Steve Young; or, The Voyage of the "Hvalross" to the Icy Seas, by George Manville Fenn.
Steve Young is an orphan whose uncle, Captain Young, has disappeared on a voyage to the Spitzbergen area, well to the north of Britain. Some of the Captain's friends charter a Norwegian vessel to go in search of him, and, much to the disgust of the ship's doctor, who thinks boys are nothing but a nuisance, Steve goes with them.
Steve is a sixteen year old, unconscious of his own good looks, but needing a few hard lessons in life, which the trip provides in plenty. Encounters with Polar Bears, the intense cold of the arctic winter, gales and storms, strong currents, ice floes, the total darkness of the winter, and the occasional bad humour of various of the men of the rescue party.
George Manville Fenn is a master of suspense, and in this book he reveals his usual talents. All of the characters are very well drawn, and we are even amused by the cowardly and idle antics of a young Scottish Highlander, who is not at all typical of the noble and brave Highlander.
Eventually they find Captain Young and most of his crew, and off home they go.
STEVE YOUNG; OR, THE VOYAGE OF THE "HVALROSS" TO THE ICY SEAS, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
THE REASON WHY.
"What do I think?"
"Yes, out with it. Don't be afraid."
"Oh, I'm not afraid; but I don't want to quarrel with any man, nor to upset the lad."
"Speak out then. You will not quarrel with me, and I'm not afraid of your upsetting the lad. I like him to know the whole truth; don't I, Steve?"
"Yes, sir, of course," cried the boy addressed, a well-built, sturdy lad of sixteen, fair, strong, and good-looking, and with the additional advantage, which made him better-looking still, that he did not know it.
For though Stephen Young, son of a well-known Lincolnshire doctor who lost his life in fighting hard to save those of others, stood in front of a looking-glass every morning to comb his hair, he never stopped long, and for the short space he did stay his face was convulsed and wrinkled, eyes red, and mouth twisted all on one side, consequent upon his being in pain as he jigged and tore with the comb trying to smooth the unsmoothable; for Steve's hair had a habit of curling closely all over his head; and before he had been combing a minute he used to dash the teethed instrument away, give his crisp locks a rub, and say, "Bother!"
And now he, Captain Marsham, and Dr Handscombe stood on the granite wharf at Nordoe, high up among the Norwegian fiords, talking to Captain Hendal, a sturdy, elderly, ruddy-bronze giant, who acted as a sort of amateur consul and referee for shipping folk who came and went from the little hot-and-cold port, and who was now frowning heavily at the trio whom he faced.
"Want me to speak out, do you, Captain Marsham, eh?"
"Of course. I came and asked you for your help and advice. I know you to be a man of great experience, and I say once more, what do you think?"
"Well, sir, I think you ought to be ashamed of yourself."
"Why?" said Captain Marsham, smiling; and as his features relaxed, he looked in size, ruddy-bronze complexion, and hard, weather-tanned appearance wonderfully like the Norwegian consul.
"Because you are going to take a boy like that up into the high latitudes, where from minute to minute you never know whether the end mayn't come."
"The end come?" said the captain.
"Yes, and you ought to know how: stove in, crushed, sunk, lost in the snow, frozen, starved, sir. It's one big risk, I tell you. It's all very well for the walrus-hunters and whale-fishers, who go for their living; but you're a gentleman, with money to fit out that steamer as you have done it. There's no need for you to go; and if you'll take my advice, you'll give it up."
Captain Marsham shook his head.
"You've been to sea a good deal?" said Hendal.
"Nearly all my life. Almost everywhere," said the captain, while Steve Young listened intently to all that was said.
"But you don't know our polar ocean, sir."
"No; but I've had a pretty fair experience among the southern ice, trying to penetrate the pack there," said Captain Marsham.
"Oh! oh! Ah, then that would help you a bit. Ice is ice, sir, all the world over."
"But there, you give it up, sir: that's my advice. Take a trip a little way if you like, and do your bit of shooting; you can do that without any risks. Then come back. Why, only last year—let me see, it was the beginning of June, like this is—a well-formed, strongly built schooner touched here—the Ice Blink they called her—from Hull, Captain Young—"
"Yes," said Captain Marsham quietly; "and they sailed north, and have not been heard of since."
"Eh? How did you know?" cried the consul. "Oh, of course, from the papers."
"Yes, and from other sources too, Captain Hendal. Mr Young is—"
"Was," muttered the Norwegian.
"Is, sir," said Captain Marsham sternly, "a very old friend of mine, and this lad's uncle. We are going to try and find out where they are frozen up."
A complete change came over the Norwegian, who took a step forward and clapped his hands heavily upon Captain Marsham's shoulders. Then turning smartly, he caught Steve by the hand, shook it heartily, and ended by resting his left arm on the boy's shoulder as he gazed down at him with his keen blue eyes looking moist.
"God bless you, my lad!" he cried in a deep voice, "and your expedition too. Right, Captain Marsham, and I beg your pardon. I thought you were going on a risky fowling trip, and it made me angry to think of your taking a lad like that up into yon solitudes. But it will not be dark to you when the sun goes down; there's always a bright light in the hearts of those who go to help others in distress. Now, then, what can I do to help you? For I say God-speed to your trip with all my heart."
"Thank you, thank you. Well, you can help me in several ways. As an old ice-goer you can give me many hints. Above all, as a brother-sailor you know the value of a good crew. I have some trusty men, but I want four more—young, strong, hearty, Norway lads, who have been well among the walrus, and who can tackle a whale or a bear."
"Then you mean work?"
"Certainly. I will not believe my friend is lost, though I am going up yonder; so I make this a pleasure and hunting trip."
"So as to pay expenses?" said the Norwegian.
"Yes. This special steamer and her fittings mean some thousands of pounds, and I think I may as well reduce the cost all I can."
"Of course; and you have called your steamer the Hvalross."
"Yes; I have used your Norse term for the sea-horse."
"The name will make our lads eager to go."
"Then you can get me four to go with us?"
"You shall have the four finest men who have not already started, sir."
"Come, that sounds better," said the little, keen-looking man who had not yet spoken. "May I shake hands with you, Captain Hendal?"
"Yes, sir; I like shaking hands with Englishmen," said the big Norwegian, holding out his great palm, the back of which was strangely suggestive of a polar bear's paw; and he laughed as he looked down at the little white hand laid in it, and then gave it a grip which changed its colour. "But you're not a sailor."
"I? No, a medical man."
"Handscombe," said the doctor, smiling.
"Got stuff in you, though," said the Norwegian grimly, "or you'd have hallooed when I gave your hand that nip. But why are you going? They won't want a doctor?"
"Oh, I don't know; I may be useful. I am a bit scientific though, and want to see what we can discover."
"Good," said the Norwegian; "deal to learn up there, sir. Ice, currents, the cold, the storms—and you'll find something beside snow; but you will not find the North Pole."
"No," said Dr Handscombe, smiling; "we don't expect that, do we, Steve?"
The lad smiled.
"Why not, sir? We might, you know."
"Yes, my lad, you might," said the Norwegian seriously. "It is more likely to be found by accident than by those who go on purpose. Well, Captain Marsham, I'll see about your men at once. Shall I find you on board by-and-by?"
"Yes; I'll stay there till you come."
They parted, the Norwegian to stride away for the little town, while Captain Marsham with his two companions made at once for the sturdy-looking vessel with its low grey funnel lying in the land-locked harbour, about fifty yards from the sunny shore.
Steve Young, who was walking first, suddenly stooped down and took up a handful of sand, which was so hot, fine, and dry that it began to trickle between his fingers like that in the kitchen egg-boiler at home, as he trotted softly to the edge of the wharf and looked over, to find exactly what he expected: the boat made fast to one of the cross timbers, with a big swarthy man in a blue jersey asleep in the stern, and a rough-looking, shock-headed boy also asleep in the bows, the hot sunshine having a soporific effect on both.
