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CHAPTER 14
A strange Sleeping-place.—The Tent.—The View astern.—Rolling Waters in Pursuit.—Morning.—Astonishing Discovery.—The solid Land moving towards the anchored Ship.—How to account for it.—What Land is this?—Various Theories.—Every one has a different Opinion.—Solomon driven from the Cabin.—Drawing nearer.—An iron-bound Coast.

THEIR sleep that night was somewhat disturbed, for the novelty of their position prevented them from having that placidity of mind which is the best promoter of slumber. At times through the night they awaked, and were sensible of the rush of waters about the ship’s quarter, and also of a greater motion of the vessel, accompanied by all manner of creakings and groan-ings. The tarpaulins hung over them, having been secured in such a fashion as to form an excellent tent, opening towards the stern, and closed at the other end by the mizzen-mast and the barrels of biscuit and other things around it. Through the opening astern they could see at times, as the ship sunk, the phosphorescent gleam of foaming billows rolling around them as if about to break over them. Most of these did dash themselves against the ship, but none fell upon the quarterdeck; all that the boys felt was the fine spray which floated under their resting-place, and saturated everything.

None of them, however, attempted to rise and go forth until daybreak. There was no cause for doing so; their sleeping-place was the most comfortable now left in the ship, and the scene without had no attraction strong enough to draw them away. Day dawned, and still there was some hesitation about getting up.

This day was the fifth since the departure of the Antelope. Their situation was now quite serious; but they had not yet seen any signs of Captain Corbet. They looked forward towards seeing him on this day, but the disappointment of the two previous days made them despondent, and each one dreaded to look out, for fear that his forebodings might be confirmed. This was the waking thought of each, and each one also perceived that this day was worse than any they had known yet. If the Antelope still kept away, they scarcely knew what to hope for.

At length they went forth, and looked around. All over the sea the waves were larger, and rougher, and fiercer. The motion of the ship was greater than ever. It seemed as though the billows, that raced and chased about in all directions, were hurrying to overwhelm her. The deck below was all covered with white foam, and at times the bows plunged so far under water, and remained there so long, and were overwhelmed by such floods of rolling billows, that it seemed as though the ship would never again emerge. The quarterdeck was now more than ever like an island; but every moment lessened its security, and brought it more and more within reach of the ravenous waves that surged around on all sides. Such was the sight that met their view, as they took their first look around.

But for all this they had been prepared during the long night, by all that they had felt, and heard, and seen; and therefore this did not affect them so much. It was the long, eager look which they turned towards the distant sea, the sharp, scrutinizing gaze with which they swept the horizon, that brought the deepest trouble; for there, over the wide surface of the waters, not a single sail was visible; and the fifth day, while it brought fresh calamities, brought no Antelope, and no hope of relief.

Suddenly Pat gave a loud shout.

“What’s that?” he cried; “what in the wide wurruld is it that I see over there? Sure it’s draimin I must be.”

All the boys looked in the direction where Pat was pointing.

“It’s land!” cried Bruce, in tones of amazement. .

“Land!”

“Land!”

“Land!” burst from the other boys, who, with inexpressible wonder, looked at the unaccountable sight, and scarcely were able to believe what they saw.

Yet it was land—most unmistakably. There it rose, a long, blue line, apparently about fifteen miles away. It was a rugged shore, and extended along the horizon for some distance. For such a sight as this they had not been in the slightest degree prepared; in fact, they would have expected anything sooner; for how could the land move itself up to their fast-anchored ship? Yet there was the fact, and before that fact they were simply confounded.

“I don’t understand it at all,” said Bruce. “If it had been foggy during the last few days, or even hazy, I could then understand it; but it’s been particularly bright and clear all the time.”

“I wonder if it can be something like mirage,” said Arthur.

“No,” said Bart. “The mirage never appears, except when the sea is perfectly still.”

“My opinion is,” said Arthur, “that the ship’s been dragging her anchor, and has been drifting all these five days; or, at any rate, ever since the wind rose.”

“Perhaps she has broken loose,” said Tom. “The chain may have had a weak link. I remember the anchor went down with a tremendous jerk.”

“For my part,” said Phil, “I’m half inclined to believe that the anchor never got to the bottom. I don’t know how deep the water is in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but I remember thinking at the time that it was a very short chain to reach to the bottom of the sea. I remember wondering that the gulf was so shallow, but I thought that Captain Corbet knew what he was about; but now, the more I think of it, the more sure I feel that Captain Corbet did not know what he was about, but dropped anchor, and let things slide, after his usual careless fashion. He confessed, over and over, that he knew nothing at all about these waters; and he never once took the trouble to sound, or to try and hunt up a chart. No; he has dropped anchor, and the anchor has never begun to get near the bottom. The consequence is, we’ve been drifting along ever since he left us, and are now ever so many miles away from the place where the anchor was dropped. And, what’s worse, I dare say the Antelope was back there two days ago; but we were gone, and so, of course, Captain Corbet’s lost us, and has no more idea where to look for us than a child.”

