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首页 » 经典英文小说 » Picked Up Adrift » CHAPTER 9
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Corbet at the Helm.—Visions by Night.—The Vis-ion of sudden Wealth.— Over the Waters.—The Ocean Isles.—A startling and unwelcome Sight.—Landing of Corbet.—Corbet among the Moun-seers.—Unpleasant Intelligence.—An unwelcome Visitor.—A sharp Inquisition.—Corbet in a Corner.—Answers of Guile and Simplicity.—Perplexity of Cross examiner.

THUS the Antelope passed away from the eyes of the boys, and vanished into the shades of night. The breeze was light, and Corbet stood at the helm, shaping his course for the Magdalen Islands. The first feeling of uneasiness which he had experienced on leaving ‘the boys in so very peculiar, perhaps dangerous, a situation, had passed away with the boys themselves, and his thoughts now turned on other things. He was virtually alone. Wade indeed, was on board, but the captain had sent him below to sleep, so that he might be able to relieve him and take his turn at midnight.

Thus alone at the helm, Captain Corbet looked out over the silent sea, and up into the starry sky, and lost himself in peaceful meditations. But his thoughts were not concerned with sea or sky. Other and dearer subjects gave them occupation. It was his “babby” that occupied his mind; that babby for whose sake he had deserted the boys, and left them alone in mid ocean. He was going to make a fortune for his son. He was going to take measures for securing the wrecked ship, so as to bring her into some port, sell her, and divide the proceeds.

Night, and solitude, and silence are ever the best promoters of meditation, and Captain Corbet’s fancy was stimulated and quickened by his present surroundings. In thought he went all over the Petrel. He examined her hull; he considered her cargo; he made light of her injuries—He concluded that a very small sum might make her once more seaworthy, and he thought that fifteen thousand pounds might be easily obtained for her. Then as to her cargo; that he knew must be perfectly free from injury. He tried to estimate the number of tons; then he multiplied these by the price per ton, so as to get at the value of the entire cargo. Then he added this to the value of the ship, and allowed his mind to play freely around the aggregate. It was a sum of dazzling proportions—a sum far greater than he had been able to make after the hard toil and persevering efforts of many laborious years! And all this he was now about to achieve by one stroke. It was to be the work of a few days. It was to be for the good of the “babby.”

Here another theme attracted the thoughts of the good captain,—the fondest of all themes,—his infant son. That son would now have something that would approximate to wealth. All his future would take tone and flavor from this adventure. The father’s best feelings were roused, and in fancy he traced the future of his beloved infant. He saw him pass from long clothes into short clothes, from frocks into jackets, and from jackets into coats. He followed him in thought from his mother’s arms to his own legs; from his home to the school; from the school to the college. He watched him consume the midnight oil for years, until he at length reached the brilliant end of his educational goal. Then he portrayed before his mind the form of his son in the future,—now at the bar pleading, or on the bench judging; now at the bedside of the sick; now in the pulpit preaching. He listened to the sermon of the imaginary preacher, and found himself moved to tears.

“Dear, dear!” he murmured to himself; “I’d no idee the little feller’d be so eliquint. It doos beat all, railly.”

Captain Corbet was really like one who had taken intoxicating liquor, or opium; and, in fact, he was intoxicated, but the stimulus was no drink or drug; it was merely his fancy, which had become heated by the extravagant dream of sudden wealth. Gold produces its own fevers and deliriums; and the good captain had been seized by one of these. Yet, after all, let it be remembered that his avarice was not for himself, but for his child. And as the lone navigator stood at his post under the midnight sky, in solitude and darkness, heaping up those bright fancies, out of which he was rearing so stupendous a castle in the air, he was building, all the while, not for himself, but for another.

Had he left the boys under any other circumstances,—that is, supposing that he had been capable of so leaving them,—there is no doubt that he would have been a prey to the most harassing anxiety on their account, and would have passed a wakeful night, full of mental distress. But now these new thoughts so occupied him that there was no place for anxiety, and he went on towards the accomplishment of his purpose as resolutely as though he had left them all in the safest and pleasantest place in the world.

Yet the situation in which they were left was one which might have created anxiety in the breast of even a more unfeeling man than Captain Corbet—on board a wrecked ship, that lay there in mid sea, with no means of saving themselves in the event of disaster. It was calm now, but how long would the calm continue? This breeze, that was wafting him along so gently and pleasantly, might stiffen, and strengthen, and intensify itself into a gale; and how would the gale act upon a ship that was virtually under water? Where could the boys betake themselves for refuge? How could they avoid the sweep of the surges that a rising storm would pour over her decks? Where could they find security from the downfall of the masts, which, in the writhing and twisting ship, must inevitably fall. A storm might change their foothold into a waste of boiling foam, and make the masts above as dangerous as the sea below. Even a moderate wind and a very ordinary rising of the sea might make their situation one of peril. Of this the boys, in their inexperience, had taken no thought; but this was the very thing that Captain Corbet ought to have thought of, and this was the thing that he was destined to think of afterwards with anguish of soul. But, for the present, not a thought of this sort came to him. His mind was altogether given up to the sway of those exciting and alluring fancies which beckoned him away to imaginary wealth.

