The Adventures of Billy Topsail

The Adventures of Billy Topsail

Norman Duncan
Norman Duncan

Author: Duncan, Norman, 1871-1916
Sea stories
Voyages and travels — Juvenile fiction
Newfoundland and Labrador — Juvenile fiction
The Adventures of Billy Topsail

To the Boy who Reads the Book

YOU must not be surprised because the adventures of Billy Topsail and a few of his friends fill this book. If all the adventures of these real boys were written the record would fill many books. This is not hard to explain. The British Colony of Newfoundland lies to the north of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and to the east of the Canadian Labrador. It is so situated that the inhabitants may not escape adventures. On the map, it looks bleak and far away and inhospitable—a lonely island, outlying in the stormy water of the Atlantic. Indeed, it is all that. The interior is a vast wilderness—a waste place. The folk are fishermen all. They live on the coast, in little harbours, remote, widely scattered, not connected by roads; communication is only by way of the sea. They are hospitable, fearless, tender, simple, willing for toil; and, surely, little else can be said of a people. Long, long ago, their forbears first strayed up that forbidding shore in chase of the fish; and the succeeding generations, though such men as we are, have there lived their lives, apart from the world’s comforts and delights as we know them. The land is barren; sustenance is from the sea, which is moody and cold and gray: thus life in that far place has many perils and deprivations and toilsome duties. The boys of the outports are like English-speaking boys the world over. They are merry or not, brave or not, kind or not, as boys go; but it may be that they are somewhat merrier and braver and kinder than boys to whom self-reliance and physical courage are less needful. At any rate, they have adventures, every one of them; and that is not surprising—for the conditions of life are such that every Newfoundland lad intimately knows hardship and peril at an age when the boys of the cities still grasp a hand when they cross the street.
N. D.

New York, September, 1906.


