Old Acquaintances gather around old Scenes.—Antelope, ahoy!—How are you, Solomon?—Round-about Plan of a round about Voyage.—The Doctor warns, rebukes, and remonstrates, but, alas! in vain.—It must be done.—Beginning of a highly eventful Voyage.
It was a beautiful morning, in the month of July, when a crowd of boys assembled on the wharf of Grand Pre. The tide was high, the turbid waters of Mud Creek flowed around, a fresh breeze blew, and if any craft was going to sea she could not have found a better time. The crowd consisted chiefly of boys, though a few men were mingled with them. These boys were from Grand Pre School, and are all old acquaintances. There was the stalwart frame of Bruce, the Roman face of Arthur, the bright eyes of Bart, the slender frame of Phil, and the earnest glance of Tom. There, too, was Pat's merry smile, and the stolid look of Bogud, and the meditative solemnity of Jiggins, not to speak of others whose names need not be mentioned. Amid the crowd the face of Captain Corbet was conspicuous, and the dark visage of Solomon, while that of the mate was distinguishable in the distance. To all these the good schooner Antelope formed the centre of attraction, and also of action. It was on board of her that the chief bustle took place, and towards her that all eyes were turned.
The good schooner Antelope had made several voyages during the past few months, and now presented herself to the eye of the spectator not much changed from her former self. A fine fresh coat of coal tar had but recently ornamented her fair exterior, while a coat of whitewash inside the hold had done much to drive away the odor of the fragrant potato. Rigging and sails had been repaired as well as circumstances would permit, and in the opinion of her gallant captain she was eminently seaworthy.
On the present occasion things bore the appearance of a voyage. Trunks were passed on board and put below, together with coats, cloaks, bedding, and baskets of provisions. The deck was strewn about with the multifarious requisites of a ship's company. The Antelope, at that time, seemed in part an emigrant vessel, with a dash of the yacht and the coasting schooner.
In the midst of all this, two gentlemen worked their way through the crowd to the edge of the wharf.
"Well, boys," said one, "well, captain, what's the meaning of all this?"
Captain Corbet started at this, and looked up from a desperate effort to secure the end of one of the sails.
"Why, Dr. Porter!" said he; "why, doctor!—how d'ye do?—and Mr. Long, too!—why, railly!"
The boys also stopped their work, and looked towards their teachers with a little uneasiness.
"What's all this?" said Dr. Porter, looking around with a smile; "are you getting up another expedition?"
"Wal, no," said Captain Corbet, "not 'xactly; fact is, we're kine o' goin to take a vyge deoun the bay."
"Down the bay?"
"Yes. You see the boys kine o' want to go home by water, rayther than by land."
"By water! Home by water!" repeated Mr. Long, doubtfully.
"Yes," said Captain Corbet; "an bein as the schewner was in good repair, an corked, an coal-tarred, an whitewashed up fust rate, I kine o' thought it would redound to our mootooil benefit if we went off on sich a excursion,—bein pleasanter, cheaper, comfortabler, an every way preferable to a land tower."
"Hem," said Dr. Porter, looking uneasily about. "I don't altogether like it. Boys, what does it all mean?"
Thus appealed to, Bart became spokesman for the boys.
"Why, sir," said he, "we thought we'd like to go home by water— that's all."
"Go home by water!" repeated the doctor once more, with a curious smile.
"What? by the Bay of Fundy?"
"Who are going?"
"Well, sir, there are only a few of us. Bruce, and Arthur, and Tom, and Phil, and Pat, besides myself."
"Bruce and Arthur?" said the doctor; "are they going home by the Bay of Fundy?"
"Yes, sir," said Bart, with a smile.
"I don't see how they can get to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Prince Edward's Island from the Bay of Fundy," said the doctor, "without going round Nova Scotia, and that will be a journey of many hundred miles."
"O, no, sir," said Bruce; "we are going first to Moncton."
"O, is that the idea?"
"And where will you go from Moncton?"
"To Shediac, and then home."
"And are you going to Newfoundland by that route, Tom?" asked the doctor.
"Yes, sir," said Tom, gravely.
"I never knew before that there were vessels going from Shediac to Newfoundland."
"O, I'm going to Prince Edward's Island first, sir, with Bruce and Arthur," said Tom. "I'll find my way home from there."
The doctor smiled.
