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CHAPTER 16
Night, and Storm, and Darkness.—The giddy Perch.—The trembling Ship.—The quivering Masts.—A Time of Terror.—Silence and Despair.—A Ray of Hope.—Subsidence of Wind ami Wave.—Descent of the Boys.—Sufferings of Pat.—In the Mizzen-top.—Vigil of Bart.—The Sound of the Surf.—The Rift in the Cloud.—Land near.—The white Line of Breakers.—The black Face of Solomon.—All explained.—The Boat and the Oars.—The friendly Cove.—Land at last.

NIGHT, and storm, and darkness! There, in their giddy perch in the mizzen-top, stood that despairing little band. Gradually all the scene was lost to view in thick darkness. But beneath, the ship tossed and pitched wildly, groaning and creaking as before, and the big waves beat in fury on her bows, or fell in thunder on her quarter-deck. Looking down, they saw the phosphorescent gleam of the boiling waters, which made all the extent of the ship luminous with a baleful lustre, and wide over the seas extended the same glow. Well it was for them that they had sought this place of retreat, or rather that this place of retreat had been left open to them, for clinging to the rigging would have exhausted their strength, and through those long hours more than one might have fallen into the sea. But as it was they could have something like rest, and, by changing their positions, find relief for their wearied frames.

Yet this place had its own terrors, which were fully equal to any others. The wind howled fearfully through the rigging, and as the ship pitched and tossed, the mast strained and quivered in unison. Often and often it seemed to them that the strained mast would suddenly snap and go over the side, or, if not, that in its violent jerks it might hurl them all over to destruction. More than once they thought of guarding against this last danger by following Pat’s example, and binding themselves to the rigging; but they were deterred from this by the fear of the mast falling, in which case they, too, would be helpless. Fortunate it was for them that there were no sails. These had long since been rent away; but had they been here now, or had the wind taken any stronger hold of the masts, they must have gone by the board.

Often and often, as some larger wave than usual struck the ship, the feeling came that all was over, and that now, at last, her break-up was beginning; often and often, as she sank far down, and the waters rolled over her quarter, and held her there, the fear came to them that at last her hour had come—that she was sinking; and with this fear they looked down, expecting to see the waters rise to where they were standing. And then, in every one of these moments of deadly fear, they raised, as before, their cries to Him who is able to save.

So passed away hour after hour, until the duration of time seemed endless, and it was to all of them as though they had spent days in their place of peril, instead of hours only.

At length they became sensible of a diminution in the power of the wind. At first they hardly dared to believe it, but after a time it became fully evident that such was the case. The cessation of the wind at once relieved the ship very materially, though the sea was still high, and the waters below relaxed but little from their rage. But the cessation of the wind filled them all with hope, and they now awaited, with something like firmness, the subsidence of the waves.

That subsidence did come, and was gradually evident. It was slow, yet it was perceptible. They first became aware that those giant waves no longer fell in thunder upon the quarter-deck, and that the ship no longer seemed to be dragged down into those deep, watery abysses into which they had formerly seemed to be descending.

“There’s no mistake about it, boys,” said Bruce at length, in tones that were tremulous with fervent joy; “the storm is going down.”

This was the first word that had been spoken for hours, and the sound of these spoken words itself brought joy to all hearts. The spell was broken. The horror vanished utterly from their souls.

“Yes,” cried Bart, in tones as tremulous as those of Bruce, and from the same cause,—“yes, the worst is over!”

“I don’t mind this pitching,” said Tom; “it seems familiar. I think to-night has been equal to my night in the Bay of Fundy—only it hasn’t been so long, and it’s seemed better to have you fellows with me than being alone.”

“I had a hard time in the woods,” said Phil, “but this has been quite equal to it.”

“Pat,” said Arthur, “you’ve been doing the mummy long enough. You’d better untie now, and lie down.”

“Sure an it’s meself that’ll be the proud lad to do that same,” said Pat, “for it’s fairly achin I am all over, so it is.”

With these words Pat tried to unbind himself. But this was not so easy. He had been leaning his whole weight against the ropes, and his hands were quite numb. The other boys had to help him. This was a work of some difficulty, but it was accomplished at last, and poor Pat sank down groaning, and he never ceased to sigh and groan till morning.

Several hours now passed. The sea subsided steadily, until at length its motion was comparatively trifling, not more than enough to cause a perpendicular pitch to the ship of a few feet, and to send a few waves occasionally over the deck. Wearied and worn out, the boys determined to descend to the quarter-deck, so as to lie down. Pat was unable to make the descent; so Bart remained with him, and curled himself up alongside of him on the mizzen-top. The other boys went down, and Solomon also.

Everything there was wet, but as the boys also were saturated, it made but little difference. They flung themselves down anywhere, and soon were fast asleep.

