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   Chapter 9 FAREWELL TO SABLE ISLAND.

The Wreckers of Sable Island By J. Macdonald Oxley Characters: 12676

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Great was the bustle and excitement at the wreckers' quarters. The day happened to be particularly favourable for embarking-such a day, in fact, as might not come once in a month; and everything must be done to make the most of it. But the very beauty of the day gave evidence of approaching change. It was what the seafaring folk call a "weather-breeder," because such lovely days are always followed by storm.

None knew this better than the wreckers. They made all haste to transfer themselves and their booty to the schooner. In keen anxiety Eric watched the work going on. No one seemed to notice him, though several times he caught Evil-Eye regarding him with such a look of fiendish triumph as sent a shiver to his heart.

Ben, who had his own interests to care for, cheered him a little by clapping him on the back as he passed, and saying, in his most encouraging tone,-

"Keep up your heart, my lad. We'll manage it somehow."

But the removal of the booty was almost complete, and still he did not know his fate. Only another boat-load of stuff remained to be taken off, and in the boat that came for this were Ben, Evil-Eye, and the captain of the schooner. Eric stood near the landing-place with Prince beside him. He knew that his future hung upon what might be decided within a few minutes.

The boat was loaded, and the crew stood ready to launch her into the breakers. Now came the critical moment. How far the matter might have been discussed already Eric had no idea. He saw Ben draw the captain aside and engage him in earnest conversation, while Evil-Eye hung about as though he burned to put in a word.

His heart almost stopped beating as he watched the captain's face. Evidently he was not unmoved by Ben's arguments. His countenance showed he was wavering, and his opposition weakening.

With rising hope, Eric noted this. Evil-Eye saw it too, but with different feelings. He thought it time to interfere, and, drawing nearer, began, in a loud, half-threatening tone,-

"Say, now, captain-"

But before he could get out another word Ben wheeled round, his face aflame with anger. Rising to his utmost height, he drew a pistol from his belt, and pointing it straight at Evil-Eye's breast, roared out,-

"Hold that tongue of yours, I say, or I'll put a bullet through your heart before you can wink."

With a start of terror the ruffian shrank away from the giant who towered above him, and satisfied that he would not venture to interpose again, Ben resumed his talk with the captain. For a little longer the dialogue continued. What the arguments were that Ben used, or what inducements he offered, Eric did not learn until afterwards. But, oh! what a bound his heart gave when Ben left the captain and came toward him, his face so full of relief as to seem almost radiant.

"It's all right, my lad," said he, grasping him by the shoulder and pushing him toward the boat. "You're to come. Let's hurry up now and get on board."

Too overjoyed to speak, Eric hastened to obey, giving Ben a look of unspeakable gratitude as he clasped his hand with passionate fervour. Evil-Eye scowled terribly when the boy sprang into the boat, and dared only mutter his protests, for clearly enough Ben was in no mood for trifling, and the captain was evidently quite on his side.

Without waiting for an invitation, Prince promptly leaped in beside his young master, at which the men in the boat laughed, and the captain said good-humouredly,-

"Let him come too. He's too good to leave behind."

In a few minutes more, Eric, with a feeling of glad relief beyond all power of words to express, stood upon the schooner's deck and looked back at the island which for well nigh half a year had been his prison-almost his grave.

The low, broad, weather-beaten hut was easily visible. "How good God was to protect me there!" he thought, as he recalled the many scenes of violence he had witnessed. "I wonder what is to become of me. Poor father must have given me up for dead long ago. Shall I ever get to him?"

With many a "Yo! heave ho!" the sailors set about raising the anchor, the schooner's broad wings were hoisted to catch the breeze already blowing, and soon she was speeding away southward toward Boston.

They had just got well under way when, happening to glance around, Eric, who was standing in the bow enjoying the swift rush of the schooner through the foaming water, noticed a number of the wreckers and the crew gathered about the captain on the poop. They were examining something very carefully through his telescope. Following the direction of the glass, Eric could make out a dark object rising out of the water, several miles away on the port side. This was evidently the cause of the men's concern. Almost unconsciously he drew near the group, in order to hear what they were saying. The captain just then handed the telescope to Evil-Eye.

His face darkened with rage as he said, "It's one of those British brigs, and no mistake, and she's running right across our course. If we keep on this way we'll fall right into her clutches. Look you, Evil-Eye, and see if I'm not right."

Evil-Eye took the glass and looked long and carefully. It was clear enough that he came to the same conclusion as the captain, for one of his most hideous scowls overspread his countenance as he growled out,-

"It's the brig, and no mistake, and we're running straight into her jaws. We'll have to go about and sail off shore, captain."

At once the captain roared out his orders, and the sailors sprang to obey. There was a rattling of blocks, a creaking of booms, a fierce flapping of canvas. After a moment's hesitation in the eye of the wind, the schooner gracefully fell off, and was soon gliding away on the other tack, with the brig now almost directly astern.

Whatever doubt there may have been on board the brig as to the propriety of pursuing the schooner was dissipated by its sudden change of course; and, still distant though she was, a keen eye could make out that they were hoisting additional sails and making every effort to overtake the schooner.

