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CHAPTER 5
Daybreak.—Startling Discovery.—The Boat gone.—Where are Bruce and Bart?—Dismay.—The long Row.—The distant Ship.—Below the Horizon.—Deep in the Water.—The shattered Sails.—Waterlogged!—Boarding the Stranger.—Discoveries of a Kind which are at once exciting and pleasing.

WITH the break of day the boys were all on deck. Their first impulse was to take a look around. They saw the reddening eastern sky and the smooth water all around them, and their hearts sank within them as they perceived that the wearisome calm still continued. They noticed, however, that the ship was still visible, and this was some consolation. It seemed now a little nearer than the day before.

“Captain,” said Tom, “we’ve got nearer to her: don’t you think so?”

The captain made no reply. Tom looked up, and repeated his remark. As he looked up, he saw Captain Corbet standing astern with a puzzled expression, and looking down into the water and all around.

“What’s the matter?” asked Tom.

“The boat,” said Captain Corbet.

“What of her?”

“Some one’s been and stole her, or else she’s gone to the bottom, only the rope’s gone, too.”

“What! the boat!” cried Tom. “You don’t mean to say the boat’s gone!”

The other boys were startled at this, and hurried aft to look for themselves.

“I’m glad I wasn’t in her this time, at any rate,” said Tom, and then added in a melancholy voice, “but I suppose it wouldn’t make much difference now.”

The boys stood in silence for some time, not quite knowing how to take this new incident. At length Phil looked all around.

“Where’s Bart?” he asked, “and Bruce?”

“They’re not up,” said Tom. “Don’t wake them. Let them sleep as long as they can.”

“Up? They’re not down, either,” said Phil. “Their berths are empty.”

The boys all stared at each other. A suspicion flashed across their minds.

“Sure and if they’re not up nor down, they must be in the boat, and there you have it,” said Pat, dryly. “And it’s meself,” he added, “that ’ud be proud to be with thim this day.”

“The boat? But what for?” asked Phil.

“They must have started off for the ship,” said Tom, who-now understood all.

At this they all looked with eager eyes over the water in the direction of the ship. All thought that they could see a shadowy spot, but it was too indistinct as yet to be resolved into anything. After a few minutes Phil went below, and returned with the glass, through which he looked long and attentively.

“It’s them,” said he at last, passing the glass to Arthur.

Arthur looked, and then Tom, and then Pat, and then Captain Corbet. It grew brighter and brighter every moment, and at length, as Corbet looked, he saw the boat plainly for an instant; but the next moment the glare of the rising sun drove his eyes away. The sun rose and ascended higher, and still they could see the boys rowing with quick strokes very far away, while beyond lay the strange ship.

It was still as low down as ever, “below the horizon,” as Captain Corbet said, but was very much larger and plainer. Every one of them wondered how she could be in reality so far away as twenty miles. None of them spoke, however, but stood with varying feelings, staring in silence after their companions.

Of them all the most affected was Captain Corbet. At the first mention of the fact he had started, and after having assured himself of its truth with his own eyes, he exhibited every mark of the deepest agitation.

“Wal,” said he, as he stood with his head bowed upon his breast. “I never! Who’d a thought it! Why, its ravin madness. And them, too, thinkin of rowin to a ship that’s below the horizon. Twenty mile in that thar boat, if it’s an inch, and two mile an hour’s the most they can do. Why, it’s temptin fate. It’s flyin in the face of Providence. That’s what it is. That thar ship’s twenty mile away. The wind’ll come up before they get half way. They’ll never get there—never. And stealin off in this way, too! Why didn’t they get me to go with them? Why didn’t they ask my advice? And them, too, a trustin of their two perecious lives in that thar ferrail bark, that hadn’t ought ever to go more’n a mile at the furthest. And here am I, chained to this post, and can’t move, and them a rushin on to utter ruination. O, boys, dear boys,” he concluded, in a kind of wail, “for your sakes I want the wind to rise, but for their sakes I want it to contennew a calm.”

“O, captain, never fear,” said Arthur, cheerfully. “They’ll take care of themselves easy enough; and, in fact, the more I think of it, the better it seems.”

“I only wish I was in the boat,” said Tom, heartily.

“So do I,” said Phil.

“Sure and that same I said meself at the first,” said Pat.

Meanwhile Solomon had stood a little apart from the rest, looking after the boat, but manifesting very different emotions. His occupation being gone, he had come upon deck to see what the prospects might be, and had heard everything. Taking advantage of a moment when the glass was not in requisition, he had given a look towards the receding boat, and had assured himself by actual inspection of the facts of the case. The moment that he had done this he drew a long breath, laid down the glass, and then stood looking after the boys with a gentle smile irradiating his ebony face. From time to time he would close his eyes, sigh gently, and his lips would move as though whispering to himself, while once or twice a half audible chuckle escaped him.

