The World of Ice
Robert Michael Ballantyne
Part 4 out of 5
It was now the beginning of December, and the darkness was complete. Not
the faintest vestige of twilight appeared even at noon. Midnight and
noonday were alike. Except when the stars and aurora were bright, there
was not light enough to distinguish a man's form at ten paces distant,
and a blacker mass than the surrounding darkness alone indicated where
the high cliffs encompassed the Bay of Mercy. When therefore any one
came on deck, the first thing he felt on groping his way about was the
cold noses of the dogs pushed against his hands, as they frisked and
gambolled round him. They howled at the appearance of an accidental
light, as if they hoped the sun, or at least the moon, were going to
rise once more, and they rejoiced on being taken below, and leaped up
in the men's faces for sympathy, and whined, and all but spoke with
excess of satisfaction.
The effect of the monotony of long-continued darkness and the absence of
novelty had much to do also with the indifferent health of many of the
men. After the two expeditions were sent out, those who remained behind
became much more low spirited, and the symptoms of scurvy increased. In
these circumstances Captain Guy taxed his inventive genius to the utmost
to keep up their spirits and engage their minds. He assumed an air of
bustling activity, and attached a degree of importance to the regular
performance of the light duties of the ship that they did not in reality
possess apart from their influence as discipline. The cabin was swept
and aired, the stove cleaned, the fittings dusted, the beds made, the
tides, thermometers, and barometers registered; the logs posted up,
clothes mended, food cooked, traps visited, etc., with the regularity of
clockwork, and every possible plan adopted to occupy every waking hour,
and to prevent the men from brooding over their position. When the
labours of the day were over, plans were proposed for getting up a
concert, or a new play, in order to surprise the absentees on their
return. Stories were told over and over again, and enjoyed if good, or
valued far beyond their worth if bad. When old stories failed, and old
books were read, new stories were invented; and here the genius of some
was drawn out, while the varied information of others became of great
importance. Tom Singleton, in particular, entertained the men with
songs and lively tunes on the flute, and told stories, as one of them
remarked, "like a book." Joseph West, too, was an invaluable comrade in
this respect. He had been a studious boy at school, and a lover of books
of all kinds, especially books of travel and adventure. His memory was
good, and his inventive powers excellent, so that he recalled wonderful
and endless anecdotes from the unfathomable stores of his memory, strung
them together into a sort of story, and told them in a soft, pleasant
voice that captivated the ears of his audience; but poor West was in
delicate health, and could not speak so long as his messmates would have
wished. The rough life they led, and the frequent exposure to intense
cold, had considerably weakened a frame which had never been robust, and
an occasional cough, when he told a long story, sometimes warned him to
desist. Games, too, were got up. "Hide and seek" was revived with all
the enthusiasm of boyhood, and "fox-chase" was got up with tremendous
energy. In all this the captain was the most earnest and vigorous, and
in doing good to others he unconsciously did the greatest possible
amount of good to himself; for his forgetfulness of self, and the
activity of his mind in catering for the wants and amusements of his
men, had the effect of imparting a cheerfulness to his manner, and a
healthy tone to his mind, that tended powerfully to sustain and
invigorate his body. But despite all this, the men grew worse, and a few
of them showed such alarming symptoms that the doctor began to fear
there would soon be a breach in their numbers.
Meanwhile Saunders and his fifteen men trudged steadily to the
southward, dragging their sledge behind them. The ice-floes, however,
turned out to be very rugged and hummocky, and retarded them so much
that they made but slow progress until they passed the Red-Snow Valley,
and doubled the point beyond it. Here they left the floes, and took to
the natural highway afforded by the ice-belt, along which they sped more
rapidly, and arrived at the Esquimau village in the course of about five
Here all was deserted and silent. Bits of seal and walrus hide and bones
and tusks were scattered about in all directions, but no voices issued
from the dome-shaped huts of snow.
"They're the likest things to bee-skeps I ever saw," remarked Saunders,
as he and his party stood contemplating the little group of huts. "And
they don't seem to care much for big doors."
Saunders referred here to the low tunnels, varying from three to twelve
feet, that formed the entrance to each hut.
"Mayhap there's some o' them asleep inside," suggested Tom Green, the
carpenter's mate; "suppose we go in and see."
"I daresay ye're no far wrong," replied the second mate, to whom the
idea seemed to be a new one. "Go in, Davie Summers, ye're a wee chap,
and can bend your back better than the most o' us."
Davie laughed as he went down on his hands and knees, and creeping in
at the mouth of one of the tunnels, which barely permitted him to enter
in that position, disappeared.
Several of the party at the same time paid similar visits to the other
huts, but they all returned with the same remark--"empty." The interiors
were begrimed with lamp-black and filth, and from their appearance
seemed to have been deserted only a short time before.
Buzzby, who formed one of the party, rubbed his nose for some time in
great perplexity, until he drew from Davie Summers the remark that his
proboscis was red enough by nature and didn't need rubbing. "It's odd,"
he remarked; "they seems to ha' bin here for some time, and yit they've
niver looked near the ship but once. Wot's become on 'em _I_ don't
"Don't you?" said Davie in a tone of surprise; "now that _is_ odd. One
would have thought that a fellow who keeps his weather-eye so constantly
open should know everything."
"Don't chaff, boy, but lend a hand to undo the sled-lashings. I see that
Mr. Saunders is agoin' to anchor here for the night."
The second mate, who had been taking a hasty glance at the various huts
of the village, selected two of the largest as a lodging for his men,
and having divided them into two gangs, ordered them to turn in and
sleep as hard as possible.
"S'pose we may sup first?" said Summers in a whining tone of mock
"In coorse you may," answered Tom Green, giving the lad a push that
upset him in the snow.
"Come here, Buzzby, I want to speak to 'ee," said Saunders, leading him
aside. "It seems to me that the Esquimaux canna be very far off, and I
observe their tracks are quite fresh in the snow leadin' to the
southward, so I mean to have a night march after them; but as the men
seem pretty weel tired I'll only take two o' the strongest. Who d'ye
think might go?"
"I'll go myself, sir."
"Very good; and who else, think 'ee? Amos Parr seems freshest."
"I think Tom Green's the man wot can do it. I seed him capsize Davie
Summers jist now in the snow; an' when a man can skylark, I always know
he's got lots o' wind in 'im."
"Very good. Then go, Buzzby, and order him to get ready, and look sharp
"Ay, ay, sir," cried Buzzby, as he turned to prepare Green for the
In pursuance of this plan, an hour afterwards Saunders and his two
followers left the camp with their sleeping-bags and a day's provisions
on their shoulders, having instructed the men to follow with the sledge
at the end of five hours, which period was deemed sufficient time for
rest and refreshment.
For two hours the trio plodded silently onward over the ice-belt by the
light of a clear, starry sky. At the end of that time clouds began to
gather to the westward, rendering the way less distinct, but still
leaving sufficient light to render travelling tolerably easy. Then they
came to a part of the coast where the ice-belt clung close to a line of
perpendicular cliffs of about three miles in extent. The ice-belt here
was about twenty feet broad. On the left the cliffs referred to rose
sheer up several hundred feet; on the right the ice-belt descended only
about three feet to the floes. Here our three adventurous travellers
were unexpectedly caught in a trap. The tide rose so high that it raised
the sea-ice to a level with the ice-belt, and, welling up between the
two, completely overflowed the latter.
The travellers pushed on as quickly as possible, for the precipices on
their left forbade all hope of escape in that direction, while the gap
between the ice-belt and the floes, which was filled with a gurgling
mixture of ice and water, equally hemmed them in on the right. Worse
than all, the tide continued to rise, and when it reached half-way to
their knees, they found it dangerous to advance for fear of stepping
into rents and fissures which were no longer visible.
"What's to be done noo?" inquired Saunders, coming to a full stop, and
turning to Buzzby with a look of blank despair.
"Dun'no'," replied Buzzby, with an equally blank look of despair; as he
stood with his legs apart and his arms hanging down by his side--the
very personification of imbecility. "If I wos a fly I'd know wot to do.
I'd walk up the side o' that cliff till I got to a dry bit, and then I'd
stick on. But, not bein' a fly, in coorse I can't."
Buzzby said this in a recklessly facetious tone, and Tom Green followed
it up with a remark to the effect that "he'd be blowed if he ever wos in
sich a fix in his life;" intimating his belief, at the same time, that
his "toes wos freezin'."
"No fear o' that," said the second mate; "they'll no freeze as lang as
they're in the water. We'll just have to stand here till the tide goes
Saunders said this in a dogged tone, and immediately put his plan in
force by crossing his arms and planting his feet firmly on the submerged
ice and wide apart. Buzzby and Green, however, adopted the wiser plan of
moving constantly about within a small circle, and after Saunders had
argued for half-an-hour as to the advantages of his plan, he followed
their example. The tide rose above their knees, but they had fortunately
on boots made by the Esquimaux, which were perfectly waterproof; their
feet, therefore, although very cold, were quite dry. In an hour and
three-quarters the ice-belt was again uncovered, and the half-frozen
travellers resumed their march with the utmost energy.
Two hours later and they came to a wide expanse of level ground at the
foot of the high cliffs, where a group of Esquimau huts, similar to
those they had left, was descried.
"They're all deserted too," remarked Buzzby.
But Buzzby was wrong, for at that moment a very small and particularly
fat little boy in a fox-skin dress appeared at the mouth of one of the
low tunnels that formed the entrance to the nearest hut. This boy looked
exactly like a lady's muff with a hairy head above it and a pair of feet
below. The instant he observed the strangers he threw up his arms,
uttered a shrill cry of amazement, and disappeared in the tunnel. Next
instant a legion of dogs rushed out of the huts barking furiously, and
on their heels came the entire population, creeping on their hands and
knees out of the tunnel mouths like dark hairy monsters issuing from
their holes. They had spears and knives of ivory with them; but a glance
showed the two parties that they were friends, and in a few moments
Awatok and his comrades were chattering vociferously round the sailors,
and endeavouring by word and sign to make themselves understood.
The Esquimaux received the three visitors and the rest of the sledge
party, who came up a few hours later, with the utmost hospitality. But
we have not space to tell of how they dragged them into their smoky huts
of snow; and how they offered them raw seal-flesh to eat; and how, on
the sailors expressing disgust, they laughed, and added moss mixed with
oil to their lamps to enable them to cook their food; and how they
managed by signs and otherwise to understand that the strangers had come
in search of food, at which they (the Esquimaux) were not surprised;
and how they assured their visitors (also by means of signs) that they
would go a-hunting with them on the following day, whereat they (the
sailors) were delighted, and shook hands all round. Neither have we
space to tell of how the visitors were obliged to conform to custom, and
sleep in the same huts with men, women, children, and dogs, and how they
felt thankful to be able to sleep anywhere and anyhow without being
frozen. All this, and a great deal more, we are compelled to skip over
here, and leave it, unwillingly, to the vivid imagination of our reader.
