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CHAPTER 20
Trouble and Consolation.—A fresh Proposal.—The Building of the Camp.—Hard Work.—The triumphant Result.—Blisters and Balsam.—A new Surprise by Solomon.—Illumination.—The rising Wind.—They go forth to explore.—The impending Fate of the Petrel.—Wind and Wave.—A rough Resting-place.—What will be the Fate of the Ship?—The Headland.—The View.—Where are our departed Friends?

AFTER the little white sail had disappeared around the headland, the boys stood in silence for some time. The departure of Arthur and Tom had made a perceptible breach in their numbers, and the thought that they had gone on a long, an uncertain, and a perilous expedition seemed to throw an air of gloom over those who remained behind.

Bart was the first to rouse himself.

“Seventy-four hours, with this wind; ought to do it,” said he.

“Do what?” asked Bruce.

“Well,” said Bart, “I’ve been making a calculation. I don’t see how St. Pierre can be more than a hundred miles from here at the very farthest. Now, this breeze ought to take them four or five miles an hour, and if they went on without stopping, they certainly ought to reach St. Pierre by this time to-morrow, even if they don’t find any settlements or any fishing vessels on the way.”

“Yes; but they won’t find it so easy to get back,” said Bruce.

“O, yes, they will,” said Bart. “They won’t have to work their own way back. They’ll get a schooner, and have no trouble.”

“Well,” said Bruce, “we’ll have to allow a week, at least.”

“Certainly,” said Phil. “It won’t do for us to tie them down to two days. If we do, we’ll be all the time in a fever, and watch for them day and night. I’m determined not to expect them at all this time.”

“Sure an that’s the wisest risolution we can make, so it is,” said Pat, sedately; “and, be the same token, it’s a month I’m goin to allow, so it is; an, what’s more, I’m thinkin we’ll betther be afther buildin a bit of a house, or tint, or camp.”

“A camp!” cried Bart. “Hurrah! that’s the very thing.”

“Yes,” cried Phil; “just like the camp in the woods behind the hill at Grand Pr茅.”

“The very best thing we could think of,” said Bruce. “It’ll give us all something to do, and at the same time it’s a positive necessity.”

“It’s a pity we hadn’t some of that spare lumber on board the Petrel,” said Bart.

“Well,” said Phil, “I think we’ll have it all before another day; for, from present appearances, she’ll be on the rocks soon; and if so, there’ll be a general free delivery of her cargo all along the beach. But we needn’t wait for that.”

“Sure an there’s nothin betther,” said Pat, “thin good honist spruce. We can get sticks enough all around us, an have a camp that’ll be as warrum, and as dhry, and as whowlsome as iver was, so we will.”

There was a hatchet which had been brought ashore in the chest, and had already done good service in making the masts for the boat. This was now made use of for the purpose of getting the necessary supply of poles and brush for the camp. As there was only one hatchet, they could not of course cut the brush quite so fast as was desirable; but Bruce cut pretty quickly, and kept two of them well employed in carrying the poles and brush to the grassy knoll. Phil and Pat did this work while Bart occupied himself with the preparation of the ground for the erection of the camp. He first selected a place that seemed suitable, where there was a level space, about twelve feet square. Then he sharpened one of the stakes, and cutting off a portion of it, about three feet long, he hardened the point by burning it in the fire. He then marked out the line of foundation, and made holes in the ground all around the marked space, so that the stakes might be inserted without any delay. Fortunately there were no stones to interfere with his work. The ground was sandy, and he drove his stake in without any difficulty.

In this way they worked until noon, when Solomon called them to dinner. All the boys were amazed at finding that the time had passed so rapidly; and they saw by this a fresh and striking example of the importance of having some pleasant occupation in life. It had been for want of this, to a great extent, that their time had dragged along so slowly, first during the famine on board the Antelope, and afterwards on board the Petrel.

After dinner they examined their work, and concluded that the immense heap of stakes and brushwood ought to suffice for the needs of any ordinary camp; so now they proceeded to the important task of its erection.

Bart had made a double row of holes around four sides, which were intended to enclose the camp. These holes were about a foot apart, and the rows were separated by a space of about three inches.

The next task was to prepare the stakes. These were sharpened, and cut about seven feet long; and as fast as each one was prepared, it was inserted as tightly as possible in one of the holes. Before long all the stakes were set up, and the outline of the camp became dimly visible. Bart and Phil now went off in search of roots, which might serve the purpose of cords, to bind together those portions of the frame which needed securing, leaving Bruce and Pat at work preparing other stakes, the one with his hatchet, and the other with a knife. The roots were found without any difficulty, most of them belonging to a species of dwarf willow, or osier, and they were as flexible and as strong as the stoutest cord.

The next thing was to take four long poles, and bind these along the top of each row of stakes, so as to form the eaves of the camp. When all these were secured, the framework was quite as strong as was necessary.

