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Chapter 16
Waking from a sound Sleep.—The Missing Ones.—An earnest Debate.—Various Theories.—Fishing versus Sailing.—Afloat or Ashore.—Emotion of the venerable Corbet.—His solemn Declaration.—The Antelope or the Whaler.—Stick to the Antelope.—A new Arrival.—The Landlord’s View of the Case.—New Doubts and Perplexities.—“Afloat or Ashore” again.—The Landlord’s View of the Sailing Theory, and his Decision in Favor of the Fishing Hypothesis.—The Lost Ones must be camping out for the Night.

THE boys at the inn slept soundly, and did not wake until after their usual time. On going down to breakfast, they looked about for Bart and Pat. At first they thought that their two friends had already taken their breakfast, and gone out; but an incidental remark of the landlady made known to them the fact that they had not been back to the inn at all. This intelligence they received with serious faces, and looks of surprise and uneasiness.

“I wonder what can be the meaning of it,” said Bruce.

“It’s queer,” said Arthur.

“They were very mysterious about going, in the first place,” said Tom. “I don’t see what sense there was in making such a secret about it. They must have gone some distance.”

“Perhaps they didn’t think we’d be back so soon,” said Phil, “and have planned their own affair, whatever it is, to last as long as ours.”

“O, they must have known,” said Bruce, “that we’d be back to-day. Aspotogon is only a few miles. In fact we ought to have been back yesterday, in time for tea, by rights.”

“Where in the world could they have gone to?” said Arthur.

“O, fishing, of course,” said Tom.

“But they ought to have been back last night.”

“O, they’ve found some first-rate sport.”

“After all,” said Phil, “there wasn’t any actual reason for them to come back. None of us are in any hurry.”

“Yes; but they may have got into some scrape,” said Bruce. “Such a thing is not inconceivable. It strikes me that several members of this party have already got into scrapes now and then; and so I’m rather inclined to think that the turn has come round to Bart and Pat.”

“What I’m inclined to think,” said Arthur, “is, that they’ve gone off in a boat for a sail before breakfast, and have come to grief somehow.”

“Well, if they tried a sail-boat, they were pretty sure of that,” said Tom.

“Yes,” said Phil; “neither Bart nor Pat know anything more about sailing a boat than a cow does.”

“At any rate,” said Bruce, “they can’t have fallen into any very serious danger.”

“Why not?”

“There hasn’t been any wind worth speaking of.”

“Neither there has.”

“But there was some wind yesterday morning,” said Arthur. “It carried us to Aspotogon very well.”

“Pooh! Such a wind as that wouldn’t do anything. A child might have sailed a boat.”

“O, I don’t know. That wind might have caught them off some island, and capsized them.”

“I don’t believe that wind could have capsized even a paper boat,” said Phil; “but still I’m inclined to think, after all, that they’ve met with some sort of an accident in a boat.”

“I don’t believe it,” said Tom. “They couldn’t meet with any kind of accident. My opinion is, that they went off fishing, kept at it all day, got too far away to think of coming back last night, and so very naturally put up at some farm-house, where they have by this time eaten a good, rattling breakfast, and are on their way back, walking like the very mischief.”

“The most natural thing in the world too,” said Bruce. “I quite agree with Tom. It’s just what any other two of us fellows would have done. In the first place, they backed out of the Aspotogon expedition very quietly, so as not to make a fuss, then they went off’, and, as Tom says, got too far to come back; though whether they’ve had such a tremendous adventure as ours at Deep Cove with the shark is a matter that has yet to be decided.” This first allusion to the shark was received by all the party with a solemn smile.

“Well,” said Arthur, “I believe they’ve taken to a boat. Perhaps they’ve gone cruising about.”

“But they couldn’t have been capsized.”

“No.”

“Then how do you account for their absence?”

“Easily enough,” said Phil. “I believe they’ve gone visiting some of the islands, and somehow they’ve lost their sail, or their oars, or else they’ve been careless about fastening the boat, and she’s drifted away. And so I dare say that at this very moment they are on some desert island in this bay, within a mile or so of this town, looking out for help; but if they are, they must be pretty hungry by this time, for it isn’t every island that can furnish such a bill of fare as Ile Haute gave to Tom.”

“A perfectly natural explanation,” said Arthur.

“Those two fellows are both so abominably careless, that, if they did go ashore on any island, they’d be almost certain to leave the boat loose on the beach, to float away wherever it liked. I believe, as Phil says, that they’re on some island not far away.”

“I don’t,” said Bruce. “I believe that they went fishing.”

