Read CHAPTER XX. of Lost in the Fog, free online book, by James De Mille, on

New Discoveries. ­The Boat. ­A great Swell. ­Meditations and Plans. ­A new, and wonderful, and before unheard-of Application of Spruce Gum. ­I’m afloat!  I’m afloat!

Tom sat there over his banquet until late.  He then went down to the beach, and brought up a vast collection of driftwood, and throwing a plenteous supply upon the fire, he lay down beside it, and looked out over the water, trying, as usual, to see something through the thick mist.  The flames shot up with a crackle and a great blaze, and the bright light shone brilliantly upon the water.  The tide was now up, and the boat was full before him.  Tom fixed his eyes upon this boat, and was mournfully recalling his unsuccessful experiment at making her sea-worthy, and was waiting to see her sink down to her gunwales as she filled, when the thought occurred to him that she was not filling so rapidly as she might, but was floating much better than usual.  A steady observation served to show him that this was no fancy, but an actual fact; and the confirmation of this first impression at once drove away all other thoughts, and brought back all the ideas of escape which he once had cherished.

The boat was admitting the water, certainly, yet she certainly did not leak quite so badly as before, but was floating far better than she had done on the night of his trial.  What was the meaning of this?

Now, the fact is, he had not noticed the boat particularly during the last few days.  He had given it up so completely, that it ceased to have any interest in his eyes.  Raising his signal, building his house, and exploring the island had taken up all his thoughts.  Latterly he had thought of nothing but his dinner.  But now the change in the boat was unmistakable, and it seemed to him that the change might have been going on gradually all this time without his noticing it until it had become so marked.

What was the cause of this change?  That was the question which he now sought to answer.  After some thought he found a satisfactory explanation.

For a number of days the boat had been admitting the water till she was full.  This water had remained in for an hour or more, and this process of filling and emptying had been repeated every tide.  The atmosphere also had been wet, and the wood, thus saturated with water so frequently, had no chance of getting dry.  Tom thought, therefore, that the wooden framework, which he had constructed so as to tighten the leak, had been gradually swelling from the action of the water; and the planks of the boat had been tightening their cracks from the same cause, so that now the opening was not nearly so bad as it had been.  Thus the boat, which once had been able to float him for a quarter of an hour or more, ought now to be able to float him for at least double that time.

Tom watched the boat very attentively while the tide was up; and, when at length it began to retreat, and leave it once more aground, he noticed that it was not more than half full of water.  If any confirmation had been needed to the conclusions which he had drawn from seeing the improved buoyancy of the boat, it would have been afforded by this.  Tom accepted this with delight, as an additional circumstance in his favor; and now, having become convinced of this much, he set his wits to work to see if some plan could not be hit upon by means of which the boat could once more be made sea-worthy.

Tom’s indefatigable perseverance must have been noticed by this time.  To make the best of circumstances; to stand face to face with misfortune, and shrink not; to meet the worst with equanimity, and grasp eagerly at the slightest favorable change, ­such was the character that Tom had shown during his experience of the past.  Now, once more, he grasped at this slight circumstance that appeared to favor his hopes, and sought to find some way by which that half-floating boat could be made to float wholly, and bear him away to those shores that were so near by.  Too long had he been submitting to this imprisonment; too long had he been waiting for schooners to pass and to bring him help; too long had he been shut in by a fog that seemed destined never to lift so long as he was here.  If he could only form some kind of a boat that would float long enough to land him on the nearest coast, all that he wished would be gratified.

As he thought over this subject, he saw plainly what he had felt very strongly before ­that the boat could not be sea-worthy unless he had some tar with which to plaster over the broken bow, and fill in the gaping seams; but there was no tar.  Still, did it follow that there was nothing else?  Might not something be found upon the island which would serve the purpose of tar?  There must be some such substance and perhaps it might be found here.

Tom now thought over all the substances that he could bring before his mind.  Would clay do?  No; clay would not.  Would putty?  No, and besides, he could not get any.  What, then, would serve this important purpose?

Tar was produced from trees.  Were there no trees here that produced some sticky and glutinous substance like tar?  There was the resin of pine trees, but there were no pines on the island.  What then?  These fir trees had a sort of sticky, balsamic juice that exuded plentifully from them wherever they were cut.  Might he not make some use of that?  Suddenly, in the midst of reflections like these, he thought of the gum that is found on spruce trees ­spruce gum!  It was an idea that deserved to be followed up and carried out.  Thus far he had never thought of spruce gum, except as something which he, like most boys, was fond of chewing; but now it appeared before his mind as affording a possible solution of his difficulty.  The more he thought of it, the more did it seem that this would be adapted to his purpose.  The only question was, whether he could obtain enough of it.  He thought that he might easily obtain enough if he only took the proper time and care.