"I'm afraid you'll find it a long journey before you reach home. Won't your friends be anxious?"
"O, no, sir. I wrote that I wanted to visit Bruce and Arthur, and they gave me leave."
"And you, Phil, are you going home by the Antelope?"
"You are going exactly in a straight line away from it."
"Am I, sir?"
"Of course you are. This isn't the way to Chester."
"Well, sir, you see I'm going to visit Bart at St. John."
"O, I understand. And that is your plan, then?"
"Yes, sir," said Bart. "Pat is going too."
"Where are you going first?"
"First, sir, we will sail to the Petitcodiac River, and go up it as far as Moncton, where Bruce, and Arthur, and Tom will leave us."
"Then we will go to St. John, where Phil, and Pat, and I will leave her. Solomon, too, will leave her there."
"Solomon!" cried the doctor. "What! Solomon! Is Solomon going? Why, what can I do without Solomon? Here! Hallo!—Solomon! What in the world's the meaning of all this?"
Thus summoned, Solomon came forth from the cabin, into which he had dived at the first appearance of the doctor. His eyes were downcast, his face was demure, his attitude and manner were abject.
"Solomon," said the doctor, "what's this I hear? Are you going to St. John?"
"Ony temp'ly, sah—jist a leetle visit, sah," said Solomon, very humbly, stealing looks at the boys from his downcast eyes.
"But what makes you go off this way without asking, or letting me know?"
"Did I, sah?" said Solomon, rolling his eyes up as though horrified at his own wickedness; "the sakes now! Declar, I clean forgot it."
"What are you going away for?"
"Why, sah, for de good oh my helf. Docta vises sea vyge; sides, I got frens in St. John, an business dar, what muss be tended to."
"Well, well," said the doctor, "I suppose if you want to go you'll find reasons enough; but at the same time you ought to have let me known before."
"Darsn't, sah," said Solomon.
"Fraid you'd not let me go," said Solomon, with a broad grin, that instantly was suppressed by a demure cough.
"Nonsense," said the doctor; and then turning away, he spoke a few words apart with Mr. Long.
"Well, boys," said the doctor, at last, "this project of yours doesn't seem to me to be altogether safe, and I don't like to trust you in this way without anybody as a responsible guardian."
"O, sir," said he, "you need not be at all uneasy. All of us are accustomed to take care of ourselves; and besides, if you wanted a responsible guardian for us, what better one could be found than Captain Corbet?"
The doctor and Mr. Long both shook their heads. Evidently neither of them attached any great importance to Captain Corbet's guardianship.
"Did you tell your father how you were going?" asked the doctor, after a few further words with Mr. Long.
"O, yes, sir; and he told me I might go. What's more, he promised to charter a schooner for me to cruise about with Phil and Pat after I arrived home."
"And we got permission, too," said Bruce.
"Indeed!" said the doctor. "That changes the appearance of things. I was afraid that it was a whim of your own. And now, one thing more,—how are you off for provisions?"
"Wal, sir," said Captain Corbet, "I've made my calculations, an I think I've got enough. What I might fail in, the boys and Solomon have made up."
"How is it, Solomon?" asked the doctor.
"You sleep in the hold, I see," continued the doctor.
"Yes, sir," said Bruce. "It's whitewashed, and quite sweet now. We'll only be on board two or three days at the farthest, and so it really doesn't much matter how we go."
"Well, boys, I have no more to say; only take care of yourselves."
With these words the doctor and Mr. Long bade them good by, and then walked away.
The other boys, however, stood on the wharf waiting to see the vessel off. They themselves were all going to start for home in a few minutes, and were only waiting for the departure of the Antelope.
This could not now be long delayed. The tide was high. The wind fresh and fair. The luggage, and provisions, and stores were all on board. Captain Corbet was at the helm. All was ready. At length the word was given, the lines were cast off; and the Antelope moved slowly round, and left the wharf amid the cheers of the boys. Farther and farther it moved away, then down the tortuous channel of Mud Creek, until at last the broad expanse of Minas Basin received them.
