An Adventure on Island Rock
“Who was the man I saw talking to you in the hayfield?” asked Aunt Kate, as Uncle Richard came to dinner.
“Bob Marks,” said Uncle Richard briefly. “I’ve sold Laddie to him.”
Ernest Hughes, the twelve-year-old orphan boy whom Uncle “boarded and kept” for the chores he did, suddenly stopped eating.
“Oh, Mr. Lawson, you’re not going to sell Laddie?” he cried chokily.
Uncle Richard stared at him. Never before, in the five years that Ernest had lived with him, had the quiet little fellow spoken without being spoken to, much less ventured to protest against anything Uncle Richard might do.
“Certainly I am,” answered the latter curtly. “Bob offered me twenty dollars for the dog, and he’s coming after him next week.”
“Oh, Mr. Lawson,” said Ernest, rising to his feet, his small, freckled face crimson. “Oh, don’t sell Laddie! Please, Mr. Lawson, don’t sell him!”
“What nonsense is this?” said Uncle Richard sharply. He was a man who brooked no opposition from anybody, and who never changed his mind when it was once made up.
“Don’t sell Laddie!” pleaded Ernest miserably. “He is the only friend I’ve got. I can’t live if Laddie goes away. Oh, don’t sell him, Mr. Lawson!”
“Sit down and hold your tongue,” said Uncle Richard sternly. “The dog is mine, and I shall do with him as I think fit. He is sold, and that is all there is about it. Go on with your dinner.”
But Ernest for the first time did not obey. He snatched his cap from the back of his chair, dashed it down over his eyes, and ran from the kitchen with a sob choking his breath. Uncle Richard looked angry, but Aunt Kate hastened to soothe him.
“Don’t be vexed with the boy, Richard,” she said. “You know he is very fond of Laddie. He’s had to do with him ever since he was a pup, and no doubt he feels badly at the thought of losing him. I’m rather sorry myself that you have sold the dog.”
“Well, he is sold and there’s an end of it. I don’t say but that the dog is a good dog. But he is of no use to us, and twenty dollars will come in mighty handy just now. He’s worth that to Bob, for he is a good watch dog, so we’ve both made a fair bargain.”
Nothing more was said about Ernest or Laddie. I had taken no part in the discussion, for I felt no great interest in the matter. Laddie was a nice dog; Ernest was a quiet, inoffensive little fellow, five years younger than myself; that was all I thought about either of them.
I was spending my vacation at Uncle Richard’s farm on the Nova Scotian Bay of Fundy shore. I was a great favourite with Uncle Richard, partly because he had been much attached to my mother, his only sister, partly because of my strong resemblance to his only son, who had died several years before. Uncle Richard was a stern, undemonstrative man, but I knew that he entertained a deep and real affection for me, and I always enjoyed my vacation sojourns at his place.
“What are you going to do this afternoon, Ned?” he asked, after the disturbance caused by Ernest’s outbreak had quieted down.
“I think I’ll row out to Island Rock,” I replied. “I want to take some views of the shore from it.”
Uncle Richard nodded. He was much interested in my new camera.
“If you’re on it about four o’clock, you’ll get a fine view of the ‘Hole in the Wall’ when the sun begins to shine on the water through it,” he said. “I’ve often thought it would make a handsome picture.”
“After I’ve finished taking the pictures, I think I’ll go down shore to Uncle Adam’s and stay all night,” I said. “Jim’s dark room is more convenient than mine, and he has some pictures he is going to develop tonight, too.”
I started for the shore about two o’clock. Ernest was sitting on the woodpile as I passed through the yard, with his arms about Laddie’s neck and his face buried in Laddie’s curly hair. Laddie was a handsome and intelligent black-and-white Newfoundland, with a magnificent coat. He and Ernest were great chums. I felt sorry for the boy who was to lose his pet.
“Don’t take it so hard, Ern,” I said, trying to comfort him. “Uncle will likely get another pup.”
“I don’t want any other pup!” Ernest blurted out. “Oh, Ned, won’t you try and coax your uncle not to sell him? Perhaps he’d listen to you.”
I shook my head. I knew Uncle Richard too well to hope that.
“Not in this case, Ern,” I said. “He would say it did not concern me, and you know nothing moves him when he determines on a thing. You’ll have to reconcile yourself to losing Laddie, I’m afraid.”
Ernest’s tow-coloured head went down on Laddie’s neck again, and I, deciding that there was no use in saying anything more, proceeded towards the shore, which was about a mile from Uncle Richard’s house. The beach along his farm and for several farms along shore was a lonely, untenanted one, for the fisher-folk all lived two miles further down, at Rowley’s Cove. About three hundred yards from the shore was the peculiar formation known as Island Rock. This was a large rock that stood abruptly up out of the water. Below, about the usual water-line, it was seamed and fissured, but its summit rose up in a narrow, flat-topped peak. At low tide twenty feet of it was above water, but at high tide it was six feet and often more under water.
I pushed Uncle Richard’s small flat down the rough path and rowed out to Island Rock. Arriving there, I thrust the painter deep into a narrow cleft. This was the usual way of mooring it, and no doubt of its safety occurred to me.
