The World of Ice
Robert Michael Ballantyne
Part 2 out of 5
prognostications come to pass."
"So they do, Tom," said Fred; "but I wish he would put a better face on
things till they _do_ come to pass. His looks are enough to frighten
"I think we shall require another line out, Mr. Saunders," remarked the
captain, as the gale freshened, and the two hawsers were drawn straight
and rigid like bars of iron; "send ashore and make a whale-line fast
The second mate obeyed with a grunt that seemed to insinuate that _he_
would have had one out long ago. In a few minutes it was fast; and not a
moment too soon, for immediately after it blew a perfect hurricane.
Heavier and heavier it came, and the ice began to drift more wildly than
ever. The captain had just given orders to make fast another line, when
the sharp, twanging snap of a cord was heard. The six-inch hawser had
parted, and they were swinging by the two others, with the gale roaring
like a lion through the spars and rigging. Half a minute more and
"twang, twang!" came another report, and the whale-line was gone. Only
one rope now held them to the land, and prevented them being swept into
the turmoil of ice, and wind, and water, from which the rocky ledge
protected them. The hawser was a good one--a new ten-inch rope. It sang
like the deep tones of an organ, loud above the rattle of the rigging
and the shrouds; but that was its death-song. It gave way with the noise
of a cannon, and in the smoke that followed its recoil they were dragged
out by the wild ice, and driven hither and thither at its mercy.
With some difficulty the ship was warped into a place of comparative
security in the rushing drift, but it was soon thrown loose again, and
severely squeezed by the rolling masses. Then an attempt was made to set
the sails and beat up for the land; but the rudder was almost
unmanageable owing to the ice, and nothing could be made of it, so they
were compelled to go right before the wind under close-reefed top-sails,
in order to keep some command of the ship. All hands were on deck
watching in silence the ice ahead of them, which presented a most
Away to the north the strait could be seen growing narrower, with heavy
ice-tables grinding up and clogging it from cliff to cliff on either
side. About seven in the evening they were close upon the piling
masses, to enter into which seemed certain destruction.
"Stand by to let go the anchor!" cried the captain, in the desperate
hope of being able to wind the ship.
"What's that ahead of us?" exclaimed the first mate suddenly.
"Ship on the starboard bow, right in-shore!" roared the look-out.
The attention of the crew was for a moment called from their own
critical situation towards the strange vessel which now came into view,
having been previously concealed from them by a large grounded berg.
"Can you make her out, Mr. Bolton?"
"Yes, sir; I think she's a large brig, but she seems much chafed, and
there's no name left on the stern, if ever there was one."
As he spoke, the driving snow and fog cleared up partially, and the brig
was seen not three hundred yards from them, drifting slowly into the
loose ice. There was evidently no one on board; and although one or two
of the sails were loose, they hung in shreds from the yards. Scarcely
had this been noted when the _Dolphin_ struck against a large mass of
ice, and quivered under the violence of the shock.
"Let go!" shouted the captain.
Down went the heaviest anchor they had, and for two minutes the chain
flew out at the hawse-hole.
The chain was checked, but the strain was awful. A mass of ice,
hundreds of tons weight, was tearing down towards the bow. There was no
hope of resisting it. Time was not even afforded to attach a buoy or log
to the cable, so it was let slip, and thus the _Dolphin's_ best bower
was lost for ever.
But there was no time to think of or regret this, for the ship was now
driving down with the gale, scraping against a lee of ice which was
seldom less than thirty feet thick. Almost at the same moment the
strange vessel was whirled close to them, not more than fifty yards
distant, between two driving masses of thick ice.
"What if it should be my father's brig?" whispered Fred Ellice, as he
grasped Singleton's arm and turned to him a face of ashy paleness.
"No fear of that, lad," said Buzzby, who stood near the larboard gangway
and had overheard the remark. "I'd know your father's brig among a
As he spoke, the two masses of ice closed, and the brig was nipped
between them. For a few seconds she seemed to tremble like a living
creature, and every timber creaked. Then she was turned slowly on one
side, until the crew of the _Dolphin_ could see down into her hold,
where the beams were giving way and cracking up as matches might be
crushed in the grasp of a strong hand. Then the larboard bow was
observed to yield as if it were made of soft clay, the starboard bow was
pressed out, and the ice was forced into the forecastle. Scarcely three
minutes had passed since the nip commenced; in one minute more the brig
went down, and the ice was rolling wildly, as if in triumph, over the
spot where she had disappeared.
The fate of this vessel, which might so soon be their own, threw a
momentary gloom over the crew of the _Dolphin_, but their position left
them no time for thought. One upturned mass rose above the gunwale,
smashed in the bulwarks, and deposited half a ton of ice on deck.
Scarcely had this danger passed when a new enemy appeared in sight
ahead. Directly in their way, just beyond the line of floe-ice against
which they were alternately thumping and grinding, lay a group of bergs.
There was no possibility of avoiding them, and the only question was,
whether they were to be dashed to pieces on their hard blue sides, or,
perchance, in some providential nook to find a refuge from the storm.
"There's an open lead between them and the floe-ice," exclaimed Bolton
in a hopeful tone of voice, seizing an ice-pole and leaping on the
"Look alive, men, with your poles," cried the captain, "and shove with a
The "Ay, ay, sir," of the men was uttered with a heartiness that showed
how powerfully this gleam of hope acted on their spirits; but a new damp
was cast over them when, on gaining the open passage, they discovered
that the bergs were not at rest, but were bearing down on the floe-ice
with slow but awful momentum, and threatening to crush the ship between
the two. Just then a low berg came driving up from the southward,
dashing the spray over its sides, and with its forehead ploughing up
the smaller ice as if in scorn. A happy thought flashed across the
"Down the quarter boat," he cried.
In an instant it struck the water, and four men were on the thwarts.
"Cast an ice-anchor on that berg."
Peter Grim obeyed the order, and, with a swing that Hercules would have
envied, planted it securely. In another moment the ship was following in
the wake of this novel tug! It was a moment of great danger, for the
bergs encroached on their narrow canal as they advanced, obliging them
to brace the yards to clear the impending ice-walls, and they shaved the
large berg so closely that the port quarter-boat would have been crushed
if it had not been taken from the davits. Five minutes of such
travelling brought them abreast of a grounded berg, to which they
resolved to make fast. The order was given to cast off the rope. Away
went their white tug on his race to the far north, and the ship swung
round in safety under the lee of the berg, where the crew acknowledged
with gratitude their merciful deliverance from imminent danger.
_New characters introduced--An old game under novel
circumstances--Remarkable appearances in the sky--O'Riley meets with a
Dumps was a remarkably grave and sly character, and Poker was a wag--an
incorrigible wag--in every sense of the term. Moreover, although they
had an occasional fight, Dumps and Poker were excellent friends, and
great favourites with the crew.
We have not yet introduced these individuals to our reader, but as they
will act a conspicuous part in the history of the _Dolphin's_
adventurous career in the Arctic Regions, we think it right now to
While at Upernavik, Captain Guy had purchased a team of six good, tough
Esquimau dogs, being desirous of taking them to England, and there
presenting them to several of his friends who were anxious to possess
specimens of those animals. Two of these dogs stood out conspicuous from
their fellows, not only in regard to personal appearance, but also in
reference to peculiarities of character. One was pure white, with a
lively expression of countenance, a large shaggy body, two erect,
sharp-pointed ears, and a short projection that once had been a tail.
Owing to some cause unknown, however, his tail had been cut or bitten
off, and nothing save the stump remained. But this stump did as much
duty as if it had been fifty tails in one. It was never at rest for a
moment, and its owner evidently believed that wagging it was the true
and only way to touch the heart of man; therefore the dog wagged it, so
to speak, doggedly. In consequence of this animal's thieving
propensities, which led him to be constantly _poking_ into every hole
and corner of the ship in search of something to steal, he was named
_Poker_. Poker had three jet-black spots in his white visage--one was
the point of his nose, the other two were his eyes.
Poker's bosom friend, Dumps, was so named because he had the sulkiest
expression of countenance that ever fell to the lot of a dog. Hopelessly
incurable melancholy seemed to have taken possession of his mind, for he
never by any chance smiled--and dogs do smile, you know, just as
evidently as human beings do, although not exactly with their mouths.
Dumps never romped either, being old, but he sat and allowed his friend
Poker to romp round him with a sort of sulky satisfaction, as if he
experienced the greatest enjoyment his nature was capable of in
witnessing the antics of his youthful companion--for Poker was young.
The prevailing colour of Dumps's shaggy hide was a dirty brown, with
black spots, two of which had fixed themselves rather awkwardly round
his eyes, like a pair of spectacles. Dumps, also, was a thief, and,
indeed, so were all his brethren. Dumps and Poker were both of them
larger and stronger, and in every way better, than their comrades; and
they afterwards were the sturdy, steady, unflinching leaders of the team
during many a toilsome journey over the frozen sea.
One magnificent afternoon, a few days after the escape of the _Dolphin_
just related, Dumps and Poker lay side by side in the lee-scuppers,
calmly sleeping off the effects of a surfeit produced by the eating of a
large piece of pork, for which the cook had searched in vain for
three-quarters of an hour, and of which he at last found the bare bone
sticking in the hole of the larboard pump.
"Bad luck to them dogs," exclaimed David Mizzle, stroking his chin as he
surveyed the bone. "If I could only find out, now, which of ye it was,
I'd have ye slaughtered right off, and cooked for the mess, I would."
"It was Dumps as did it, I'll bet you a month's pay," said Peter Grim,
as he sat on the end of the windlass refilling his pipe, which he had
just smoked out.
"Not a bit of it," remarked Amos Parr, who was squatted on the deck
busily engaged in constructing a rope mat, while several of the men sat
round him engaged in mending sails, or stitching canvas slippers,
etc.--"not a bit of it, Grim; Dumps is too honest by half to do sich a
thing. 'Twas Poker as did it, I can see by the roll of his eye below the
skin. The blackguard's only shammin' sleep."
On hearing his name mentioned, Poker gently opened his right eye, but
did not move. Dumps, on the contrary, lay as if he heard not the base
aspersion on his character.
"What'll ye bet it was Dumps as did it?" cried Davie Summers, who passed
at the moment with a dish of some sort of edible towards the galley or
cooking-house on deck.
"I'll _bet_ you over the 'ead, I will, if you don't mind your business,"
"You'd _better_ not," retorted Davie with a grin. "It's as much as your
situation's worth to lay a finger on me."
"That's it, youngster, give it 'im," cried several of the men, while the
boy confronted his superior, taking good care, however, to keep the
fore-mast between them.
"What do you mean, you young rascal?" cried Mivins with a frown.
"Mean!" said Davie, "why, I mean that if you touch me I'll resign
office; and if I do that, you'll have to go out, for every one knows you
can't get on without me."
"I say, Mivins," cried Tom Green, the carpenter's mate, "if you were
asked to say, '_H_old on _h_ard to this _h_andspike _h_ere, my
_h_earties,' how would ye go about it?"
"He'd 'it you a pretty 'ard crack _h_over the 'ead with it, 'e would,"
remarked one of the men, throwing a ball of yarn at Davie, who stood
listening to the conversation with a broad grin.
