they could do to get her over. Moreover, the task was rendered doubly difficult and perilous by their exhaustion and inability to swim when the keel to which they were holding went under water. But their agility and self-reliance, evolved from a life next to Nature, stood them in good stead, and soon all three were actually standing inside the water-logged boat. The oars, lashed under the seats, were still in her, and, though almost up to their waists in water, they began sculling and rowing as hard as their strength and the dangerous roll of the sunken boat would permit.
Slowly the surf on the sandy beach drew near, and now, keeping her head before the breeze, they rolled along shorewards. Again, however, it became apparent that a new departure must be made. For a heavy surf was breaking on the shore which they were approaching, that ran off shallow for half a mile. There was not water enough to let the boat approach the land, and they realized that they had not sufficient strength left to walk through the breakers. Yet struggle as they would, the best they could do was to keep the boat very slightly across the wind.
John maintains now that it was the direct intervention of Providence which spared them just when once more all hope seemed over. They suddenly noticed that while still forging shorewards they were also drifting rapidly into the bay. It was the first uprush of the strong rising tide, and they might yet be carried to a deep-water landing. The play of hope and fear made the remaining hours an agony of suspense. What would be the end of it all seemed a mere gamble. Every mark on the approaching shore was now familiar to them. It had become, they knew well enough, a question of life or death where the drifting boat would touch the strand. Now it seemed impossible that she should clear the shallow surf, whose hungry roar sounded a death-knell to any one handed to its tender mercies. Now it seemed certain that she would be carried up the bay without touching land at all. Hope rose as a little later it became obvious that she would clear the sands.
Now the rocky headland, round which their winter house stood, was coming rapidly into view. As the mouth of the bay narrowed, the pace of the current increased, and for a time they seemed to be hopelessly rushing past their one hope of landing. The excitement and the exertion of putting might and main into the oars had made them almost forget the wet and cold and darkness, now only relieved by the last afterglow of the setting sun. But it all appeared of no avail; they were still some hundred yards off as they passed the point. It might as well have been some hundred miles, for they drifted helplessly into the bay, which was widening out again.
Despair, however, still failed to grip them, and apparently hopelessly they kept toiling on at the sweeps. Once more a miracle happened, and they were really apparently approaching the point a second time. The very violence of the tide had actually saved them, creating as it did a strong eddy, which with the little aid from the oars, bore them now steadily toward the land. Nearer and nearer they came. They were half a mile inside the head. Only a few boat-lengths now separated them from the beach. Would they be able to get ashore!
Strange as it sounds, any and all speculations they might have with regard to where the boat would strike bottom were to be disappointed. Her keel never touched bottom at all. It was her gunwale which first bumped into the steep rocks—and that at a point only a few yards from their winter house.
Even now their troubles were not over. Only the skipper could stand erect. Tom, dragged out by the others, lay an inert mass on the soft bed of crisp creeping plants which cover the bank. Jim was able to totter a few yards, fell, and finally crawled part of the way to the house door. But the skipper, in spite of swollen and blackened legs, held out not only to get a fire lit, but to bring in the other two, and finally wean back their frozen limbs to life.
It took two days to regain strength enough to haul up the boat and refit her; and then the sorrowful little company proceeded on their homeward journey. It was a sad home-coming after the brave start they had made. It was a terrible message which they had to carry to the anxious hearts awaiting them. For nothing in heaven or earth can replace the loss of loved ones suddenly taken from us.
"I've been cruising in boats five and forty years," said John. "I were out two days and a night with t' Bonnie Lass when she were lost on t' Bristle Rocks, and us brought in only two of her crew alive. And I was out on t' ice in t' blizzard when Jim Warren drove off, and us brought he back dead to his wife next day. But this was the worst of all. As us passed t' rocky shoal, it seemed only a few minutes since us capsized on it; and I knowed Ned and Willie must be right alongside. As us passed Snarly Bight, out of which t' puff came, us thought of t' boys singing their little songs, and know'd that they should be with us now; and when t' Lone Point loomed up, round which youse turn to make our harbour, us all sort of wished one more puff would come along and finish t' job properly. For it wouldn't have been hard to join t' children again, but to face t' women without 'em seemed more'n us could do.
"How to break the news us had talked a dozen times, but never got no nearer what to say. As us ran in at last for t' stage, us could see that Mother had hoisted t' flag t' Company gived we t' year us bought furs for they, and that Grannie was out waiting for us on t' landwash.
"All I remembers was that scarce a word was spoke. They know'd it. I believe they know'd it before they seed t' boat. If only them had cried I'd have been able to say something. But ne'er a word was spoke. So I says, 'Jim, go up and pull t' flag down quick. Us has no right to having t' flags flying for we.'
"Then Grannie, she gets her voice, and she says, 'No, Jimmie, don't you do it. It be just right as it is. For 't is for Neddie's and Willie's home-coming it be flying.'"
We had just reached hospital from a long trip "on dogs." My driver was slipping the harnesses off the animals and giving them the customary friendly cuff and words of praise. Among the crowd which always gathered to greet us, one friend, after giving us the usual welcome of "What cheer, Doctor?" noticed apparently that I had a new winter compagnon de voyage.
"Joe's not with you, Doctor? Gone sawing t' winter, I hear. T' boys say he's got a fine bulk of timber cut already."
"Working for the lumber camp, I suppose, Uncle Abe," I replied.
"Not a bit of it," he chuckled. "'T is sawing for hisself he's gone."
"Eh? Wants lumber, does he? Going to build a larger fishing boat?"
"Youse can call it that if you likes, Doctor, for 't will be a fine fish he lands into it. But I reckon 't is more of a dock he'll need." And the rest joined in hearty laughter at the sally.
"'T is a full-rigged schooner he be going to moor there, with bunting enough to burn, and as saucy as a cyclone," chimed in another, while a third 'lowed, "'T is a great girl he's after, if he gets her, anyhow."
"Nancy's the pluckiest little girl for many a mile along this coast or she wouldn't be what she is, and her family so