Captain Joe and Jamie



By Charles G. D. Roberts

HOW the wind roared from the sea over the Tantramar dyke!

It was about sunset, and a fierce, orange-red gleam thrusting itself through a rift in the clouds that blackened the sky, cast a strange glow over the wide, desolate marshes. A mile back rose the dark line of the uplands, with small, white farm-houses already hidden in shadow.

Captain Joe Boultbee had just left bis wagon standing in the dyke-road, with his four-year-old boy on the seat. He was on the point of crossing the dyke, to visit the little landing-place where he kept his boat, when above the rush and whistle or the gale he heard Jamie's voice. He hurried back a few paces before he could make out what the little fellow was saying.

"Pap," cried the child, "I want to get out of the wagon. 'Fraid Bill goin' to run away!"

"Oh, nonsense!" answered Captain Joe. "Bill won't run away. He doesn't know how. You stay there, and don't be frightened, and I'll be right back."

"But, pap, the wind blows me too hard," piped the small voice, pleadingly.

"Oh, all right," said the father, and returning to the wagon he lifted the child gently down and set him on his feet. "Now" he continued, "it's too windy for you out on the other side of the dyke. You run over and sit on that big stick, where the wind can't get at you, and wait for me. And he sure you don't let Bill run away."

As he spoke the Captain noticed that the horse, ordinarily one of the most stolid of creatures, seemed to-night peculiarly uneasy; with his head up in the air he was sniffing nervously, and glancing from side to side. As Jamie was trudging through the long grass to the seat which his father had shown him, the Captain said, "Why Bill does seem scary, after all: who'd have thought this wind would scare him?"

"Bill don't like it," replied Jamie; "it blows him too hard." And, glad to be out of the gale, which took his breath away the little fellow seated himself contentedly in the shelter of the dyke. Just then there was a clatter of wheels and a crash. Bill had whirled sharply about in the narrow road, upsetting and smashing the light wagon.

Now utterly heedless of his master's angry shouts, he was galloping in mad haste back toward the uplands with the fragments of the wagon at his heels. The Captain and Jamie watched him flying before the wind, a red spectre in the lurid light. Then, turning away once more to see to his boat, the Captain remarked, "Well, laddie, I guess we'll have to foot it back when we get through here. But Bill's going to have a licking for this!"

Left to himself, Jamie crouched down behind the dyke, a strange, solitary little figure in the wide waste of the marshes. Though the full force of the gale could not reach him, his long fair curls were blown across his face, and he clung determinedly to his small, round hat. For a while he watched the beam of red light, till the jagged fringe of clouds closed over it, and it was gone. Then, in the dusk, he began to feel a little frightened; but he knew his father would soon be back, and he didn't like to call him again. He listened to the waves washing, surging, beating, roaring, on the shoals beyond the dyke. Presently he heard them, every now and then, thunder in against the very dyke itself; upon this he grew more frightened, and called to his father several times; but of course the small voice was drowned in the tumult of wind and wave, and the father, working eagerly on the other side of the dyke, heard no sound of it.

Close by the shelter in which Jamie was crouching there were several great tubs, made by sawing molasses hogsheads into halves. These tubs, in fishing season, were carried by the fishermen in their boats, to hold the shad as they were taken from the net. Now they stood empty and dry, but highly flavored with memories of their office. Into the nearest tub Jamie crawled, after having shouted in vain to his father.

To the child's loneliness and fear the tub looked "cosey," as he called it. He curled up in the bottom, and felt a little comforted.

Jamie was the only child of Captain Joe Boultbee. When Jamie was about two years old, the Captain had taken the child and his mother on a voyage to Brazil. While calling at Barbadoes the young mother had caught the yellow fever. There she had died, and was buried. After that voyage Captain Joe had given up his ship, and retired to his father's farm at Tantramar. There he devoted himself to Jamie and the farm, but to Jamie especially; and in the summer, partly for amusement, partly for profit, he was accustomed to spend a few weeks in drifting for shad on the wild tides of Chignecto Bay. Wherever he went, Jamie went. If the weather was too rough for Jamie, Captain Joe stayed at home. As for the child, petted without being spoiled, he was growing a tough and manly little soul, and daily more and more the delight of his father's heart.

Why should he leave him curled up in his tub on the edge of the marshes, on a night so wild? In truth, though the wind was tremendous, and now growing to a veritable hurricane, there was no apparent danger or great hardship on the marshes. It was not cold, and there was no rain.

Captain Joe, foreseeing a heavy gale, together with a tide higher than usual, had driven over to the dyke to make his little craft more secure.

He found the boat already in confusion; and the wind, when once he had crossed out of the dyke's shelter, was so much more violent than he had expected, that it took him some time to get things "snugged up." He felt that Jamie was all right, as long as he was out of the wind. He was only a stone's throw distant, though hidden by the great rampart of the dyke. But the Captain began to wish that he had left the little fellow at home, as he knew the long walk over the rough road, in the dark and the furious gale, would sorely tire the sturdy little legs. Every now and then, as vigorously and cheerfully he worked in the pitching smack, the Captain sent a shout of greeting over the dyke to keep the little lad from getting lonely. But the storm blew his voice far up into the clouds, and Jamie, in his tub, never heard it.

