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CHAPTER 21
The Expedition and the Voyagers.—Speculations.—Dinner followed by a Change of Wind.—A Squall.—Shipping a Sea.—Nearer the Shore.—An iron-bound Coast.—Rounding the Headland.—Startling Sight.—The Column of Smoke.—A Man on the Beach.—The shipwrecked Stranger.—Astonishing Disclosures.—Where are we?—The mournful Truth.—Anticosti!—Arthur contains his Soul.—The Boys and the Boat both hauled up.—The Expedition ends.

ARTHUR and Tom, on rounding the headland, kept on their course, following the line of the shore. The water was smooth, and the breeze continued moderate, yet fair. The sail worked well, the boat glided smoothly through the water, and they slipped on past the shore at a rate which was most gratifying to both of them. They kept away about a mile from the land, a distance which seemed to them to allow of a ready resort there in case of need, while at the same time it was far enough out to get the full benefit of the breeze, and maintain a sufficiently straight course.

The coast was most forbidding. Rugged cliffs arose, or rocky, sterile banks, crested with stunted spruce. Hour after hour passed by, and mile after mile of the coast slipped away behind them, but not the slightest sign appeared of human habitation or of human life; nothing but the same iron-bound shore, and the same unbroken solitude.

From time to time they came in sight of places which were more inviting. Sometimes there were shelving beaches, which appeared to be covered with sand or pebbles; at other times they saw coves, whose aspect was less forbidding than that of the bolder coast line; and on one occasion there was a small harbor, which, in comparison with the rest of the country, was decidedly inviting, and, if their errand had been less pressing, they would certainly have entered it, and explored the surrounding region. But, as it was, they passed on, noticing as they passed that here, as everywhere else, there was not a field, not a pasture, not a clearing; that there were no signs of cattle or of man.

So passed the hours of the morning.

The sun attained its meridian, and the two voyagers thought of dinner. The provident care of Solomon had furnished them with everything that could be desired on such a trip as this, and the repast was not only abundant, but attractive.

“I wonder what speed we have been making,” said Arthur.

“Five miles, I should think,” said Tom, “at least.”

“So should I; but, then, we can’t be certain. There may be currents, or we may be deceived in our estimate. Let’s say four, and then we’ll feel certain. It’s after twelve now; we left at six; that’s six hours.”

“Four miles an hour—little enough,” said Tom. “Well, that’s twenty-four miles. If this sort of thing can only be kept up, we’ll get to St. Pierre in no time.”

“That’s the very thing,” said Arthur,—“if it can only be kept up. But I’m afraid it’s a little too good to last.”

“At any rate,” said Tom, cheerily, “we’ll make the best of it while we can.”

Arthur’s forebodings, though not based upon any ground of alarm, were, however, actually justified by the event, and not very long after. For scarcely had they finished their repast, when they became aware of a very serious increase in the wind. A series of puffs, which almost amounted to squalls, came down, and in a very short time the sea began to rise to a very unpleasant extent.

“We’ll have to keep in closer,” said Arthur.

“Yes,” said Tom, “fortunately the wind’s off the land, and, if we can get in nearer, we’ll be all right.”

But it was not so easy to get in nearer. Tom, however, took a paddle, while Arthur held the boat as close to the wind as possible, and thus, in process of time, they drew her in far enough to get into smoother water. This was not accomplished without some trifling casualties: several waves dashed their spray into the boat, and they shipped one sea which was heavy enough to drench them both, and leave as much as a barrel full of salt water behind. This showed them what they might expect if they dared to keep too far away from the land.

They were now close in to the shore, and they proceeded onward slowly, but securely. It was not quite equal to their previous progress, but it was free from danger and inconvenience.

“I’m afraid,” said Tom, “that we’re going to have a turn of luck.”

“O, we’re doing well enough,” said Arthur.

“Yes, but we’ll be sure to come to some headland, and there we’ll stick, for we shan’t be able to round it. This boat can’t stand any sea.”

“Well, we’ll wait till the time comes,” said Arthur, “and not fret till then.”

“It’s lucky for us,” said Tom, “that the wind’s the way it is. If that was a lee shore, we’d be done for.”

“Well, if the wind had been any other way we shouldn’t have started, you know,” said Arthur, “and if it changes we’ll go ashore and haul up—that’s all.”

“We couldn’t find a landing-place just here very easily. I don’t think I ever saw a more rascally place in my life.”

“It’s rather rough, I must confess,” said Arthur, “but we’ll find a better place before long.”

They were within an eighth of a mile from the land. It rose there in high, rocky cliffs, crested, as usual, with stunted trees, and fragments of rock at its base.

“This seems to run on for a long way ahead,” said Tom.

“Yes,” said Arthur, “but I shouldn’t wonder if behind that point ahead the land got better. It stands to reason that these cliffs can’t extend forever. There must be places here and there where gullies occur—places where brooks run down, you know.”

