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Chapter 20
Once more upon the Waters.—Terrible Discovery.—A Foot of Water in the Hold.—To the Pumps.—A desperate Struggle.—The Evening Meal.—Captain Corbet gazes on Vacancy.—A laborious Night—New Toils.—Exhaustion.— Fighting with the rising Waters.—Discouragement.—The Leak gains on them.—The End approaching.

BUT though the Antelope was once more in deep water, their troubles were not yet over, for others soon arose almost as grave as the one from which they had just escaped. First of all, the uncertainty of Captain Corbet as to his position had evidently returned. He had that expression of concern, bewilderment, and confusion which shows a puzzled mind. He said nothing, but, after about a quarter of an hour’s run, brought the Antelope about, and went on another tack. And now the wind, which all day had been rather fresh, began to lessen more and more, until after about a couple of hours it had almost died away.

All this time Solomon had been on deck. He had come up when the Antelope struck, and had worked away with the rest in their efforts in getting her off. Afterwards he had remained, out of a natural feeling of curiosity, to see whether any more rocks or sand-banks were to be encountered. This danger, however, now seemed to have passed away, and Solomon became mindful of the duties of a cook. He therefore went below to prepare the evening’s repast.

Scarcely had he done so, than he bounded up again out of the hold upon deck. His eyes were staring, his jaw dropped, and if his black face could have shown anything like pallor, it would have done so at that moment.

“Da-da-da-dars—a—leak. Da-da-dars a foot of water down below!” he gasped.


At this astounding and alarming intelligence the boys rushed down into the hold. Solomon’s information was right. Over the floor there was as much as six inches of water, and everything that lay there was saturated.

At once the whole truth flashed upon them. The Antelope had rolled and twisted herself on the sand-bank so much, that her timbers and planks had been opened, and a dangerous leak had been established. It was not a broken place, or a hole that could be stopped up, but evidently some general leakage arising from the strain to which she had been subjected.

This served, in the opinion of all, to fill up the measure of their troubles. Bad enough it was to be enclosed in the fog; bad enough to be without any knowledge of their situation; bad enough to be in the viciuity of dangerous shoals, and perhaps rocks; but in addition to all this, to have their vessel leaking, this indeed was a thing which might well cause despair. And accordingly at the first sight of the water in the hold, every one of them stood as if paralyzed, and looked on motionless and in dead silence.

Bart was the first to break the silence.

“Come, boys,” said he. “We’ve every one of us been in worse scrapes than this. After being on a water-logged ship, we oughtn’t to care for a few inches of water. Let’s go to the pump, and see if we can’t get rid of this.”

Saying this, Bart leaped up to the deck, and sprang to the pump, followed by all the others. Only two of them could work at a time. Bart and Phil worked away first, till they were exhausted. Then Arthur and Pat took hold, and were relieved by Bruce and Tom. They worked vigorously, and with a will, in all the freshness, too, of their first efforts. Every one of them had a confident expectation that this labor would be successful, and that a half an hour, at the farthest, would be enough to pump the schooner dry. But a half hour passed, and yet that result was not accomplished. There was a difference certainly, but not anything like what they had wished. Judging from the amount of labor that they had put forth in this half hour, and the slight result, they were filled with dismay at the prospect before them.

“Well,” said Tom, “it ain’t what we expected; but I dare say we expected too much. Perhaps we ought to be satisfied if we find that we can keep the water under.”

“But can we do it?” said Bruce.

“Of course we can. Haven’t we been doing it?”

“We have—certainly. But how long can we keep at this sort of work? Why, the pump’ll have to be kept going day and night.”

Wade and Solomon now went to work; but their efforts made no very perceptible diminution in the water in addition to what had already taken place.

“I’m afraid,” said Bruce, “that the leak gets steadily worse.”

“Why so?”

“Well, because Solomon and Wade don’t do more than any two of us.”

“O, they don’t work with such a will.”

“Perhaps not. But in pumping, I dare say steady efforts like theirs amount to as much at least as our quick way of working; and besides, they’re stronger, and ought to do more. I think the leak is worse.”

“O, I don’t believe it.”