But in the main-top Pat was groaning in his pain. The blood was rushing back into his benumbed limbs, and causing exquisite suffering. Bart tried to soothe him, and rubbed and chafed his arms and hands and feet and legs for hours.

At last Pat grew easier, though still suffering somewhat from pricking sensations in his arms and legs, and Bart was allowed to rest from his labors.

And now, as Bart leaned back, he became aware of a very peculiar sound, which excited all his attention.

It was a droning sound, with a deep, swelling cadence, and not long in duration; but it rose, and pealed forth, and died away, to be followed by other sounds precisely similar—regular, recurrent, and sounding all abroad. It was nothing like the roar of the waves, nor the singing of the wind through the rigging; it was something different from these, yet in this darkness, and to this listener, not less terrible.

Bart knew it. The sound was familiar to his ears. There was only one sound in Nature of that character, nor could it be imitated by any other. It was the long sound of the surf falling upon the shore.

The surf!

What did that mean?

It meant that land was near. And what land?

There was only one land that this could tell of—it was that land which they had been approaching for days; the land which they had watched so closely all the previous day, and to which at evening they had been drawn so near. The name of the land he could not know, but he had seen it, and he remembered its drear and desolate aspect, its iron-bound shores, its desert forests. It was upon this shore that the surf was beating which now he heard, and the loudness of that sound told him how near it must be.

It seemed to him that it could not be more than half a mile away at the farthest.

And the ship was drifting on!

This first discovery was a renewal of his despair. He could only find comfort in the thought that the sea had subsided so greatly. What ought he now to do?

Ought he to awake the boys and tell them? He hesitated.

Pat had by this time fallen asleep, worn out with weariness and pain. Bart had not the heart to wake him just yet.

Suddenly there was an opening in the sky overhead, and through a rift in the clouds the moon beamed forth. Bart started up and looked all around. The morn disclosed the scene.

The sea had grown much calmer, and the waves that now tossed about their spray over its surface were as nothing compared to those which had beat upon the ship during the night. This was probably due, as Bart thought, to the shelter of some headland which acted as a breakwater. For as he looked he saw the land now full before him. He had conjectured rightly from the sound of the surf, and he now saw that this land could not be much more than a half mile away.

This confirmation of his worst fears overcame him. He started to his feet, and stood clinging to the rigging, and looking at the land.

How near! how fearfully near! And every moment was drawing the ship nearer. And what sort of a shore was that? Was it all rocky, or was it smooth sand? The waves were high enough there to create a tremendous surf. Did that surf fall on breakers, or did it fall on some gentle beach? This he could not tell. In vain he strained his eyes. He could see the white line of foaming surf, and beyond this the dark hills, or cliffs, but more than this he could make out nothing definite. But the shore was so near that their fate could not be very long delayed, and he determined to wake the boys at once, leaving Pat to sleep a little longer.

With this intention he prepared to descend. But scarce had he put one foot over, when he saw a shadowy figure close by.

“Mas’r Bart,” said a voice.

It was Solomon.

“I see you a movin about, an I jes thought I’d come up to see how you was a gittin along,” said Solomon.

“Did you see the land?” asked Bart, in agitated tones.

“De lan! Sartin sure—seen it dese four hours. Ben a watchin it ebber so long.”

“What! Why didn’t you wake us before?”

“Wake you? Not me. What de use ob dat ar? I ben kine o’ watchin, an kine o’ canterin round all de time, seein dat de tings are all straight; an I got de galley stove in prime order, an if youns don’t get de bes breakfas you ebber eat, den I’m a useless ole nigga. Sho, now; go away. Leab tings to me, I tell you.”

“Breakfast!” cried Bart, in amazement. “Why, we’ll drift ashore in a few minutes. Don’t you see how near we are? What shall we do? Is the boat gone?”

Solomon put his head back for a few minutes, and chuckled to himself in a kind of ecstasy.

“De boat? O, yes, de boat’s all right. Held on tight as a drum—de boat an de galley stove.”

“O, then,” said Bart, “come, let’s wake the boys, and get her out at once. It isn’t too rough for her here. We must get some pieces of wood for paddles.”

“O, dere’s lashins ob time; neber you mind,” said Solomon. “You jes lie down an finish your nap, an leab de res to me.”

“But we’re drifting ashore. In a quarter of an hour we’ll be among the breakers.”

“O, no, Mas’r Bart; not in a good many quarter ob an hours.”

“But the shore’s only half a mile away.”

“I know it,” said Solomon; “an it’s ben jes dat, ar distums off for de las four hour an more.”

“What!”

“Dat’s so. I ben a watchin. Hadn’t I tole you dat ar?”

“But the ship’s afloat. She isn’t aground. She must be drifting in.”

