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Picked Up Adrift
James De Mille
The enterprising Voyageurs.—A Parliament—Where shall we go next?—The Islands of the Sea.—Captain Corbet’s Confession.—Once more, upon the Waters.—The lonely Isle.—The strange Schooner.—Ashore.—A new Acquaintance.—A Disciple of Progress.—Railroads and Telegraphs for the Magdalen Islands.
THE Antelope had traversed all the waters of the Baie de Chaleur, and the enterprising voyageurs on board had met with many adventures by sea and land; and at length all these were exhausted, and, as the time drew near for their departure, the question arose where next to go, which question was discussed in full council assembled upon the deck; present Bruce, Arthur, Bart, Tom, Phil, Pat, Captain Corbet, Wade, and Solomon, Bruce being in the chair—that is to say, on the taffrail. “All you that are in favor of going home, say ‘Ay’,” said Bruce.
There was a dead silence. Not one spoke.
“That’s not the way to go about it,” said Bart. “It isn’t parliamentary. Let’s do business regularly. Come. I rise, Mr. President, to make a motion. I move that the B. O. W. C. continue their wanderings as long as the holidays last.”
“I second that motion,” cried Phil.
“Gentlemen,” said Bruce, “it has been moved and seconded that the B. O. W. C. continue their wanderings as long as the holidays last. All that are in favor of this motion will please manifest it by saying, ‘Ay.’”
At this there was a universal chorus of “Ay.”
“Contrary minds, ‘No.’”
“It’s a vote,” said Bruce; “and now all that remains to do is to decide upon the direction to be taken.”
Upon this Captain Corbet smiled benignly, and a glance of approval beamed from his venerable eye. Old Solomon grinned violently, but checked himself in a moment; his grin was drowned in a low chuckle, and he exclaimed, “De sakes now, chil’en alive, how you do go on! Mos’ make dis ole nigga bust hisself to see dese yer mynouvrins.”.
“Look here, boys,” cried Bart, suddenly dropping altogether the “parliamentary” style in which he had last spoken; “what do you say to a cruise around the gulf? Let’s visit the islands; there are ever so many; some of them are uninhabited, too. It’ll be glorious!”
“Glorious—will it?” cried Tom. “Wait, my boy, till you know as much about uninhabited islands as I do. You don’t catch me putting my foot ashore on anything of that sort.”
“O, well, we needn’t be particular about the inhabitants,” said Arthur. “I go in for islands, head over heels.”
“So do I,” said Phil.
“Be the powers,” said Pat, “but it’s meself that howlds up both hands to that same.”
“Suppose we go to the Magdalen Islands,” said Bruce. “They’re right in the middle of the gulf, and it’s a very queer place, they say.”
“No, no,” said Bart; “if we go anywhere, let’s go to Anticosti. For my part, I’ve always been wild to go to Anticosti. I don’t believe there’s another island in all the world that’s equal to it. It’s cold, bleak, gloomy, uninhabited, and full of ghosts.”
“Full of fiddlesticks!” exclaimed Arthur. “What do you want of ghosts?”
“Well,” said Bart, placidly, “for my part, I think there is something uncommonly interesting in a haunted island.”
“A haunted island!” repeated Arthur. “Well, my boy, all I’ve got to say is, that if you want anything of that sort, you’ll find the best specimen on Sable Island; so I propose that we go there at once.”
“Sable Island? Why, man alive, that’s ever so far away!” said Tom. “We’d better wait till we’re on our way home, and leave that for the last; though, for my part, I think we’d better give it a wide berth. I go in for some of the gulf islands—St. Paul, for instance, or St. Peter.”
“Well, boys,” said Phil, “since you’re all so crazy about islands, why can’t we go to the Bay of Islands at once? We can have our fill of them there, I should think. For my part I’m indifferent. I’m like Tom; I’ve had my turn at a desert island, and have found out the vanity of Robinson Crusoe.”
“Sure, thin,” said Pat, “and whin we’re about it, we’d betther take the biggist island we can find about here, and that same is Newfoundland. Wouldn’t it be betther to begin with that, thin?”
