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The Wreckers of Sable Island By J. Macdonald Oxley Characters: 15251

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Then came the sound of the fore-hatch being unfastened and lifted aside, and the light of a lantern flashed into the hold. Whatever the man sought, he soon found it; for he said triumphantly,-

"There, now! Do you see it? Didn't I say right?"

He drew the hatch back again, and with his companion went stumbling off to the cabin. As the hatch was opened, Eric shrank back into a corner, for he knew not what the man might be about. But when all was silent again, he crept to the spot underneath the hatchway, and looked up.

The instant he did so he saw something that caused his heart to give a wild bound. It was one little star shining brightly into his eye. The sailor had carelessly left the hatch unfastened and drawn a little aside.

The way of escape was there!

With bated breath and beating heart, Eric raised himself softly and pushed at the hatch. At first it would not budge, but on his putting forth more strength, it slid away a few inches, making no perceptible noise.

Little by little he pushed at it, until there was space enough for him to pass through. Then, with extreme caution, he lifted himself until he could survey the deck, and peered eagerly into the darkness to see if any of the men were about. There was no moon, but the stars shone their brightest; and as the boy's eyes were accustomed to the darkness, he could see fairly well.

It was easy for him to swing himself up on the deck. Then, crouched in the deep shadow of the foremast, he looked anxiously about him. Not a soul was in sight. Not a sound disturbed the still air. The black line of the wharf rose but a few feet above the bulwarks. Gliding noiselessly across, he finally got upon the rail, and thence, with an active spring, upon the wharf. He was free!

The wharf was as deserted and silent as the schooner's deck. Along one side was piled a line of casks and barrels, behind which he crept with the quietness of a cat until the tall warehouses were reached; then, straightening himself up, he moved more rapidly until he came out upon the street, which opened to right and left, leading away into the darkness-whither, he knew not.

Taking the right turning, he hastened on, resolved to appeal for protection to the first respectable-looking person he might meet. By the dim light of infrequent oil-lamps at the corners, he could make out that he was in a street of shops, taverns, and warehouses.

Some of the taverns were still open, but all the other buildings were closed. Very few persons were about, and as these all appeared to be seafaring folk he carefully avoided them, keeping in the shadow of porches and alley-ways until they passed. He was in a state of high excitement-his anxiety to find some safe refuge contending with joy at his escape from the wreckers' clutches.

He must have gone about a quarter of a mile, when, just as he approached a tavern that was still in full blast, the door suddenly opened, and a broad band of light fell upon the pavement, in the midst of which appeared Evil-Eye, roaring out a drunken song as he beckoned to others inside to follow him.

For an instant Eric stood rooted to the spot with terror. His limbs seemed powerless. Then, as quick as a squirrel, he darted into a dark alley at his right, and, trembling like an aspen leaf, waited for Evil-Eye to pass. The drunken scoundrel lingered for what seemed an hour of agony to the terror-stricken boy; but at length, being joined by his companions, staggered off toward the schooner. The boy, coming out from his retreat as soon as the coast was clear, made all haste in the other direction.

Following up the street, which turned and twisted in the puzzling fashion peculiar to Boston, he was glad to find it leading him to the upper part of the city; and after fifteen minutes' smart walking, he came out into a broad avenue, lined on both sides with handsome houses. Here he would surely meet with some one to whom he could safely tell his story.

Weary from excitement and exertion, he sat down upon a broad doorstep, which was in the shadow itself, but commanded a stretch of sidewalk illuminated by a street lamp. He thought he would rest there a while, and in the meantime some one would surely come along. Just as he sat down, the bell of a church-tower clock near by slowly tolled out the midnight hour.

"Oh, gracious! how late it is!" he sighed. "I do hope I shall not have to stay here all the night!"

A few minutes later he heard the sound of approaching steps. They were slow and deliberate, not those of an unsteady reveller. They came nearer and nearer, and then there emerged into the line of light the figure of a man, tall and stately, wrapped in a black dress, over whose cloak collar fell long locks of snow-white hair.

