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CHAPTER 3
Friendly Advice and dismal Forebodings.—Once more upon the Waters, yet once more.—Due North.—A Calm.—The Calm continues.—A terrible Disclosure.—Despair of Corbet.—Solomon finds his Occupation gone.—Taking Stock.—Short Allowance.

ANOTHER day was passed very pleasantly at the Magdalen Islands, and then the boys concluded that they had seen about all that there was to be seen in this place. As the question where next to go arose, they Concluded to ask the skipper.

“Well, boys,” said he, “in the first place, let me ask you if you’ve ever heard of Anticosti?”

“Of course we have,” said Bart.

“Well, don’t go there; don’t go near it; don’t go within fifty mile of it; don’t speak of it; don’t think of it; and don’t dream of it. It’s a place of horror, a howling wilderness, the abomination of desolation, a haunted island, a graveyard of unfortunate sailors. Its shores are lined with their bones. Don’t you go and add your young bones to the lot. You can do far better with them.”

“Well, where do you advise us to go?” asked Arthur.

The skipper thought for a few moments without answering.

“Well,” said he, “you know Sable Island.”

“Yes,” said Bart, in some surprise.

“Well,” said the skipper, impressively, “don’t go there; don’t go within a hundred miles of it; don’t speak of it; don’t think of it; don’t dream of it.”

“But you’ve said all that to us before,” said Bruce. “We want to know where we are to go, not where we are not to go.”

“Well,” said the skipper, “I am aware that I’ve said all this before, and I say it a second time, deliberately, for the simple purpose of impressing it upon your minds. There’s nothin like repetition to impress a thing on the memory; and so, if you ever come to grief on Anticosti, or on Sable Island, you’ll remember my warnin, and you’ll never feel like blamin me.”

“But where ought we to go?” asked Bruce.

“Well, that’s the next point. Now, I’ve been thinkin’ all about it, and to my mind there ain’t any place in all this here region that comes up to the Bay of Islands, Newfoundland.”

“The Bay of Islands?”

“Yes, the Bay of Islands, on the west coast of Newfoundland. It’s a great place. I’ve been there over and over, and I know it like a book. Thousands of vessels go there every season. It’s one of the best harbors in the gulf. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. The air is bracing, the climate salubrious, the scenery inviting; and it only needs a first-class hotel with all the modern improvements in order to become a number one waterin-place. Yes, by ginger!” he continued, “you plant a first-class hotel there, and let that there place become known, and there’s nothin to prevent it from goin ahead of Long Branch or Newport, or any other place you can mention.

“Then,” continued the skipper, “if you wanted to go any further, you might go up the Straits of Belle Isle, and round Newfoundland. If you had time, you might take a run over to Greenland; it’s gettin to be quite a place, a fashionable resort in the hot summer; but perhaps you won’t have time, and won’t care about doin more than cruisin round Newfoundland, and then home.”

Once more the skipper’s tone seemed somewhat extravagant to the boys, and they did not know how to take it.

“O, well,” said Bart, “we don’t want to go to Greenland this season. When we do go there, we shall probably go for good; but just now, we want to confine ourselves to the gulf. If you can really recommend the Bay of Islands, perhaps we had better go there; that is,” added Bart, “unless you think we had better go to Iceland.”

The skipper looked at Bart for a few moments in silence, and a smile gradually passed over his face.

“Well,” said he, after a pause, “that’s the identical place that I was just going to recommend, when you took the words out of my mouth. The fact is, boys, with that old tub of yours you might as well go to Iceland as anywhere else. Every time I look at it I am thunderstruck. What were your fathers and mothers thinkin of when they let you come away up here in such an old rattle-trap?—an old tub that isn’t worth being condemned! Do you think you’ll ever get home again in her? Not you. Do you know where that old tub’s bound to go before the end of this season? Down to the bottom of the sea; and if you don’t go in her, you may bless your lucky stars. I only wish I wasn’t otherwise engaged. I’d make you all clear out at once, and come aboard the Fawn.”

Captain Corbet was not present, and did not hear these insulting reflections upon his beloved Antelope, and therefore was spared the pain which they would have caused to his aged bosom; but the boys were not the ones to listen to such insinuations in silence. The Antelope was dear to them from past associations, and they all began at once to vindicate her character. They talked long and eloquently about her. They spoke of her speed, soundness, and beauty. They told of her performances thus far.

At all of which the skipper only grinned.

“Mark my words, boys,” said he; “that there tub is goin to the bottom.”

“Well, if she does, she’ll get up again,” said Bart.

The opinions of the two parties were so different that any further debate was useless. The skipper believed that they were bound for the bottom of the sea; the boys on the contrary had faith in the Antelope. The end of it all was, that they concluded to take the skipper’s advice in part, and sail for the Bay of Islands. This place was one which they all were desirous of visiting, and they thought that when they had gone that far, they could then decide best where next to go.

They were to leave the next morning. That evening they took leave of the friendly skipper.

