Norman Duncan.

Billy Topsail & company: a story for boys online

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you done."

" Money I " cried the doctor. " Why, really,"
he stammered, " I — you see, this is my vacation
- and I "

" I 'low, sir," said Jim, quietly, " that you'll
'blige me."

"Well, well I" exclaimed the doctor, being
wise, " that I will I "

Jimmie Grimm got well long before it occurred
to his father that the fishing at Buccaneer Cove
was poor and that he might do better elsewhere.

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In Which Jimtnie Grimm Moves to Ruddy Cove
and Settles on the Slope of the Broken Nose,
Where, Falling in With Billy Topsail and Don-
ald North, He Finds the Latter a Coward, But
Learns the Reason, and Scoffs no Longer. In
Which, Also, Donald North Leaps a Breaker to
Save a Salmon Net, and Acquires a Strut

WHEN old Jim Grimm moved to Ruddy
Cove and settled his wife and son in
a little white cottage on the slope of a
bare hill called Broken Nose, Jimmie Grimm was
not at all sorry. There were other boys at
Ruddy Cove — far more boys, and jollier boys,
and boys with more time to spare, than at Buc-
caneer. There was Billy Topsail, for one, a tow-
headed, blue-eyed, active lad of Jimmie's age ;
and there was Donald North, for another. Jim-
mie Grimm liked them both. Billy Topsail was
the elder, and up to more agreeable tricks ; but
Donald was good enough company for anybody,
and would have been quite as admirable as Billy
Topsail had it not been that he was afraid of the
sea. They did not call him a coward at Ruddy


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Cove ; they merely said that he was afraid of the
And Donald North was.

Jimmie Grimm, himself no coward in a blow
of wind, was inclined to scoff, at first ; but Billy
Topsail explained, and then Jimmie Grimm
scoffed no longer, but hoped that Donald North
would be cured of fear before he was much
older. As Billy Topsail made plain to the boy,
in excuse of his friend, Donald North was brave
enough until he was eight years old ; but after
the accident of that season he was so timid that
he shrank from the edge of the cliff when the
breakers were beating the rocks below, and
trembled when his father's fishing punt heeled to
the faintest gust.

" Billy," he had said to Billy Topsail, on the
unfortunate day when he caught the fear, being
then but a little chap, " leave us go sail my new
fore-an'-after. I've rigged her out with a fine
new mizzens'l."

" Sure, b'y I " said Billy. " Where to ? "

" Uncle George's wharf-head. 'Tis a place as
good as any."

Off Uncle George's wharf-head the water was

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deep— deeper than Donald could fathom at low
tide — and it was cold, and covered a rocky
bottom, upon which a multitude of starfish and
prickly sea-eggs lay in clusters. It was green,
smooth and clear, too; sight carried straight
down to where the purple-shelled mussels
gripped the rocks.

The tide had fallen somewhat and was still on
the ebb. Donald found it a long reach from the
wharf to the water. By and by, as the water ran
out of the harbour, the most he could do was to
touch the tip of the mast of the miniature ship
with his fingers. Then a little gust of wind crept
round the corner of the wharf, rippling the water
as it came near. It caught the sails of the new
fore-and-after, and the little craft fell over on an-
other tack and shot away.

"Here, you I" Donald cried. "Come back,
will you ? "

He reached for the mast His fingers touched
it, but the boat escaped before they closed. He
laughed, hitched nearer to the edge of the wharf,
and reached again. The wind had failed; the
little boat was tossing in the ripples, below and
just beyond his grasp.

" I can't cotch her I " he called to Billy Top-

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sail, who was back near the net-horse, looking
for squids.

Billy looked up, and laughed to see Donald's
awkward position — to see him hanging over
the water, red-faced and straining. Donald
laughed, too. At once he lost his balance and
fell forward.

This was in the days before he could swim, so
he floundered about in the water, beating it
wildly, to bring himself to the surface. When
he came up, Billy Topsail was leaning over to
catch him. Donald lifted his arm. His fingers
touched Billy's, that was all — just touched them.

Then he sank ; and when he came up again,
and again lifted his arm, there was half a foot
of space between his hand and Billy's. Some
measure of self-possession returned. He took a
long breath, and let himself sink. Down he
went, weighted by his heavy boots.

Those moments were full of the terror of
which, later, he could not rid himself. There
seemed to be no end to the depth of the water in
that place. But when his feet touched bottom,
he was still deliberate in all that he did.

