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Chapter 2
A strange and startling Sight.—A Mast in Midocean.—Land.—A Land of Terror.—A Panic.—The worst Place in all the World.—Tom drives away the Panic.—Drifting.—The Anchor dropped.—The Dawn of Day.—The low Land on the Horizon.—Preparing to go ashore.—The Confidences of the unfortunate Solomon.

AS they all stood looking in the direction where Bart was pointing,—

“I see it,” said Bruce. “It’s certainly the mast, and the mast of a ship, for there is the yard and the rigging; but there’s only one mast.”

“It’s a sloop,” said Phil.

“No,” said Tom; “it’s a square-rigged vessel of some sort.”

“Sure an it ain’t got no more ’n one mast,” said Pat; “an be the same token, there’s no hull at all at all. Be the powers, but it would be a quare thing intirely if it was to turrun out to be another wather-logged ship. An if it is, it’s meself that’ll not set fut aboord of her; not me, so it isn’t.”

“There’s something,” said Bruce, “that may be a hull. I can see it sometimes quite plain. Now look, boys, carefully, all of you, as we rise on the top of a wave.”

All this time Arthur had been examining the object through the spy-glass. As Bruce said this, he handed the glass to him.

“It’s not a ship,” said he, “nor a vessel of any kind. It’s land.”

“Land!” cried all the boys.

“Yes,” said Arthur.

All were silent. Bruce took a look through the glass, and then passed it to Bart, who, after looking through it, passed it on to the others.

“It’s a fact,” said Bruce. “It’s land; and that’s a flag-staff.”

“It’s very low land,” said Arthur.

“It’s a mere sand-bank,” said Bruce.

“A sand-bank,” said Bart, “with a flag-staff in the middle of the ocean! It’s queer.”

“Yes,” said Bruce; “and remember this, too, that this sand-bank in the ocean, with this flagstaff, is probably not very far away from the coast of Nova Scotia. Now, put this and that together, boys, and where do you think we are?”

At this question they all looked at one another in silence, and for a time no answer was made.

“Well,” said Tom, at length, “I’ll tell you what it is, boys. I believe that another prophecy of Captain Ferguson’s is turning out true. He prophesied that we’d be thrown upon Anticosti, and so we were. He prophesied that we’d be thrown on another place, and this is that place. You all know what I mean. I mean Sable Island.”

The boys made no remark. This thought had been in the minds of all of them. It was a thought that brought the deepest anxiety and gloom. For, bad as Anticosti was, there was one worse place; and that place was the very sand-bank before them—Sable Island!

The boys had all along been hoping for deliverance, either in the shape of some passing vessel or some sign of land. But this land, which they had approached unwittingly, seemed to be surrounded by a terror far worse than anything that was connected with their present situation. For Sable Island—that treacherous sand-bank in the midst of the sea—had always been known to all of them as the dread of seamen, the trap of ships, and the graveyard of shipwrecked sailors. The solitary flag-staff rose there out of the low island, as though to warn them away, like a signal of danger; and yet it was impossible for them to move away. Without sails, and without a compass, they were helpless; and there seemed now no prospect, except to go ashore there and meet their doom.

Tom was the first to rouse himself. “Captain,” said he, “here’s Sable Island. Come and take a good look at it, for we’re going ashore.” Captain Corbet had been so intent upon his work of patching the old sail, that he had heard and seen nothing of this excitement among the boys. These words of Tom came, therefore, suddenly and abruptly, and filled him with a terror equal to theirs. He started as though he had been shot. His needle dropped from his hands. For a few moments he sat staring at Tom; and then he rose slowly to his feet, and going over to where the boys stood, he looked out over the waters to where their eyes were directed. He stood staring for a long time in perfect silence.

“Sable Island!” he at length said, in a low voice. “Wal, boys,—I didn’t ever think—I’d ever live—to see—this here day. I’ve ben a tryin all my life, boys, to keep clar of this here island; but fate’s stronger than the hand of man,—an here we air!”

“O, see here now,” said Tom. “Come, now, captain, this here sort of thing won’t do at all, you know. There can’t be any very great danger. The wind’s gone down, you know. The sea’s ever so much smoother than it was, and it’s going to be smoother still. All sorts of vessels visit this island. The Nova Scotia government send supplies here regularly; and so I don’t see what danger there is. For my part, I think we’d all better go ashore. The more I think of it, the more convinced I am that we’ll be better off ashore on Sable Island than we are drifting about on board of the Antelope. And so I say, Hurrah, boys, for Sable Island! Let’s go ashore, and get a decent sail for this vessel, and some supplies.”

