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CHAPTER 19
The Cove.—The grassy Knoll.—The Brook.—A Reconnoitre.—The Bed of the Brook.—Far up into the Country.—A rough Road.—Return.—The Aroma of the strange Dinner.—Solomon again in his Glory.—A great Surprise.—A Resolution.—Drawing of Lots.—The fated Two.—Last Visit to the Petrel.—Final Preparations.—A sound Sleep.—The Embarkation. —The white Sail lost to View..

THE cove into which they pulled seemed to the boys to be the most beautiful place that they had ever seen. Such a thought was natural, after such a passage from the wrecked ship, and from the terrors of the sea to this peaceful and sheltered nook; and, indeed, more unprejudiced observers might have been charmed with such a place. The hills encircled it, covered with trees; the brook babbled over pebbles into the sea; the grassy knoll rose invitingly in front of them; while behind them was the sea, upon which the ship floated low in the water. The boys looked upon this with enthusiastic delight; but Solomon’s face was turned away; he was bowed down low, and staring intently into the water. That water was astonishingly clear and transparent; and Solomon found an attractiveness in the sea bottom which made all other things seem dull and commonplace. He said nothing, however, and the boys were too much taken up with the beauties of the place to notice his attitude.

In a few minutes the biscuit and the chest of provisions were put ashore; and Solomon’s first act was to take the former out of the barrel and spread them out over the grass, so that they might dry in the sun. But the boys had other aims. Their first desire was to explore the country; and as they knew well from past experience how easy it was to get lost in the woods, they sought about, first of all, for some sort of a path or trail. Nothing of the kind could be seen. Phil then suggested going up the bed of the brook. His forest experiences had made him far more fruitful in resources than any of them; and the stream occurred to him at once as the readiest way of passing through the impenetrable forest.

Accordingly they all set forth by this path. The brook was not very wide, and the trees almost met overhead; the water was only a few inches in depth, chiefly composed of gravel, and occasionally interspersed with larger masses, which offered a succession of stepping-stones. As they went along, they never ceased to look most carefully in all directions for any traces of a path, however faint. The utter absence of anything of the sort excited their surprise, but only led them to continue their journey still farther. The way at length grew more difficult. They came to a rising ground, where the brook had worn a bed for itself. Here the path became rough, and full of mud and clay. Every few steps they came to trees which had fallen across. But they worked their way along bravely, and at length reached the top of the rising ground. Here they found themselves in the forest, with nothing visible on every side but spruce trees of moderate size. They walked on for two or three hours, traversing fallen trees, and rocks, and mud; but at length they came to a place where the brook lost itself in a swampy soil. Here there was a dense and impenetrable underbrush, and no longer even such a pathway as the bed of the brook had afforded. They all saw that it was impossible to proceed any farther, and therefore they concluded to return.

Their calculations led them to suppose that they had gone many miles; yet in all that distance they had found no trace whatever of any human beings. They had not come upon even the rudest trail. This fact impressed them all very forcibly. Hitherto, each one had had a different theory as to the country; and no less than five provinces were claimed, in order to support the theory of each. But they all knew that it would be difficult indeed to find a place in any one of those five provinces, where a march could be made for so great a distance, without encountering some signs of humanity, past, if not present. In all of them the woods had been scoured by lumbering parties, or, at least, by hunting parties; and if there were no paths made by lumbermen, there might be found, at least, some trail. Pat, of course, gave up the Magdalen Islands; Bruce gave up Miramichi: Tom, Prince Edward’s Island; and Bart, Cape Breton. There remained, then, the belief of Phil in Newfoundland, and that of Arthur in Gasp茅. Upon these two localities the party divided; and though in the laborious journey back they were too much fatigued to expend their breath in argument, yet, when they did reach their journey’s end, they were all prepared for it.

But all argument was postponed for the present by the advent of dinner.

It was late when they got back. They had eaten nothing since breakfast. They found Solomon waiting for them most impatiently. He had kindled a fire under a rock, and had taken the trouble to go back to the ship for some pots, kettles, and pans. A pot was even now hanging over the fire, and when they reached the place, there issued from this pot a stream so savory, so aromatic, so odoriferous, and so enticing, that in an instant every other thought vanished from their minds.

“O, Solomon,” was the cry, “what is it that you’ve got there?”

And they rushed up to the place.

But Solomon, brandishing a huge ladle, waved them back with solemn dignity.

“You look heah, chilen; don’t you go bodder yer heads bout dis yer; it’s a kine o’ soup dat I ben a concoctin’; an you’ll know when de time comes. Jes now, you’d all bes lie down ober dar, an res yourselves. I ben worritin’ bout you for ten hour an more. You didn’t ought to go for to ’crease de ’ziety ob dis ole man; cos he ain’t able to hole up. But nebber mind; you’re all safe an soun; so now you all jes lay by a few minutes, an I’ll walk dis yer dish off de hook in no time.”

