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Chapter 17
A new Arrival.—The “longshore Man”.—A strange and startling Tale.—Fears once more awakened.—The Stranger’s superstitious Dread.—The Boat found, but the Boys gone.—The Landlord’s Statement.—Fears confirmed and increased.—Off to the Rescue.—Oak Island.—The empty Boat.—Where are the Boys?—The flooded Pits.—No Signs of the Missing Ones.—The grisly Theory of Roach.—Kidd and his Gang.

THE remarks of the landlord served to weaken the belief of Arthur and Phil in their theory of the boat, and they began to doubt the expediency of setting off in the Antelope. The easy way also in which the landlord met the difficulties of the case, and accounted for everything, had a very great effect in diminishing, if not in destroying, the anxiety which they had begun to feel. They had nothing to offer in reply, and they naturally gave up their proposal. They began to think that the absentees might make their appearance at any moment, and that under the circumstances it would be very unwise to start off on a long, uncertain, and unprofitable cruise in the Antelope. And thus it was that the whole party came to the conclusion to remain where they were, and wait for Bart and Pat.

With this intention they all went back to the inn. On arriving there, they found a man who had just come to the house, and was waiting to find the landlord. He looked like one of those half farmers, half fishers, who live about Mahone Bay; and the boys would not have paid any attention to him, had they not been startled by his first words.

“It’s about a couple o’ lads,” said he, “jest like them there. I’m afraid there’s somethin gone wrong with ‘em.”

At the mention of “a couple o’ lads jest like them there,” all the boys started, and gathered round the stranger with eager and anxious curiosity.

“Ye see,” continued the man, “it was yesterday morn’n,—an them two come a knockin at my door about sunrise, or not much arter, and asked the way to Oak Island.”

“Oak Island!” repeated the landlord, in a strange voice. The other boys noticed his tone, but as they knew nothing whatever of the character of Oak Island, they were of course unable to understand the cause of it, or the meaning of those words.

“It seems they was a huntin up the way there,” continued the man. “They had a boat with them.”

“A boat?” said the landlord; “a sail-boat, or row-boat?”

“A sail-boat,” said the man. “They were strangers—that was evident: and they wanted to find Oak Island. Wal, I showed them the island, for it can be seen plain enough from my door. My name’s Roach, an I live on the shore up there. So we had some talk about the treasure, an they asked me if I believed. An I says, ‘Yes, I do.’ For at first they thought I didn’t believe. But I did, an I do. And I says to them, says I, ‘Flesh an blood won’t never lay hands on that thar treasure till there’s a sacrifice of human life took place.’ That’s what I says, in so many words. Wal, some more words followed, an then them two went on an steered to the island.

“Wal, I don’t know how it was, but I kep a thinkin about them two all day long. At last I fell a wonderin why they didn’t come back. There wasn’t no sign of any boat a comin back from that island. They was on it, I knowed; an why they staid on it I couldn’t make out. It began to bother me. An all the time I couldn’t help thinkin of what I told em, an the words kep a ringin in my ears as to how that there’s got to be a sacrifice of human life before the treasure’s riz out of the hole whar the pirates buried it. An I couldn’t get them words out o’ my head. An what’s more, I got a thinkin that them two lads was kine o’ connected with them words,—jest as if it was a sort o’ prophecy like, that I’d gone an spoke,—not knowin, an not intendin it, you know, but givin a prophecy all the same,—as is gen’rally the case, you know; for often it happens that them that prophesies hain’t got no intention of so doin, an hain’t got no reel idee of the meanin of what they’re sayin. An that was jest the case with me, an it was only afterwards that these thoughts come.

“Wal, all day long I was in this state, an felt dreadful anxious, an more an more so as the day went by. It was yesterday. An I see no signs of that thar boat a comin back. An when evenin come I begun to feel pooty skeart, an I’d a gone off then but darsn’t, for fear of the ghosts of them old pirates that prowl around on the island arter dark. I didn’t close my eyes all last night, or sleep a wink, for thinkin o’ them two lads. It seemed to me that I’d been kine o’ to blame—though whar the blame was, no one can say, for I was as innocent of blame as a babe unborn. But so it was, an I couldn’t sleep. Wal, this morn’n I was up before dawn, an into my boat, an off for the island. I got thar about sunrise.