“The fact is, boys,” said Bruce, with the air of a judge or an umpire, “we’ll have to make up our minds to visit all these islands. Each one has his preference, and each one shall be gratified. You, Bart, may see Anticosti; you, Arthur, may see Sable Island; you, Tom, may visit St. Paul and St. Peter; you, Phil, may visit the Bay of Islands; and at the same time you, Pat, may see Newfoundland. Of course, then, I hope to go to the Magdalen Islands. Now, as we are going to visit all these places, and the Magdalen Islands happen to be nearest, we will take them first, while we may visit in turn Anticosti and the others, winding up with Sable Island, which may be postponed to the last, since it is the farthest off. We may make up our minds, boys, to no end of adventures. We’re all in first-rate training; we are hardened by adventures on sea and on shore; we can live on next to nothing; and I’m only sorry that we’re not a little nearer to the North Pole, so that we might set out now as we are to settle the question forever about the open Polar Sea.”
The extravagant notion with which Bruce closed his address was received with shouts of laughter and applause. Then followed a confused conversation. At length they all gathered around Captain Corbet, who had thus far been a listener, and began to question him about the various places which they proposed to visit. The answer of the venerable navigator was not very satisfactory.
“Wal, boys,” said he, “you put me down in any part of old Fundy, an I’m to hum; anywhar’s between the head of old Fundy an Bosting, I know it all be heart; an I engage to feel my way in fog or in darkness, or in snow-storms, backard an forard, year on an year on; but jest about here I’m all agog. In these here parts I’m a pilgerrim an a stranger, an ain’t particularly to be trusted. But I can navigate the Antelope all the same, an fool round in these waters as long as you like. I ain’t got any chart, terrew; but I’ve got an old map of Canady, an kin scrape along with that, especially this season of the year. I kin git a ginral leadin idee of the position of places, an work along the old Antelope wharever you want to go. I’m an old man myself, an don’t mind this kerrewsing a bit; in fact, it’s rayther agree’ble. The best of it is, we’re allus sure to fetch up some-whar.”
This frank announcement of Captain Corbet’s ignorance of these seas might have excited disquietude in the bosoms of less enterprising lads; but the cruisers of the Antelope had seen and known, and felt and suffered, too much to be easily disturbed. Of Captain Corbet’s confession they thought nothing whatever, nor indeed did it really matter very much to them whether he was acquainted with these waters or not. After all, they were not particular about any destination; any mistakes which he might make would not create any inconvenience to them; and even if, in seeking to reach Newfoundland, he should land them at Cape Cod, they would not much care. Under these circumstances they listened to his words with indifference, and if they felt any disappointment, it was because they were unable to gain from him any information whatever about the places which they proposed to visit.
Since they could gain no information, they did not waste much more time in conversation, but concluded to set out without delay. And so in a little while the Antelope spread her white wings, and began to walk the waters in her usual style, like a thing of life, and all that. In process of time she reached the entrance of the bay, and then passed out into the gulf.
It was a glorious day. The wind was fair. The Antelope did her best. The sun went down that evening behind the high hills, and before them lay a wide expanse of water. On the following morning they saw land ahead. The land was an island, or a cluster of islands, and all the boys felt certain that it was the Magdalen Islands.
In spite of Captain Corbet’s ignorance of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, he had chosen his course very accurately, for this was indeed their destination. As the schooner drew nearer and nearer, the boys looked with curious eyes upon this remote and isolated spot, situated in the midst of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and shut out during all the winter months from the rest of the world of man by ice, and storms, and solitude.
The wind died away after sunrise, and hours passed before they came near enough to think of landing. At length the anchor was dropped, and the boat was made ready to go ashore. From this point they could see this new land to the best advantage. They saw before them an island rising high out of the water, with its green slopes covered with grass, and crowned with trees, and dotted with white houses. Before them there were a cove and a sandy beach, upon which boats were drawn up. The other islands of the group were shut out from view by this one. Not far away—in fact, not farther than a stone’s throw—there lay another schooner at anchor. Very different was this other schooner from the Antelope. The Antelope, in spite of its many admirable and amiable qualities, was not particularly distinguished either for size, or strength, or speed, or beauty. In every one of these particulars the other schooner was the exact opposite. It was large; it was evidently new; its lines were sharp and delicate, indicating great speed; its spread of canvas was immense; it was a model of naval architecture; while the freshness of its paint, and the extreme neatness which appeared in every part, indicated a far greater care on the part of its master than any which the good and gracious Corbet was ever disposed to exhibit towards his beloved Antelope. On high floated the Stars and Stripes, exhibiting the nationality of the stranger. On her stern the boys could read her name and nation. They saw there, in white letters underneath a gold eagle, the words,—
“On land,” said Bruce, gravely, as he looked at the strange craft, “the Antelope and the Fawn are somewhat alike; but on the sea it strikes me that there is a slight difference.”
