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The Wreckers of Sable Island By J. Macdonald Oxley Characters: 12322

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

It was broad daylight when the boy awoke, and he felt very well pleased at finding no one in the room but Ben, who sat by the table, evidently waiting for him to open his eyes. As soon as he did so the latter noticed it, and coming up to the bunk, said in his gruff way,-

"Oh, ho! Awake at last. Was wondering if you were going to sleep all day. Feel like turning out?"

"Of course," replied Eric, brightly. "I feel all right now."

On getting out of the bunk, however, he found himself so dreadfully stiff and sore that it was positively painful to move, and he had much difficulty in dragging himself over to the table, where he found a pile of ship's biscuit and a pannikin of tea awaiting him. He did not feel at all so hungry as he had the night before, and this very plain repast seemed very unattractive, accustomed as he was to the best of fare. He nibbled at the biscuit, took a sip of the tea, and then pushed the things away, saying,-

"I don't want any breakfast, thank you. I'm not a bit hungry."

Ben was too shrewd not to guess the true reason of the boy's indifferent appetite.

"There's not much choice of grub on Sable Island," said he, with one of his grim smiles. "You'll have to take kindly to hard-tack and tea if you don't want to starve."

"But really I am not hungry," explained Eric eagerly, afraid of seeming not to appreciate his friend's hospitality. "If I were, I'd eat the biscuits fast enough, for I'm quite fond of them."

Ben now proceeded to fill and light a big pipe.

"Do you smoke?" he asked, after he had got it in full blast.

"Oh, no," answered Eric. "My father doesn't believe in boys smoking, and has forbidden me to learn."

"Your father's a sensible man, my boy," said Ben; then added, "Well, you'd best stay about the hut to-day, since you feel so stiff. I've got to go off, but I'll be back by mid-day." He put on his hat and went away, leaving Eric and Prince in possession of the establishment.

Eric did not by any means like the idea of being left alone, but he naturally shrank from saying so. He went to the door and regretfully looked after the tall figure striding swiftly over the sand until it disappeared behind a hillock, beyond which he thought must be the ocean.

Now that he was left entirely to his own resources, Eric's curiosity began to assert itself. Had he but known in what direction to go, and felt equal to the task, his first business would certainly have been to set forth in search of the scene of the wreck, if haply he might find traces of other survivors besides himself.

But neither could he tell where to go, nor was he fit to walk any great distance. For aught he knew, he might be miles from the beach where the Francis finally struck. Anyway, Evil-Eye was certain to be there, hunting for more prizes, and he had no wish to encounter him. So he proceeded to examine his strange surroundings.

The hut-for, despite its size, it was really nothing more than a hut-was a very curious building. It had evidently been put together by many hands, out of the wreckage of many ships, the builders apparently being more proficient in ship-carpentry than in house-joinery. Their labours had resulted, through an amazing adaptation of knees, planking, stanchions, and bulk-heads, in a long, low-ceilinged, but roomy building, something after the shape of a large vessel's poop. For lighting and ventilation it depended upon a number of port-holes irregularly put in. Running around two sides of the room was a row of bunks, very much like those in a forecastle, the tier being two high. Eric counted them. There were just thirty, and he wondered if each had an occupant. If so, he must have slept in Ben's last night, and where, then, had Ben himself slept?

Upon the walls of the other two sides of the room hung a great number of weapons of various kinds-cutlasses, swords, muskets, dirks, daggers, and pistols, a perfect armoury, all carefully burnished and ready for use. They strongly excited Eric's curiosity, and he occupied himself examining them one by one. One pair of pistols especially attracted his attention. They were of the very latest make, and the handles were beautifully inlaid with silver. He took one from the wall, and aimed at one of the port-holes with it. As he did so a thought flashed into his mind that gave him an electric thrill, and sent the blood bounding wildly through his veins.

What if that port-hole were the repulsive countenance of Evil-Eye, and they were alone together? Would he be able to resist the impulse to give with his forefinger the slight pressure upon the finely-balanced trigger that would send a bullet crashing into the ruffian's brain? So intense was his excitement that he almost staggered under its influence. For the first time in his life an overmastering passion for revenge, for retribution, took possession of him, and carried him out of himself. Smooth, clear, and bright as the lovely stream that watered the Oakdene meadows had been the current of his life hitherto. To few boys had the lines fallen in pleasanter places. Yet this happy fortune had not rendered him unmanly or irresolute. He was capable of conceiving and carrying out any purpose that lay within the range of a boy's powers. The Copeland courage and the Copeland determination were his inheritance.

Now never before had he been brought into contact with any one who had so roused his repulsion or hatred as Evil-Eye. Not only because of his hideous appearance and threatened violence, but because of Ben's dark hints and his own suspicions as to Evil-Eye being no better than a murderer, the very depths of his nature were stirred, and he felt as though it would be but right to inflict summary vengeance at the first opportunity.

Trembling with these strange, wild thoughts, he held the pistol still pointed at the port-hole, and unconsciously pressing upon the trigger, there was a sharp report, which caused Prince, dozing comfortably by the fire, to spring to his feet with a startled growl, following the crash of broken glass, as the bullet pierced the port-lid.