Chapter I 11
In which young Billy Topsail of Ruddy Cove puts out to his first adventure with his dog in the bow of the punt.
Chapter II 19
Concerning the behaviour of Billy Topsail and his dog in the water when the Never Give Up went to the bottom, and closing with an apology and a wag of the tail.
Chapter III 26
Describing the haunts and habits of devil-fish and informing the reader of Billy Topsail’s determination to make a capture at all hazards.
Chapter IV 34
Recounting the adventure of the giant squid of Chain Tickle, in which the punt gets in the grip of a gigantic tentacle and Billy Topsail strikes with an axe.
Chapter V 44
On the face of the cliff: Wherein Billy Topsail gets lost in a perilous place and sits down to recover his composure.
Chapter VI 52
In which Billy Topsail loses his nerve. Wherein, also, the wings of gulls seem to brush past.
Chapter VII 59
In which Billy Topsail hears the fur trader’s story of a jigger and a cake of ice in the wind.
Chapter VIII 69
In the offshore gale: In which Billy Topsail goes seal hunting and is swept to sea with the floe.
Chapter IX 78
In which old Tom Topsail burns his punt and Billy wanders in the night and three lives hang on a change of wind.
Chapter X 86
How Billy Topsail’s friend Bobby Lot joined fortunes with Eli Zitt and whether or not he proved worthy of the partnership.
Chapter XI 93
Bobby Lot learns to swim and Eli Zitt shows amazing courage and self-possession and strength.
Chapter XII 104
Containing the surprising adventure of Eli Zitt’s little partner on the way back from Fortune Harbour, in which a Newfoundland dog displays a saving intelligence.
Chapter XIII 116
In which Billy Topsail sets sail for the Labrador, the Rescue strikes an iceberg, and Billy is commanded to pump for his life.
Chapter XIV 123
Faithfully narrating the amazing experiences of a Newfoundland schooner and describing Billy Topsail’s conduct in a sinking boat.
Chapter XV 131
In which the Ruddy Cove doctor tells Billy Topsail and a stranger how he came to learn that the longest way ’round is sometimes the shortest way home.
Chapter XVI 142
Describing how Billy Topsail set out for Ruddy Cove with Her Majesty’s Mail and met with catastrophe.
Chapter XVII 151
Billy Topsail wrings out his clothes and finds himself cut off from shore by thirty yards of heaving ice.
Chapter XVIII 159
In which Billy Topsail joins the whaler Viking and a school is sighted.
Chapter XIX 164
In which the chase is kept up and the captain promises himself a kill.
Chapter XX 172
The mate of the fin-back whale rises for the last time, with a blood-red sunset beyond, and Billy Topsail says, “Too bad!”
Chapter XXI 176
In which Billy Topsail goes fishing in earnest. Concerning, also, Feather’s Folly of the Devil’s Teeth, Mary Robinson, and the wreck of the Fish Killer.
Chapter XXII 184
The crew of the Fish Killer finds refuge on an iceberg and discovers greater safety elsewhere, after which the cook is mistaken for a fool, but puts the crew to shame.
Chapter XXIII 196
In which the clerk of the trader Tax yarns of a madman in the cabin.
Chapter XXIV 208
In which a pirate’s cave grows interesting, and two young members of the Ethnological and Antiquarian Club of St. John’s, undertake an adventure under the guidance of Billy Topsail.
Chapter XXV 216
In which there is a landslide at Little Tickle Basin and something of great interest and peculiar value is discovered in the cave.
Chapter XXVI 223
In which Billy Topsail determines to go to the ice in the spring of the year, and young Archibald Armstrong of St. John’s is permitted to set out upon an adventure which promises to be perilous and profitable.
Chapter XXVII 231
While Billy Topsail is about his own business Archie Armstrong stands on the bridge of the Dictator and Captain Hand orders “Full speed ahead!” on the stroke of twelve.
Chapter XXVIII 238
In which Archie Armstrong falls in with Bill o’ Burnt Bay and Billy Topsail of Ruddy Cove, and makes a speech.
Chapter XXIX 246
Billy Topsail is shipped upon conditions, and the Dictator, in a rising gale, is caught in a field of drift ice, with a growler to leeward.
Chapter XXX 255
In which Archie Armstrong and Billy Topsail have an exciting encounter with a big dog hood, and, at the sound of alarm, leave the issue in doubt, while the ice goes abroad and the enemy goes swimming.
Chapter XXXI 264
The Dictator charges an ice pan and loses a main topmast.
Chapter XXXII 272
In which seals are sighted and Archie Armstrong has a narrow chance in the crow’s-nest.
Chapter XXXIII 279
The ice runs red, and, in storm and dusk, Tim Tuttle brews a pot o’ trouble for Captain Hand, while Billy Topsail observes the operation.
Chapter XXXIV 287
In which Tim Tuttle’s shaft flies straight for the mark. The crews of the Dictator and Lucky Star declare war, and Captain Hand is threatened with the shame of dishonour, while young Billy Topsail, who has the solution of the difficulty, is in the hold of the ship.
Chapter XXXV 296
In which the issue is determined.
Chapter XXXVI 302
It appears that the courage and strength of the son of a colonial knight are to be tried. The hunters are caught in a great storm.
Chapter XXXVII 308
In which the men are lost, the Dictator is nipped and Captain Hand sobs, “Poor Sir Archibald!”
Chapter XXXVIII 317
And last: In which wind and snow and cold have their way and death lands on the floe. Billy Topsail gives himself to a gust of wind, and Archie Armstrong finds peril and hardship stern teachers. Concerning, also, a new sloop, a fore-an’-after and a tailor’s lay figure.


His Clothes were Frozen Stiff, and He had to Beat Them on the Ice to Soften Them Title
Billy Raised His Hand as if to Strike Him 20
Then Like a Flash it Shot Towards the Boat 38
Jumped Like a Stag for the Second Pan 62
Billy Staggered into the Circle of Light 82
She’s Lost,He Thought.Lost with all Hands 126
My Little Lad’s Wonderful Sick. Come Quick! 132
It is a Dead W’ale! 174
He was Near the End of the Sixteenth Verse 245
Then He Advanced Upon the Boy 261
Lash Your Tows, B’ys,said Bill.Leave the Rest Go 305
We’re Saved!said Bill 326

The publishers acknowledge the courtesy of The Youth’s Companion and Outing for the use of various illustrations appearing originally in these periodicals.