“Tell you what it is,” said he at length; “don’t you go on. Dem yer boys is goin to save der blessed selves and us too. It’s my pinion dey’ll bring us luck, fust rate, too, fust chop, tip-top, prime. Hooray! Dey’ll quaint dem yar seamen ob our difficulties, an dey’ll come back a flyin wid a big boat-load of pro-visium. O, you can’t drown dem blessed chilen. Dey’re boun to tak car ob demselves, and dey’ll work dar way ober de oceum foam, to sabe de libes ob all aboard, and’ll be back to-night to tea. Hooray! Mind, I tell you!”

The gayety and hopefulness of Solomon did not fail to be communicated to all the rest, until at length even Captain Corbet was willing to admit that it was just as well, after all, that they had gone, though he still professed to feel hurt that his advice had not been asked.

To the boys their situation seemed now in every way more endurable. They had at least something to hope for, and the adventure of their companions formed a perpetual subject for thought or conversation. Even the calm was now welcome, for as long as this continued it would be favorable to the boat. On the other hand, should the ‘wind arise, they could up sail and after them. They all thought that Captain Corbet’s estimate of a distance of twenty miles was extravagant; and even if the ship was “below the horizon,” they concluded that at the farthest it could not be more than eight or ten miles away. Allowing two miles an hour for the boat, they thought that Bruce and Bart might reach their destination by nine or ten o’clock in the morning, and thus have the greater part of the day still before them.

As the hours passed away, the boys thus beguiled the time by various speculations about the progress of their companions. The calm continued; and they were not sorry, for they saw in this the best chance for a successful issue to the enterprise. Phil made a sort of chart, with the schooner and the ship in proper position, and marked off ten intervals which he estimated at a mile each. For hour after hour they watched this, and amused themselves by indicating on it the progress of their friends. At length it was ten o’clock, and all the boys felt quite sure that the boat had reached the ship.

Meanwhile the two adventurous boys had been going on their expedition. At a hundred yards from the schooner they had stopped, as we have seen, and looked anxiously around in the direction where they supposed the stranger to lie. For some time they could see nothing; but at length, as it grew lighter, they detected her masts through the gloom, and were overjoyed at finding that she was nearer than on the previous day. They had made a mistake, however, as to the right direction, for the ship lay very much more to one side.

“We’ve drifted nearer together during the night,” said Bruce, “and I don’t believe she’s over three miles away.”

Saying this, he changed the boat’s course, and heading for the ship, pulled with all his might.

“I say, Bruce,” said Bart, “you’d better not pull so hard at first; you’ll tire yourself.”

“O, it’s only till we get further from the schooner. I want to get well out of the reach of hearing before the fellows see us. I’ll take it easy after a time.”

Saying this, he pulled on, watching the schooner, and succeeded in getting so far away, that by the time they came on deck he could only distinguish the moving figures. Then he slackened his efforts somewhat.

“There isn’t a bit of prospect of any wind,” said he. “I tell you what it is, my boy: I’d far rather be here this minute than aboard the Antelope.”

“So would I,” said Bart; “but can you imagine the state of mind that the fellows must be in?”

“O, they’ll be glad after the first excitement’s over.”

“I wonder if they saw us.”

“Of course.”

“They didn’t shout, or anything.”

“We were too far off to hear them.”

“No, we weren’t; but I suppose we were so far off that they thought it would do no good.”

For about half an hour Bruce pulled quite leisurely, for he wished to husband his strength as much as possible, and then Bart took his turn at the oars. Not much was said, partly because the exertion of rowing did not allow of any prolonged conversation, and partly because they were too much filled with their own thoughts, arising out of the suspense of the occasion.

At length, after rowing for another half hour, Bart handed the oars to Bruce, and took his seat in the stern.

The moment he did so he uttered a cry of surprise.

“What’s the matter?” asked Bruce.

“Why, how near we’re getting!” said Bart.

“Of course we are.”

“I haven’t looked since I took the oars, on purpose to see what our progress is. And now—why, really, Bruce, it seems as if we must be half way already.”

“Of course we are,” said Bruce, “and more too.”

“Why, she’s as low in the water as ever.”

“I know; there’s something queer about her.”

“She looks as though she’d been in a heavy gale.”

“She must have been.”

“I don’t see a soul on board.”

“I haven’t seen any one, either.”

“Perhaps no one is up yet. It’s early, you know.”

“I hope it’s that,” said Bruce.

Bart was silent for a few moments. At length he said,—

“I should like to see some signs of life there, I must say.”

“Well, we’ll know all about her by the time you’re through your next pull.”

Bruce now rowed, and Bart sat with his eyes fixed on the ship. She still lay as low in the water as ever, but they could see her bulwarks plainly, and her cabins. Her rigging seemed as disordered as ever, and it was a puzzle to Bart, why, in this calm weather, she should be so neglected. Various unpleasant thoughts arose in his mind, but he kept-them to himself. Thus the time passed, and Bruce rowed, and the boat drew steadily nearer. At length he gave the oars over to Bart, and took his seat in the stern.