Almost at the same moment the door was thr

own roughly open and Evil-Eye entered the room.

"What are you doing with my pistols?" he cried, his face aflame with rage, as he strode toward Eric.

Scarce knowing what he was doing, Eric snatched up the other pistol and darted around the big table, so that it would form a barrier between himself and Evil-Eye. His hand was perfectly steady now, and levelling the pistol at his assailant, he said in a firm tone,--

"Let me alone, or I'll shoot you."

With a fearful oath the ruffian drew a pistol from his belt, and in another moment blood would undoubtedly have been shed, had not Ben Harden rushed in through the open door, and snatching Evil-Eye's pistol out of his hand, thrown it to the other end of the room, where it went off without harm to any one.

"You scoundrel!" he roared. "If you don't leave that boy alone, I will break every bone in your body."

At first Evil-Eye was so completely taken aback by this unexpected interference that he seemed dazed for a moment. Then his hand went again to his belt, as though he would turn his baffled fury upon Ben. But evidently a wiser second thought prevailed, and choking down his wrath, he growled out contemptuously,-

"Don't be in such a stew. I'm not going to hurt your baby. I was only teaching him manners, and not to meddle with other people's belongings without first asking their leave."

This speech drew Ben's attention to the pistol Eric still held in his hand.

"Ah," said he, "you've got one of Evil-Eye's pets there, have you? Well, put it back in its place, and don't touch it again."

Feeling very confused, Eric replaced the pistols carefully, their owner watching him with a malign glare which boded him no good. Its meaning was not lost upon observant Ben.

"Come, my lad," said he; "a bit of an airing will do you good. Put on your cap, and come out with me."

Only too glad to obey, Eric picked up his cap, and calling to Prince, followed Ben out into the open air, leaving Evil-Eye alone in the hut.

The sun was shining brightly, the sky was almost cloudless, and the wind blew as softly and innocently from the south as though it had not raged with fatal fury but a few hours before. Eric's spirits, which had been wofully depressed by the events of the past two days, began to rise a little, and he looked about him with much interest as he trudged along through the deep sand.

Ben appeared to be in no mood for talking, and stalked on ahead in moody silence, puffing hard at the short black pipe which was hardly ever away from his mouth except at meal-time and when he was sleeping. Eric therefore did not bother him with questions, and found companionship in Prince, who showed lively satisfaction in being out-of-doors, frisking about and barking loudly in the exuberance of his glee. One good night's rest and plenty to eat had been sufficient to completely restore his strength. He looked and felt quite equal to anything that might be required of him, and was an inexpressible comfort to Eric, to whom he seemed much more than a mere dog-a protector and friend, who could be trusted to the uttermost.

Half-an-hour's walking brought Ben to the highest point of a sand-ridge, where he threw himself, waiting for Eric, who had lagged behind a little, to come up.

"Sit ye down, lad," said he, when the boy reached him. "You're feeling tired, no doubt."

Eric was tired, and very glad indeed to seat himself near Ben, who continued to puff away at his pipe, as though he had nothing more to say. Thus left to himself, Eric let his eyes wander over the strange and striking scene spread out before him.

He was upon the crest of a sand-hill, a hundred feet or more in height, which sloped to the beach, upon whose glistening sands the great billows were breaking, although the day was clear and calm. Far out beyond the serried lines of white-maned sea-coursers the ocean could be seen sleeping peacefully. Here and there, upon the sand-bars, the hulls of vessels in various stages of destruction told plainly how common was the fate which had befallen the Francis, and how rich a field the wreckers had chosen for their dreadful business.

Turning to his right, Eric saw a long narrow lake in the middle of the island, its banks densely grown with rushes and lilies. Upon its placid surface flocks of ducks were paddling, while snipes and sand-pipers hopped along the margin. The valley of the lake presented a curious contrast to those portions of the island that faced seaward, for it was thickly carpeted with coarse grass and wild vines, which were still green enough to be grateful to the eye weary of the monotony of sand and sea.

Upon the left the island rose and fell, a succession of sand-hills. Far in the distance, a faint line of white showed where it once more touched the ocean, and gave cause for other lines of roaring surges. All this and more had Eric time to take in before Ben broke silence. He had been regarding him very thoughtfully for a few moments, and at length he spoke,-

"Well, lad," said he, "I've been thinking much about ye. I've saved your life, but I'm not so clear in my mind but what it 'ud have been best to have let you go with the others."

Eric gave a start of surprise, and there was an alarmed tone in his voice, as he exclaimed,-

"Why, Mr. Ben, what makes you say that?"

"Well, you see, it's just this way," answered Ben slowly, as though he were puzzling out the best way to state the case. "You're in a mighty bad box, and no mistake. Evil-Eye does not fancy you, and will take the first chance to do for you, if he can keep his own skin whole. Dead men tell no tales is what he goes by; and if the folks over there"-jerking his thumb in the direction of the mainland-"only knew what goes on here, they'd be pretty sure to want to put a stop to it, and make us all smart for it finely. Now, it's not likely you want to join us; and I'm no less sure that Evil-Eye will take precious good care not to let you go, for fear you should get his neck into the noose. That's the only thing he's afraid of. And so it just bothers me to make out what's to be the end of the business."

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