As Steve reached the edge he looked sharply back and saw that the Norwegian captain had returned, and Captain Marsham and the doctor had turned to see what he wanted. That was Steve's opportunity, and going down on one knee he reached over where the shock-headed boy lay with the side of his head resting upon the boat's gunwale ten feet below, and one ear turned up as if listening while its owner slept.
Steve Young calculated pretty well in trying to get his hand exactly over that ear, and then let a little sand trickle down. It fell right into the ear, for there was not a breath of wind; but the boy slept on. Steve let a little more go down, and this time there was a tiny stone as well, which struck the open organ and made it twitch, just as a dog's ear does when it is tickled. But the boy slept on, and Steve tried again, letting more sand fall. This time the boy raised his hand and gave his ear a vicious rub. Then the hand dropped, and he slept again. More sand, and a stone or two about half the size of peas, one of which dropped right into the opening of the ear, and resulted in the boy making a rapid dash with his hand past his head, as if striking at something. He subsided once more with a grunt, and more sand fell in company with tiny pebbles. This time the boy made three or four savage blows in the air, but without raising his head or opening his eyes. "Bother the flees!" he muttered, and Steve waited. Then down went the trickling sand. "Bother the flees, I say!" cried the boy, opening his eyes now, and making a few more angry strokes with his hand. Again he closed his eyes, and, practice making perfect, Steve dropped a tiny pebble right into the boy's ear, and drew back out of sight; for this time the lad sprang up and looked sharply round. Then, seeing nothing on the wharf overhead, he turned to the man in the stern, and said sharply:
"That you, Hahmeesh?"
"Eh?" came in a drowsy tone.
"That you flecking stanes in my lug?"
"No. Stanes and sahnd."
"Flees, I tell you. Be quiet."
The boy grunted, looked round, and settled down again to sleep, for he was still drowsy.
Steve listened till all was still, glanced over his right shoulder, saw that Captain Marsham was still talking to the Norwegian, and then quietly peered over the edge of the granite wharf again, to find the boy apparently fast asleep. Then down went a tiny pebble with splendid aim.
"Bother the flees!" roared the boy, springing up and sending his arms about like a windmill. But this time Steve stood fast, laughing; while the boy stopped short, looking up fiercely, and then grinned.
"I see you all the time hiding ahint the stanes!" he cried.
"Come, jump up; here's the captain."
The effect of those words was magical, for the man, a big, good-humoured-looking Scot, also sprang up and stepped to his place on the thwart forward, and cried to the boy:
"Naw, Watty, handy there with that hitcher!"
The boy caught up the boat-hook, drew the boat close to where the painter was fastened, and then hauled her along, after casting off, to where a rough wooden ladder was clamped to the side of the wharf.
Both moved smartly, for, short as the time had been that they had served on board the Hvalross, Captain Marsham had drilled the men into something like the same habits as those of his old crew when he commanded a sloop in the Royal Navy, before he retired from the service and settled down at Dartmouth. Since then he had amused himself with his yacht, till, hearing of the non-return of his old friend Captain Young, he determined to fit out the Hvalross and make an expedition to the north, taking with him his ward, Stephen Young, who had long been importuning him to arrange for his going to sea.
The boat was waiting as Captain Marsham came to the edge of the little granite wharf, and they had just stepped in when a strange sound came floating through the silence of the soft, dreamy summer air, followed directly by a long-drawn, plaintive howl that was almost terrible in its despairing tone.
"What ever is that?" cried the doctor, starting up from his seat and shading his eyes to gaze at the anchored vessel.
"It's Skene-dhu!" cried Steve. "What's he howling at? Because we're ashore?"
"Pipes," said the man, who was now pulling steadily at one oar, while the boy tugged at the other.
"Pipes?" cried the captain. "What pipes? They surely don't play the bagpipes in Norway?"
"No, sir. It's Andra McByle brought his fra Oban."
"There, pull, my lads!" said the captain, frowning. "We shall have plenty to depress us going north without winds of this description, eh, Steve?"
"Yes, it's horrid," said that young gentleman; and the boy who was rowing looked up at him sharply with a frown on his heavy brows.
And all the while the wild, weird strain grew louder, and the howling more piteous, till the boat reached the vessel's side, when the drone and squeal of the pipes ceased on the instant, and the dog's howl was changed to a loud, joyous bark, as his handsome head appeared at the gangway, the eyes flashing in the sunlight, ears cocked, and the thick mass of hair about the neck ruffled up.
"Back, Skeny! Stop there, boy!" shouted Steve; and his words checked the dog just as he was about to leap down.
At that moment a frank-looking, middle-aged man came to the side, and looked down at them. "Any good, sir?" he said; "or are we too late for them?"
"All right, Lowe," said the captain. "Four of the best men in port promised."
"Old Hendal promise them, sir?"
"Then it is all right," said the new comer on the scene, to wit, Mr James Lowe, the chief officer, an experienced sailor in the Northern Seas, who had applied to Captain Marsham for a post on the vessel while it was fitting out at Birkenhead, joined it at Oban, and proved himself a thoroughly good navigator in bringing them round by the many islands and fast currents of the west coast of Scotland, and then across to Norway and up through the fiords to Nordoe.
A couple of hours later, as the occupants of the Hvalross lounged about enjoying the delicious sunshine of the short northern summer, and those fresh to the coast gazed admiringly at the towering cliffs, snow-capped mountains, and thundering waterfalls which plunged headlong into the pure waters of the fiord, which reflected all like a mirror, a heavy boat pushed off from the wharf, and Captain Hendal climbed on deck. He was followed by four sturdy-looking descendants of the Vikings, clear-eyed, fair-haired, massive-headed men, who looked ready and willing to go through any danger, and who one and all declared themselves eager to start, on one condition—that they should not be expected to stoke the engine fire. This was conceded instantly. A few questions were then asked by Captain Hendal as to the stores and materiel on board the vessel; and it being found that everything likely to be wanted had been thought of and provided, and that every possible place beside the bunkers was crammed with coal, the Norwegian captain took his leave with the new recruits.
That evening the men were back on board with their kits; quite a crowd of people were about the wharf, consequent upon the new interest for them which the vessel possessed, and an hour later, steam being up, the anchor was raised, and the sturdy-looking grey vessel glided away through the calm waters of the fiord amidst a loud burst of cheers.
Northward ho! for the region of the midnight sun.
"I say," said Steve some hours later, "isn't it getting late?"
"Yes, very," said the captain; "go and turn in."
"But it's so light, sir! It was light enough coming up here, but—what time is it?"
"What! Why, I thought it could only be about eight."
"I suppose so, boy," said the captain, who was looking ahead for the opening through which the Hvalross was to thread her way out from the fiord into the ocean; "but where is your geography?"
"Yes, yes; but I don't mean your book, my lad. I mean the geography and knowledge in your head. Don't you remember that the farther we go north at this time of year the lighter it becomes, till, not many miles farther, it will be all daylight?"
"Yes, I remember now," cried Steve; "but it's rather puzzling, all that about the midnight sun. Doesn't the sun really set at all?"
"No," said Captain Marsham, smiling at the lad's puzzled expression.
"Then what does it do?" said the lad, gazing hard in the direction of the north-west, where there was still a warm glow.
"Keeps up above the horizon."
"But that's what puzzles me," said Steve.
"Well, I hardly know how to explain it to you, my boy, unless you can grasp it if I ask you to suppose you are standing on the North Pole."
"Yes, I understand that. Wouldn't the sun set there?"
"No; but at midsummer day it would be at a certain height above the horizon."