In stepping back to avoid the blow, the lad trod on Dumps's paw, and
instantly there came from the throat of that excellent dog a roar of
anguish that caused Poker to leap, as the cook expressed it, nearly out
of his own skin. Dogs are by nature extremely sympathetic and remarkably
inquisitive; and no sooner was Dumps's yell heard than it was vigorously
responded to by every dog in the ship, as the whole pack rushed each
from his respective sleeping-place and looked round in amazement.
"Hallo! what's wrong there for'ard?" inquired Saunders, who had been
pacing the quarter-deck with slow giant strides, arguing mentally with
himself in default of a better adversary.
"Only trod on Dumps's paw, sir," said Mivins, as he hurried aft; "the
men are sky-larking."
"Sky-larking, are you?" said Saunders, going forward. "Weel, lads,
you've had a lot o' hard work of late, ye may go' and take a run on the
Instantly the men, like boys set free from school, sprang up, tumbled
over the side, and were scampering over the ice like madmen.
"Pitch over the ball--the football!" they cried. In a second the ball
was tossed over the ship's side, and a vigorous game was begun.
For two days past the _Dolphin_ had been sailing with difficulty through
large fields of ice, sometimes driving against narrow necks and tongues
that interrupted her passage from one lead or canal to another; at other
times boring with difficulty through compact masses of sludge; or
occasionally, when unable to advance farther, making fast to a large
berg or a field. They were compelled to proceed north, however, in
consequence of the pack having become fixed towards, the south, and thus
rendering retreat impossible in that direction until the ice should be
again set in motion. Captain Guy, however, saw, by the steady advance of
the larger bergs, that the current of the ocean in that place flowed
southward, and trusted that in a short time the ice which had been
forced into the strait by the late gales would be released, and open up
a passage. Meanwhile he pushed along the coast, examining every bay and
inlet in the hope of discovering some trace of the _Pole Star_ or her
On the day about which we are writing, the ship was beset by large
fields, the snow-white surfaces of which extended north and south to the
horizon, while on the east the cliffs rose in dark, frowning precipices
from the midst of the glaciers that encumber them all the year round.
It was a lovely Arctic day. The sun shone with unclouded splendour, and
the bright air, which trembled with that liquidity of appearance that
one occasionally sees in very hot weather under peculiar circumstances,
was vocal with the wild music of thousands of gulls, and auks, and other
sea-birds, which clustered on the neighbouring cliffs and flew overhead
in clouds. All round the pure surfaces of the ice-fields were broken by
the shadows which the hummocks and bergs cast over them, and by the
pools of clear water which shone like crystals in their hollows, while
the beautiful beryl blue of the larger bergs gave a delicate colouring
to the dazzling scene. Words cannot describe the intense _glitter_ that
characterized everything. Every point seemed a diamond, every edge sent
forth a gleam of light, and many of the masses reflected the rich
prismatic colours of the rainbow. It seemed as if the sun himself had
been multiplied in order to add to the excessive brilliancy, for he was
surrounded by _parhelia_, or _sun-dogs,_ as the men called them. This
peculiarity in the sun's appearance was very striking. The great orb of
day was about ten degrees above the horizon, and a horizontal line of
white passed completely through it, extending to a considerable distance
on either hand, while around it were two distinct halos, or circles of
light. On the inner halo were situated the mock-suns, which were four in
number--one above and one below the sun, and one on each side of him.
Not a breath of wind stirred the little flag that drooped from the
mizzen-peak, and the clamorous, ceaseless-cries of sea-birds, added to
the merry shouts and laughter of the men as they followed the restless
football, rendered the whole a scene of life, as it was emphatically one
"Ain't it glorious?" panted Davie Summers vehemently as he stopped
exhausted in a headlong race beside one of his comrades, while the ball
was kicked hopelessly beyond his reach by a comparatively fresh member
of the party.
"Ah! then, it bates the owld country intirely, it does," replied
O'Riley, wiping the perspiration from his forehead.
It is needless to say that O'Riley was an Irishman. We have not
mentioned him until now, because up to this time he had not done
anything to distinguish himself beyond his messmates; but on this
particular day O'Riley's star was in the ascendant, and fortune seemed
to have singled him out as an object of her special attention. He was a
short man, and a broad man, and a particularly _rugged_ man--so to
speak. He was all angles and corners. His hair stuck about his head in
violently rigid and entangled tufts, rendering it a matter of wonder how
anything in the shape of a hat could stick on. His brow was a countless
mass of ever-varying wrinkles, which gave to his sly visage an aspect of
humorous anxiety that was highly diverting--and all the more diverting
when you came to know that the man had not a spark of anxiety in his
composition, though he often said he had. His dress, like that of most
Jack tars, was naturally rugged, and he contrived to make it more so
"An' it's hot, too, it is," he continued, applying his kerchief again to
his pate "If it warn't for the ice we stand on, we'd be melted down, I
do belave, like bits o' whale blubber."
"Wot a jolly game football is, ain't it?" said Davie seating himself on
a hummock, and still panting hard.
"Ay, boy, that's jist what it is. The only objiction I have agin it is,
that it makes ye a'most kick the left leg clane off yer body."
"Why don't you kick with your right leg, then, stupid, like other
people?" inquired Summers.
"Why don't I, is it? Troth, then, I don't know for sartin. Me father
lost his left leg at the great battle o' the Nile, and I've sometimes
thought that had somethin' to do wid it. But then me mother was lame o'
the _right_ leg intirely, and wint about wid a crutch, so I can't make
out how it was, d'ye see?"
"Look out, Pat," exclaimed Summers, starting up, "here comes the ball."
As he spoke, the football came skimming over the ice towards the spot on
which they stood, with about thirty of the men running at full speed and
shouting like maniacs after it.
"That's your sort, my hearties! another like that and it's home! Pitch
into it, Mivins. You're the boy for me! Now then, Grim, trip him up!
Hallo! Buzzby, you bluff-bowed Dutchman, luff! luff! or I'll stave in
your ribs! Mind your eye, Mizzle! there's Green, he'll be into your
larboard quarter in no time. Hurrah! Mivins, up in the air with it.
Kick, boy, kick like a spanker-boom in a hurricane!"
Such were a few of the expressions that showered like hail round the men
as they rushed hither and thither after the ball. And here we may remark
that the crew of the _Dolphin_ played football in a somewhat different
style from the way in which that noble game is played by boys in
England. Sides, indeed, were chosen, and boundaries were marked out, but
very little, if any, attention was paid to such secondary matters! To
kick the ball, and keep on kicking it in front of his companions, was
the ambition of each man; and so long as he could get a kick at it that
caused it to fly from the ground like a cannon-shot, little regard was
had by any one to the direction in which it was propelled. But, of
course, in this effort to get a kick, the men soon became scattered over
the field, and ever and anon the ball would fall between two men, who
rushed at it simultaneously from opposite directions. The inevitable
result was a collision, by which both men were suddenly and violently
arrested in their career. But generally the shock resulted in one of the
men being sent staggering backwards, and the other getting the _kick_.
When the two were pretty equally matched, both were usually, as they
expressed it, "brought up all standing," in which case a short scuffle
ensued, as each endeavoured to trip up the heels of his adversary. To
prevent undue violence in such struggles, a rule was laid down that
hands were not to be used on any account. They might use their feet,
legs, shoulders, and elbows, but not their hands.
In such rough play the men were more equally matched than might have
been expected, for the want of weight among the smaller men was often
more than counterbalanced by their activity, and frequently a sturdy
little fellow launched himself so vigorously against a heavy tar as to
send him rolling head over heels on the ice. This was not always the
case, however, and few ventured to come into collision with Peter Grim,
whose activity was on a par with his immense size. Buzzby contented
himself with galloping on the outskirts of the fight, and putting in a
kick when fortune sent the ball in his way. In this species of warfare
he was supported by the fat cook, whose oily carcass could neither stand
the shocks nor keep up with the pace of his messmates. Mizzle was a
particularly energetic man in his way, however, and frequently kicked
with such goodwill that he missed the ball altogether, and the
tremendous swing of his leg lifted him from the ice and laid him
sprawling on his back.
"Look out ahead!" shouted Green, the carpenter's mate; "there's a sail
bearing down on your larboard bow."
Mivins, who had the ball before him at the moment, saw his own
satellite, Davie, coming down towards him with vicious intentions. He
quietly pushed the ball before him for a few yards, then kicked it far
over the boy's head, and followed it up like an antelope. Mivins
depended for success on his almost superhuman activity. His tall, slight
frame could not stand the shocks of his comrades, but no one could equal
or come near to him in speed, and he was quite an adept at dodging a
_charge_, and allowing his opponent to rush far past the ball by the
force of his own momentum. Such a charge did Peter Grim make at him at
"Starboard hard!" yelled Davie Summers, as he observed his master's
"Starboard it is!" replied Mivins, and leaping aside to avoid the shock,
he allowed Grim to pass. Grim knew his man, however, and had held
himself in hand, so that in a moment he pulled up and was following
close on his heels.
"It's an ill wind that blows no good," cried one of the crew, towards
whose foot the ball rolled, as he quietly kicked it into the centre of
the mass of men. Grim and Mivins turned back, and for a time looked on
at the general _melee_ that ensued. It seemed as though the ball must
inevitably be crushed among them as they struggled and kicked hither and
thither for five minutes, in their vain efforts to get a kick; and
during those few exciting moments many tremendous kicks, aimed at the
ball, took effect upon shins, and many shouts of glee terminated in
yells of anguish.
"It can't last much longer!" screamed the cook, his face streaming with
perspiration and beaming with glee, as he danced round the outside of
the circle. "There it goes!"
As he spoke, the ball flew out of the circle like a shell from a mortar.
Unfortunately it went directly over Mizzle's head. Before he could wink
he went down before them, and the rushing mass of men passed over him
like a mountain torrent over a blade of grass.
Meanwhile Mivins ran ahead of the others, and gave the ball a kick that
nearly burst it, and down it came exactly between O'Riley and Grim, who
chanced to be far ahead of the others. Grim dashed at it. "Och! ye big
villain," muttered the Irishman to himself, as he put down his head and
rushed against the carpenter like a battering-ram.
Big though he was, Grim staggered back from the impetuous shock, and
O'Riley following up his advantage, kicked the ball in a side direction,
away from every one except Buzzby, who happened to have been steering
rather wildly over the field of ice. Buzzby, on being brought thus
unexpectedly within reach of the ball, braced up his energies for a
kick; but seeing O'Riley coming down towards him like a runaway
locomotive, he pulled up, saying quietly to himself, "Ye may take it all
yer own way, lad; I'm too old a bird to go for to make my carcass a
buffer for a madcap like you to run agin."
Jack Mivins, however, was troubled by no such qualms. He happened to be
about the same distance from the ball as O'Riley, and ran like a deer to
reach it first. A pool of water lay in his path, however, and the
necessity of going round it enabled the Irishman to gain on him a
little, so that it became evident that both would come up at the same
moment, and a collision be inevitable.
"Hold yer wind, Paddy," shouted the men, who paused for a moment to
watch the result of the race. "Mind your timbers, Mivins! Back your
top-sails, O'Riley; mind how he yaws!"
