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Chapter 23
Watching with pallid Faces.—The Torso of Corbet.—A sudden and unaccountable Break in the Proceedings.—Great Reaction.—Unpleasant Discovery.—Pat and the salt Water.—The Rheu-matiz and kindred Diseases.—Where to go.—Where are we?—Sable Island.—Anticosti, Bermuda, Jamaica, Newfoundland, Cape Cod, or Owld Ireland.—A land Breeze.—Sounding for the Land.—Land ahead.

PAINFUL thing it was to see the Antelope thus sinking into the sea; to view the waters thus rolling over her familiar form from bows to stern; to see the boiling foam of the ingulfing billows; but how much more terrible it was to see the sacrifice of a human life; the voluntary self-destruction of a human being, and of one, too, who had been their guide, their revered and beloved friend! They had no cause for self-reproach. They had done all that they could. His own will had brought him to this. Still the spectacle was no less terrible to all of them, and there was no less anguish in their souls as they saw him,—the meek, the gentle, the venerable Corbet,—thus descending, by his own free will, and by his own act, into the dark abyss of this unknown sea.

And so they watched with pallid faces, and with angonized hearts for the end.

The ancient mariner sank down, as has been said, with his sinking schooner, and his feet were overwhelmed by the rushing flood, and his ankles, and his knees, and his thighs, and at length he stood there with the waters about his waist, and his mild eyes fixed upon vacancy.

Another moment, and they expected to see that venerable and beloved form disappear forever from their gaze.

But that venerable form did not, in fact, disappear.



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That venerable form remained stationary,—the waters reaching as far as the waist: thus far, but no farther. The lower half had disappeared beneath the sea, but the upper half still remained to bless and cheer their eyes. Corbet still lived! But it was what an artist might call a Torso of Corbet.

Corbet thus had sunk into the unfathomable depth of ocean up to his waist, but after that he sank no more. Higher than that the waters did not rise. He stood in that rigid attitude already described, grasping the tiller, and thus steadying himself,—upright, firm as a rock, and so he stood after the waters had risen to his waist.

The hull of the Antelope had disappeared. But still her masts and rigging rose above the waters, and above the head of Corbet, and these sank no farther, but remained at the same height above the sea.

Astonishment seized upon all of them, Corbet included. What was it that had caused this wonder? Was it because the hull was too buoyant to sink any farther? Was it because there was still some air left inside the hull which prevented the schooner from sinking altogether? This they might have thought had they not been made wiser through their recent experiences. By these they now knew that on these seas there were sand banks and shoals; and, therefore, what was more natural than that, the Antelope had sunk in some place where there happened to be, just beneath her, a convenient shoal which had received her sinking hull? It was certainly a very curious sea,—a sea which seemed to abound in such shoals as these; but whatever might be the character of that sea, this fact remained, that the Antelope had sunk in less than a couple of fathoms of water.

And so it was that the heroic and devoted resolve of the venerable and high-minded captain was baffled, and his descent into the depths of the ocean was arrested. For there lay the Antelope, resting upon some place not far beneath the sea, with her masts still high above water, and with the person of her gifted commander half submerged and half exposed to view; and there stood that venerable commander up to his waist in water, but unable to descend any farther: a singular, a wonderful, an unparalleled spectacle; unaccountable altogether to those whose eyes were fastened upon it.

But the thought of a shoal or sand bank soon came, and so they began to understand the state of affairs. The Antelope had sunk, not into an unfathomable abyss in mid-ocean, but upon some sand bank. Where or what that sand-bank might be, they did not then take time to consider. Whether it was some part of one of the Banks of Newfoundland, or the slowly declining shore around Sable Island, or some other far different and far removed place, did not at that time enter into the sphere of their calculations. Enough it was for them that the terror had passed; that the grim spectacle of death and destruction before their very eyes had been averted; that Corbet was saved.

Till this moment they had not been aware of the greatness of their anguish. But now the reaction from that anguish made them acquainted with its intensity, and in proportion to their late sufferings was now their joy and rejoicing. At the first movement of the Antelope towards a descent into the sea, they had instinctively and very naturally moved their boat farther away, so as to avoid being sharers of the fate which Captain Corbet seemed to desire; but now, after the first danger was over, and the first emotions of amazement and wonder had subsided, they rowed nearer. They believed that now Captain Corbet would listen to reason, and that, having done so much in obedience to the call of duty, he would be willing to save himself.