“Dat ar conclusium don’t foller as a nessary suc-cumstance,” said Solomon, with dignity.

“Why, what prevents her from drifting?” asked Bart, in a puzzle..

“De simplest ting in de world,” said Solomon—“her anchor.”

“Her anchor! O,” cried Bart, as a flood of light burst in upon his mind, and dispelled all the darkness of his despair; “her anchor! O, I begin to understand.”

“Tell you what,” said Solomon; “when I fust heard dat ar surf I was in a quandary, mind I tell you. Gib all up. Was jes about to rouse youns. But fust an foremost I went to see about de boat. Found dat all right an tight. Den I got a belayum pin an tored off some strips ob wood for paddles. Den I waited to see how we was a goin. Well, arter waitin for ebber so long, de surf didn’t get any nearer. Tell you what; dat ar succumstance puzzled dis old nigga’s head considdable. Sudden a idee popped into me. I ran forad, an sure enough I found de ship’s head off from de sho, an felt de anchor chain standin out stiff. Den I knew de anchor had caught, and had fetched her up all right in dis yer identicull place an po—sitium; an so, Mas’r Bart, here we air, anchored hard an fast, de boat all right an tight, de paddles ready, de galley stove ready too, an de prospek afore all ob us ob a fus’-rate breakfas to ward us for all de per’ls an clamties ob de night.”

Some further inquiries followed from Bart, which served to assure him still more of Solomon’s vigilance; and the result was, that after a time he resumed his place beside Pat in the mizzen-top, and, curling himself up, was soon sound asleep. It was not a very luxurious sleeping-place, but it was at least as soft as the deck below, where the boys had flung themselves, and it was also a trifle dryer.

When Bart awoke it was broad day. Pat was gone. He had awaked, and, finding himself all right again, and seeing the land close by, he had descended to the deck to talk to Solomon. For his first thought had been a very natural one, namely, that the ship was going ashore; and seeing Solomon placidly moving about below, he had gone down to find out what it all meant. Of course his fears were soon dispelled.

The rest of the boys waked at about the same time that Bart did, and he soon rejoined them below. The smell of broiled ham was wafted over the ship. Great was the wonder of Bruce, Arthur, Tom, and Phil at their present situation, and even greater was their wonder at seeing the repast which Solomon had already spread out upon the quarter-deck.

For Solomon had been working like a beaver.

He had forced open the cabin door, and let out all the water. He had then obtained some coal, which, though wet, burned merrily in the galley stove, and had found the cooking utensils, which he had fortunately conveyed to the cabin when he had first been driven from the galley.

The biscuit were, of course, soaked and saturated with salt water; but Solomon declared that they were made to be soaked before cooking, and that the salt water was “jes as good as fresh—ebry mite.” So he fried these in butter, and sprinkled over them some pepper, which was in the sea-chest, and which, with all the other contents of the chest, had not been injured. Ham, and toasted cheese, and potted meats, and tea and coffee, together with other articles too numerous to mention, formed the breakfast; and it is scarce necessary to say that the boys did full justice to it.

After breakfast they began to consider what next they should do. The land was close by, about half a mile away. The line of coast extended far away towards the left, but on the right it ended in a headland. The sea was very quiet, but on the shore before them there was a heavy surf, the result of the past storm. They saw farther away to the left a smooth beach, where a landing might be easily effected, and another place towards the right where there was very little surf. This last seemed the best place for attempting a landing.

The shore was not very attractive. In some places rocky cliffs arose, crowned at the summit with spruce and birch; in other places there were slopes covered with the same sort of trees. There was no sign whatever of any house, or of any cultivation, or of any pasture land, or of any clearing. The forest seemed unbroken.

The boys were now as ignorant of the country as they had been when they first saw it. Each still held the same opinion which he had announced before.

Phil thought that it was Newfoundland.

Tom, that it was Prince Edward’s Island.

Bart, that it was some part of Nova Scotia, or Cape Breton.

Pat, that it was the Magdalen Islands.

Bruce, that it was the coast of New Brunswick, somewhere near the Miramichi.

And Arthur, that it was Gasp茅, not far from the Bay de Chaleur.

Thus, although this particular spot seemed desolate enough, no one gave any thought to that, for they all supposed that inhabitants could be found within no very great distance. .

After some deliberation, it was at length concluded to go ashore. The strips of wood which Solomon had already, with wise forethought, procured, were easily shaped into very respectable paddles by means of a hatchet and a knife.

They then determined to secure themselves from want while ashore, and this they did by putting into the boat one of the barrels of biscuit and the chest of provisions.

Then they all embarked and pulled away. They paddled along without difficulty towards the beach on the right, where the surf seemed less. On approaching this, they found a cove formed by a gully among the hills, and at one end there were grassy banks, near which a stream of fresh water flowed into the sea.

Here they landed.


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