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Left On Labrador
LEFT ON LABRADOR.
Sequel to the "Graphite Lode."—The Fifteen Thousand Dollars, and how it was invested.—About the Yacht.—The Schooner "Curlew."—Capt. Mazard.—Guard.—The Gloucester Boys.—"Palmleaf, Sar."—Getting Ready for the Voyage.—Ship-Stores.—The Howitzer.—The Big Rifle.—A Good Round Bill at the Outset.
Raed got home from Katahdin on the night of the 15th of May. Kit came with him; and together they called on Wade and the writer of the following narrative early on the morning of the 16th. Brown enough both boys looked, exposed as they had been to the tanning winds for more than a fortnight.
"Jubilate!" shouted Raed, as I opened the door. "Latest news from Mount Katahdin,—graphite stock clean up to the moon!"
Wade came looking down stairs, nothing on but his gown and slippers. At sight of his tousled head both our callers gave a whoop of recognition, and set upon him,—shook him out of his slippers, and pulled him down the steps on to the sidewalk barefoot; thereby scandalizing a whole houseful of prim damsels across the street, who indignantly pulled down their curtains. Such a hand-shaking and back-patting as ensued! All the hardships and discouragement we had endured on our last season's expedition seemed to bear an exultant harvest in this our final success.
"But you haven't been to breakfast!" exclaimed Kit.
"So they haven't!" cried Raed. "Well, can't do business till they have their breakfast. We'll leave 'em to guzzle their coffee in peace. But hurry up! We must hold a council this morning,—have a grand pow-wow! Come round at nine sharp."
They were off.
We ate breakfast, and went down to Raed's, where we got into the back parlor, shut the doors, and proceeded to pow-wow. Wade was chosen president of the meeting; Kit, secretary.
"First," said Raed, "allow me to give an account of my stewardship. No need of going into details. We went up to Katahdin; found the lode. Messrs. Hammer and Tongs were well satisfied. The fifteen thousand dollars was paid without so much as winking. Might have had twenty thousand dollars just as well; but I didn't know it when I made the offer. Hope you won't be dissatisfied with me. Here's the money; two checks,—one on the First National Bank for nine thousand dollars, the other on the Maverick National Bank for six thousand dollars."
"I move we accept the gentleman's statement, and tender our sincere thanks for his eminently successful services," said a voice.
The motion was seconded by Kit, and carried.
"Question now arises," Raed resumed, "What shall we do with this money? Of course we must plant it somewhere, have it growing, what we don't want to use immediately."
"Might speculate a little with it," suggested Wade, "so as to double it up along."
"And risk losing the whole of it," put in Kit.
"'Nothing risked, nothing gained,'" quoted Wade. "What say, Raed? Why not buy gold?"
"Better put it into bonds," said Kit; "safer, a good deal."
"Don't know about that," remarked Wade. "Your abolition government may turn a somersault some fine morning."
"Well, it won't strike on its head if it does,—like a certain government we've all heard of," retorted Kit.
"Call the president and secretary to order, somebody!" cried Raed.
"Now about buying gold," he continued. "There's nothing to be made in gold just now, especially with fifteen thousand dollars: if we had a million, it might be worth talking of. I really don't just know where to put our little fifteen thousand dollars to make it pull the hardest. Suppose we run down and have a talk with our legal friend, Mr. H——" (the same who had advised us relative to the "lode").
We went down. Our gentleman had just come in. Raed stated our case. H—— heard it.
"So you want to speculate a little," said he pleasantly. "Good boys. That's right. Won't work yourselves; won't even let your money work honestly: want to set it to cheating somebody. Well, you must remember that the biter sometimes gets bitten."
"Oh! we don't want anything hazardous," explained Raed.
"Yes, I see," remarked Mr. H——; "something not too sharp, sort of over and above board, and tolerably safe."
"That's about our style," remarked Wade.
"Well, I'm doing a little something by way of Back-Bay land speculation. That would be near home for you; and you can go in your whole pile, or only a thousand, just as you choose."
