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Chapter 5
Land again.—A Line of Coast.—How to navigate.—Plans for finding the Island of Treasure.—The Bays.—The populous Island.—The old Man and his Ox Cart.—Ironbound.—Tancook.—The cautious Questions of Bruce.— An obtuse old Man.—A Confidence from Solomon.—A useless Search.—A Change of Policy.—How to find the Island.

THE wind continued fair, and during the following night the Antelope kept on her course. On the following day, by noon, they came within sight of land, and the distant coastline running along the horizon showed them now what course they should take. Captain Corbet now headed her a few points farther to the west.

“I’m all right now,” said he. “Jest you let me see the Nova Scotia coast, and I’ll foller it. Here we go now, an our motter air, On’ard an up’ard.”

“Downward, rather than upward, is my motto,” said Bart; “for I’m bound to get to the bottom of the treasure of the buccaneers. At any rate we ought to find out the truth about it; for the saying is, that truth lies at the bottom of a well, and a money-hole isn’t very far different.”

“Do you think you can manage to find Mahone Bay, captain?” asked Bruce, with a very natural doubt about Captain Corbet’s capacity to find his way to a strange place.

“Wal,” said he,“’pears to me easy enough, with this here coast-line to guide us. You see all we’ve got to do is, to keep on along this here coast till we come to Halifax harbor. Wal, we don’t go in thar, but keep straighten. Wal, the next place is Margaret’s Bay. That’s easy enough; and then the next place is Mahone Bay. So you see it’s so plain that a child might guide his tender canoe in safety to such a place as that.”

“O, I dare say we’ll work our way sooner or later to Mahone Bay,” said Phil; “but what we are to do after we get there is a thing which, I confess, puzzles me a little.”

“O, we’ll hunt about for the island,” said Bart. “Hunt about?” said Phil. “But how can we find it? Shall we ask people?”

“O, no,” said Bruce; “that would never do. It wouldn’t do at all to let a single soul know what we are after. They’d all follow us, and interfere with us. No; we’ve got to be very cautious.”

“That’s a fact,” said Tom; “we must keep dark.”

“O, I dare say,” said Phil; “but how can we find the island?”

“O, we’ll hunt it up,” said Bart.

“But how can we tell it from Adam, or from any other island?”

“Sure an that’s aisy enough,” said Pat. “We’re lookin for an island that’s got a hole inside of it; an if there’s a hole, sure we’ll know it by the heap it makes.”

“At any rate,” said Arthur, “we can look about, and if we can’t find any marks to guide us, why, then we can make inquiries among the people.”

With such vague plans as these, then, the boys looked forward to Mahone Bay, feeling that it was necessary to keep their purpose a profound secret, and yet not knowing how to find the island. They were unwilling to betray their errand by asking questions, and yet without asking how could they hope to learn anything? This was a difficulty which they all felt, and in the presence of it they could only conclude to be guided by circumstances.

A few days passed and the Antelope reached the entrance to Halifax harbor, which the bold captain recognized, not by any knowledge of his own, for he had never been here before; not by any chart or observation, for he did not own the former, and had not made the latter; but simply from seeing a steamer go up into the land towards a place where the sky was black with the smoke of bituminous coal. When he saw that, he said, “This is Halifax;” and, saying this, he felt secure of his position, and kept the vessel on due west.

It was morning when they passed Halifax. By noon they passed a broad bay, which they decided to be Margaret’s Bay. By evening they had reached another broad bay. At its mouth, and well out in the ocean, lay an island, with black and rocky sides, and wooded top. On sailing inside of this, they noticed that it was inhabited, and from this point of view showed houses and farms. A few miles farther on was another island, which was cultivated from one end to the other, and appeared to be thickly populated. Farther on there appeared other islands, and wooded shores, and cultivated fields, and high hills.

This, they felt sure, was their destination—Ma-hone Bay. The Antelope passed inside of the second island, and here dropped anchor.

It was yet more than an hour before sundown, and the boys went ashore upon the island nearest to make inquiries, not about the plunder of the Spanish Main, but merely of a general nature. The island was thickly inhabited, and on walking a short distance from the beach where they had left their boat, they found a road which seemed well travelled, and appeared to run from one end of the island to the other. In a little while an old man came along on an ox-cart, who bowed with a good-natured smile, and remarked that it was a fine evening. To this they assented.

“What’s the name of this island?” asked Bruce.

Upon being thus questioned, the old man stopped his oxen, and, looking around upon the young faces before him, he said,—


“What’s the name of this island?”

“Tancook,” said the old man.

“Tancook?” repeated Bruce; “and what’s the name of that other one?”—pointing to the outer island, which they had first encountered.

“That thar?” said the old man, looking where Bruce pointed,—“that thar? Why, we call that thar island by the name of Ironbound.”

