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CHAPTER 7
All aboard.—A Welcome of the best Kind.—The Invitation.—The Banquet.—Amazement of the Visitors.—The Repast.—Solomon in his Glory.—The Manuscript found in a Bottle.—The Fate of the Petrel.—Captain Corbet has an Idea.—He begins to brood over it.—A Question of Salvage.—How to make one’s Fortune.

GRADUALLY they became acquainted with the whole truth of the situation. They had thought thus far that the ship, though waterlogged, was still in the possession of her captain and crew. Boundless was their astonishment at learning that it was in the possession of Bruce and Bart alone, and the astonishment which they experienced at this amazing discovery for a time drove away all other thoughts. But Nature at length asserted her supremacy, and the pangs of hunger, for some time past kept in abeyance, now awaked in full force.

“Haven’t you found anything to eat?” asked Arthur, in a low voice, tremulous with emotion.

Bruce did not reply, but looked at Bart. The other boys turned pale. For a moment the awful thought occurred that there was nothing; but the next instant there was wafted to their nostrils the savory odor of broiled ham, which overpowered that mournful thought, and drove it away effectually.

“Well, I don’t know,” said Bart, “but that we may manage to scare up something. I suppose you’re not very particular. Come in here, and I’ll see what I can do for you.”

With these words he entered the cabin, and all the others followed.

One by one they entered the cabin, and one by one each, as he entered, stood rooted to the spot, and stared around in dumb amazement. Captain Corbet came last. He took one look, and then exclaimed, in a low, prolonged, and tremulous voice,—

“Good gerracious!”

And indeed there was every reason for surprise. They had come in expecting to enter the ruinous cabin of a half-wrecked ship, with perhaps a few mouldy ship’s biscuit to be divided among the hungry company. Instead of this they saw a table set out to its fullest extent, with a white cloth spread, and on that table a repast which was nothing less than sumptuous. Tea, coffee, biscuit hard and toasted, Welsh rarebit, broiled ham, potted shrimps, game pie, pickled oysters, lobster, potted salmon, tomatoes, potatoes hot, steaming, and mealy, apples, raisins, nuts, figs, raspberry vinegar, lemon sirup, and numerous other dainties which Bart and Bruce had discovered and drawn forth from the rich store that lay accumulated in the pantry of the Petrel. The lavish abundance of everything, as well as the astonishing variety, overwhelmed the hungry new comers, and, except the exclamation of Captain Corbet, not one word was spoken. It was a moment when words were useless.

For an instant or so Bruce and Bart enjoyed the astonishment of their friends, and watched the effect with a triumphant smile. They had been purposely lavish in this first entertainment of theirs, and had succeeded in placing upon the table a specimen of every individual article for food or drink which the ship contained. They had worked hard in anticipation of this moment, and now that it had come, they found it a complete success.

“Come,” said Bruce, at last, “you can’t eat with your eyes, you know. Come, noble captain, do you preside at this festive board. Tom, sit on the captain’s right, Bart on his left. I’ll take the foot of the table, with Phil on my right. Ward, my bold mate, sit next to Bart; Pat and Phil, fall in. Solomon, you go and install yourself in the cook’s galley, where you’ll find as much as you can eat for the rest of the day.”

Upon this they all took their places, and began to eat with appetites such as those only can possess who have fasted for twenty-four hours on the sea. Bart and Bruce had already satisfied their own wants; so while their friends were eating they gave a full, complete, and exhaustive account of their own adventures, and their doings aboard of the Petrel.

The dinner passed off most delightfully, and a far longer time was spent at the table than the boys generally gave to their repast. Ample justice was done to the bountiful and varied supply that graced the board. After the first pangs of hunger were appeased, there were a thousand new questions to be asked and answered, in addition to those which they had already made. Captain Corbet alone said nothing. He sat and ate, and listened, and from time to time leaned back in his chair with a sigh of happiness, and surveyed the company with a smile that spoke of inward peace.

“My dear young ferriends,” said the venerable captain, at length, taking advantage of an opening in the conversation to express his feelings, “it is with feelings of no ordinary deskeription that I now address you. We have sailed over the briny and billowy main far and wide, and have encountered parls and dangers more’n any ordinary people, but never have we been in such a position, or reduced to such extremities, as in these last few days. And now look at us. Here we air. What kind of an abode is this? Is it a ship? Scacely. Is it a island? Not quite. It’s enchanted gerround! Here we air, an we’ve been led by the kind hand of Providence to this secluded spot in the midst of the wide waste of waters. We come here in a state of starvation, with our minds in a kine of despair; we come here, and we found, as it were, a table spread for us in the wilderness. So far, so good; and I know, my dear young Christian ferriends, you all rejice with me, and feel as I do, full of gladness and gerratitood. But secondly, my dear ferriends,” continued the captain, insensibly increasing his tone and manner to a sermonizing intensity, “there air things about this here craft, that begin to occur to my mind, that go beyond the present fleetin moment, and interweave themselves with our footoor destiny. I ain’t a goin to say jest now what these things air, but I want, fust and foremost, to browse round, and inspect, and cogitate, and meditate, till I kin hit on some kind of a plan for workin out what I want. I’ll tell you when I get it all thought out, but for the present I am dumb.”