It now remained to form the roof. This was a matter of some difficulty, but was at length successfully achieved. They had all had so much practice in camp-building, that there was but little hesitation at any stage of the proceedings. The way in which the roof was erected was so ingenious that it deserves to be explained. They procured two stout poles, about fifteen feet long, which they put at each end of the structure, binding each firmly in its place, and leaving at the top a fork, formed from the projecting stump of one of the severed branches. Across these, and resting on these forks, they laid their ridge-pole, and bound this firmly in its place. To make it still stronger, they set up a third support in the middle of the camp, and thus made the ridge-pole firm enough to bear the weight of any of them.

After this they proceeded to lay a row of poles along from the eaves to the ridge-pole, and others again intersecting these. Thus they formed a framework close enough and strong enough to admit of brush being placed upon it, and this they proceeded to lay there after the manner of thatch. The roof was pretty steep, and the spruce brush was so smooth, and was laid on so compactly, that it could have resisted any ordinary rain storm.

The remainder of their task was easy enough, the roof and frame having been by far the most troublesome. One side was allotted to each, and the work was interweaving spruce brush along the stakes. The space was twelve feet long by six high. They began from the ground, and went upward; and at length this was finished.

There was still an open space at each gable end, but it was their intention to leave windows here. Poles were fastened in such a way that a square space was left in each gable, which admitted an ample amount of light, and the remainder was filled in with brush, like the sides. The door, of course, had been attended to in the construction of the frame.

It had been hard work, but they were all adepts at the business, and knew exactly how to do each thing. The consequence was, that by sundown their camp was all completed, and only needed a few finishing touches, which could very well be postponed till the following day.

They all sat down to their evening repast with the consciousness that they had passed a well-spent day. Solomon had done his duty, as usual, with a minute conscientiousness, and a painful care of the smallest details, which was evinced by the exquisite flavor of the oyster stew. The chief regret that they had was, that Arthur and Tom were not there to share it.

After tea none of them ventured to move. They were more utterly fagged out than they ever remembered to have been in the whole course of their lives. There had, of course, been times when they had been more exhausted, and Phil could tell a tale of weariness which might have shamed his present feelings; but for the fatigue resulting from sheer hard work, they never knew anything that had equalled this. Their hands were all covered with blisters and balsam, while an additional air of shabbiness had been given to them by new rents and tatters in their clothes.

After sunset they noticed that the wind was stronger and the sea rougher. The Petrel had moved also still farther in to the shore.

“Another night’ll finish her,” said Bruce, “if this wind continues.”

“I hope they’ll land,” said Bart, thinking of Arthur and Tom.

“Well, as to that,” said Bruce, “it seems to me that they won’t feel inclined to sail all night; and they’ll land, if they only can; but the trouble is, they may find themselves off some coast where no landing can be made.”

“I dare say,” said Bart, thoughtfully, “that the coast is rough enough all along, for most of the way; but then, fortunately, this wind is off the land; so they’ll be all right. The danger would be if it was in any other direction. As it is, the closer they keep in to the shore, the safer they’ll be; and, in fact, the safest place for them would be close in under the highest cliffs.”

“Well, that certainly is a consolation,” said Bruce, with a sigh of relief. “I’ve been a good deal bothered all the afternoon, for I noticed that the wind was rising. I rather think you’re in the right of it, Bart, and I’m glad enough that you thought of that.”

“O, they’re all right,” said Phil, “as long as the wind is this way.”

“The throuble is,” said Pat, “they might have to go round some headland, and thin they’d catch it, hot and heavy.”

“O, they wouldn’t try it if it was too rough,” said Bart. “They’d haul up ashore, and wait till the wind went down. The fact is, they’ll do just as any of us would do in the same circumstances. Neither Arthur nor Tom is inclined to run any risks. They know that there’s no hurry, that we’ve got lots of provisions. They’ve got a good supply, too, and so they’ll take it easy. My opinion is, they both landed two or three hours ago, hauled up their boat high and dry, picked up some drift wood, and are at this moment sitting in front of a roaring fire, calmly discussing what had best be done to-morrow.”

This discussion about the fate of their two absent friends made them all feel quite at their ease once more, and soon after they went to bed inside of the camp.

Here they found a pleasant surprise awaiting them, which had been devised by Solomon. He had taken the fat out of some of the jars of potted meat, and put it in two cups. In these he had ingeniously arranged floating wicks, and lighted them. So now, as the boys entered, they were surprised at a cheerful glow inside. At first they were alarmed, and thought the camp was on fire; but a second look showed them the truth.

Their camp now seemed very cheerful indeed. The ground was quite dry, and each one rolled himself up in his blanket, which formed their only preparation for bed. Here, reclining on the soft grass, with the green walls of their camp encircling them, they chatted pleasantly for a short time, and at length, one by one, dropped off into sound and refreshing slumbers.

On awaking they all hurried forth. They found that the wind had increased, and must have been increasing all night. Close in under the shore the water was smooth enough, but a mile outside it began to roughen, and a white line of breakers shone along the base of the headland.

