. I let her git out o’ sight o’ land that night, an she got kine o’ slewed round, and ’s kep kine o’ cantin round every which way, until at last she’s in this here onfort’nit position. An now I’m all teetotally aderrift!”

“O, I shouldn’t think that we can be more than a hundred miles or so south-east of the Nova Scotia coast.”

“Wal, I don’t know; seems to me we may jest as well be off Bermudy as anywhars else.”

“Bermuda!” exclaimed Bart, in amazement. “You don’t mean that.”

“Wal, I don’t see why not. Here we air, after a kerrewsin around a whole fortnight every which way, driven up an down by wind an tide, an canterin along with the Gulf Stream; an whenever, we ventured to hail a passin vessel, only gettin the finger o’ scorn a pinted at us for our pains, an the laughter of frivolous an light-minded men. So what’s to hender us from bein anywhars?”

“Well,” said Bart, “don’t you think it would be better to take some one course, and stick to it?”

“Ain’t I done it?” said the captain. “Ain’t I done it every day? Every day I took some definite course, and stuck to it; an what’s the result? Young sir, if you seek a answer, look around.”

“But something must be done,” said Bart, “or else we’ll find the Antelope becoming a second edition of the Flying Dutchman. A fortnight of this sort of thing’s no joke.”

“Who ever said it was?” said Captain Corbet. “An what’s wuss, every passin vessel will pussist in makin it a joke. They think we’re a fishin schooner, bound to the banks; an if we ask a honest question, they won’t do anything but yell out jokes that ain’t got any pint that ever I can see. Wal, this sarves me right, for ever ventrin outside of old Fundy. Put me in old Fundy an I’m all right; out here I ain’t any good, an hadn’t ought ever to dreamt of comin.”

From this it will be seen that the ill-fated Antelope was once more in a most unpleasant predicament, and the company on board appeared in danger of encountering adventures of as unpleasant a kind as they had known in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, if not worse. And certainly the prospect was dark indeed, when the captain himself could go so far as to hint at Bermuda as being by any possibility in their neighborhood. So Bart thought; and as he walked away there was a shade of anxiety on his brow.

As he walked forward he saw Solomon drawing some water for breakfast out of one of the barrels.

“Solomon,” asked Bart, “how are we off for provisions this time?”

The sable functionary raised his aged form, and, holding the water-pail in one hand, with the other he slowly scratched his venerable wool.

“Wal, Masr Bart,” said he, “dis yar time we ain’t got no ’tiklar cause for ’ziety. Dar’s a barl of salt pork, an two barls of biscuit, an dat ar’s ’ficient for de ’quirements of dis yar company. Lucky for us, too, dat Cap’n Fuggeson cars for us. He put this pork an biscuit aboard for extry, an say dat we all boun to come to roonatium some how. An dat ar am de very ’visiums dat we got to lib on now.”

“But haven’t we got anything better than salt pork and biscuit left?” asked Bart, in a rueful tone.

“Well, notin ’tiklar. Dar’s a drawin or two ob tea—an a grain or two ob flour—an some red her’n; but, law sakes! child alive—what you mean by frettin and pinin so long’s dar’s lot to eat? Neb-ber you mind. I’ll cook up dis yar pork so ’s you’ll blieve it’s roast turkey. Will so. You don’t know me yet. Tell you what,—wait till you see how I cook up dis yar.”

“O, I know,” said Bart; “I believe you could feed us on saw-dust soup, if you hadn’t anything else. It wasn’t that.”

“Saw-dust soup!” cried Solomon. His eyes rolled fearfully. His aged figure bent double. He put the pail of water down, and then seated himself on the deck, where he proceeded to shake his venerable sides, and swing his body backward and forward, while chuckles, and giggles, and choking laughter burst from him. Every little while, as he could get his breath, he would roll up the whites of his eyes with a look of ecstasy, and whisper to himself, “Saw-dust soup!—saw-dust soup!—dat’s so. Tell you what! takes ole Solomon to do it. He’s de boy. Is so! Yah, yah, yah!”

From this outburst of African sentiment Bart turned mournfully away, and stood apart, looking pensively upon the water. The other boys seemed to feel as he did, for they all had on their faces an expression of anxiety and disappointment. They all knew how they were situated, and the situation was not agreeable to any one of them. Whatever novelty there may have been in it had gone off long ago, and there was nothing now left but impatience and vexation of spirit.

The wind had been freshening during the night; and now, as the day advanced, it grew more and more boisterous.

“It’s blowin a leetle mite too fresh,” said Captain Corbet to Bruce, “for to contennew on this course; so I’ll jest come round, an run afore it. Arter all, it’s the best course,—for it’s west, an had ought to fetch us up somewhar eventooly, though I ain’t got overly much confidence in this here compass.”

“Compass! Why, what’s the matter with the compass?” asked Bruce.

“Wal, yesterday at sunrise,” said Captain Corbet, in a gentle tone of regret, “I noticed that, accordin to the compass, the sun was a risin in the nothe, an that was agin natur. So I knowed that either the sun was wrong or the compass, and nat’r’ly concluded that it was the compass. So I jest examined it, an sure enough, I found the needle all rusted up; an I’m a leetle mite afeared it ain’t no more good, jest now, than a rusty nail. Consequently, I don’t feel like settin any very great confidence on her. Wal, for that matter, I never thought much of compasses, an don’t gen’rally go by them when I’m in old Fundy, though here-, abouts they might p’aps be some use.”