"Yes; but how would it be at midsummer night?"
"Just at the same height in the sky, going apparently round the heavens."
"And would it keep on like that, always at the same height night and day?"
"Yes, for one day only. The next day it would be nearly the same height, then a little lower; and so it would go on becoming a little and a little lower, and, as it were, screwing slowly down till it was close to the horizon; then would come the days when it was only half seen, then not seen at all."
"And after that?"
"Darkness and winter, Steve, till it had gone as far south as it could go and begun to return. Do you understand now?"
"I think so," said Steve, but rather dubiously. "It's much too big to get hold of all at once. But just tell me this, and then I'll go to bed, sir. As we shan't be right at the North Pole, how long will it be before we see the sun in the middle of the night?"
"That depends, my lad. If this breeze keeps up, we shall hoist sail, save our coal, and pass round the North Cape at midnight, and then we shall have a good three months' sunshine in which to load our tanks with oil, have plenty of sport, and I hope—best of all—find our friends alive and little the worse for passing through an arctic winter in the snow. Now that's quite enough for you to think of for one night. Down below."
Stephen Young left the deck after giving a longing look round at the lovely sky, and feeling as if he had more to think of than he could well manage. Ten minutes later he was lying in his comfortable berth, listening to the gliding motion of the water as it lapped against the vessel's side. Then he began to wonder why the constant sunshine did not melt all the ice and snow in the arctic circle; and lastly he did not wonder at all, for he was fast asleep, just as the vessel passed through the piled-up masses of rock which guarded the northern entrance to the fiord, and acted as breakwaters to keep the inner straits so lake-like and still. For directly the Hvalross had passed the last rocks there was a disagreeable heaving, and soon after the vessel had little waves splashing against her bows, and within an hour she was careening over to the full breeze, and making her way north at a rate which promised well for Stephen seeing the midnight sun twelve hours sooner than he had been told.
The swilling and scrubbing of the planks roused Steve the next morning, and, hurriedly dressing, he went on deck to find the sun shining brightly, the blue sea sparkling, and a dim line that might have been cloud away to the right. The breeze was just such a one as a sailor would like to continue, and the Hvalross, though not fast, being built for strength and resistance to the ice, was making good progress, thanks to the height of her spars and the grand spread of canvas she could bear. The new men were all very busy with bucket and swab, just as if they had been on board a month; and the last traces of the coal dust, which had worried Captain Marsham in his desire for perfect cleanliness, had been sent down the scuppers.
"Morning," said the first of the new men Steve encountered, giving him a friendly nod. "Nice breeze."
Steve stared, for he did not expect to find the new men able to converse in English; but in five minutes he found that they were well acquainted with his tongue, and also that they had visited Aberdeen and Hull several times in whalers.
About that time the captain came on deck, had a short conversation with Mr Lowe, the mate, who then went below to rest, just as Steve was noticing the smoke which rose from the galley fire and thinking about breakfast. That came in due time, and when they went on deck again the wind had died out and the vessel hardly had steering way.
There being no immediate need of progress recourse was not had to steam, and a question asked by one of the Nordoe men resulted in Captain Marsham giving orders for the tackle to be brought on deck and overhauled before being re-stowed for immediate use when wanted.
Steve, with a boy's interest in this fishing tackle on a large scale, eagerly watched the unlashing and laying out of the coils of new, soft, strong, tarred line, the walrus harpoons, lances with their long, thin, smooth, white pine poles, the white whale harpoon, and the harpoon gun. Every one of these implements was full of suggestive thoughts of exciting adventure; so, too, were the ice anchors and picks; and as all were carefully examined in turn the Norway men talked to each other, making plenty of comments as they ran the new line through their fingers and balanced the lances in their hands, till in imagination Steve saw the great ivory-tusked walrus rising out of the sea and the men in the boats ready to strike.
He was not alone in his intense interest, for the shock-headed boy was staring hard too, with his mouth half open and his forehead wrinkled into furrows, till he saw Captain Marsham approach from the wheel, when he hurried forward to commence altering the coil of a rope which needed no touching and whose neatness he disturbed.
"Well, my men," said the captain, "what do you say to the tackle?"
"Very good, sir," said one, who seemed to be the eldest of the party. "Only wants using well."
"Exactly. But you will manage that."
"Yes, sir; we'll try," said the man, and the others nodded and smiled.
"What about the wind dropping like this? Does it mean change?"
"Yes," said another of the men, giving a sharp look round; "nor'-east before long, I should say."
The man proved to be a true weather prophet, for in a couple of hours the wind had swung completely round to dead ahead, and after a little thought the vessel's course was altered and her head laid for the north-west.
"But will not this take us quite out of our way?" said the doctor, as they sat that day at dinner, with a lively sea playfully patting the shining sides of the vessel as she glided rapidly onward.
"Which is our way?" said the captain, smiling.
"North, to find our friends."
"Exactly; but it does not matter whether we approach the north by the north-east or north-west. It is all chance as to where they may have wintered; and, as the wind is fair for the way north-west, let's take it."
"And if we keep on in this direction, where shall we make?" said the doctor.
"Greenland!" cried Steve; and the captain nodded. "Right," he said; "and there is a possibility that they may have reached an island there, which I have often thought I should like to see."
"Jan Mayen, a place seldom visited. If the wind holds fair we'll make for that, try to explore it as far as the ice will allow us, and then sail north along the edge of the floe for Spitzbergen, without you can suggest a better plan."
"I? No!" said the doctor.
"Can you, Lowe?" asked the captain of the mate, who had now joined them after a good morning's sleep.
"No, sir. It's all chance work, this sailing to the north. We must search where we can. It's of no use to say we'll go here or there; we must go where the ice will let us."
"Exactly; and take what walrus and seal we can on the way. Have you ever touched at Jan Mayen?"
"No, and never could get near enough to the island for fog and ice."
"But you've heard a good deal about the place?"
"Yes; I've heard that it's a land of high mountains, and that there's a volcano at one end. Let's see, there's a kind of seal there, too, that is very abundant; but the place is rarely touched at, being famous for fogs, currents, and ice—all enemies to navigation."
"Well, we will see if we cannot have better luck, and try to get there in fine weather," said Captain Marsham. "What do you say, doctor?"
"That it will be a treat to land there. Besides, we may find our friends."
The doctor walked forward, and Steve followed, with the idea of landing upon an unexplored coast growing in its fascination; and as the naturalist leaned over the bows to peer down into the clear water, the lad edged up alongside.
"Hullo, Steve! what are you thinking about?" saluted him.
"Warm subject. Well, what about them?"
"I was wondering why it was that these burning mountains are always found up in very cold regions among the ice and snow."
"But are they?"
"Oh yes," said Steve confidently. "There's Hecla in Iceland, and this one Mr Lowe talked about, and Captain Marsham says he saw a tremendous one amongst the ice toward the South Pole."
"Indeed!" said the doctor sarcastically. "That makes three. What about the scores of others dotted about the earth in the hottest countries? Your theory will not hold water, my lad. But what's that man going aloft for? We can't be anywhere near land."
This remark was occasioned by one of the men climbing the shrouds of the main-mast, making his way to the top, and then, as they watched him, climbing higher to the main topgallant crosstrees, where he stopped for some little time making an examination before descending.
"Gone up to see if the ropes are safe," said Steve at last. But this soon proved to be a very lame conclusion, for the other three Norsemen and a sour-looking Scotchman, with a little brown mark at the corner of one lip, were busy getting something up out of the hold.
The something resolved itself into a big tub about five feet in height, and narrow, while it was made higher by an iron framework or ring rising another six inches above the open top, and held projecting like a rail by means of stout bars attached to a hoop.