“Well, it took about two hours for the water to come in that’s in her now. If it had been coming in so slowly as that, we would have pumped her dry by this time. But the fact is, the more we pump, the faster the water comes in. I think it is working its way through new seams and crevices.”

There was no further reply to this; but not long afterwards, when Bruce and Tom had pumped with unusual vigor, they examined the hold once more. They found about six inches of water. The water had gained therefore. It had come back to the amount which had been there when they first began. These last efforts had gained nothing. In spite of all the water that had been poured out over the side, the quantity below was the same. There was no longer the slightest doubt that the leak was increasing, and that, too, with a rapidity that was very alarming. And while the leak thus gained power, their own efforts could not possibly increase beyond what they had already been, but, as a matter of course, would, on the contrary, rather decrease. And yet there was nothing else to be done but to pump on, for if they relinquished their efforts, they were lost. So they kept at it, taking turns as before, and while any two were at the pump, the others occupied themselves with watching the water beneath.

In one of the intervals, Solomon prepared the evening meal. It was later than usual, and any other than he would have omitted it altogether. But Solomon knew too well its importance, and felt that now it was, perhaps, of more importance than ever. The boys also, in the intervals which they had, prepared provisions for the boat. They put in oars, the boat’s mast and sail, two kegs of water; amounting to about twenty gallons, a barrel of biscuit, a ham, and a few other articles. In this way they endeavored to prepare themselves for the worst, and to have everything ready when the critical moment should arrive.

All this time Captain Corbet was mooning at the helm. He occasionally offered a remark, of which, however, no heed was taken by the busy company. They had something else to do.

“Ef I’d ony a come straight along from Bosting,” said he, on one of those occasions,—“ef I now at this moment was a navigatin from Bosting, I’d know whar I be. For I never know that I ever did lose my reckonin on one of them thar vyges. But comin up in this here roundabout circuous way from them outlandish seas, made me kine o’ git everythin upset and jumbled together in my old head. An now where air we? ’Tis a pint I long to know. Blest if I know.

“I should be pleased,” he continued, in a meditative tone, “to find out what course is the best for us jest now; though for that matter thar ain’t overly much wind, and I don’t seem to see how we could sail anywhars, even ef we wanted to go, an knowed jest the pint to go to. But as soon’s the wind does rise, I have an idee of the course I’m goin to take.”

“What’s that?” asked Bart, who happened to be near and hear this last remark. It seemed to him a good sign that Captain Corbet should have any theory now about his position.

“Wal,” said Captain Corbet, “it kine o’ seems to me as if the best way would be to head her nothe-east. We can’t head her nothe agin in this fog; r’else we’ll hit another rock; but ef we keep her nothe-east, we may dodge the rocks, an fetch up somewhars.”

At this utterly vague and unsatisfactory statement Bart turned away, more disheartened than ever.

That night the boys took turns till about midnight, when they all turned in, leaving Solomon, Wade, and the captain to take turns pumping till morning. The wind had gone down almost altogether, and the sea was quite smooth. The water in the hold remained at about the same level; and when the boys turned in, they had a feeling of satisfaction at this, or they would have had, if they had not been so completely worn out. Their sleeping-place was not their usual one. The water had driven them out. They brought their mattresses on deck, rolled themselves up in blankets, and curled up there the best way they could. So they passed the night.

On the following day they awaked early. There was a moderate breeze, and the Antelope was making some progress running before it. But the fog still continued, and environed them on all sides.

Of this, however, they took no note just then. Their first thought was about the leak. They saw Wade working away at the pump in that dull, mechanical fashion which distinguished him in everything that he did. They said nothing to him, but at once looked into the hold.

The sight that they saw there confirmed their worst fears. The water had increased during the night, and they saw at once that either the leak had grown worse, or else that the pumping had been neglected. Things did not look well either for them or for the Antelope..

“We’ve all ben a takin of our turn thro the night,” said Captain Corbet, who was, as usual, at the helm. “It seems to be considerable of a leak. But I dar say we’ll manage to keep it down. The Antelope hadn’t ought to be a leaky vessel either. I’ve alius took good car of her. But it’s that strain she got.”