Then there was a momentary silence of breathless expectation. The two
men seemed about to meet with a shock that would annihilate both, when
Mivins bounded to one side like an indiarubber ball. O'Riley shot past
him like a rocket, and the next instant went head foremost into the pool
This unexpected termination to the affair converted the intended huzzah
of the men into a yell of mingled laughter and consternation as they
hastened in a body to the spot; but before they reached it, O'Riley's
head and shoulders reappeared, and when they came up he was standing on
the margin of the pool blowing like a walrus.
"Oh! then, but it _is_ cowld!" he exclaimed, wringing the water from his
garments. "Och! where's the ball? give me a kick or I'll freeze! so I
As he spoke the drenched Irishman seized the ball from Mivins's hands
and gave it a kick that sent it high into the air. He was too wet and
heavy to follow it up, however, so he ambled off towards the ship as
vigorously as his clothes would allow him, followed by the whole crew.
_Fred and the doctor go on an excursion in which, among other strange
things, they meet with red snow and a white bear, and Fred makes his
first essay as a sportsman_.
But where were Fred Ellice and Tom Singleton all this time? the reader
will probably ask.
Long before the game at football was suggested they had obtained leave
of absence from the captain, and, loaded with game-bag, a botanical box
and geological hammer, and a musket, were off along the coast on a
semi-scientific cruise. Young Singleton carried the botanical box and
hammer, being an enthusiastic geologist and botanist, while Fred carried
the game-bag and musket.
"You see, Tom," he said as they stumbled along over the loose ice
towards the ice-belt that lined the cliffs--"you see, I'm a great dab at
ornithology, especially when I've got a gun on my shoulder. When I
haven't a gun, strange to say, I don't feel half so enthusiastic about
"That's a very peculiar style of regarding the science. Don't you think
it would be worth while communicating your views on the subject to one
of the scientific bodies when we get home again. They might elect you a
"Well, perhaps I shall," replied Fred gravely; "but I say, to be
serious, I'm really going to screw up my energies as much as possible,
and make coloured drawings of all the birds I can get hold of in the
Arctic Regions. At least, I would like to try."
Fred finished his remark with a sigh, for just then the object for which
he had gone out to those regions occurred to him; and although the
natural buoyancy and hopefulness of his feelings enabled him generally
to throw off anxiety in regard to his father's fate, and join in the
laugh, and jest, and game as heartily as any one on board, there were
times when his heart failed him, and he almost despaired of ever seeing
his father again, and these feelings of despondency had been more
frequent since the day on which he witnessed the sudden and utter
destruction of the strange brig.
"Don't let your spirits down, Fred," said Tom, whose hopeful and earnest
disposition often reanimated his friend's drooping spirits; "it will
only unfit you for doing any good service. Besides, I think we have no
cause yet to despair. We know that your father came up this inlet, or
strait, or whatever it is, and he had a good stock of provisions with
him, according to the account we got at Upernavik, and it is not more
than a year since he was there. Many and many a whaler and discovery
ship has wintered more than a year in these regions. And then, consider
the immense amount of animal life all round us. They might have laid up
provisions for many months long before winter set in."
"I know all that," replied Fred, with a shake of his head; "but think of
yon brig that we saw go down in about ten minutes."
"Well, so I do think of it. No doubt the brig was lost very suddenly,
but there was ample time, had there been any one on board, to have
leaped upon the ice, and they might have got to land by jumping from one
piece to another. Such things have happened before frequently. To say
truth, at every point of land we turn, I feel a sort of expectation
amounting almost to certainty that we shall find your father and his
party travelling southward on their way to the Danish settlements."
"Perhaps you are right. God grant that it may be so!"
As he spoke, they reached the fixed ice which ran along the foot of the
precipices for some distance like a road of hard white marble. Many
large rocks lay scattered over it, some of them several tons in weight,
and one or two balanced in a very remarkable way on the edge of the
"There's a curious-looking gull I should like to shoot," exclaimed Fred,
pointing to a bird that hovered over his head, and throwing forward the
muzzle of his gun.
"Fire away, then," said his friend, stepping back a pace.
Fred, being unaccustomed to the use of fire-arms, took a wavering aim
"What a bother! I've missed it!"
"Try again," remarked Tom with a quiet smile, as the whole cliff vomited
forth an innumerable host of birds, whose cries were perfectly
"It's my opinion," said Fred with a comical grin, "that if I shut my
eyes and point upwards I can't help hitting something; but I
particularly want yon fellow, because he's beautifully marked. Ah! I see
him sitting on a rock yonder, so here goes once more."
Fred now proceeded towards the coveted bird in the fashion that is known
by the name of _stalking_--that is, creeping as close up to your game as
possible, so as to get a good shot; and it said much for his patience
and his future success the careful manner in which, on this occasion, he
wound himself in and out among the rocks and blocks of ice on the shore
in the hope of obtaining that sea-gull. At last he succeeded in getting
to within about fifteen yards of it, and then, resting his musket on a
lump of ice, and taking an aim so long and steadily that his companion
began to fancy he must have gone to sleep, he fired, and blew the gull
to atoms! There was scarcely so much as a shred of it to be found.
Fred bore his disappointment and discomfiture manfully. He formed a
resolution then and there to become a good shot, and although he did not
succeed exactly in becoming so that day, he nevertheless managed to put
several fine specimens of gulls and an auk into his bag. The last bird
amused him much, being a creature with a dumpy little body and a beak of
preposterously large size and comical aspect. There were also a great
number of eider-ducks flying about, but they failed to procure a
Singleton was equally successful in his scientific researches. He found
several beautifully green mosses, one species of which was studded with
pale yellow flowers, and in one place, where a stream trickled down the
steep sides of the cliffs, he discovered a flower-growth which was rich
in variety of colouring. Amid several kinds of tufted grasses were seen
growing a small purple flower and the white star of the chickweed; The
sight of all this richness of vegetation growing in a little spot close
beside the snow, and amid such cold Arctic scenery, would have delighted
a much less enthusiastic spirit than that of our young surgeon. He went
quite into raptures with it, and stuffed his botanical box with mosses
and rocks until it could hold no more, and became a burden that cost him
a few sighs before he got back to the ship.
The rocks were found to consist chiefly of red sandstone. There was also
a good deal of green-stone and gneiss, and some of the spires of these
that shot up to a considerable height were particularly striking and
But the great sight of the day's excursion was that which unexpectedly
greeted their eyes on rounding a cape towards which they had been
walking for several hours. On passing this point they stopped with an
exclamation of amazement. Before them lay a scene such as the Arctic
Regions alone can produce.
In front lay a vast reach of the strait, which at this place opened up
abruptly and stretched away northward, laden with floes, and fields, and
hummocks, and bergs of every shade and size, to the horizon, where the
appearance of the sky indicated open water. Ponds of various sizes and
sheets of water whose dimensions entitled them to be styled lakes
spangled the white surface of the floes; and around these were sporting
innumerable flocks of wild-fowl, many of which, being pure white,
glanced like snow-flakes in the sunshine. Far off to the west the ice
came down with heavy uniformity to the water's edge. On the right there
was an array of cliffs whose frowning grandeur filled them with awe.
They varied from twelve to fifteen hundred feet in height, and some of
the precipices descended sheer down seven or eight hundred feet into the
sea, over which they cast a dark shadow.
Just at the feet of our young discoverers--for such we may truly call
them--a deep bay or valley trended away to the right, a large portion of
which was filled with the spur of a glacier, whose surface was covered
with _pink snow_! One can imagine with what feelings the two youths
gazed on this beautiful sight. It seemed as if that valley, instead of
forming a portion of the sterile region beyond the Arctic Circle, were
one of the sunniest regions of the south, for a warm glow rested on the
bosom of the snow, as if the sun were shedding upon it his rosiest hues.
A little farther to the north the red snow ceased, or only occurred here
and there in patches; and beyond it there appeared another gorge in the
cliffs, within which rose a tall column of rock, so straight and
cylindrical that it seemed to be a production of art. The whole of the
back country was one great rolling distance of glacier, and, wherever a
crevice or gorge in the riven cliffs afforded an opportunity, this ocean
of land-ice sent down spurs into the sea, the extremities of which were
constantly shedding off huge bergs into the water.
"What a scene!" exclaimed Tom Singleton, when he found words to express
his admiration. "I did not think that our world contained so grand a
sight. It surpasses my wildest dreams of fairy-land."
"Fairy-land!" ejaculated Fred, with a slight look of contempt; "do you
know since I came to this part of the world, I've come to the conclusion
that fairy tales are all stuff, and very inferior stuff too! Why, this
reality is a thousand million times grander than anything that was ever
invented. But what surprises me most is the red snow. What can be the
cause of it?"
"I don't know," replied Singleton, "it has long been a matter of dispute
among learned men. But we must examine it for ourselves, so come along."
The remarkable colour of the snow referred to, although a matter of
dispute at the period of the _Dolphin's_ visit to the Arctic Seas, is
generally admitted now to be the result of a curious and extremely
minute vegetable growth, which spreads not only over its surface, but
penetrates into it sometimes to a depth of several feet. The earlier
navigators who discovered it, and first told the astonished world that
the substance which they had been accustomed to associate with the idea
of the purest and most radiant whiteness had been seen by them lying
_red_ upon the ground, attributed the phenomenon to innumerable
multitudes of minute creatures belonging to the order _Radiata_; but the
discovery of red snow among the central Alps of Europe, and in the
Pyrenees, and on the mountains of Norway, where _marine_ animalcula
could not exist, effectually overturned this idea. The colouring matter
has now been ascertained to result from plants belonging to the order
called _Algae_, which have a remarkable degree of vitality, and possess
the power, to an amazing extent, of growing and spreading with rapidity
even over such an ungenial soil as the Arctic snow.
While Singleton was examining the red snow, and vainly endeavouring to
ascertain the nature of the minute specks of matter by which it was
coloured, Fred continued to gaze with a look of increasing earnestness
towards the tall column, around which a bank of fog was spreading, and
partially concealing it from view. At length he attracted the attention
of his companion towards it.
"I say, I'm half inclined to believe that yon is no work of nature, but
a monument set up to attract the attention of ships. Don't you think
Singleton regarded the object in question for some time. "I don't think
so, Fred; it is larger than you suppose, for the fog-bank deceives us.
But let us go and see; it cannot be far off."
As they drew near to the tall rock, Fred's hopes began to fade, and soon
were utterly quenched by the fog clearing away, and showing that the
column was indeed of nature's own constructing. It was a single,
solitary shaft of green limestone, which stood on the brink of a deep
ravine, and was marked by the slaty limestone that once encased it. The
length of the column was apparently about five hundred feet, and the
pedestal of sandstone on which it stood was itself upwards of two
hundred feet high.
This magnificent column seemed the flag-staff of a gigantic crystal
fortress, which was suddenly revealed by the clearing away of the
fog-bank to the north. It was the face of the great glacier of the
interior, which here presented an unbroken perpendicular front--a sweep
of solid glassy wall, which rose three hundred feet above the
water-level, with an unknown depth below it. The sun glittered on the
crags and peaks and battlements of this ice fortress, as if the
mysterious inhabitants of the Far North had lit up their fires and
planted their artillery to resist further invasion.