The other boys said nothing, but there arose involuntarily in the mind of each a feeling not exactly of envy, but at least a fervent wish that the resemblance which Bruce spoke of should exist on the water as well as on the land.
“I suppose it’s a yacht,” said Bart.
“Or a cruiser,” said Arthur.
“Nothin of the kind,” said Captain Corbet. “That thar craft ain’t anythin more than a Gloucester fishing schewner.”
“A fishing schooner?”
“Course; an why not? Why, them Gloucester skippers make themselves comfortable; they know how to do it, tew, an this chap is jest like the rest. He makes himself comfortable, keeps his schewner like a palace or a parlor, an don’t let even so much as the scale of a red herrin be seen about.”
The boys went ashore in the boat. Bruce then returned for Captain Corbet, who was touched by this small attention. As Bart and the rest waited on the beach, they noticed a small, neat, freshly-painted boat drawn up not far away, which needed not the name of Fawn on the stern to assure them that it could belong to nothing else than the smart schooner. While they were looking at it and admiring it, a man advanced towards them, who regarded them with a puzzled and curious expression.
He was a man of middle age and medium stature, with clean-shaven face, close-cut hair, and keen gray eye. He wore a dark-blue frock coat and wide-awake hat, and did not seem at all like a seaman; yet somehow the boys could not help feeling that this very neatly-dressed man must have something to do with the Fawn. He came up to them, and looked at them with a smile.
“Who in thunder are you, anyhow?” he exclaimed, at length. “I can’t make you out at all. You belong to that queer-looking tub out there, I see; but who you are and what you are after is beyond me.”
This style of address struck the boys as being rather uncivil; but the good-natured expression of the stranger’s face showed that no incivility was meant, and won their hearts at once.
“O, well,” said Bart, with a laugh, “you must never judge by appearances, you know. We’re not a fishing vessel. In fact, we’re a sort of chartered yacht, though we’re a very unpretending sort of yacht, and we don’t go in for show. We’re a schooner, cruising about in a plain, off-hand, homely manner for pleasure, and all that sort of thing.”
At this the stranger burst into a shout of laughter, which was so cheery, and so hearty, and so good-natured, that the boys found it impossible to resist its contagion, and at length they all joined in also, though why they were laughing, or what they were laughing at, they had not the smallest idea in the world.
“Look here, boys,” exclaimed the stranger, at length, as soon as he had recovered from his laughter; “excuse me, but I can’t help it. I’ll knock under. I cave in. I don’t understand it at all. Have you a looking-glass aboard your tub out there? Has any one of you any idea what he looks like? Or have you ever examined one another?”
At this the boys could not help looking at one another, and at themselves, and at this survey they began to perceive what they had not at all suspected—that they were one and all a most disreputable-looking crowd. Their clothes were torn and stained with mud, and gave signs in every seam and fibre of long scrambles through wood and water, and long struggles with the elements. But, in fact, no one of them had thought of this until this moment, when they found themselves confronted and laughed at by this well-dressed stranger.
“It ain’t the shabbiness,” cried the stranger, “that upsets me, but it’s the contrast—such faces looking at me out of such clothes! Do your mothers know you are out? Or, in other words, boys, do your parents know the particular way in which you are moving about the world?”
“O, well,” said Bart, “we’re not a vain vessel, you know. We’re only a plain, simple, matter-of-fact potato schooner, out for a holiday, and on the lookout for a little fun. We’re not proud, and so, perhaps, being a potato schooner, it’s just as well not to be too particular about clothes. We’ve always been told not to think too much about dress; and besides, this sort of thing is ever so much more convenient for roughing it, you know.”
“Well, boys,” said the stranger, “I dare say you looked very well when you started; and after all, clothes are not the most important thing. At any rate, I’m glad to meet you! How d’ye do, all? I’m glad to see you! How d’ye do? I’d like to know you. My name’s Ferguson, Tobias Ferguson, and I’m skipper of that there craft, the Fawn.”
Saying this, he shook hands with every one of the boys in succession, asked their names, their ages, their place of abode, the names, occupations, and ages of their parents, and then proceeded to inquire about their adventures thus far, and their intentions in the future. By this time Bruce had returned from the vessel with Captain Corbet, to whom Ferguson at once made himself known; and thus in a short time he had come to be on intimate terms with all the party.
