Norman Duncan.

Billy Topsail & company: a story for boys online

. (page 4 of 14)
Online LibraryNorman DuncanBilly Topsail & company: a story for boys → online text (page 4 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the mail-boat he found a warm welcome, just the
same, from Ruth Rideout, Ezekiel's wife, by
whom he had been taken for adoption.

Later in the day, old Uncle Tommy Luff, just in
from the fishing grounds off the Mull, where he
had been jigging for stray cod all day long, had
moored his punt to the stage-head, and he was
now coming up the path with his sail over his
shoulder, his back to the wide, flaring sun-
set. Bagg sat at the turn to Squid Cove,
disconsolate. The sky was heavy with glowing
clouds, and the whole earth was filled with a
glory such as he had not known before.

''Shall I arst the ol' beggar when 'e gets
'ere ? " mused Bagg.

Uncle Tommy looked up with a smile.

11 1 say, mister," piped Bagg, when the old
man came abreast, "which way's 'ome from

" Eh, b'y ? " said Uncle Tommy.

Digitized by



14 'Ome, sir. Which way is 'ome from 'ere ?"

In that one word Bagg's sickness of heart ex-
pressed itself — in the quivering, wistful accent

" Is you 'Zekiel Rideout's lad ? " said Uncle

"Don't yer make no mistake, mister/ 9 said
Bagg, somewhat resentfully. " I ain't nothink t'

" I knowed you was that lad," Uncle Tommy
drawled, "when I seed the size o' you. Sure,
b'y, you knows so* well as me where 'Zekiel's
place is to. 'Tis t' the head o' Burnt Cove,
there, with the white railin', an' the tater patch
aft o' the place where they spreads the fish.
Sure, you knows the way home."

" I mean Lun'on, mister," Bagg urged.

" Oh, home ! " said Uncle Tommy. " When I
was a lad like you, b'y, just here from the
West Country, me fawther told me if I steered a
course out o' the tickle an' kept me starn fair for
the meetin'-house, I'd sure get home t' last"

" Which way, mister ? "

Uncle Tommy pointed out to sea — to that far
place in the east where the dusk was creeping up
over the horizon.

" There, b'y," said he. " Home lies there."

Digitized by



Then Uncle Tommy shifted his sail to the
other shoulder and trudged on up the hill ; and
Bagg threw himself on the ground and wept
until his sobs convulsed his scrawny little body.

" I want to go 'ome 1 " he sobbed. " I want to
go 'omel"

No wonder that Bagg, London born and bred,
wanted to go home to the crowd and roar and
glitter of the streets to which he had been used.
It was fall in Ruddy Cove, when the winds are
variable and gusty, when the sea is breaking
under the sweep of a freshening breeze and yet
heaving to the force of spent gales. Fogs, per-
sistently returning with the east wind, filled the
days with gloom and dampness. Great breakers
beat against the harbour rocks ; the swish and
thud of them never ceased, nor was there any
escape from it

Bagg went to the fishing grounds with Ezekiel
Rideout, where he jigged for the fall run of cod ;
and there he was tossed about in the lop, and
chilled to the marrow by the nor*easters. Many
a time the punt ran heeling and plunging for
the shelter of the harbour, with the spray falling
upon Bagg where he cowered amidships; and

Digitized by



once she was nearly undone by an offshore gale.
In the end Bagg learned consideration for the
whims of a punt and acquired an unfathomable
respect for a gust and a breaking wave.

Thus the fall passed, when the catching and
splitting and drying of fish was a distraction.
Then came the winter — short, drear days, mere
breaks in the night, when there was no relief
from the silence and vasty space round about,
and the dark was filled with the terrors of snow
and great winds and loneliness. At last the
spring arrived, when the ice drifted out of the
north in vast floes, bearing herds of hair-seal
within reach of the gaffs of the harbour folk, and
was carried hither and thither with the wind.

Then there came a day when the wind gathered
the dumpers and pans in one broad mass and
jammed it against the coast. The sea, where it
had lain black and fretful all winter long, was
now covered and hidden. The ice stretched un-
broken from the rocks of Ruddy Cove to the
limit of vision in the east. And Bagg marvelled.
There seemed to be a solid path from Ruddy
Cove straight away in the direction in which
Uncle Tommy Luff had said that England lay.

Notwithstanding the comfort and plenty of

Digitized by



his place with Aunt Ruth Rideout and Uncle
Ezekiel, Bagg still longed to go back to the
gutters of London.

" I want to go 'ome," he often said to Billy
Topsail and Jimmie Grimm.

"What for?" Billy once demanded.