The effect upon the minds of the two youths, who were probably the
first to gaze upon those wondrous visions of the Icy Regions, was
tremendous. For a long time neither of them could utter a word, and it
would be idle to attempt to transcribe the language in which, at length,
their excited feelings sought to escape. It was not until their backs
had been for some time turned on the scene, and the cape near the valley
of red snow had completely shut it out from view, that they could
condescend to converse again in their ordinary tones on ordinary
As they hastened back over the ice-belt at the foot of the cliffs, a
loud boom rang out in the distance and rolled in solemn echoes along the
"There goes a gun," exclaimed Tom Singleton, hastily pulling out his
watch. "Hallo! do you know what time it is?"
"Pretty late, I suppose. It was afternoon, I know, when we started, and
we must have been out a good while now. What time is it?"
"Just two o'clock in the morning!"
"What! do you mean to say it was _yesterday_ when we started, and that
we've been walking all night, and got into _to-morrow morning_ without
"Even so, Fred. We have overshot our time, and the captain is signalling
us to make haste. He said that he would not fire unless there seemed
some prospect of the ice moving, so we had better run, unless we wish to
be left behind; come along."
They had not proceeded more than half-a-mile when a Polar bear walked
leisurely out from behind a lump of ice, where it had been regaling
itself on a dead seal, and sauntered slowly out towards the icebergs
seaward, not a hundred yards in advance of them.
"Hallo! look there! what a monster!" shouted Fred, as he cocked his
musket and sprang forward. "What'll you do, Tom, you've no gun?"
"Never mind, I'll do what I can with the hammer. Only make sure you
don't miss. Don't fire till you are quite close to him."
They were running after the bear at top speed while they thus conversed
in hasty and broken sentences, when suddenly they came to a yawning
crack in the ice, about thirty feet wide, and a mile long on either
hand, with the rising tide boiling at the bottom of it. Bruin's pursuers
came to an abrupt halt.
"Now, isn't that disgusting?"
Probably it was, and the expression of chagrin on Fred's countenance as
he said so evidently showed that he meant it; but there is no doubt that
this interruption to their hunt was extremely fortunate, for to attack a
Polar bear with a musket charged only with small shot, and a geological
hammer, would have been about as safe and successful an operation as
trying to stop a locomotive with one's hand. Neither of them had yet had
experience of the enormous strength of this white monarch of the Frozen
Regions and his tenacity of life, although both were reckless enough to
rush at him with any arms they chanced to have.
"Give him a long shot--quick!" cried Singleton.
Fred fired instantly; and the bear stopped, and looked round, as much as
to say, "Did you speak, gentlemen?" Then, not receiving a reply, he
walked away with dignified indifference, and disappeared among the
An hour afterwards the two wanderers were seated at a comfortable
breakfast in the cabin of the _Dolphin_, relating their adventures to
the captain and mates, and, although unwittingly, to Mivins, who
generally managed so to place himself, while engaged in the mysterious
operations of his little pantry, that most of the cabin talk reached his
ear, and travelled thence through his mouth to the forecastle. The
captain was fully aware of this fact, but he winked at it, for there was
nothing but friendly feeling on board the ship, and no secrets. When,
however, matters of serious import had to be discussed, the cabin door
was closed, and Mivins turned to expend himself on Davie Summers, who,
in the capacity of a listener, was absolutely necessary to the
comfortable existence of the worthy steward.
Having exhausted their appetites and their information, Fred and Tom
were told that, during their absence, a bear and two seals had been shot
by Meetuck, the Esquimau interpreter, whom they had taken on board at
Upernavik; and they were further informed that the ice was in motion to
the westward, and that there was every probability of their being
released by the falling tide. Having duly and silently weighed these
facts for a few minutes, they simultaneously, and as if by a common
impulse, yawned, and retired to bed.
_The "Dolphin" gets beset in the ice--Preparations for wintering in the
ice--Captain Guy's code of laws_.
An accident now befell the _Dolphin_ which effectually decided the fate
of the ship and her crew, at least for that winter. This was her getting
aground near the ravine of the giant flagstaff before mentioned, and
being finally beset by ice, from which all efforts on the part of the
men to extricate her proved abortive, and in which she was ultimately
frozen in, hard and fast.
The first sight the crew obtained of the red snow filled them with
unbounded amazement, and a few of the more superstitious amongst them
with awe approaching to fear. But soon their attention was attracted
from this by the wonderful column.
"Och, then! may I niver!" exclaimed O'Riley, the moment he caught sight
of it, "if there ben't the north pole at long last--_sure_ enough!"
The laugh that greeted this remark was almost immediately checked,
partly from the feelings of solemnity inspired by the magnificent view
which opened up to them, and partly from a suspicion on the part of the
more ignorant among the men that there might be some truth in O'Riley's
statement after all.
But their attention and energies were speedily called to the dangerous
position of the ship, which unexpectedly took the ground in a bay where
the water proved to be unusually shallow, and before they could warp her
off the ice closed round her in compact, immovable masses. At first
Captain Guy was not seriously alarmed by this untoward event, although
he felt a little chagrin in consequence of the detention, for the summer
was rapidly advancing, and it behoved him to return to Baffin's Bay and
prosecute the whale-fishing as energetically as possible; but when day
after day passed, and the ice round the ship still remained immovable,
he became alarmed, and sought by every means in his power to extricate
His position was rendered all the more aggravating by the fact that, a
week after he was beset, the main body of the ice in the strait opened
up and drifted to the southward, leaving a comparatively clear sea
through which he could have pushed his way without much difficulty in
any direction; but the solid masses in which they lay embedded were fast
to the ground for about fifty yards beyond the vessel, seaward, and
until these should be floated away there was no chance of escape.
"Get up some powder and canisters, Mr. Bolton," he exclaimed, one
morning after breakfast, "I'll try what can be done by blasting the
ice. The highest spring tide will occur to-morrow, and if the ship don't
move then we shall--"
He did not finish the sentence, but turned on his heel and walked
forward, where he found Buzzby and some of the men preparing the
"Ay, ay," muttered the mate, as he went below to give the necessary
directions, "you don't need to conclude your speech, captain. If we
don't get out to-morrow, we're locked up for one winter, at least, if
"Ay, and ye'll no get oot to-morrow," remarked Saunders, with a shake of
his head as he looked up from the log-book in which he was making an
entry. "We're hard and fast, so we'll just have to make the best o't."
Saunders was right, as the efforts of the next day proved. The ice lay
around the vessel in solid masses, as we have said, and with each of the
last three tides these masses had been slightly moved. Saws and ice
chisels, therefore, had been in constant operation, and the men worked
with the utmost energy, night and day, taking it by turns, and having
double allowance of hot coffee served out to them. We may mention here
that the _Dolphin_ carried no spirits, except what was needed for
medicinal purposes, and for fuel to several small cooking lamps that had
been recently invented. It had now been proved by many voyagers of
experience that in cold countries, as well as hot, men work harder, and
endure the extremity of hardship better, without strong drink than with
it, and the _Dolphin's_ crew were engaged on the distinct understanding
that coffee, and tea, and chocolate were to be substituted for rum, and
that spirits were never to be given to any one on board, except in cases
of extreme necessity.
But, to return--although the men worked as only those can who toil for
liberation from long imprisonment, no impression worth mentioning could
be made on the ice. At length the attempt to rend it by means of
gunpowder was made.
A jar containing about thirty pounds of powder was sunk in a hole in an
immense block of ice which lay close against the stern of the ship.
Mivins, being light of foot, was set to fire the train. He did so, and
ran--ran so fast that he missed his footing in leaping over a chasm, and
had well-nigh fallen into the water below. There was a whiz and a loud
report, and the enormous mass of ice heaved upwards in the centre, and
fell back in huge fragments. So far the result was satisfactory, and the
men were immediately set to sink several charges in various directions
around the vessel, to be in readiness for the highest tide, which was
soon expected. Warps and hawsers were also got out and fixed to the
seaward masses, ready to heave on them at a moment's notice; the ship
was lightened as much as possible by lifting her stores upon the ice;
and the whole crew--captain, mates, and all--worked and heaved like
horses, until the perspiration streamed from their faces, while Mizzle
kept supplying them with a constant deluge of hot coffee. Fred and the
young surgeon, too, worked like the rest, with their coats off,
handkerchiefs bound round their heads, and shirt-sleeves tucked up to
At last the tide rose--inch by inch, and slowly, as if it grudged to
give them even a chance of escape.
Mivins grew impatient and unbelieving under it. "I don't think it'll
rise another hinch," he remarked to O'Riley, who stood near him.
"Niver fear, boy. The capting knows a sight better than you do, and _he_
says it'll rise a fut yit."
"Does he?" asked Grim, who was also beginning to despond.
"Ov coorse he does. Sure he towld me in a confidintial way, just before
he wint to turn in last night--if it wasn't yisturday forenoon, for it's
meself as niver knows an hour o' the day since the sun became
dissipated, and tuck to sitting up all night in this fashion."
"Shut up yer tatie-trap and open yer weather-eye," muttered Buzzby, who
had charge of the gang; "there'll be time enough to speak after we're
Gradually, as the tide rose, the ice and the ship moved, and it became
evident that the latter was almost afloat, though the former seemed to
be only partly raised from the ground. The men were at their several
posts ready for instant action, and gazing in anxious expectation at the
captain, who stood, watch in hand, ready to give the word.
"Now, then, fire!" he said in a low voice.
In a moment the ice round the ship was rent, and upheaved, as if some
leviathan of the deep were rising from beneath it, and the vessel swung
slowly round. A loud cheer burst from the men.
"Now, lads, heave with a will!" roared the captain.
Round went the capstan, the windlass clanked, and the ship forged slowly
ahead, as the warps and hawsers became rigid. At that moment a heavy
block of ice, which had been overbalanced by the motion of the vessel,
fell with a crash on the rudder, splitting off a large portion of it,
and drawing the iron bolts that held it completely out of the
"Never mind; heave away--for your lives!" cried the captain. "Jump on
board, all of you!"
The few men who had until now remained on the ice scrambled up the side.
There was a sheet of ice right ahead which the ship could not clear, but
which she was pushing out to sea in advance of her. Suddenly this took
the ground and remained motionless.
"Out there with ice-chisels! Sink a hole like lightning! Prepare a
canister, Mr. Bolton--quick!" shouted the captain in desperation, as he
sprang over the side and assisted to cut into the unwieldy obstruction.
The charge was soon fixed and fired, but it only split the block in two
and left it motionless as before. A few minutes after the ship again
grounded; the ice settled round her; the spring tide was lost, and they
were not delivered.
Those who know the bitterness of repeated disappointment and of hope
deferred, may judge of the feelings with which the crew of the _Dolphin_
now regarded their position. Little, indeed, was said, but the grave
looks of most of the men, and the absence of the usual laugh, and jest,
and disposition to skylark, which, on almost all other occasions
characterized them, showed too plainly how heavily the prospect of a
winter in the Arctic Regions weighed upon their spirits. They continued
their exertions to free the ship, however, for several days after the
high tide, and did not finally give in until all reasonable hope of
moving her was utterly annihilated. Before this, however, a reaction
began to take place; the prospects of the coming winter were discussed;
and some of the more sanguine looked even beyond the winter, and began
to consider how they would contrive to get the ship out of her position
into deep water again.