“I just dropped in here to Magdalen,” said he, frankly, “to fix up the Fawn a bit. ’Tain’t much of a place, any ways. The people air a lot of beggarly, frog-eating Frenchmen, that follow fashions as old as Adam. When Adam delved and Eve span, as the old verse says, they had a plough and a spindle, and that thar identical plough and spindle air still in use here among these here French. You can’t make em use anythin else. Why, I’ve been here dozens of times, and I’ve tried, to get em to give up their old-fashioned ways, and be up to the age. I’ve showed em our way of doin things. No go. Not a mite of use. Might as well talk to a stone wall. They’ll never get out of the old rut. And see what they’re doin here! Why, only look around you! Magdalen Islands! Why, this locality is one of the most favored on this green earth. In the middle of this gulf, right in the track of ships, it is in a position to enter upon a career of progress that might make this place one of the most flourishing in the world. They might control the whole fish trade; they might originate new modes of fishing. Why, look at me! I’ve tried to get em to start factories, build railroads, steamboats, common schools, hotels, newspapers, electric telegraphs, and other concomitants of our nineteenth century civilization. And what’s the result? Why, nothing. I might as well talk to the wind. Railroads! electric telegraphs! Why, you might as well ask them to build a bridge to the moon! Well, all I can say is, that these here Magdalen Islands won’t ever be anythin till they fall in with the sperrit of the age. Them’s my sentiments.”
“Railroads!” cried Bart. “Why, what could they do with a railroad?”
“Do?” exclaimed Ferguson. “Why, develop their resources, promote trade, facilitate intercourse, and keep themselves abreast with the age.”
“But there are not more than a couple of thousand people on the islands,” said Bart.
“Well, what’s the odds? So much the more reason for them to be up and doin,” retorted Ferguson, with some warmth. “They’re all as poor as rats; and a railroad is the only thing that can save them from eventooly dyin out.”
The boys looked at the stranger in some perplexity, for they did not know whether he’ could really be in earnest or not. But from Ferguson’s face and manner they could gather nothing whatever. He seemed perfectly serious, and altogether in earnest.
“Yes, sir,” he repeated, emphatically, “these here Magdalen Islands’ll never be wuth anythin till they get a railroad. Them’s my sentiments.”
A new Acquaintance,—The Islands of the Sea,—Making Friends,—The Natives,—A Festival,—Efforts at Conversation in an unknown Tongue, —Corbet’s Baby Talk,—Experiments of Bart and Tim,—Pat comes to Grief.—Overthrow of the French,—Arrival of the Skipper on the Scene, —He means Business.
FINDING that their new acquaintance was so very friendly, and communicative, and all that, the boys thought that it would be a good thing to find out from him something about the various islands which they proposed visiting. Ferguson declared that he knew as much about the Gulf of St. Lawrence as any man living, and could tell them all they wanted to know.
“What sort of a place is St. Paul’s Island,” asked Arthur.
The skipper shook his head in silence. “Is St. Pierre worth visiting?”
“Well—scarcely,” said the other.
“What sort of a place is Anticosti?” asked Bruce.
“Well, you’d best not go within fifty miles of that thar island.”
“What sort of a place is Sable Island?” asked Bart.
“Sable Island!” exclaimed the skipper, staring at them in astonishment.
“Yes, Sable Island.”
“You mean Cape Sable Island.”
“No; we mean Sable Island.”
The skipper looked at them all with a solemn face.
“Well, boys,” said he, “as to visiting Sable Island, all I’ve got to say is, I hope you’ll never begin to try it on Sable Island. Why, Sable Island’s one of the places that seafarin’ men try never to visit, and pray never to get nearer than a hundred miles to. Sable Island! Boys,” he continued, after a pause, “don’t ever speak of that again; don’t even think of it. Give it up at once and forever. I only hope that you won’t be brought to pay a visit there in spite of yourselves, a thing which I’m afraid you’re very likely to do if you go cruisin’ about in an old tub like that much longer. Not but what Sable Island mightn’t be improved—that is, if the inhabitants only had any enterprise, and the government that owns it was alive to the wants of the age.”
“‘Inhabitants!” said Bart; “why, there’s only the keeper and his family.”
The skipper waved his hand.