" Don't know," Bagg replied. " I jus' want to
go 'ome."

At last Bagg formed a plan.

Digitized by



In Which Bagg, Unknown to Ruddy Cove, Starts
for Home, and, After Some Difficulty, Safely
Gets There

UNCLE TOMMY LUFF, coming up the
hill one day when the ice was jammed
against the coast and covered the sea as
far as sight carried, was stopped by Bagg at the
turn to Squid Cove.

41 1 say, mister," said Bagg, " which way was
you tellin' me Lun'on was from 'ere?"

Uncle Tommy pointed straight out to the ice-
covered sea.

41 That way?" asked Bagg.

44 Straight out o' the tickle with the meetin'-
house astarn."

44 Think a bloke could ever get there? " Bagg

Uncle Tommy laughed. 44 If he kep' on
walkin' he'd strike it some time," he answered.

44 Sure ? " Bagg demanded.

44 If he kep' on walkin'," Uncle Tommy re-
peated, smiling.


Digitized by



This much may be said of the ice : the wind
which carries it inshore inevitably sweeps it out
to sea again, in an hour or a day or a week, as
it may chance. The whole pack — the wide ex-
panse of enormous fragments of fields and
glaciers — is in the grip of the wind, which, as all
men know, bloweth where it listeth. A nor* east
gale sets it grinding against the coast, but when
the wind veers to the west the pack moves out
and scatters.

If a man is caught in that great rush and
heaving, he has nothing further to do with his
own fate but wait. He escapes if he has strength
to survive until the wind blows the ice against
the coast again — not else. When the Newfound-
lander starts out to the seal hunt he makes sure,
in so far as he can, that no change in the wind is

Uncle Ezekiel Rideout kept an eye on the
weather that night.

" Be you goin', b'y ? " said Ruth, looking up
from her weaving.

Ezekiel had just come in from Lookout Head,
where the watchers had caught sight of the seals,
swarming far off in the shadows.

"They's seals out there," he said, "but I

Digitized by



don't know as us'll go the night Tis like the
wind '11 haul t' the west"

" What do Uncle Tommy Luff say ? "

" That 'twill haul f the west an' freshen afore

" Sure, then, you'll not be goin', b'y ?"

"I don't know as anybody'll go," said he.
" Looks a bit too nasty for 'em."

Nevertheless, Ezekiel put some pork and hard-
bread in his dunny bag, and made ready his
gaff and tow-lines, lest, by chance, the weather
should promise fair at midnight

" Where's that young scamp ? " said Ezekiel,
with a smile — a smile which expressed a fine,
indulgent affection.

"Now, I wonder where he is?" said Ruth,
pausing in her work. " He've been gone more'n
an hour, sure."

" Leave un bide where he is so long as he
likes," said he. " Sure he must be havin' a bit o'
sport. 'Twill do un good."

Ezekiel sat down by the fire and dozed.
From time to time he went to the door to watch
the weather. From time to time Aunt Ruth
listened for the footfalls of Bagg coming up the
path. After a long time she put her work away.

Digitized by



The moon was shining through a mist ; so she
sat at the window, for from there she could see
the boy when he rounded the turn to the path.
She wished he would come home.

" ril go down t' Topsail's t' see what's t' be
done about the seals," said Ezekiel.

" Keep a lookout for the b'y," said she.

Ezekiel was back in half an hour. " Topsail's
gone t' bed," said he. " Sure, no one's goin'
out the night. The wind's hauled round t' the
west, an' 'twill blow a gale afore mornin'. The
ice is movin' out slow a'ready. Be that lad out

"Yes, b'y," said Ruth, anxiously. "I wisht
he'd come home."

" I — I — wisht he would," said Ezekiel.

Ruth went to the door and called Bagg by

But there was no answer.

Offshore, four miles offshore, Bagg was foot-
ing it for England as fast as his skinny little legs
would carry him. The way was hard — a wind-
ing, uneven path over the pack. It led round
dumpers, over ridges which were hard to scale,
and across broad, slippery pans. The frost had

Digitized by



glued every fragment to its neighbour ; for the
moment the pack formed one solid mass, con-
tinuous and at rest, but the connection between
its parts was of the slenderest, needing only a
change of the wind or the ground swell of the
sea to break it everywhere.

The moon was up. It was half obscured by a
haze which was driving out from the shore, to
which quarter the wind had now fairly veered.
The wind was rising — coming in gusts, in which,
soon, flakes of snow appeared. But there was
light enough to keep to the general direction out
from the coast, and the wind but helped Bagg

" I got f 'urry up," thought he.