It is a bad plan on shipboard to ask questions of officers when they are busy, and Steve had been to sea long enough to learn this. On the other hand, it is a good thing, not only at sea, but through life, to investigate as much as possible for yourself, and correct any errors into which you fall as you learn more. "Bought wit is better than taught wit," the old moralist wrote; and he was quite right, for the things taught us are too often forgotten, while those which we have bought at the cost of a good deal of puzzling and study fix themselves firmly in the mind. So, as soon as the tub was left standing on the deck, and he could conveniently do so, Steve walked up and began to examine it, noting principally that about half-way down there was a broad ledge half round the inside.
"To brew something, I suppose," said Steve to himself. "They'll lay the yeast, or whatever it is they use, on that ledge. Some kind of drink, I suppose, to keep the men warm when we get up into the ice."
He had another good look round after thrusting his head inside the iron rail, upon which a board was placed to slide, and then noted something else which quite upset his theory.
At that moment the shock-headed boy came up from the hold, with a bundle of what seemed to be stout oaken laths under his arm.
"What have you got there, Watty?"
"Wud—pieces o' wud."
"Oh, you are a clever one!" cried Steve, turning away impatiently, for the sour-looking sailor with the brown mark at the corner of his lip came up from below, where he had been to fetch a bunch of tar-twine.
"Here, Andrew," said Steve eagerly, "what are they going to make in that tub?"
"Make, Meester Young?" said the man, turning to gaze thoughtfully at the cask. "Observations."
"Now, no gammon. Tell me!"
The man wiped his lips with the back of his hand, and spread his face into a dry kind of grin, just as if something hurt him, and he was smiling to show people that he did not mind.
"Observations," he said again.
Steve gave him an angry look.
"Don't you make stupid observations."
Andrew McByle of Ballachulish, a well-tanned Scottish whaler, "went off": that is to say, he did not leave the spot on the deck where he stood talking to Steve Young, but he went off like a clock or some other piece of machinery; for he suddenly gave a jerk, and made a peculiar noise inside somewhere about the throat, accompanied by some singular contortions of the face.
Steve pressed close up to him, for he had seen the contortions before.
"Look here, Andy," he whispered, "do you want me to kick you?"
"Na, Mr Stevin."
"Then don't you laugh at me when I ask you questions. Every one isn't so precious clever as you are; and look here, Watty Links, if you dare to grin at me I'll punch your head. Now then, Andy, what is it?"
"Dinna ca' me Andy, my laddie, and she'll tell ye. My name's Andra."
"Very well then, Andra. What's the tub for?"
"Bah!" exclaimed Steve; and he walked forward to where the stout red-faced sailor who had pulled him aboard from the wharf was busy applying grease to the fore-mast.
"What's that cask for, Hamish?"
"Yon, sir? For the crows," said the man, grinning.
"What! do we shoot crows and salt them down in that tub?"
"Oh no, sir. They shoots themselves up through the bottom."
Steve stood staring at the man for a moment, and then turned away impatiently.
"How stupid of me," he said. "I ought to have known. Crow's-nest, of course."
He walked near to the foot of the main-mast just as the Norwegian sailor who had been up aloft turned the tub down with its bottom forward, went on one knee and pushed the bottom inward, one end rising up and showing that the other side worked upon hinges.
"She'll want a little iling," said the man; then, turning the tub upright again, the bottom fell into its place with a snap, and the man turned and took the ball of tarred twine from McByle, and walked to the side.
"Now, boy," he said to Watty Links, "bring up that stuff."
He took hold of the shrouds, swung himself on to the bulwarks, and began to mount the ratlines as calmly as if it were a broad staircase, though the vessel was careening over, and rising and falling on the swell.
"Now, my lad, up with you," said the captain. "Stop there, and hand him the pieces as he wants them."
The boy's face wrinkled up, and he looked down at his bundle of many-lengthed laths, then up at the top-mast, and then at the captain.
"Well, did you hear what I said, sir?"
"Then why don't you run up?"
"The wind blaws, sir, and I dinna thenk I can haud on."
"What? Why, you contemptible, lubberly young rascal, what do you mean? You come to sea, and afraid to go aloft!"
"Na, I winna say I'm afraid to gang aloft, sir; but my heid's a' of a wark when I get up, and I might fa' and hurt somebody."
Captain, mate, the doctor, and Steve burst into a roar of laughter at this; and feeling that he must have said something unusually clever the boy looked smiling round, letting his eyes rest at last upon Steve.
"Here, this won't do!" cried Mr Lowe. "Now, boy, no nonsense; up with you!"
"Na," said the boy sturdily, and he shook his shock head. "My mither said I wasna to rin into danger, and I didna come to sea to fa' overboard, or come doon upon the deck wi' a roon."
"Now, boy, come along!" cried the sailor, who was high up above the top.
"Do you hear, sir! Up with you, or you'll get the rope's end!" cried the mate angrily.
"Don't send him," said the captain in an undertone. "The young cur may fall."
"I'll take them!" cried Steve; and stepping forward, he leaped up into the shrouds and held down his hand for the bundle.
The captain gave his head a nod.
"Up with you then, my lad. Shall I send a man to lash you to the rigging?"
"Yes, sir, when I ask," cried Steve: and taking the bundle of pieces of wood under his arm he began to mount steadily.
"Pass the word for the cook," cried the mate angrily; and as Steve reached the top he paused to rest a moment, and looked down to see that the cook had come out of the galley and presented himself before his officers.
"Here!" cried the mate, "take this boy, cook, and set him to peel potatoes and scour your pots. He'll never make a sailor."
"Na," whimpered the lad, "I didna come to sea to peel potatoes. My mither said—"
Steve did not hear what Watty's "mither" had said, for the cook made a rush at him, caught him by the scruff of the neck, and ran him into the galley, closely followed by Skene-dhu, the dog, snapping and barking at their heels in a way which hastened Watty's pace and stopped all resistance.
Half laughing, half pitying the boy, but with a blending of contempt, Steve resumed his climb, till, looking up, he found the Norwegian sailor just above him.
"So you've come, eh, my lad?" he said in perfect English.
"Yes, I've come."
"Don't you feel scared?"
"No, not yet. I say, what's your name?"
"Johannes, sir. Well, are you going to help me?"
"Yes, if you show me what to do."
"Hand me the rails, my lad, one by one, shortest first, while I lash them across from side to side."
"But what for?"
"What for, my lad? So that we can get into the crow's-nest when she's hauled right up and made fast yonder."
"But why won't the ratlines do?"
"Because they wouldn't be handy, my lad. There, you'll soon see. Get the shortest one ready," he continued, as he opened his big Norwegian knife by pressing on a spring at the side, and holding it upside down, when the long keen blade which lay in the handle dropped out to its full length, and the removal of the thumb from the spring fixed it in its place.
Then the man climbed a little higher up the shrouds, so that he could reach to where they came to an end on the main topgallant mast, about one-fourth of its length below the truck and halyards, thrust one leg through between the ratlines, so as to twist it round and get a good hold, leaving his hands free; and Steve at once followed his example, and then loosened the shortest lath-like piece of wood. This done, and the piece held ready, he had time to look about him, while the sailor untwisted some of his stout tarred twine and cut it into short lengths ready for use.
Steve's first look was, naturally enough, down at the deck, which now seemed to be at a terrible depth below him, looking quite a hundred feet, though it was not more than seventy, and the first thought which struck him was: "Suppose I fell!" A thrill ran through him, and in imagination he saw himself lying, broken and bleeding, on the white deck. But the next instant he said to himself: "No; I shouldn't reach the deck, I should go overboard into the sea. How deep down should I go?" and then he clung there staring below him, till he was roused from the peculiar kind of fascination by the sailor's voice.