And now, as they rowed nearer, the boat floated over the rail of the sunken schooner, and came close up to the half-submerged commander.

“Come, captain,” said Bart, in a voice that was yet tremulous with excitement, “jump in. There’s plenty of room. You—you—don’t—don’t want to be standing in the water this way any longer, of course.”

To this remark Captain Corbet made no reply in words, but he did make a reply in acts, which were far more eloquent. He seized the side of the boat at once, and scrambling in, sank down, wet and shivering, in the stern, alongside of those other obstinate and contumacious ones—Pat, Wade, and Solomon. And so it was that at last, after so much trouble, those four, who had at first been so unmanageable, now were assembled on board the boat into which they had once refused to enter.

The delight of the boys was as great as their grief had been a short time before, and no other thought came into their minds than that of the happy end that had occurred to a scene that had promised such disaster. The fact that their situation was one of doubt and uncertainty, perhaps peril, did not just then occur to them. It was enough joy for them that Captain Corbet had been snatched from a watery grave; and so they now surrounded him with careful attention. Bruce offered him a biscuit; Bart asked about his health; Tom urged him to wring out the water from his trousers; and Phil, who was next to him in the boat, fearing that he might feel faint, pressed upon him a tin dipper full of water.

Captain Corbet took the proffered draught and raised it to his lips. A few swallows, however, satisfied him, and he put it down with some appearance of haste.

“As a general thing,” said he, in a tone of mild remonstrance, “I don’t use sea water for a beverage. I kin take it, but don’t hanker arter it, as the man said when he ate the raw crow on a bet.”

“Sea water!” exclaimed Phil. “Did I?”

He raised the water to his own lips, and found that it was so.

“Then we’ve taken sea water in this keg,” he cried, “and we haven’t any fresh.”

At this dreadful intelligence consternation filled all minds.

“Who filled that keg?” asked Bruce, after a long silence.

“Sure I did,” said Pat.

“You! and how did you happen to make such a mistake?” cried Bart.

“Sure ye said to fill the kegs with wather, an didn’t say what kind; so I jist tuk the say wather, because it was most convaynient.”

At this amazing blunder the boys were dumb, and stared at Pat in silence. Words were useless. The mistake was a fatal one. The fresh water had gone with the Antelope to the bottom. Where or when could they hope to get any more? Who could tell how long a time, or how great a distance, might now separate them from the land? Bad enough their situation already had been, but this opened up before them the prospect of unknown sufferings.

“O, don’t talk to me about water,” said Captain Corbet, in lugubrious tones, squeezing his hands, as he spoke, over his thighs and shins, so as to force the water out of his clothes. “Don’t you go and talk to me about water. I’ve hed enough, an don’t want ever to see any agin. Why, it kem up as high as my waist if it kem a inch. An now what’s to hender me a fallin a helpuless victim to rheuma-tiz. O, I know it. Don’t tell me. I know what’s a goin to come to this ferrail body. Thar’s rheuma-tiz acute and chronic, an thar’s pleurisy, an thar’s lumbago, an thar’s nooralgy, an thar’s fifty other diseases equally agonizin. An dear, dear, dear, dear! But how dreadful wet it did feel, to be sure! dear, dear, dear, dear! An here am I now, with my tendency to rheumatiz, a settin here in my wet clothes, an not a dry stitch to be had for love or money. Wal, I never knowed anythin like this here, an I’ve lived a life full of sturrange vycissitudes—from bad to wuss has ben our fate ever sence we sot foot on this here eventfual vyge; an ef thar’s any lesson to be larned from sech doins an car’ns on as this here, why, I ain’t able to see it. An now what am I to do? What’s a goin to become of me? No dry clothes! No fire to dry myself! Rheumatiz before me! lumbago behind me! pleurisy on each side o’ me! such is the te-rific prospect of the blighted bein that now addresses you.”

The boys paid but little attention to Captain Corbet’s wailings. They had other troubles more serious than these prospective ones. They could not help, however, being struck by the thought that it was a little odd for a man who had just been snatched so narrowly from a terrible death to confine all his attention and all his lamentations to such a very ordinary circumstance as wet clothes. He who had announced so firmly, a short time before, his calm and fixed intention of perishing with the Antelope, now seemed to have forgotten all about her, and thought only of himself and his rheumatiz. Could this be, indeed, Captain Corbet? Strange was the change that had come over him; yet this was not the only singular change that had occurred on this eventful day. They had witnessed others quite as wonderful in Solomon and Pat. These two, however, had now resumed their usual characteristics.