“Wal, I landed thar, on Oak Island, an the fust thing I see was that thar identical boat that the boys had—the very one. I couldn’t mistake it; an it lay hauled up on the beach, an tied thar. But thar wasn’t any sign of any boys anywhars. I called, an shouted, but no answer come. Wal, then I walked up some distance, an looked all around everywhars. ’Tain’t much of an island in size; so I soon walked all round it; but I didn’t see nothin of them thar lads. I looked at one or two of them pits that’s ben dug thar, but didn’t see anythin but water. I kep a screamin an a shoutin all the time, but thar wasn’t any answer at all. Thar was the boat on the beach,—but whar was the boys? I couldn’t see em, I couldn’t find em; and though I called for em, they didn’t answer.

“Wal, I went back to the beach, an then I stood an tried to think what I’d best do. Somethin had happened. I knowed that the best thing to do was to make haste an try to let the friends of them lads know how things was. I knowed that they was strangers in these parts, an that they’d come from Chester. I thought I’d find out about em here at the inn, an that the best an quickest way would be to come right straight off to this place, an see if I couldn’t larn somethin about em, or find some friends o’ thairs that’d come with me back again, an find out, for sure an sartin, what it was that had happened. An what troubled me most all the time, and troubles me now, is them very words that I said to em as to how that it was necessary that thar must be a sacrifice of human life. For I’m kine o’ feared that it’s turned out true, an that them’s the very ones that was destined to be that sacrifice. They’ve got into some trouble, I know—but how it was I don’t know, an whether it was in the day time, or at night. This is what I want to find out.”

“What did the boys look like?” asked the landlord, as the man ceased.

“Wal, jest sech lookin lads as these—not overly well dressed, in fact a leetle mite shabby; but one of them was a gentleman’s son,—no doubt o’ that; an the other was a bright-lookin lad enough.”

“It’s Bart and Pat. There’s no doubt of that,” said Bruce.

“And what sort of a boat was it?”

“O, an ordinary Chester boat, with a sail, as I said.”

“Is the boat on the beach of Oak Island yet?”

“Course it is. I left it where it was. But air them thar boys a stoppin here? Do you know them?”

“Yes,” said the landlord, in a husky voice; and he stood in silence for a few moments, with his eyes cast down.

Upon the boys this information had produced an effect which was at once distressing and puzzling. It was distressing, from the fact that this stranger more than hinted at some possible evil befalling their two companions; and his gloomy allusions to his prophecy about the “sacrifice of human life,” together with the expression of his own anxiety, produced a corresponding effect upon all of them. But it was also puzzling, for they could not imagine what there was on this Oak Island to attract Bart and Pat; or, if there was any attraction in it, how Bart and Pat had found it out. Various expressions made use of, however, such as his allusions to “pirates” and “treasure,” served to make them suspect that this Oak Island might be the very place, in search of which they had come to Chester, the place indicated by the story of the governor of Sable Island; that somehow Bart and Pat had made this discovery, and had remained behind, while they went to Aspotogon for the express purpose of finding out the place for themselves.

In this suspicion they were right, and it was confirmed by the landlord.

“I see it,” he exclaimed, suddenly. “I have it.”

“What?” asked Bruce.

“Why, I know now why they didn’t go with you.”

“Why?”

“Why, because they wanted to go to Oak Island.”

“Oak Island? But what is there in Oak Island?”

“Enough to attract any one. I told them about it the evening of the day you came—all about the pirates, and how Kidd buried his treasure there, and how it was found out, and the different attempts made to raise it. It’s too long a story now. You can hear it some other time. But I told it to them, and they’ve gone wild with excitement to visit the island themselves. That’s it. Yes, that’s it. But I didn’t think-they’d clear out this way. What made them do it? They made a great secret of it. What was the use of that? And now what in the world has become of them?”

“They went to that thar island,” said Roach, “an they’ve never left it.”

“Are you sure you went all over it?”

“Sure? Of course.”

“And the boat was on the beach?”

“Yes; an it’s thar yet. An if them lads belong to this here party, then my advice is, you’d better hurry off an find out what’s become o’ them. I’m dreadful anxious still, an want to know the wust. An I’m afeard that if we find out anything, it’ll be the very wust.”