_The hunting-party--Reckless driving--A desperate encounter with a
Late in the day, by the bright light of the stars, the sailors and the
Esquimaux left the snow-huts of the village, and travelling out to
seaward on the floes, with dogs and sledges, lances and spears, advanced
to do battle with the walrus.
The northern lights were more vivid than usual, making the sky quite
luminous; and there was a sharp freshness in the air, which, while it
induced the hunters to pull their hoods more tightly round their faces,
also sent their blood careering more briskly through their veins, as
they drove swiftly over the ice in the Esquimau sledges.
"Did ye ever see walruses afore, Davie?" inquired Buzzby, who sat beside
Summers on the leading sledge.
"None but what I've seed on this voyage."
"They're _re_markable creeturs," rejoined Buzzby, slapping his hand on
his thigh. "I've seed many a one in my time, an' I can tell ye, lad,
they're ugly customers. They fight like good uns, and give the
Esquimaux a deal o' trouble to kill them--they do."
"Tell me a story about 'em, Buzzby--do, like a good chap," said Davie
Summers, burying his nose in the skirts of his hairy garment to keep it
warm. "You're a capital hand at a yarn; now, fire away."
"A story, lad; I don't know as how I can exactly tell ye a story, but
I'll give ye wot they calls a hanecdote. It wos about five years ago,
more or less, I wos out in Baffin's Bay, becalmed off one o' the
Esquimau settlements, when we wos lookin' over the side at the lumps of
ice floatin' past, up got a walrus not very far off shore, and out went
half-a-dozen kayaks, as they call the Esquimau men's boats, and they all
sot on the beast at once. Well, it wos one o' the brown walruses, which
is always the fiercest; and the moment he got the first harpoon he went
slap at the man that threw it. But the fellow backed out; and then a cry
was raised to let it alone, as it wos a brown walrus. One young
Esquimau, howsiver, would have another slap at it, and went so close
that the brute charged, upset the kayak, and ripped the man up with his
tusks. Seein' this, the other Esquimaux made a dash at it, and wounded
it badly; but the upshot wos that the walrus put them all to flight and
made off, clear away, with six harpoons fast in its hide."
"Busby's tellin' ye gammon," roared Tom Green, who rode on the second
sledge in rear of that on which Davie Summers sat. "What is't all
"About gammon, of coorse," retorted Davie. "Keep yer mouth shut for
fear your teeth freeze."
"Can't ye lead us a better road?" shouted Saunders, who rode on the
third sledge; "my bones are rattlin' about inside o' me like a bag o'
"Give the dogs a cut, old fellow," said Buzzby, with a chuckle and a
motion of his arm to the Esquimau who drove his sledge.
The Esquimau did not understand the words, but he quite understood the
sly chuckle and the motion of the arm, so he sent the lash of the heavy
whip with a loud crack over the backs of the team.
"Hold on for life!" cried Davie, as the dogs sprang forward with a
The part they were about to pass over was exceedingly rough and broken,
and Buzzby resolved to give his shipmates a shake. The pace was
tremendous. The powerful dogs drew their loads after them with
successive bounds, which caused a succession of crashes, as the sledges
sprang from lump to lump of ice, and the men's teeth snapped in a truly
"B-a-ck ye-r t-to-p-sails, will ye?" shouted Amos Parr.
But the delighted Esquimau leader, who entered quite into the joke, had
no intention whatever of backing his top-sails; he administered another
crack to the team, which yelled madly, and, bounding over a wide chasm
in the ice, came down with a crash, which snapped the line of the
leading dog and set it free. Here Buzzby caused the driver to pull up.
"Stop, ye varmint. Come to an anchor," said he. "Is that a way to drive
the poor dogs?"
"Ye might have stopped him sooner, I think," cried the second mate in
"Hai!" shouted the band of Esquimaux, pointing to a hummock of ice a few
hundred yards in advance of the spot on which they stood.
Instantly all were silent, and gazing intently ahead at a dark object
that burst upwards through the ice.
"A walrus!" whispered Buzzby.
"So it is," answered Amos Parr.
"I've my doobts on that point," remarked Saunders.
Before the doubts of the second mate could be resolved, the Esquimaux
uttered another exclamation, and pointed to another dark object a
quarter of a mile to the right. It was soon found that there were
several of these ocean elephants sporting about in the neighbourhood,
and bursting up the young ice that had formed on several holes, by using
their huge heads as battering-rams. It was quickly arranged that the
party should divide into three, and while a few remained behind to watch
and restrain the dogs, the remainder were to advance on foot to the
Saunders, Buzzby, Amos Parr, Davie Summers, and Awatok formed one party,
and advanced with two muskets and several spears towards the walrus that
had been first seen, the sailors taking care to keep in rear of Awatok
in order to follow his lead, for they were as yet ignorant of the proper
mode of attack.
Awatok led the party stealthily towards a hummock, behind which he
caused them to crouch until the walrus should dive. This it did in a few
minutes, and then they all rushed from their place of concealment
towards another hummock that lay about fifty yards from, the hole. Just
as they reached it and crouched, the walrus rose, snorting the brine
from its shaggy muzzle, and lashing the water into foam with its
"Losh, what a big un!" exclaimed Saunders in amazement; and well he
might, for this was an unusually large animal, more like an elephant in
size than anything else.
It had two enormous ivory tusks, with which it tore and pounded large
fragments from the ice-tables, while it barked like a gigantic dog, and
rolled its heavy form about in sport.
Awatok now whispered to his comrades, and attempted to get them to
understand that they must follow him as fast as possible at the next
run. Suddenly the walrus dived. Awatok rushed forward, and in another
instant stood at the edge of the hole with his spear in readiness in his
right hand and the coil of line in his left. The others joined him
instantly, and they had scarcely come up when the huge monster again
rose to the surface.
Saunders and Buzzby fired at his head the moment it appeared above
water, and Awatok at the same time planted a spear in his breast, and
ran back with the coil. The others danced about in an excited state,
throwing their spears and missing their mark, although it was a big
"Give him a lance-thrust, Amos," cried Saunders, reloading his piece.
But Amos could not manage it, for the creature lashed about so furiously
that, although he made repeated attempts, he failed to do more than
prick its tough sides and render it still more savage. Buzzby, too, made
several daring efforts to lance it, but failed, and nearly slipped into
the hole in his recklessness. It was a wild scene of confusion--the
spray was dashed over the ice round the hole, and the men, as they ran
about in extreme excitement, slipped and occasionally tumbled in their
haste; while the maddened brute glared at them like a fiend, and
bellowed in its anger and pain.
Suddenly it dived, leaving the men staring at each other. The sudden
cessation of noise and turmoil had a very strange effect.
"Is't away?" inquired Saunders, with a look of chagrin.
He was answered almost instantly by the walrus reappearing, and making
furious efforts by means of its flippers and tusks to draw itself out
upon the ice, while it roared with redoubled energy. The shot that was
instantly fired seemed to have no effect, and the well-directed harpoon
of Awatok was utterly disregarded by it. Amos Parr, however, gave it a
lance-thrust that caused it to howl vehemently, and dyed the foam with
"Hand me a spear, Buzzby," cried Saunders; "the musket-balls seem to
hurt him as little as peas. Oot o' my gait."
The second mate made a rush so tremendous that something awful would
infallibly have resulted, had he not struck his foot against a bit of
ice and fallen violently on his breast. The impetus with which he had
started shot him forward till his head was within a foot of the walrus's
grim muzzle. For one moment the animal looked at the man, as if it were
surprised at his audacity, and then it recommenced its frantic
struggles, snorting blood, and foam, and water into Saunders's face as
he scrambled out of its way. Immediately after, Awatok fixed another
harpoon in its side, and it dived again.
The struggle that ensued was tremendous, and the result seemed for a
long time to be doubtful. Again and again shots were fired and
spear-thrusts made with effect, but the huge creature seemed
invulnerable. Its ferocity and strength remained unabated, while the
men--sailors and Esquimau alike--were nearly exhausted. The battle had
now lasted three hours; the men were panting from exertion; the walrus,
still bellowing, was clinging to the edge of the ice, which for several
yards round the hole was covered with blood and foam.
"Wot a brute it is!" said Buzzby, sitting down on a lump of ice and
looking at it in despair.
"We might have killed it lang ago had I not wet my gun," growled
Saunders, regarding his weapon, which was completely drenched, with a
look of contempt.
"Give it another poke, Awatok," cried Amos Parr; "you'll know best
whereabouts its life lies; I can make nothin' o't."
Awatok obeyed, and gave it a thrust under the left flipper that seemed
to reach its heart, for it fell back into the water and struggled
violently. At the same moment Davie Summers mounted to the top of a
hummock, part of which overhung the pool, and launched a harpoon down
upon its back. This latter blow seemed to revive its ferocity, for it
again essayed to clamber out on the ice, and looked up at Davie with a
glance of seeming indignation; while Buzzby, who had approached, fell
backward as he retreated from before it. At the same time Saunders
succeeded in getting his musket to go off. The ball struck it in the
eye, and entering the brain, caused instant death, a result which was
greeted with three enthusiastic cheers.
The getting of this enormous creature out of the water would have been a
matter of no small difficulty had there not been such a large party
present. Even as it was it took them a considerable time to accomplish
this feat, and to cut it up and pack it on the sledges.
While the battle above described was going on, two smaller walruses had
been killed and secured, and the Esquimaux were in a state of great
glee, for previous to the arrival of the sailors they had been
unsuccessful in their hunts, and had been living on short allowance. On
returning home there was a general feasting and merrymaking, and
Saunders felt that if he remained there long they would not only eat up
their own meat, but his also. He therefore resolved to return
immediately to the ship with his prize, and leave part of his men behind
to continue the hunt until he should return with the sledge.
But he was prevented from putting this intention into practice by a
hurricane which burst over the Arctic Regions with inconceivable
bitterness, and for two days kept all the inhabitants of the
snow-village confined to their huts. This hurricane was the fiercest
that had swept over these bleak regions of ice since the arrival of the
_Dolphin_. The wind shrieked as it swept round the cliffs, and down the
ravines, and out upon the frozen sea, as if a legion of evil spirits
were embodied and concentrated in each succeeding blast. The snow-drift
rose in solid masses, whirled madly round for a few seconds, and then
was caught by the blast and swept away like sheets of white flame. The
thermometer stood at 25 deg. below zero, a temperature that was mild
compared with what it usually had been of late, but the fierce wind
abstracted heat from everything exposed to it so rapidly that neither
man nor beast could face it for a moment. Buzzby got a little bit of his
chin frozen while he merely put his head out at the door of the hut to
see how the weather looked; and Davie Summers had one of his fingers
slightly frozen while in the act of carrying in one of the muskets that
had been left outside by mistake.