"Now, master," he said; and Steve gave a kind of gasp as he turned to the speaker. "Shortest piece."
Steve handed it, and the Norseman tried its length, which proved to be just sufficient to reach across from the starboard shrouds, to which he clung, to those on the port side.
"Just right," he said, and resting each end of the stout lath-like piece on the ratlines, he proceeded to bind the starboard end fast to the outer shroud.
This was quickly done by a few deft turns of the strong twine, and then the sailor descended a little.
"Next size!" he cried, and another piece was passed up, this being a trifle longer.
It proved to fit exactly, showing how accurately the bundle of pieces had been prepared for the object in view.
"Next!" cried the man, and the piece was handed, placed in position on the opposite ratlines, and secured in turn.
"See what these are for?" said the Norseman, smiling.
"Yes; you are making a ladder, so as to get from side to side," replied Steve; "but you can't make it very far down, it would take tremendously long pieces when we get lower."
"Only want ten or a dozen, my lad. You see what they're for now, don't you?"
"To step on to from the ratlines, and go up into the crow's-nest."
"What, that tub?"
"Yes; we haul her up and lash her just above us, close to the truck there, above the top piece of wood."
"I see now!" cried Steve; and, full of interest in the task, he handed the pieces till the last had been secured, when the Norseman ascended to the highest, took tight hold of the mast, and crossed over on to the port-side shrouds, where he began to make fast the other ends of the pieces of wood.
"How are you getting on up there, Steve?" cried the captain from the deck.
"All right, sir. Done one side."
"Good! Feel giddy?"
"Oh no, sir."
"Shall I send the boy to relieve you?"
Steve replied in the negative, and the captain went aft again.
"Ever been up here before, sir?" said the man, as he rapidly went on with his task.
"Oh!" ejaculated the Norseman, and he looked across at his companion inquiringly, but with his busy fingers working away till the last piece had been securely bound at the port side and a short wooden ladder extended from side to side.
"Now, what's next?" asked Steve.
"Get up the crow's-nest. It'll want two of us for that."
"Well, I'll help," said Steve.
"Ay, sir, and I'd like your help; but it'll want one of my mates, with his strong arms, to hold her securely while she's made fast."
He hailed the deck, and a man came up with a small rope, which Johannes took, climbed up a little higher and passed the end through a little block high up just below the truck, drew upon it, and sent the end of the line down rapidly to the deck.
"Then this crow's-nest is for a look-out place?" said Steve.
"That's it, sir. Makes a nice snug cover for a man to stand in when we're among the walrus or seals, or seeking a way through the ice."
"And this ladder is for a man to creep up and get in through the bottom?"
"Right again, sir; you don't want no telling. He creeps up the ladder, in through the bottom, shuts the door down, and there he is, able to look out eight or nine miles any way."
Steve looked down, and could see that the men on deck were making the great cask fast to the end of the line. Then, turning to the man again:
"You said something about looking out for ice."
"Ay, sir, I did."
"How long will it be before we come in sight of any?"
The sailors both looked at him and smiled.
"'Bout as long as it takes to cast your eyes to the nor'ard, sir."
"What do you mean?"
"Look yonder," said the first Norseman, jerking his thumb over his shoulder. "You can see ice, can't you?"
Steve looked in the direction indicated, and shook his head.
"Nonsense, sir!" said the other. "There's ice—one, two, three good-sized bits floating this way."
"I can't see them," said Steve sadly. "Your eyes are better than mine."
"Maybe, sir. We've been at sea longer than you. Try again."
The boy looked, holding on by passing his arm round one of the shrouds, while the mast gave from the pressure of the wind, and produced a peculiar effect, as of swinging, now that his attention was not directed to the work going on.
"Feel all right?" said the first Norseman.
"Not giddy, sir?"
"No, I think not. I'm all right, but I can't see any ice."
"Try again. There, straight away where the sea shines in the sunlight."
"N-no," said Steve; "I can see the waves breaking and sparkling miles away."
"No, sir; you couldn't see the waves breaking and sparkling miles away on a day like this. What you see is ice."
"What, an iceberg? I thought that would be like an island."
"No, sir; a bit or two of floe ice going to the south'ard."
"Yes, I see now; but how big are these pieces?"
"Ten or a dozen feet out of the water, and perhaps a hundred feet long."
"But what do you mean by floe ice?"
"The ice of the sea frozen."
"Well, of course!" cried Steve; "so are icebergs."
"Are they, sir?" said the man, smiling. "Have you ever seen one?"
"No; but I've often read of them."
"Wait till you see one, then, sir, and you won't say they're part of the frozen sea; they're bits of the great ice rivers that run down into the sea, and then break off. Icebergs are fresh water when they're melted— land ice. Me and my mate have heard them split off with a noise like thunder, and then they float away."
"Ahoy, there aloft! Up she comes."
The little wheel in the block overhead began to chirrup and squeak as the men hauled upon the line, and the tub with its iron ring and rail began to ascend rapidly higher and higher, till it reached where the three clung, and was then guided to where it was to be secured, with its bottom resting on the place where the tops of the shrouds passed round the mast.
"Hold on!" was shouted. "Make fast!" and the cask became stationary. Then the second of the two sailors stood on the newly-made ladder, and held the cask while the first passed a rope round it and secured it to the slight mast; after which there was a little lashing above to steady it, and the crow's-nest hung there high above the deck, ready for use.
"There you are, sir," said Johannes. "As you've been helping you ought to have first try. Up with you."
"Think it's safe?" said Steve, hesitating; and a curious sensation of shrinking came over him.
"Shouldn't ask you to try her if she warn't fast, sir," replied the man bluntly; and without further ado the lad loosened his grasp of the shrouds, and stepped on to the wooden ladder, looking up at the bottom of the cask.
"Now, sir, just one word of warning," said the second Norseman. "That ladder's to step on from the shrouds, not to go down on deck."
"Of course not," replied Steve; "I know that."
"Yes, sir, and so do all of those who come up; but same time, a poor fellow don't think, and when he lowers himself out of the tub, he goes on stepping down without going off on to the shrouds, and I've known men fall and be killed."
"I say, don't talk about falling," said Steve, with a shiver; "it makes one feel creepy."
"Only good advice, sir," said Johannes. "Now, then, up you go."
The lad mounted three of the steps, and his head touched the bottom of the tub.
"It isn't opened!" he cried.
"Never mind, sir; go on, push up."
Steve obeyed, thrust hard with his head, and the bottom gave way, turning upon its hinges till it was vertical, and he passed up inside the tub, stepped on to the narrow ledge at the side, and the bottom dropped down into its place, forming a firm flooring, with a ring at the edge ready for lifting it up.
The next moment Steve was standing upright, peering round in all directions, finding that he was in a wonderfully commanding position for sweeping the sea, and now, with his eyes already a little educated, making out the ice to the north plainly enough.
There was the seat ready for resting upon; the iron rail all round for a rest for a telescope, and attached to this rail the broad piece of board which could be run round in any direction to act as a screen from the wind when it blew hard and was perhaps cold enough to give frost-bite to the unfortunate watcher up aloft.
A hail from the deck put an end to Steve's sea sweeping, just as he fancied he made out something dark to the south, which might have been a boat or some large fish. So, stooping down in his narrow cell, he raised the bottom, and began to lower himself down, till his feet, which sought for a resting-place, touched the second rail of the ladder they had made, and he thoroughly grasped now how necessary their work had been.
"Steady, sir!" cried Johannes, as he stepped lower. "Keep the door resting upon your head, so that it don't come down with a bang; it might hurt you."
"All right," said the lad, obeying the instructions to the letter, while the two men who stood on the shrouds to starboard and port watched him carefully. "That's it, isn't it?" he continued, as he stepped lower, and the trap-door bottom closed with a gentle tap.