For this voyage the preparations had been complete. It had first been thought of several weeks before, and then the plan and the details had been slowly elaborated. It was thought to be an excellent idea, and one which was in every respect worthy of the "B. O. W. C." Captain Corbet embraced the proposal with enthusiasm. Letters home, requesting permission, received favorable answers. Solomon at first resisted, but finally, on being solemnly appealed to as Grand Panjandrum, he found himself unable to withstand, and thus everything was gradually prepared. Other details were satisfactorily arranged, though not without much serious and earnest debate. The question of costume received very careful attention, and it was decided to adopt and wear the weather-beaten uniforms that had done service amidst mud and water on a former occasion. Solomon's presence was felt to be a security against any menacing famine; and that assurance was made doubly sure by the presence of a cooking stove, which Captain Corbet, mindful of former hardships, had thoughtfully procured and set up in the hold. Finally, it was decided that the flag which had formerly flaunted the breeze should again wave over them; and so it was, that as the Antelope moved through Mud Creek, like a thing of life, the black flag of the "B. O. W. C." floated on high, with its blazonry of a skull, which now, worn by time, looked more than ever like the face of some mild, venerable, and paternal monitor.
Some time was taken up in arranging the hold. Considerable confusion was manifest in that important locality. Tin pans were intermingled with bedding, provisions with wearing apparel, books with knives and forks, while amid the scene the cooking stove towered aloft prominent. To tell the truth, the scene was rather free and easy than elegant; nor could an unprejudiced observer have called it altogether comfortable. In fact, to one who looked at it with a philosophic mind, an air of squalor might possibly have been detected. Yet what of that? The philosophic mind just alluded to would have overlooked the squalor, and regarded rather the health, the buoyant animal spirits, and the determined habit of enjoyment, which all the ship's company evinced, without exception. The first thing which they did in the way of preparation for the voyage was to doff the garments of civilized life, and to don the costume of the "B. O. W. C." Those red shirts, decorated with a huge white cross on the back, had been washed and mended, and completely reconstructed, so that the rents and patches which were here and there visible on their fair exteriors, served as mementos of former exploits, and called up associations of the past without at all deteriorating from the striking effect of the present. Glengary bonnets adorned their heads, and served to complete the costume.
The labor of dressing was followed by a hurried arrangement of the trunks and bedding; after which they all emerged from the hold and ascending to the deck, looked around upon the scene. Above, the sky was blue and cloudless, and between them and the blue sky floated the flag, from whose folds the face looked benignantly down. The tide was now on the ebb, and as the wind was fair, both wind and tide united to bear them rapidly onward. Before them was Blomidon, while all around was the circling sweep of the shores of Minas Bay. A better day for a start could not have been found, and everything promised a rapid and pleasant run.
"I must say," remarked Captain Corbet, who had for some time been standing buried in his own meditations at the helm,—"I must say, boys, that I don't altogether regret bein once more on the briny deep. There was a time," he continued, meditatively, "when I kine o' anticipated givin up this here occypation, an stayin to hum a nourishin of the infant. But man proposes, an woman disposes, as the sayin is,—an you see what I'm druv to. It's a great thing for a man to have a companion of sperrit, same as I have, that keeps a' drivin an a drivin at him, and makes him be up an doin. An now, I declar, if I ain't gittin to be a confirmed wanderer agin, same as I was in the days of my halcyon an shinin youth. Besides, I have a kine o' feelin as if I'd be a continewin this here the rest of all my born days."
"I hope you won't feel homesick," remarked Bart, sympathetically.
"Homesick," repeated the captain. "Wal, you see thar's a good deal to be said about it. In my hum thar's a attraction, but thar's also a repulsion. The infant drors me hum, the wife of my buzzum drives me away, an so thar it is, an I've got to knock under to the strongest power. An that's the identical individool thing that makes the aged Corbet a foogitive an a vagabond on the face of the mighty deep. Still I have my consolations."
The captain paused for a few moments, and then resumed.
"Yes," he continued, "I have my consolations. Surroundins like these here air a consolation. I like your young faces, an gay an airy ways, boys. I like to see you enjoy life. So, go in. Pitch in. Go ahead. Sing. Shout. Go on like mad. Carry on like all possessed, an you'll find the aged Corbet smilin amid the din, an a flutterin of his venerable locks triumphant amid the ragin an riotin elements."
"It's a comfort to know that, at any rate," said Tom. "We'll give you enough of that before we leave, especially as we know it don't annoy you."