The boys respected Solomon’s whim, and fell back. A few dishes, with spoons, were lying on the grass, and towards these they allowed themselves to drift, and then flung their weary frames upon the ground near by.

Solomon was true to his word. He did not keep them long waiting. In a short time he took the pot off the fire, and brought it towards them. He then filled each of the dishes in silence.

The savory steam rose up; its odor was now unmistakable. Scarce able to believe the evidence of the sense of smell, they hurried to appeal to that of taste. One mouthful was enough. A cry of joy burst from them all, followed by,—

“Oysters! Oyster stew! O, glorious! Solomon, where in the world did you find these?”

Solomon’s eyes beamed with quiet exultation; he drew a long breath of silent rapture, and gently rubbed his-old hands together. For a few moments his emotions deprived him of the power of utterance; but at length he found voice.

“Well, chilen, to tell de troof, I intended it as a great ‘prise, for you. I saw dem dis yer mornin when we landed, and didn’t say nuffin. But dar dey is—dem’s um. De cove is full; nuff heah to feed a ship’s company ten years; an we’s boun to feed on de fat ob de lan so long as we stick to dis yer place. Dat’s so; mind I tell you. Yes, sir.” After such a repast as this, they all felt much more able to grapple with the difficulties of their situation. And now once more arose the question, what land this was upon which they had been thrown.

“Of course,” said Arthur, “there’s no use now to talk about the Magdalen Islands, or Prince Edward’s Island, or Cape Breton, or even Miramichi. This coast lies east and west, as we saw while we were drifting towards it. We came from a southeast direction towards it; we can tell now. There’s the west, where the sun is soon going to set, and there’s the south. Now, my idea is, that this must be Gasp茅. Besides, the desolation of the country shows that it must be Gasp茅.”

Phil shook his head.

“Gasp茅 doesn’t lie east and west,” said he; “and it may just as well be Miramichi as Gasp茅. The fact is, it can’t be either of them. It must be Newfoundland. We’ve drifted up from the south, and have been driven upon these shores. I can’t imagine where it is, but I rather think it may be the south-west corner of the island. If that is right, then settlements ought to be not very far away; only we can’t get to them by land. There’s St. Pierre’s Island east, and there’s the Bay of Islands.”

“It’s rather a bad lookout’ for us,” said Tom, “if there isn’t any settlement nearer than St. Pierre or the Bay of Islands. Why, there are hundreds of miles of the roughest coast in the world lying between. We may be on the coast, as you say; somewhere between Cape Ray and Fortune’s Bay; but how we are ever to get to any settlement is a little beyond me.”

“There’s the boat,” said Bart.

“What can we do with the boat?” said Tom. “We have no oars. I don’t feel inclined to set out on a long journey with paddles like those. They do very well to land a shipwrecked party, but are hardly the things to start off with on a sea voyage. I tried going about with a bit of board once, and didn’t find, that it worked very well.”

“O, we can rig up a sail. We can get something on board the Petrel that’ll do—some quilts, or, better yet, some sheets.”

“Sheets aren’t big enough,” said Arthur.

“Well, we can sew two or three of them together. They’re good, strong sheets, and they’ll do very well for the boat. As for a mast, why, we can find a very good one here in the woods in five minutes.”

“But what direction should we take?”

“Well, that’s a question that requires a good deal of careful consideration.”

“My opinion is,” said Tom, “that it is by far the best to sail east. If we sail west, we could scarce hope to meet with any one till we got to the Bay of Islands; and we’d have to double Cape Bay,—which is altogether too dangerous a thing for a little boat like this. But if we go east, we’ll have more chances of shelter in case of storms, and we’ll be sure to reach some sort of settlement, either St. Pierre or some fishing stations on the main land, or in Fortune’s Bay.”

“East, then, is the course,” said Bart. “And now, who of us shall go? We’d better not all go.”

“Well, no; I suppose not.”

“Of course not,” said Bruce. “The boat isn’t large enough. Two will be plenty. The rest of us can stay here.”

“If the boat goes,” said Arthur, “those of us who stay behind won’t be able to go on board the ship.’ Shall we stay aboard or ashore?”

“For my part,” said Pat, “I won’t put a fut aboard that ship again as long as I live.”

“I’ll stay here, or else go in the boat,” said Phil. “I’m ready to do either.”

“I’m quite of Pat’s opinion,” said Arthur.

“Well, I’m not anxious to visit the ship again,” said Bart, “not even as a salvor, and I certainly would not stay aboard of her.”

“It’s too comfortable here altogether,” said Tom.

“And so say I,” said Bruce. “The fact is, boys, we’re all of one mind about the Petrel. Her glory is departed; and after that night in the mizzen-top, we don’t fancy trying any other nights.”

“Fortunately,” said Tom, “the wind has changed. It’ll be fair for the boat if she goes east.”

“But who are to go?” said Phil.

