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首页 » 经典英文小说 » Picked Up Adrift » CHAPTER 18
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The venerable but very unfortunate, Corbet—The Antelope lies to.—Emotions of her despairing Commander.—Night and Morning.—The Fishing Schooner,—An old Acquaintance appears, and puts the old, old Question.—Corbet overwhelmed.—He confesses all.—Tremendous Effect on Captain Tobias Ferguson.—His Selfcommand.—Considering the Situation.—Wind and Tide.—Theories as to the Position of the lost Ones.—Up Sail and after.—The last Charge to Captain Corbet.

THE unfortunate Corbet thus found himself in a state of despair. The situation, indeed; could not possibly be worse. The ship was gone; and where? Who could tell? Certainly not he. He had exhausted all his resources. From the cabin table he was unable to elicit any further information, nor could his aged brain furnish forth intellectual power which was at all adequate to the problem before it. He was alone. He had none to help him. With Wade he did not offer to take counsel, feeling, perhaps, that Wade would be about as useful in this emergency as the Antelope’s pump.

Meanwhile the storm increased, and Captain Corbet felt himself unable to contend with it. The tattered old sails of the Antelope were double-reefed, but seemed every moment about to fly into ribbons. There was no object in keeping his present course any longer; and so he decided, in view of the storm and his own indecision, to lie to. And now the Antelope tossed, and pitched, and kicked, and bounded beneath Captain Corbet,

"like a steed
That knows its rider,”

and Wade went below, and took refuge in sleep; and the good, the brave, yet the unhappy Corbet took up his position upon the windlass, and bestriding it, he sat for hours peering into space. There were no thoughts whatever in his mind. He tried not to speculate, he attempted not to solve the problem; but there was, deep down in his soul, a dark, drear sense of desolation, a woful feeling of remorse and of despair. Nothing attracted his attention on that wide sea or troubled sky; not the waste of foaming waters, not the giant masses of storm clouds, nor yet that fishing schooner, which, only a few miles off was also, like the Antelope, lying to. Captain Corbet did not notice this stranger; he did not speculate upon the cause of her presence; he did not see that she was the identical vessel that he had noticed before, and therefore did not wonder why it was that he had been followed so long and so persistently.

So he sat on the windlass, and gazed forth into illimitable space.

And the long, long hours passed away.

Evening came.

Deepening into night.

Night, and storm, and darkness came down, and the Antelope tossed, and plunged, and kicked, and jumped; yet the sleepless Corbet remained on deck, occasionally shifting his position, but still overwhelmed by has misery.

Towards midnight the storm abated. Corbet waited a few hours longer, and then stole below, hoping to forget his misery and relieve his fatigues by a little sleep.

In vain.

The air of the cabin seemed to suffocate him. Sleep was impossible. His distressing thoughts seemed to drive him into a fever; he tried hard and for a long time to overcome them, and finally succeeded in getting a short nap.

By this time it was dawn, and the good captain rose, and went upon deck, feeling dejected and miserable.

He looked out over the waters, and noticed that the strange schooner was bearing down straight towards him. She was coming bows on, so that at first he did not know her from any other vessel; but at length she came up, and hove to close by, disclosing the symmetrical hull, the beautiful lines, the slender, tapering masts, and the swelling, snow-white canvas of the Fawn. At the same moment he saw a boat drop alongside, and into this leaped Captain Tobias Ferguson, who at once pulled to the Antelope, and in a few minutes stood on board.

The last time that he had seen Captain Ferguson he had looked upon him in the light of a busybody, a vexatious and too inquisitive spy, a persecutor and a tormentor. But now circumstances had changed so utterly, and Captain Corbet’s sufferings both of mind and body had been so acute, that the once dreaded Ferguson appeared to him almost equal to some Heaven-sent deliverer. His wan face flushed with joy; he could not speak; tears burst from his eyes; and seizing Ferguson’s hand in both of his, he clasped it tight.

Ferguson darted over him one swift, keen glance that took in everything, but made no comment upon the emotion that was so visible.

“Well,” said he, “we’re bound to meet again. The fact is, I was bound not to lose sight of you. I tell you I got those boys on my brain, and couldn’t get them out no how. I knew you were going to find them, or to try to find them. I believed they were all in danger, and so I up sail and followed. And a precious hard job that following was. Why, it was like making a race-horse follow a snail. I had to turn back every other mile or so, and go away. I saw you lie to yesterday, so I lay to; and here I am this morning, right side up, and ready to repeat my question, Where are the boys? So come, now, old man; no humbug, no shuffling. You’re in a fix. I know it well enough. You’ve lost the boys. Very well. I’ll help you find ’em. So, now, make a clean breast of it, and tell me all about it from the very beginning.”