As for the Esquimaux, they recked not of the weather. Their snow-huts
were warm, and their mouths were full, so like wise men and women they
waited patiently within doors till the storm should blow itself out. The
doings of these poor people were very curious. They ate voraciously, and
evidently preferred their meat raw. But when the sailors showed disgust
at this, they at once made a small fire of moss mingled with blubber,
over which they half-cooked their food.
Their mode of procuring fire was curious. Two small stones were
taken--one a piece of white quartz, the other a piece of iron-stone--and
struck together smartly. The few sparks that flew out were thrown upon a
kind of white down, found on the willows, under which was placed a lump
of dried moss. It was usually a considerable time before they succeeded
in catching a spark; but, once caught, they had no difficulty in blowing
it into a flame.
They had also an ingenious contrivance for melting snow. This was a flat
stone, supported by two other stones, and inclined slightly at one end.
Upon this flat stone a lump of snow was placed, and below it was kindled
a small fire of moss and blubber. When the stone became heated, the snow
melted and flowed down the incline into a small seal-skin cup placed
there to catch it.
During the continuance of the storm the sailors shared the food and
lodging of these Esquimaux. They were a fat, oily, hospitable, dirty
race, and vied with each other in showing kindness to those who had been
thus thrown into their society. As Davie Summers expressed it, "they
were regular trumps;" and according to Buzzby's opinion, "they wos the
jolliest set o' human walruses wot he had ever comed across in all his
travels; and he ought to know, for he had always kep' his weather-eye
open, he had, and wouldn't give in on that p'int, he wouldn't, to no man
_The northern party--A narrow escape, and a great discovery--Esquimaux
again, and a joyful surprise._
It is interesting to meditate, sometimes, on the deviousness of the
paths by which men are led in earthly affairs--even when the
starting-point and the object of pursuit are the same. The two parties
which left the _Dolphin_ had for their object the procuring of fresh
food. The one went south and the other north; but their field was the
same--the surface of the frozen sea and the margin of the ice-girt
shore. Yet how different their experiences and results were the sequel
As we have already said, the northern party was in command of Bolton,
the first mate, and consisted of ten men, among whom were our hero,
Fred, Peter Grim, O'Riley, and Meetuck, with the whole team of dogs and
the large sledge.
Being fine weather when they set out, they travelled rapidly, making
twenty miles, as near as they could calculate, in the first six hours.
The dogs pulled famously, and the men stepped out well at first, being
cheered and invigorated mentally by the prospect of an adventurous
excursion and fresh meat. At the end of the second day they buried part
of their stock of provisions at the foot of a conspicuous cliff,
intending to pick it up on their return; and thus lightened, they
advanced more rapidly, keeping farther out on the floes, in hopes of
falling in with walruses or seals.
Their hopes, however, were doomed to disappointment. They got only one
seal, and that was a small one--scarcely sufficient to afford a couple
of meals to the dogs.
They were "misfortunate entirely," as O'Riley remarked; and to add to
their misfortunes, the floe-ice became so rugged that they could
scarcely advance at all.
"Things grow worse and worse," remarked Grim, as the sledge, for the
twentieth time that day, plunged into a crack in the ice, and had to be
unloaded ere it could be got out. "The sledge won't stand much o' sich
work, and if it breaks--good-bye to it, for it won't mend without wood,
and there's none here."
"No fear of it," cried Bolton encouragingly; "it's made of material as
tough as your own sinews, Grim, and won't give way easily, as the thumps
it has withstood already prove.--Has it never struck you, Fred," he
continued, turning to our hero who was plodding forward in silence--"has
it never struck you that when things in this world get very bad, and we
begin to feel inclined to give up, they somehow or other begin to get
"Why, yes, I have noticed that; but I have a vague sort of feeling just
now that things are not going to get better. I don't know whether it's
this long-continued darkness, or the want of good food, but I feel more
downcast than I ever was in my life before."
Bolton's remark had been intended to cheer, but Fred's answer proved
that a discussion of the merits of the question was not likely to have a
good effect on the men, whose spirits were evidently very much cast
down, so he changed the subject.
Fortunately, at that time an incident occurred which effected the mate's
purpose better than any efforts man could have made. It has frequently
happened that when Arctic voyagers have, from sickness and long
confinement during a monotonous winter, become so depressed in spirits
that games and amusements of every kind bailed to rouse them from their
lethargic despondency, sudden danger has given to their minds the
needful impulse, and effected a salutary change, for a time at least, in
their spirits. Such was the case at the present time. The men were so
worn with hard travel and the want of fresh food, and depressed by
disappointment and long-continued darkness, that they failed in their
attempts to cheer each other, and at length relapsed into moody silence.
Fred's thoughts turned constantly to his father, and he ceased to remark
cheerfully, as was his wont, on passing objects. Even O'Riley's jests
became few and far between, and at last ceased altogether. Bolton alone
kept up his spirits, and sought to cheer his men, the feeling of
responsibility being, probably, the secret of his superiority over them
in this respect. But even Bolton's spirits began to sink at last.
While they were thus groping sadly along among the hummocks, a large
fragment of ice was observed to break off from a berg just over their
"Look out! follow me, quick!" shouted the first mate in a loud, sharp
voice of alarm, at the same time darting in towards the side of the
The startled men obeyed the order just in time, for they had barely
reached the side of the berg when the enormous pinnacle fell, and was
shattered into a thousand fragments on the spot they had just left. A
rebounding emotion sent the blood in a crimson flood to Fred's forehead,
and this was followed by a feeling of gratitude to the Almighty for the
preservation of himself and the party. Leaving the dangerous vicinity of
the bergs, they afterwards kept more in-shore.
"What can yonder mound be?" said Fred, pointing to an object that was
faintly seen at a short distance off upon the bleak shore.
"An Esquimau hut, maybe," replied Grim.--"What think'ee, Meetuck?"
Meetuck shook his head and looked grave, but made no reply.
"Why don't you answer?" said Bolton. "But come along, we'll soon see."
Meetuck now made various ineffectual attempts to dissuade the party from
examining the mound, which turned out to be composed of stones heaped
upon each other; but as all the conversation of which he was capable
failed to enlighten his companions as to what the pile was, they
instantly set to work to open a passage into the interior, believing
that it might contain fresh provisions, as the Esquimaux were in the
habit of thus preserving their superabundant food from bears and wolves.
In half-an-hour a hole, large enough for a man to creep through, was
formed, and Fred entered, but started back with an exclamation of horror
on finding himself in the presence of a human skeleton, which was seated
on the ground in the centre of this strange tomb, with its head and arms
resting on the knees.
"It must be an Esquimau grave," said Fred, as he retreated hastily;
"that must be the reason why Meetuck tried to hinder us."
"I should like to see it," said Grim, stooping and thrusting his head
and shoulders into the hole.
"What have you got there?" asked Bolton, as Grim drew back and held up
something in his hand.
"Don't know exactly. It's like a bit o' cloth." On examination the
article was found to be a shred of coarse cloth, of a blue or black
colour; and being an unexpected substance to meet with in such a place,
Bolton turned round with it to Meetuck in the hope of obtaining some
information. But Meetuck was gone. While the sailors were breaking into
the grave, Meetuck had stood aloof with a displeased expression of
countenance, as if he were angry at the rude desecration of a
countryman's tomb; but the moment his eye fell on the shred of cloth an
expression of mingled surprise and curiosity crossed his countenance,
and, without uttering a word, he slipped noiselessly into the hole, from
which he almost immediately issued bearing several articles in his hand.
These he held up to view, and with animated words and gesticulations
explained that this was the grave of a white man, not of a native.
The articles he brought out were a pewter plate and a silver
"There's a name of some kind written here," said Bolton, as he carefully
scrutinized the spoon. "Look here, Fred, your eyes are better than mine,
see if you can make it out."
Fred took it with a trembling hand, for a strange feeling of dread had
seized possession of his heart, and he could scarcely bring himself to
look upon it. He summoned up courage, however; but at the first glance
his hand fell down by his side, and a dimness came over his eyes, for
the word "_POLE STAR_" was engraven on the handle. He would have fallen
to the ground had not Bolton caught him.
"Don't give way, lad, the ship may be all right. Perhaps this is one o'
the crew that died."
Fred did not answer, but recovering himself with a strong effort, he
said, "Pull down the stones, men."
The men obeyed in silence, and the poor boy sat down on a rock to await
the result in trembling anxiety. A few minutes sufficed to disentomb the
skeleton, for the men sympathized with their young comrade, and worked
with all their energies.
"Cheer up, Fred," said Bolton, coming and laying his hand on the youth's
shoulder; "it's _not_ your father. There is a bit of _black_ hair
sticking to the scalp."
With a fervent expression of thankfulness Fred rose and examined the
skeleton, which had been placed in a sort of sack of skin, but was
destitute of clothing. It was quite dry, and must have been there a long
time. Nothing else was found, but from the appearance of the skull and
the presence of the plate and spoon, there could be no doubt that it was
that of one of the _Pole Star's_ crew.
It was now resolved that they should proceed along the coast and examine
every creek and bay for traces of the lost vessel.
"O Bolton! my heart misgives me," said Fred, as they drove along; "I
fear that they have all perished."
"Niver a bit, sir," said O'Riley, in a sympathizing tone; "yon chap must
have died and been buried here be the crew as they wint past."
"You forget that sailors don't bury men under mounds of stone, with
pewter plates and spoons beside them."
O'Riley was silenced, for the remark was unanswerable.
"He may ha' bin left or lost on the shore, and been found by the
Esquimaux," suggested Peter Grim.
"Is that not another tomb?" inquired one of the men, pointing towards
an object which stood on the end of a point or cape towards which they
Ere any one could reply, their ears were saluted by the well-known bark
of a pack of Esquimau dogs. In another moment they dashed into the midst
of a snow village, and were immediately surrounded by the excited
natives. For some time no information could be gleaned from their
interpreter, who was too excited to make use of his meagre amount of
English. They observed, however, that the natives, although much
excited, did not seem to be so much surprised at the appearance of white
men amongst them as those were whom they had first met with near the
ship. In a short time Meetuck, apparently, had expended all he had to
say to his friends, and turned to make explanations to Bolton in a very
excited tone; but little more could be made out than that what he said
had some reference to white men. At length, in desperation, he pointed
to a large hut, which seemed to be the principal one of the village, and
dragging the mate towards it, made signs to him to enter.
Bolton hesitated an instant.
"He wants you to see the chief of the tribe, no doubt," said Fred;
"you'd better go in at once."