Not a moment did Eric hesitate. Springing from his hiding-place with a suddenness that caused the passer-by to start in some alarm, he caught hold of the ample cloak, and, lifting up his face to the wearer, said beseechingly, "Oh, sir, won't you help me?"

Quite reassured on seeing how youthful was this sudden disturber of his homeward walk, the gentleman looked down at the eager, pleading face, and, attracted at once by its honesty, put his hand kindly upon the boy's shoulder, saying,-

"Pray, what is the matter, my son? I will gladly help you, as may be within my power."

The grave, gentle words, with their assurance of protection, wrought a quick revulsion in poor Eric's feelings, strained as they had been for so long to their highest pitch. Instead of replying at once, he burst into tears; and his new-found friend, seeing that he had no ordinary case to deal with, took him by the arm, and soothingly said,-

"Come with me. My house is near by. You shall tell me your story there."

Directing his steps to a large house, in which lights were still burning, he led Eric into a room whose walls were lined with rows of portly volumes.

"Now, my son," said he, "be seated; and when you feel more composed, tell me your troubles. I am quite at your service."

With a delicious sense of security, such as he had not felt for many months, Eric sank into a big armchair, and proceeded to tell his strange story to the grave old gentleman before him. With intense interest and sympathy did Dr. Saltonstall listen to the remarkable narrative as it was simply related, putting in a question now and then when he wanted fuller details. As soon as the boy had finished, the doctor arose and again put on his hat and cloak.

"Master Copeland," said he, "this is a communication of the utmost importance, and it must be laid before the governor this very night, that immediate action thereon may be taken. I had but lately left his honour when, in God's good providence, I met you. We will go at once to his mansion. Haply he has not yet retired for the night."

Forthwith the two set out, and, walking rapidly, were soon at the governor's mansion. Fortunately he was still awake, and at once gave audience to his late visitors. Before him Eric rehearsed his story. The Honourable Mr. Strong listened with no less interest than had Dr. Saltonstall; nor was he less prompt in taking action. His secretary was summoned, and orders given for a strong posse of constables to be despatched without loss of time in search of the schooner.

Eric so fully described her that the finding of her would be an easy matter.

But while this was being arranged, a thought flashed into Eric's mind which filled him with great concern. Ben was, no doubt, upon the schooner now, and would be captured with the others. Would he not then share t

heir fate, whatever that might be? And if so, would not Eric seem to be wickedly ungrateful if he made no effort to save him? Then there was also his faithful friend Prince, to whom both Ben and himself were so much indebted.

To think was to act. Going manfully up to the austere-looking governor, he put in a passionate plea for the big man and the dog, who had been such faithful protectors, and but for whom, indeed, he would not then be living. His honour was evidently touched by his loyal advocacy.

"Do not distress your mind, my lad," said he kindly. "I have no doubt we can find a way of escape for your friend. He certainly deserves consideration at our hands, and your noble Prince shall be carefully sought for."

The remainder of the story is soon told. The schooner was readily found. The wreckers, surprised in their bunks, proved an easy capture, and before daybreak all were safely locked up in jail. Prince was also found and restored to the delighted Eric, who now felt as though his cup of rejoicing was full. The trial of the wreckers excited widespread interest, and made Eric the hero of the hour. Ben, taking the advice of Dr. Saltonstall, turned state's evidence, and was released. But the other wreckers-from Evil-Eye to Black Joe-received the punishment they had so well merited.

In the meantime Dr. Copeland had been sent for, and, hastening to Boston, he had the supreme delight of clasping to his breast the boy whom he had all through the long winter been mourning as lost to him for ever. The meeting between father and son was touching. It seemed as though the doctor could never sufficiently assure himself that it was really his Eric who stood before him, browner of face and bigger of form, but otherwise unchanged by his thrilling experiences among the Wreckers of Sable Island.


* * *


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Making His Way. Price 2s. 6d.

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