It was a fine name, a sonorous and at the same time an appropriate name, and deeply impressed the boys.

“Fine farming country this,” said Bruce, once more plunging into the conversation.

“Wal, pooty so so,” said the old man. “We ain’t got no reason to complain; though, what with diphthery, an sich, it’s mighty hard on children.”

“A good many people here, apparently,” continued Bruce, in a lively key.

“Wal, pooty tol’ble,” said the old man; “’bout a hundred families on this here.”

“Farmers or fishermen?” asked Bruce.

“Wal, a leetle of the one, an a leetle of the tother.”

“You’ve got a church here too,” continued Bruce.

“Yas—a meetin-house.”

“What persuasion is that meeting-house?” asked Bruce, in an anxious tone of voice, as though the fortunes of the whole party depended on the answer.

“Wal, mostly Baptist,” said the old man, “though not all. Were kine o’ cut off, an live mostly to ourselves. But Tancook ain’t sich a bad place, arter all, and we manage to grub along.”

“It’s a fine bay around here,” said Bruce, with a grand, patronizing sweep of his right arm, which seemed meant to include all creation.

“Yas,” said the old man; “there ain’t nothin like it nowhar. We’ve got three hundred and sixty-five islands, of all shapes an sizes, in this here bay—one for every day in the year. This here’s the biggest, an the smallest isn’t more than a yard long. Yas, it’s a fine bay, an a great harbor.”

“Three hundred and sixty-five islands!” exclaimed Bruce, in a tone of surprise. “Is it possible? And one for every day in the year! How extraordinary! But is there really that exact number, or is it only fancy?”

“Really an truly,” said the old man, with whom this was evidently the deepest conviction of his mind. “O, yas, thar’s no mistake or doubt about it. They’ve all been counted, over an over; yas, over an over—over an over.”

“It’s very strange,” said Bruce. “It’s most extraordinary; and now I dare say,” he continued, in an insinuating way, “I dare say that, among so many islands, some of them are well worth a visit. This island of yours is a perfect wonder—so fertile, so beautiful! Are there any others that are like this?”

“Wal, not to say jest like this; but they’re fine islands, many of them, an curous, too. Thar’s some that’s only islands at high tide, bein connected with the main land by narrer beaches an shoals at low tide: an then, agin, thar’s others that’s only islands at low’ tide, bein completely kivered up by the water at high tide; and so it goes; an some’s cleared an inhabited, like this; an some’s wild, an kivered with woods; an some has only one family on it; an some’s cultivated, but has no one livin on them; an so we’ve got all sorts, you see, an they’re all well wuth visitin. Thar’s Dead Man’s Island, an Quaker Island, an Oak Island, an Maple Island, an Ironbound;” and the old man went on to enumerate dozens of names in addition to these, out of which no individual one made any impression on the minds of his hearers.

Thus far Bruce had been questioning the old man chiefly with the hope that he might drop some remark which might be of use to them in their search after the treasure island. But no such remark was forthcoming, and the string of names which was enumerated conveyed no information whatever. So Bruce made one more effort, and ventured to come a little more to the point.

“This bay,” said he, “has been a great place for buccaneers—so I’ve heard. Do you know anything about them? Can you tell me of any island in particular that people talk of as being visited by them? There’s one, I think, that the buccaneers used to visit. Perhaps you’ve heard about them, and can tell us the name of the island, and where it is.”

Now, this was pretty direct; indeed, all the other boys thought that it was altogether too direct, especially since they had all concluded that it was best not to ask any questions, except those of a general character. Bart and Tom both nudged Bruce very violently, to rebuke his rashness; but their nudges had no effect.

The old man stared, then frowned, then looked blank, and then frowned again. Then he looked at Bruce, and said, in an uncertain, hesitating way,—

“Bucker nears?”

“Yes,” said Bruce. “Buccaneers. They used to come here, you know. Lots of them.”

The old man wragged his old head up and down several times.

“O, yas; I dar say. Buccar nears—an lots of other fish, that’s left us. They used to come here in shoals—likewise mackerel; but them days is over. Sometimes shad an her’n comes here now; but things ain’t as they used to be, an it’s gittin harder an harder every year for us fishermen. It’s as much as a man can do, with farmin and fishin together, to find bread an butter for himself an his children. As to them—buck—buck—buck—fish, I don’t know. I don’t mind ever hearin of them, leastways not under that thar name. P’raps they’re a kine’ o’ mackerel; an I only wish they’d come now, as they used to when I was young.”

At this extraordinary misapprehension of his meaning, Bruce stared, and seemed, for a moment, about to explain himself; but the other boys checked him, and the old man himself seemed to become suddenly lost in his remembrances of those days of youth, which might never be equalled now.