Captain Corbet had arranged to call Wade at midnight; but so excited was he by his dreams and speculations that he took no note of time, and was at length startled by the coming of the dawn. Then he hurried away, sent Wade to the helm, and flung himself into his berth.

After a long and profound sleep, which was the natural consequence of the excitement of the previous night, he awaked. To his surprise he found that it was about eleven o’clock.

He cast a hasty look around.

His first feeling was one of satisfaction. There, immediately in front of him, were the Magdalen Islands. His course had been sufficiently accurate to bring him to his destination. He was near enough now to cast anchor, and Wade was already moving forward with that intent.

But in that first look that he had given he noticed another thing, for which he was not prepared, and which detracted somewhat from the satisfaction that had been caused by the sight of the islands.

He saw a schooner at anchor.

The beautiful outline, the slender, tapering masts, the white spars, and the immaculate neatness that characterized this schooner, all told him plainly what she was, and he needed no closer inspection to feel sure that it was the Fawn.

Now, the sight of the Fawn disturbed the mind of the venerable captain.

He dreaded a meeting with her skipper, Captain Tobias Ferguson.

The Petrel was a prize for those who might be her salvors. To that fortunate situation he did not wish to admit any others. He wished merely to procure sails, and then navigate her somehow with the help that he already had. He knew well, and he dreaded, the keen inquisitiveness and the active, restless energy of Captain Tobias Ferguson.

He did not want to meet with him at all. In fact, the very last person in all the world that he would have chosen to meet with at this particular time was this very man.

So great was his dread of a meeting, which might ruin all his plans, that his first impulse was to fly. He cast a hasty look all around. Upon the beach he saw the boat of the Fawn. Evidently the skipper was ashore. Upon this discovery he at once acted, and determined to move farther away. Hastily checking Wade, who was in the act of dropping the anchor, Captain Corbet wore round, and continued on his former course for a mile or so. Then, rounding the extremity of the island, he kept on his way along the shore, anxiously considering what was best to be done.

There were other islands in the group, but this was the one which he wished to visit, for here only could he hope to find anything like sails. He had come here for this purpose, and to go away without accomplishing it was not to be thought of. It now seemed to him that the best thing for him to do, under the circumstances, would be to land here, and pursue his investigations in a quiet way about the island, managing so as to avoid all contact with Captain Ferguson. He therefore dropped anchor here, and, taking Wade with him, he went ashore.

Once on shore, he went about his search with the utmost diligence, going from house to house, and making inquiries about sails. But from the first his task was a roost discouraging one. Every one assured him that there were no spare sails on the island; all the schooners were away, and whatever stock any one had he generally kept in his schooner, and took it with him. This was the information that he got from every one to whom he applied.

For hour after hour Captain Corbet kept up his fruitless search, dodging about cautiously, so as to avoid being seen by Captain Ferguson, in case he might be ashore, and keeping a wary lookout. At length he had visited every house on the island of any consequence. The only thing that they could suggest was for him to go to Miramichi, where he would be likely to obtain what he wanted.

Captain Corbet, in deep dejection, now retraced his steps to the boat. He thought for a time of applying to Ferguson. But a moment’s reflection made him give up that idea. He knew that Ferguson would be full of curiosity; that he would ask him all about the boys; and he feared that if he got the slightest hint of the facts of the case, he might start off instantly for the wreck, and thereby forestall him. It does not follow that Ferguson would really have done this; but this was Captain Corbet’s belief, and it influenced him, of course, precisely as if the belief had been well founded.

Having thus dismissed the idea of appealing to Ferguson, it remained for him to decide what next to do. He did not think of going back. Better to take Ferguson into his confidence at once. He still clung to his first hope and his first plan, and, since Miramichi was the nearest place where he could rely upon finding sails, he began to think about going there. True, this would take up two or three days more, and the boys would be left to themselves all that time; but, as he had already accustomed himself to think of them in their present position as quite safe, he was able to entertain the thought of leaving them this way still, longer. He had committed himself too deeply to his plan, he had gone too far towards its execution, and he had built too largely upon its successful accomplishment, to be willing to give it up just yet.

And so by the time he reached the boat he had about made up his mind to start off for Miramichi at once. With this resolve he went back to the schooner.

The moment that he stepped on deck he was astonished at detecting in the atmosphere the smell of cigar smoke; and while he was yet standing, with open mouth and expanded nostrils, inhaling the unwelcome odor, he was still more unpleasantly surprised at seeing a figure emerge from the cabin, in whom at one glance he recognized the well-known and particularly dreaded lineaments of Captain Tobias Ferguson.