“Grant all that,” said he. “Very well. They’re a nucleus, at any rate, and can give tone and character to the future Sable Islanders. Now, what your government ought to do with Sable Island is this. They’d ought to make a good breakwater, first and foremost, so as to have decent harbor accommodation for passing vessels. Then they’d ought to connect it with the main land with a submarine cable, so that the place needn’t be quite so isolated, and have regular lines of steamers runnin’ backard and forard. Well, then they ought to get up a judicious emigration scheme, and that thar island would begin to go ahead in a style that would make you fairly open your eyes. Why, in ten years, if this plan was carried out, they’d be building a railroad,—a thing that is needed there more than most anywheres, the island bein so uncommon long and narrow,—and that bein done, why, Sable Island would begin to come abreast of the nineteenth century, instead of hanging back in the middle ages.”
After some further conversation of a similar character, the skipper proposed to show the boys about the country, and introduce them to some of the “aristocracy.”
“And there,” said he, “is one of them, now. It’s the priest—and a precious fine fellow he is, any how, and no mistake. He is priest, governor general, magistrate, constable, policeman, Sunday school teacher, town clerk, schoolmaster, newspaper, lawyer, doctor, notary public, census taker, and fifty other things all rolled into one. He is the factotum of the Magdalen Islands. They come to him for everything: to baptize their infants, to marry their young couples, and to bury their dead. They go to mass on Sundays, and on week days they go to him for advice and assistance in everything. He visits the sick, and administers medicine as doctor, or extreme unction as priest. He settles all their quarrels better than any judge or jury, and there never ain’t any appeal thought of from his decision. Now, all this is what I call a species of despotism,—it’s one man power, but it suits these poor benighted frog-eatin heathen,—and, besides, it’s no more a despotism than the father of a family exercises. It’s patriarchal—that’s what it is. It’s wonderful, too, how much honor the young people hereabouts pay to their fathers, and grandfathers, and elders genrally. I never knowed anythin like it in all my born days. Well, now, boys, mind you, all this is goin to be upset. Some day they’ll be appointin magistrates here, and doctors will come, and lawyers; then this little community will all be sot by the ears, and—and they’ll enter upon a career of boundless progress. They’ll get the ballot-box, and the newspaper, and all the concomitants of modern civilization; the present patriarchal system’ll be played out, and the spirit of the age will reign and rule over them.”
By the time the skipper had given utterance to this, they had approached the priest. He was a mild, venerable man, with a meek face and a genial smile. He spoke English very well, shook hands with all, and listened to the skipper’s explanations about their present visit.
“And now, boys, I’ll leave you for the present,” said the skipper, “to the care of Father Leblanc, who will do the honors of the island. I’ve got to go aboard the Fawn to fix up a few things. We’ll meet again in the course of the day.”
With these words he went down to the beach. The shabbiness of the costume of the boys had already excited the remarks of the skipper, but the good Father Leblanc soon saw that in spite of this they were clever and intelligent.
“We do not often have,” said he, “at this place visitors above the rank of fishermen, and we have never before had any visitors like you. I can assure you a welcome, dear boys, from all the good people here. There is to be a fête to-day in honor of the marriage of two of my flock. Would you like to go? If so, I invite you most cordially, and assure you of a welcome.”
This unexpected invitation, thus kindly given, was accepted with undisguised eagerness; and thereupon the boys accompanied the priest, who first of all went to his own home, where he offered them some simple refreshments. The priest’s home was a small cottage of very unpretending exterior, and very similar to all the other cottages; but inside there were marks of refined taste and scholarly pursuits. A few Latin and Greek classics were on a small book-shelf. There was an harmonium, with some volumes of sacred music, and here and there were some volumes which were of a theological character. The entertainment of the priest consisted of some coffee, which the boys were surprised to find, and which they afterwards unanimously pronounced to be “perfectly delicious,” and some fresh eggs, with immaculate bread and butter.
After chatting with the boys for about an hour, the priest announced that it was time to start, as their destination was on the opposite side of the island. They accordingly set out at once, and walked along the slope of a hill. There was no road, but only a footpath, which served all the purposes of the Magdalen Islanders, in spite of the skipper’s theories about a railway. On the way the priest entertained them with stories of his life on these secluded islands, of the storms of winter, of the ice blockade, of the perils of the sea, of the vast solitude of the surrounding gulf, where in winter no ship ever ventures. Yet in spite of the loneliness, he affirmed that no one here had any sense of desolation, for it seemed to all of the inhabitants, just as it seems to the inhabitants of other countries, that this home of theirs was the centre of the universe, and all other lands strange, and drear, and unattractive.
