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CHAPTER 12
Ingenuity of Tom and Phil.—Checkers and Chess.—Speculations as to the Future.—Melancholy Forebodings.—Where is the Antelope?—A Change of Weather.—Solemn Preparations by Solomon.—Making ready for the Worst.—The Place of Retreat.—Laying in a Stock of Provisions.—Pitching a Tent.—Reconnaissance in Force.—A midnight Alarm.—Horror of Solomon.—A haunted Ship.—Sleepers awakened.—They go to lay the Ghost.—Forth into the Night.

THE boys thus succeeded in filling the day with sufficient incidents to occupy their thoughts. It was not an unpleasant day; indeed, it was afterwards looked back upon by all of them as one of the marked days in their lives. True, most of the molasses had been lost, and the remainder, which had been turned into candy, had not been recommended to their palates by the addition of the hair-oil of the steward of the Petrel; but to active-minded boys these little disappointments caused no trouble whatever; on the contrary, they only furnished material for endless jests and laughter. The conclusion of the whole affair was reached when the party once more formed themselves into a meeting, at which it was moved, seconded, and unanimously voted, “that the thanks of this meeting be conveyed to Solomon for his generous loan of the cook’s galley.”

After this, Tom, who always was remarkably fruitful in devices, conceived the idea of making a checker-board. He was able to do this without any very great difficulty. He obtained the head of a flour barrel, and with some soot and water he was able to mark out the squares very well indeed. He then obtained the covers of some red herring boxes, which he cut up into the checker pieces, blackening them with soot. He then challenged Bruce to a game. Bruce played, and won; but, as at the end of that time Bruce, who had chosen the black men, found his fingers and face all covered with soot, and his fingers, moreover, smelling most abominably of stale red herring, his victory did not seem to give him that satisfaction which it might be supposed to have caused.

Fired by Tom’s example, Phil undertook a more ambitious task, which was nothing less than to make a set of chess-men. He went about the pantry, and succeeded in finding a number of corks, which he attempted to cut into the required shapes. His knife, however, was rather dull, and he himself was not particularly skilful at carving; so that when the pieces were completed, it required a great effort of the imagination to see the connection between the corks and the pieces which they were supposed to represent, and a still greater effort of memory to retain the recollection of such resemblance. He challenged Bart to a game, and the two attempted to play; but, after a dozen moves, attended by a dozen disputes, the game resolved itself into an insoluble problem as to whether a certain piece, belonging to Phil, was a pawn or a queen. All present took part in the discussion, but, after a long debate, it was left undecided; and so the game broke down.

After tea they adjourned to the quarter-deck. Here all was pleasant, and soothing, and agreeable. A gentle breeze still blew as before, and the prospect of this tranquil weather continued. The boys sang, and told stories, and chatted for hours. They speculated much as to the time when the Antelope might be expected back again. Some thought that she might be back by the evening of the next day, but others were inclined to allow her a longer time.

“For my part,” said Bart, “I think well have to allow about three days—one day to go to the Magdalen Islands, one day to hunt up the sails, and one day to come back.”

“O, he needn’t be so long as that,” said Phil. “I should think he could get to the Magdalen Islands in far less time. They can’t be over fifty miles away, and this breeze would take him there in fifteen hours or so. He left here at about six yesterday; he probably got there at about twelve to-day. He could hunt all over the islands before dark at farthest; and, of course, he’ll come straight back after he gets the sails. He probably left there this evening at sundown, and he may be here to-morrow.”

“O, I don’t know,” said Bruce. “I dare say he did leave this evening to come back; but, mind you, my boy, this wind’s against him. He’ll have to tack coming back, and the Antelope isn’t much at that. I don’t believe he’ll do it by to-morrow.”

“Three days, I think, will have to be allowed,” said Arthur.

“Well, three days ought to do it at the farthest,” said Tom. “He certainly won’t wait at the Magdalen Islands. The only thing that’ll keep him’ll be the head winds.”

“Sure, an’ for my part,” said Pat, “he may stay three weeks, if he likes. This place is over an over again betther than the Antelope.”

“O, I don’t know,” said Bart. “It’s all very well while the wind is this way, but if an easterly or southerly wind should come up, it wouldn’t be so comfortable. A heavy sea would roll through and through the cabin, and we’d have to live, and eat, and sleep up here.”

“Sure, an ayvin that wouldn’t be so bad.”

“Well, if it were to rain at the same time,” said Bruce, “it might be a little damp up here; and I’m afraid we wouldn’t have quite so good a table.”

“I only hope that the Antelope’ll get back before it begins to blow,” said Tom.

“Yes,” said Bart, “it’s all very well in fine weather; for I’d rather be on board here than in the Antelope; but if the weather is going to change, I’d a precious sight rather have the Antelope within hail.”

“O, well,” said Phil, cheerily, “there’s no sign of a blow just yet, at any rate; so I suppose we needn’t talk about that. I’ve no doubt this weather’ll hold on for a day or so longer, and by that time, at the farthest, the Antelope will be here.”