“I think,” said Bruce, “that the best way will be to draw lots. What do you say, boys?”

To this proposal they all assented. Bruce thereupon took some bits of grass, and broke them up into different lengths.

“Two of these,” said he, “are short; the rest are long. Those who draw the short ones are to go in the boat. Will that do?”

“All right.”

Upon this Bruce put the pieces of grass in his hat, stirred them about; and then laid the hat in the midst. Each one then shut his eyes and took a piece of grass from the hat. Then they all held them forth.

And it was seen that the two shortest pieces had been drawn by Arthur and Tom.

Upon this every one of the other boys offered to exchange places with either one of these, and go in his stead. But Arthur and Tom were both firm in their refusal.

“What are you going to take with you?” asked Bart.

“Well,” said Arthur, “first of all, we’ll need to have a sail. I think we’d better make a raid on the Petrel at once, and hunt up some sheets. Tom and I will go, and you fellows might find a couple of sticks that’ll do for the mast and pole.”

“O, by the way,” said Bart, “if you’re going aboard, you’d better bring back some more biscuit. We won’t have enough.”

“I’ll go and help you,” said Bruce.

“And I too,” said Phil.

The boys now pushed off,—Arthur, and Tom, and Bruce, and Phil. In about a quarter of an hour they reached the ship, and boarded her. They noticed now that the change of the wind had caused a corresponding change of position. She had swung round at her anchor, and was very much nearer the headland before spoken of.

“It’s my opinion.” said Tom, “that she’s been dragging her anchor a little.”

“She’s certainly a good deal nearer the shore,” said Arthur.

“She’s so deep down,” said Bruce, “that she’ll touch bottom if she drags much longer,—and a strong breeze might do it too.”

“If it does,” said Phil, “then good by forever to her. A timber ship may hold together as long as she keeps in deep water; but these rocks would soon grind her to powder, if she touched them.”

“Let her grind,” say I.

“Yes. I give up my share of the salvage.”

“The best place for her will be the bottom of the sea.”

“At any rate, we’ll make one final haul, boys, and take ashore everything that may be needed at all.”

The boys now hurried to complete their preparations, for the sun was not more than one half hour above the horizon, and there was no time to spare. Arthur went to secure the sails. He selected a half dozen of the largest sheets, and flung them into the boat. They were the coarsest and strongest which he could find. Tom found some sail needles and sail twine in a drawer in the pantry, where he remembered having seen them before.

They then rolled out four barrels of biscuit, and put them on board the boat. After this they put six hams in her, and all the rest of the potted meat, and canned vegetables, and other dainties. Phil looked with longing eyes at the galley stove, but concluded that it was best not to try to convey that ashore. Finally, they took all the blankets, for they were articles that promised to be always useful.

With this cargo they returned to the shore.

Arthur then went to work at his sail, while Tom went to see about the mast. He found that Bart had already nearly finished one that was very suitable. In smoothing this, in fitting it into the boat, and in shaping a pole, another hour or so was taken up. Meanwhile Arthur had found that three of the sheets were large enough. These he stitched together, and afterwards cut it the right shape.

It was then secured to the mast, and the little boat was all ready for her voyage.

But they had still more preparations to make. First of all, the spy-glass, which had been brought ashore in the chest, was deposited in the boat. Then, a barrel of the biscuit that Solomon had dried in the sun was put on board, together with a sufficient supply of potted meats. A jug of water was considered sufficient, as they expected to land from time to time, and would be able to replenish it, if it should be necessary. For warmth or shelter, three or four blankets, which the careful forethought of Solomon had dried in front of the blazing fire, were deemed amply sufficient.

Before these were completed it was dark. Of course they had no intention of setting off that evening, though Tom was at first of the opinion that they had better start, and take advantage of so fine a night. But the others overruled him, and expressed the opinion that they had better sail by night as little as possible.

Solomon kept the fire heaped high with fuel, not for the purposes of warmth, for the air was balmy and pleasant, but more for the sake of cheerfulness. He had found no difficulty in procuring dry wood from the fallen trees in the forest. Brightly the flames leaped up, throwing a pleasant glow over the surrounding scene. The contrast between this evening and the evening of the previous day was thought of and felt by all; and more than once there arose from the warm, grateful hearts of these honest lads a prayer of thankfulness to that Being who had heard their cry in the stormy sea, and had saved them from destruction.

Early the next morning they were all awake. Solomon already had breakfast prepared. It was a bright and beautiful morning. The little cove looked charming. But on the sea the Petrel still floated; but they were all sure that she was nearer than ever to the headland.

A pleasant breeze was blowing, and all things promised well. Arthur and Tom finished their breakfast, and then, bidding all the rest good by, they embarked, and pushed off.

The wind filled the sail, and the little boat moved out of the cove, and away to sea. The boys watched their departing friends in solemn silence, until the white sail disappeared around the headland.


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