"Make anything out?" cried Captain Marsham from the deck.
"Yes, sir!" cried Steve eagerly. "Three pieces of ice to the north, and there's something dark right away south that looks like a boat bottom upwards."
"Eh? Look again. What do you make it to be, my lad?"
This to one of the Norwegian sailors, who placed a hand over his eyes, and took a long look to the south.
"Well, what do you make of it?"
"Small whale, I should say, sir. But if it be," he said, after a short pause, "she's lying asleep in the sunshine."
"My glass," said the captain; and it was quickly fetched from the cabin, adjusted, and he took a long look in the direction pointed out.
"Yes; a small whale or a great grampus basking. Well done, look-out in the crow's-nest! Better come down now, my lad."
These words sent the blood coursing to the lad's cheeks, and he began to descend quickly, thinking now that after all it was a risky position for any one high up there above the deck, and that the sooner he was safely down the better he would like it. Then he took two more steps, and was in the act of taking another when the foot he lowered touched nothing, and he started so violently that the other foot glided from the smooth bar of wood, and he dropped with a jerk to the full extent of his arms, giving his hands such a sharp snatch that he felt them giving way just as he was hanging suspended over seventy feet above the deck. Then they gave way, for, lately as it had been uttered, he had forgotten the Norseman's carefully given warning.
IN THE DOCTOR'S HANDS.
A cry rose from the deck, and Steve Young in that brief moment felt that all was over, and that he was struck a violent blow in the ribs. Next moment he swung against the starboard shrouds to which he clung, feeling sick and giddy with pain, but awaking to the fact that the big Norwegian sailor had gripped his jacket on the right side and taken up a little fold of flesh as well. The pain was keen for a few moments, but partly ceased as the man thrust his other hand, by which he had held on between the ratlines, and took a good hold of his waistband.
"Now, then, can you get round this side?"
For answer Steve worked himself from the inner to the outer slope of the shrouds just below the cross-bars, and then thrust his legs through and held on, waiting for the fluttering nervous sensation which had attacked him to pass off.
"Ahoy, there!" came from the deck in the captain's stern tones. "I'll send up a line; make it fast round his chest, and lower him down."
These words sent the blood flushing to the boy's cheeks, for the idea of being lowered down like a bale or cask sounded too degrading.
"No, no!" he cried. "It's all right, sir; I can come down. Only slipped," he added.
"Only slipped!" said the Norseman bitterly. "Didn't I tell you to be careful, sir?"
"Yes; but I forgot."
"Lucky for you I was watching you."
"Can you come down?" cried the captain.
"Yes, sir, yes; it's all right"; and feeling more confident now, the boy began to descend the shrouds steadily enough, gaining confidence at every step till he reached the main-top, where he caught a rope, twisted his legs round, slid down to the deck, and laughingly faced his friends.
"Steve, my lad," cried the doctor, "what a turn you gave me! I thought you were gone."
"Yes," said Captain Marsham in a low tone; "and instead of laughing, my boy, you ought to go down to the cabin and thank God for your narrow escape. It was my fault, though, for encouraging you in your own confidence."
"I'm very, very sorry, Mr Handscombe," whispered Steve, as the captain walked away. "I didn't mean to treat it lightly, only to look as if I were not a coward."
"Yes, yes, I understand, my lad," was the reply; "but it is a lesson to you. I wouldn't go through those moments again for a thousand pounds. Why, Steve, my lad, I saw, as if in a flash, a funeral at sea, our trip at an end, and poor Captain Marsham going back feeling that he was to blame for your death."
"Oh, I say, Mr Handscombe, don't talk like that!" whispered Steve. "Was it really so bad?"
"Bad, sir! Why, what do you think you are made of—india-rubber? Did you suppose that you would drop on to the deck and bounce up again, to come down then on your feet and strike an attitude like a clown in a pantomime? I haven't patience with you!"
"I'm very sorry, sir, really," said Steve again.
"Not half so sorry as we should have been," said the doctor testily. "But there, I don't know; it would have been a good riddance. Boys are more bother than they are worth, especially consequential and conceited boys, like you are. Hullo! what are you putting your hand there for? Not hurt?"
"I—I don't know," said Steve, pressing both hands to his side. "Yes, I do; it hurts horribly."
"But you didn't fall."
"No; Johannes struck me there, and gripped the flesh. Feels as if he had broken my ribs."
"How do you know, sir? You never had any ribs broken, did you?"
"No," replied Steve; "but it feels as one would suppose ribs would feel if they were broken."
"Bah! You don't know anything about it. That's why I called you conceited. Here, come down into the cabin."
He took Steve by the arm, and the boy winced.
"What! Something wrong there, too?"
"I don't know," said Steve in an altered tone. "I don't know anything, only that I'm so horribly conceited. If I did, I should say my shoulder was wrenched with the jerk."
"Come along," said the doctor, changing his tone. "There, my lad, I was a bit hard upon you; but you gave me a terrible fright, and I haven't got over it yet."
He led the way toward the cabin; but before they reached the companion hatch the captain came up, looking very stern. Then he, too, altered his manner.
"What is it?" he said anxiously. "Steve is not hurt?"
"Not much, I think. We're going down to see."
"I hope not," said the captain quickly; and his eyes met Steve's as, without another word, he quietly held out his hand.
It was a very simple action, but it meant a great deal; and as the lad felt the quiet, firm pressure given to his fingers, he grew more and more, as he had expressed himself, sorry for the pain he had so inadvertently caused.
"Now, then," said the doctor, as soon as he had closed the cabin door, "I ought to be very much obliged to you, Steve, for giving me something to keep my surgical lore from growing rusty."
"Oh, I say!" cried the boy, "don't talk like that, sir. There isn't much the matter, is there?"
"Not much the matter! Why, you talked about broken ribs. Don't you call that much the matter?"
"Here, let's see, patient. Don't; I'll do that."
He pressed the boy back on to the locker, and then proceeded to make his examination, while Steve watched his face anxiously, trying to gather from the intent countenance whether he had sustained any serious injury.
"Hum! ha!" ejaculated the doctor, as he went on manipulating the boy's chest, back, and ribs. "That hurt you?"
"Yes, sir; worse."
"Can't help it. Well, that?"
"Oh! that's worse of all, sir."
"Humph! Now then, take a good, long, deep breath."
"Now another, deeper and longer. Draw the air well in after an outward breath, to empty the lungs. Hah! that's better. Well, there are no broken rib ends piercing the lungs."
"Oh no, I hope not!" cried Steve anxiously. "The ribs are broken, then?"
"Not they. All sound as mine are. There, that will do; get on your jacket."
Steve began, but the pain the act gave him turned him sick, and seeing this the doctor helped him.
"There must be something the matter, sir," he said, rather piteously, "or it wouldn't hurt like this."
"Hardly fair to call it anything the matter, my lad. Your shoulder has had a nasty wrench from the jerk with which you were brought up."
"But it hurts so much lower down."
"And no wonder. In two or three days your side there will be black and blue."
"And why—what should make it so, sir?"
"Johannes' great hand. Why, he must have gripped you there like a steel claw."
"Yes, he did. I felt it like that. He got hold of a lot of the flesh."
"Exactly; and a good thing, too. Better than letting you fall sixty to seventy feet."
"Much," said Steve dolefully.
"Humph! don't sound as if you thought so, my boy. There, you've not anything serious the matter with you. The bruises will get well of themselves. But don't look at me in that disappointed way; were you in the hope that I should perform some serious operation?"
"Ugh! No, sir."
"Oh, I see; you are disappointed because I have given you no medicine. Why, Steve, you are as bad as the poor people who come to a dispensary. They are not happy unless they have a box of pills and a bottle of medicine. I'll mix you up something."