Saying this, Ferguson seated himself on the taffrail, and drawing forth a cigar, lighted it, and waited for Captain Corbet to begin.

But for Captain Corbet there was the difficulty. How could he begin? How could he tell the miserable story of his madness and his folly? of the ignorant confidence of the poor boys? of his culpable and guilty negligence, doubly guilty, since he had deserted them not only once in leaving the ship, but a second time in sailing away from the Magdalen Islands? And for what purpose? Even had he reached the ship with the sails, could he really have saved her? Yet here stood his inquisitor, and this time his questions must be answered.

“Wal,” began Captain Corbet, in a tremulous voice, “I left em—”




“I ‘—I—left em, you know.”

“So you said three times; but I knew that before. The question is, Where?”

“Aboard a ship.”

“Aboard a ship?”


“What ship? Where?

“Somewhar’s about here.”

“About here? But what ship?”

“She—she—she—was—she—she was—wa-wa-water-logged.”

At this Ferguson started to his feet, almost leaping in the air as he did so. For a moment he regarded the unhappy Corbet with an expression of mingled horror and incredulity.

“You don’t mean it!” he said, at length.

Captain Corbet sighed.

“What?” cried Ferguson. “Were you mad? Were they mad? Were you all raving, stark, staring distracted? What were you all thinking of? A water-logged ship! Why, do you mean to stand there in your boots, look me in the face, and tell me that about the boys?”

Captain Corbet trembled from head to foot.

“A water-logged ship! Why, you might as well tell me you pitched them all overboard and drowned them.”

Captain Corbet shuddered, and turned away.

Ferguson laid his hand upon his shoulder.

“Come,” said he, more quietly, “you couldn’t have been such a fool! You must have considered that the boys had some chance. What sort of a ship was she? What was her cargo?”

“Timber,” said the mournful Corbet in a melancholy wail.

Ferguson’s face brightened.

“You’re sure of that?”

“Gospel sure.”

“Not deals, now, or laths, or palings, or pickets, or battens, or anything of that sort?”

“I saw the timber—white pine.”

“Well, that’s better; that gives them a chance. I’ve heard say that a timber ship’ll float for years, if she’s any kind of a ship at all; and so, perhaps, this one is drifting.”

Captain Corbet shook his head.

“Why not?” asked Ferguson, noticing the movement.

“I anchored her.”

“Anchored her?”


“Anchored what? The timber ship?”


“Anchored her? That’s queer! And where?”

“Why, somewhars about twenty mile or so back.”

“Somewhere about twenty mile or so back!” repeated Ferguson. “Why, the man’s mad! See here, old man; what do you mean by anchoring hereabouts? Did you try soundings?”

“Wal, n-n-no.”

“Are you aware that the bottom is several miles down below, and that all the chains and ropes of that ship, if they were all tied together in one line, wouldn’t begin to reach half way?”

“Wal, now, railly, I hadn’t any idee. I jest kine o’ dropped anchor to hold the ship till I got back.”

“Well, old man,” said Ferguson, “I’ve got a very good general idea of your proceedings; but I want a few more particulars, so that I can judge for myself about the poor lads. So I’ll trouble you to make a clean breast of it, and in particular to let me know why you kept so close when I asked you about it before. Close? Why, if you’d been decoying those boys out there on purpose to get rid of them, you couldn’t have fought shyer of my questions than you did.”

Upon this Captain Corbet proceeded, as Ferguson called it, to “make a clean breast of it.” He began at the first, told about their failure in provisions, their discovery of the ship, and his project of saving her. He explained all about his reticence on the subject at the Magdalen Islands, and the cause of his voyage to Miramichi. All this was accompanied with frequent interruptions, expressive of self-reproach, exculpation, remorse, misery, and pitiable attempts at excusing his conduct.

Ferguson listened to all without expressing any opinion, merely asking a question for information here and there; and at the close of Captain Corbet’s confession, he remained forborne a considerable time buried in profound reflection.

“Well,” said he, “the whole story is one that won’t bear criticism. I won’t begin. If I did, you’d hear a little of the tallest swearing that ever came to your ears. No, old man; I’ve got a wicked temper, and I won’t get on that subject. The thing that you and me have got to do is, to see what can be done about those boys, and then to do it right straight off. That’s what we’ve got to do; and when I say we, I mean myself, for you appear to have done about as much mischief as is needful for one lifetime.”