For a moment he let them rest on the rock.
Then he gave himself a strong upward push.

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It needed but little to bring him within reach of
Billy Topsail's hand. He shot out of the water
and caught that hand. Soon afterwards he was
safe on the wharf. 1

"Sure, mum, I thought I were drownded that
time!" he said to his mother, that night.
"When I were goin* down the last time I
thought I'd never see you again."

"But you wasn't drownded, b'y," said his
mother, sofdy.

" But I might ha' been," said he.

There was the rub. He was haunted by what
might have happened. Soon he became a timid,
shrinking lad, utterly lacking confidence in the
strength of his arms and his skill with an oar
and a sail ; and after that came to pass, his life
was hard. He was afraid to go out to the fish-
ing-grounds, where he must go every day with
his father to keep the head of the punt up to the
wind, and he had a great fear of the wind and
the fog and the breakers. But he was not a
coward. On the contrary, although he was
circumspect in all his dealings with the sea, he
never failed in his duty.

1 Donald North himself told me this — told me, too, what he had
thought, and what he said to his mother. — N. D.

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In Ruddy Cove all the men put out their
salmon nets when the ice breaks up and drifts
away southward, for the spring run of salmon
then begins. These nets ate laid in the sea, at
right angles to the rocks and extending out from
them ; they are set alongshore, it may be a mile
or two, from the narrow passage to the harbour.
The outer end is buoyed and anchored, and the
other is lashed to an iron stake which is driven
deep into some crevice of the rock.

When belated icebergs hang offshore a watch
must be kept on the nets, lest they be torn away
or ground to pulp by the ice.

"The wind's haulm* round a bit, b'y," said
Donald's father, one day in spring, when the lad
was twelve years old, and he was in the company
of Jimmie Grimm and Billy Topsail on the sunny
slope of the Broken Nose. " I think 'twill freshen
and blow inshore afore night."

"They's a scattered pan of ice out there,
father/ 9 said Donald, "and three small

"Yes, b'y, I knows," said North. "Tis that
I'm afeared of. If the wind changes a bit more,
'twill jam the ice agin the rocks. Does you think
the net is safe ? "

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Jimmie Grimm glanced at Billy Topsail ; and
Billy Topsail glanced at Jimmie Grimm.

11 Wh-wh-what, sir?" Donald stammered.

It was quite evident that the net was in danger,
but since Donald had first shown sign of fearing
the sea, Job North had not compelled him to go
out upon perilous undertakings. He had fallen
into the habit of leaving the boy to choose his
own course, believing that in time he would
master himself.

"I says," he repeated, quietly, "does you
think that net's in danger?"

Billy Topsail nudged Jimmie Grimm. They
walked off together. It would never do to wit-
ness a display of Donald's cowardice.

11 He'll not go," Jimmie Grimm declared.

11 'Tis not so sure," said Billy.

"I tell you," Jimmie repeated, confidently,
"that he'll never go out t' save that net.
Hut ! " he added ; " he'll have no heart for the

" I think he'll go," Billy insisted.

In the meantime Job North had stood regard-
ing his son.

"Well, son," he sighed, "what you think
about that net?"

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" I think, sir/' said Donald, steadily, between
his teeth, " that the net should come in."

Job North patted the boy on the back.
"Twould be wise, b'y," said he, smiling.
"Come, b'y; we'll go fetch it."

"So long, Don!" Billy Topsail shouted de-

Donald and his father put out in the punt
There was a fair, fresh wind, and with this filling
the litde brown sail, they were soon driven out
from the quiet water of the harbour to the heav-
ing sea itself. Great swells rolled in from the
open and broke furiously against the coast rocks.
The punt ran alongshore for two miles, keeping
well away from the breakers. When at last she
came to that point where Job North's net was
set, Donald furled the sail and his father Jook up
the oars.

"Twill be a bit hard to land," he said.

Therein lay the danger. There is no beach
along that coast. The rocks rise abrupdy from
the sea — here, sheer and towering; there, low
and broken. When there is a sea running, the
swells roll in and break against these rocks ; and
when the breakers catch a punt, they are certain
to smash it to splinters.

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The iron stake to which Job North's net was
lashed was fixed in a low ledge, upon which
some hardy shrubs had taken root The waves
were casting themselves against the rocks below,
breaking with a great roar and flinging spray
over the ledge.

