Page images
PDF
EPUB

seem to benumb the body and bewilder the brain. The sailors paused, leaning on their oars, and Elmer, who steered the boat, knew not which way to guide the prow. All about could be heard the wild angry roar of waters.

“God save us, shipmates, or we will be lost!” one poor fellow groaned.

It seemed as if they were being drawn right into a maelstrom, and that escape was impossible.

To turn from one wild roaring cataract was only to face another. Death and pitch darkness surrounded them on every side. So dark and so dense was the fog, that the men could not see each other, though but two or three feet away.

Lieutenant Stevens, in this strait, remained silent for a moment, listening to the roar all about them. To return to the ships was as impossible as to go any other direction, for nothing could be seen. Suddenly he cried:

“Starboard all!”

The sailors, who awaited for some order, responded, and in a twinkling the boat shot through a channel with breakers dashing so close on either side, that they felt the cold spray on their faces. Once through this dangerous passage, they were in smoother water, and pulled for some distance in the pitch darkness. At last, the lieutenant ordered them to desist, and again all rested on

their oars and listened. Like a raging storm on their larboard and in their wake, came the dashing of angry waters until they were almost deafened.

“ Whither shall we go, lieutenant?” asked one trembling oarsman.

“That, I do not know.”.

After a few moments, he ordered the men to pull forward, though some declared it was taking them beyond reach of the vessels. At last a land breeze sweeping over the water, partially lifted the dense fog, and one of the oarsmen cried:

“A light! a light!"
“Where away?" asked the officer.
“ On our starboard."

Dimly shining through the remaining fog, which had grown less dense, was a dull red light. At first they were at a loss to make out what it was. Some thought it a ship's lantern; but the young officer declared it was too bright to be a lantern, and insisted that it came from the shore.

“Perchance it is the moon rising from the sea,” suggested one of the sailors.

But the lieutenant insisted that the light was not in the east. Darkness and shadows breed superstition, and the sailors were ready to declare that the light was from some sea wraith or monster, luring them on to ruin; but Elmer kept the

[ocr errors]

head of the boat pointed toward it, and they glided rapidly on.

“I see an object passing before it,". cried the lieutenant, who was watching the light.

“What is it like, Mr. Stevens?." asked one of the men at the oar. . . :;' ::“I cannot say, only that it is an opaque body moving about the fire, and I frequently see it obscuring the light. It seems to be a person or persons heaping fuel on a fire.”

He came to this conclusion from the great flashing blazes which shot up into the sky, as if the flames were being fed with fresh fuel. As they bore nearer, doubts gave way to certainty. A man had kindled a fire as a beacon light on the shore, and no doubt with the intention to guide them to land. Was he a friend or a foe? The chances were that the builder of the beacon fire was the former and they steadily but cautiously pulled to shore. It was a rocky, dangerous shore, and the tall man came down to the water's edge to caution' them. He stood on the stones' near the water, holding a firebrand in each hand, directing them where to land, and in a few moments all were safely on shore.

“I feared you would be wrecked,” he said, " and so I built a fire.”

“Do you live here?” asked Lieutenant Stevens. “No; I am a wanderer— " “But what ails you? your head is covered with

blood."

"I was wounded to-day. It is but slight,” the stranger answered. “Come to my fire; it is all I have to offer you, for. food and shelter I have not known for a long time.”.

The stranger's voice was hoarse and unnatural from colds and long suffering. His face was partially concealed by the .ragged neckcloth with which his wound was bound. The sailors gathered about the fire and regarded their host with some degree of suspicion.

“ Zounds! he is an odd one,” the lieutenant declared. “I cannot make him out.”.

Though he offered to stand guard while they slept, they would not trust him, and one of their own number remained awake all night. The stranger who had kindled the beacon light sat apart from the others most of the time in silence, holding his wounded face, which still bled, in his hands. He occasionally gazed strangely at the officer, and several times seemed on the point of asking him some question, but did not do so.

When morning came, the remnant of the fleet could be seen several miles out in the bay. The fog rolled away and revealed the wretched condition of the English ships. The Lieutenant and

his men determined to go to them. The stranger of the beacon light borrowed a gun and some ammunition at daybreak to go out into the forest for game. He had not returned, and they decided not to wait on him, so, when their benefactor returned with a fat buck on his shoulder, they were a mile away pulling toward the fleet.

“Gone! deserted again!” the wanderer groaned, and, sinking down upon the ground, he wept.

For a few days after the disaster, the fleet of Sir Hovenden Walker continued to linger about the mouth of the St. Lawrence. Then a council of war was held, and it was concluded best to abandon the expedition. The disheartened admiral returned to England with his ships, while the provincial troops were sent to Boston. Hearing of the calamity and the result, Nicholson unwillingly returned with his land force to Albany and left Montreal unmolested. Walker, after falsely charging the disaster to the incompetency of Elmer Stevens and other New England pilots, claimed credit for himself in retreating. In his correspondence with Bolingbroke, he, among other things, stated :

“Had we arrived safe at Quebec, ten or twelve thousand men must have been left to perish of cold and hunger. By the loss of a part, Providence saved all the rest.”.

« PreviousContinue »