"Back-bay land," said Kit. "Where is this Back-bay land?"
"Well, there you've got me," replied Mr. H——, laughing. "It would be rather hard telling where the land is. In fact, the land is most all water. The land part has yet to be made. There's room to make it, however. I mean out in the Back Bay, north-west of the city here, along the Charles River. City is growing rapidly out that way. We have got up a sort of company of share-owners of the space out on the tidal marsh. These shares can be bought and sold. As I said, the city is growing in that direction. There's a steady rise in value per square foot. Value may double in a year. Put in ten thousand now, and it may be worth twenty by next year at this time."
"But is there really any bottom to it?" asked Wade.
"Oh, yes! geologists think there's bottom out there somewhere. But we shareholders don't trouble ourselves about the bottom."
"I mean bottom to the company," interrupted Raed.
"Yes, yes. Well, that's another matter. But then you will be dealt honestly with, if that's what you mean by bottom. Of course, you must take the risk with the rest of us. You put in ten thousand: and, if you want me to do so, I will be on the lookout for your interests; tell you when to sell, you know; and, in case there should be like to come a crash, I'll tip you a wink when to stand from under."
"Then you advise us to invest in this?" queried Raed.
"Well, I should say that it was as well as you can do."
"What say, fellows?" Raed inquired, turning to us.
"Perhaps we could not do better," said Kit. "I suppose this property comes under the head of real estate; and real estate is generally considered safe property. You call it real estate, don't you, Mr. H——?"
"Yes, yes; as near real estate as anything. It's kind of amphibious; half real estate certainly,—more'n half when the tide is out."
So we purchased that afternoon, through Mr. H——, ten thousand dollars' worth of Back-bay land. Of our remaining five thousand dollars, we put three thousand dollars into 5-20 bonds, and deposited the remaining two thousand dollars ready for immediate use. That was about all we did that day.
In the evening we went to hear Parepa, who was then in town; and the next morning met at nine, at Raed's again, to pow-wow further concerning the yacht.
"It is too late," said Kit after we were again snug in the back parlor, "to get a yacht built and launched so as to make a voyage this summer. Such a vessel as we want can't be built and got off the stocks in much, if any, less than a year. What are we to do meanwhile?—wait for it?"
"No," said Wade.
"No," said Raed.
"What then?" asked Kit.
"Hire a vessel," I suggested.
"Can we do that?" asked Wade.
It seemed likely that we could.
"Has it ever occurred to any of you that we none of us know anything about sailing a vessel?—anything to speak of, I mean?" Kit inquired.
We had all been vaguely aware of such a state of things; but not till now had we been brought face to face with it.
"It would be the worst kind of folly for us to go out of port alone," I couldn't help saying.
"Of course it would," replied Kit.
"I'm well aware of that," said Raed. "We shall have to learn seamanship somehow."
"Besides," remarked Wade, "sailing a vessel wouldn't be very light nor very pleasant work for us, I'm thinking. If we could afford to hire a good skipper, it would be better."
"We shall have to hire one till we learn how to manage a vessel ourselves," replied Raed.
"And not only a skipper, but sailors as well," said Kit. "What shall we be able to do the first week out, especially if it be rough weather?"
"Do you suppose we shall be much seasick?" Wade asked suddenly.
"Very likely we shall be sick, when it's rough, for a while," said Raed. "We must expect it, and get over it the best way we can."
"Now, suppose we are able to hire a schooner such as we want, with a skipper, and a crew of five or six," he continued: "where shall we make our first cruise?"
"Along the coast of Maine," I suggested. "From Casco Bay to Eastport. Several yachts were down there last summer. Found good fishing. Had a fine time. There are harbors all along, so that they could go in every night."
"Just the place for our first voyage!" exclaimed Wade.
"It seems to me," replied Raed, "that if we hire a good stanch schooner and skipper, with a crew, we might do something more than just cruise along the coast of Maine, fish a little, and then come back."
"So it does to me," said Kit. "We should never get on our polar voyage at that rate. If we are going into all this expense, let's go up as far as the 'Banks' of Newfoundland, anyway."