A loud voice shouted something in the Esquimau language from within the
hut. At the sound Fred's heart beat violently, and pushing past the mate
he crept through the tunnelled entrance and stood within. There was
little furniture in this rude dwelling. A dull flame flickered in a
stone lamp which hung from the roof, and revealed the figure of a large
Esquimau reclining on a couch of skins at the raised side of the hut.
The man looked up hastily as Fred entered, and uttered a few
"Father!" cried Fred, gasping for breath, and springing forward.
Captain Ellice, for it was indeed he, started with apparent difficulty
and pain into a sitting posture, and throwing back his hood revealed a
face whose open, hearty, benignant expression shone through a coat of
dark brown which long months of toil and exposure had imprinted on it.
It was thin, however, and careworn, and wore an expression that seemed
to be the result of long-continued suffering.
"Father!" he exclaimed in an earnest tone; "who calls me father?"
"Don't you know me, father?--don't you remember Fred?--look at--"
Fred checked himself, for the wild look of his father frightened him.
"Ah! these dreams," murmured the old man; "I wish they did not come
Placing his hand on his forehead, he fell backwards in a state of
insensibility into the arms of his son.
_Keeping it down--Mutual explanations--The true
It need scarcely be said that the sailors outside did not remain long in
ignorance of the unexpected and happy discovery related in the last
chapter. Bolton, who had crept in after Fred, with proper delicacy of
feeling retired the moment he found how matters stood, and left father
and son to expend, in the privacy of that chamber of snow, those
feelings and emotions which can be better imagined than described.
The first impulse of the men was to give three cheers, but Bolton
checked them in the bud.
"No, no, lads. Ye must hold on," he said, in an eager but subdued voice.
"Doubtless it would be pleasant to vent our feelings in a hearty cheer,
but it would startle the old gentleman inside. Get along with you, and
let us get ready a good supper."
"O morther!" exclaimed O'Riley, holding on to his sides as if he
believed what he said, "me biler'll bust av ye don't let me screech."
"Squeeze down the safety-valve a bit longer, then," cried Bolton, as
they hurried along with the whole population to the outskirts of the
village. "Now, then, ye may fire away, they won't hear ye--huzza!"
A long enthusiastic cheer instantly burst from the sailors, and was
immediately followed by a howl of delight from the Esquimaux, who
capered round their visitors with uncouth gestures and grinning faces.
Entering one of the largest huts, preparations for supper were promptly
begun. The Esquimaux happened to be well supplied with walrus-flesh, so
the lamps were replenished, and the hiss of the frying steaks and
dropping fat speedily rose above all other sounds.
Meanwhile, Fred and his father, having mutually recovered somewhat of
their wonted composure, began to tell each other the details of their
adventures since they last met, while the former prepared a cup of
coffee and a steak for their mutual comfort.
"But, father," said Fred, busying himself at the lamp, "you have not yet
told me how you came here, and what has become of the _Pole Star_, and
how it was that one of your men came to be buried in the Esquimau
fashion, and how you got your leg broken."
"Truly, Fred, I have not told you all that, and to give it you all in
detail will afford us many a long hour of converse hereafter, if it
please God, whose tenderness and watchful care of me has never failed.
But I can give you a brief outline of it thus:--
"I got into Baffin's Bay and made a good fishing of it the first year,
but was beset in the ice, and compelled to spend two winters in these
regions. The third year we were liberated, and had almost got fairly on
our homeward voyage when a storm blew us to the north and carried us up
here. Then our good brig was nipped and went to the bottom, and all the
crew were lost except myself and one man. We succeeded in leaping from
one piece of loose ice to another until we reached the solid floe and
gained the land, where we were kindly received by the Esquimaux. But
poor Wilson did not survive long. His constitution had never been
robust, and he died of consumption a week after we landed. The Esquimaux
buried him after their own fashion, and, as I afterwards found, had
buried a plate and a spoon along with him. These, with several other
articles, had been washed ashore from the wreck. Since then I have been
living the life of an Esquimau, awaiting an opportunity of escape either
by a ship making its appearance or a tribe of natives travelling south.
I soon picked up their language, and was living in comparative comfort,
when, during a sharp fight I chanced to have with a Polar bear, I fell
and broke my leg. I have lain here for many months, and have suffered
much, Fred; but, thank God, I am now almost well, and can walk a little,
though not yet without pain."
"Dear father," said Fred, "how terribly you must have felt the want of
kind hands to nurse you during those dreary months, and how lonely you
must have been!"
"Nay, boy, not quite so lonely as you think. I have learned the truth of
these words, 'I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee'--'Call upon Me
in the time of trouble, and I will deliver thee.' This, Fred, has been
my chief comfort during the long hours of sickness."
Captain Ellice drew forth a soiled pocket Bible from his breast as he
"It was your beloved mother's, Fred, and is the only thing I brought
with me from the wreck; but it was the only thing in the brig I would
not have exchanged for anything else on earth. Blessed Bible! It tells
of Him whose goodness I once, in my ignorance, thought I knew, but whose
love I have since been taught 'passeth knowledge.' It has been a
glorious sun to me, which has never set in all the course of this long
Arctic night. It has been a companion in my solitude, a comfort in my
sorrows, and even now is an increase to my joy; for it tells me that if
I commit my way unto the Lord, he will bring it to pass, and already I
see the beginning of the end fulfilled."
Fred's eyes filled with tears as his father spoke; but he remained
silent, for he knew that of late he had begun to neglect God's blessed
Word, and his conscience smote him.
It were impossible here to enter minutely into the details of all that
Captain Ellice related to Fred during the next few days, while they
remained together in the Esquimau village. To tell of the dangers, the
adventures, and the hair-breadth escapes that the crew of the _Pole
Star_ went through before the vessel finally went down, would require a
whole volume. We must pass it all over, and also the account of the few
days that followed, during which sundry walruses were captured, and
return to the _Dolphin_, to which Captain Ellice had been conveyed on
the sledge, carefully wrapped up in deer-skins, and tended by Fred.
A party of the Esquimaux accompanied them, and as a number of the
natives from the other village had returned with Saunders and his men to
the ship, the scene she presented, when all parties were united, was
exceedingly curious and animated.
The Esquimaux soon built quite a little town of snow-huts all round the
_Dolphin_, and the noise of traffic and intercourse was peculiarly
refreshing to the ears of those who had long been accustomed to the
death-like stillness of an Arctic winter. The beneficial effect of the
change on men and dogs was instantaneous. Their spirits rose at once,
and this, with the ample supply of fresh meat that had been procured,
soon began to drive scurvy away.
There was one dark spot, however, in this otherwise pleasant scene--one
impending event that cast a gloom over all. In his narrow berth in the
cabin Joseph West lay dying. Scurvy had acted more rapidly on his
delicate frame than had been expected. Despite Tom Singleton's utmost
efforts and skill, the fell disease gained the mastery, and it soon
became evident that this hearty and excellent man was to be taken away
During the last days of his illness, Captain Ellice was his greatest
comfort and his constant companion. He read the Bible to him, and when
doubts and fears arose, as they sometimes did, he pointed him to Jesus,
and spoke of that love from which nothing could separate him.
It was on Christmas day that West died.
"O sir," said he to Captain Ellice just an hour before he breathed his
last, "how much I regret the time that I have lost! How I wish now that
I had devoted more of my precious time to the study of the Word and to
prayer! How many opportunities of speaking a word for Jesus I have
neglected. Once, everything seemed of importance; now, but _one_ thing
is worthy of a thought."
"True," answered the captain, "'the one thing needful.' It is strange
that we will scarce permit ourselves to think or speak of _that_ till we
come to die. But you have thought on Jesus long ere now, have you not?"
"Yes," answered West faintly, "I have; but I take no comfort from that
thought. When I think of my past life it is only with regret. My hope is
in the Lord. What I have been, or might have been, is nothing. One thing
I know--I _am_ a sinner; and this I also know--'Christ Jesus came into
the world to save sinners!'"
These were the last words the dying man spoke. Shortly after, he fell
Next day the body of Joseph West was put in a plain deal coffin, and
conveyed to Store Island, where it was placed on the ground. They had no
instruments that could penetrate the hard rock, so were obliged to
construct a tomb of stones, after the manner of the Esquimaux, under
which the coffin was laid and left in solitude.
New-Year's day came, and preparations were made to celebrate the day
with the usual festivities. But the recent death had affected the crew
too deeply to allow them to indulge in the unrestrained hilarity of that
season. Prayers were read in the morning, and both Captain Guy and
Captain Ellice addressed the men feelingly in allusion to their late
shipmate's death and their own present position. A good dinner was also
prepared, and several luxuries served out, among which were the
materials for the construction of a large plum-pudding. But no grog was
allowed, and they needed it not. As the afternoon advanced, stories were
told, and even songs were sung; but these were of a quiet kind, and the
men seemed, from an innate feeling of propriety, to suit them to the
occasion. Old friends were recalled, and old familiar scenes described.
The hearths of home were spoken of with a depth of feeling that showed
how intense was the longing to be seated round them again, and future
prospects were canvassed with keen interest and with hopeful voices.
New-Year's day came and went, and when it was gone the men of the
_Dolphin_ did not say, "what a jolly day it was." They _said_ little or
nothing, but long after they _thought_ of it as a bright spot in their
dreary winter in the Bay of Mercy--as a day in which they had enjoyed
earnest, glad, and sober communings of heart.
_First gleam of light--Trip to welcome the sun--Bears and strange
discoveries--O'Riley is reckless--First view of the sun._
The wisest of men has told us that "it is a pleasant thing for the eyes
to behold the sun," but only those who spend a winter in the Arctic
Regions can fully appreciate the import of that inspired saying.
It is absolutely essential to existence that the bright beams of the
great luminary should fall on animal as well as plant. Most of the poor
dogs died for want of this blessed light, and had it been much longer
withheld, doubtless our navigators would have sunk also.
About the 20th of January a faint gleam of light on the horizon told of
the coming day. It was hailed with rapture, and long before the bright
sun himself appeared on the southern horizon the most of the men made
daily excursions to the neighbouring hilltops to catch sight of as much
as possible of his faint rays. Day by day those rays expanded, and at
last a sort of _dawn_ enlightened a distant portion of their earth,
which, faint though it was at first, had much the appearance in their
eyes of a bright day. But time wore on, and _real_ day appeared. The red
sun rose in all its glory, showed a rim of its glowing disk above the
frozen sea, and then sank, leaving a long gladsome smile of twilight
behind. This great event happened on the 19th of February, and would
have occurred sooner, but for the high cliffs to the southward which
intervened between the ship and the horizon.
On the day referred to, a large party was formed to go to the top of the
cliffs at Red-Snow Valley to welcome back the sun.
"There's scarce a man left behind," remarked Captain Guy, as they
started on this truly joyous expedition.