“Why, there’s a foot of water, at least,” cried Bart, “over the floor. There must be over two feet of water in the hold.”

“Full that,” said Arthur, gravely. “At this rate we’ll have to take to the boat before long.”

“O, thar’s no hurry,” said Captain Corbet; “the old Antelope’s dreadful perseverin, and a tremen-jous hand at keepin afloat.”

“Well,” said Bruce, “I rather think we may fight off the water to-day, at any rate, and the fog may lift before night.”

“Yes,” said Phil, “we’d better not take to the boat till the last moment. I’d rather be here taking my turn at the pump, than off in the boat, not knowing where we are or where we’re going.”

“Sure an it’s a pity there wasn’t another pump,” said Pat. “We cud do double the work, so we cud. An I’d be proud to take me turrun at the pump twice as often, so I would.”

“I tell you what, boys,” said Tom. “Some of us might bale out with pails, while we’re not pumping. I wish I could construct a siphon; but I suppose it couldn’t be managed; so let’s bale. Two at the pump, and the rest at pails. That ought to be equal to two pumps, at least.”

“Sure an it’ll be aqual to fower pumps, so it will, if we work hard enough.”

This proposal was excellent in its way, only there was a doubt as to whether they could muster four pails. After some search two were found, and Solomon produced a tin kettle. This made three. Pat then brought forth a coal scuttle, which was well adapted for the work. With these increased resources they now set to work. Jumping down into the hold, four of them baled out the water, and poured it upon the deck, from which it ran into the sea. They worked at this most zealously and most industriously for two hours. At the end of that time they were all utterly exhausted. They had taken turns at the pump and at the pails, and the continuous work without rest had told most severely upon them all. They all felt that this would utterly use them up, if persisted in much longer. At the same time they had the satisfaction of seeing a perceptible diminution in the water, though by no means as much as they had hoped to find; and they all felt as though they had not received an adequate reward for such exhaustive labors. They saw that if they hoped to continue at the pump, it was absolutely necessary to give up the baling, and rest until the turn of each should come. And so the baling was given up.

A hasty breakfast was taken. Solomon had to give up his work as cook, and take his turn at the pump, and therefore every one had to forage for himself. Already, however, Solomon had taken the precaution to remove the stores from the hold and cabin up to the deck, where they would be out of the reach of the water, at least as long as the schooner could pretend to float. Out of these stores each one could now supply himself whenever and however he might feel inclined.

Having given up the idea of baling, the boys, in the intervals of taking turn at the pump, had nothing else to do now than to gather up strength for a new effort. While so doing, they watched the state of the water in the hold; or tried to penetrate the veil of fog that hung around; or listened, hoping to hear some sound that might tell of ships in their neighborhood. Sometimes, also, they sounded on the “fog-horn” of the Antelope—a peculiar tin trumpet with which every Down East coaster or fisher is provided, and which makes the most unearthly sound that has ever been contrived by man, not even excepting the yell of an asthmatic steam whistle. But looking, and listening, and sounding on the trumpet were alike unavailing, for no sight, or sound, or answering note of any kind came to them through that wall of mist.

All this was depressing. The fog was depressing. The fact that they had lost their way was depressing. But most of all, their own exertions proved depressing, for those exertions seemed unavailing. Still the waters crept ahead of them. They were not able to hold their own. After their vigorous and exhaustive efforts at baling, the water, held at bay for a time, came back to the assault, and this time it triumphed over the pump, and rose slowly, yet steadily. By the close of the day the water in the hold was enough to startle even the phlegmatic Wade. That personage had taken some sleep during the afternoon, after a long tug at the pump, and had snoozed away as calmly as an infant until sunset. On waking he walked to the hold, and looked down. The sight was by no means reassuring. Nearly two feet of water rolled backward and forward at the motion of the Antelope. He shook his phlegmatic, unexcitable, undemonstrative head.

“My name’s Wade,” he said, speaking as if to himself. “An my old ’oman’s name’s Gipson. An you’ll not find many o’ that name in this country. No, sir.”

He took another look.

Again his head gave a solemn and portentous shake.

Then he said once more,—

“No, sir!”

And the pump went on.

And pump struggled with sea.

And the sea gained!


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