In Which Young Billy Topsail of Ruddy Cove Puts Out to His First Adventure with His Dog in the Bow of the Punt
FROM the very beginning it was inevitable that Billy Topsail should have adventures. He was a fisherman’s son, born at Ruddy Cove, which is a fishing harbour on the bleak northeast coast of Newfoundland; and there was nothing else for it. All Newfoundland boys have adventures; but not all Newfoundland boys survive them. And there came, in the course of the day’s work and play, to Billy Topsail, many adventures. The first—the first real adventure in which Billy Topsail was abandoned to his own wit and strength—came by reason of a gust of wind and his own dog. It was not strange that a gust of wind should overturn Billy Topsail’s punt; but that old Skipper should turn troublesome in the thick of the mess was an event the most unexpected. . . .

Skipper was a Newfoundland dog, born of reputable parents at Back Arm and decently bred in Ruddy Cove. He had black hair, short, straight and wiry—the curly-haired breed has failed on the Island—and broad, ample shoulders, which his forbears had transmitted to him from generations of hauling wood.

He was heavy, awkward and ugly, resembling somewhat a great draft-horse. But he pulled with a will, fended for himself, and within the knowledge of men had never stolen a fish; so he had a high place in the hearts of all the people of the Cove, and a safe one in their estimation.

“Skipper! Skipper! Here, b’y!”

The ringing call, in the voice of Billy Topsail, never failed to bring the dog from the kitchen with an eager rush, when the snow lay deep on the rocks, and all the paths of the wilderness were ready for the sled. He stood stock-still for the harness, and at the first “Hi, b’y! Gee up there!” he bounded away with a wagging tail and a glad bark. It was as if nothing pleased him so much on a frosty morning as the prospect of a hard day’s work.

If the call came in summer-time when Skipper was dozing in the cool shadow of a flake—a platform of boughs for drying fish—he scrambled to his feet, took his clog[1] in his mouth and ran, all a-quiver for what might come, to where young Billy waited. If the clog were taken off, as it was almost sure to be, it meant sport in the water. Then Skipper would paw the ground and whine until the stick was flung out for him. But best of all he loved to dive for stones.

At the peep of many a day, too, he went out in the punt to the fishing-grounds with Billy Topsail, and there kept the lad good company all the day long. It was because he sat on the little cuddy in the bow, as if keeping a lookout ahead, that he was called Skipper.

“Sure, ’tis a clever dog, that!” was Billy’s boast. “He would save life—that dog would!”

This was proved beyond doubt when little Isaiah Tommy Goodman toddled over the wharf-head, where he had been playing with a squid. Isaiah Tommy was four years old, and would surely have been drowned had not Skipper strolled down the wharf just at that moment.

Skipper was obedient to the instinct of all Newfoundland dogs to drag the sons of men from the water. He plunged in and caught Isaiah Tommy by the collar of his pinafore. Still following his instinct, he kept the child’s head above water with powerful strokes of his fore paws while he towed him to shore. Then the outcry which Isaiah Tommy immediately set up brought his mother to complete the rescue.

For this deed Skipper was petted for a day and a half, and fed with fried caplin and salt pork, to his evident gratification. No doubt he was persuaded that he had acted worthily. However that be, he continued in merry moods, in affectionate behaviour, in honesty—although the fish were even then drying on the flakes, all exposed—and he carried his clog like a hero.

“Skipper,” Billy Topsail would ejaculate, “you do be a clever dog!”

One day in the spring of the year, when high winds spring suddenly from the land, Billy Topsail was fishing from the punt, the Never Give Up, over the shallows off Molly’s Head. It was “fish weather,” as the Ruddy Cove men say—gray, cold and misty. The harbour entrance lay two miles to the southwest. The bluffs which marked it were hardly discernible, for the mist hung thick off the shore. Four punts and a skiff were bobbing half a mile farther out to sea, their crews fishing with hook and line over the side. Thicker weather threatened and the day was near spent.

“‘Tis time to be off home, b’y,” said Billy to the dog. “‘Tis getting thick in the sou’west.”

Skipper stretched himself and wagged his tail. He had no word to say, but Billy, who, like all fishermen in remote places, had formed the habit of talking to himself, supplied the answer.

“‘Tis that, Billy, b’y,” said he. “The punt’s as much as one hand can manage in a fair wind. An’ ’tis a dead beat to the harbour n

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