"Only Mizzle, sir," said Buzzby, slapping his hands together, for the
cold was intense; "he said as how he'd stop and have dinner ready agin
There was a general laugh from the men, who knew that the worthy cook
had other reasons for not going--namely, his shortness of wind, and his
inveterate dislike to ascend hills.
"Come, Fred," cried Captain Ellice, who had completely recovered from
his accident, "I shall be quite jealous of your friend Singleton if you
bestow so much of your company on him. Walk with me, sirrah, I command
you, as I wish to have a chat."
"You are unjust to me," replied Fred, taking his father's arm, and
falling with him a little to the rear of the party; "Tom complains that
I have quite given him up of late."
"Och! isn't it a purty sight," remarked O'Riley to Mivins, "to see us
all goin' out like good little childers to see the sun rise of a
beautiful mornin' like this?"
"So it _his_," answered Mivins; "but I wish it wasn't quite so cold."
It was indeed cold--so cold that the men had to beat their hands
together, and stamp their feet, and rush about like real children, in
order to keep their bodies warm. This month of February was the coldest
they had yet experienced. Several times the thermometer fell to the
unexampled temperature of 75 deg. below zero, or 107 deg. below the
freezing-point of water. When we remind our young readers that the
thermometer in England seldom falls so low as zero, except in what we
term weather of the utmost severity, they may imagine--or rather, they
may try to imagine--what 75 deg. _below_ zero must have been.
It was not quite so cold as that upon this occasion, otherwise the men
could not have shown face to it.
"Let's have leap-frog," shouted Davie; "we can jump along as well as
walk along. Hooray! _hup_!"
The "hup" was rather an exclamation of necessity than of delight,
inasmuch as that it was caused by Davie coming suddenly down flat on the
ice in the act of vainly attempting to go leap-frog over Mivins's head.
"That's your sort," cried Amos Parr; "down with you, Buzzby."
Buzzby obeyed, and Amos, being heavy and past the agile time of life,
leaped upon, instead of over, his back, and there stuck.
"Not so high, lads," cried Captain Guy. "Come, Mr. Saunders, give us a
"Faix he'd better go on his hands an' knees."
"That's it! over you go! hurrah, lads!"
In five minutes nearly the whole crew were panting from their violent
exertions, and those who did not or could not join panted as much from
laughter. The desired result, however, was speedily gained. They were
all soon in a glow of heat, and bade defiance to the frost.
An hour's sharp climb brought the party almost to the brow of the hill,
from which they hoped to see the sun rise for the first time for nearly
five months. Just as they were about to pass over a ridge in the cliffs,
Captain Guy, who had pushed on in advance with Tom Singleton, was
observed to pause abruptly and make signals for the men to advance with
caution. He evidently saw something unusual, for he crouched behind a
rock and peeped over it. Hastening up as silently as possible, they
discovered that a group of Polar bears were amusing themselves on the
other side of the cliffs, within long gunshot. Unfortunately not one of
the party had brought fire-arms. Intent only on catching a sight of the
sun, they had hurried off unmindful of the possibility of their catching
sight of anything else. They had not even a spear; and the few oak
cudgels that some carried, however effectual they might have proved at
Donnybrook, were utterly worthless there.
There were four large bears and a young one, and the gambols they
performed were of the most startling as well as amusing kind. But that
which interested and surprised the crew most was the fact that these
bears were playing with barrels, and casks, and tent-poles, and sails.
They were engaged in a regular frolic with these articles, tossing them
up in the air, pawing them about, and leaping over them like kittens. In
these movements they displayed their enormous strength several times.
Their leaps, although performed with the utmost ease, were so great as
to prove the iron nature of their muscles. They tossed the heavy casks,
too, high into the air like tennis-balls, and in two instances, while
the crew were watching them, dashed a cask in pieces with a slight blow
of their paws. The tough canvas yielded before them like sheets of
paper, and the havoc they committed was wonderful to behold.
"Most extraordinary!" exclaimed Captain Guy, after watching them for
some time in silence. "I cannot imagine where these creatures can have
got hold of such things. Were not the goods at Store Island all right
this morning, Mr. Bolton?"
"Yes, sir, they were."
"Nothing missing from the ship?"
"No, sir, nothing."
"It's most unaccountable."
"Captain Guy," said O'Riley, addressing his commander with a solemn
face, "haven't ye more nor wance towld me o' the queer thing in the
deserts they calls the _mirage_?"
"I have," answered the captain, with a puzzled look.
"An' didn't ye say there was somethin' like it in the Polar Seas, that
made ye see flags, an' ships, an' things o' that sort when there was no
sich things there at all?"
"True, O'Riley, I did."
"Faix, then, it's my opinion that yon bears is a _mirage_, an' the
sooner we git out o' their way the better."
A smothered laugh greeted this solution of the difficulty.
"I think I can give a better explanation--begging your pardon, O'Riley,"
said Captain Ellice, who had hitherto looked on with a sly smile. "More
than a year ago, when I was driven past this place to the northward, I
took advantage of a calm to land a supply of food, and a few stores and
medicines, to be a stand-by in case my ship should be wrecked to the
northward. Ever since the wreck actually took place I have looked
forward to this _cache_ of provisions as a point of refuge on my way
south. As I have already told you, I have never been able to commence
the southward journey; and now I don't require these things, which is
lucky, for the bears seem to have appropriated them entirely."
"Had I known of them sooner, captain," said Captain Guy, "the bears
should not have had a chance."
"That accounts for the supply of tobacco and sticking-plaster we found
in the bear's stomach," remarked Fred, laughing.
"True, boy; yet it surprises me that they succeeded in breaking into my
_cache_, for it was made of heavy masses of stone, many of which
required two and three men to lift them, even with the aid of
"What's wrong with O'Riley?" said Fred, pointing to that eccentric
individual, who was gazing intently at the bears, muttering between his
teeth, and clinching his cudgel nervously.
"Sure it's a cryin' shame," he soliloquized in an undertone, quite
unconscious that he was observed, "that ye should escape, ye villains.
Av I only had a musket now--but I han't. Arrah! av it was only a spear.
Be the mortial! I think I could crack the skull o' the small wan! Faix,
then, I'll try!"
At the last word, before any one was aware of his intentions, this son
of Erin, whose blood was now up, sprang down the cliffs towards the
bears, flourishing his stick, and shouting wildly as he went. The bears
instantly paused in their game, but showed no disposition to retreat.
"Come back, you madman!" shouted the captain; but the captain shouted in
"Stop! halt! come back!" chorused the crew.
But O'Riley was deaf. He had advanced to within a few yards of the
bears, and was rushing forward to make a vigorous attack on the little
"He'll be killed!" exclaimed Fred in dismay.
"Follow me, men," shouted the captain, as he leaped the ridge: "make all
the noise you can."
In a moment the surrounding cliffs were reverberating with the loud
halloos and frantic yells of the men, as they burst suddenly over the
ridge, and poured down upon the bears like a torrent of maniacs.
Bold though they were, they couldn't stand this. They turned tail and
fled, followed by the disappointed howls of O'Riley, and also by his
cudgel, which he hurled violently after them as he pulled up.
Having thus triumphantly put the enemy to flight, the party continued
their ascent of the hill, and soon gained the summit.
"There it is!" shouted Fred, who, in company with Mivins, first crossed
the ridge, and tossed his arms in the air.
The men cheered loudly as they hurried up and one by one emerged into a
red glow of sunshine. It could not be termed _warm_, for it had no power
in that frosty atmosphere, and only a small portion of the sun's disk
was visible. But his _light_ was on every crag and peak around; and as
the men sat down in groups, and, as it were, bathed in the sunshine,
winking at the bright gleam of light with half-closed eyes, they
declared that it _felt_ warm, and wouldn't hear anything to the
contrary, although Saunders, true to his nature, endeavoured to prove to
them that the infinitely small degree of heat imparted by such feeble
rays could not by any possibility be _felt_ except in imagination. But
Saunders was outvoted. Indeed, under the circumstances, he had not a
chance of proving his point; for the more warm the dispute became, the
greater was the amount of animal heat that was created, to be placed,
falsely, to the credit of the sun.
Patience, however, is a virtue which is sure to meet with a reward. The
point which Saunders failed to prove by argument, was pretty well proved
to every one (though not admitted) by the agency of John Frost. That
remarkably bitter individual nestled round the men as they sat sunning
themselves, and soon compelled them to leap up and apply to other
sources for heat. They danced about vigorously, and again took to
leap-frog. Then they tried their powers at the old familiar games of
home. Hop-step-and-jump raised the animal thermometer considerably, and
the standing leap, running leap, and high leap sent it up many degrees.
But a general race brought them almost to a summer temperature, and at
the same time, most unexpectedly, secured to them a hare! This little
creature, of which very few had yet been procured, darted in an evil
hour out from behind a rock right in front of the men, who, having begun
the race for sport, now continued it energetically for profit. A dozen
sticks were hurled at the luckless hare, and one of these felled it to
After this they returned home in triumph, keeping up all the way an
animated dispute as to the amount of heat shed upon them by the sun, and
upon that knotty question, "Who killed the hare?"
Neither point was settled when they reached the _Dolphin_, and, we may
add, for the sake of the curious reader, neither point is settled yet.
_The "Arctic Sun"--Rats! rats! rats!--A hunting-party--Out on the
Among the many schemes that were planned and carried out for lightening
the long hours of confinement to their wooden home in the Arctic
Regions, was the newspaper started by Fred Ellice, and named, as we have
already mentioned, the _Arctic Sun_.
It was so named because, as Fred stated in his first leading article, it
was intended to throw light on many things at a time when there was no
other sun to cheer them. We cannot help regretting that it is not in our
power to present a copy of this well-thumbed periodical to our readers;
but being of opinion that _something_ is better than _nothing_, we
transcribe the following extract as a specimen of the contributions from
the forecastle. It was entitled--
JOHN BUZZBY'S OPPINYUNS O' THINGS IN GIN'RAL.
Mr. Editer,--As you was so good as to ax from me a contribootion to your
waluable peeryoddical, I beg heer to stait that this heer article is
intended as a gin'ral summery o' the noos wots agoin'. Your reeders
will be glad to no that of late the wether's bin gittin' colder, but
they'll be better pleased to no that before the middle o' nixt sumer
it's likely to git a, long chawk warmer. There's a gin'ral complaint
heer that Mivins has bin eatin' the shuger in the pantry, an' that's
wots makin' it needfull to put us on short allowance. Davie Summers sais
he seed him at it, an' it's a dooty the guvermint owes to the publik to
have the matter investigated. It's gin'rally expected, howsever, that
the guvermint won't trubble its hed with the matter. There's bin an
onusual swarmin' o' rats in the ship of late, an' Davie Summers has had
a riglar hunt after them. The lad has becum more than ornar expert with
his bow an' arrow, for he niver misses now--exceptin', always, when he
dusn't hit--an' for the most part takes them on the pint on the snowt
with his blunt-heded arow, which he drives in--the snowt, not the arow.