“If the Antelope were really in sight,” said Bart, “I don’t believe I should give one thought to the weather; but the fact that she is away makes the subject a very important one. This head wind may detain her, and if it were to blow hard, it would be bad for us.”

“Well,” said Bruce, “I believe that if it did blow hard, the wind would change; and in that case, it would be all the more favorable for the Antelope, and, of course, bring her here all the faster. So, at the worst, our hardships couldn’t last more than a few hours.”

“There’s a good deal in that,” said Bart; “I didn’t think of it before.”

Such were their speculations as to the Antelope; but all these, together with all apprehensions of danger, and all fears about the change of weather, were soon forgotten in a sound and refreshing sleep.

The next morning came, and their conversation of the previous night made every one think of the Antelope. On going upon deck, their first thought was of her. But of the Antelope there was not a sign, nor was any sail visible whatever. Little did they imagine that at that moment, instead of steering his bark back to them, Captain Corbet was sailing away from them, and directing his course to Miramichi. But the weather was fine, and the breeze was still mild; and so, after one glance around, they all dismissed the subject.

Breakfast, and morning occupations, and games, and swimming, and various other pastimes, took up the interval until midday, when dinner came to engage their attention.

On going upon deck after dinner, they noticed a change in the appearance of sea and sky. Clouds were visible on the horizon, and the wind had shifted. It was blowing from another quarter. It had been north-east. It was now south-east. It was also a little stronger than it had been, and created more than a ripple on the water. The surface of the sea was now agitated, and the halcyon times of calm had passed. The boys noted all these things at one glance.

“It’s going to be rough,” said Bart. “The wind has changed, and it’s going to blow.”

“Well,” said Bruce, “let it blow. It’ll be fair for the Antelope, and fetch her up all the faster.”

“It’s an ill wind that blows no good,” said Tom, quietly.

“Let her rip,” said Phil.

The boys were not by any means inclined to borrow trouble, and so they soon drove away these thoughts, and began to get up amusements of the old sort. They ransacked the cabin, they peered into places heretofore neglected. Nothing, however, of any particular interest rewarded their searches. So the afternoon passed away.

The tea table was set. Solomon did his best. All praised the repast, as something of a superior order. This time Solomon did not kindle, and glow, and chuckle at the praises of his young friends, but preserved a demeanor of unchangeable gravity.

As they sat at table, they all noticed a slight motion in the vessel, which would not have been regarded under ordinary circumstances, but which now, in their very peculiar situation, excited comment.

“The wind is increasing,” said Arthur.

“I dare say we’ll have a blow to-night,” said Bart.

“If there’s much more motion, we must expect to get a ducking,” said Tom.

“Any way,” said Phil, “my berth’s out of the reach of the water; it’s the upper one.”

“Sure, thin, an I’ll have to change my berth to an upper one,” said Pat, “if that’s what ye’re thinkin of.”

“Well,” said Bruce, “it’ll be all the better for the Antelope. The wind won’t be much, after all. We’ll only feel it because we’re so low in the water.”

“O, of course,” said Bart; “and if the worst comes to the worst, we can go to the quarterdeck.”

The change in their prospects, however, did not in the slightest degree affect the appetite of the boys; but, on the contrary, they exhibited a greater devotion than ordinary to this repast, as though they were all under the impression that this might be the last one which they were to eat under such luxurious circumstances.

This impression, if it did exist, was confirmed after tea, when they went out upon deck. Solomon was there, grave and preoccupied.

“Chilen,” said he, in a mild voice, “we mus get some ’visium up dis yar ebenin on to dat ar quarter-deck. I ben a riggin some tackle to hist up some barls ob biscuit. Dar’s water up dar already, two barls, an dat’ll be nuff for de present. You’ll all hab to len a han, an hist up biscuit barls; an you can fotch up as many oder tings as you can lay yer hans on.”

“O, let’s wait till to-morrow,” said Tom.

“No, no; bes be in time,” said Solomon. “It’s a gwine to blow dis yer night, an we’ve got to work so as to hab all tings ready.”

None of the boys were surprised at this; so they all prepared to lend a hand at the work. This was, as Solomon said, to hoist up some barrels of biscuit. These they rolled out from the store-room, and hoisted up to the quarter-deck. They then lashed them round the mizzenmast securely. Two stout seamen’s chests were then brought up, being first emptied of their contents, and into these the boys packed an assortment of such articles of food as might be desirable in the event of a prolonged stay on the quarter-deck, such as two hams, which Solomon, with wise forethought, had boiled, cheese, potted meats, knives, forks, mustard, butter, salt, &c.

They now felt prepared to some extent for the worst; but the question still remained, how they were to procure shelter in the event of rain. A diligent search resulted in the discovery of several tarpaulins. These they hung over the boom, securing the ends on each side to the deck in such a way that a tent was formed, which was spacious enough to shelter them all in case of need, and quite impervious to water. In the middle of this tent rose the skylight, which might serve for a table, or even a sleeping-place, in case of need. Upon the top of this they spread some mattresses and blankets.

“Dar,” said Solomon, “dat ar’s de best dat we can do; an if dis yer wind’s boun to rise, an dis yer vessel’s decks get a swimmin wid water, we’ll be able to hab a dry place to lib in.”