Fred Ellice, too, thought of his father, and this abrupt check to the
search, and his spirits sank again as his hopes decayed. But poor Fred,
like the others, at last discovered that it was of no use to repine, and
that it was best to face his sorrows and difficulties "like a man!"
Alas! poor human nature; how difficult do we find it to face sorrows and
difficulties _cheerfully_, even when we do conscientiously try! Well
would it be for all of us could we submit to such, not only because
they are inevitable, but because they are the will of God--of him who
has asserted in his own Word that "he afflicteth not the children of men
Among so many men there were all shades of character, and the fact that
they were doomed to a year's imprisonment in the Frozen Regions was
received in very different ways. Some looked grave and thought of it
seriously; others laughed and treated it lightly; a few grumbled and
spoke profanely; but most of them became quickly reconciled, and in a
week or two nearly all forgot the past and the future in the duties, and
cares, and amusements of the present. Captain Guy and his officers,
however, and a few of the more sedate men, among whom were Buzzby and
Peter Grim, looked forward with much anxiety, knowing full well the
dangers and trials that lay before them.
It is true the ship was provisioned for more than a year, but most of
the provisions were salt, and Tom Singleton could have told them, had
they required to be told, that without fresh provisions they stood a
poor chance of escaping that dire disease scurvy, before which have
fallen so many gallant tars whom nothing in the shape of dangers or
difficulties could subdue. There were, indeed, myriads of wild-fowl
flying about the ship, on which the men feasted and grew fat every day;
and the muskets of Meetuck and those who accompanied him seldom failed
to supply the ship with an abundance of the flesh of seals, walruses,
and Polar bears, portions of all of which creatures were considered very
good indeed by the men, and particularly by the dogs, which grew so fat
that they began to acquire a very disreputable waddle in their gait as
they walked the deck for exercise, which they seldom did, by the way,
being passionately fond of sleep! But birds, and perchance beasts, might
be expected to take themselves off when the winter arrived, and leave
the crew without fresh food.
Then, although the _Dolphin_ was supplied with every necessary for a
whaling-expedition, and with many luxuries besides, she was ill provided
with the supplies that men deem absolutely indispensable for a winter in
the Arctic Regions, where the cold is so bitterly intense that, after a
prolonged sojourn, men's minds become almost entirely engrossed by two
clamant demands of nature--food and heat. They had only a small quantity
of coal on board, and nothing except a few extra spars that could be
used as a substitute, while the bleak shores afforded neither shrub nor
tree of any kind. Meanwhile, they had a sufficiency of everything they
required for at least two or three months to come, and for the rest, as
Grim said, they had "stout hearts and strong arms."
As soon as it became apparent that they were to winter in the bay, which
the captain named the Bay of Mercy, all further attempt to extricate the
ship was abandoned, and every preparation for spending the winter was
begun and carried out vigorously. It was now that Captain Guy's
qualities as a leader began to be displayed. He knew, from long
experience and observation, that in order to keep up the _morale_ of
any body of men it was absolutely necessary to maintain the strictest
discipline. Indeed, this rule is so universal in its application, that
many men find it advantageous to impose strict rules on themselves in
the regulation of their time and affairs, in order to keep their own
spirits under command. One of the captain's first resolves therefore
was, to call the men together and address them on this subject; and he
seized the occasion of the first Sabbath morning they spent in the Bay
of Mercy, when the crew were assembled for prayers on the quarter-deck,
to speak to them.
Hitherto we have not mentioned the Sabbath day in this story, because,
while at sea, and while struggling with the ice, there was little to
mark it from other days, except the cessation of unnecessary labour, and
the reading of prayers to those who chose to attend; but as necessary
labour preponderated at all times, and the reading of prayers occupied
scarce half-an-hour, there was little _perceptible_ difference between
the Sabbath and any other day. We would not be understood to speak
lightly of this difference. Little though it was in point of time and
appearance, it was immeasurably great in _fact_, as it involved the
great principle that the day of rest ought to be observed, and that the
Creator should be honoured in a special manner on that day.
On the Sabbath in question--and it was an exceedingly bright, peaceful
one--Captain Guy, having read part of the Church of England service as
usual, stood up, and in an earnest, firm tone said:--
"My lads, I consider it my duty to say a few plain words to you in
reference to our present situation and prospects. I feel that the
responsibility of having brought you here rests very much upon myself,
and I deem it my solemn duty, in more than the ordinary sense, to do all
I can to get you out of the ice again. You know as well as I do that
this is impossible at the present time, and that we are compelled to
spend a winter here. Some of you know what that means, but the most of
you know it only by hearsay, and that's much the same as knowing nothing
about it at all. Before the winter is done your energies and endurance
will probably be taxed to the uttermost. I think it right to be candid
with you. The life before you will not be child's play, but I assure you
that it may be mingled with much that will be pleasant and hearty if you
choose to set about it in the right way. Well, then, to be short about
it. There is no chance whatever of our getting through the winter in
this ship comfortably, or even safely, unless the strictest discipline
is maintained aboard. I know, for I've been in similar circumstances
before, that when cold and hunger, and, it may be, sickness press upon
us--should it please the Almighty to send these on us in great
severity--you will feel duty to be irksome, and you'll think it useless,
and perhaps be tempted to mutiny. Now, I ask you solemnly, while your
minds are clear from all prejudices, each individually to sign a written
code of laws, and a written promise that you will obey the same, and
help me to enforce them even with the punishment of _death_, if need
be. Now, lads, will you agree to that?"
"Agreed! agreed!" cried the men at once, and in a tone of prompt
decision that convinced their leader he had their entire confidence--a
matter of the highest importance in the critical circumstances in which
they were placed.
"Well, then, I'll read the rules. They are few, but sufficiently
"1st. Prayers shall be read every morning before breakfast, unless
circumstances render it impossible to do so."
The captain laid down the paper, and looked earnestly at the men.
"My lads, I have never felt so strongly as I now do the absolute need we
have of the blessing and guidance of the Almighty, and I am persuaded
that it is our duty as well as our interest to begin, not only the
Sabbath, but _every_ day with prayer.
"2nd. The ordinary duties of the ship shall be carried on, the watches
regularly set and relieved, regular hours observed, and the details of
duty attended to in the usual way, as when in harbour.
"3rd. The officers shall take watch and watch about as heretofore,
except when required to do otherwise. The log-books, and meteorological
observations, etc., shall be carried on as usual.
"4th. The captain shall have supreme and absolute command as when at
sea; but he, on his part, promises that, should any peculiar
circumstance arise in which the safety of the crew or ship shall be
implicated, he will, if the men are so disposed, call a council of the
whole crew, in which case the decision of the majority shall become law,
but the minority, in that event, shall have it in their option to
separate from the majority and carry along with them their share of the
"5th. Disobedience to orders shall be punishable according to the
decision of a council to be appointed specially for the purpose of
framing a criminal code, hereafter to be submitted for the approval of
The rules above laid down were signed by every man in the ship. Several
of them could not write, but these affixed a cross (x) at the foot of
the page, against which their names were written by the captain in
presence of witnesses, which answered the same purpose. And from that
time, until events occurred which rendered all such rules unnecessary,
the work of the ship went on pleasantly and well.
_Beginning of winter--Meetuck effects a remarkable change in the men's
appearance--Mossing, and working, and plans for a winter campaign_.
In August the first frost came and formed "young ice" on the sea, but
this lasted only for a brief hour or two, and was broken up by the tide
and melted. By the 10th of September the young ice cemented the floes of
last year's ice together, and soon rendered the ice round the ship
immovable. Hummocks clustered round several rocky islets in the
neighbourhood, and the rising and falling of the tide covered the sides
of the rocks with bright crystals. All the feathered tribes took their
departure for less rigorous climes, with the exception of a small white
bird about the size of a sparrow, called the snow-bird, which is the
last to leave the icy North. Then a tremendous storm arose, and the sea
became choked up with icebergs and floes, which the frost soon locked
together into a solid mass. Towards the close of the storm snow fell in
great abundance, and when the mariners ventured again to put their heads
up the opened hatchways, the decks were knee-deep, the drift to windward
was almost level with the bulwarks, every yard was edged with white,
every rope and cord had a light side and a dark, every point and truck
had a white button on it, and every hole, corner, crack, and crevice was
The land and the sea were also clothed with this spotless garment, which
is indeed a strikingly appropriate emblem of purity, and the only dark
objects visible in the landscape were those precipices which were too
steep for the snow to lie on, the towering form of the giant flagstaff,
and the leaden clouds that rolled angrily across the sky. But these
leaden clouds soon rolled off, leaving a blue wintry sky and a bright
The storm blew itself out early in the morning, and at breakfast-time on
that day, when the sun was just struggling with the last of the clouds,
Captain Guy remarked to his friends who were seated round the cabin
table, "Well, gentlemen, we must begin hard work to-day."
"Hard work, captain!" exclaimed Fred Ellice, pausing for a second or two
in the hard work of chewing a piece of hard salt junk; "why, what do you
call the work we've been engaged in for the last few weeks?"
"Play, my lad; that was only play--just to bring our hands in, before
setting to work in earnest!--What do you think of the health of the men,
"Never was better; but I fear the hospital will soon fill if you carry
out your threat in regard to work."
"No fear," remarked the second mate; "the more work the better health
is my experience. Busy men have no time to git seek."
"No doubt of it, sir," said the first mate, bolting a large mouthful of
pork. "Nothing so good for 'em as work."
"There are two against you, doctor," said the captain.
"Then it's two to two," cried Fred, as he finished breakfast; "for I
quite agree with Tom, and with that excellent proverb which says, 'All
work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.'"
The captain shook his head as he said, "Of all the nuisances I ever met
with in a ship a semi-passenger is the worst. I think, Fred, I must get
you bound apprentice and give you regular work to do, you
We need scarcely say that the captain jested, for Fred was possessed of
a spirit that cannot rest, so to speak, unless at work. He was able to
do almost anything _after a fashion_, and was never idle for a moment.
Even when his hands chanced to be unemployed, his brows were knitted,
busily planning what to do next.
"Well now, gentlemen," resumed the captain, "let us consider the order
of business. The first thing that must be done now is to unstow the hold
and deposit its contents on the small island astern of us, which we
shall call Store Island, for brevity's sake. Get a tent pitched there,
Mr. Bolton, and bank it up with snow. You can leave Grim to superintend
the unloading.--Then, Mr. Saunders, do you go and set a gang of men to
cut a canal through the young ice from the ship to the island.
Fortunately the floes there are wide enough apart to let our
quarter-boats float between them. The unshipping won't take long. Tell
Buzzby to take a dozen men with him and collect moss; we'll need a large
quantity for fuel, and if another storm like this comes it'll be hard
work to get down to it. Send Meetuck to me when you go on deck; I shall
talk to him as to our prospects of finding deer hereabouts, and arrange
a hunt.--Doctor, you may either join the hunting-party, or post up the
observations, etc., which have accumulated of late."
"Thank you, captain," said Singleton; "I'll accept the latter duty, the
more willingly that I wish to have a careful examination of my botanical
"And what am I to do, captain?" inquired Fred.
"What you please, lad."
"Then I'll go and take care of Meetuck; he's apt to get into mischief
At this moment a tremendous shout of laughter, long continued, came from
the deck, and a sound as if numbers of men dancing overhead was heard.