"And why not a little farther," said Raed, "if the weather was good, and we met with no accident? If everything went well, why not sail on up to the entrance of Hudson Straits, and get a peep at the Esquimaux?"
"Raed never'll be satisfied till he gets into Hudson Bay," laughed Wade. "What is there so attractive about Hudson Bay? I can't imagine."
"Because," said Raed, "it's an almost unknown sea. Ever since it was first discovered by the noble navigator, who perished somewhere along its shores, it has been shut up from the world in the hands of a few selfish individuals, who got the charter of the Hudson-bay Company from the King of England. They own it and all the country about it and run it for their own profit only. About that great bay there is a coast-line of more than two thousand miles, with Indian tribes on its shores as wild and savage as when Columbus first came to America. Just think of the adventure and wild scenery one might witness on a voyage round there! It's a shame we Americans can't go in there if we want to. The idea of letting half a dozen little red-faced men in London rule, hold, and keep everybody else out of that great region! It's a disgrace to us. Their old charter ought to have been taken away from them long ago. I don't know that I shall go there this year, nor next: but I mean to go into that bay sometime, and sail round there, and trade and talk with the savages as much as I choose; and, if the company undertakes to hinder me, I'll fight for it; for they've no moral right nor business to keep us out."
"Good on your head!" cried Kit, patting him encouragingly.
"A war with England seems to be imminent!" exclaimed Wade. "Methinks I hear the boom of cannon!"
Raed looked dubious a moment, but immediately began to laugh. He is rather apt to fly off on such tangents. We have to sprinkle him with ridicule a little: that always brings him out of it all right again.
"Well," said he, "waiving that subject, what say for going as far north as Hudson Straits, if everything should work favorably?"
We had none of us anything to urge against this.
"But we must not forget that we have not yet hired a vessel," added Kit.
"No," said Raed; "and the sooner we find out what we can do, the better."
That afternoon Wade and I went down to the wharves to make inquiries. Raed and Kit went out to Gloucester, it being quite probable that some sort of a craft might be found out of employ there. Wade and I were unable to see or hear of anything at all to our minds in our harbor, and came up home at about seven, P.M. Kit and Raed had not got back; nor did they come in the morning, nor during the next day. A few minutes before eight in the evening, however, we received a despatch from Portland, Me., saying, "Come down and see it."
We went down on the morning train. The boys were at the dépôt.
"Couldn't find a thing at Gloucester nor Newburyport nor Portsmouth," said Raed. "But I think we've struck something here, if we can stand the expense."
"Eight out here at the wharf," said Kit.
We walked across.
"There she is!" pointed Raed.
A pretty schooner of a hundred and seventy tons lay alongside.
"One year old," Raed explained. "Clean and sweet as a nut. Here from Bangor with pine-lumber. Captain's a youngish man, but a good sailor. We inquired about him. Appears like a good fellow too. Has been on a cod-fisher up to the Banks; also on a sealer off Labrador. He's our man, I think."
"And the best of it all is," said Kit, "he owns the schooner; can go if he's a mind to. So we sha'n't be bothered with any old musty-fusty owners."
"Well, what does he say?" asked Wade.
"He says he will put us up there this summer if we will give him a hundred dollars per month, pay full insurance fees on the vessel, hire him six good seamen, and give three hundred dollars for the use of schooner; we, of course, to furnish ship-stores and provide a cook."
"Gracious! that's going to cost us something," said I.
"Yes; but it's about the best and only thing we can do," said Kit.
"Why does he want a new crew?" Wade asked. "Why does he not keep these he has?"
"Says that these are all inexperienced,—green hands," replied Raed. "If we are going up there among the ice on a dangerous coast, he wants Gloucester boys,—Gloucester or Nantucket; prefers Gloucester. Thinks six Gloucester lads will be about the right thing."
"Where is he?" asked Wade.
"Up at the Preble House."