With this new plan in his mind, Tom retired for the night, and awaked the next morning by the dawn of day.  It was still foggy; but he was now so resigned, and was so full of his new plan, that it did not trouble him in the slightest degree.  In fact, he was so anxious to try this, that the sight of a boat landing on the beach, all ready to take him off, would not have afforded him an unmixed satisfaction.

He took his tin dipper, and went up at once into the woods.  Here he looked around very carefully, and soon found what he wanted.  He knew perfectly well, of course, how to distinguish spruce trees from fir, by the sharp, prickly spires of the former, and so he was never at a loss which trees to search.  No sooner had he begun, than he was surprised at the quantities that he found.  To an ordinary observer the trunk of the spruce tree seems like any other tree trunk ­no rougher, and perhaps somewhat smoother than many; but Tom now found that on every tree almost there were little round excrescences, which, on being picked at with the knife, came off readily, and proved to be gum.  Vast quantities of a substance which goes by the name of spruce gum are manufactured and sold; but the pure gum is a very different article, having a rich, balsamic odor, and a delicate yet delicious flavor; and Tom, as he filled his pan, and inhaled the fragrance that was emitted by its contents, lamented that his necessities compelled him to use it for such a purpose as that to which this was destined.  After four or five hours’ work, he found that he had gathered enough.  He had filled his pan no less than six times, and had secured a supply which was amply sufficient to give a coating of thick gum over all the fractured place.  The tide, which had already risen, was now falling, and, as soon as the boat was aground, and the water out of her, Tom proceeded to raise her bows, in precisely the same manner as he had raised the boat on a former occasion.

The next thing was to bring the gum into a fit condition for use.  This he did by kindling the fire, and melting it in his tin pan.  This would rather interfere with the use of that article as a cooking utensil, but now that Tom’s mind was full of this new purpose, cooking and things of that sort had lost all attractions for him.  As for food, there was no fear about that.  He had his biscuit, and the lobster and shell-fish which he had cooked on the preceding day were but partially consumed.  Enough remained to supply many more meals.

The gum soon melted, and then a brush was needed to apply it to the boat.  This was procured by cutting off a little strip of canvas, about a yard long and six inches wide.  By picking out some of the threads, and rolling it up, a very serviceable brush was formed.

Taking the gum now in its melted state, Tom dipped his brush into it, and applied it all over the broken surface of the bow, pressing the hot liquid in close, and allowing it to harden in the cracks.  His first coating of gum was very satisfactorily applied, and it seemed as though a few more coatings ought to secure the boat from the entrance of the water.  The gum was tenacious, and its only bad quality was its brittleness; but, as it would not be exposed to the blows of any hard substances, it seemed quite able to serve Tom’s wants.

Tom now went down to the drift-wood and brought up a fresh supply of fuel, after which he melted a second panful of gum, and applied this to the boat.  He endeavored to secure an entrance for it into all the cracks that did not seem to be sufficiently filled at the first application, and now had the satisfaction of seeing all of those deep marks filled up and effaced by the gum.

One place still remained which had not yet been made secure against the entrance of the water, and that was where the planks gaped open from the blow that had crushed in the bows.  Here the canvas that was inside protruded slightly.  Torn ripped up some of the canvas that was on the tent, and taking the threads, stuffed them in the opening, mixing them with gum as he did so, until it was filled; and then over this he put a coating of the gum.  After this another pan, and yet another, were melted, and the hot gum each time was applied.  This gave the whole surface a smooth appearance, that promised to be impenetrable to the water.

The gum which he had collected was enough to fill two more pans.  This he melted as before, and applied to the bows.  Each new application clung to the one that had preceded it, in a thick and quickly hardening layer, until at last, when the work was done, there appeared a coating of this gum formed from six successive layers, that was smooth, and hard, and without any crack whatever.  It seemed absolutely water-tight; and Tom, as he looked at it now, could not imagine where the water could penetrate.  Yet, in order to make assurance doubly sure, he collected two more panfuls, and melting this he applied it as before.  After this was over, he made a torch of birch bark, and lighting this, he held the flame against the gum till the whole outer surface began to melt and run together.  This served to secure any crevices that his brush might have passed by without properly filling.