"No, no! don't, sir, please," cried Steve. "I am very much better now; I am, indeed."
"Very well, then; lie down there for an hour or two, till the sickness produced by the shock has gone off."
"Oh no, sir. I needn't do that, need I?"
"Well, then, come on deck."
Steve rose from the locker, winced, and subsided again.
"I think I will lie for a little while."
The doctor nodded and left him in the cabin, where he lay back for about ten minutes listening to the thumping about on deck, where the men were evidently busy making more preparations for the adventurous cruise. His shoulder ached, and there was a peculiar strained feeling about the muscles of his chest; but this did not trouble him so much as the strained sensation in his mind. For, as he lay back there, he began to think about what they were saying respecting him on deck. The doctor would have told Captain Marsham how he was, Mr Lowe would hear it, and then it would go to the men from the engineer and the four Norwegians downward.
"And they'll think I've no more pluck than a girl," he thought at last; "just when I want to show that I am ready to take my part in anything. Why, if I'm ready to be upset like this, I shall be left on board when they are going on expeditions fishing, shooting, or hunting, and—Oh! this won't do."
And to prove that it would not do he jumped up, walked up and down the cabin twice,—a very short journey, by the way,—found that it did not hurt him more than lying still on the locker, and then went on deck.
REVENGE BY DEPUTY.
"Better, Steve?" said the captain, giving him a friendly nod; and without waiting for his answer, he went forward to where the engineer, who had nothing to do, was talking to the mate, and then they all went below into the engine-room.
One of the Norway men was at the wheel, the other sailors were in the forecastle, and there was no one to talk to; so Steve went forward, and was nearly abreast of the galley when Watty Links, the shock-headed boy, came out bearing a bucket of potato peelings and refuse, looking sour and sore, but as soon as he caught sight of Steve his face expanded into a broad grin, and, evidently in a high state of delight, he trotted to the side, turned the contents of the bucket overboard, and ran back into the galley, keeping his head averted as if to hide his mirth.
The blood flushed up into Steve's cheeks, and he turned away, walking aft to watch the grey gulls which seemed to have arrived all at once, and were flying about in quite a crowd, making darts down to the surface to seize some fragment that was floating, amidst querulous screaming and the beating of wings.
It was a curious sight to see the rapidity with which a scrap of biscuit or fat was darted upon, and borne aloft by the hungry birds; but somehow in the grey cloud of feathers wheeling round and rising and falling above the glittering sea, Steve seemed to see the mocking face of Watty, who, smarting from the contempt with which he had been treated, snatched at the opportunity for triumphing over the other's misfortune; and he could not have selected a way more likely to sting him than by a display of derision.
"Verra beautiful, Meester Young, isn't it?" said a voice, and Steve turned sharply to find it was the Scottish sailor who had approached unheard.
"What, the sparkling sea, Andra?"
"Nay, the burruds, sir. Look at the pretty things. It minds me o' being in Loch Fyne, coming down from Crinan in ane o' Meester Macbrayne's bonnie boats on the way to Glasgie."
"Does it? I've never been there."
"Eh, then she ha'e lost a gran' treat, laddie. There's plenty o' watter here, but never a mountain, nor a toon glinting oot o' the shore. Look yonder, laddie; there's a bit of a fesh."
"Porpoise!" cried Steve excitedly; "and another, and another. Why, there's a regular shoal."
"Ay, after the herrin', maybe, laddie. See how they come up and turn over, and dive doon again. Canny kind o' fesh a porpoise, but they're much finer than these in the Clyde. I'm thenking, though, that we'll ha'e to shorten sail a wee. It means wint."
Captain Marsham was evidently of the same opinion, for coming on deck soon after he gave orders which resulted in a little of the canvas being lowered down, and the Hvalross then steadily continued her course without sending the spray scattering in a brilliant shower over the forward part of the deck.
While this was being done Steve passed the galley door again, and bit his lip, for Watty, taking advantage of the cook's back being turned, thrust out his head as if by accident, gave a sham start as if astonished to see Steve, burst into a silent fit of laughter, which he pretended to smother, and drew his head in again.
"I wonder whether it would hurt my shoulder much if I were to punch his head?" thought Steve.
He walked on, feeling that he ought to treat the annoyance with contempt; but even as he felt this he could not help looking back, when he saw that Watty was watching him, but clapped his hand over his mouth and drew in his head directly.
This was repeated again and again that day, as if the boy found some satisfaction for his disgrace in annoying some one of his own years. Steve pretended not to heed it; but so sure as he went forward Watty's head was thrust out of the galley, and drawn back again, apparently to conceal the uncontrollable mirth from which the lad pretended to be suffering; while in spite of Steve's efforts all this stung him more and more, till he felt as if he must do something by way of revenge.
It was not easy, and he knew that it was infra dig even to show that he was annoyed, let alone attempting to "serve the boy out," as he termed it; but the desire to give Watty some punishment for his annoyance increased.
The opportunity came at last; the extent of Steve's forbearance was at an end. He was going forward to join the four Norwegians, who were busy preparing one of the boats for their first expedition against the walrus, so that when the time came everything might be quite ready, when Watty rushed hurriedly out of the galley, turned sharply upon seeing him, burst into one of his silent fits of laughter, and hurried back through the door.
It all happened in a moment, and Watty's departure was hastened far more than he intended. There was a bound, a kick, and the boy disappeared with a crash, followed by a burst of objurgations, the sound of cuffs and blows, and a whining voice raised pitifully in appeal and explanation. But he had evidently knocked something down in his unceremonious and hasty entrance, and the irate cook was in no temper either to listen to explanations or to believe in what he immediately set down as an excuse.
Steve stood listening to the struggle within, his anger gone, like the electricity in a Leyden jar, at a touch, and he was about to enter the galley and explain, when Watty rushed out, darted forward, and dived down the hatchway into the forecastle, from which place he was ignominiously fetched by the cook like some culprit arrested by a policeman; and the next time he met Steve without the faintest suggestion of a smile upon his countenance.
The next day there was something else to think about, for the arctic summer strongly resembled a temperate zone winter. The wind came in heavy gusts from the north-east; there were snow-squalls which shut them in, and on passing away left the deck an inch deep in the soft white fur, while for a time every yard, rope, and sail was covered.
"Doesn't seem much like June, eh, Steve?" said the doctor.
But in the intervals between the squalls the sun came out warmly, the snow melted aloft, and was rapidly swept from the deck.
Three days passed like this, during which careful, slow progress had to be made, for it was early in the year yet, and June meant a month when the ice was still packed heavily and had not had time to break up and disperse, so that in even this brief time the Hvalross had sailed from summer back, as it were, into winter. Then the wind dropped, the sea grew calm, and the vessel lay rolling slowly in the heavy swell, apparently with night coming on, which seemed the more strange, for evening by evening it had grown lighter, and but for the clouds Steve's great desire would have been gratified, and he would have seen the midnight sun.
On this particular evening, as they lay rolling there, a dense fog had settled down upon the sea, producing the aforesaid darkness; and though this thick gloom was somewhat modified by what seemed to be a dim reflection as of light trying to force its way through, the mist was so dense that the fore part of the vessel was invisible from by the wheel, as the boy stood with the captain and Dr Handscombe waiting for the fog to lift.
A man had been sent up to the crow's-nest; but the fog was more dense there than below, and he had descended.
"This means ice close by somewhere, eh, Lowe?" said the captain.
"Yes, sir; I've been listening for it, but my ear is not keen enough to pierce this fog. Hullo! what's the matter with the dog?"
For just then the big collie began to whine and sniff about uneasily, making little snaps in the air.