" 'Twill be a bit hard," North said again.

But the salmon-fishers have a way of landing
under such conditions. When their nets are in
danger they do not hesitate. The man at the
oars lets the boat drift with the breaker stern
foremost towards the rocks. His mate leaps
from the stern seat to the ledge. Then the other
pulls the boat out of danger before the wave curls
and breaks. It is the only way.

But sometimes the man in the stern miscalcu-
lates — leaps too soon, stumbles, leaps short. He
falls back, and is almost inevitably drowned.
Sometimes, too, the current of the wave is too
strong for the man at the oars; his punt is
swept in, pull as hard as he may, and he is over-
whelmed with her. Donald knew all this. He
had lived in dread of the time when he must first
make that leap.

"The ice is comin' in, b'y," said North.
"Twill scrape these here rocks, certain sure.

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Does you think you're strong enough to take
the oars an* let me go ashore ? "

" No, sir/' said Donald.

" You never leaped afore, did you ? "

" No, sir."

"Will you try it now, b'y?" said North,

" Yes, sir," Donald said, faintly.

u Get ready, then," said North.

With a stroke or two of the oars Job swung
the stern of the boat to the rocks. He kept her
hanging in this position until the water fell back
and gathered in a new wave ; then he lifted his
oars. Donald was crouched on the stern seat,
waiting for the moment to rise and spring.

The boat moved in, running on the crest of the
wave which would a moment later break against
the rock. Donald stood up, and fixed his eye on
the ledge. He was afraid ; all the strength and
courage he possessed seemed to desert him. The
punt was now almost on a level with the ledge.
The wave was about to curl and fall. It was the
precise moment when he must leap — that instant,
.too, when the punt must be pulled out of the grip
of the breaker, if at all.

Billy Topsail and Jimmie Grimm were at this

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Courtesy of " The Youth's Companion"

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critical moment hanging off Grief Island, in the
lee, whence they could see all that occurred.
They had come out to watch the issue of Donald's

11 He'll never leap," Jimmie exclaimed.

" He will," said Billy.

" He'll not," Jimmie declared.

" Look I " cried Billy.

Donald felt of a sudden that he must do this
thing. Therefore why not do it courageously?
He leaped ; but this new courage had not come
in time. He made the ledge, but he fell an inch
short of a firm footing. So for a moment he
tottered, between falling forward and falling back.
Then he caught the branch of an overhanging
shrub, and with this saved himself. When he
turned, Job had the punt in safety ; but he was
breathing hard, as if the strain had been great.

" 'Twas not so hard, was it, b'y ? " said Job.

" No, sir," said Donald.

" I told you so," said Billy Topsail to Jimmie

" Good b'y ! " Jimmie declared, as he hoisted
the sail for the homeward run.

Donald cast the net line loose from its moor-
ing, and saw that it was all clear. His father let

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the punt sweep in again. It is much easier to
leap from a solid rock than from a boat, so
Donald jumped in without difficulty. Then
they rowed out to the buoy and hauled the great,
dripping net over the side.

It was well they had gone out, for before
morning the ice had drifted over the place where
the net had been. More than that, Donald North
profited by his experience. He perceived that if
perils must be encountered, they are best met
with a clear head and an unflinching heart

"Wisht you'd been out t' see me jump the
day," he said to Jimmie Grimm, that night

Billy and Jimmie laughed.

11 Wisht you had," Donald repeated.

11 We was," said Jimmie.

Donald threw back his head, puffed out his
chest, dug his hands in his pockets and strutted
off. It was the first time, poor lad I he had ever
won the right to swagger in the presence of
Jimmie Grimm and Billy Topsail. To be sure,
he made the most of it !

But he was not yet cured

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In Which, Much to the Delight ofjimmie Grimm
and Billy Topsail, Donald Norths Having
Perilous Business On a Pan of Ice After Night,
is Cured of Fear, and Once More Puffs Out
His Chest and Struts Like a Rooster

LIKE many another snug little harbour on
the northeast coast of Newfoundland,
Ruddy Cove is confronted by the sea
and flanked by a vast wilderness ; so all the folk
take their living from the sea, as their forebears
have done for generations. In the gales and
high seas of the summer following, and in the
blinding snow-storms and bitter cold of the
winter, Donald North grew in fine readiness to
face peril at the call of duty. All that he had
gained was put to the test in the next spring,
when the floating ice, which drifts out of the
north in the spring break-up, was driven by the
wind against the coast

After that adventure, Jimmie Grimm said :

" You're all right, Don ! "

And Billy Topsail said :

"You're all right, Don !"