“O, I dare say; but I only hope we may get to some such a place before the wind changes.”

“Why, is the wind going to change?”

“I don’t know. I merely supposed a case.”

“O, I dare say the wind’ll keep in this direction for ever so long yet.”

They sailed along slowly under these cliffs for about a couple of miles, and at length reached the point of which Arthur had spoken. They passed this, full of curiosity as to what lay beyond. They saw that the land here receded for a mile or two,—very gradually, however,—while several miles ahead it projected itself once more into the sea, and was terminated by a precipitous headland. These receding shores showed a different appearance from that of the cliffs which they had just been passing. They were wooded down to the water’s edge, which they approached by a gentle declivity, while about two miles ahead they disclosed a wide area where there were no trees at all.

Whether this was cultivated ground, cleared ground, or pasture, they could not very well make out; but they had not caught sight of it before they saw something which at once riveted their attention.

It was a column of smoke!

“Hurrah!” cried Tom. “We’ve come to a settlement at last. Well, it’s about time. Hurrah! We’re all right now.”

“Yes,” said Arthur, “there must be some life about—though I can’t see any sign of any settlement.”

“O, there must be a settlement somewhere about. We can’t see it yet.”

“There certainly must be people, for there is the smoke.”

“The settlement is farther back; away from the shore.”

“Yes, or perhaps behind that headland. I dare say there’s a harbor there, and a fishing settlement. This may be some solitary house.”

“Solitary or not, it’s all the same to us. It shows us that we have come near to human beings again.”

A straight course towards the place where the smoke arose would have drawn them into rough water; so they hugged the shore, and followed its curve, in order to avoid the danger. For a time the smoke was concealed from view; but at length, as they went on, it came into sight again, and appeared twice as near as when they had first seen it. Here they saw a beach, which ran away for a long distance; and they noticed now that the smoke itself seemed to rise from a point on the beach about a mile away.

“That’s queer,” said Tom. “The smoke can’t be from a house at all.”

“No, some one has been making a fire on the beach. But it’s all the same. It shows that people are living hereabouts, and that’s all we want.”

“Well, we’ll soon know.”

“Tom!”

“What?”

“I should laugh if this place were to turn out to be Gasp茅, after all.”

“O, there’s no doubt about the place. It must be Newfoundland.”

“Hallo!”

This exclamation came from Arthur. He said no more, but pointed in silence, while Tom looked eagerly in that direction.

On the beach, about a quarter of a mile away, they saw a moving figure. It was a man. He was running along with irregular steps, waving his arms in the air in a wild way, and evidently trying to attract their attention.

They at once headed the boat in nearer to the shore, so as to meet him as soon as possible. As they neared the shore the man neared them. The beach was smooth, and his staggering, irregular steps could not have been caused by the rough ground, while his wild gesticulations seemed unaccountable.

“He must be drunk,” said Tom.

Arthur said nothing.

The boat grounded, and the next moment the man reached the spot. No sooner had he come up to them than he fell on his knees, and, grasping the bows of the boat, bowed his head, and sobbed convulsively.

They saw, as he came up, that he was pale and emaciated. He was panting heavily from his exertions. He wore a flannel shirt and canvas trousers. He looked like a common sailor from some ship, and not at all like a fisherman or farmer. The boys stared at him without saying one single word.

At length the man rose and looked at them with a searching and curious gaze.

“A couple o? youngsters,” said he at last, as though speaking to himself. “Queer, too—youngsters! Say, boys, is your ship near by?”

“Not very.”

“Where do you come from?”

“O, from over there,” said Arthur. “The fact is, we got ashore.”

“Got ashore!”

“Yes; and we’ve come here to look up some settlement.”

“Got ashore! settlement!” said the man.

“Yes,” said Arthur. “And we’d like to go, as soon as possible, to the nearest settlement. We want to engage a schooner to go back with us and get our friends.”

At this the man stared at them for a few moments in a wild way, and then burst forth into laughter so strange and so wild that both the boys felt uncomfortable. Tom began to think that he was not drunk, but insane, and felt sorry that they had allowed the boat to touch the shore.

Suddenly the man stopped, and looked at them with a totally different expression. He looked at them fixedly, and there was on his face a certain pity and commiseration which struck them forcibly.

“Boys,” said he at length, in a gentle voice, “you’re on the lookout for a settlement, are you?”

“Yes.”

“Well, look at me. Now look at all this country. Well, I’m the only settler here. I’m the only settler you’ll ever find here, if you sail a hundred years. Do you know where you’ve got to?”

“Why, we thought it was Newfoundland,” said Tom.

“Or Gasp茅,” said Arthur.

The man looked at them with a solemn face for some time, and said not a word.

“Poor boys! poor boys!” he murmured at last; “p’raps they was worse off’n I was. An air you all alone, boys?”