There's a gin'ral wish among the crew to no whether the north pole _is_
a pole or a dot. Mizzle sais it's a dot, and O'Riley swears (no, he
don't do that, for we've gin up swearin' in the fog-sail), but he sais
that it's a real post, 'bout as thick again as the main-mast, an' nine
or ten times as hy. Grim sais it's nother wun thing nor anuther, but a
hydeear that _is_ sumhow or other a fact, but yit don't exist at all.
Tom Green wants to no if there's any conexshun between it an' the pole
that's conected with elections. In fact, we're all at sea, in a riglar
muz abut this, an' as Dr. Singleton's a syentiffick man, praps he'll
give us a leadin' article in your nixt--so no more at present from--
Yours to command,
This contribution was accompanied with an outline illustration of Mivins
eating sugar with a ladle in the pantry, and Davie Summers peeping in at
the door--both likenesses being excellent.
Some of the articles in the _Arctic Sun_ were grave and some were gay,
but all of them were profitable, for Fred took care that they should be
charged either with matter of interest or matter provocative of mirth.
And, assuredly, no newspaper of similar calibre was ever looked forward
to with such expectation, or read and re-read with such avidity. It was
one of the expedients that lasted longest in keeping up the spirits of
The rat-hunting referred to in the foregoing "summary" was not a mere
fiction of Buzzby's brain. It was a veritable fact. Notwithstanding the
extreme cold of this inhospitable climate, the rats in the ship
increased to such a degree that at last they became a perfect nuisance.
Nothing was safe from their attacks--whether substances were edible or
not, they were gnawed through and ruined--and their impudence, which
seemed to increase with their numbers, at last exceeded all belief. They
swarmed everywhere--under the stove, about the beds, in the lockers,
between the sofa cushions, amongst the moss round the walls, and inside
the boots and mittens (when empty) of the men. And they became so
accustomed to having missiles thrown at them, that they acquired to
perfection that art which Buzzby described as "keeping one's weather-eye
You couldn't hit one if you tried. If your hand moved towards an object
with which you intended to deal swift destruction, the intruder paused,
and turned his sharp eyes towards you, as if to say, "What! going to try
it again?--come, then, here's a chance for you." But when you threw, at
best you could only hit the empty space it had occupied the moment
before. Or, if you seized a stick, and rushed at the enemy in wrath, it
grinned fiercely, showed its long white teeth, and then vanished with a
fling of its tail that could be construed into nothing but an expression
At last an expedient was hit upon for destroying these disagreeable
inmates. Small bows and arrows were made, the latter having heavy, blunt
heads, and with these the men slaughtered hundreds. Whenever any one was
inclined for a little sport, he took up his bow and arrows, and retiring
to a dark corner of the cabin, watched for a shot. Davie Summers
acquired the title of Nimrod in consequence of his success in this
At first the rats proved a capital addition to the dogs' meals, but at
length some of the men were glad to eat them, especially when fresh meat
failed altogether, and scurvy began its assaults. White or Arctic
foxes, too, came about the ship sometimes in great numbers, and proved
an acceptable addition to their fresh provisions; but at one period all
these sources failed, and the crew were reduced to the utmost extremity,
having nothing to eat except salt provisions. Notwithstanding the
cheering influence of the sun, the spirits of the men fell as their
bodily energies failed. Nearly two-thirds of the ship's company were
confined to their berths. The officers retained much of their wonted
health and vigour, partly in consequence, no doubt, of their unwearied
exertions in behalf of others. They changed places with the men at last,
owing to the force of circumstances--ministering to their wants, drawing
water, fetching fuel, and cooking their food--carrying out, in short,
the divine command, "By love serve one another."
During the worst period of their distress a party was formed to go out
upon the floes in search of walruses.
"If we don't get speedy relief," remarked Captain Guy to Tom Singleton
in reference to this party, "some of us will die. I feel certain of
that. Poor Buzzby seems on his last legs, and Mivins is reduced to a
The doctor was silent, for the captain's remark was too true.
"You must get up your party at once, and set off after breakfast, Mr.
Bolton," he added, turning to the first mate. "Who can accompany you?"
"There's Peter Grim, sir; he's tough yet, and not much affected by
scurvy. And Mr. Saunders, I think, may--"
"No," interrupted the doctor, "Saunders must not go. He does not look
very ill, and I hope is not, but I don't like some of his symptoms."
"Well, doctor, we can do without him. There's Tom Green and O'Riley.
Nothing seems able to bring down O'Riley. Then there's--"
"There's Fred Ellice," cried Fred himself, joining the group; "I'll go
with you if you'll take me."
"Most happy to have you, sir. Our healthy hands are very short, but we
can muster sufficient, I think."
The captain suggested Amos Parr and two or three more men, and then
dismissed his first mate to get ready for an immediate start.
"I don't half like your going, Fred," said his father. "You've not been
well lately, and hunting on the floes, I know from experience, is hard
"Don't fear for me, father; I've quite recovered from my recent attack,
which was but slight after all, and I know full well that those who are
well must work as long as they can stand."
"Ho, lads! look alive there! are you ready?" shouted the first mate down
"Ay, ay, sir," replied Grim, and in a few minutes the party were
assembled on the ice beside the small sledge with their shoulder-belts
on, for most of the dogs were either dead or dying of that strange
complaint to which allusion has been made in a previous chapter.
They set out silently, but ere they had got a dozen yards from the ship
Captain Guy felt the impropriety of permitting them thus to depart.
"Up, lads, and give them three cheers!" he cried, mounting the ship's
side and setting the example.
A hearty, generous spirit, when vigorously displayed, always finds a
ready response from human hearts. The few sailors who were on deck at
the time, and one or two of the sick men who chanced to put their heads
up the hatchway, rushed to the side, waved their mittens--in default of
caps--and gave vent to three hearty British cheers. The effect on the
drooping spirits of the hunting-party was electrical. They pricked up
like chargers that had felt the spur, wheeled round, and returned the
cheer with interest. It was an apparently trifling incident, but it
served to lighten the way and make it seem less dreary for many a long
"I'm tired of it intirely," cried O'Riley, sitting down on a hummock, on
the evening of the second day after setting out on the hunt; "here we
is, two days out, an' not a sign o' life nowhere."
"Come, don't give in," said Bolton cheerfully; "we're sure to fall in
with a walrus to-day."
"I think so," cried Fred; "we have come so far out upon the floes that
there must be open water near."
"Come on, then," cried Peter Grim; "don't waste time talking."
Thus urged O'Riley rose, and throwing his sledge-strap over his
shoulder, plodded on wearily with the rest.
Their provisions were getting low now, and it was felt that if they did
not soon fall in with walruses or bears they must return as quickly as
possible to the ship in order to avoid starving. It was therefore a
matter of no small satisfaction that, on turning the edge of an iceberg,
they discovered a large bear walking leisurely towards them. To drop
their sledge-lines and seize their muskets was the work of a moment.
But, unfortunately, long travelling had filled the pans with snow, and
it required some time to pick the touch-holes clear. In this extremity
Peter Grim seized a hatchet and ran towards the bear, while O'Riley
charged it with a spear. Grim delivered a tremendous blow at its head
with his weapon; but his intention was better than his aim, for he
missed the bear and smashed the corner of a hummock of ice. O'Riley was
more successful. He thrust the spear into the animal's shoulder; but the
shoulder-blade turned the head of the weapon, and caused it to run along
at least three feet just under the skin. The wound, although not fatal,
was so painful that Bruin uttered a loud roar of disapproval, wheeled
round, and ran away!--an act of cowardice so unusual on the part of a
Polar bear that the whole party were taken by surprise. Several shots
were fired after him, but he soon disappeared among the ice-hummocks,
having fairly made off with O'Riley's spear.
The disappointment caused by this was great, but they had little time to
think of it, for soon after a stiff breeze of wind sprang up, which
freshened into a gale, compelling them to seek the shelter of a cluster
of icebergs, in the midst of which they built a snow-hut. Before night a
terrific storm was raging, with the thermometer 40 deg. below zero. The sky
became black as ink, drift whirled round them in horrid turmoil, and the
wild blast came direct from the north, over the frozen sea, shrieking
and howling in its strength and fury.
All that night and the next day it continued. Then it ceased, and for
the first time that winter a thaw set in, so that ere morning their
sleeping-bags and socks were thoroughly wetted. This was of short
duration, however. In a few hours the frost set in again as intense as
ever, converting all their wet garments and bedding into hard cakes of
ice. To add to their misfortunes their provisions ran out, and they were
obliged to abandon the hut and push forward towards the ship with the
utmost speed. Night came on them while they were slowly toiling through
the deep drifts that the late gale had raised, and to their horror they
found they had wandered out of their way, and were still but a short
distance from their snow-hut. In despair they returned to pass the night
in it, and spreading their frozen sleeping-bags on the snow, they lay
down, silent and supperless, to rest till morning.
_Unexpected arrivals--The rescue party--Lost and found--Return to the
The sixth night after the hunting-party had left the ship, Grim and Fred
Ellice suddenly made their appearance on board. It was quite dark, and
the few of the ship's company who were able to quit their berths were
seated round the cabin at their meagre evening meal.
"Hallo, Fred!" exclaimed Captain Ellice, as his son staggered rather
than walked in and sank down on a locker. "What's wrong, boy? where are
the rest of you?"
Fred could not answer; neither he nor Grim was able to utter a word at
first. It was evident that they laboured under extreme exhaustion and
hunger. A mouthful of hot soup administered by Tom Singleton rallied
them a little, however.
"Our comrades are lost, I fear."
"Lost!" exclaimed Captain Guy. "How so? Speak, my boy; but hold, take
another mouthful before you speak. Where did you leave them, say you?"
Fred looked at the captain with a vacant stare. "Out upon the ice to
the north; but, I say, what a comical dream I've had!" Here he burst
into a loud laugh. Poor Fred's head was evidently affected, so his
father and Tom carried him to his berth.
All this time Grim had remained seated on a locker swaying to and fro
like a drunken man, and paying no attention to the numerous questions
that were put to him by Saunders and his comrades.
"This is bad!" exclaimed Captain Guy, pressing his hand on his forehead.
"A search must be made," suggested Captain Ellice. "It's evident that
the party have broken down out on the floes, and Fred and Grim have been
sent to let us know."
"I know it," answered Captain Guy. "A search must be made, and that
instantly, if it is to be of any use; but in which direction are we to
go is the question. These poor fellows cannot tell us. 'Out on the ice
to the north' is a wide word.--Fred, Fred, can you not tell us in which
direction we ought to go to search for them?"
