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The Leading Light
by [?]

It was getting late in the year. The steep cliffs that everywhere flank the sides of the great bay were already hoary with snow. The big ponds were all “fast,” and the fall deer hunt which follows the fishery was over. Most of the boats were hauled up, well out of reach of the “ballicater” ice. The stage fronts had been taken down till the next spring, to save them from being torn to pieces by the rising and falling floe. Everywhere “young slob,” as we call the endless round pans growing from the centre and covering the sea like the scales of a salmon, was making. But the people at the head of the bay were still waiting for those necessities of life, such as flour, molasses, and pork, which have to be imported as they are unable to provide them for themselves, and for which they must wait till the summer’s voyage has been sent to market and sold to pay for them.

The responsibility of getting these supplies to them rested heavily on the shoulders of my good friend John Bourne, the only trader in the district. Women, children, whole families, were looking to him for those “things” which if he failed to furnish would mean such woeful consequences that he could not face the winter without at least a serious attempt to provide them.

In the harbour lay his schooner, a saucy little craft which he had purchased only a short while before. He knew her sea qualities; and as the ship tugged at her chains, moving to and fro on the swell, she kept a fine “swatch” of open water round her. Like some tethered animal, she seemed to be begging him to give her another run before Jack Frost gripped her in his chilly arms for months to come. The fact that he was a married man with hostages to fortune round his knees might have justified his conscience in not tempting the open sea at a time when frozen sheets and blocks choked with ice made it an open question if even a youngster ought to take the chances. But it happened that his “better half,” like himself, had that “right stuff” in her which thinks of itself last, and her permission for the venture was never in question.

So Trader Bourne, being, like all our men, a sailor first and a landsman after, with his crew of the mate and a boy, and the handicap of a passenger, put to sea one fine afternoon in late November, his vessel loaded with good things for his necessitous friends “up along.” He was encouraged by a light breeze which, though blowing out of the bay and there ahead for him, gave smooth water and a clear sky.

To those who would have persuaded him to linger for a fair wind he had cheerfully countered that the schooner had “two sides,” meaning that she could hold her own in adversity, and could claw well to windward; besides, “‘t will help to hold the Northern slob back”–that threatening spectre of our winters.

When darkness fell, however, very little progress had been made. The wind kept shifting against the schooner, and all hands could still make out the distant lights of home twinkling like tiny stars, apparently not more than a couple of miles under their lee.

“Shall us ‘hard up,’ and try it again at day light?” suggested the mate. “If anything happens ‘t is a poor time of year to be out all night in a small craft.”

But the skipper only shrugged his shoulders, aware that the mate was never a “snapper” seaman, being too much interested in gardens for his liking.

“It’s only a mile or two to Beach Rock Cove. We’ll make it on the next tack if the wind holds. ‘T is a long leg and a short one, and we’ll have a good chance then to make the Boiling Brooks to-morrow.”