The party in the cabin seized their caps and sprang up the companion
ladder, where they beheld a scene that accounted for the laughter, and
induced them to join in it. At first sight it seemed as if thirty Polar
bears had boarded the vessel, and were executing a dance of triumph
before proceeding to make a meal of the crew; but on closer inspection
it became apparent that the men had undergone a strange transformation,
and were capering with delight at the ridiculous appearance they
presented. They were clad from head to foot in Esquimau costume, and now
bore as strong a resemblance to Polar bears as man could attain to.
Meetuck was the pattern and the chief instrument in effecting this
change. At Upernavik Captain Guy had been induced to purchase a large
number of fox-skins, deer-skins, seal-skins, and other furs, as a
speculation, and had them tightly packed and stowed away in the hold,
little imagining the purpose they were ultimately destined to serve.
Meetuck had come on board in a mongrel sort of worn-out seal-skin dress;
but the instant the cold weather set in he drew from a bundle which he
had brought with him a dress made of the fur of the Arctic fox, some of
the skins being white and the others blue. It consisted of a loose coat,
somewhat in the form of a shirt, with a large hood to it, and a short
elongation behind like the commencement of a tail. The boots were made
of white bear-skin, which, at the end of the foot, were made to
terminate with the claws of the animal; and they were so long that they
came up the thigh under the coat, or "jumper," as the men called it, and
thus served instead of trousers. He also wore fur mittens, with a bag
for the fingers, and a separate little bag for the thumb. The hair on
these garments was long and soft, and worn outside, so that when a man
enveloped himself in them, and put up the hood, which well-nigh
concealed the face, he became very much like a bear or some such
creature standing on its hind legs.
Meetuck was a short, fat, burly little fellow by nature; but when he put
on his winter dress he became such a round, soft, squat, hairy, and
comical-looking creature, that no one could look at him without
laughing, and the shout with which he was received on deck the first
time he made his appearance in his new costume was loud and prolonged.
But Meetuck was as good-humoured an Esquimau as ever speared a walrus or
lanced a Polar bear. He joined in the laugh, and cut a caper or two to
show that he entered into the spirit of the joke.
When the ship was set fast, and the thermometer fell pretty low, the men
found that their ordinary dreadnoughts and pea-jackets, etc., were not a
sufficient protection against the cold, and it occurred to the captain
that his furs might now be turned to good account. Sailors are
proverbially good needle-men of a rough kind. Meetuck showed them how to
set about their work. Each man made his own garments, and in less than a
week they were completed. It is true, the boots perplexed them a little,
and the less ingenious among the men made very rare and curious-looking
foot-gear for themselves; but they succeeded after a fashion, and at
last the whole crew appeared on deck in their new habiliments, as we
have already mentioned, capering among the snow like bears, to their
own entire satisfaction and to the intense delight of Meetuck, who now
came to regard the white men as brothers--so true is it that "the tailor
makes the man!"
"'Ow 'orribly 'eavy it is, _h_ain't it?" gasped Mivins, after dancing
round the main-hatch till he was nearly exhausted.
"Heavy!" cried Buzzby, whose appearance was such that you would have
hesitated to say whether his breadth or length was greater--"heavy, d'ye
say? It must be your sperrits wot's heavy, then, for I feel as light as
a feather myself."
"O morther! then may I niver sleep on a bed made o' sich feathers!"
cried O'Riley, capering up to Green, the carpenter's mate, and throwing
a mass of snow in his face. The frost rendered it impossible to form the
snow into balls, but the men made up for this by throwing it about each
other's eyes and ears in handfuls.
"What d'ye mean by insultin' my mate?--take that!" said Peter Grim,
giving the Irishman a twirl that tumbled him on the deck.
"Oh, bad manners to ye!" spluttered O'Riley, as he rose and ran away;
"why don't ye hit a man o' yer own size?"
"'Deed, then, it must be because there's not one o' my own size to hit,"
remarked the carpenter with a broad grin.
This was true. Grim's colossal proportions were increased so much by his
hairy dress that he seemed to have spread out into the dimensions of
two large men rolled into one. But O'Riley was not to be overturned with
impunity. Skulking round behind the crew, who were laughing at Grim's
joke, he came upon the giant in the rear, and seizing the short tail of
his jumper, pulled him violently down on the deck.
"Ah, then, give it him, boys!" cried O'Riley, pushing the carpenter flat
down, and obliterating his black beard and his whole visage in a mass of
snow. Several of the wilder spirits among the men leaped on the
prostrate Grim, and nearly smothered him before he could gather himself
up for a struggle; then they fled in all directions while their victim
regained his feet, and rushed wildly after them. At last he caught
O'Riley, and grasping him by the two shoulders gave him a heave that was
intended and "calc'lated," as Amos Parr afterwards remarked, "to pitch
him over the foretop-sail-yard!" But an Irishman is not easily overcome.
O'Riley suddenly straightened himself and held his arms up over his
head, and the violent heave, which, according to Parr, was to have sent
him to such an uncomfortable elevation, only pulled the jumper
completely off his body, and left him free to laugh in the face of his
big friend, and run away.
At this point the captain deemed it prudent to interfere.
"Come, come, my lads!" he cried, "enough o' this. That's not the morning
work, is it? I'm glad to find that your new dresses," he added with a
significant smile, "make you fond of rough work in the snow; there's
plenty of it before us.--Come down below with me, Meetuck; I wish to
talk with you."
As the captain descended to the cabin the men gave a final cheer, and in
ten minutes they were working laboriously at their various duties.
Buzzby and his party were the first ready and off to cut moss. They drew
a sledge after them towards the red-snow valley, which was not more than
two miles distant from the ship. This "mossing," as it was termed, was
by no means a pleasant duty. Before the winter became severe, the moss
could be cut out from the beds of the snow streams with comparative
ease; but now the mixed turf of willows, heaths, grasses, and moss was
frozen solid, and had to be quarried with crowbars and carried to the
ship like so much stone. However, it was prosecuted vigorously, and a
sufficient quantity was soon procured to pack on the deck of the ship,
and around its sides, so as to keep out the cold. At the same time, the
operation of discharging the stores was carried on briskly; and Fred, in
company with Meetuck, O'Riley, and Joseph West, started with the
dog-sledge on a hunting-expedition.
In order to enable the reader better to understand the condition of the
_Dolphin_ and her crew, we will detail the several arrangements that
were made at this time and during the succeeding fortnight. As a measure
of precaution, the ship, by means of blasting, sawing, and warping, was
with great labour got into deeper water, where one night's frost set
her fast with a sheet of ice three inches thick round her. In a few
weeks this ice became several feet thick; and the snow drifted up her
hull so much that it seemed as if she were resting on the land, and had
taken final leave of her native element. Strong hawsers were then
secured to Store Island, in order to guard against the possibility of
her being carried away by any sudden disruption of the ice. The
disposition of the masts, yards, and sails was next determined on. The
top-gallant-masts were struck, the lower yards got down to the housings.
The top-sail-yards, gaff, and jib-boom, however, were left in their
places. The topsails and courses were kept bent to the yards, the sheets
being unrove and the clews tucked in. The rest of the binding-sails were
stowed on deck to prevent their thawing during winter; and the spare
spars were lashed over the ship's sides, to leave a clear space for
taking exercise in bad weather.
The stores, in order to relieve the strain on the ship, were removed to
Store Island, and snugly housed under the tent erected there, and then a
thick bank of snow was heaped up round it. After this was accomplished,
all the boats were hauled up beside the tent, and covered with snow,
except the two quarter-boats, which were left hanging at the davits all
winter. When the thermometer fell below zero, it was found that the
vapours below, and the breath of the men, condensed on the beams of the
lower deck and in the cabin near the hatchway. It was therefore resolved
to convert some sheet-iron, which they fortunately possessed, into
pipes, which, being conducted from the cooking-stove through the length
of the ship, served in some degree to raise the temperature and
ventilate the cabins. A regular daily allowance of coal was served out,
and four steady men appointed to attend to the fire in regular watches,
for the double purpose of seeing that none of the fuel should be wasted
and of guarding against fire. They had likewise charge of the fire-pumps
and buckets, and two tanks of water, all of which were kept in the
hatchway in constant readiness in case of accidents. In addition to
this, a fire-brigade was formed, with Joseph West, a steady, quiet,
active young seaman, as its captain, and their stations in the event of
fire were fixed beforehand; also, a hole was kept constantly open in the
ice alongside to insure at all times a sufficient supply of water.
Strict regulations as to cleanliness and the daily airing of the
hammocks were laid down, and adhered to throughout the winter. A regular
allowance of provisions was appointed to each man, so that they should
not run the risk of starving before the return of the wild-fowl in
spring. But those provisions were all salt, and the captain trusted much
to their hunting-expeditions for a supply of fresh food, without which
there would be little hope of their continuing in a condition of good
health. Coffee was served out at breakfast and cocoa at supper, besides
being occasionally supplied at other times to men who had been engaged
in exhausting work in extremely cold weather. Afterwards, when the dark
season set in, and the crew were confined by the intense cold more than
formerly within the ship, various schemes were set afoot for passing the
time profitably and agreeably. Among others, a school was started by the
captain for instructing such of the crew as chose to attend in reading,
writing, and arithmetic, and in this hyperborean academy Fred Ellice
acted as the writing master, and Tom Singleton as the accountant. The
men were much amused at first at the idea of "goin' to school," and some
of them looked rather shy at it; but O'Riley, after some consideration,
came boldly forward and said, "Well, boys, bad luck to me if I don't
think I'll be a scholard afther all. My old gran'mother used to tell me,
whin I refused to go to the school that was kip be an owld man as tuck
his fees out in murphies and potheen,--says she, 'Ah! ye spalpeen, ye'll
niver be cliverer nor the pig, ye won't.' 'Ah, then, I hope not,' says
I, 'for sure she's far the cliverest in the house, an' ye wouldn't have
me to be cliverer than me own gran'mother, would ye?' says I. So I niver
wint to school, and more be token, I can't sign me name, and if it was
only to larn how to do that, I'll go and jine; indeed I will." So
O'Riley joined, and before long every man in the ship was glad to join,
in order to have something to do.
The doctor also, twice a-week, gave readings from Shakespeare, a copy of
which he had fortunately brought with him. He also read extracts from
the few other books they happened to have on board; and after a time,
finding unexpectedly that he had a talent that way, he began to draw
upon his memory and his imagination, and told long stories (which were
facetiously called _lectures_) to the men, who listened to them with
great delight. Then Fred started an illustrated newspaper once a-week,
which was named the _Arctic Sun_, and which was in great favour during
the whole course of its brief existence. It is true, only one copy was
issued each morning of publication, because, besides supplying the
greater proportion of the material himself, and executing the
illustrations in a style that would have made Mr. Leech of the present
day envious, he had to transcribe the various contributions he received
from the men and others in a neat, legible hand. But this _one_ copy was
perused and re-perused, as no single copy of any paper extant--not
excepting _The Times_ or _Punch_--has ever yet been perused; and when it
was returned to the editor, to be carefully placed in the archives of
the _Dolphin_, it was emphatically the worse for wear. Besides all this,
a theatre was set agoing, of which we shall have more to say hereafter.