To this disheartening remark there was no reply made. The boys all felt the same. Arthur and Phil, who had at first felt anxious about the absentees, now felt a worse anxiety; while Bruco and Tom, who had explained away their absence, now knew not what to say or to think. Although the evident superstition of the man Roach lessened somewhat the value of his testimony, still they could not conceal from themselves the fact, that there were grave reasons for alarm,—such as the boat on the shore, and the failure of his cries to reach the ears of the boys. Where could they be, that in a circuit of the island, this visitor had not been able to see them, or to make his cries heard? What could have happened to them? What sort of dangers could have presented themselves? The dangers which had been suggested by the superstitious fancy of Roach had no terrors in their eyes, and no weight in their minds,—at least in broad day. But there might be other dangers, of a material kind, of which they knew nothing. What did he mean by those “pits” full of water? What pits? They could not guess at this, for they had not heard the landlord’s story, and Oak Island was all an unknown ground to them.

Such, then, were the questions and the fears which were started by the anxiety of the boys; and the more they thought over these things, the more that anxiety increased.

But one thing, of course, now remained to be done, and that was, to hasten, as fast as possible, to the place where Bart and Pat had gone, and search for themselves after their lost companions. The landlord at once began his preparations. The Antelope was not to be thought of. By taking her, time would be lost; for it was necessary to start from the back bay, which was very much nearer to Oak Island. Roach had landed on that side, and his boat, a roomy whaler, was at their disposal. They therefore at once decided to embark in her, and go by that way in search of the lost ones.

They set forth at once, the landlord accompanying them. It was not thought necessary to send word to Captain Corbet, as he would not be able to do anything, and might only embarrass their movements by an untimely fussiness, or by an anxious determination to accompany them in Roach’s boat. A walk of a few minutes brought them to the back bay, where the boat was lying. It was soon afloat, and the party embarked. Then the sail was hoisted, and as the wind was fair and fresh, they moved rapidly through the water, heading for Oak Island. On the way the landlord informed them that he had told to Bart and Pat the story of Oak Island, and gave them a kind of summary of the same story. From this the boys were able to understand why it was that their absent companions had not accompanied them, though they were still at a loss to know why it was that they had made such a secret of their plan, and what their purpose had been in thus setting out by themselves. They could only conclude that Bart and Pat wished to have the whole glory of making some discovery by themselves, with which they should astonish their companions; and if there was any hope left in their minds, it was that they had purposely secreted themselves from Roach, so as not to be disturbed in their investigations. And this hope, though it was a faint one, served to sustain them to some extent.

In a short time they reached Oak Island, where they landed at the very place which had been chosen by Bart and Pat for their landing. Here the first thing that they noticed was the boat which their friends had brought, and which lay as they had left it. It was with melancholy forebodings that they looked upon it, wondering what had been the fate of those who had brought it here. But there was no time to waste in useless regrets or idle fears. There was a very serious business before them—the search after their lost companions.

They went up from the beach upon the island just as Pat and Bart had gone, and noticed the same things. They came to the mound of bluish clay, and saw the pit close by filled with water. They examined this narrowly, as though they feared to find their friends here. Then they went on further. Another mound, marking the presence of another pit. They now began to understand the full meaning of these “pits” to which Roach had alluded. It was with a feeling of great relief that they saw no signs here of their lost friends. From this they went on farther to a third pit.

“I can’t imagine,” said the landlord, “how any harm could have happened. Two sensible boys like these couldn’t have fallen into any trouble here. They wouldn’t feel inclined to jump into a flooded pit and drown themselves. As to this pit, it is dry; and I don’t think they would go down into it. Why should they? They wouldn’t jump down, for they were not yet quite tired of life, and there’s nothing here to show that they lowered themselves down.”

Each solemnly shook his head.

“’Tain’t that,” said he; “’tain’t that. It’s the sperits—the ghosts of the old pirates, that allers haunts this island. No man dare live on it, except when they come in companies. One or two, men or boys, air at their mussy. ’Tain’t no or’nary uthly dume that’s come over them thar lads. It’s Kidd an his gang that’s ben an done for them.”


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