“Boys,” said he, “I’m afraid we’ll never meet again; but if you do get back safe from this perilous adventure of yours, and if any of you ever happen to be at Gloucester, Massachusetts, I do wish you’d look me up, and let me know. I’d give anything to see any one of you again.”

With these words the skipper shook hands with each one of them heartily, and so took his leave.

Early on the following morning the Antelope spread her sails and began once more to traverse the seas, heading towards the north. The wind was fair, and all that day they moved farther and farther away from the Magdalen Islands, until at length towards evening they were lost to view in distance and darkness.

On the next day they were all up early. They saw all around a boundless expanse of water. No land was anywhere visible, and not a sail was in sight. This was a novelty to the boys, for never yet had any of them had this experience in the Antelope. Some of them had been out of sight of land, it is true; but then they were in large ships, or ocean steamers. Being in such a situation in a craft like the Antelope, was a far different thing. Yet none of them felt anything like anxiety, nor had the slurs of the skipper produced any effect upon their affectionate trust in their gallant bark, and in their beloved Captain Corbet.

Certainly on the present occasion there was little enough cause for anxiety about the sea-worthiness of the Antelope. The sea was as smooth as a mirror, and its glassy surface extended far and wide around them. There was not a breath of air stirring. They learned from Wade that the wind had gradually died away between sundown and midnight, until it had ceased altogether. They were now in a dead calm.

None of the party was very well pleased at this. They all wished to be moving. They disliked calms, and would have much preferred a moderate gale of wind. The Antelope, however, was here, and there was no help for it. She was far away from land. She lay gently rising and falling, as the long ocean rollers raised her up and let her down; and her sails flapped idly in the still air, at the motion of the vessel. The boys did the best they could under the circumstances, and tried to pass away the time in various ways. Some of them tried to sleep; others extemporized a checker-board, and played till they were tired; others walked up and down, or lounged about. All of them, however, found their chief employment in one occupation, and that was eating. Ever since they had been on the water their appetites had been sharpened; and now that they had nothing else to do, the occupation of eating became more important and engrossing. To prolong the repast while it was before them as far as possible, and then to anticipate the next, were important aids towards killing the time.

All that day the calm continued: on going to bed that night, the boys confidently looked forward to a change of weather on the following day. The night was calm. The following day came. They were all up betimes. To their deep disappointment they found no change whatever. There was the same calm, the same unruffled sea, the same cloudless sky. Not a sail was visible anywhere, and of course there was no sign of land on any quarter.

The second day the time hung more heavily on their hands. Some of them proposed fishing; but they had no hooks, and moreover no bait. Pat proposed fashioning a spike into a hook; fastening it on a line, and fishing for sharks, and worked all day at a rusty spike for this purpose. Unfortunately, he could not get it sharp enough, and so he had at length to give it up.

Captain Corbet was perhaps the most impatient of all; and this seemed singular to the boys, who thus far had known him only as the most patient and the most enduring of men.

On this occasion, however, his patience seemed to have departed. He fidgeted about incessantly. He kept watching the sea, the sky, and the horizon, and occupied himself for hours in all the various ways common among seamen, who indulge in the superstitious practice of trying to “raise the wind.” One mode consisted in standing in one position motionless for half an hour or more, watching the horizon, and whistling: another was a peculiar snapping of the fingers; another was the | burning of some hairs pulled from his own venerable head. These and other similar acts excited intense interest among the boys, and helped to make the time pass less slowly. Unfortunately, not one of these laudable efforts was successful, and the obstinate wind refused to be “raised.”

That day the boys detected something in their meals which seemed like a decline of skill on the part of Solomon. There was a falling off both in the quantity and in the quality of the eatables. Only four potatoes graced the festive board, and a piece of corned beef that was quite inadequate to their wants. The tea was weak, and there was very little sugar. There was only a small supply of butter, and this butter seemed rather unpleasantly dirty.

On the following day all this was explained. Hurrying up on deck at early dawn, they saw the scene unchanged. Above was the cloudless sky, all around the glassy sea, and before them stood Captain Corbet, the picture of despair. By his side stood Solomon, with his hands clasped together, and his head hanging down.

“It’s all my fault, boys,” said Captain Corbet, with something like a groan. “I was to blame: But I declare, I clean forgot. And yet what business had I to forget? my fustest and highest duty bein to remember. And here we air!”

“Why, what’s the matter?” asked Tom, who, like all the rest was struck by Captain Corbet’s despairing attitude and words.

“I won’t hide it any longer, boys,” said he; “it’s this calm. I didn’t calculate on bein becalmed. I thought only of head winds, and then we could hev put back easy; but a calm! Why, what can you do?”

“Hide it?” Cried Bruce. “Hide what? What do you mean by this? What would you want to put back for?”

Captain Corbet groaned.

“For—for pro—provisions, dear boys,” he said mournfully, and with an effort.