"I don't know how it is," said the captain, solemnly, "but I begin to feel a sort of somethin towards you youngsters that's very absorbin. It's a kine o' anxious fondness, with a mixtoor of indulgent tenderness. How ever I got to contract sech a feelin beats me. I s'pose it's bein deprived of my babby, an exiled from home, an so my vacant buzzom craves to be filled. I've got a dreadful talent for doin the pariential, an what's more, not only for doin the pariential, but for feelin of it. So you boys, ef ever you see me a doin of the pariential towards youns, please remember that when I act like an anxious an too indulgent parient towards youns, it's because I feel like one."
For some hours they traversed the waters, carried swiftly on by the united forces of the wind and tide. At last they found themselves close by Blomidon, and under his mighty shadow they sailed for some time. Then they doubled the cape, and there, before them, lay a long channel—the Straits of Minas, through which the waters pour at every ebb and flood. Their course now lay through this to the Bay of Fundy outside; and as it was within two hours of the low tide, the current ran swiftly, hurrying them rapidly past the land. Here the scene was grand and impressive in the extreme. On one side arose a lofty, precipitous cliff, which extended for miles, its sides scarred and tempest-torn, its crest fringed with trees, towering overhead many hundreds of feet, black, and menacing, and formidable. At its base was a steep beach, disclosed by the retreating tide, which had been formed by the accumulated masses of rock that had fallen in past ages from the cliffs above. These now, from the margin of the water up to high-water mark, were covered with a vast growth of sea-weed, which luxuriated here, and ran parallel to the line of vegetation on the summit of the cliff. On the other side of the strait the scene was different. Here the shores were more varied; in one place, rising high on steep precipices, in others, thrusting forth black, rocky promontories into the deep channel; in others again, retreating far back, and forming bays, round whose sloping shores appeared places fit for human habitation, and in whose still waters the storm-tossed bark might find a secure haven.
As they drifted on, borne along by the impetuous tide, the shores on either side changed, and new vistas opened before them. At last they reached the termination of the strait, the outer portal of this long avenue, which here was marked by the mighty hand of Nature in conspicuous characters. For here was the termination of that long extent of precipitous cliff which forms the outline of Blomidon; and this termination, abrupt, and stern, and black, shows, in a concentrated form, the power of wind and wave. The cliff ends abrupt, broken off short, and beyond this arise from the water several giant fragments of rock, the first of which, shaped like an irregular pyramid, rivals the cliff itself in height, and is surrounded by other rocky fragments, all of which form a colossal group, whose aggregated effect never fails to overawe the mind of the spectator. Such is Cape Split, the terminus of Cape Blomidon, on the side of the Bay of Fundy. Over its shaggy summits now fluttered hundreds of sea-gulls; round its black base the waves foamed and thundered, while the swift tide poured between the interstices of the rugged rocks.
"Behind that thar rock," said Captain Corbet, pointing to Cape Split," is a place they call Scott's Bay. Perhaps some of you have heard tell of it."
"I have a faint recollection of such a place," said Bart. "Scott's Bay, do you call it? Yes, that must be the place that I've heard of; and is it behind this cape?"
"It's a bay that runs up thar," said the captain. "We'll see it soon arter we get further down. It's a fishin and ship-buildin place. They catch a dreadful lot of shad thar sometimes."
Swiftly the Antelope passed on, hurried on by the tide, and no longer feeling much of the wind; swiftly she passed by the cliffs, and by the cape, and onward by the sloping shores, till at length the broad bosom of the Bay of Fundy extended before their eyes. Here the wind ceased altogether, the water was smooth and calm, but the tide still swept them along, and the shores on each side receded, until at length they were fairly in the bay. Here, on one side, the coast of Nova Scotia spread away, until it faded from view in the distance, while on the other side the coast of New Brunswick extended. Between the schooner and this latter coast a long cape projected, while immediately in front arose a lofty island of rock, whose summit was crowned with trees.
"What island is that?" asked Tom.
"That," said Captain Corbet, "is Isle o' Holt."
"I think I've heard it called Ile Haute," said Bart.
"All the same," said Captain Corbet, "ony I believe it was named after the man that diskivered it fust, an his name was Holt."
"But it's a French name," said Tom; "Ile Haute means high island."
"Wal, mebbe he was a Frenchman," said Captain Corbet. "I won't argufy—I dare say he was. There used to be a heap o' Frenchmen about these parts, afore we got red of 'em."
"It's a black, gloomy, dismal, and wretched-looking place," said Tom, after some minutes of silent survey.