Phil’s theory was so plausible, that it was at once accepted by all the boys. It seemed the most natural way of accounting for everything,—for the absence of the Antelope, and the appearance of this strange shore. For a time a deep gloom fell over all, and they stood in silence, staring at the land.

Out of this gloom Tom was the first to rouse himself.

“I tell you what it is, boys,” said he, at length, “I don’t know that it’s so bad a thing after all. The more I think of it, the better it seems. I’d ten times sooner be near some land, as we are now, than be far away out in the midst of the sea, with nothing to be seen, day after day, but sky and water. It seems to me that we must be drawing nearer to the land, and before evening we may be close enough to see what sort of a country it is. If the worst comes to the worst, we can launch the boat, and go ashore. It’s a little rough, but, after all, not too rough for the boat. I’ve been out in an open boat when the water was quite as rough as this. It seems rough to us, because the ship is water-logged, and is drifting every way—end on, side on, and so forth.”

“I wonder what land it is,” said Phil.

“If we only knew how the wind has been, we might guess how we have been drifting,” said Bruce; “but the wind has changed once or twice, and I’ve never kept any account of it.”

“Sometimes,” said Bart, “it has been blowing from the bows, and sometimes from the quarter.”

“O, of course, and every other way,” said Arthur; “for the simple reason that the ship must have been turning about, first one way and then the other, as she drifted.”

“I’ve got a strong idea,” said Phil, “that this land is Newfoundland.”

“O, no,” said Tom; “my impression is, that it’s Prince Edward’s Island. For this to be Newfoundland, the wind should have been from the south or the south-west; but it seems to me that it has been generally from a northerly direction.”

“I don’t think anything of the kind,” said Bart; “I think it’s been from a westerly direction, and that this is some part of Nova Scotia or Cape Breton.”

“Sure, an I agree with Tom,” said Pat, “about the wind, only I don’t think that this is Prince Edward’s Island; it’s too high—so it is—and it’s meself that wouldn’t be a bit surprised if it should turrun out to be the Magdalen Islands after all.”

“O, no,” said Bruce, “it’s too long in extent for the Magdalen Islands. I think it may be some part of the New Brunswick coast, perhaps Miramichi,—for it seems to me that the wind has generally come from the east.”

“So it seems to me,” said Arthur; “but, Bruce, an east wind couldn’t take us to Miramichi; it would bring us a good distance to the north of that, from the place where we were. It seems to me that this must be Gasp茅,—and if so, we won’t be very far away from the Bay de Chaleur.”

“Well, well,” cried Pat, with a laugh, “sure it’s the whole surroundin coasts that we’ve gone over, so it is, an every one of us has put her in a different place from every one else. One comfort is, that some of us’ll have to be right, an so I’ll stick, so I will, to the Magdalen Islands, an if it is, why sure we’re certain of good intertainment, so we are, ivery one of us.”

“Well, boys,” said Bruce, cheerily, “perhaps, after all, this is about the best thing that could have happened to us.”

“I don’t see why,” said Tom.

“Why, you know the very reason that Captain Corbet went away was to get sails to bring this ship to some land. The very thing we all wanted was to get her to some land. Well, here we’ve been drifting along, and now, lo and behold! here is the land that we wanted to reach.”

“Yes; but how can we get her to any port? We’ve got no sails, and we can’t steer her.”

“O, when we get nearer, some pilots or fishermen will come off.”

“Yes; but will they be salvors too?” asked Phil, anxiously.

“Certainly not,” said Bruce, in a lofty tone; “they shall be nothing of the kind. We’ll hire them to help us bring her into port. We’ll pay them liberally, of course.”

“Yes,” said Bart, “and we won’t let Captain Corbet’s absence make any difference. He shall have his share all the same—for his not being here isn’t his fault.”

“My idea is,” said Arthur, “that we’d better make a contribution, call it the Corbet Baby Fund, and add it to his share for the sake of old times, and all that sort of thing.”

“Our profits,” Bruce went on to say, in the same lofty tone, “will depend very largely upon the sort of place we can bring the ship to. If this is Miramichi, they ought to be very large,—in fact, the ship’ll bring as large a price there as anywhere; but if it’s the Magdalen Islands, why, of course we can’t expect to do quite so well. Still we ought to do well in almost any case.”

“I should like to know how we can get word to Captain Corbet again,” said Arthur. “I’m afraid he’ll feel anxious about us.”

“O, that’s easy enough,” said Bruce. “On landing, we can telegraph to the Magdalen Islands, and they’ll get word to him somehow.”

“But there isn’t any cable to the Magdalen Islands.”

“Doesn’t the Newfoundland cable pass by there?”

“O, no.”

“O, well, we’ll telegraph to various places, and he’ll be sure to hear sooner or later.”

“I wonder what’s become of him?” said Phil.