“Provisions!” repeated Bruce, and looked very blank indeed. All the boys exchanged glanced, which were full of unutterable things. There was silence for some time.

Tom was the first to break it.

“Well, what have we?” he, asked, in his usual cheery voice. “Come captain, tell us what there is in the larder.”

“Ask Solomon,” said Captain Corbet, mournfully.

“Well, Solomon, tell us the worst,” said Tom.

But Solomon would not or could not speak. He raised his head, looked wildly around, and then hurried away.

Captain Corbet looked after him, and heaved a heavy sigh.

“Wal, boys,” said he, “the fact is, Solomon and me, we’ve been talkin it all over. You see, he considers himself cook, and cook only, and looks to me for the material. It’s all my fault. I forgot. I thought there was lots till yesterday mornin. Then Solomon told me how it was. I’d ort to have laid in a supply before leavin Bay de Chaleur; but as I said, I forgot. And as for Solomon, why, he’s been calmly a continooin of his cookery, same as if he was chief cook of a fust-class hotel, and all the time he was in a becalmed schewner. He told me all about it yesterday mornin; but I says, ‘Don’t tell the boys; mebbe the wind’ll change, and I’ll sail for the nighest port.’ So he didn’t, except so far as you might have guessed, from the meals which he served up; pooty slim they were too; but he did his best.”

“Well,” said Tom, with unaltered self-possession, “it would have been better for us to have known this yesterday morning; but that can’t be helped. So we have no more provisions?”

“Precious little,” said Captain Corbet, mournfully.

“Have we any?” asked Tom.

“Wal,” said Captain Corbet, “the tea’s all gone; and the coffee, and all the potted meats, and the apples, and the taters, and the turnips and carrots, and all the vegetables, and the smoked provisions, and you had the last mite of corned beef yesterday.”

“But what is there left?” asked Tom.

“Only two or three papers of corn starch,” said Captain Corbet, with an effort, “and, I believe, a half box of raisins, and a little rice.”

“And nothing else?”

“Not a hooter,” said Captain Corbet, despairingly.

Tom was silent. The boys all looked at one another with anxious faces, and then began to talk over the situation.

The result was, that first of all they made Solomon produce everything in the shape of eatables that remained on board. Solomon ransacked the vessel, and laid everything out on the cabin table.

It was not a very large supply, and the display created additional uneasiness in the minds of the boys.

There were,—

3 papers of corn starch, 1 lb. each.

1 ham bone.

l box raisins.

1 lb. rice.

6 biscuits.

1 bowl soup.

4 carrots.

1 potato, turnip.

2 apples.

1 oz. tea.

This was all—absolutely all on board the Antelope for the sustenance of no less than nine human beings, all of whom were blessed with excellent appetites. Fortunately, there was a sufficient supply of fresh water, so that there was no trouble on that score.

But this supply of food, even when husbanded with the greatest care, could scarcely last more than one day,—and here they were in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and becalmed!

The circumstances in which they were, excited the deepest anxiety in the minds of all. A grave and earnest discussion followed as to the best course to be pursued. First of all, they all resolved to deny themselves as far as possible, and make their supply of provisions last three days. This could be done by making a very thin soup out of the ham bone with the potato and turnip. The raisins were to be cooked with the corn starch and rice, in one general mess, which was to be carefully divided day by day. The biscuits, carrots, and apples were to be reserved.

After this they decided to try and construct something like oars, and propel the Antelope in that manner.

The provisions were divided and cooked in accordance with this decision. They all went without breakfast, for they had decided to eat but one meal per day. At midday they partook of this important meal, which consumed one third of their whole stock. But little was afforded out of that one meal for each individual, and each one felt able to consume the whole repast, instead of the beggarly ninth part which fell to him. Poor Captain Corbet refused at first to eat, and so did Solomon, for each reproached himself as the cause of the present famine; but the boys put a stop to this by refusing also to eat, and thus compelled Solomon and the captain to take the allotted nourishment.

As to the oars or sweeps, the plan proved a total failure. There was nothing on board which could be used for that purpose. There was but one small oar for the boat, and they could find nothing else that could serve for an oar except the spars of the schooner, and they were not quite prepared to resort to these. Even if they had done so, there was not an axe or a hatchet on board with which to fashion them into the requisite shape. There was, in fact, no tool larger than a pocket knife, except perhaps the table knives, and they were too dull.

The calm continued.

Thus the first day of their famine passed.

They went to bed hungry.

They awaked famished, and found the calm still continuing. There was no breakfast for them. The long hours passed slowly. In vain Captain Corbet whistled for a wind. The wind came not.

Dinner was served at midday. Each one ate his meagre share. Each one felt that this repast only tantalized his appetite, rather than satisfied it. Solomon was in despair. Captain Corbet heaped upon himself never-ending reproaches. Wade sat stolid and starving on the deck. The boys stared, with hungry eyes, around the horizon.

There was not a sign of land; there was not a sail to be seen.

So the second day passed away.


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