After this very mysterious conclusion, Captain Corbet rose and left the cabin. For the remainder of the day he kept by himself. He wandered all over the ship, and inspected every part most carefully. Then he retreated to the quarter-deck, and, seating himself there, lost himself in his own absorbing thoughts. What he was thinking about the boys did not know, nor did any of them inquire; for they were all far too much taken up with the novelty of the situation to pay any attention to him.

Meanwhile Solomon had followed the commands of Bruce, and had taken himself off to the cook’s galley. There, two hours afterwards, on leaving the cabin, the boys found him. He had that expression on his face, and had installed himself in that particular attitude, which might have belonged to one who had lived and labored here for years. He had eaten a huge repast, and was meditating over a roaring fire.

“Hurrah, Solomon,” said Bart, who was the first to visit him. “How goes it, my prince of darkies? This is a little ahead of the Antelope—isn’t it? Now you can begin to live again; and I tell you what, you’ll find enough stuff aft there to give us a first-rate bill of fare every day, and different every time.”

Solomon jumped up with a grin..

“Is de dinna oba, Mas’r Bart?” he asked.

“O, yes.”

“Well, den, I mus go aft an clar away de tings, and spect for myself, to see what we got roun us in dis yer craft. I been a tryin to cogitate an contrive for suppa, but I can’t manage it nohow till I know zacly what I got to put my ole hands un. I s’pose you’ll take all de tings aboard de Antelope right away?

“Aboard the Antelope? Indeed, we don’t intend to do anything of the kind.”

“Why, what are you a goin to do?”

“Do? Why, we’ll stay here for ever so long. It’s a kind of desert island, you know—only it’s ten times better.”

The rest of the boys now came streaming forward, wandering all over the ship. Solomon went to the cabin, while Bart and Bruce proceeded to examine the mattresses. These were very much dryer than they had been, but still were so damp that several of them would require two or three days to become fit to sleep on. Others, however, were already nearly fit for use. Bart noticed that the wet ones came from the port side of the ship, and he remembered that the state-rooms on that side were much damper than those on the other. Water seemed to have penetrated there. He accounted for this on the supposition that this had been the leeward side in a gale, and, when the ship was filling, it had lain low down, and had received the washings of the waves. Fortunately, the storeroom and the pantry were on the other side, and thus their contents had escaped without injury. But the wet mattresses themselves were afterwards taken in hand by Solomon, who opened them, and dried their contents partly in front of the galley stove and partly in the open air. To assist in this process he kindled a roaring fire in the cabin, which served a double purpose, for it not only dried the mattresses but it also dried the cabin itself, and drove away the last vestige of dampness from the state-rooms on the port side.

While busy in one of these, Bart saw a bottle lying on the floor. It was corked. On taking it up, he held it to the light to see what liquid might be inside. To his surprise he saw no liquid, but some folded paper. With a loud cry he rushed forth upon deck, displaying his bottle, and calling upon all the boys to come.

In a few moments the eager boys had all collected around Bart, and even Captain Corbet was roused from his abstraction, and came to the centre of interest.

“Has any one a corkscrew?” asked Bart.

“There’s one in the pantry,” said Bruce.

“I’ll go and get it,” said Phil.

“Pooh!” said Tom; “break the bottle. You’ll never get at the paper if you don’t.”

“Sure enough,” said Bart; and the next instant he struck the bottle against an iron belaying-pin, and shivered it to atoms. The paper fell on the deck.

Bart snatched it up, and opened it. It was a piece of coarse paper, that looked as though it had been hastily torn from some book. On it some writing was hurriedly scrawled with a pencil. It was as follows:—

Ship Petrel, of Liverpool, from Quebec, with timeber. Fog for two weeks, and violent gales. Lost reckoning. Took an observation last in lat. 46掳 5’ 22”, long. 59掳 8’ 2”. Ship waterlogged, on beam-ends, and going to pieces. Taking to boats.

Henry Hall, Master.

There was another scrawl that seemed intended for a date, but the boys could not make it out. It looked like “Tuesday, March,” but it might have been anything else.

Such, then, was the writing. The captain had believed that the ship was actually going to pieces, and had hurried off evidently in the greatest possible haste, and had probably thrown into the boats a few of the barest necessaries of life.

But Bart suggested another theory. It was that the captain had put this writing in the bottle, and had got it all ready to throw over, when perhaps a sail had hove in sight, and thus the bottle had been left in the cabin.

Another theory was, that, in his hurry or panic, he had forgotten all about the bottle, which had floated about in the cabin, and been left in one of the state-rooms by the retreating waves.