“Well, I don’t believe we’ll have to use it,” said Tom; “but there’s nothing like having things ready.”

“O, we’ll sleep all the sounder for this,” said Bart.

“There’s nothing like knowing that we’ve got a place to run to, if the worst comes to the worst.”

“And then, even if the sea does wash over the decks,” said Phil, “all we’ve got to do is, to take off our shoes and stockings, roll up our trousers, and meander about barefoot.”

“Sure, an there’s a good deal to be said in favor of goin barefoot,” remarked Pat.

“O, well,” said Bruce, “it’ll only be for a little while; for I’ve no doubt that the Antelope’ll be along some time to-morrow.”

“At any rate, we can get our sleep this night in our beds,” said Arthur. “I’m going to my old crib, and I mean to sleep there, too, till I’m washed out of it.”

“And so will I,” said Bart.

“And I,” said Tom.

“And I,” said Phil.

“And sure an meself will do that same too,” said Pat.

“Of course,” said Bruce; “we’d be great fools not to sleep there as long as we can.”

The wind had increased a little, but not much, and the motion of the ship was, after all, but slight.

It was rather the prospect before them than the present reality that had led to these preparations.

Two or three hours passed, and ten o’clock came. By that time the wind had increased to a fresh, strong breeze, and the sea had risen into moderate waves. The motion of the ship had grown to be a slow, regular rise and fall of about two feet. On walking to the bows, they saw that at every rise and fall the water came in through the scupper-holes and flowed over the deck.

“Well, there it comes,” said Tom; “but for my part, I persist in refusing to believe that it’ll be anything of consequence. I don’t believe it’ll get into the cabin. As to the deck here, a thorough washing’ll do it good. I was thinking to-day that it needed one.”

“O, it’ll not be much,” said Phil.

“Sure an where’s the harrum,” said Pat, “if it does come into the cabin, so long as we’re high up in our berths, out of reach?”

“Solomon’ll have trouble in cooking to-morrow,” said Bart.

“Then we’ll feed on biscuit,” said Arthur. “A few days ago we’d have been glad enough to be where we are now.”

“That’s true,” said Bruce; “and, besides, tomorrow the Antelope’ll be almost sure to be here. This wind’s fair, and as I’ve always said, what’s bad for us in one way is best for us in another, for-it’ll bring the Antelope along all the faster.”

In this way they all made light of the change that had taken place; and, turning away, they all went to the cabin and retired to their respective berths. The lamp under the skylight was burning brightly, the cabin had its usual cheerful appearance, and the comforts here served still more to make them overlook the troubles outside.

So they all went to bed.

For a few hours they slept.

Then they were awakened by a cry—a wild, wailing cry, a cry of terror and of despair. Every one started up at once. The cry came again from the cabin.

“O, chilen, we’re lost! we’re done for! we’re ru-i-na-ted for ebbemo!”

“Hallo, Solomon!” cried Bart. “What are you making all that row about?”

And as he said this he jumped out of his berth. As he entered the cabin one glance reassured him partially. The lamps were burning; they had allowed them to burn for this night; the floor was dry. Everything had the same air of comfort which had prevailed when they retired. The motion of the ship was certainly greater, perhaps even much greater; but under any other circumstances it would not have been noticed. This much Bart saw first; and then he noticed a figure bowed over the table, sighing and groaning. It was Solomon. His head was buried in his hands.

“Come,” said Bart, laying his hand on Solomon’s shoulder. “What’s the matter? What’s upset you so?”

Solomon raised his head and grasped Bart’s arm convulsively in both of his hands.

“Dar’s ghosts about!”

“Ghosts?

“Yes, Mas’r Bart; d-d-d-dars g-g-ghosts a-b-b-b-bout,” said Solomon, with a shudder and with chattering teeth.

“Pooh! nonsense! What do you mean?” asked Bart.

By this time all the other boys were out in the cabin. They had all gone to bed with their clothes on, and stood now wide awake and prepared for any emergency. They all stared fixedly at Solomon, expecting to hear some dreadful disclosure. They had never before seen him so completely upset.

“Dar’s g-g-ghosts a-b-b-b-b-b-b-oard,” said Solomon. “I went to bed. I waked at de row dey made down below, in de hole.”

“What, in the hold?”

“Y-y-yes, Mas’r Bart, in d-d-d-d-e hole ob de ship. It’s a haunted ship—an—full ob hobgobblums.”

“Pooh!” said Bart, with a sigh of relief; “is that all? Some nightmare or other. Never mind, old Solomon; it’s all right; we’ll go and lay the ghosts. You come and show me the place.”

“Darsn’t,” gasped Solomon.

“If you’ll come with us, you know; we’ll all go.”

“D-d-d-arsn’t,” said Solomon again.

“Well, we’ll go, and T think it’ll be better for you to come with us than to stay here alone,” said Bart. “Come along, boys; let’s find out what it is. Perhaps something’s the matter.”

With these words he went out.

The other boys followed.

Solomon gave one wild glance around, and then, finding himself forsaken, and dreading the loneliness, he hurried after the others.


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