June 23, 1897
A Narrow Escape.
An Extract from My Diary.
In the summer of 1889, a little sloop sailed from a haven on the side of the Bay of Fundy, bound for Refugee or Soldier's Cove, Cumberland County, almost at the point called Chignecto. I will not dwell on the length of the voyage or on the crew, all I wish to say is that we were going to gather dulse, which article grows there in great abundance. It was a bright Sabbath evening when our sloop lay at anchor in a pond or lake a little inland or inside high water mark. The beach here is very bold or steep and is composed of granite and a bluish sand stone rock. The bluffs are eight hundred feet high and almost always perpendicular. The cove is like almost any other on the Cumberland shore and only at certain seasons of the year is inhabited. At this time, namely, August, not a soul lived nearer than Advocate, some miles farther up the bay. In the cove were two saw mills and a dwelling house. After we secured things for the evening we prepared to explore the premises and make ourselves comfortable for the night. In the ruined old house we found a broken old stove and other necessaries for camping out. We returned to our sloop and carried armfuls of bedding and provision to the old building. In a short time we had a fire burning and a good supper prepared. It will be a reminder to all campers if I add here that all our provisions were prepared by our loving mother at home. We were expecting to be at our homes before our food ran low, therefore we enjoyed that supper and ate heartily as we also did for three or four days after t his. When supper was over we had nothing to do but make ourselves comfortable for the night or as many nights as we might remain. Thus passed one of the happiest Sabbaths of my life. But morning broke upon an altered scene; it was raining drearily in the early morning but we were young and full of life and activity. We were soon out exploring further inland. A chute or gangway for driving logs down greatly interested the young people. This strange piece of workmanship was built of timbers at some places, many feet above the ground and made in the shape of a trough and in a measure water tight. The logs were placed in this sluice and then driven to the saw mills further down on the shore. At one place near the middle of this gigantic structure a number of timbers were missing and we were obliged to descend and try the safe side. Many times during our stay there we clambered over timbers and nearly broke our necks for t he purpose of walking up and down this dangerous gangway. At low water, or rather before, we shouldered each a salt sack and prepared for dulsing. Many readers doubtless know the pleasure of eating crisp, salty dulse, but few know the hardship connected with gathering it. Fancy yourself on a rough rocky beach, some of the boulders as large as an averaged sized barn and between those dangerous holes covered so completely with sea weed and slippery mosses as to deceive the most practiced eye. We had to extricate one of our companions, almost exhausted from one of those dangerous ponds.
Besides these disadvantages the dulser has still another to contend with. The barnacles on the rocks. The dulse was exceptionally good at this time and at first it was almost a pleasure to pull the reddish brown article from the barnacled rocks but this enthusiasm is only short lived, your finger nails will begin to burn and sting and soon the ends will be worn to the quick and the marks and scratches on your hand will be innumerable. After our dulse was gathered and put into sacks we carried them to the shore and spread our day's work on the rocks to dry. After this, we were free to explore and discover if we chose an unknown world. Many hours were passed in this pleasant manner and we had a few experiences not far from being dangerous. How well I remember one fool-hardy exploit my friend tried. Not being used to high, bold cliffs, he proposed that we should go to a seemingly small rock which we laughingly called the mushroom, but which is known as "Little Sal," "Big Sal" is but a short distance from the rock to which we were bound, with the intention of springing off. As we neared the spot, our proposition seemed to us a dangerous one, but still we never wavered. With some difficulty we clambered to the roof of the tremendous rock and prepared for the descent. Just as he was about to make the fatal spring a deathlike horror swept over me; I laid a detaining hand on his shoulder and he gazed on the rock strewn beach, many yards below, at the same time remarking that this foolish trick meant instant death. Without another word we descended and solemnly promised each other we would consider a matter more fully ere we became so seriously entangled. In this way the days flew by. The winds blew and the rain beat in torrents. All efforts to launch our tiny craft were entirely useless, once and only once did we get her successfully afloat to be