By the time Captain Joe bad put everything shipshape, he noticed that his plunging boat was drifted close to the dyke. He had never before seen the tide reach such a height. The waves that were rocking the little craft so violently, were a mere back-wash from the great seas which, as he now observed with a pang, were thundering in a little further up the coast. Just at this spot the dyke was protected from the full force of the storm by Snowdon's Point. What if the dyke should break up yonder, all this fearful tide get in on the marshes?" thought the Captain, in a sudden anguish of apprehension. Leaving the boat to dash itself to pieces if it liked, he clambered in breathless haste out on to the top of the dyke, shouting to Jamie as he did so. There was no answer. Where he had left the little one but a half-hour back, the tide was seething three or four feet deep over the grasses.

Dark as the night had grown, it grew blacker before the father's eyes. For an instant his heart stood still with horror, then he sprang down into the flood. The water boiled up nearly to his armpits. With his feet he felt the great timber, fastened in the dyke, on which his boy had been sitting. He peered through the dark, with straining eyes grown preternaturally keen. Ho could see nothing on the wide, swirling surface save two or three dark objects, far out in the marsh. These he recognized at once as his fish-tubs gone afloat. Then he ran up the dyke toward the Point. "Surely," he groaned in his heart, "Jamie has climbed up the dyke when he saw the water coming, and I'll find him along the top here, somewhere, looking and crying for me!"

Then, running like a madman along the narrow summit, with a band of iron tightening about his heart, the Captain reached the Point, where the dyke took its beginning.

No sign of the little one; but he saw tho marshes everywhere laid waste. Then he turned round and sped back, thinking perhaps Jamie had wandered in the other direction. Passing the now buried landing-place, he saw with a curious distinctness, as if in a picture, that the boat was turned bottom up, and, as it were, glued to the side of the dyke.

Suddenly, he checked his speed with a violent effort, and threw himself upon his face, clutching the short grasses of tho dyke. He had just saved himself from falling into the sea. Had he had time to think, he might not have tried to save himself, believing as he did that the child who was his very life had perished. But the instinct of self-preservation had asserted itself just in time. Before his feet the dyke was washed away and through the chasm, the waves were breaking furiously.

Meanwhile, what had become of Jamie?

The wind had made him drowsy, and before he had been many minutes curled up in the tub, he was sound asleep.

When the dyke gave way, some distance from Jamie's queer retreat, there came suddenly a great rush of water among the tubs, and some were straightway floated off. Then others a little heavier followed, one by one; and, last of all, the heaviest, that containing Jamie and his fortunes. the water rose rapidly, but back here there came no waves, and the child slept as peacefully as if at home in his crib. Little the Captain thought, when his eyes wandered over the floating tubs, that the one nearest to him was freighted with his heart's treasure! And well it was that Jamie did not hear his shouts and wake! Had he done so, he would have at once sprung to this feet, and been tipped out into the flood.

By this time the great flood had reached its height. Soon it began to recede, but slowly, for the storm kept the waters gathered, as it were, into a heap at the head of the bay. All night the wind raged on, wrecking the smacks and schooners along the coast, breaking down tho dykes in a hundred places, flooding all the marshes, and drowning many cattle in the salt pastures. All night the Captain, hopeless and mute in his agony of grief, lay c1utchin the grasses on the dyke-top, not noticing when at length the waves started to drench him with their spray. All night, too, slept Jamie in his tub.

Right across the marsh the strange craft drifted before the wind, never getting into the region where the waves were violent. Such motion as there was—and at times it was somewhat lively—seemed only to lull the child to sounder slumber. Toward daybreak the tub grounded at the foot of the uplands, not far from the edge of the road. The waters gradually slunk away, as if ashamed of their wild vagaries. And still the child slept on.

As the light broke over the bay, coldly pink and desolately gleaming, Captain Joe got up and looked about him. His eyes were tearless, but his face was gray and hard, and deep lines had stamped themselves across it during the night.

Seeing that the marshes were again uncovered, save for great shallow pools left here and there, he set out to find the body of his boy. After wandering aimlessly for perhaps an hour, the Captain began to study the direction in which the wind had been blowing. This was almost exactly with the road which led to his home on the uplands. As he noticed this, a wave of pity crossed his heart, at thought of the terrible anxiety his father and mother had all that night been enduring. Then in an instant there seemed to unroll before him the long, slow years of the desolation of that home without Jamie.

All this time he was moving along the soaking road, scanning the marsh in every direction. When he had covered about half the distance, he was aware of his father, hastening with feeble eagerness to meet him.

The night of watching had made the old man haggard, but his face lit up at sight of his son. As he drew near, however, and saw no sign of Jamie, and marked the look upon the Captain's face, the gladness died out as quickly as it had come. When the two men met, the elder put out his hand in silence, and the younger clasped it. There was no room for words. Side by side the two walked slowly homeward. With restless eyes, eve dreading lest they should find that which they sought, the father and son looked everywhere-except in a certain old fish-tub which they passed. The tub stood a little to one side of the road. Just at this time a sparrow lit on the tub's edge, and uttered a loud and startled chirp at sight of the sleeping child. As the bird flew off precipitately, Jamie opened his eyes, and gazed up in astonishment at the blue sky over his head. He stretched out his hand and felt the rough sides of the tub. Then, in complete bewilderment, he clambered to bis feet. Why, there was his father, walking away somewhere without him! And grandpapa, too! Jamie felt aggrieved.

"Pap!" he cried, in a loud but fearful voice, "where you goin' to?"

A great wave of light seemed to break across the landscape, as the two men turned and saw the little golden head shining, dishevelled, over the edge of the tub. The Captain caught his breath with a sort of sob. and rushed to snatch the little one in his arms; while the grandfather fell on his knees in the road, and his trembling lips moved silently.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1925.

The author died in 1943, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 75 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.