These words cheered the boys amazingly. A reaction at once took place. Tom was right. The sea was calm enough here to admit of a landing anywhere: and in the face of this fact thoughts of danger were not to be entertained.

Yet the panic which had been inspired by the very name of Sable Island may easily be explained; and, in circumstances like these, it was quite justifiable. For of all places in the world, Sable Island is, perhaps, most dreaded by seamen. It is a low sand-bank, about twenty miles long and one mile wide. This much is above water. But besides what is visible to the eye, there is much more invisible, treacherous, beneath the sea, extending all around it. Sable Island is, in fact, the crest of a vast sand-bank or shoal, which rises out of the ocean depths, about a hundred miles southeast of the coast of Nova Scotia, in the very track of the vast commerce between England and America. Though the island itself is not more than twenty miles long, the shoal extends much farther; and it has been calculated that, for a distance of fifty miles, there is danger to the ship which ventures too near. Moreover, this shoal runs in a curved line, and may be said to enclose in a segment of a dangerous circle all vessels sailing north of it, or between it and the main land. Approach to it in a storm is always dangerous; and with certain winds it is positive destruction; wherefore ships always give it a wide berth. Many are the vessels which are known to have been lost there; but many more, by far, are supposed to have perished on the outlying shoals, without leaving a vestige behind to tell of their fate.

Now, however, there was nothing like a storm. The wind, that had prevailed all day, was gone; and it only needed Tom’s cheery words to drive away from all of them the terror that for a time had taken possession of their souls. They therefore roused themselves from the silence and the gloom into which they had fallen, and began to talk over the probabilities of a landing. Each one brought forth all that he knew about Sable Island, and added it to the common stock of knowledge, until at length a very favorable idea of the place was formed. Bart knew that there was a regular overseer, or governor, or superintendent of the island, placed there by the Nova Scotia government. Bruce knew that a vessel was sent there four times a year to convey supplies, and to take away any shipwrecked people who might be there. Arthur knew that there were huts, built for the purposes of refuge, in different parts of the island. Tom was sure that a landing could be made in ordinary weather, without much trouble; and Phil was eloquent on the subject of the ponies which live and thrive on the island, constituting a peculiar breed, well known in Nova Scotia, where a batch of Sable Island ponies are brought every year, sold at auction, and dispersed through the country. The result of this interchange of ideas was, that the boys at length began to look upon Sable Island as rather a desirable place, and to feel impatient for the time to come when they might drift near enough to make a landing.

But this was a thing for which they had to wait. The Antelope was certainly drifting; yet her progress was slow, and there was no way of hastening it. For hour after hour they watched the flag-staff, and the low line of land away on the horizon, without finding themselves near enough to think of going ashore. By the shifting and changing position of the flag-staff, they knew that they were drifting past it; and yet there was no way by which they could prevent this. In the first moments of their panic, the possibility of drifting clear of Sable Island would have seemed most welcome to all of them; but now that they had formed the plan of landing there, such a prospect seemed not at all desirable; and the slow drift of the schooner, while it baffled their hopes, filled them all with impatience.

In this way the hours of the day passed away. It was about three o’clock in the afternoon when they first saw Sable Island. The hours went by, and sunset came; still they were not near enough. Night was impending, yet the weather was too calm to allow of uneasiness, and they could only hope that on the following day they might be able to make the landing which they all desired so earnestly.

Passing the night in the vicinity of such a place as Sable Island is what few would choose for any amount of money. On this occasion, most fortunately, the weather was calm. The wind had died away to a gentle breeze, and the water was quite smooth. The only motion experienced by those on board the Antelope was that long rise and fall which is always felt out at sea, owing to the never-ending undulation of the ocean waters.