“Well, what are we to do about it? Oughtn’t we to hunt them up?” said Phil.

“I don’t see the use,” said Tom. “They’ll be along by dinner time.”

“Well, for my part,” said Arthur, “I can’t sit here and leave them to their fate. I believe they are in a fix, and consequently I intend to go off to hunt them up.”

“So will I,” said Phil.

“Well, of course, if you go, I’ll go too,” said Bruce.

“So will I,” said Tom; “though I don’t believe there’s the slightest necessity. Bart and Pat’ll turn up somewhere about noon, and find us gone. They’ll then go off in search of us. Well, it’ll amount to the same thing in the end, and so, perhaps, it’s the best way there can be of filling up the time.”

“I wonder if the Antelope’s got back,” said Bruce.

“I don’t know.”

“Suppose we go down and talk it over with Captain Corbet.”

“All right.”

With these words the boys rose from the breakfast table, and went down to the wharf. As they approached they saw the Antelope lying there at her former berth; for she had arrived about an hour before, and had come here.

“Wal, boys,” said he, as he saw them, “here we air once more, jined together as before; though whether you did well in a desertin of the ship in mid-ocean is a pint that I don’t intend to decide. You might as well have turned into your old quarters aboard, an slep calm an comfortable, instead of rowin six or eight mile by night. However, you don’t none o’ you look any the wuss for it, an so we’ll let bygones be bygones. Ony I’m pleased, likewise relieved, to see you here, instead of havin to larn that you’re among the missin, an probably roamin the seas in a open boat. An where, may I ask, air Bart and Pat?”

The answer to this question plunged the good Corbet from the comfort in which he had settled himself, down into the depths of anxiety and worriment.

“What! Not back yit?” he said. “You don’t say so. Is this railly so?”

“Yes.”

“What! all yesterday, an all last night?”

“Yes.”

“An no word of partin—and no directions as to where they went, an when they’d return?”

“Not a word.”

“An nobody seen them go?”

“No.”

“An nobody’s seen anythin of them at all?”

“No, nothing.”

“An you don’t even know whether they’re in danger or safety?”

“No.”

“Nor even whether they’re on land or water?”

“No.”

Captain Corbet shook his head slowly and sadly, and turned away with the profoundest dejection and melancholy depicted upon his venerable yet expressive features.

“Tom and I think they’ve gone off fishing,” continued Bruce, who had told the tale of woe; “but Arthur and Phil are afraid that they’ve gone off in a boat, and have met with some accident. They’re determined to go off to hunt them up, and we’ve concluded to go too, as we don’t care about staying behind doing nothing; though, at the same time, we don’t believe they’ve come to any harm, and we think they’ll be coming after us. We thought we’d let you know; and perhaps we’d better put off in the Antelope, unless you think a small boat would be better.”

“O, yes,” said Arthur, “let’s go in a small boat. The Antelope won’t do. There’ll be another calm, and we’ll have to stand still and do nothing.”

“We could get one of these whalers,” said Phil, pointing to a number of boats at the wharf.

These boats were sharp at each end, and were therefore called “whalers” on account of their shape, and not because they were ever used, or ever intended to be used, against whales. They were large and capacious, and well ballasted; while, at the same time, they were not too large to be rowed, in case of calms or head winds.

“O, bother the whalers,” said Tom’; “let’s stick to the Antelope, whatever we do. Whenever we leave the Antelope, we’re sure to come to grief. Besides, I don’t like to have to stuff myself into a little open boat. I like to move about, and walk up and down, and change my position.”

“So do I, for that matter,” said Phil; “but then, you know, we may be caught in a calm, as we were last night.”

“O, there’s lots of wind now.”

“But it mightn’t last.”

“Then, if it don’t, we can take to the boat.”

“What, our little row-boat?”

“Yes; why not?”

“Why, we can’t go any distance in her; she’s too small.”

“O, let’s get a whaler,” said Arthur, “and then we’ll be ready for wind or calm.”

“Well,” said Bruce, “if I thought that Bart and Pat were really out anywhere in the bay, I’d say, take a whaler; but as I consider this expedition a wild-goose chase, I go in for comfort, and vote for the Antelope.”

“Well, we won’t do anything; that’s all; and if they are in danger, we’ll be sorry for it.”

“O, I’ll run the risk.”

“We’re a tie,” said Phil. “Let’s give Captain Corbet the casting vote. Come, captain, what do you say about it? Do you think they’re on land or water? and do you advise a whaler or the Antelope?”