It was evident to all that the captain, “Henry Hall,” had lost his head. In his terror he had believed that the ship was “going to pieces;” whereas nothing of the sort was going on. She might possibly have been on her beam-ends, since he said so, but even here his fears might have exaggerated the danger. Captain Corbet thought that she had been struck over on her beam-ends, and held down by her sails, and, when these were torn away, she had eventually righted herself.

“That thar skipper,” said he, sententiously, “was frikened out of his seven senses, and fancied the craft was brakin up. So he rushed to the boats, chucked in a bag of biscuit and a few bottles of water, and rowed away for his life.”

Captain Corbet paused for a moment, and looked at the boys with a very singular expression on his face.

“And now,” said he, “my dear young friends, do you know what you air and what you’ve ben an gone an done?”

“What?” asked Bruce, in some surprise at the captain’s tone and manner.

“Wal, only this—you’re salvors.”

“Salvors!” repeated Bruce, to whom this word conveyed no meaning in particular.

“Salvors!” repeated Captain Corbet, impressively. “Yes, you’ve found this here ship on the broad bosom of the deep, deserted; you’ve took possession—she’s yours.”

“Well, what of that?” said Bruce. “For that matter, she belongs to all of us.”

“She belongs to all them that bear a hand to bring her into port.”

“Into port!” cried Bart, in great surprise.

“Yes, into port,” said Captain Corbet. “That thar was the very fust idee that entered into my head as I sot foot on this here deck. This noble ship, this valable cargo,—is this to be given up, or surrendered to the tender mussies of the pitiless and ragin ocean? Not if I knows it. If we can manage to navigate this here craft into port, she’s ours! We can sell her. We can sell her cargo. It’s a val’able cargo. It’ll give each of us enough, if the proceeds air divided, to set us up for life. For my part, I’m an old man, with one foot in the grave; but I never forget that I am a feyther, and never did the parential heart beat more wildly than it did at the identical moment when this thought came like fire into my brain. That’s so.”

“But how in the world can we get her into port?” cried Bart, in astonishment and excitement.

“Wal,” said Captain Corbet, “that thar’s the very identical pint that I’ve been a cogitatin over the hull arternoon. I’ve gone about this here craft on all sides, an I’ve sot an surveyed her from a distance. I’ve shot my eyes an meditated her all over. But thar’s one grand and overpeowerin obstacle in the way to a fair navigation, and that is, she hasn’t got a rag of a sail except that jib.”

“‘So what can we do?” said Bruce. “We can’t get her to move an inch without sails.”

“Couldn’t we rig up the sails of the Antelope?” asked Tom.

Captain Corbet shook his head mildly.

“’Tain’t possible,” said he, “no how. Fust an foremost, the spread of canvas on the schewner ain’t over an above sufficient to fetch her along, and on this here ship it wouldn’t be a succumstance. Why, this here ship is a thousand tonner, an more too. Besides,” added the venerable captain, with mild suggestiveness, “the canvas of the Antelope might be stronger.”

This was a statement the truth of which was at once felt and acknowledged by all the boys.

“Wal,” said Captain Corbet, “there ain’t no use doin things up in a hurry—not a mite. We’ve got to deliberate, cogitate, turn it all over in our minds, and be precious keerful how we decide. There’s a good deal at stake, and this here hour may be a goin to make or mar our fortins. I intend to brood over it this night, an p’aps by mornin I’ll see my way. The only trouble is,” he added, in a pensive tone, “that I don’t quite know how I can ever see my way to navigatin this here vessel without sails.”

“Perhaps we can drift to some place,” suggested Phil.

Captain Corbet looked at Phil for a few moments with mild astonishment.

“Have you ever tried driftin, young sir?” he asked, at length.

“No,” said Phil, “except with you, in the Antelope.”

“Yea, and in the Bay of Fundy. Now, if this was only the Bay of Fundy, I’d feel at home. In that thar bay I’d ventoor to cal’late the exact point to which this here ship would drift. But this ain’t the Bay of Fundy, and, what’s more, I don’t understand the currents of these here waters,—more’s the pity, bein as I’m a pilgerrim an a stranger. As to driftin, why, we’ll drift, course, as long as we’re aboard; but where we may drift to it would take a man with a head as long as a horse to tell. Why, we might drift to Portygal, and that, I think, wouldn’t quite meet the voos of any of us. I’ve knowed, or leastways I’ve heerd tell of ships that’s gone all the way over to Portygal, partly driftin, partly by the wind a blowin of ‘em. But this here ship I want to indooce to go to some home port,—and how to do that is the puzzle that now occoopies this bewildered brain.”

With these words the captain gently passed away from the group of boys, leaving them to think over and to talk over this new and exciting project. It was in conversation about this and about the message in the bottle, that they occupied themselves till bedtime.

That night they concluded to sleep in their old quarters on board the Antelope, as the beds and bedding in the cabin of the Petrel were not dry enough to satisfy the mind of Captain Corbet.


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