The boy looked behind. Ruddy Cove was
within sight He was surprised that the coast
was still so near.

" Got tf 'urry up a bit more," he determined.

He was elated — highly elated. He thought
that his old home was but a night's journey
distant ; at most, not more than a night and a
day, and he had more than food enough in his
pockets to last through that. He was elated ;
but from time to time a certain regret entered in,
and it was not easily cast out He remembered

Digitized by



the touch of Aunt Ruth's lips, and her arm,
which had often stolen about him in the dusk ; and
he remembered that Uncle Ezekiel had beamed
upon him most affectionately, in times of mis-
chief and good works alike. He had been well
loved in Ruddy Cove.

"Wisht I'd told Aunt Ruth," Bagg thought

On he trudged — straight out to sea.

•■ Got t' 'urry up," thought he.

Again the affection of Aunt Ruth occurred to
him. She had been very kind ; and as for Uncle
'Zeke — why, nobody could have been kinder.

" Wisht I W told Aunt Ruth," Bagg regretted
" Might o' said good-bye anyhow."

The ice was now drifting out ; but the wind
had not yet risen to that measure of strength
wherewith it tears the pack to pieces, nor had the
sea attacked it. There was a gap of two hundred
yards between the coast rocks and the edge of
the ice, but that was far, far back, and hidden
from sight. The pack was drifting slowly,
smoothly, still in one compact mass. Its motion
was not felt by Bagg, who pressed steadily on
toward England, eager again, but fast growing

" Got t' 'urry up," thought he.

Digitized by



But presently he must rest; and while he
rested the wind gathered strength. It went sing-
ing over the pack, pressing ever with a stronger
hand upon its dumpers and ridges — pushing it,
everywhere, faster and faster out to sea. The
pack was on the point of breaking in pieces
under the strain, but the wind still fell short of
the power to rend it. There was a greater volume
of snow falling ; it was driven past in thin, swirl-
ing clouds. Hence the light of the moon began
to fail. Far away, at the rim of the pack, the
sea was eating its way in, but the swish and crash
of its work was too far distant to be heard.

" I ain't nothink t' nobody but Aunt Ruth,"
Bagg thought, as he rose to continue the tramp.

On he went, the wind lending him wings;
but at last his legs gave out at the knees, and
he sat down again to rest. This was in the lee
of a dumper, where he was comfortably shel-
tered. He was still warm — in a glow of heat,
indeed — and his hope was still with jjim. So far
he had suffered from nothing save weariness.
So he began to dream of what he would do
when he got home, just as all men do when
they come near, once again, to that old place
where they were born. The wind was now

Digitized by



a gale, blowing furiously ; the pack was groan-
ing in its outlying parts.

" Nothink t' nobody," Bagg grumbled, on his
way once more.

Then he stopped dead — in terror. He had
heard the breaking of an ice-pan — a great clap
and rumble, vanishing in the distance. The
noise was repeated, all roundabout — bursting
from everywhere, rising to a fearful volume:
near at hand, a cracking ; far off, a continuing
roar. The pack was breaking up. Each sepa-
rate part was torn from another, and the noise
of the rending was great. Each part ground
against its neighbour on every side. The
weaker pans were crushed like egg-shells.
Then the whole began to feel the heave of the

" It's a earthquake ! " thought Bagg. " I better
'urry up."

He looked back over the way he had come —
searching the shadows for Ruddy Cove. But
the coast was lost to sight

" Must be near acrost, now," he thought " I'll
'urry up."

So he turned his back on Ruddy Cove and
ran straight out to sea, for he thought that Eng-

Digitized by



land was nearer than the coast he had left He
was now upon a pan, both broad and thick —
stout enough to withstand the pressure of the
pack. It was a wide field of ice, which the cold
of the far North, acting through many years, it
may be, had made strong. Elsewhere the pans
were breaking — were lifting themselves out of
the press and falling back in pieces — were being
ground to finest fragments. This mighty con-
fusion of noise and wind and snow and night,
and the upheaval of the whole world roundabout,
made the soul of Bagg shiver within him. It
surpassed the terrors of his dreams.

" Guess I never will get 'ome," thought he.

Soon he came to the edge of the pan. Be-
yond, where the pack was in smaller blocks, the
sea was swelling beneath it. The ice was all
heaving and swaying. He dared not venture
out upon this shifting ground. So he ran up
and down, seeking a path onward ; but he dis-
covered none. Meantime, the parts of the pack
had fallen into easier positions; the noise of
crunching, as the one ground against the other,
had somewhat abated. The ice continued its
course outward, under the driving force of the
wind, but the pressure was relieved. The pans

Digitized by



fell away from one another. Lakes and lanes of
water opened up. The pan upon which Bagg
chanced to find himself in the great break-up
soon floated free. There was now no escape
from it

Bagg retreated from the edge, for the seas
began to break there.