In thus minutely recounting the various expedients which these banished
men fell upon to pass the long dark hours of an Arctic winter, we may,
perhaps, give the reader the impression that a great deal of thought and
time were bestowed upon _amusement_, as if that were the chief end and
object of their life in those regions. But we must remind him that
though many more pages might be filled in recounting all the
particulars, but a small portion of their time was, after all, taken up
in this way; and it would have been well for them had they been able to
find more to amuse them than they did, for the depressing influence of
the long-continued darkness, and the want of a sufficiency of regular
employment for so many months added to the rigorous nature of the
climate in which they dwelt, well-nigh broke their spirits at last.
In order to secure warmth during winter, the deck of the ship was padded
with moss about a foot deep, and down below the walls were lined with
the same material. The floors were carefully plastered with common paste
and covered with oakum a couple of inches deep, over which a carpet of
canvas was spread. Every opening in the deck was fastened down and
covered deeply over with moss, with the exception of one hatch, which
was their only entrance, and this was kept constantly closed except when
it was desirable to ventilate. Curtains were hung up in front of it to
prevent draughts. A canvas awning was also spread over the deck from
stem to stern, so that it was confidently hoped the _Dolphin_ would
prove a snug tenement even in the severest cold.
As has been said before, the snow-drift almost buried the hull of the
ship, and as snow is a good _non-conductor_ of heat, this further helped
to keep up the temperature within. A staircase of snow was built up to
the bulwarks on the larboard quarter, and on the starboard side an
inclined plane of snow was sloped down to the ice to facilitate the
launching of the sledges when they had to be pulled on deck.
Such were the chief arrangements and preparations that were made by our
adventurers for spending the winter; but although we have described them
at this point in our story, many of them were not completed until a much
_A hunting-expedition, in the course of which the hunters meet with many
interesting, dangerous, peculiar, and remarkable experiences, and make
acquaintance with seals, walruses, deer, and rabbits_.
We must now return to Fred Ellice and his companions, Meetuck the
Esquimau, O'Riley, and Joseph West, whom we left while they were on the
point of starting on a hunting-expedition.
They took the direction of the ice-hummocks out to sea, and, seated
comfortably on a large sledge, were dragged by the team of dogs over the
ice at the rate of ten miles an hour.
"Well! did I iver expect to ride a carriage and six?" exclaimed O'Riley
in a state of great glee as the dogs dashed forward at full speed, while
Meetuck nourished his awful whip, making it crack like a pistol-shot
ever and anon.
The sledge on which they travelled was of the very curious and simple
construction peculiar to the Esquimaux, and was built by Peter Grim
under the direction of Meetuck. It consisted of two runners of about ten
feet in length, six inches high, two inches broad, and three feet apart.
They were made of tough hickory, slightly curved in front, and were
attached to each other by cross-bars. At the stern of the vehicle there
was a low back composed of two uprights and a single bar across. The
whole machine was fastened together by means of tough lashings of raw
seal-hide, so that, to all appearance, it was a rickety affair, ready to
fall to pieces. In reality, however, it was very strong. No metal nails
of any kind could have held in the keen frost--they would have snapped
like glass at the first jolt--but the sealskin fastenings yielded to the
rude shocks and twistings to which the sledge was subjected, and seldom
gave way, or if they did, were easily and speedily renewed without the
aid of any other implement than a knife.
But the whip was the most remarkable part of the equipage. The handle
was only sixteen inches in length, but the lash was twenty _feet_ long,
made of the toughest seal-skin, and as thick as a man's wrist near the
handle, whence it tapered off to a fine point. The labour of using such
a formidable weapon is so great that Esquimaux usually, when
practicable, travel in couples, one sledge behind the other. The dogs of
the last sledge follow mechanically and require no whip, and the riders
change about so as to relieve each other. When travelling, the whip
trails behind, and can be brought with a tremendous crack that makes the
hair fly from the wretch that is struck; and Esquimaux are splendid
_shots_, so to speak. They can hit any part of a dog with certainty, but
usually rest satisfied with simply cracking the whip--a sound that
produces an answering yell of terror, whether the lash takes effect or
Our hunters were clothed in their Esquimau garments, and cut the oddest
imaginable figures. They had a soft, rotund, cuddled-up appearance, that
was powerfully suggestive of comfort. The sledge carried one day's
provisions, a couple of walrus harpoons with a sufficient quantity of
rope, four muskets with the requisite ammunition, an Esquimau
cooking-lamp, two stout spears, two tarpaulins to spread on the snow,
and four blanket sleeping-bags. These last were six feet long, and just
wide enough for a man to crawl into at night, feet first.
"What a jolly style of travelling, isn't it?" cried Fred, as the dogs
sprang wildly forward, tearing the sledge behind them, Dumps and Poker
leading and looking as lively as crickets.
"Well now, isn't it true that wits jump?--that's jist what I was sayin'
to meself," remarked O'Riley, grinning from ear to ear as he pulled the
fur-hood farther over his head, crossed his arms more firmly on his
breast, and tried to double himself up as he sat there like an overgrown
rat. "I wouldn't exchange it wid the Lord Mayor o' London and his coach
an' six--so I wouldn't.--Arrah! have a care, Meetuck, ye baste, or ye'll
have us kilt."
This, last exclamation was caused by the reckless driver dashing over a
piece of rough ice that nearly capsized the sledge. Meetuck did not
answer, but he looked over his shoulder with a quiet smile on his oily
"Ah, then, ye may laugh," said O'Riley with menacing look, "but av ye
break a bone o' me body I'll--"
Down went the dogs into a crack in the ice as he spoke, over went the
sledge and hurled them all out upon the ice.
"Musha! but ye've done it!"
"Hallo, West! are you hurt?" cried Fred anxiously, as he observed the
sailor fall heavily on the ice.
"Oh no, sir; all right, thank you," replied the man, rising alertly and
limping to the sledge. "Only knocked the skin off my shin, sir."
West was a quiet, serious, polite man, an American by birth, who was
much liked by the crew in consequence of a union of politeness and
modesty with a disposition to work far beyond his strength. He was not
very robust, however, and in powers of physical endurance scarcely
fitted to engage in an Arctic expedition.
"An' don't ye think it's worth makin' inquiries about _me_?" cried
O'Riley, who had been tossed into a crevice in the hummock, where he lay
jammed and utterly unable to move.
Fred and the Esquimau laughed heartily while O'Riley extricated himself
from his awkward position. Fortunately no damage was done, and in five
minutes they were flying over the frozen sea as madly as ever in the
direction of the point at the opposite side of Red-Snow Valley, where a
cloud of frost-smoke indicated open water.
"Now, look you, Mr. Meetuck, av ye do that again ye'll better don't,
let me tell ye. Sure the back o' me's brack entirely," said O'Riley, as
he re-arranged himself with a look of comfort that belied his words.
"Och, there ye go again," he cried, as the sledge suddenly fell about
six inches from a higher level to a lower, where the floe had cracked,
causing the teeth of the whole party to come together with a snap. "A
man durs'n't spake for fear o' bitin' his tongue off."
"No fee," said Meetuck, looking over his shoulder with a broader smirk.
"No fee, ye lump of pork! it's a double fee I'll have to pay the dacter
an ye go on like that."
_No fee_ was Meetuck's best attempt at the words _no fear._ He had
picked up a little English during his brief sojourn with the sailors,
and already understood much of what was said to him; but words were as
yet few, and his manner of pronouncing them peculiar.
"Holo! look! look!" cried the Esquimau, suddenly checking the dogs and
leaping off the sledge.
"Eh! what! where?" ejaculated Fred, seizing his musket.
"I think I see something, sir," said West, shading his eyes with his
hand, and gazing earnestly in the direction indicated by Meetuck.
"So do I, be the mortial," said O'Riley in a hoarse whisper. "I see the
mountains and the sky, I do, as plain as the nose on me face!"
"Hush! stop your nonsense, man," said Fred. "I see a deer, I'm certain
Meetuck nodded violently to indicate that Fred was right.
"Well, what's to be done? Luckily we are well to leeward, and it has
neither sighted nor scented us."
Meetuck replied by gestures and words to the effect that West and
O'Riley should remain with the dogs, and keep them quiet under the
shelter of a hummock, while he and Fred should go after the reindeer.
Accordingly, away they went, making a pretty long detour in order to
gain the shore, and come upon it under the shelter of the grounded
floes, behind which they might approach without being seen. In hurrying
along the coast they observed the footprints of a musk-ox, and also of
several Arctic hares and foxes; which delighted them much, for hitherto
they had seen none of these animals, and were beginning to be fearful
lest they should not visit that part of the coast at all. Of course Fred
knew not what sort of animals had made the tracks in question, but he
was an adept at guessing, and the satisfied looks of his companion gave
him reason to believe that he was correct in his surmises.
In half-an-hour they came within range, and Fred, after debating with
himself for some time as to the propriety of taking the first shot,
triumphed over himself, and stepping back a pace, motioned to the
Esquimau to fire. But Meetuck was an innate gentleman, and modestly
declined; so Fred advanced, took a good aim, and fired.
The deer bounded away, but stumbled as it went, showing that it was
"Ha! ha! Meetuck," exclaimed Fred, as he recharged in tremendous
excitement (taking twice as long to load in consequence), "I've improved
a little, you see, in my shoot--oh bother this--ramrod!--tut! tut!
there, that's it."
Bang went Meetuck's musket at that moment, and the deer tumbled over
upon the snow.
"Well done, old fellow!" cried Fred, springing forward. At the same
instant a white hare darted across his path, at which he fired, without
even putting the gun to his shoulder, and knocked it over, to his own
The three shots were the signal for the men to come up with the sledge,
which they did at full gallop, O'Riley driving, and flourishing the long
whip about in a way that soon entangled it hopelessly with the dogs'
"Ah, then, ye've done it this time, ye have, sure enough. Musha! what a
purty crature it is. Now, isn't it, West? Stop, then, won't ye (to the
restive dogs); ye've broke my heart entirely, and the whip's tied up
into iver so many knots. Arrah, Meetuck! ye may drive yer coach yerself
for me, you may; I've had more nor enough of it."
In a few minutes the deer and the hare were lashed to the sledge--which
the Irishman asserted was a great improvement, inasmuch as the carcass
of the former made an excellent seat--and they were off again at full
gallop over the floes. They travelled without further interruption or
mishap, until they drew near to the open water, when suddenly they came
upon a deep fissure or crack in the ice about four feet wide, with water
in the bottom. Here they came to a dead stop.
"Arrah! what's to be done now?" inquired O'Riley.
"Indeed I don't know," replied Fred, looking toward Meetuck for advice.
"Hup, cut-up ice, mush, hurroo!" said that fat individual. Fortunately
he followed his advice with a practical illustration of its meaning.
Seizing an axe, he ran to the nearest hummock, and chopping it down,
rolled the heaviest pieces he could move into the chasm. The others
followed his example, and in the course of an hour the place was bridged
across, and the sledge passed over. But the dogs required a good deal of
coaxing to get them to trust to this rude bridge, which their sagacity
taught them was not to be depended on like the works of nature.
A quarter of an hour's drive brought them to a place where there was
another crack of little more than two feet across. Meetuck stretched his
neck and took a steady look at this as they approached it at full
gallop. Being apparently satisfied with his scrutiny, he resumed his
look of self-satisfied placidity.