"Yes, far out on the floes--among hummocks--far out," murmured Fred,
"We must be satisfied with that. Now, Mr. Saunders, assist me to get the
small sledge fitted out. I'll go to look after them myself."
"An' I'll go with 'ee, sir," said the second mate promptly.
"I fear you are hardly able."
"No fear o' me, sir. I'm better than 'ee think."
"I must go too," added Captain Ellice; "it is quite evident that you
cannot muster a party without me."
"That's impossible," interrupted the doctor. "Your leg is not strong
enough nearly for such a trip; besides, my dear sir, you must stay
behind to perform my duties, for the ship can't do without a doctor, and
I shall go with Captain Guy, if he will allow me."
"That he won't," cried the captain. "You say truly the ship cannot be
left without a doctor. Neither you nor my friend Ellice shall leave the
ship with my permission. But don't let us waste time talking.--Come,
Summers and Mizzle, you are well enough to join, and, Meetuck, you must
be our guide. Look alive and get yourselves ready."
In less than half-an-hour the rescue party were equipped and on their
way over the floes. They were six in all--one of the freshest among the
crew having volunteered to join those already mentioned.
It was a very dark night, and bitterly cold; but they took nothing with
them except the clothes on their backs, a supply of provisions for their
lost comrades, their sleeping-bags, and a small leather tent. The
captain also took care to carry with them a flask of brandy.
The colossal bergs, which stretched like well-known land-marks over the
sea, were their guides at first; but after travelling ten hours without
halting, they had passed the greater number of those with which they
were familiar, and entered upon an unknown region. Here it became
necessary to use the utmost caution. They knew that the lost men must
be within twenty miles of them, but they had no means of knowing the
exact spot, and any footprints that had been made were now obliterated.
In these circumstances Captain Guy had to depend very much on his own
Clambering to the top of a hummock, he observed a long stretch of level
floe to the northward.
"I think it likely," he remarked to Saunders, who had accompanied him,
"that they may have gone in that direction. It seems an attractive road
among this chaos of ice-heaps."
"I'm no sure o' that," objected Saunders; "yonder's a pretty clear road
away to the west, maybe they took that."
"Perhaps they did, but as Fred said they had gone far out on the ice _to
the north_, I think it likely they've gone in _that_ direction."
"Maybe ye're right, sir, and maybe ye're wrang," answered Saunders, as
they returned to the party. As this was the second mate's method of
intimating that he _felt_ that he ought to give in (though he didn't
give in, and never would give in _absolutely_), the captain felt more
confidence in his own opinion.
"Now, Meetuck, keep your eyes open," he added, as they resumed their
After journeying on for a considerable distance, the men were ordered to
spread out over the neighbouring ice-fields, in order to multiply the
chances of discovering tracks; but there seemed to be some irresistible
power of attraction which drew them gradually together again, however
earnestly they might try to keep separate. In fact, they were beginning
to be affected by the long-continued march and the extremity of the
This last was so great that constant motion was absolutely necessary in
order to prevent them from freezing. There was no time allowed for
rest--life and death were in the scale. Their only hope lay in a
continuous and rapid advance, so as to reach the lost men ere they
should freeze or die of starvation.
"Holo! look 'eer!" shouted Meetuck, as he halted and went down on his
knees to examine some marks on the snow.
"These are tracks!" cried Captain Guy eagerly. "What think you,
"They look like it"
"Follow them up, Meetuck. Go in advance, my lad, and let the rest of you
In a few minutes there was a cry heard, and as the party hastened
towards the spot whence it came, they found Davie Summers pointing
eagerly to a little snow-hut in the midst of a group of bergs.
With hasty steps they advanced towards it, and the captain, with a
terrible misgiving at heart, crept in.
"Ah! then, is it yerself, darlint?" were the first words that greeted
A loud cheer from those without told that they heard and recognized the
words. Immediately two of them crept in, and striking a light, kindled a
lamp, which revealed the care-worn forms of their lost comrades
stretched on the ground in their sleeping-bags. They were almost
exhausted for want of food, but otherwise they were uninjured.
The first congratulations over, the rescue party immediately proceeded
to make arrangements for passing the night. They were themselves little
better than those whom they had come to save, having performed an
uninterrupted march of eighteen hours without food or drink.
It was touching to see the tears of joy and gratitude that filled the
eyes of the poor fellows, who had given themselves up for lost, as they
watched the movements of their comrades while they prepared food for
them; and the broken, fitful conversation was mingled strangely with
alternate touches of fun and deep feeling, indicating the conflicting
emotions that struggled in their breasts.
"I knowed ye would come, captain; bless you, sir," said Amos Parr, in an
"Come! Av coorse ye knowed it," cried O'Riley energetically. "Och, but
don't be long wid the mate, darlints, me stummik's shut up intirely."
"There won't be room for us all here, I'm afraid," remarked Bolton.
This was true. The hut was constructed to hold six, and it was
impossible that ten could _sleep_ in it, although they managed to
"Never mind that," cried the captain. "Here, take a drop of soup;
gently, not too much at a time."
"Ah, then, it's cruel of ye, it is, to give me sich a small taste."
It was necessary, however, to give men in their condition a "small
taste" at first, so O'Riley had to rest content. Meanwhile, the rescue
party supped heartily, and after a little more food had been
administered to the half-starved men, preparations were made for
spending the night. The tent was pitched, and the sleeping-bags spread
out on the snow. Then Captain Guy offered up fervent thanks to God for
his protection thus far, and prayed shortly but earnestly for
deliverance from their dangerous situation; after which they all lay
down and slept soundly till morning--or at least as soundly as could be
expected with a temperature at 55 deg. below zero.
Next morning they prepared to set out on their return to the ship. But
this was no easy task. The exhausted men had to be wrapped up carefully
in their blankets, which were sewed closely round their limbs, then
packed in their sleeping-bags and covered completely up, only a small
hole being left opposite their mouths to breathe through, and after that
they were lashed side by side on the small sledge. The larger sledge,
with the muskets, ammunition, and spare blankets, had to be abandoned.
Then the rescue party put their shoulders to the tracking-belts, and
away they went briskly over the floes.
But the drag was a fearfully heavy one for men who, besides having
walked so long and so far on the previous day, were, most of them, much
weakened by illness, and very unfit for such laborious work. The floes,
too, were so rugged that they had frequently to lift the heavy sledge
and its living load over deep rents and chasms which, in circumstances
less desperate, they would have scarcely ventured to do. Work as they
would, however, they could not make more than a mile an hour, and night
overtook them ere they reached the level floes. But it was of the utmost
importance that they should continue to advance, so they pushed forward
until a breeze sprang up that pierced them through and through.
Fortunately there was a bright moon in the sky, which enabled them to
pick their way among the hummocks. Suddenly, without warning, the whole
party felt an alarming failure of their energies. Captain Guy, who was
aware of the imminent danger of giving way to this feeling, cheered the
men to greater exertion by word and voice, but failed to rouse them.
They seemed like men walking in their sleep.
"Come, Saunders, cheer up, man!" cried the captain, shaking the mate by
the arm; but Saunders stood still, swaying to and fro like a drunken
man. Mizzle begged to be allowed to sleep, if it were only for two
minutes, and poor Davie Summers deliberately threw himself down on the
snow, from which, had he been left, he would never more have risen.
The case was now desperate. In vain the captain shook and buffeted the
men. They protested that they did not feel cold--"they were quite warm,
and only wanted a little sleep." He saw that it was useless to contend
with them, so there was nothing left for it but to pitch the tent.
This was done as quickly as possible, though with much difficulty, and
the men were unlashed from the sledge and placed within the tent. The
others then crowded in, and falling down beside each other were asleep
in an instant. The excessive crowding of the little tent was an
advantage at this time, as it tended to increase their animal heat.
Captain Guy allowed them to sleep only two hours, and then roused them
in order to continue the journey; but short though the period of rest
was, it proved sufficient to enable the men to pursue their journey with
some degree of spirit. Still it was evident that their energies had been
overtaxed; for when they neared the ship next day, Tom Singleton, who
had been on the look-out, and advanced to meet them, found that they
were almost in a state of stupor, and talked incoherently--sometimes
giving utterance to sentiments of the most absurd nature with
expressions of the utmost gravity.
Meanwhile, good news was brought them from the ship. Two bears and a
walrus had been purchased from the Esquimaux, a party of whom--sleek,
fat, oily, good-humoured, and hairy--were encamped on the lee side of
the _Dolphin_, and were busily engaged in their principal and favourite
_Winter ends--The first insect--Preparations for departure--Narrow
escape--Cutting out--Once more afloat--Ship on fire--Crew take to the
Winter passed away, with its darkness and its frost, and, happily, with
its sorrows; and summer--bright, glowing summer--came at last, to
gladden the heart of man and beast in the Polar Regions.
We have purposely omitted to make mention of spring, for there is no
such season, properly so called, within the Arctic Circle. Winter
usually terminates with a gushing thaw, and summer then begins with a
blaze of fervent heat. Not that the heat is really so intense as
compared with that of southern climes, but the contrast is so great that
it _seems_ as though the Torrid Zones had rushed towards the Pole.
About the beginning of June there were indications of the coming heat.
Fresh water began to trickle from the rocks, and streamlets commenced to
run down the icebergs. Soon everything became moist, and a marked change
took place in the appearance of the ice-belt, owing to the pools that
collected on it everywhere and overflowed.
Seals now became more numerous in the neighbourhood, and were
frequently killed near the _atluks_, or holes, so that fresh meat was
secured in abundance, and the scurvy received a decided check. Reindeer,
rabbits, and ptarmigan, too, began to frequent the bay, so that the
larder was constantly full, and the mess-table presented a pleasing
variety--rats being no longer the solitary dish of fresh meat at every
meal. A few small birds made their appearance from the southward, and
these were hailed as harbingers of the coming summer.
One day O'Riley sat on the taffrail, basking in the warm sun, and
drinking in health and gladness from its beams. He had been ill, and was
now convalescent. Buzzby stood beside him.
"I've bin thinkin'," said Buzzby, "that we don't half know the blessin's
that are given to us in this here world till we've had 'em taken away.
Look, now, how we're enjoyin' the sun an' the heat, just as if it wos so
"Goold!" echoed O'Riley, in a tone of contempt; "faix I niver thought so
little o' goold before, let me tell ye. Goold can buy many a thing, it
can, but it can't buy sunshine. Hallo! what's this?"
O'Riley accompanied the question with a sudden snatch of his hand.
"Look here, Buzzby! Have a care, now! jist watch the openin' o' my
"Wot is it?" inquired Buzzby, approaching, and looking earnestly at his
comrade's clinched hand with some curiosity.