Ferguson now began to pace the deck, and kept this up for about half an hour, at the end of which time he resumed his seat on the taffrail. Captain Corbet watched him with wistful eyes, and in deep suspense; yet there was already upon his venerable face somewhat less of grief, for he felt a strange confidence in this eager, energetic, active, strong man, whose pertinacity had been so extraordinary, and whose singular affection for the boys had been so true and so tender.

“I’m beginning,” said Ferguson, at length, “I’m beginning to see my way towards action, and that’s something; though whether it’ll result in anything is more than I can begin to say.

“In the first place, I go on the theory that this timber ship didn’t sink; that she stood this blow as solid as though she was carved out of a single stick.

“In the second place, I scout your idea of anchoring her. That is rank, raving insanity. To anchor a ship in three miles of water! Old man, go home; you have no business on the sea.

“So she’s been drifting; yes, drifting. She was drifting when you found her, and drifting when you left her. Where she was you can’t tell, seeing that you can’t take an observation, and didn’t take one. So we’re all astray there, and I can only calculate her probable position from the course you took to the Magdalen Islands, and the time occupied in making the trip by that astonishing old tub of yours, that disgraces and ridicules the respectable name of Antelope.

“Very well. Now say she’s afloat, and has been drifting. The question is, Where has she drifted to? She probably was found by you somewhere about here. That was about a week ago. Well, after the calm was over, then came a wind. That wind was a south-easter. It got up at last into a storm, like the blow last night.

“Now, there are two things to be considered.

“First, the wind.

“Second, the current.

“First, as to the wind. It was a steady southeaster for nearly a week, ending in a hard blow. That wind has had a tendency to blow her over in that direction—over there, nor’-west. In that direction she must have been steadily pushed, unless there was something to prevent, some ocean currents or other.

“And this brings us to the next point—the currents.

“Now, over there, about thirty miles south of this, there is a current setting out into the Atlantic from the River St. Lawrence; and up there, thirty miles to the north, there is considerable of a current, that runs up into the Straits of Belle Isle. Just round about here there is a sort of eddy, or a back current, that flows towards the Island of Anticosti. Now, that happens to be the identical place towards which the wind would carry her. So, you see, granting that the Petrel has remained afloat, the wind and the currents must both have acted on her in such a way as to carry her to that desert island, that horrible, howling wilderness, that abomination of desolation, that graveyard of ships and seamen—Anticosti.”

At this intelligence, Captain Corbet’s heart once more sank within him.

“Anti—Anticosti!” he murmured, in a trembling voice.

“Yes, Anticosti. And I ain’t surprised, not a bit surprised,” said Ferguson. “I said so. I prophesied it. I was sure of it. I read it in their faces at Magdalen. When I saw that rotten old tub, and those youngsters, something told me they were going to wind up by getting on Anticosti. When I saw you come back to Magdalen, I was sure of it. I followed you to Miramichi to find out; and ever since I’ve been following you, I’ve had Anticosti in my mind, as the only place I was bound to.”

Captain Corbet drew a long breath.

“Wal,” said he, “at any rate, it’s better for them than bein—bein—at—at the bottom of the sea.”

“’Tain’t any better, if they’ve been smashed against the rocks of Anticosti in last night’s gale,” retorted Ferguson, who was not willing that Captain Corbet should recover from his anxiety too soon.

“But mayn’t she—mayn’t she—catch?”




“Why—her—her anchor. It’s been down all the time. That thar anchor had ought to catch hold of somethin.”

Ferguson slapped his thighs with both hands with tremendous force.

“You’re right! right are you, old man, for once! For the moment, I had forgotten about the anchor. That saves them. That anchor’s bound to catch; for, after all, I don’t think last night’s storm was bad enough to make her drag. At any rate, it gives them a chance, And now—off we go.” With these words, Ferguson jumped into his boat.

He turned his head once more. “Old man, mark me—? all you’ve got to do is to follow straight after me.”

“But you’ll get away in the night.”

“So I will. Well, then, you head straight nothe-west and by nothe. I’ll pick you up some time tomorrow. We’ll cruise along the shore of Anticosti till we find the ship.”

With these words, Ferguson seized the oars. A dozen strokes brought him alongside of his own schooner. He leaped on board, and the boat was hauled up astern.

In a few moments the Fawn spread her snow-white wings, and headed away “nothe-west and by nothe.”

The Antelope followed.

Before evening the Fawn was out of sight.

But Captain Corbet stood calmly and confidently at the helm, and steered “nothe-west and by nothe.” His despair had subsided, leaving only a mild melancholy that was not unbecoming; but his soul was full of hope, for he had confidence in Ferguson.


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