"Look out, Meetuck--pull up!" cried Fred in some alarm; but the Esquimau
paid no attention.
"O morther! we're gone now for iver," exclaimed O'Riley, shutting his
eyes and clenching his teeth as he laid fast hold of the sides of the
The feet of the dogs went faster and faster until they pattered on the
hard surface of the snow like rain. Round came the long whip, as O'Riley
said, "like the shot of a young cannon," and the next moment they were
across, skimming over the ice on the other side like the wind.
It happened that there had been a break in the ice at this point on the
previous night, and the floes had been cemented by a sheet of ice only
an inch thick. Upon this, to the consternation even of Meetuck himself,
they now passed, and in a moment, ere they were aware, they were passing
over a smooth, black surface that undulated beneath them like the waves
of the sea, and crackled fearfully. There was nothing for it but to go
on. A moment's halt would have allowed the sledge to break through, and
leave them struggling in the water. There was no time for remark. Each
man held his breath. Meetuck sent the heavy lash with a tremendous crack
over the backs of the whole team; but just as they neared the solid floe
the left runner broke through. In a moment the men flung themselves
horizontally upon their breasts, and scrambled over the smooth surface
until they gained the white ice, while the sledge and the dogs nearest
to it were sinking. One vigorous pull, however, by dogs and men
together, dragged the sledge upon the solid floe, even before the things
in it had got wet.
"Safe!" cried Fred, as he hauled on the sledge rope to drag it farther
out of danger.
"So we are," replied O'Riley, breathing very hard; "and it's meself
thought to have had a wet skin at this minute.--Come, West, lind a hand
to fix the dogs, will ye?"
A few minutes sufficed to put all to rights and enable them to start
afresh. Being now in the neighbourhood of dangerous ice, they advanced
with a little more caution; the possibility of seals being in the
neighbourhood also rendered them more circumspect. It was well that they
were on the alert, for a band of seals were soon after descried in a
pool of open water not far ahead, and one of them was lying on the ice.
There were no hummocks, however, in the neighbourhood to enable them to
approach unseen; but the Esquimau was prepared for such a contingency.
He had brought a small sledge, of about two feet in length by a foot and
a half in breadth, which he now unfastened from the large sledge, and
proceeded quietly to arrange it, to the surprise of his companions, who
had not the least idea what he was about to do, and watched his
proceedings with much interest.
"Is it to sail on the ice ye're goin', boy?" inquired O'Riley at last,
when he saw Meetuck fix a couple of poles, about four feet long, into a
hole in the little sledge, like two masts, and upon these spread a piece
of canvas upwards of a yard square, with a small hole in the centre of
But Meetuck answered not. He fastened the canvas "sail" to a cross-yard
above and below. Then placing a harpoon and coil of rope on the sledge,
and taking up his musket, he made signs to the party to keep under the
cover of a hummock, and, pushing the sledge before him, advanced towards
the seals in a stooping posture, so as to be completely hid behind the
bit of canvas.
"O the haythen! I see it now!" exclaimed O'Riley, his face puckering up
with fun. "Ah, but it's a cliver trick, no doubt of it."
"What a capital dodge!" said Fred, crouching behind the hummock, and
watching the movements of the Esquimau with deep interest.
"West, hand me the little telescope; you'll find it in the pack."
"Here it is, sir," said the man, pulling out a glass of about six inches
long, and handing it to Fred.
"How many is there, an ye plaze?"
"Six, I think; yes--one, two, three--I can't make them out quite, but I
think there are six, besides the one on the ice. Hist! there he sees
him. Ah, Meetuck, he's too quick for you."
As he spoke the seal on the ice began to show symptoms of alarm. Meetuck
had approached to within shot, but he did not fire; the wary Esquimau
had caught sight of another object which a lump of ice had hitherto
concealed from view. This was no less a creature than a walrus, who
chanced at that time to come up to take a gulp of fresh air and lave
his shaggy front in the brine, before going down again to the depths of
his ocean home. Meetuck, therefore, allowed the seal to glide quietly
into the sea, and advanced towards this new object of attack. At length
he took a steady aim through the hole in the canvas screen, and fired.
Instantly the seals dived, and at the same time the water round the
walrus was lashed into foam and tinged with red. It was evidently badly
wounded, for had it been only slightly hurt it would probably have
Meetuck immediately seized his harpoon, and rushed towards the
struggling monster; while Fred grasped a gun and O'Riley a harpoon, and
ran to his assistance. West remained to keep back the dogs. As Meetuck
gained the edge of the ice the walrus recovered partially, and tried,
with savage fury, to reach his assailant, who planted the harpoon deep
in its breast, and held on to the rope while the animal dived.
"Whereabouts is he?" cried O'Riley, as he came panting to the scene of
As he spoke the walrus ascended almost under his nose, with a loud
bellow, and the Irishman started back in terror, as he surveyed at close
quarters, for the first time, the colossal and horrible countenance of
this elephant of the Northern Seas. O'Riley was no coward, but the
suddenness of the apparition was too much for him, and we need not
wonder that in his haste he darted the harpoon far over the animal's
head into the sea beyond. Neither need we feel surprised that when Fred
took aim at its forehead, the sight of its broad muzzle fringed with a
bristling moustache, and defended by huge tusks, caused him to miss it
altogether. But O'Riley recovered, hauled his harpoon back, and
succeeded in planting it deep under the creature's left flipper; and
Fred, reloading, lodged a ball in its head, which finished it. With
great labour the four men, aided by the dogs, drew it out upon the ice.
This was a great prize, for walrus-flesh is not much inferior to beef,
and would be an acceptable addition of fresh meat for the use of the
_Dolphin's_ crew; and there was no chance of it spoiling, for the frost
was now severe enough to freeze every animal solid almost immediately
after it was killed.
The body of this walrus was not less than eighteen feet long and eleven
in circumference. It was more like an elephant in bulk and rotundity
than any other creature. It partook very much of the form of a seal,
having two large paw-like flippers, with which, when struggling for
life, it had more than once nearly succeeded in getting upon the ice.
Its upper face had a square, bluff aspect, and its broad muzzle and
cheeks were completely covered by a coarse, quill-like beard of
bristles, which gave to it a peculiarly ferocious appearance. The notion
that the walrus resembles man is very much overrated. The square, bluff
shape of the head already referred to destroys the resemblance to
humanity when distant, and its colossal size does the same when near.
Spine of the seals deserve this distinction more, their drooping
shoulders and oval faces being strikingly like to those of man when at a
distance. The white ivory tusks of this creature were carefully measured
by Fred, and found to be thirty inches long.
The resemblance of the walrus to our domestic land-animals has obtained
for it, among sailors, the names of the sea-horse and sea-cow; and the
records of its ferocity when attacked are numerous. Its hide is nearly
an inch thick, and is put to many useful purposes by the Esquimaux, who
live to a great extent on the flesh of this creature. They cut up his
hide into long lines to attach to the harpoons with which they catch
himself, the said harpoons being pointed with his own tusks. This tough
hide is not the only garment the walrus wears to protect him from the
cold. He also wears under-flannels of thick fat and a top-coat of close
hair, so that he can take a siesta on an iceberg without the least
inconvenience. Talking of siestas, by the way, the walrus is sometimes
"caught napping." Occasionally, when the weather is intensely cold, the
hole through which he crawls upon the ice gets frozen over so solidly
that, on waking, he finds it beyond even his enormous power to break it.
In this extremity there is no alternative but to go to sleep again,
and--die! which he does as comfortably as he can. The Polar bears,
however, are quick to smell him out, and assembling round his carcass
for a feast, they dispose of him, body and bones, without ceremony.
As it was impossible to drag this unwieldy animal to the ship that
night, for the days had now shortened very considerably, the hunters
hauled it towards the land, and having reached the secure ice, prepared
to encamp for the night under the lee of a small iceberg.
_A dangerous sleep interrupted--A night in a snow-hut, and an unpleasant
"Now, then," cried Fred, as they drew up on a level portion of the
ice-floe, where the snow on its surface was so hard that the runners of
the sledge scarce made an impression on it, "let us to work, lads, and
get the tarpaulins spread. We shall have to sleep to-night under
"Troth," said O'Riley, gazing round towards the land, where the distant
cliffs loomed black and heavy in the fading light, and out upon the
floes and hummocks, where the frost-smoke from pools of open water on
the horizon circled round the pinnacles of the icebergs--"troth, it's a
cowld place intirely to go to wan's bed in, but that fat-faced Exqueemaw
seems to be settin' about it quite coolly; so here goes!"
"It would be difficult to set about it otherwise than coolly with the
thermometer forty-five below zero," remarked Fred, beating his hands
together, and stamping his feet, while the breath issued from his mouth
like dense clouds of steam, and fringed the edges of his hood and the
breast of his jumper with hoar-frost.
"It's quite purty, it is," remarked O'Riley, in reference to this wreath
of hoar-frost, which covered the upper parts of each of them; "it's jist
like the ermine that kings and queens wear, so I'm towld, and it's
chaper a long way."
"I don't know that," said Joseph West. "It has cost us a rough voyage
and a winter in the Arctic Regions, if it doesn't cost us more yet, to
put that ermine fringe on our jumpers. I can make nothing of this knot;
try what you can do with it, messmate, will you?"
"Sorra wan o' me'll try it," cried O'Riley, suddenly leaping up and
swinging both arms violently against his shoulders; "I've got two hands,
I have, but niver a finger on them--leastwise I feel none, though it
_is_ some small degrae o' comfort to see them."
"My toes are much in the same condition," said West, stamping vigorously
until he brought back the circulation.
"Dance, then, wid me," cried the Irishman, suiting his action to the
word. "I've a mortial fear o' bein' bit wid the frost--for it's no joke,
let me tell you. Didn't I see a whole ship's crew wance that wos wrecked
in the Gulf o' St. Lawrence about the beginnin' o' winter, and before
they got to a part o' the coast where there was a house belongin' to the
fur-traders, ivery man-jack o' them was frost-bit more or less, they
wor. Wan lost a thumb, and another the jint of a finger or two, and
most o' them had two or three toes off, an' there wos wan poor fellow
who lost the front half o' wan fut an' the heel o' the other, an' two
inches o' the bone was stickin' out. Sure it's truth I'm tellin' ye, for
I seed it wid me own two eyes, I did."
The earnest tones in which the last words were spoken convinced his
comrades that O'Riley was telling the truth, so having a decided
objection to be placed in similar circumstances, they danced and beat
each other until they were quite in a glow.
"Why, what are you at there, Meetuck?" exclaimed Fred, pausing.
"Igloe make," replied the Esquimau.
"Ig--what?" inquired O'Riley.
"Oh, I see!" shouted Fred, "he's going to make a snow-hut--igloes they
call them here. Capital!--I never thought of that. Come along; let's
Meetuck was indeed about to erect one of those curious dwellings of snow
in which, for the greater part of the year, his primitive countrymen
dwell. He had no taste for star-spangled bed-curtains, when solid walls,
whiter than the purest dimity, were to be had for nothing. His first
operation in the erection of this hut was to mark out a circle of about
seven feet diameter. From the inside of this circle the snow was cut by
means of a long knife in the form of slabs nearly a foot thick, and from
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