At length they reached their destination. It was a cottage of rather larger size than usual, and it seemed as if the whole population of the island had gathered here. Tables were spread in the open air, and a barrel of cider was on tap. As they drew near they heard the sound of a fiddle, and saw figures moving about in a lively dance. Old men, young men, women, girls, and children were all laughing, talking, dancing, or playing. It was a scene full of a curious attractiveness, and exhibited in a striking way the irrepressible gayety that characterizes the French wherever they go.
At their approach the laughter and the dance ceased for a time, and the company welcomed the good priest with smiles and kindly words. The boys also came in for a share of the hospitable welcome, and as soon as the priest had explained who they were, they were at once received as most welcome and honored guests. Unfortunately the boys could not speak a word of French, and the people could not speak a word of English, so that there was not that freedom of intercourse between the two parties which might have been desirable; but the priest did much to bring about this interchange of feelings by acting as interpreter, and the boys also by gestures or by smiles endeavored, not without some success, to make known their feelings for themselves.
The boys soon distributed themselves about at random, and the good people never ceased to pay delicate little attentions to them by offering them coffee or cakes, by uttering a few words in the hope that they might be understood, or, if words were wanting, they took refuge in smiles. But words were not wanting, and different members of the party made violent efforts to break through the restraints which a foreign language imposed, and express their feelings more directly.
Thus Captain Corbet, who had accompanied the party, finding himself hospitably entertained by a smiling old Frenchman, endeavored to make known the joy of his heart.
“Coffee,” said he, tapping his cup and grinning.
“Oui, oui,” said the Frenchman.
“Coffee dood—pooty—nicey—O, velly nicey picey.”
Captain Corbet evidently was falling back upon his “baby talk,” under the impression that it would be more intelligible to a foreigner. But this foreigner did not quite understand him. He only shrugged his shoulders.
“Cooky—cakey—nicey,” continued Captain Corbet, in, an amiable tone. “All dood—all nicey—velly.”
And he again paused and smiled.
“Plait-il?” said the Frenchman, politely.
“Plate? O, no, no plate for me, an thank you kindly all the same.”
The Frenchman looked at him in a bewildered way, but still smiled.
“Vouley vous du pain?” he asked, at length.
“Pan?” said Captain Corbet; “pan? Course not. What’d I do with a pan?—but thankin you all the same, course.”
The Frenchman relapsed into silence.
“It was a pooty ’itile tottage,” said Captain Corbet, resuming his baby talk, “an a pooty tompany, an it was all dood—pooty—nicey.”
But the Frenchman didn’t understand a word, and so at length Captain Corbet, with a sigh, gave up the attempt.
Meanwhile the others were making similar endeavors. Tom had got hold of a French boy about his own age.
“Parley vous Français,” said Tom, solemnly.
“Oui,” said the French boy.
“Oui, moosoo,” said Tom.
The French boy smiled.
“Merci, madame,” continued Tom, boldly.
The boy stared.
“Nong—tong—paw,” proceeded Tom, in a business-like manner.
Of this the boy could evidently make nothing.
But here Tom seemed to have reached the limit of his knowledge of French, and the conversation came to a sudden and lamentable end.
Bart had carried on for some time an interesting conversation with smiles and gestures, when he too ventured into audible words.
“Bon!” said he, in an impressive manner; and then touching the breast of the boy to whom he was speaking, he continued, “You—tu—you know—you’re bon;” then, laying his hand on his heart, he said, “me bon;” then, pointing to the cup, “coffee bon;” then sweeping his hand around, he added, “and all bon—house bon, company bon, people bon.”
“Ah, oui,” cried the boy. “Oui, je vous comprends. Aha, oui, la bonne compagnie, le bon peuple—”
“Bon company, bon people, bon company, bon people,” cried Bart, delighted at his success in getting up a conversation; “bon coffee, too; I tell you what, it’s the bonnest coffee that I’ve tasted for many a long day.”
At this the boy looked blank.
“Parley vous Français?” asked Bart, in an anxious tone.
“Oui,” said the boy.
“Well, then, I don’t,” said Bart; “but the moment I get home I intend to study it.”
And at this stage Bart’s conversation broke down.
Pat chose another mode of accomplishing the same end. Captain Corbet had been acting on the theory that foreigners were like babies, and could understand baby talk. Pat, in addition to this, acted on the theory that they were deaf, and had to be addressed accordingly. So, as he was refreshing himself with coffee and cakes, he drew a little nearer to the old woman who had poured it out for him, and bent down his head. The old woman was at that moment intent upon her coffeepot, and did not notice Pat. Suddenly Pat, with his mouth close to her ear, shouted out with a perfect yell,—
“Bully for you! And thank you kindly, marm!”