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Donald North, himself, stuck his hands in his
pockets, threw out his chest, spat like a skipper
and strutted like a rooster.

"■ I 'low lis/" said he.

And he was. And nobody decried his little
way of boasting, which lasted only for a day ;
and everybody was glad that at last he was like
other boys.

Job North, with Alexander Bludd and Bill
Stevens, went out on the ice to hunt seal. The
hunt led them ten miles offshore. In the after-
noon of that day the wind gave some sign of
changing to the west, and at dusk it was blow-
ing half a gale offshore. When the wind blows
offshore it sweeps all this wandering ice out to
sea, and disperses the whole pack.

"Go see if your father's comin', b'y," said
Donald's mother. " I'm gettin' terrible nervous
about the ice."

Donald took his gaff — a long pole of the
light, tough dogwood, two inches thick and
shod with iron— and set out. It was growing
dark. The wind, rising still, was blowing in
strong, cold gusts. It began to snow while he
was yet on the ice of the harbour, half a mile away

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from the pans and dumpers which the wind of
the day before had crowded against the coast

When he came to the " standing edge " — the
stationary rim of ice which is frozen to the coast
— the wind was thickly charged with snow.
What with dusk and snow, he found it hard to
keep to the right way. But he was not afraid
for himself; his only fear was that the wind
would sweep the ice-pack out to sea before his
father reached the standing edge. In that
event, as he knew, Job North would be doomed.

Donald went out on the standing edge.
Beyond lay a widening gap of water. The pack
had already begun to move out.

There was no sign of Job North's party. The
lad ran up and down, hallooing as he ran ; but
for a time there was no answer to his call. Then
it seemed to him that he heard a despairing hail,
sounding far to the right, whence he had come.
Night had almost fallen, and the snow added to
its depth ; but as he ran back Donald could still
see across the gap of water to the great pan of
ice, which, of all the pack, was nearest to the stand-
ing edge. He perceived that the gap had con-
siderably widened since he had first observed it

" Is that you, father? " he called.

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" Ay, Donald/' came an answering hail from
directly opposite. " Is there a small pan of ice
on your side ? "

Donald searched up and down the standing
edge for a detached cake large enough for his
purpose. Near at hand he came upon a small,
thin pan, not more than six feet square.

11 Haste, b'y I " cried his father.

" They's one here," he called back, " but 'tis
too small. Is there none there ? "

" No, b'y. Fetch that over."

Here was desperate need. If the lad were to
meet it, he must act instandy and fearlessly. He
stepped out on the pan and pushed off with his
gaff. Using his gaff as a paddle — as these gaffs
are constantly used in ferrying by the Newfound-
land fishermen — and helped by the wind, he soon
ferried himself to where Job North stood waiting
with his companions.

"Tis too small," said Stevens. "Twill not
hold two."

North looked dubiously at the pan. Alexander
Bludd shook his head in despair.

"Get back while you can, b'y," said North.
"Quick! We're driftin' fast! The pan's too

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" I thinks 'tis big enough for one man an' me/'
said Donald.

" Get aboard an* try it, Alexander/' said Job.
" Quick, man ! "

Alexander Bludd stepped on. The pan tipped
fearfully, and the water ran over it ; but when the
weight of the man and the boy was properly ad-
justed, it seemed capable of bearing them both
across. They pushed off, and seemed to go well
enough ; but when Alexander moved to put his
gaff in the water the pan tipped again. Donald
came near losing his footing. He moved nearer
the edge and the pan came to a level. They
paddled with all their strength, for the wind was
blowing against them, and there was need of
haste if three passages were to be made. Mean-
time the gap had grown so wide that the wind
had turned the ripples into waves, which washed
over the pan as high as Donald's ankles.

But they came safely across. Bludd stepped
swifdy ashore, and Donald pushed off. With
the wind in his favour he was soon once more at
the other side.

" Now, Bill," said North ; " your turn next"

"I can't do it, Job," said Stevens. "Get
aboard yourself. The lad can't come back again.