I scrambled up the rock and around to the eastern end, where there was a broader space for standing and from which some capital views could be obtained. The sea about the rock was calm, but there was quite a swell on and an off-shore breeze was blowing. There were no boats visible. The tide was low, leaving bare the curious caves and headlands along shore, and I secured a number of excellent snapshots. It was now three o’clock. I must wait another hour yet before I could get the best view of the “Hole in the Wall”—a huge, arch-like opening through a jutting headland to the west of me. I went around to look at it, when I saw a sight that made me stop short in dismay. This was nothing less than the flat, drifting outward around the point. The swell and suction of the water around the rock must have pulled her loose—and I was a prisoner! At first my only feeling was one of annoyance. Then a thought flashed into my mind that made me dizzy with fear. The tide would be high that night. If I could not escape from Island Rock I would inevitably be drowned.
I sat down limply on a ledge and tried to look matters fairly in the face. I could not swim; calls for help could not reach anybody; my only hope lay in the chance of somebody passing down the shore or of some boat appearing.
I looked at my watch. It was a quarter past three. The tide would begin to turn about five, but it would be at least ten before the rock would be covered. I had, then, little more than six hours to live unless rescued.
The flat was by this time out of sight around the point. I hoped that the sight of an empty flat drifting down shore might attract someone’s attention and lead to investigation. That seemed to be my only hope. No alarm would be felt at Uncle Richard’s because of my non-appearance. They would suppose I had gone to Uncle Adam’s.
I have heard of time seeming long to a person in my predicament, but to me it seemed fairly to fly, for every moment decreased my chance of rescue. I determined I would not give way to cowardly fear, so, with a murmured prayer for help, I set myself to the task of waiting for death as bravely as possible. At intervals I shouted as loudly as I could and, when the sun came to the proper angle for the best view of the “Hole in the Wall,” I took the picture. It afterwards turned out to be a great success, but I have never been able to look at it without a shudder.
At five the tide began to come in. Very, very slowly the water rose around Island Rock. Up, up, up it came, while I watched it with fascinated eyes, feeling like a rat in a trap. The sun fell lower and lower; at eight o’clock the moon rose large and bright; at nine it was a lovely night, dear, calm, bright as day, and the water was swishing over the highest ledge of the rock. With some difficulty I climbed to the top and sat there to await the end. I had no longer any hope of rescue but, by a great effort, I preserved self-control. If I had to die, I would at least face death staunchly. But when I thought of my mother at home, it tasked all my energies to keep from breaking down utterly.
Suddenly I heard a whistle. Never was sound so sweet. I stood up and peered eagerly shoreward. Coming around the “Hole in the Wall” headland, on top of the cliffs, I saw a boy and a dog. I sent a wild halloo ringing shoreward.
The boy started, stopped and looked out towards Island Rock. The next moment he hailed me. It was Ernest’s voice, and it was Laddie who was barking beside him.
“Ernest,” I shouted wildly, “run for help—quick! quick! The tide will be over the rock in half an hour! Hurry, or you will be too late!”
Instead of starting off at full speed, as I expected him to do, Ernest stood still for a moment, and then began to pick his steps down a narrow path over the cliff, followed by Laddie.
“Ernest,” I shouted frantically, “what are you doing? Why don’t you go for help?”
Ernest had by this time reached a narrow ledge of rock just above the water-line. I noticed that he was carrying something over his arm.
“It would take too long,” he shouted. “By the time I got to the Cove and a boat could row back here, you’d be drowned. Laddie and I will save you. Is there anything there you can tie a rope to? I’ve a coil of rope here that I think will be long enough to reach you. I’ve been down to the Cove and Alec Martin sent it up to your uncle.”
I looked about me; a smooth, round hole had been worn clean through a thin part of the apex of the rock.
“I could fasten the rope if I had it!” I called. “But how can you get it to me?”
For answer Ernest tied a bit of driftwood to the rope and put it into Laddie’s mouth. The next minute the dog was swimming out to me. As soon as he came close I caught the rope. It was just long enough to stretch from shore to rock, allowing for a couple of hitches which Ernest gave around a small boulder on the ledge. I tied my camera case on my head by means of some string I found in my pocket, then I slipped into the water and, holding to the rope, went hand over hand to the shore with Laddie swimming beside me. Ernest held on to the shoreward end of the rope like grim death, a task that was no light one for his small arms. When I finally scrambled up beside him, his face was dripping with perspiration and he trembled like a leaf.
“Ern, you are a brick!” I exclaimed. “You’ve saved my life!”
“No, it was Laddie,” said Ernest, refusing to take any credit at all.
We hurried home and arrived at Uncle Richard’s about ten, just as they were going to bed. When Uncle Richard heard what had happened, he turned very pale, and murmured, “Thank God!” Aunt Kate got me out of my wet clothes as quickly as possible, put me away to bed in hot blankets and dosed me with ginger tea. I slept like a top and felt none the worse for my experience the next morning.
At the breakfast table Uncle Richard scarcely spoke. But, just as we finished, he said abruptly to Ernest, “I’m not going to sell Laddie. You and the dog saved Ned’s life between you, and no dog who helped do that is ever going to be sold by me. Henceforth he belongs to you. I give him to you for your very own.”
“Oh, Mr. Lawson!” said Ernest, with shining eyes.
I never saw a boy look so happy. As for Laddie, who was sitting beside him with his shaggy head on Ernest’s knee, I really believe the dog understood, too. The look in his eyes was almost human. Uncle Richard leaned over and patted him.
“Good dog!” he said. “Good dog!”