At this fresh instance of Captain Corbet’s way of navigating, Bruce was so overwhelmed that he could not say a single word. A flush passed over his face. His lips parted as though he was about to speak; but he checked the rising remark, and walked forward, where he began to talk earnestly with the other boys.

But suddenly their conversation was interrupted. There was a sharp crash, a wild flap, a dark shadow, and in an instant a large object floated away through the air on the wings of the wind, while the noise of flapping, snapping, and cracking still filled their ears. A hurried, startled glance showed them all. As the Antelope was coming round, a gust of wind more violent than usual had struck her. The old sails were too weak to stand it. The mainsail yielded utterly, and was torn clean off, and flung away upon the waters. The foresail had suffered but little less injury, for it had been torn completely asunder, and now showed a huge rent, while the two portions flapped wildly and furiously in the blast.

“Wal,” said Captain Corbet, “ef—this—here—don’t—beat—all!”

He was silent for a moment, and stood contemplating the ruin before him.

“Wal,” he continued, drawing a long breath, “what’s got to be must be. I knowed it would come some day. You can’t fight agin the wind an storm for more’n seventeen year without feelin it; and these sails has been an had their day. I knowed it. I told you, boys, once—I dar say you mind the time—that them sails might be stronger, and that they wasn’t adapted to be hung on to a ship of a thousand ton. Still I did hope that they’d stand this here vyge.”

“But what are we going to do now, captain?” asked Tom.

“Do?” said the captain. “O, wal, ’tain’t so bad’s it might be. We’ve got the foresail yet; an me and Wade ’ll fix her; we’ll take her, an sew her up, and make her as good as new; an we’ll work along some how. You needn’t be troubled; it ain’t goin to make a mite of difference; an I don’t know, after all, but what in the long run p’aps it’s a goin to be better for us. We ain’t ben a doin much with the two sails, that sartain; p’aps now we’ll do better with only one.”

And now the venerable captain and his noble mate prepared to obtain possession of the sail. This was done without any very great effort, the boys all assisting. Then the two navigators (master and mate), having armed themselves with sail-needles and twine, proceeded to sew up the rent, to patch, to mend, and, in general, to renovate the old, old wornout sail. At length this last was happily accomplished; the sail was restored to its place, and as it swelled out at the pressure of the ocean blast, it seemed as efficient as ever. But either, in this case, appearances were deceptive, or else its previous condition had been deplorably weak. Certain it is, that after having sustained the blast for about half an hour, the old rag of a sail began to give way again in a dozen different places, and at length split up almost close beside the former rent. At this Captain Corbet surveyed the tattered canvas with melancholy resignation.

“This here wind,” said he, “is a leetle too stiff for her jest now. I think we’d better save her from another time. She’ll do very well in milder weather.”

By “she” Captain Corbet meant the sail, which he thus personified with affectionate familiarity. As he said this, he proceeded to lower the tattered canvas, and examine it in a pitying, compassionate, and caressing sort of way, quite oblivious of any other duty.

Meanwhile the Antelope tossed and pitched about at the mercy of the waves. There was nothing that deserved the name of a storm; yet, nevertheless, the wind was boisterous, and the sea somewhat rough. The position of the Antelope became, therefore, in the highest degree unpleasant, and this last example of Captain Corbet’s helplessness and incapacity served to complete the despondency of the boys. It now seemed as though their last hope had gone. The compass was useless; the sails were reduced to rags; they had no means of flight from their present misery; and the only comfort remaining was, that the danger which menaced them was not immediate, and might yet be evaded.

Nothing now was left to the boys but to watch with eager eyes the scene around—to search over the waste of waters with the hope of seeing some sail, or perhaps some sign of land. And to this they devoted themselves. It was indeed a cheerless task, and one, too, which gave them but little hope. Hours passed, yet no sail appeared. Dinner time came, and the dinner was spread; yet the boys showed but little appetite. They had been in far worse circumstances than this, yet still this was sufficiently unpleasant to destroy all relish for Solomon’s cookery, even if the banquet had been composed of greater dainties than salt pork and sea biscuit.

Thus the guests at that banquet were not at all appreciative; and they sat there in the schooner’s hold, not to eat, but merely to pass the time, which hung so heavy on their hands. Yet even thus their impatience did not allow them to spend much time at the dinner, for they soon retreated, and took up their stations on deck once more, to stare around, to scan the horizon, and to peer into empty space.

Hours passed. On that afternoon, the wind gradually went down, and there seemed a prospect of calmer weather. Captain Corbet began to talk of mending the sail, and hoisting it again; and at length, calling upon Wade, he and his mate proceeded with needles and sail twine to patch up as before. Into this occupation these two plunged, but the boys still stood on the lookout.

At length, Bart directed Bruce’s attention to something which appeared on the margin of the sea, far away on the horizon.

“Bruce,” said he, “don’t you see something out there that looks like the mast of a vessel?”

Bruce looked eagerly in the direction where Bart was pointing, and the others, who had heard the remark, did the same.



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