" Wisht I was 'ome again/ 9 he sobbed.

This time he did not look towards England,
but wistfully back to Ruddy Cove.

The gale wasted away in the night The next
day was warm and sunny on all that coast. An
ice-pack hung offshore from Fortune Harbour.
In the afternoon it began to creep in with a light
wind. The first pans struck the coast at dusk.
The folk of the place were on the Head, on the
lookout for the sign of a herd of seal. Just be-
fore night fell they spied a black speck, as far
out from shore as their eyes could see.

"They'll be seals out there the morrow," the
men were all agreed.

So they went home and prepared to set out at
dawn of the next day. In the night, the wind
swept the whole pack in, to the last lagging pan.
The ice was all jammed against the coast — a firm,

Digitized by



vast expanse, stretching to the horizon, and held
in place by the wind, which continued strong
and steady. The men of Fortune Harbour went
confidently out to the hunt At noon, when they
were ten miles off the shore, they perceived the
approach of a small, black figure.

The meeting came soon afterwards, for the
folk of Fortune Harbour, being both curious and
quick to respond to need, made haste.

" I say, mister," said Bagg, briskly, addressing
old John Forsyth, " yer 'aven't got no 'am, 'ave

The men of Fortune Harbour laughed.

"Or nothink else, 'ave yer?" Bagg continued,
hopefully. " I'm a bit 'ungry."

"Sure, b'y," said Forsyth. " I've a biscuit an'
a bit o' pork."

" 'Ave yer, now ? " said Bagg. " Would yer
mind giv "

But his hands were already full. A moment
later his mouth was in the same condition.

" How'd you come out here ? " said Forsyth.

" Swep' out," said Bagg. " I say, mister," he
added, between munches, " which way would yer
say my 'ome was from 'ere?"

14 Where's your home ? "

Digitized by



" Ruddy Cove," said Bagg.

" 'Tis fifteen mile up the coast"

"'Ow would you get there quickest if yer
'ad to?"

" We'll take care o' you, b'y," said Forsyth.
" We'll put you f Ruddy Cove in a skiff, when
the ice goes out Seems f me," he added, " you
must be the boy Ezekiel Rideout took. Isn't
you Ezekiel Rideoufs boy?"

" Bet yer life I am," said Bagg.

Digitized by



In Which Jimmie Grimm and Billy Topsail, Be*
ing Added Up and Called a Man, Are Shipped
For St. John's, With Bill d Burnt Bay, Where
They Fall In With Archie Armstrong, Sir
Archibald's Son, and Bill d Burnt Bay De-
clines to Insure the " First Venture "

OF course, Donald North, who had been
ferryman to his father, had no foolishly
romantic idea of his experience on that
pan of ice; nor had Jimmie Grimm, nor had
Billy Topsail. Donald North would not have
called it an adventure, nor himself a hero; he
would have said, without any affectation of
modesty, "Oh, that was jus' a little mess!"
The thing had come in the course of the day's
work: that was all. Something had depended
upon him, and, greatly to his elation, he had
11 made good." It was no more to him than a
hard tackle to a boy of the American towns.
Any sound American boy — any boy of healthy
courage and clean heart — would doubtless have
taken Job North off the drifting floe ; and Donald

North, for his part, would no doubt have made


Digitized by



the tackle and saved the goal — though frightened
to a greenish pallor — had he ever been face to
face with the necessity. Had he ever survived a
football game, he would have thought himself a
hero, and perhaps have boasted more than was
pleasant; but to have taken a larger chance
with his life on a pan of ice was so small and
usual a thing as presently to be forgotten.
Newfoundland boys are used to that

It was still spring at Ruddy Cove — two weeks
or more after Bagg came back to his real home
— when Donald North's friends, Billy Topsail
and Jimmie Grimm, fell into considerable peril
in a gale of wind off the Chunks. Even they —
used to such adventures as they were— called it
a narrow escape.

" No more o' that for tne" said Billy Topsail,

" Nor me," said Jimmie Grimm.

"You'll both o' you take all that comes your
way," Bill o' Burnt Bay put in, tartly.