With a shriek of terror the startled old woman sprang up and fell backward. The chair on which she had been sitting, a rather rickety affair, gave way and went down. The old lady fell with the chair upon the ground, and lay for a moment motionless. Pat, horror-struck, stood confounded, and stared in silence at the ruin he had wrought. The bystanders, alarmed at the shout and shriek, crowded around, and for a moment there was universal confusion. Among the bystanders was the priest. To him Pat turned in his despair, and tried to explain. The priest listened, and then went to see about the old woman. Fortunately she had fallen on the soft turf, and was not at all hurt. She was soon on her feet, and another chair was procured, in which she seated herself. The priest then explained the whole affair. Pat was fully forgiven, and the harmony of the festival was perfectly restored. But Pat’s laudable efforts at maintaining a conversation had received so severe a check that he did not open his mouth for the rest of the day.
The festival went on. Fun and hilarity prevailed all around. The dancing grew more and more vigorous. At length the contagion spread to the elder ones of the party, and the boys were astonished to see old men stepping forth to skip and dance about the green; then old women came forward to take a part, until, at length, all were dancing. The boys stood as spectators, until at length Bart determined to throw himself into the spirit of the scene. He therefore found a partner, and plunged into the dance. The others followed. Captain Corbet alone remained, seated near a table, viewing the scene with his usual benevolent glance.
In the midst of this festive scene the skipper approached. He walked with rapid steps, and, without hesitating an instant, seized a partner and flung himself, with all the energy of his race, into the mazy dance.
“I don’t often dance, boys,” he remarked, afterwards, “but when I do, I mean business.”
It was evident that on this occasion the skipper did mean business. He danced more vigorously than any. He jumped higher; he whirled his partner round faster; he danced with more partners than any other, for he went through the whole assemblage, and led out every female there, from the oldest woman down to the smallest girl.
Most of the time he chatted volubly, and flung out remarks which excited roars of laughter. He won all hearts. He was, in fact, an immense success. The boys wondered, for they had not imagined that he could speak French.
He alluded to this afterwards.
“We have a natral affinity with the French down in New England,” said he. “When America was first colonized, our forefathers had to fight the French all the time. The two races were thus brought into connection. Our forefathers thus caught from the French that nasal twang with which the uneducated still speak English. You find that twang among the uneducated classes all over the British provinces and New England. It’s French—that’s what it is. Corbet and I are both uneducated men, and we both speak English with the French twang. I speak French first rate; and Corbet there could speak it first rate also, if he only knew the language perfectly.”
These remarks the boys did not quite know how to take. The skipper seemed to have a bantering way with him, and spoke so oddly that it was impossible for them to make out half of the time whether he was in earnest or only in jest.
Friendly Advice and dismal Forebodings.—Once more upon the Waters, yet once more.—Due North.—A Calm.—The Calm continues.—A terrible Disclosure.—Despair of Corbet.—Solomon finds his Occupation gone.—Taking Stock.—Short Allowance.
ANOTHER day was passed very pleasantly at the Magdalen Islands, and then the boys concluded that they had seen about all that there was to be seen in this place. As the question where next to go arose, they Concluded to ask the skipper.
“Well, boys,” said he, “in the first place, let me ask you if you’ve ever heard of Anticosti?”
“Of course we have,” said Bart.
“Well, don’t go there; don’t go near it; don’t go within fifty mile of it; don’t speak of it; don’t think of it; and don’t dream of it. It’s a place of horror, a howling wilderness, the abomination of desolation, a haunted island, a graveyard of unfortunate sailors. Its shores are lined with their bones. Don’t you go and add your young bones to the lot. You can do far better with them.”
“Well, where do you advise us to go?” asked Arthur.
The skipper thought for a few moments without answering.
“Well,” said he, “you know Sable Island.”
“Yes,” said Bart, in some surprise.
“Well,” said the skipper, impressively, “don’t go there; don’t go within a hundred miles of it; don’t speak of it; don’t think of it; don’t dream of it.”
“But you’ve said all that to us before,” said Bruce. “We want to know where we are to go, not where we are not to go.”