We went up; when Wade and I were formally introduced to Capt. George Mazard of the schooner "Curlew." Had dinner with him. Liked him. He appeared then, as we have since proved him, a thoroughly good-hearted, clear-headed sailor. As Raed had hinted, he was quite a young man,—not more than twenty-seven or eight; middle height, but strong; face brown and frank; features good; manner a little serious; and attentive to business when on duty. On the whole, the man was rather grave for one of his years. Occasionally, however, when anything particularly pleased him, he developed a vein of strong, rich mirth, which would endure for several hours. He impressed us at once as a reliable man,—one to be depended on under any ordinary circumstances. We decided (very wisely as I now think) to accept his offer; and, after dinner, went down to the Marine Insurance Office to take out a policy on the vessel. On learning that we were intending to enter Hudson Straits, the agent refused to underwrite us: it was too ugly a risk. He either couldn't or didn't want to understand the object of our voyage. Here was a stick. Capt. Mazard declined to sail uninsured unless we would take the risk. We did not much like to do that. Finally Raed offered on our side to assume one-half the risk. After some hesitation, this was agreed to; and a paper to that effect was drawn up and signed.
We then went down to the wharf where "The Curlew" lay.
A fine, shaggy Newfoundland dog, black as a crow, came growling up the companion-way as we jumped down on deck, but, perceiving the captain, began to race and tear about with great barks of canine delight.
"That's a jolly big dog!" Kit remarked. "Keeps watch here while you are off?"
"Yes, sir. Don't want a better hand. Never leaves the schooner without I bid him. Wants his dinner too, I guess. I haven't been here since last night."
"What's his name?" said Wade.
"He's a noble fellow," observed Raed. "Hope you will take him along with you."
"I should be loath to go off without him."
Some changes below deck seemed necessary; and we arranged for having the hold floored over, and a sort of rough saloon made, running nearly the whole length of the vessel. Off the forward end of this saloon was to be parted a cook's galley, with another section for the seamen's berths. Also arranged for a skylight in the deck; in short, for having the schooner made as convenient as possible for our purpose, at our expense.
Leaving Capt. Mazard to superintend these changes, we went back to Gloucester in the morning, and during the day managed to hire six sailors, young fellows of eighteen and twenty, save one, an old sea-dog of fifty or thereabouts, at forty dollars per month. They looked a little rough, but turned out to be very good sailors; which was the most we wanted. Their names, as they gave them to us, were Richard Donovan, Henry Corliss, Jerry Hobbs, Thomas Bonney, and George Weymouth. The elder salt called himself John Somers; though it leaked out shortly after that he had formerly flourished under the less euphonious patronymic of Solomon Trull.
Went home that evening, and the next day advertised for a cook. It was answered by three colored "gemmen," two of whom modestly withdrew their application when they found where we were going, not caring to brave the chill of polar latitudes. The other, who was not a little tattered in his wardrobe, and correspondingly reckless, was quite willing to set his face toward the pole. Although but recently from "Sou' Car'liny, sar," and black as a crow, he assured us he could stand the cold "jes' like a fly, sar."
"What name?" Raed asked.
"Charles Sumner Harris, sar. Been cook on oyster-schooner, sar."
"Charles Sumner Harris!" exclaimed Wade, who was coming in. "You never wore that name in South Carolina."
"No, sar; lately 'dopted it, sar."
"What was your old name?" demanded Wade, looking at him as if he was about to give him five hundred lashes.
The man hesitated.
"When you were a slave, I mean. Yes, you were: don't deny it."
"They called me Palmleaf den, sar."
"Very well: that's what I shall call you. None of your Charles Sumner Harrises!"
"Oh! don't bully him," Kit said. "Give him a chance for himself."
"We shall see enough of his airs," Wade muttered.
He was a rather hard-looking citizen. We engaged him, however, at thirty dollars a month; and it is but simple justice to him and his race to add, that, like the traditionary singed cat, he did better than his general appearance would have guaranteed at that time.
The next morning we wrote to Capt. Mazard with directions to take "The Curlew" into Gloucester as soon as the carpenter-work was finished. He would need two or three hands temporarily. These were to be hired, and their car-fare back to Portland paid, at our expense.