“I dare say he’s cruising about the gulf everywhere, asking every vessel he meets about us.”

“I only hope, then, he’ll meet with more vessels than we have.”

“It’s a very curious thing that we haven’t seen any vessels.”

“O, I suppose we’ve drifted out of the way of the fishing vessels and the timber ships. I dare say the fishing vessels keep generally to the same places, for fishes must be more abundant in some spots than in others, and, as to the timber ships, they try to keep as much as possible in one given course.”

“I wonder whether we’re drifting towards that land, or past it.”

“O, well, we didn’t see it yesterday, and we do see it to-day, which proves that we have drifted towards it during the night; and from this it follows that we will be likely to continue drifting towards it. When we get pretty close we must contrive to get some of the fishermen on the coast to help us; but I don’t suppose there’ll be any trouble about that. They’ll all come piling on board as soon as they catch sight of us, and see our situation.”

“I wonder what sort of people they are,” said Phil. “Along some of these shores they don’t bear the best of characters. Some of the fishing population are given to wrecking.”

“I don’t believe a word of that,” said Bruce, “and I never did. I dare say if a ship breaks up they appropriate what they can in a quiet way, and when the owners appear, they may be rather loath to surrender their spoil; but wrecking, in its bad sense, is not known here on these shores. Wrecking, as I understand it, means decoying vessels ashore, and sometimes murdering the shipwrecked crews. And I never heard of a case of that kind about these waters.”

“Perhaps,” suggested Bart, “they won’t feel inclined to recognize our ownership. I confess I don’t feel myself a very strong confidence in our claim.”

“Why not?” said Bruce.

“O, I don’t know. The claim don’t seem to be a just one; for instance, now, if the owners were to appear in a steam-tug and hitch on, would you order them off?”

“Yes, I would,” said Bruce, firmly; “of course I would. I would hire them to tow our ship and cargo into port, and pay them liberally, of course; but as to recognizing them as being owners, so long as we, the salvors, were on board, I would do nothing of the kind. The moment the captain and crew deserted the Petrel, that moment they lost all claims to her, on their own account and on account of their employers. The owners after that must look to the insurance companies, while we gain the benefits of good fortune and our own boldness.”

Bruce spoke all this in the most cool and confident manner in the world, and in the same tone as though the Petrel was lying in some safe harbor, and he and the boys were contemplating her, and considering her from a cosy nook on the wharf. Yet all the time the ship was pitching, and tossing, and straining, and the waves boiled around, and the seas rolled in foam over her deck.

The conversation was at length interrupted by Solomon.

His head and shoulders were projecting from the skylight. He was standing on the cabin table.

“Ise ben a tryin, chilen,” said he, “an a deav-orin to git up some kine ob a fire down heah, but I ben an made it six or seben times, an ebery time de water hab stinguished it. Don know dat dar’s any sort o’ use in tryin to kin’l it agin, specially as all de kinlin wood’s used up, an de res ob it is soaked through an through. Pears to me we’ll hab to do widout de tea an coffee, an drink cole water dis time, unless we can manage to hist dis yer stove on deck. Only, if we do, it might turn out to be a leetle mite tottlish.”

“Well, boys,” said Bart, “what do you say? Shall we try and get the stove on deck, or drink cold water?”

“The stove on deck? O, nonsense!” said Arthur. “What’s the odds if we don’t have tea and coffee? We’ve got enough to eat; we’ve got a precious sight better supply than we ever had on board the Antelope—cold boiled ham, mustard, biscuit, butter, cheese, potted meats, and no end of things. Bother the stove, I say. Let it slide. What do we want with it up here? We never could fix it in a tight place.”

This was the decision of all. In fact all saw that any attempt to hoist up the stove would have been absurd. The ship was pitching and tossing too much to make such a task practicable.

So Solomon came forth, having been driven from the cabin, as he had formerly been driven from the cook’s galley; but not for this did he lose any of his equanimity. He proceeded to lay out the breakfast as well as he could upon the skylight, piling up the mattresses in a dry place, and laying the table with a regard rather to use than to show. He tacitly assumed that under the circumstances the breakfast would be somewhat informal, and did not think it necessary to risk plates and cups by putting them where they would be certain to be flung off by the motion of the ship. The table was therefore rudely spread, but the eatables were all that could be desired.

After breakfast the day went on, and the boys watched hour after hour the distant shore. By midday it had grown much more distinct, and they knew that they were drawing nearer. A few hours after they had drawn still nearer.

But the nearer they came the less satisfaction did they feel in the aspect of the land. The most careful examination through the glass failed to show the slightest sign of life. No houses appeared, no tilled fields, no pastures even, no clearings of any kind; but a rocky shore, with a wooded country behind, was all that they could see.

“O, well, boys,” said Bruce, “this is the way it is almost everywhere around these coasts; but I dare say Miramichi settlement is only a few miles away, and we may find a fisherman’s hut in some cove close by.”


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