"There he comes! Now, then, not so fast, ye spalpeen!"
As he spoke, a small fly, which had been captured, crept out from
between his fingers, and sought to escape. It was the first that had
visited these frozen regions for many, many months, and the whole crew
were summoned on deck to meet it as if it were an old and valued friend.
"Let it go, poor thing!" cried half-a-dozen of the men, gazing at the
little prisoner with a degree of interest that cannot be thoroughly
understood by those who have not passed through experiences similar to
those of our Arctic voyagers.
"Ay, don't hurt it, poor thing! You're squeezin' it too hard!" cried
"Squaazing it! no, then, I'm not. Go, avic, an' me blessin' go wid ye."
The big, rough hand opened, and the tiny insect, spreading its gossamer
wings, buzzed away into the bright atmosphere, where it was soon lost to
"Rig up the ice-saws, Mr. Bolton; set all hands at them, and get out the
powder-canisters," cried Captain Guy, coming hastily on deck.
"Ay, ay, sir," responded the mate. "All hands to the ice-saws! Look
alive, boys! Ho! Mr. Saunders! Where's Mr. Saunders?"
"Here 'am," answered the worthy second mate in a quiet voice.
"Oh, you're there! Get up some powder, Mr. Saunders, and a few
There was a heartiness in the tone and action with which these orders
were given and obeyed that proved they were possessed of more than
ordinary interest; as, indeed, they were, for the time had now come for
making preparations for cutting the ship out of winter-quarters, and
getting ready to take advantage of any favourable opening in the ice
that might occur.
"Do you hope to effect much?" inquired Captain Ellice of Captain Guy,
who stood at the gangway watching the men as they leaped over the side
and began to cut holes with ice-chisels preparatory to fixing the saws
"Not much," replied the captain; "but a _little_ in these latitudes is
worth fighting hard for, as you are well aware. Many a time have I seen
a ship's crew strain and heave on warps and cables for hours together,
and only gain a yard by all their efforts; but many a time, also, have I
seen a single yard of headway save a ship from destruction."
"True," rejoined Captain Ellice; "I have seen a little of it myself.
There is no spot on earth, I think, equal to the Polar Regions for
bringing out into bold relief two great and _apparently_ antagonistic
truth's--namely, man's urgent need of all his powers to accomplish the
work of his own deliverance, and man's utter helplessness and entire
dependence on the sovereign will of God."
"When shall we sink the canisters, sir?" asked Bolton, coming up and
touching his hat.
"In an hour, Mr. Bolton; the tide will be full then, and we shall try
what effect a blast will have."
"My opeenion is," remarked Saunders, who passed at the moment with two
large bags of gunpowder under his arms, "that it'll have no effect at
a'. It'll just loosen the ice roond the ship."
The captain smiled as he said, "_That_ is all the effect I hope for, Mr.
Saunders. Should the outward ice give way soon, we shall then be in a
better position to avail ourselves of it."
As Saunders predicted, the effect of powder and saws was merely to
loosen and rend the ice-tables in which the _Dolphin_ was imbedded; but
deliverance was coming sooner than any of those on board expected. That
night a storm arose, which, for intensity of violence, equalled, if it
did not surpass, the severest gales they had yet experienced. It set the
great bergs of the Polar Seas in motion, and these moving mountains of
ice slowly and majestically began their voyage to southern climes,
crashing through the floes, overturning the hummocks, and ripping up the
ice-tables with quiet but irresistible momentum. For two days the war of
ice continued to rage, and sometimes the contending forces, in the shape
of huge tongues and corners of bergs, were forced into the Bay of Mercy,
and threatened swift destruction to the little craft, which was a mere
atom that might have been crushed and sunk and scarcely missed in such a
At one time a table of ice was forced out of the water and reared up,
like a sloping wall of glass, close to the stern of the _Dolphin_, where
all the crew were assembled with ice-poles ready to do their utmost; but
their feeble efforts could have availed them nothing had the
slowly-moving mass continued its onward progress.
"Lower away the quarter-boat," cried the captain, as the sheet of ice
six feet thick came grinding down towards the starboard quarter.
Buzzby, Grim, and several others sprang to obey, but before they could
let go the fall-tackles, the mass of ice rose suddenly high above the
deck, over which it projected several feet, and caught the boat. In
another moment the timbers yielded, the thwarts sprang out or were
broken across, and slowly, yet forcibly, as a strong hand might crush an
egg-shell, the boat was squeezed flat against the ship's side.
"Shove, lads! if it comes on we're lost," cried the captain, seizing one
of the long poles with which the men were vainly straining every nerve
and muscle. They might as well have tried to arrest the progress of a
berg. On it came, and crushed in the starboard quarter bulwarks.
Providentially at that moment it grounded and remained fast; but the
projecting point that overhung them broke off and fell on the deck with
a crash that shook the good ship from stem to stern. Several of the men
were thrown violently down, but none were seriously hurt in this
When the storm ceased the ice out in the strait was all in motion, and
that round the ship had loosened so much that it seemed as if the
_Dolphin_ might soon get out into open water, and once more float upon
its natural element. Every preparation, therefore, was made. The stores
were re-shipped from Store Island; the sails were shaken out, and those
of them that had been taken down were bent on to the yards; tackle was
overhauled; and, in short, everything was done that was possible under
the circumstances. But a week passed away ere they succeeded in finally
warping out of the bay into the open sea beyond.
It was a lovely morning when this happy event was accomplished. Before
the tide was quite full, and while they were waiting until the command
to heave on the warps should be given, Captain Guy assembled the crew
for morning prayers in the cabin. Having concluded, he said:--
"My lads, through the great mercy of God we have been all, except one,
spared through the trials and anxieties of a long and dreary winter, and
are now, I trust, about to make our escape from the ice that has held us
fast so long. It becomes me at such a time to tell you that, if I am
spared to return home, I shall be able to report that every man in this
ship has done his duty. You have never flinched in the hour of danger,
and never grumbled in the hour of trial. Only one man--our late brave
and warm-hearted comrade, Joseph West--has fallen in the struggle. For
the mercies that have never failed us, and for our success in rescuing
my gallant friend, Captain Ellice, we ought to feel the deepest
gratitude to the Almighty. We have need, however, to pray for a blessing
on the labours that are yet before us, for you are well aware that we
shall probably have many a struggle with the ice before we are once more
afloat on blue water. And now, lads, away with you on deck, and man the
capstan, for the tide is about full."
The capstan was manned, and the hawsers were hove taut. Inch by inch the
tide rose, and the _Dolphin_ floated. Then a lusty cheer was given, and
Amos Parr struck up one of those hearty songs intermingled with "Ho!"
and "Yo heave ho!" that seem to be the life and marrow of all nautical
exertion. At last the good ship forged ahead, and, _boring_ through the
loose ice, passed slowly out of the Bay of Mercy.
"Do you know I feel quite sad at quitting this dreary spot?" said Fred
to his father, as they stood gazing backward over the taffrail. "I could
not have believed that I should have become so much attached to it."
"We become attached to any spot, Fred, in which incidents have occurred
to call forth frequently our deeper feelings. These rocks and stones are
intimately associated with many events that have caused you joy and
sorrow, hope and fear, pain and happiness. Men cherish the memory of
such feelings, and love the spots of earth with which they are
"Ah, father, yonder stands one stone, at least, that calls forth
feelings of sorrow."
Fred pointed as he spoke to Store Island, which was just passing out of
view. On this lonely spot the men had raised a large stone over the
grave of Joseph West. O'Riley, whose enthusiastic temperament had caused
him to mourn over his comrade more, perhaps, than any other man in the
ship, had carved the name and date of his death in rude characters on
the stone. It was a conspicuous object on the low island, and every eye
in the _Dolphin_ was fixed on it as they passed. Soon the point of rock
that had sheltered them so long from many a westerly gale intervened and
shut it out from view for ever.
When man's prospects are at the worst, it often happens that some
unexpected success breaks on his path like a bright sunbeam. Alas! it
often happens, also, that when his hopes are high and his prospects
brightest, a dark cloud overspreads him like a funeral pall. We might
learn a lesson from this--the lesson of dependence on that Saviour who
_careth_ for us, and of trust in that blessed assurance that "_all_
things work together for good to them that love God."
A week of uninterrupted fair wind and weather had carried the _Dolphin_
far to the south of their dreary wintering ground, and all was going
well, when the worst of all disasters befell the ship--she caught fire!
How it happened no one could tell. The smoke was first seen rising
suddenly from the hold. Instantly the alarm was spread.
"Firemen, to your posts!" shouted the captain. "Man the water-buckets!
Steady, men; no hurry. Keep order."
"Ay, ay, sir," was the short, prompt response, and the most perfect
order _was_ kept. Every command was obeyed instantly with a degree of
vigour that is seldom exhibited save in cases of life and death.
Buzzby was at the starboard and Peter Grim at the larboard gangway,
while the men stood in two rows, extending from each to the main hatch,
up which ever thickening clouds of dark smoke were rolling. Bucket after
bucket of water was passed along and dashed into the hold, and
everything that could be done was done, but without effect. The fire
increased. Suddenly a long tongue of flame issued from the smoking
cavern, and lapped round the mast and rigging with greedy eagerness.
"There's no hope," said Captain Ellice in a low voice, laying his hand
gently on Captain Guy's shoulder.
The captain did not reply, but gazed with an expression of the deepest
regret, for one moment, at the work of destruction.
Next instant he sprang to the falls of the larboard quarter-boat.
"Now, lads," he cried energetically, "get out the boats. Bring up
provisions, Mr. Bolton, and a couple of spare sails.--Mr. Saunders, see
to the ammunition and muskets. Quick, men. The cabin will soon be too
hot to hold you."
Setting the example, the captain sprang below, followed by Fred and Tom
Singleton, who secured the charts, a compass, chronometer, and quadrant;
also the log-book and the various journals and records of the voyage.
Captain Ellice also did active service, and being cool and
self-possessed he recollected and secured several articles which were
afterwards of the greatest use, and which, but for him, would in such a
trying moment have probably been forgotten.
Meanwhile, the two largest boats in the ship were lowered. Provisions,
masts, sails, and oars, etc., were thrown in. The few remaining dogs,
among whom were Dumps and Poker, were also embarked; and the crew
hastily leaping in pushed off. They were not a moment too soon. The fire
had reached the place where the gunpowder was kept, and although there
was not a great quantity of it, there was enough when it exploded to
burst open the deck. The wind, having free ingress, fanned the fire into
a furious blaze, and in a few moments the _Dolphin_ was wrapped in
flames from stem to stern. It was a little after sunset when the fire
was discovered. In two hours later the good ship was burned to the
water's edge. Then the waves swept in, and while they extinguished the
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