Another matter now came up. It was quite possible that we might encounter ice at the entrance of Davis Straits, as well as in Hudson Straits, if we should venture in there: indeed, we might be caught in the ice. "The Curlew," though a stanch schooner, was only strengthened in the ordinary way.
"Will it not be best and safest," Raed argued, "to have her strengthened with cross-beams and braces? A few strong beams of this sort might save the vessel from being crushed."
As we were held to pay half the cost of the schooner in case of such an accident, to say nothing of our personal peril, we judged it prudent to neglect no means to render the voyage as safe as possible. Accordingly, we went out to Gloucester, and arranged for having it done; also for getting in water and fuel. In short, there seemed no end to the items to be seen to. If ever four fellows were kept busy, we were the four from the 20th of May to the 6th of June. Our ship-stores we bought in Boston, and had them sent to Gloucester by rail. It seemed desirable for us landsmen to have our food as nearly like that we had been in the habit of having as possible. We accordingly purchased five barrels of flour (not a little of it spoiled) at eight dollars per barrel; three of salt pork at sixteen dollars per barrel; two of beef at twelve dollars; six of potatoes at two dollars and fifty cents; two fifty-pound tubs of butter at thirty-five cents per pound; coffee, tea, sugar, and "preserves" to the tune of sixty dollars; and two hundred pounds corn-meal, four dollars.... Then there were a score of other little necessaries, amounting to near fifty dollars; in all, a bill of two hundred and seventy-four dollars. These stores were bought at our own suggestion. It would have been better to have taken the advice of some experienced shipmaster: it might have cost us less, and we should afterwards have fared better, to have done so.
I remember that we took along a lot of confectioneries, both for our own delectation and also to "treat" the Esquimaux on! That was a wild shot. As well offer an Esquimau cold boiled parsnip as a stick of candy. We also had two boxes of lemons! Which of us was responsible for the proposition for lemonade in Hudson Straits has never been satisfactory settled. We none of us can remember how the lemons came on board. Wade says they were bought as an antidote for sea-sickness. A far more sensible article of traffic was twenty dollars' worth of iron in small bars; four dozen large jack-knives; twenty butcher-knives, and the same number of hatchets. We had also a web of red flannel at twenty dollars; in all, ninety dollars.
For mattresses, blankets, "comforters," and buffalo-skins, there was expended the sum of a hundred and twenty-three dollars. Ten Springfield rifles at ten dollars each (bought at an auction-sale), with a quantity of cartridges, one hundred and twelve dollars. For an old six-pound howitzer, purchased by Capt. Mazard from a schooner supposed to have been engaged in the slave-trade, nineteen dollars; and for ammunition (powder, iron shot, and a lot of small bullets), thirty-seven dollars.
For firing at seals or bears from the deck of the schooner, we had made, at Messrs, R. & Co.'s machine-shop, a large rifle of about an inch bore, and set like a miniature cannon in a wrought-iron frame, arranged with a swivel for turning it, and a screw for elevating or depressing the muzzle. This novel weapon was, as I must needs own, one of my projection, and was always a subject for raillery from my comrades. Its cost, including the mounting, was ninety-seven dollars. In all, three hundred and eighty-eight dollars.
Then there were other bills, including the cost of several nautical telescopes, also ice-anchors, ice-chisels, sounding-line, hawsers, &c., to the sum of a hundred and three dollars.
The lumber and carpenter work on "The Curlew" at Portland made a bill of a hundred and nine dollars; seamen's wages to Gloucester, with car-fare back, nineteen dollars; bracing and strengthening the schooner, sixty-seven dollars; cost of getting in fuel and water, thirty-three dollars; and other bills to the amount of forty-nine dollars: in all, two hundred and seventy-seven dollars. We had thus to pay out at the start over eleven hundred dollars. Capt. Mazard, too, was kept as busy as ourselves superintending the work, putting the vessel in ballast, &c. Indeed, it's no small job to get ready for such a cruise. We had no idea of it when we began.