“Me?” said Captain Corbet, mournfully. “Me? Wal, for my part, I’ve come to believe the wrust. I believe them two air at this moment on some lone rock of the deep, gazin in despair upon the waste of water, and lookin wildly in all directions for help. And so it ever hath been, and ever shall be. Amen. For my part, I’m free to say, that I never see, nor never hear tell of, nor never even dreamt of the likes of you. If you get out of my sight for one moment, you’re sure to be engaged in reskin your lives about nothin. An I’ll give up. If Providence restores them two, I hereby declar solemn, that it’s my fixed intention to start right straight off for hum; never to stop at one single place, nor even to go near any land, till I touch the wharf at Grand Pr茅. What this here’s goin to end in beats me; and this last business doos beat my grandmother. As for you, I advise you to stick to the Antelope, and sail under the old flag. Them’s my sentiments.”

This advice of Captain Corbet was accepted as his decision, and so it was resolved to set off in the Antelope, and cruise round the bay. Such a search was, of course, not very promising; but Arthur and Phil had a vague idea that in the course of the cruise they would see the two missing ones making signals of distress from some lonely island, and that thus they might be rescued. As for Captain Corbet, he still remained melancholy, though not at all despairing; for though he insisted that the boys were in some danger, he yet believed that they would be rescued from it.

In the midst of this conversation, they were interrupted by the appearance of the landlord. He had just returned from that journey up the country, which had prevented him from accompanying them to Aspotogon on the previous day. He had learned at the inn the state of affairs, and had at once come down to the wharf. The boys, on the other hand, knowing that he had been up the country, thought it possible that he might have seen or heard something of their missing friends; and therefore, no sooner had he made his appearance, than they all hurried to meet him, and poured upon him a whole torrent of questions.

The landlord’s answer was a complete defeat of all their hopes. He had seen nothing of Bart and Pat, and had heard nothing of them. He had known nothing of their departure, and nothing of their absence, until a few moments before, on his arrival home. He himself had to question them to find out the facts of the case.

Of the facts of the case, however, they themselves were, unfortunately, quite ignorant. They had nothing to communicate but fancies, conjectures, and speculations, more or less plausible, such as they had just been discussing. To these the landlord listened with the profoundest attention and the deepest gravity, and then considered them all in succession.

“I can’t say,” said he, at length, “that I see any danger for them in any way. Praps they’ve gone in a boat, an praps they’ve gone fishing. If they’ve gone in a boat, why, there hasn’t been wind enough to capsize a walnut-shell. An as to getting on an island, I don’t see how their boat could drift away, unless they made it go, and actually shoved it off on purpose. You must remember that this bay ain’t like the Bay of Fundy. There ain’t any tides or currents here worth mentioning. The tide only rises and falls six or seven feet, and the currents are so trifling that they ain’t worth considering. If these boys have got on an island and been left there, it’s a puzzle to me how on earth they managed it. Then, again, there are boats and schooners passing backward and forward almost all the time, and if they had got ashore anywhere, they’d have been got off by this time. So it’s my opinion that they haven’t gone off in a boat, but that they’ve gone fishing. If they’ve gone fishing, it’s the most likely thing in the world for them to go off a good bit, and not be able to get back the same day. The only trouble about this is,—that they wouldn’t be likely to go away on foot; and if they got a wagon, they’d be most likely to take it from the hotel; but that’s just what they haven’t done. So there’s a fresh puzzle on top of the others.”

“O, I think they’d be just as likely to walk as not.”

“Well, then, there’s another puzzle. Where could they go? They never made any inquiries. We had a long talk the night before last, but not a word was said about fishing. If they’d been intending to go fishing, they’d have asked; wouldn’t they? Of course they would. That stands to reason.”

“O, I dare say they got up early, and a sudden notion took them, and they started off without having any particular place in view.”

“Well, that’s not unlikely,” said the landlord; “and if they did, why, all I’ve got to say is, they’d have a precious long walk of it, for there isn’t any really decent fishing within less than nine or ten miles; and so, if they walked that, and then went up stream, why, by the time they’d finished, they’d have walked ten miles more; and so, all together, they’d make a precious good day’s work of it,—work enough, in fact, to make them rather indifferent about hurrying back here—especially when they’d have to do it on foot.”

“I suppose they’d find houses to stop at.”

“O, yes, there are houses enough; but it depends on what direction they went. In some places, they’d have to camp out for the night.”

“Well, they understand that well enough,” said Tom. “Bart and Pat can put up as neat a camp as any two fellows going.”


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