capsized at the next billow, strewing the beach with bedding, dulse, and the remaining slice of bread. Eagerly we ran along the shore snatching up the things as they drifted on the beach. What we were most in need of, namely matches, could not be found. We had placed them in safety in a tin box and laid them carefully away in our sloop for they would be worse than useless if kept on our persons. Directly I discovered three of the missing matches, with the promptness they were found, at the same moment testing one to see if it would light. Certainly it did not, wet matches never do, but I was beside myself with the prospect of dry clothes, and who can blame me? I soon realized my mistake however and speedily set to work finding a place where the remaining two would dry, meantime shivering with the wet and cold, - leaving hunger out of the question altogether. The day previous we had been on half allowance but today only one third enough to eat and now our remaining crust was soaked with salt water and altogether unfit for use, but we ate the remainder of our scanty supply with a relish which no school boy ever possessed. Patiently we waited till the matches would be fit to test. The time came and the most practiced hand undertook the task of lighting them, the rest standing by with wildly beating hearts. The first broke off on examination the brimstone was entirely off. How I prayed for success in lighting the last; vainly I wished I had the one I so foolishly wasted. Is this not always the way with lost opportunities, but even those wild fervent prayers will not recall them. The last match was at length lit and it burned. How the eager hands fed the tiny blaze with the dryest bits the old house afforded. Glorious fire! Let the thunders roar and the lightning flash, what did we care for the storm outside with such a glorious blaze! For a few moments even hunger was forgotten, we even cried for joy. But this could not last forever, we must get home, or at any event away from here. We began to plan what we must do on the morrow. Nothing could be done in the darkness but plan, speculate and think; hunger meanwhile staring us in the face like some grim spectre. In the morning, gray and foggy, we started on our tiresome march to Advocate, through miles of unbroken trackless forest. Once on our journey we saw a porcupine and endeavoured to kill it for food to revive our sinking hearts, but unfortunately we could not capture the animal and went on our way unrefreshed. What a weary tramp it was! Through woods and bills and hollows, guided only by a small pocket compass, still East! - East! - East! At twelve o'clock the houses in the village were in sight. Hungry and fainting we could hardly drag our limbs to the first and ask for food. It was granted. Oh, how readily, by the kind hearted mistress of the house. She did not fill the table with silver and glass and invite us to eat. No indeed! She placed a substantial meal on the table and bade us help ourselves. This we did very liberally indeed till I feared our kind hostess would think we were cannibals let loose from the South Sea Islands. But she kindly took no notice of our appetites and when we offered pay for our bountiful repast, she refused saying "she did as she wished to be done by," and directed us to a house where we could get bread, as she had none baked. We captured a loaf of so called bread with an encasing something the complexion and toughness of sheet iron, but bread never tasted so nicely since as that remarkable loaf purchased at Advocate.
Refreshed and rested we started for the Cove and with the prospect of launching our craft that night, which we eventually did after much hard labor intermingled with the danger of upsetting every moment. Luckily we got safely from the Cove before high water so that the wind and waves did not get us in their power again that night. We were barely out from the land when the sea became as still as a shallow pond and we were compelled to row across the bay a distance of several leagues. One of our comrades used tobacco but when starvation stared us in the face his supply ran entirely out. It was pitiful to watch his weather beaten face that had so often faced death in its many forms, grow pallid and gaze shoreward. He was eager to seize an oar and draw forward but was not able, wishing not for bread but for tobacco. It was a sight that made the younger of the group shudder and solemnly register the vow never to touch the horrible stimulant, and I believe my young friend has kept his vow. But I am rambling sadly from my narrative. It was barely dawn when we reached the shore and rushed to our homes, where we were met with open arms, and wept and prayed over, for it was fully believed that we had perished on that bold, steep beach at refugee Cove. Once since I have been in a dangerous position but that I will tell you of another time. Hoping I have not occupied too much space and too much valuable time.
I am, Sincerely, Yours,