“Won’t you jump in, an take a ride?” said he, at length. “Air you goin my way? Ef so, you may as well git a lift as not.”

The boys thanked him, and excused themselves. They were not going his way, but in another direction. A few more words passed, and at length the old man bade them good by, whistled up his oxen, and moved forward. As for the boys, they did not feel inclined to pursue their investigations any further just then.

“The next time we ask,” said Tom, “we’ll have to talk about Captain Kidd, plump and plain, and then perhaps they’ll understand.”

“Well,” said Bart, “I don’t see what use there is in proclaiming to the whole world our business. We’d better cruise about for a while, and examine for ourselves.”

“O, well,” said Bruce, “there’s nothing like dropping a quiet hint, interrogatively. It may bear fruit in the shape of useful information.”

“Like the old man’s information about the buccaneer mackerel,” said Tom, with a laugh.

Bruce deigned no reply. They waited here a little longer, and, after strolling about some distance farther, they went back to the boat, and returned to the Antelope.

That evening Solomon addressed himself to Bart, secretly and in confidence, as the latter happened to be sitting on the windlass, trying to concoct some plan by which they might find the mysterious island that contained the buried treasure of the buccaneers,—the wonderful, the stupendous, the incalculable plunder of the Spanish Main. To him, thus meditating, cogitating, and reflecting, the aged Solomon thus addressed himself:—

“What’s all dis yar new ’posal, Mas’r Bart, ’bout buried treasures, an tings? ’Pears to me youn all goin mad, an rushin head fo’most into de jaws ob ’structium. Better look out, I say. Dars no knowin whar dis yar’s goin to end. Dem dar pirates’ ghosts keep alius a flyin an a flittin roun de place whar dey bury de treasure, and it ‘ll take more’n you boys to tar dat ar plunder out of deir keepin. Dis yar scursion ’bout dis yar bay ain’t goin to end in no good. Dar ain’t a succumstance dat kin favor you; eberyting’s clean agin you; an if you fine’ de hole whar de treasure’s buried, it’ll only bring roonatium an ’structium.”

“Solomon,” said Bart, “my aged, venerable, and revered friend, I am deeply pained at this exhibition of superstition in one who ought to have a soul above ghosts. A man like you, Solomon, who has real evils to suffer, who is afflicted by such real calamities as rheumatism, and what you call ‘broomatism,’ ought to have a soul above ghosts. Isn’t it enough for you to live in perpetual terror about the reappearance of that Gorgon who calls you husband, and beats you over the head with a poker, that you must take the trouble to get up a new set of afflictions, and trot out your superstitious fancies.”

“Mas’r Bart,” said Solomon, earnestly, “look heah; dis yar ain’t no common ’currence. Dar’s death an roonatium afore us all. You’re goin to ’sturb de ’pose ob de dead—an de worst sort ob dead. Dem’s de sort dat won’t stand no nonsense. I’ve had ’nough ob money-holes, an diggin in em, for my time. De ghost ob a dead pirate ain’t to be laughed at. Dey’ll hab vengeance—sure’s you’re born. Dar’s no sort ob use in temptin fate. Sure’s you go down into dat ar money-hole, so sure you hab down on your shoulders de ghosts ob all de pirates dat eber was hung, an dem dat was unhung, too. So, Mas’r Bart, don’t you go foolin round here dis yar way. I’se a ole man, Mas’r Bart, an I’se seen much ob de world, an I ’vise you to clar out, an not temp de ghosts ob de pirates in dis yar fashium.”

Solomon’s warning was sincere, and was spoken with the utmost earnestness; but Bart was quite inaccessible to sincerity and earnestness. He laughed at Solomon’s fears, reminded him of his foolish behavior on former occasions, brought to his memory the time when he had fled from the braying of an ass, and the other occasion when he had fled from the hoot of an owl. But, though Solomon could not help owning that he had acted on those occasions with shameful cowardice and folly, yet the consciousness of this could not lessen in the slightest degree the superstitious terrors that now filled his breast; and so, as Bart found him incorrigible, he had to give up the effort to calm his mind.

That night all on board slept more soundly than they had for weeks. The Antelope was anchored in smooth water, in a secure and sheltered harbor, near a friendly land, and no care whatever was in the minds of the boys, or of the captain. Such perfect freedom from anxiety had not been their lot for a long time; and in proportion to this peace of mind was the profoundness of their sleep.

On the following day they cruised all about the bay, keeping ever on the lookout for the Island of the Buccaneers. But they soon found that the search was hopeless under the conditions which they had imposed upon themselves. To seek for what is unknown, and not ask for directions, is surely one of the most impracticable of tasks. The experience which they had thus far had was enough, and they found themselves compelled either to give up the search altogether, or else to break through the secrecy which they had imposed upon themselves.


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