But it was the Petrel that now engaged all their attention. She had been forced in to within a stone’s throw of the shore, and had evidently touched bottom, for she lay a little over on one side. She had reached a place where the sea felt the effect of the wind, and the waves broke over her decks. She rose and fell occasionally, with a slow, heavy movement, at the force of the waves that beat upon her. The shore immediately opposite the place where she had grounded was all white with foam, and it seemed as if the bottom where she touched might be strewn with rough, jagged rocks.

Hard indeed was the resting-place to which the Petrel had come after so long a wandering!

The boys looked on in silence. They did not exactly lament the fate which seemed to impend over her, but, at the same time, they felt as though, in some way, it might be a disaster to themselves. For the Petrel, as long as she had floated, had served, at least, as a sort of signal by which any passing vessel might be attracted; whereas, if she were destroyed, their chance of rescue in that way grew less. They also felt that the large store of provisions and supplies on board might yet be needed; and in case of the unsuccessful return of Arthur and Tom, they might need to visit her once more. But now all hope of this seemed at an end. In this half-developed regret at her fate, there was, however, no thought of salvage; that subject was forgotten.

After breakfast their attention was once more directed to the Petrel. Any further operations in the camp had now to be postponed, for the attractions of the imperilled ship were too engrossing to admit of lesser thoughts.

“I say, boys,” said Bruce, “why can’t we try to get nearer? We can work our way along at the top of the bank, I should think.”

“Of course we can,” said Bart. “At any rate, it’s not very far.”

“It won’t be worse than the upper part of that miserable brook,” said Phil.

“Sure an I’d go on me hands and knees all the way, so I would, to git nearer to her,” said Pat.

The coast that ran along terminated in the headland, between which and the cove it consisted of steep banks, at first wooded, and rough cliffs. The top of the bank all along was covered with trees, and seemed to offer no greater difficulties than any other part of the woods. The headland itself seemed over a mile away, and the Petrel was some distance inside of this.

They thus resolved to go, and set forth at once.

“Be back in time for dinna,” said Solomon, as they climbed up the steep bank to get to the top..

“O, yes,” was the reply, as they vanished into the woods.

It was decidedly rough walking. The ground was uneven, rising into mounds and depressed into hollows. Sometimes fallen trees lay before them; at other times underbrush so dense and so stubborn that a way could only be forced through with the most persevering effort. Besides, it was absolutely necessary to keep as near as possible to the edge of the cliff, for they all knew how easily they might be lost, if they once ventured out of sight of it. So they kept on, close by the brink, even though places occasionally appeared which seemed much easier to traverse.

At length they reached the place immediately opposite the Petrel. She lay within easy stone’s throw. Before them the cliff went down with rough, jagged sides, and the shore at its foot was covered with masses of rock that had fallen there from the precipice. It was not more than sixty or seventy feet down. On this elevation, and at this distance out, they felt the full force of the blast.

The Petrel had certainly grounded, and it was evident to them that the bottom was rough and irregular. She lay over on her side, her stern nearest to the shore. The bows were sunk under to the depth of about a foot, while the stern rose a little. She swayed backward and forward with a regular motion, and there was a dull, gringing, creaking noise, that came from her to their ears, and was plainly discernible through the noise of the surf on the rocks below. The sea at this point was quite heavy, and rolled over and over the doomed ship. The long waves came sweeping up at successive intervals, and at every stroke the Petrel would yield, and then slowly struggle back.

“I wonder how long she can stand this sort of thing,” said Phil.

“Not long, I should think,” said Bart; “but after all, the wind isn’t very strong just yet, and if there are no rocks under her, she may hold out some time.”

“If this wind grows to a gale, she’s done for.”

“But then it may not get any worse, and if it goes down, I’d undertake to swim on board.”

“O, of course, if it gets smooth.”

“What do you say to going out to the point?” said Bruce.

“O, yes, let’s go.”

The point was not far away, and the woods were thinner. They reached it without much difficulty. Standing here an extensive scene came upon their view.

On the left, the coast line ran on for a few miles, rough and rugged cliffs, with a crest of stunted trees. On the right, the coast line was what they had already seen. In front was the boundless sea, covered with foaming waves. At their feet the surf thundered in a line of foam, and tossed its spray high on the air.

“I don’t altogether like the look of things,” said Bruce, after a long and silent gaze upon the sea and the rough coast in the west.

“O, don’t fret,” said Bart. “Look, Bruce, close in to the shore under the cliffs: why, it’s smooth enough there to paddle a raft in. They’ll keep close in to the shore, and land whenever they want to.”

“Only they might try to round a headland like that,” said Bruce, pointing to a cliff which terminated the view towards the left, at the base of which there was a line of white foam; “and if they did,” he added, “I’m afraid neither Arthur nor Tom—”

He stopped abruptly, leaving the sentence unfinished.


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