“Well,” said the skipper, “I am aware that I’ve said all this before, and I say it a second time, deliberately, for the simple purpose of impressing it upon your minds. There’s nothin like repetition to impress a thing on the memory; and so, if you ever come to grief on Anticosti, or on Sable Island, you’ll remember my warnin, and you’ll never feel like blamin me.”
“But where ought we to go?” asked Bruce.
“Well, that’s the next point. Now, I’ve been thinkin’ all about it, and to my mind there ain’t any place in all this here region that comes up to the Bay of Islands, Newfoundland.”
“The Bay of Islands?”
“Yes, the Bay of Islands, on the west coast of Newfoundland. It’s a great place. I’ve been there over and over, and I know it like a book. Thousands of vessels go there every season. It’s one of the best harbors in the gulf. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. The air is bracing, the climate salubrious, the scenery inviting; and it only needs a first-class hotel with all the modern improvements in order to become a number one waterin-place. Yes, by ginger!” he continued, “you plant a first-class hotel there, and let that there place become known, and there’s nothin to prevent it from goin ahead of Long Branch or Newport, or any other place you can mention.
“Then,” continued the skipper, “if you wanted to go any further, you might go up the Straits of Belle Isle, and round Newfoundland. If you had time, you might take a run over to Greenland; it’s gettin to be quite a place, a fashionable resort in the hot summer; but perhaps you won’t have time, and won’t care about doin more than cruisin round Newfoundland, and then home.”
Once more the skipper’s tone seemed somewhat extravagant to the boys, and they did not know how to take it.
“O, well,” said Bart, “we don’t want to go to Greenland this season. When we do go there, we shall probably go for good; but just now, we want to confine ourselves to the gulf. If you can really recommend the Bay of Islands, perhaps we had better go there; that is,” added Bart, “unless you think we had better go to Iceland.”
The skipper looked at Bart for a few moments in silence, and a smile gradually passed over his face.
“Well,” said he, after a pause, “that’s the identical place that I was just going to recommend, when you took the words out of my mouth. The fact is, boys, with that old tub of yours you might as well go to Iceland as anywhere else. Every time I look at it I am thunderstruck. What were your fathers and mothers thinkin of when they let you come away up here in such an old rattle-trap?—an old tub that isn’t worth being condemned! Do you think you’ll ever get home again in her? Not you. Do you know where that old tub’s bound to go before the end of this season? Down to the bottom of the sea; and if you don’t go in her, you may bless your lucky stars. I only wish I wasn’t otherwise engaged. I’d make you all clear out at once, and come aboard the Fawn.”
Captain Corbet was not present, and did not hear these insulting reflections upon his beloved Antelope, and therefore was spared the pain which they would have caused to his aged bosom; but the boys were not the ones to listen to such insinuations in silence. The Antelope was dear to them from past associations, and they all began at once to vindicate her character. They talked long and eloquently about her. They spoke of her speed, soundness, and beauty. They told of her performances thus far.
At all of which the skipper only grinned.
“Mark my words, boys,” said he; “that there tub is goin to the bottom.”
“Well, if she does, she’ll get up again,” said Bart.
The opinions of the two parties were so different that any further debate was useless. The skipper believed that they were bound for the bottom of the sea; the boys on the contrary had faith in the Antelope. The end of it all was, that they concluded to take the skipper’s advice in part, and sail for the Bay of Islands. This place was one which they all were desirous of visiting, and they thought that when they had gone that far, they could then decide best where next to go.
They were to leave the next morning. That evening they took leave of the friendly skipper.
“Boys,” said he, “I’m afraid we’ll never meet again; but if you do get back safe from this perilous adventure of yours, and if any of you ever happen to be at Gloucester, Massachusetts, I do wish you’d look me up, and let me know. I’d give anything to see any one of you again.”
With these words the skipper shook hands with each one of them heartily, and so took his leave.
Early on the following morning the Antelope spread her sails and began once more to traverse the seas, heading towards the north. The wind was fair, and all that day they moved farther and farther away from the Magdalen Islands, until at length towards evening they were lost to view in distance and darkness.
On the next day they were all up early. They saw all around a boundless expanse of water. No land was anywhere visible, and not a sail was in sight. This was a novelty to the boys, for never yet had any of them had this experience in the Antelope. Some of them had been out of sight of land, it is true; but then they were in large ships, or ocean steamers. Being in such a situation in a craft like the Antelope, was a far different thing. Yet none of them felt anything like anxiety, nor had the slurs of the skipper produced any effect upon their affectionate trust in their gallant bark, and in their beloved Captain Corbet.