His unwelcome visitor held out his hand, and wrung that of Captain Corbet with affectionate cordiality.

“Didn’t expect to see you back again in these parts so soon. You must have made a fine run of it, too. How far did you go? Not to the Bay of Islands—hey? Why, there’s been a reg’lar old-fashioned calm about here, and this here wind ain’t much to speak of. And how are my young friends, the ragamuffins?”

“Wal—pooty tol’able,” said Captain Corbet, in a faint voice.

“Hm—glad to hear it. And where was it, did you say, that you went to?”

“O—a—kine o’—genral sort o’ kerrews, like.”

“Hm—and so you left them in the Bay of Islands?”

“Wal—n—n—no—, ’twan’t exactly thereabouts.”

“O—not Anticosti?”

“Wal—n—no,” said Captain Corbet, with an increasing sense of discomfort.

“Ah, St. Pierre?”

“N—n—n—not exactly.”

“St. Paul’s, then?”

“Wal—‘twan’t St. Paul’s, nuther.”

“O, a kind o’ general cruise, I see; young adventurers, and all that. But I’m glad you took my advice, and didn’t go to Anticosti. A bad place. And how do they like Newfoundland?”

“Wal—they—didn’t—quite git to Newfoundland, nuther,” said Captain Corbet, in a low, faint, hesitating, confused way.

“No, of course not,” said Ferguson, briskly. “Too far away; I said so. You concluded to go to Gaspe, of course.”

“Wal—n—n—n—no, we didn’t quite get—off—in that thar—de—rection,” replied Captain Corbet, who was utterly at a loss how to fight off this eager and inquisitive questioner. Had the good captain been capable of telling a lie, his task would have been easier; but he was a truthful man, and in this case he hardly knew what to do.

“Well, come now,” said Ferguson, “where did you go?”

Captain Corbet started at this point blank question, and was perfectly dumb.

Ferguson looked at him with keen scrutiny, and then said,—

“You don’t answer. What’s the matter? Has anything happened? Where are the boys?”

Again the unfortunate Corbet was unable to answer.

“It’s a plain question enough,” said Ferguson, “and you’ve got to answer it somehow—for I’m going down Nova Scotia way, and may see some of their parents. So, own up, old man. What have you done with the boys?”

At this moment a happy thought occurred to the bewildered Corbet. It came like a ray of light in deep darkness.

“Wal,” said he, “you see, capting—you know—them thar youngsters, you know—they—they’ve—got up a kine o’ secret society—you know—they told you—themselves—you know—and they’re all together—you know—and it’s a matter—of importance—to them—and to me—to—to—to—to keep the secret, you know. O, I do assure you it’s all right—they’re all safe an sound—an enjyin life; good quarters, plenty to eat an drink, an ole Solomon a doin of the cookin—but it’s a great secret, you know—and so—you see—capting—the fact is—I’d a leetle rayther not let on where they air jest now.”

Captain Corbet spoke this in a confused way, and in a mild, deprecatory manner. Ferguson listened attentively to his words, and then stood looking at him for some time with an air of dissatisfaction.

“Well—old man,” said he, “I do remember some nonsense of theirs about a secret society; but you haven’t answered my question; you evade it; and what their secret society has to do with their present situation I don’t quite begin to make out. The fact is, I don’t consider you a fit guardian for such boys as they are, and my opinion all along has been that they’ll all get into mischief. I’m afraid that they’re in some fix at this particular moment, and that you have left them at the very time that you ought to be standin by them. If you don’t choose to tell me, I can’t make you—only I warn you, if the boys air in a fix it’s best to let me know, for I can go and help them sooner and better than you can.”

“O, but railly, now—now—railly, capting,” said Corbet, with great earnestness, “I do assure you, honest and honor bright, there ain’t no difficulty about the boys. They’re all rail happy—tip-top, an no mistake; as lively as crickets; lots to eat an drink, comfortable beds, good cookery—all in good spirits and a enjyin of themselves in a way that would do your heart good to see.”

“Well—but where are they?” persisted Ferguson.

“Wal—now—railly—you know,” said Captain Corbet, “it’s a kine o’ secret—an I’d very much rather not tell—that is—not jest now; now railly—don’t ask me.”

Ferguson looked at him for a few moments with the same scrutinizing look that he had already turned upon him.

“Where are you going now?” he asked at length; “back to the boys?”

“Wal—not jest yet,” answered Corbet, after a pause. “The fact is, I was thinkin a little of takin a turn over Miramichi way—on business. I won’t belong, and they’ll be all right till I get back from Miramichi.”

“O, the boys’ll have to wait for you, in the place where they now are, till you get back from Miramichi—so that’s it.”

Ferguson spoke these words slowly and deliberately, with his eyes fixed on Captain Corbet. The latter looked somewhat uncomfortable, and for a while said nothing; but at length he murmured,—

“Wal—I s’pose—that’s—about—it.”


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