It was aboard the First Venture, which Bill
o' Burnt Bay had as master-builder built at
Ruddy Cove for himself. She was to be his —
she was his — and he loved her from stem to

Digitized by



stern. And she was his because Sir Archibald
Armstrong, the great St. John's merchant and
ship-owner, had advanced the money to build
her in recognition oh Skipper Bill's courageous
rescue of Archie Armstrong, Sir Archibald's only
son, in a great blizzard, on the sealing voyage
of the year before. 1 At any rate, the First
Venture was Bill's ; and she was now afloat and
finished, rigged to the last strand of rope. To
say that Skipper Bill was proud of her does not
begin to express the way in which he loved her.

" Now, look you, Billy Topsail, and you, too,
Jimmie Grimm!" said he, gravely, one day,
beckoning the boys near.

The First Venture was lying at anchor in
the harbour, ready for her maiden voyage to
St John's.

" I'm in need of a man aboard this here craft,"
Bill o' Burnt Bay went on ; " an' as there's none
t' be had in this harbour I'm thinkin' of addin'
you two boys up an' callin' the answer t' the sum
a man."

" Wisht you would, Skipper Bill," said Jimmie.

1 The story of this voyage— the tale of the time when Archie Arm-
strong and Billy Topsail and Bill o' Burnt Bay were lost in the snow
on the ice-floe — with certain other happenings in which Billy Top-
sail was involved — is related in " The Adventures of Billy TopsaiL"

Digitized by



"Two halves makes a whole," Bill mused,
scratching his head in doubt " Leastwise, so I
was teached."

" They teach it in school/' said Jimmie.

Billy Topsail grinned delightedly.

"Well," Bill declared, at last, " I'll take you,
no matter what comes of it, for there's nothing
else I can do."

It wasn't quite complimentary ; but the boys
didn't mind.

When the First Venture made St. John's it
was still early enough in the spring of the year
for small craft to be at sea. When she was
ready to depart on the return voyage to Ruddy
Cove, the days were days of changeable weather,
of wind and snow, of fog and rain, of unseason-
able intervals[of quiet sunshine. The predictions
of the wiseacres were not to be trusted ; and, at
any rate, every forecast was made with a wag of
the head that implied a large mental reservation.
« At sea it was better to proceed with caution.
To be prepared for emergencies — to expect the
worst and to be ready for it — was the part of
plain common sense. And Skipper Bill o' Burnt
Bay was well aware of this.

Digitized by



The First Venture lay in dock at St John's.
She was loaded for Ruddy Cove and the ports
beyond. Skipper Bill had launched himself as a
coastwise skipper— master of the stout First
Venture^ carrying freight to the northern settle-
ments at a fair rate for all comers. The hold was
full to the deck ; and the deck itself was cum-
bered with casks and cases, all lashed fast in
anticipation of a rough voyage. It was a mis-
cellaneous cargo : flour, beef, powder and shot,
molasses, kerosene, clothing — such necessities,
in short, as the various merchants to whom the
cargo was consigned could dispose of to the
people of the coast, and such simple comforts as
the people could afford.

She was a trim and stout little fore-and-aft
schooner of fifty tons burthen. The viewers had
awarded the government bounty without a
quibble. Old John Hulton, the chief of them —
a terror to the slipshod master-builders — had
frankly said that she was an honest little craft
from bowsprit to taffrail. The newspapers had
complimented Bill o' Burnt Bay, her builder, in
black and white which could not be disputed.
They had even called Skipper Bill " one of the
honest master-builders of the outports." Nor

Digitized by



had they forgotten to add the hope that " in the
hands of Skipper William, builder and master,
the new craft will have many and prosperous
voyages." By this praise, of course, Skipper
Bill was made to glow from head to foot with
happy gratification.

All the First Venture wanted was a fair wind out

" She can leg it, sir," Skipper Bill said to Sir
Archibald, running his eyes over the tall, trim
spars of the new craft ; " an' once she gets t 1
sea she's got ballast enough t' stand up to a
sousing breeze. With any sort o' civil weather
she ought t* make Ruddy Cove in five days."

" I'd not drive her too hard," said Sir Archi-
bald, who had come down to look at the new
schooner for a purpose.

Bill o' Burnt Bay looked up in amazement
This from the hard-sailing Sir Archibald I

" Not too hard," Sir Archibald repeated.

Skipper Bill laughed.

"I'm sure," said Sir Archibald, "that Mrs.
William had rather have you come safe than un-
expected. Be modest, Skipper Bill, and reef the
Venture when she howls for mercy."

"I'll bargain t' reef her, sir," Bill replied,
" when I thinks you would yourself."

Digitized by



" Oh, come, skipper I " Sir Archibald laughed

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Online LibraryNorman DuncanBilly Topsail & company: a story for boys → online text (page 4 of 14)