The work was now complete as far as Tom could do it; and on examining it, he regretted that he had not thought of this before.  He felt an exultation that he had never known in his life.  If he, by his own efforts, could thus rescue himself, what a cause it would be always after to struggle against misfortune, and rise superior to circumstances!

As to the voyage, Tom’s plan was the same that it had been on a former occasion.  He would float the boat at high tide, and then push off, keeping her near the shore, yet afloat until ebb tide.  Then, when the tide should turn, and the current run up the bay, he would put off, and float along with the stream until he reached land.

According to his calculations it would be high tide about two hours after dark, which would be some time after ten.  He would have to be up all night; for the tide would not turn until after four in the morning.  But that did not trouble him.  He would have too much on his mind to allow him to feel sleepy, and, besides, the hope which lay before him would prevent him from feeling fatigue.

One thing more remained, and that was, to bring up a fresh supply of fuel.  The night would be dark, and while floating in the boat, he would need the light of the fire.  So he brought up from the beach an ample supply of drift-wood, and laid it with the rest.

When Tom’s work was ended, it was late in the day, and he determined to secure some sleep before he began his long night’s work.  He knew that he could waken at the right time; so he laid himself down in his tent, and soon slept the sleep of the weary.

By ten o’clock he was awake.  He found the water already up to the boat.  There was no time to lose.  He carried his box of biscuit on board, and filled his pan with water from the brook, so as to secure himself against thirst in case the boat should float away farther than he anticipated.  Then he took his paddle, and got into the boat.

The water came up higher.  Most anxiously Tom watched it as it rose.  The fire was burning low, and in order to make more light, Tom went ashore and heaped an immense quantity of wood upon it.  The flames now blazed up bright, and on going back again to the boat, the water was plainly visible as it closed around the bows.

Most anxiously he now awaited, with his eyes fastened upon the bottom of the boat.  He had not brought the old sail this time, but left it over his tent, and he could see plainly.  Higher came the water, and still higher, yet none came into the boat, and Tom could scarce believe in his good fortune.

At last the boat floated!

Yes, the crisis had come and passed, and the boat floated!

There was now no longer any doubt.  His work was successful; his deliverance was sure.  The way over the waters was open.  Farewell to his island prison!  Welcome once more the great world!  Welcome home, and friends, and happiness!

In that moment of joy his heart seemed almost ready to burst.  It was with difficulty that he calmed himself; and then, offering up a prayer of thanksgiving, he pushed off from the shore.

The boat floated!

The tide rose, and lingered, and fell.

The boat floated still.

There was not the slightest sign of a leak.  Every hour, as it passed, served to give Tom a greater assurance that the boat was sea-worthy.

He found no difficulty in keeping her afloat, even while retaining her near the shore, so that she might be out of the way of the currents.

At length, when the tide was about half way down, he found the fire burning too low, and determined to go ashore and replenish it.  A rock jutted above the water not far off.  To this he secured the boat, and then landing, he walked up the beach.  Reaching the fire, he threw upon it all the remaining wood.  Returning then to the boat, he boarded her without difficulty.

The tide fell lower and lower.

And now Tom found it more and more difficult to keep the boat afloat, without allowing her to be caught by the current.  He did not dare to keep her bows near the shore, but turned her about, so that her stem should rest from time to time on the gravel.  At last the tide was so low that rocks appeared above the surface, and the boat occasionally struck them in a very unpleasant manner.  To stay so near the shore any longer was not possible.  A slight blow against a rock might rub off all the brittle gum, and then his chances would be destroyed.  He determined to put out farther, and trust himself to Providence.

Slowly and cautiously he let his boat move out into deeper water.

But slowness and caution were of little avail.  In the deeper water there was a strong current, which at once caught the boat and bore her along.  Tom struggled bravely against it, but without avail.  He thought for a moment of seeking the shore again, but the fear that the boat would be ruined deterred him.

There was a little wind blowing from the southwest, and he determined to trust to the sail.  He loosened this, and, sitting down, waited for further developments.

The wind filled the sail, and the boat’s progress was checked somewhat, yet still she drifted down the bay.

She was drifting down past the north shore of the island.  Tom could see, amid the gloom, the frowning cliffs as he drifted past.  The firelight was lost to view; then he looked for some time upon the dark form of the island.

At last even that was lost to view.

He was drifting down the bay, and was already below Île Haute.