It was growing dark, and in five minutes we couldn’t see our team. I was kneeling in the bow, my hand on the rope, peering to get a view of the geese, when I heard a loud quacking and a big ripple in the water just ahead. I was about to speak, when I saw a drift of dark objects on either side of the boat. I made out what they were, and caught one of them by the neck just as Mother Tipton shouted, “Ducks!” Then there was a roar of wings that made me jump back, and that set the geese in a panic. I hung on to my captive, and brought him in flapping and drenching my sleeve with spray.
“Bring him here,” said Mother Tipton, as I crept to the middle seat, the poor creature fighting me desperately all the way.
“We shall need him for our supper, my dear child,” said she, as she took him. “I think we’re coming to shore somewhere, and I know you’re hungry.”
It was not long before we heard our boat-bottom grinding on the sand, but it was very dark. Mother Tipton went to the bow of the boat, and I was near the middle seat.
“Thank Heaven, we’re somewhere!” I heard her say; and then she stood up, and I heard her paddle strike in the sand, and felt the boat lift forward and go up on the dry beach. I was out pulling in a moment, and I tell you the firm earth had never so good a feeling. I felt my way up the beach, and Mother Tipton came after me. It was so dark and foggy we could see nothing. After a little I felt the grass under me, and my companion lit a match and touched it to a bit of paper she had taken off of a bundle in the boat.
“Make haste, now,” she said, “and pick up all the bits of small wood you see around.”
The dry drift lay all around us, and in half a minute a good bit of it was crackling on that flaming wad of paper. Then we brought sticks as thick as a man’s leg, and fed the flames until they leaped higher than our heads and lit the misty reaches of the shore a good distance.
“Lawsy me!” said she, presently, “I think we’re on Charles Island.” Then she took a brand out of the fire, and walked away in the thick grass, waving it above her head. She was calling me in a moment.
“Bring the fish-line and the tin pail!” she shouted.
I went to the boat for them, and was shortly groping through the tall grass in the direction of that flickering torch. She was not nearly so far away as I thought, the fog had such a trick of deepening the perspective in every scene. I found her by an old ruin of a house, peering into a deep well, the cover of which had mostly rotted away. We were not long tying that line to the pail and dropping it down the well-hole. The line raced through my fingers, and the pail bounded as it struck, and rang like a bell on the splashing water. When I had hauled it up, we sat looking at the slopping cylinder of cold, clear water, the golden flare of the torch shining in it, each insisting that the other must drink first, until I was quite out of patience.
She took the pail at last, and buried her mouth at the rim, and nearly smothered herself with the water. I thanked her with a good heart when I got my hands on it, for I had a mighty fever of thirst in me. When my dry tongue was soaking in the sweet, pure water, I could feel my heart lighten, and soon it was floating off its rock of despair.
“Now let’s take a pailful with us, and get supper,” said Mother Tipton. “We’re on Charles Island, five miles from home, but it isn’t more than half a mile from Milford. We’d better stop here for the night, and maybe it’ll be clear before morning.”
I took the torch, and she dragged behind her a bit of the fallen roof that had once covered the old house. By the light of the fire we began to dig clams with the oar and paddle. In ten minutes we had enough for a fine bake, and laid them out on a rock, and raked the hot coals over them. Mother Tipton had killed and dressed the duck, and while I tended the clams she was cutting turf and shaking the clay off it into a hollow she scooped out of the sand. She wet the clay then with salt water, and, when it was thick and sticky, rolled the duck in it until the bare skin was coated. Then she poked it into the ashes under the hot fire, and came to help me uncover the clams. We ate them with sharpened sticks, and, while some butter would have helped a bit, they went with a fine relish. The duck came out of the fire looking like a boulder of gray granite. Mother Tipton broke the hard clay with a stone, and the duck came out clean and smoking hot, leaving its skin in the shell. A more tender and delicious bit of fowl I have never eaten, the salt clay having given it the right savor.
After supper we untied the flock and set it free, and dragged the boat above tidewater. Then we drove two stakes in front of a rock near the fire, and set our strip of roofing over all. Under it we threw a good layer of hot sand from near the fire, and built high ridges on either side of our shelter. There were sacks of down for pillows, and my overcoat and the big woolen shawl as covering. Though it is so long ago—I was, as I said, only eight years old—I remember still when Mother Tipton told me to creep in and draw up the wraps around me. The warm sand gave me a grateful sense of comfort. I lay for a time and looked at the dying firelight, but before very long I fell asleep.
As I awoke, next day, I could hear the bellow of a great fog-siren, away in the distance, that sent its echoes crashing through the dungeon of mist. Next I noticed the sound of the noisy water on the rocks near by. It was growing light, and somebody was poking the fire. When I lifted my head I felt a warm breeze and saw that the fog had gone. A man with a wooden leg and a patch of gray whiskers on his chin was standing by the fire. I crept out and greeted him, rubbing my eyes with drowsiness.
“Ketched in the fog, I suppose,” said he, kicking the fire.
“Yes, sir,” I answered; “we were caught by the tide and lost, yesterday.”
“Hum!” he muttered, as he glanced under the lean-to roof of our shanty and took a good look at Mother Tipton. “Rather a tidy bit of a woman—stout as an ox an’ a good-looker.”
“I’d thank you not to disturb her,” I said with indignation.
“Not for the world,” he answered, returning and shying another bit of wood at the fire. “I like t’ see ‘em sleep—it’s good for ‘em. Got anything for breakfus’?”
“I’m going to dig some clams,” I answered.
“You jes’ wait,” he said, winking at me, “an’ I’ll go off to the tug an’ bring ye some coffee an’ fish an’ bread an’ butter. Got loads of it aboard there. No trouble at all.”
He made off for his boat, that lay on the beach near by, and rowed around the point. I walked down the shore a few rods, and from a high rock saw the tug lying at anchor a little way off the shore. He came back in a short time, bringing a basket of provisions. Mother Tipton was up, and by that time I had a good fire going.
“Madam,” he said, laying down the basket, “may I be so bold as to offer you su’thin’ for your breakfus’? Here’s a snack o’ coffee an’ fish an’ a tidy bit o’ bread an’ butter.”
She thanked him politely, and while we were getting breakfast, he told us that he was a menhaden-fisherman “—as owned his own tug.” Then we told him our story. Afterward he insisted on taking us home. We were glad to accept his kindness, and the sun was shining brightly when we put off for the tug, with all our geese in the boat; I made Mother Tipton promise me that not one of them would ever be sold. The captain brought a big armchair and made her very comfortable in the bow of the boat. We were home in an hour, and I was as glad to get there as all were to see me. The adventure resulted in great good, for it gave me some respect for geese, and gave Mother Tipton a greater regard for men. It was not long after that she added to her museum in the Hollow a man with a wooden leg; and you may be sure I went to the wedding.