“No; we’ve left our friends some, miles back.”

“O, an you thought you was on Newfoundland coast, or Gasp茅, an you goes off to hunt for help, an you leaves your friends. Well, now, have they got lots to eat?”

“O, yes.”

“Lots?” repeated the man, with some energy. “Lots, now, railly?”

“Plenty—enough to last them for a year.”

The man sighed.

“An so you comes off for help. Why did they let you youngsters go? Why didn’t the men go?”

“O, we’re all boys,” said Tom.

“Well, that’s queer, too.”

“A kind of pleasure party,” said Arthur.

The man shook his head mournfully.

“An so you thinks you’ve got onto Newfoundland or Gasp茅,” he said.

“Yes. Why? Where are we? Can you tell us? And who are you? and what are you doing here?”

Tom said this.

“Me?” said the man. “Look at me. Can’t you see what I be? Do I look like a gentleman farmer? Is this the country for a emigrant? Me!” he repeated, with a bitter laugh. “Poor boys! poor boys! Why, I’m jest like you. I’m ship-wracked—on’y I knows where I be, an that’s more’n you do, it seems.”

“Shipwrecked!” exclaimed Tom.

“Yes, wracked—the worst sort; an this here country—so you think it’s Newfoundland or Gasp茅? Well—it ain’t either.”

“What is it?”

“The worst place in the world—that’s what it is; a place where there ain’t no hope, and there ain’t no life. It’s only death that a man can find here.”

“What do you mean?” asked Tom. “Tell us what place it is.”

The man looked at them both, one after the other, with a solemn face.

“I been ship wracked,” said he, “an I been here more’n a fortnight; an this here place is—Anticosti!”

“Anticosti!” exclaimed both the boys, exchanging glances of horror, while a feeling of despair came over them.

“Yes,” said the man, “this here country’s Anticosti—un woe to the poor wretch that’s cast ashore here. For there ain’t no life here, an there ain’t no hope, an there ain’t no food; an the only thing a man can do is to lie down an die as fast as he can.”

A long silence followed. The boys felt utterly overwhelmed. They had all heard enough about Anticosti to make the name one of dread, and to surround it with the darkest gloom and the most formidable terrors.

“We thought,” said Arthur, at length, to the man, who seemed to be lost in his own thoughts, “we supposed that we were on the coast of Newfoundland, somewhere between Cape Ray and Fortune’s Bay; so we started off to sail along the coast in search of a settlement, and if we couldn’t find any we intended to go to St. Pierre.”

“This is Anticosti,” said the man.

“Very well,” said Arthur, gravely, “we’ll suppose it is. So much the more need for us to help our friends. You appear to have had a hard time of it; but you’re a sailor, and we are not. You can help us. It seems to me that you can do a great deal for us. I think we had better keep to our plan, and try to reach the nearest settlement. If it is St. Pierre, or the Bay of Islands, or any other place, perhaps you can tell us. At any rate, you can sail the boat, and we can’t. We’ve got lots of provisions here; so you’d better come with us, and help us to reach some place where we can get assistance for our friends.”

While Arthur was saying this, the man stared at him most intently.

“Well,” said he at last, as Arthur ceased, “you’re about the pluckiest lot in the way of boys that I’ve come across for some time. All I can say is, you needn’t beat round the bush with me. You’ve saved my life, and so you’ll find that Dick Bailey is yours till death. All you’ve got to do, boys, is to tell what you want done, and I’ll do it—if it can be done. But fust and foremost, let me tell you ’tain’t no use tryin to get any further in that there boat this day, for the wind’s risin, and you’d best come ashore till it blows over. We’ll take the boat up high and dry out of harm’s way, and then we can talk over what we’d best do.”

“Can’t we go any farther to-day?” asked Arthur, in a disappointed tone.

“No,” said Bailey,—“no, you can’t go either for’ard or back’ard, for it’s a head wind one way, and the other way is barred by that there pint. So, as I said afore, you’d better land. We’ll draw the boat up high an dry out of harm’s way, and we’ll wait till to-morrer. By that time there’ll be a change for the better.”

Upon this Arthur and Tom got out, and the three drew the boat up as far as they could upon the beach.

“There,” said Bailey, “she’s out of harm’s way, unless a sou’-wester comes; an if it does, we can move her up further. But there ain’t no chance of that. And now, boys, hain’t you got something to give a poor feller to eat that’s been starvin for a fortnight?”

Upon this appeal Arthur and Tom at once laid open all their stores, producing biscuit, ham, potted meats, and all the other articles of food which comprised their sea stores.

And the shipwrecked Bailey ate ravenously; ate, in fact, as though he would never be satisfied.

“I ain’t had,” said he, as soon as he found time to speak in the intervals of eating,—“I ain’t had not to say a reg’lar meal for three weeks, which accounts for my present ravenosity, an hopin you’ll excuse it, young gents.”


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