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We're driftin' out too fast He's your lad, an'
you've the right to "

" Ay, I can come back," said Donald. " Come
on, Bill! Be quick I"

Stevens was a lighter man than Alexander
Bludd; but the passage was wider, and still
widening, for the pack had gathered speed.
When Stevens was safely landed he looked
back. A vast white shadow was all that he
could see. Job North's figure had been merged
with the night.

" Donald, b'y," he said, " you got t' go back
for your father, but I'm fair feared you'll
never "

" Give me a push, Bill," said Donald.

Stevens caught the end of the gaff and pushed
the lad out.

" Good-bye, Donald," he called.

When the pan touched the other side Job
North stepped aboard without a word. He was
a heavy man. With his great body on the ice-
cake, the difficulty of return was enormously in-
creased, as Donald had foreseen. The pan was
overweighted. Time and again it nearly shook
itself free of its load and rose to the surface.
North was near the centre, plying his gaff with

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difficulty, but Donald was on the extreme edge.
Moreover, the distance was twice as great as it
had been at first, and the waves were running
high, and it was dark.

They made way slowly. The pan often
wavered beneath them ; but Donald was intent
upon the thing he was doing, and he was not
afraid. Then came the time — they were but ten
yards off the standing edge — when North struck
his gaff too deep into the water. He lost his
balance, struggled to regain it, failed — and fell
off. Before Donald was awake to the danger,
the edge of the pan sank under him, and he, too,
toppled off.

Donald had learned to swim now. When he
came to the surface, his father was breast-high in
the water, looking for him.

11 Are you all right, Donald ? " said- his father.

"Yes, sir."

11 Can you reach the ice alone ? "

" Yes, sir," said Donald, quiedy.

Alexander Bludd and Bill Stevens helped them
up on the standing edge, and they were home
by the kitchen fire in half an hour.

" Twas bravely done, b'y," said Job.

So Donald North learned that perils feared

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are much more terrible than perils faced. He
had a courage of the finest kind, in the following
days of adventure, now close upon him, had
young Donald.

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In Which Bagg, Imported From the Gutters of
London, Lands At Ruddy Cove From the Mail-
Boat, Makes the Acquaintance ofjimmie Grimm
and Billy Topsail, and Tells Them 'E Wants to
Go 'Ome. In Which, Also, the Way to Catas-
trophe Is Pointed

THE mail-boat comes to Ruddy Cove in
the night, when the shadows are black
and wet, and the wind, blowing in from
the sea, is charged with a clammy mist. The
lights in the cottages are blurred by the fog.
They form a broken line of yellow splotches
rounding the harbour's edge. Beyond is deep
night and a wilderness into which the wind
drives. In the morning the fog still clings
to the coast Within the cloudy wall it is all
glum and dripping wet. When a veering wind
sweeps the fog away, there lies disclosed a world
of rock and forest and fuming sea, stretching
from the end of the earth to the summits of the
inland hills — a place of ruggedness and hazy
distances ; of silence and a vast, forbidding loneli-


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It was on such a morning that Bagg, the
London gutter-snipe, having been landed at
Ruddy Cove from the mail-boat the night before
— this being in the fall before Donald North
played ferryman between the standing edge and
the floe — it was on such a foggy morning, I say,
that Bagg made the acquaintance of Billy Top-
sail and Jimmie Grimm.

11 Hello ! " said Billy Topsail.

" Hello 1 " Jimmie Grimm echoed.

" You blokes live 'ere ? " Bagg whined.

11 Uh-huh," said Billy Topsail.

" This yer 'ome t " pursued Bagg.

Billy nodded.

11 Wisht / was 'ome ! " sighed Bagg. " I say,"
he added, " which way's 'ome from 'ere ? "

" You mean Skipper 'ZekiePs cottage ? "

" I mean Lun'on," said Bagg.

11 Don't know," Billy answered. " You better
ask Uncle Tommy Luff. He'll tell you."

Bagg had been exported for adoption. The
gutters of London are never exhausted of their
product of malformed little bodies and souls ;
they provide waifs for the remotest colonies of
the empire. So, as it chanced, Bagg had been
exported to Newfoundland — transported from his

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native alleys to this vast and lonely place. Bagg
was scrawny and sallow, with bandy legs and
watery eyes and a fantastic cranium; and he
had a snub nose, which turned blue when a cold
wind struck it. But when he was landed from

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Online LibraryNorman DuncanBilly Topsail & company: a story for boys → online text (page 3 of 14)