The boys went below and slept. Captain Corbet, however, remained on deck, and kept his lonely vigil far into the night. The first mention of Sable Island had produced upon him a profound effect. His first words exhibited something like a panic terror, which might have communicated itself to the boys, had it not been for Tom’s cheery exhortation. From that first terror the captain had managed to extricate himself; yet still there remained, deep within his soul, the gloomiest anticipations. The night was not particularly dark. The sky was dotted with innumerable stars; yet so low was the island, and so destitute of any conspicuous landmark, that it passed out of view with the early twilight; nor was the eagle eye of the watchful Corbet able to detect any sign of the vanished land. At length he determined to guard against the danger of any further drifting, and accordingly proceeded to let fall the anchor. It was about two hours after midnight when this was done, and the rattle of the chains awaked the sleepers below, and announced that at last their long wanderings were arrested.

On the following morning they were all on deck with the dawn of day, and looking out eagerly upon the waters. The sight which met their eyes was one which could have given nothing like pleasure to any others; yet to them it was indeed pleasant, so far as it went. They saw rising out of the sea a low, sandy shore, which extended as far as the eye could reach. About opposite them rose a flag-staff, which they supposed to be the one that they had seen on the previous evening, though there was a difference of a most important character between what they saw then and now. For here they saw buildings which looked like comfortable residences, perhaps the abode of the keeper of the island. Except this house and its belongings, nothing else was visible along that sandy shore.

The Antelope had come to anchor in good time, and the shore was not quite two miles away from this place. Still, so shallow were the waters, and so treacherous the sea bottom, that it was not at all advisable to attempt to approach nearer. If they wished to land, they would have to do so in the boat. The boat floated astern, all ready, being no other than that one which they had saved from the ship Petrel. Into this they prepared to go.

For this voyage all the boys volunteered, and Captain Corbet also. Wade was to be left aboard with Solomon. Bart noticed that the venerable African was looking at the island with a pensive gaze, and thought that he saw disappointment in his face.

“Would you like to come ashore, too, Solomon?” he asked, kindly.

Solomon shook his head.

“Darsn’t,” said he. “Darsn’t, no how.”

“Pooh, nonsense! Why not? Come along,” said Bart, who thought that this was some of Solomon’s superstitious fancies which were now affecting him.

“Darsn’t,” said Solomon, again. “Couldn’t ebber leave it agin. An don you go an try to ’suade dis yer ole man, Mas’r Bart, if you don want to lose him. Tell you what—dat ar island’s too safe; an ef I foun myself dar, I wouldn’t ebber leave it.”

“Safe? What from?” asked Bart.

Solomon looked all around with the glance of one who fears pursuit and capture by some mysterious enemy.

“De ole complaint,” said he at last, with a groan.

“What, rheumatism?” asked Bart, innocently.

“No, sah,” said Solomon. “It’s Broom-atiz—an acute Broomatiz too—what I notches from de ole woman whenebber she finds a broomstick handy. It generally attacks me over de back and shoulders. An what’s wuss, dar ain’t a medicine, or a liniment, or a wash, or a poultice, dat does a mite ob good. De only cure is for me to go an hunt up some desert island in de middle ob de ocean, an habit it for do ress ob my days; an so, ef I was to go shore dar, I might hide, an nebber come back. Too great ’tractium; couldn’t resist it. Safe dar forebbermo from dat ar ole woman; safe an free; no more knocks an bruises; no more terror. O, Mas’r Bart, p’raps, after all, dis here ole man better go asho dar, an hab peace.”

“Nonsense, Solomon,” said Bart, who was astonished at learning the real cause of Solomon’s strange fancy for Sable Island. “Nonsense. Don’t get that notion into your head. Your wife ’ll never find you. You come to Grand Pr茅, and Dr. Porter will protect you.”

“Dat ar place is de berry place whar I kin nebber be safe. She’s dar now, a waitin, an a watch-in, an a waitin for me. I know it. I feel it in my ole bones. Dey allers aches when I think ob her. Ebery mile we go brings me nearer to her broom-handle; an de longer I stay away, de wuss I’m goin to cotch it. So, p’raps, Mas’r Bart, I’d better go asho on Sable Island.”

The idea seemed to have taken full possession of Solomon’s mind, and to such an extent, that Bart found all efforts to banish it utterly useless.

He therefore gave it up, and concluded, under the circumstances, that it was better for Solomon to remain on board.

The boat was now ready. The boys and Captain Corbet were calling for Bart to hurry up. Bart got on board, and they pulled away. It was a long pull; but the water was smooth, and they made good progress. At length the boat touched the shore, and they all leaped out upon the sand.


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