By this time they were not more than a mile from the ship. She was certainly very low in the water. At a distance they had supposed that her sails were furled. They could now see that she had no sails at all. There was her jib, and that was all. There was no sign of life aboard, and the disorder in her rigging was more perceptible than ever.

“Bart,” said Bruce in a solemn tone, after he had gazed silently at the ship for full ten minutes.

“Well?”

“Do you know what I think about her?”

“What?”

“It’s my opinion that there’s not a soul on board of her.”

Bart was silent.

“She’s evidently been in a storm; her sails are gone; her rigging is every way. The crew have probably deserted her; and, yes, she is—there’s no doubt about it. I suspected it—I knew it.”

“She’s what?” asked Bart.

“Waterlogged!” said Bruce.

Bart turned his head and looked at her for a long time. He said not a word. At last he turned to Bruce.

“Well,” said he, “at any rate, we must board her. After coming so far, we can’t go back. Besides, we may find something.”

“Find something? Of course we shall,” said Bruce, confidently. “We’ll find lots of things. We’ll find barrels of pork, and beef, and bread, and other things besides, no doubt. When they left her, they would only take enough to last them till they got ashore. They must have left the greater part of their supplies and sea stores behind.”

“Of course,” said Bart; “so here goes.”

And with these words he pulled as vigorously as though he had not yet rowed a stroke.

And now every minute they drew nearer and nearer. Bart rowed without turning his head, but Bruce sat with his eyes fixed upon her, occasionally telling Bart when he got out of his course.

As they drew nearer in this way, every doubt was removed, if there had been any doubts in the mind of either. The ship was evidently deserted. She was also as evidently waterlogged. Now they were able to account for what had puzzled them before; her lying so low in the water, and yet at the same time seeming so near. Her nearness was not apparent, but real; her lowness in the water actual, and not seeming. That she had been deserted by her crew was more and more evident every moment, for as they drew nearer, they could see not a sign of life. Had there been any one on board, he would certainly have made himself visible.

At length Bruce bawled out, “Ship, ahoy!”

Bart stopped rowing and looked around. Both boys listened. They did not expect any answer, nor did any answer come. They waited for about a minute, and then Bart rowed on. In about two minutes they were alongside. The oars were thrown in, the boat secured, and the two boys stepped aboard.



0083

There was a mixture of attraction and repulsion in the first sight of the ship, which affected the boys very peculiarly. She lay waterlogged. Her decks were on a level with the sea. But her bulwarks rose six feet high above the water, and the deck itself afforded a spacious area on which to walk. The deck was white with the washing of many waters, and dry in the warm sun, which had shone upon it for some days past. All the boats were gone except one, which hung at the starboard davits, and looked like the captain’s gig. The cook’s galley stood amidships, and astern there was a quarter-deck. The cabin doors were open wide. The forecastle was also open. The main hatchway was open, and the boys, looking in, could see the cargo. It consisted of enormous pine logs.

The sight of this cargo explained all. This was a timber ship, no doubt, from Quebec, which had encountered a storm in the gulf, and sprung aleak. On becoming waterlogged, she had been deserted and left to her fate; yet her cargo, which was of wood, prevented her from sinking, and the huge sticks of timber served to give her stiffness as well as buoyancy, and preserve her from breaking up. To Bart a timber ship was the most familiar thing in the world, for he had been brought up in a timber port; his father sailed timber ships, and the whole situation was one which he perfectly understood at the very first glance.

The boys walked about the decks. To their delight, they saw several water casks lashed behind the mainmast, and a row of barrels that looked as if they contained provisions, for they all bore the eloquent inscription:—
MESS PORK.

Going into the cook’s galley, they saw the cooking-stove in good working order, and the inmost thought and spontaneous expression of each was,—“Won’t Solomon rejoice when he sees this!” They then went aft.

They entered the cabin.

There was a passage-way about three feet wide. On each side there was a door which was open. Looking in, they saw on one side a room full of ropes, and sails, and oakum, while on the other was another room full of ship’s stores.

Passing on, they reached the cabin itself. It was a room about twelve feet wide and sixteen feet long. A door at one end opened into another cabin aft. On the sides of both cabins were doors opening into state-rooms. Two of these were very well furnished, and in the after cabin there was a large and comfortable state-room, which both the boys decided to have been the captain’s. The furniture was all confused. The carpet was damp. It seemed as though the sea had been careering through these cabins and state-rooms. But the upper parts had been spared; and in the pantry where the boys at length found themselves, they saw, with a pleasure that cannot be described, the contents of the upper shelves as dry as when they were first put there.

At this they rejoiced more than at anything else.



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