There were yet three hours of daylight, and the brig was evidently a fast sailer. The schooner's chance of escape lay in keeping her well astern until night came on, and then, by a sudden change of course, slipp

ing away from her in the darkness.

Every inch of canvas the schooner boasted was clapped on her, and, almost buried in foam, she rushed madly through the water.

Eric's first feeling, on seeing the brig, and the fear created among his captors, was of intense joy, and he watched its steady growth upon the horizon with eager anxiety. He did not notice the ominous looks cast upon him by Evil-Eye and others, until Ben, whose eyes seemed to miss nothing, drew him away to his former post near the bows, saying, in a deep undertone,-

"Come with me, lad. I want a word with you."

Ben's countenance showed that he was much troubled, and Eric, full of hope though he was at the near prospect of his own deliverance, could not help feeling as though it were very selfish of him, for it certainly meant that Ben would be placed in danger. He determined in his own mind that if the brig should capture the schooner, he would plead so hard for his kind rescuer that no harm would be done him.

"Will the brig catch up to us, Ben?" he asked eagerly. "Do you think it will?"

"It'll be a bad business for you, my lad, if it does," answered Ben, in an unusually gruff tone.

"Why, Ben, what do you mean?" asked Eric, in surprise.

"Mean what I say," retorted Ben. Then, after a moment's silence, he went on: "Captain says that brig's been sent from Halifax after us, and nobody else; and if she should catch us, you may be sure the wreckers ain't going to leave you round to tell the people on the brig all you know about them. Before the brig's alongside they'll drop you over the bulwark with a weight that'll prevent your ever showing up on top again."

At these words, whose truth Eric realized at once, his heart seemed turned to stone. And now, just as passionately as he had prayed that the brig might overtake them, did he pray that the schooner might keep out of its reach.

In the meantime, the two vessels were tearing through the water without much change in their relative positions.

Darkness was drawing near. As the sun went down, the change that the beauty of the morning foreboded took place. The sky grew cloudy, the wind blew harder, and there was every sign of an approaching storm.

As luck would have it, this state of affairs suited the schooner far better than the brig. With great exultation the wreckers noted that their pursuer was shortening sail. The square-rigged bark could not stand a storm as well as could the schooner.

"Hurrah!" the captain shouted gleefully. "They're taking in some of their canvas. They can't stand this blow with so much top-hamper. We'll show them a clean pair of heels yet."

And so it turned out. With bow buried in foam and decks awash the schooner staggered swiftly onward under full press of sail, although every moment the canvas threatened to tear itself out of the bolts. Before the darkness enveloped her the brig had disappeared behind, completely distanced. Everybody on board breathed more freely. Setting a course that, by a wide detour, would bring him in due time to Boston, the captain took satisfaction by cursing the brig for causing him the loss of a whole day at least.

That night Ben, for the first time, told Eric what had been arranged concerning him. On their arrival in Boston he was to be kept hidden in the hold until the time came for the sailing of a ship for England, about which the captain knew. He would be placed on board this ship as cabin boy. When she reached her destination he might make his way to his friends the best he could. By that time the wreckers (none of whom intended to return to Sable Island) would have disposed of their booty, and scattered beyond all possibility of being caught.

Ben did not add, as he might have done, that in order to effect this arrangement he had to bribe the captain, by turning over to him one-half of his own interest in the schooner's cargo.

After living in peril of death for so many months, this plan filled Eric's heart with joy. It might mean many more hardships, but it also meant return to those who were now mourning him as dead. He thanked Ben over and over again, assuring him he would never forget his wonderful kindness; and as Ben listened in silence there was a distinct glistening in the corner of his eye that showed he was not unmoved.

The storm blew itself out during the night, and was followed by a steady breeze, which bore the schooner along so fast that ere the sun went down on the following afternoon she was gliding up Boston Bay, looking as innocent as any ordinary fishing schooner. The anchor plunged with a big splash into the still water, the chain rattled noisily through the hawse-hole, and the voyage was ended.

Without delay a boat was lowered. The captain and Evil-Eye got into it, inviting Ben to accompany them, but he declined. He intended to watch over Eric until he should be taken to the English ship. The boat rowed off, and before it returned Eric was sound asleep.

He was awakened by the singing of the men as they toiled at the windlass, and the sullen rattle of the chain as it rose reluctantly link by link from the water. Then he heard the waves rippling against the bow, and he knew that the schooner was moving.

As he rightly guessed, she was making her way to her berth at the wharf. During all that day there was continual motion on the deck, and the boy imprisoned in the hold tried to while away the long hours by guessing what it meant, and what the sailors were about. Ben brought him a bountiful breakfast, dinner, and tea. He stayed only while Eric ate, and did not seem much disposed to talk. He could not say exactly when the English ship would sail, but thought it would be soon.

The schooner became much quieter by nightfall, for the majority of her crew had gone ashore. Soon there was perfect stillness; the vessel at times seemed to be completely deserted. There was a tower clock not far away which rang out the hours loudly, and Eric heard seven, eight, and nine struck ere he fell asleep.

How long he had slept he knew not, when he was aroused by two men talking in loud tones on the deck just above him. They were evidently the worse for liquor, and had fallen into a dispute about something. Presently one of them exclaimed,-

"It is there. I know it's there. I'll prove it to you."

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