Last Voyage of the Scotian
John and Meg Bains had no intention of shipping out on a Nova Scotian square rigged ship, but the crimps of Quebec City had other plans. The Last Voyage of the Scotian is a story of the hardship, danger and adventures that they faced on that fated voyage in the year 1874.
Last Voyage of the Scotian is an adventure story in the acclaimed Bains series for young readers 10 to 14, written by Bill Freeman. The book is illustrated with 19th century photos of Nova Scotian ships and seamen. The Bains series has won the prestigious Vicky Metcalf Award for a body of work.
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An excerpt from Chapter 1 of the Last Voyage of the Scotian:
At last they made it into Lower Town (of Quebec City). Here it was a little lighter. Gaslights at every corner, the lanterns of people passing in the streets, as well as the light from the tavern and hotel windows, helped to brighten the darkness. They hurried on, anxious to find some place where they could feel safe, until finally they made it back to the inn.
But the inside of their hotel seemed darker than the street. A single candle burned on the counter, casting dark shadows in the corners of the hallway. In the room set aside for drinking, a fire glowed on the hearth, revealing ten or twelve men sitting around tables. There was a quiet hush about the place.
John and Meg waited at the counter for the woman to give them a candle to guide them to their room. As they stood there a tall, heavyset man of about forty-five emerged from the bar. He was dressed in the manner of sea captains in a blue double-breasted coat, lined with brass buttons. On his head was a peaked cap. He had a full black beard with iron-grey streaks, but in the dim light, all John and Meg could see of his face were dark steady eyes set in a pale forehead.
The man addressed John directly. “I am Cap’n Barnard of the ship Scotian. I heard you’re a bright lad who has been in the lumber shanty. I’d like to offer you a berth on my ship, and I’d promise to give you an apprenticeship. The pay would be five dollars a month. We sail for the Indies at dawn.”
The boy was completely taken back with the unexpected offer. “I…I don’t think I could, sir.” He was stammering. “You see I have my mother to help support and my younger brothers and sister. I couldn’t go away on a ship and leave them.”
The captain’s face tightened and the lines of his mouth turned down into a deep scowl. “I’m desperate for a crew. I have to cast off in the morning and I still need one more for my complement. Sign on with me!” He seemed to bark out the words as if shouting an order to his crew.
“No sir. I can’t. I’ve my family to think of.”
Suddenly the round-faced man who had brought them to the inn was standing in the doorway. Beside him was the woman innkeeper and in the background two men dressed as sailors.
John and Meg glanced anxiously at each other. “Please,” said John quietly. “Could we have a candle to go up to our room?”
For a moment the woman stared at them blankly. Then, producing a candle from a small drawer, she lit it from the one on the counter and gave it to the boy. John led the way up the long creaking staircase, holding the flame high to show the way. Halfway up, Meg glanced back to see the sinister group, still gathered in the pale light, silently watching them. An involuntary shudder of fear went through her body.
“Lock the door,” she whispered once they were in the room. “I don’t like the looks of those people.”
John put the candle in the holder and then turned the key that was in the lock. “Don’t get worried, Meg,” he said, trying to reassure his sister, but he was frightened himself.
The two sat on the bed trying to collect themselves. In the dim light they could see that the room was small and dirty and almost bare of furniture.
Suddenly, there was a creak on the stairs. Then there was the sound of footsteps. Meg and John gripped each other’s hand. The sounds came nearer and louder. Now they were at the top of the landing.
There was a pounding at the door. “Who … who is it?” John asked with fear in his voice.
The woman innkeeper replied through the door. “I have some tea for you.”
Meg and John looked at each other, relieved. “Just a moment,” said Meg, as she turned the lock and opened the door. All five people were there. Meg shrieked.
“Grab the boy!” someone shouted. “Quick, before he gets away!” The two rough-looking sailors rushed inside, caught the startled boy and forced him to the floor with his arm pinned behind his back. All John could do was give a short painful scream.
“Close the door,” came the order from the round faced man who was obviously in charge. “We’ve got to get him to sign this contract.”
Meg had been completely ignored. She stood in the corner, watching in horror as her brother was subdued to the two men. Finally she reacted. “Stop it! Leave him alone! Let him go!” She screamed and then tried to rush to John’s aid.
“Get her!” yelled their leader. “Ouch you demon!” Meg had hit him in the stomach with her elbow. “Grab her!” There was a fierce struggle. The woman innkeeper joined and within a moment the two of them had subdued the young girl with their superior strength.
“Hold her,” he said to the woman. “She’s a devil, that one.”
The man released his grip on Meg and stood up. He took a paper from his pocket, unfolded it, and went to where John was being held by the two men. “You sign this paper, my boy, and then ship out aboard the Scotian with Cap’n Barnard.”
John struggled vainly. “You’re a crimp, aren’t you?”
A broad smile slid across the man’s face. “You’re a smart one to figure that out. You’ll do well aboard ship.”
“No, never!” John struggled, but the weight of the two men pinned him down. One of them took his left arm and bent it behind his back, then pushed it until an agonizing pain shot up through his shoulder.
“You’ll sign this paper, boy. Then we’ll let you go.”
“No I can’t. I’ve got to go home. My family …”
But they wrenched his arm so hard that the words were replaced by cries of pain.
“Sign boy, and that’ll be the end of it. You’ll get paid while you’re aboard.” The crimp stood over him with the paper and pencil in hand. “Sign!”
“No!” John struggled against the man’s grip, but it was useless. His arm was twisted even further behind his back and the pain shot through his shoulder and into his chest.
“Sign!” said the crimp angrily.
The pain was even sharper this time. His arm felt close to breaking.
“You’ll sign boy, even if we have to break your arm to do it. The crimp put the paper in front of John and taking his free hank, guided it along to make a few scratches. “There, that’ll do. It’s done. Let him go.”
John collapsed, close to losing consciousness.
“There’s your contract, Cap’n, and your seaman. Though God knows if he’ll be much use to you.”
The captain’s eyes shifted from person to person. “Good, take him down to the Scotian. I’ll pay you only when he’s aboard.”
Meg was finally able to shake herself free from the woman’s grasp. “Are you really taking my brother, captain?” she asked in disbelief.
The master’s face was stern. “He signed on fair and legal. The paper’s there for all to see.”
“That’s not true. The crimp forced him to sign. You saw him.”
“The boy’s coming with me and that’s the end of it.”
“But you can’t take him and leave me behind,” she pleaded. “What will I do? Take me along with you.”
“I don’t need a girl aboard my ship. You’d just be in the way.”
“Please Captain! I’m a good worker. Maybe I could help the cook.
“I won’t have women aboard a ship of mine. They’re just a nuisance.”
Nothing made Meg more annoyed than to be rejected merely because she was a girl. After all, when she was in the shanty she had always worked as hard as her brother. “It’s just not fair,” she said, her eyes flashing. “You can’t steal my bother. I’ll go to the police.”
“No one would believe you.”
Meg looked desperately to each person. John had got to his feet now, but in spite of his struggles he was still firmly held in an arm-lock by the crimp’s men. How could she free him? What could she do? In an instant she had made up her mind. She made a sudden lunge for the door, tore it open and in a moment was running down the stairs.