There they were, in a boat, all of them, but where? That was the question. The masts of the sunken Antelope rose obliquely out of the water, showing that she was resting on her side at the bottom. But what was that bottom, and where? Was it some lonely rock or reef? Was it some sand-bank or shoal like that upon which they had already gone aground, and where the Antelope had received those injuries which had at length wrought her ruin? None of them could answer this.

And where should they go? In what direction should they turn? This was the question that pressed upon them, and required immediate decision.

“It’s impossible to even guess where we are,” said Bart. “We’ve been going in the dark all along. We may as well be off Sable Island as anywhere else. And if so, all I can say is, I’ve seen worse places.”

“Sure an thin it’s as likely to be Anticosti as Sable Island,” said Pat. “We’ve ben a turrunin around ivery way, so we have, an we may have< fetched up there, so we may, an if that’s so, we may as well dig our graves an lay ourselves down in thim.”

“Well, if you’re going so far as that,” said Bruce, “I’d put in a claim for Bermuda. I don’t see why we mayn’t be off Bermuda as well as Anticosti. If so, we may be sure of good accommodations.”

“Well, while you’re about it,” said Arthur, “why don’t you say Jamaica?”

“At any rate,” said Bruce, “I shouldn’t wonder if it should turn, out to be Newfoundland. This sou’-west wind would take us there.”

“Yes, but there’s been a calm,” said Arthur, “for some time, and we’ve got into some current. I dare say it’s taken us west, and that this is close by Cape Cod.”

“Pooh!” said Phil. “If we’ve been drifting with any current, there’s only one current hereabouts. That’s the Gulf Stream. I tell you what it is, boys; we’ve crossed the Atlantic, and this place is off the coast of Owld Ireland; and there ye have it.”

“Arrah, go way wid yer deludherin talk,” said Pat. “We want a sinsible opinion.”

“The more I think of it,” said Tom, “the more I’m inclined to be of Bart’s opinion. We’ve been tacking and drifting, and going backward and forward, and it seems to me most likely that this is Sable Island. If so, we may be glad that we came here when the water was so calm.”

“Wal,” said Captain Corbet, thoughtfully, “I don’t b’lieve that this here air Ireland, nor Iceland, nor Africky, nor Jamaiky, nor any other sech. ’Tain’t unpossible for it to be Sable Island. We drifted there onst, an may heve done it agin. Far be it from me to dispute that thar. But then again it might be Newfoundland. ’Pears to me as ef we’ve got off some land whar thar’s woods, for I got jest now a kine a scent o’ trees, an ’peared to me of spruce an sech. I shouldn’t be s’prised ef the wind was to haul round. It often doos, specially when it’s ben an done its wust, an you don’t care. So now we don’t care what it doos, or which way it blows; an consekently it’s goin to turn an blow away the fog.”

At this moment, and while the ancient mariner was yet speaking, there came a breath of wind, very gentle, yet quite perceptible, and there was in it an unmistakable odor of forest trees—balmy, delicious, most fragrant, bringing with it hope, and joy, and delight.

“The land must be close by,” cried Bart. “Hurrah!”

“Don’t hurrah too soon,” said Tom. “It may be Anticosti.”

“Pooh! Anticosti could never send out such a smell of spruce and pine.”

“Well, it may be Newfoundland, and that won’t help us much.”

“The wind’s going to change,” said Arthur. “I think the fog isn’t so thick as it was.”

“Come, boys, this bottom shoals in some direction. Let’s sound, and row on in the direction where it shoals. That’ll bring us to the shore.” This suggestion, which came from Bruce, was at once acted on. Bart and Tom took the oars. Bruce took a hatchet which had been flung into the boat, and tying a line to it, used this as a sounding lead.

“Row gently,” said he.

The boys did so, following Bruce’s direction, while, holding his sounding-line, he tested the bottom. After a little while he had satisfied himself.

“It shoals in this direction,” said he. “Row straight on a dozen strokes.”

They did so.

Bruce sounded again.

“All right,” said he. “Row on.”

They rowed farther.

Bruce sounded again. The bottom was much shallower.

They rowed farther.

But now no sounding was any longer necessary, for there, straight before them, looming through the now lessening fog, they all descried the welcome sight of land.



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