"His nose is sharper than your ears, then," said the doctor. "He smells something. Can it be the land?"
"No; we must be fifty or sixty miles from the nearest land," said the captain, and the dog barked sharply.
"What is it, Skeny?" cried Steve, stooping and patting the animal's shaggy neck; "what is it, old fellow?"
The dog looked up at him sharply, barked again, and ran forward to scramble up on the bowsprit, where he barked loudly, sniffing uneasily in the intervals.
Two of the Norwegian sailors were forward keeping as sharp a look-out as was possible for the mist; and as Steve followed the dog he was sensible of a peculiar feeling of chill, as if an icy breath was blowing over him.
Then the dog barked again a perfect volley, and in an instant Steve felt his heart stand still, for there was a whirring rush, which rose into quite a roar, mingled with the flapping and beating of wings, and the dog grew almost frantic.
"What is it?" whispered Steve in awe-stricken tones.
"Sea-birds," said one of the men, calmly enough. "A big field of ice is floating by."
He had hardly spoken before there was a heavy thud against the ship's bows, another, and then a heavy thrusting blow which made her quiver from stem to stern and careen over, while above where they stood there was the gleam of ice, a huge mass standing five or six feet above the bulwarks, against which it kept scraping and rubbing and careening the vessel over more and more.
The captain shouted an order to the man at the wheel, and he rammed down the rudder, but there was hardly a breath of air, and the ship had no way on. Then running forward, Captain Marsham shouted to the men to seize hitchers, sweeps, anything, to try and thrust off the vessel from the ice-floe, but all in vain. Vessel and ice continued to grind slowly together, the ship yielding to the mighty pressure of the floe; and as every one had now rushed on deck, it seemed as if the next thing would be to lower the boats and escape before the ice rode right over the Hvalross and sank her in the icy depths.
The men toiled and thrust, but their efforts were utterly without effect, for the two heavy floating bodies had an attraction one for the other, and the grinding noise continued, till it sounded to Steve as if the ice would soon work its way through the stout copper and planks; but a few minutes later three pieces of stout spar were lowered down between the vessel's hull and the ice to be rubbed into shreds, while the Hvalross, after yielding and careening over foot by foot to the tremendous, pressure, began to right herself till she floated upon an even keel.
If anything the fog was now more dense, making it impossible to take any observations. All they knew was that they were changing their position as they floated steadily along in a heavy current, and that the ice which seemed to hold them fast was gradually revolving, till, from being pointed north-west, the Hvalross' bowsprit was south-east.
All this time, while the other sailors seemed excited and startled by the risk, the Norwegians were perfectly calm and cool, Johannes expressing his opinion that they would not hurt now, but that the vessel would hug the great floe till the wind sprang up. But Captain Marsham was not so confident of their not coming to harm grinding against an ice rock whose extent, save that it was some twenty feet above the water, it was impossible to compute; and as soon as he had convinced himself that they would not have to take to the boats, he had given orders which resulted in the rattling of iron doors and a dull roar from the engine-room, while the semi-darkness grew more dense as the grey fog-cloud began to be pervaded by another and a blacker cloud, which poured out of the funnel and then spread itself around in the calm, dense air, till the branches, as it were, of some huge tree, of which the vessel's funnel was the stem, were spread overhead, giving the gleaming ice a peculiarly weird look. For the engineer and his two assistants were hard at work trying to get up steam—a long and tedious task under the circumstances.
Very little was said, very little heard but the roar of the furnace; but every now and then the pieces of spar creaked and groaned with the pressure upon them, and twice over there was a sharp splitting sound and a splash as a huge piece of the floe fell away, raising such a wave that the Hvalross swayed over as she rose and fell.
Captain Marsham paced the deck anxiously, and Steve had the doctor for companion, but they only spoke in whispers of the risk they ran.
"What I fear is," said the latter, "that with this grinding together a great piece may split off and fall over upon our deck."
"Not high enough," said Steve decisively. "If a piece did break away, it could only give us a heavy push, and might do good."
But, all the same, as he spoke he felt that he would rather that good were not done, and contrived that in their walks about the deck they should be able to peer down into the engine-room, where the men were stoking and raking the fire to make it roar more fiercely, knowing, as they did, that once they could get up steam a very few turns of the screw would back them away from their icy enemy and make all safe.
"The first taste of the perils of the arctic sea, Steve," said the doctor quietly. "What would it have been if we had been going full speed and struck on this mass of ice!"
"We shouldn't have been going full speed," replied Steve confidently,—"not in a fog; and I suppose we should have had some warning, as we did a little while ago."
"Little while ago!" said the doctor; "it was hours!"
The intense excitement of the time had made it seem so short.
And all the while the roar of the fire kept on, the great tree of smoke spread more and more over the cold mist and darkened the air, till it appeared as if they were going to have real night once more instead of the light into which they had sailed. But still the steam was not available, and after one long grinding crash Captain Marsham gave orders which resulted in bags of biscuit, tins of meat, and casks of water being placed in the two largest boats; after which, as if from a sudden thought, he ordered some blankets to be added.
"I say," whispered Steve to the doctor, after watching these proceedings for some time, "how long will it take us to row to the nearest port?"
"To Hammerfest, my lad? Don't ask me."
There was another grinding, rending noise, as the great ice-floe revolved slowly in one direction and the current bore the vessel against it in another; and as these sounds arose Steve felt a strange oppression at the chest, and it ached where Johannes had seized him, and his wrenched shoulder began to throb. For it was as if the ice was stripping the planking of the ship from the timbers, and the boy listened for the sound of rushing water making its way below. But on going to the side and looking over, he could see the pieces of wood which had been lowered down between the vessel's hull and the ice being ground up and torn into fibres, while the ice kept splintering away from the edge of the floe, where in the foggy gloom the fragments looked of a dirty-white against the black, solid mass.
Steve tried to be calm and composed, but at such a time it was impossible; and with the natural desire to find some one to whom he could talk and with whom he could find companionship, he looked round to see that the doctor had joined the mate, and that the captain was on the bridge pacing anxiously to and fro and communicating with the engineer from time to time.
He glanced at the sailors, and they all but one were waiting to obey the instructions they received, and were ready with spars and ropes to lower fresh material down! for the ice-floe to grind up against the vessel's side.
The only man not busy was Andrew McByle, and Steve hurried to him.
"Think we shall get off safely, Andra?" he whispered, as a piece of one of the spars gave forth a dismal, groaning sound which vibrated through every nerve.
"No. She was thenking aboot my pipes, laddie. The skipper's certain to mak' a fuss gin I tak' them wi' me in the boat."
"Then you think we shall have to take to the boats?" said Steve excitedly.
"Ay, laddie; what else can we do? There's nae wint, not eneuch to turn a weather-cock upon a kirk, and there's nae steam. Piff wi' all your talk aboot the engines to use when there's nae wint! Where are they the noo?"
"But they'll soon have the steam up now, Andra."
"I dinna believe it. She's fashed wi' your new-fangled rubbish; all weel eneuch in fine weather, but when she want it the puir feckless mairsheennary isn't there."
"But you can hear the fire roaring."
"Ay, she can hear the great flaming thing burning oop mair coal and mair coal; but it isna fire we want, laddie, but steam."
"Yes, it is a long time," sighed Steve. "Do you think we must take to the boats?"
"Ay, laddie; if I were skipper I'd joost hae plenty o' food and claes pit upon the ice, and camp there wi' the boats hanging on aboot. We could tak' to them when the ice was a' melted doon, an'—"
"Here, hi! lend a hand, my lad!" shouted the mate, and Andrew trotted off, leaving Steve more low-spirited than ever.
For it seemed so terrible, just on the threshold of an exciting voyage, in which he had painted to himself plenty of sport and adventure, ending in the discovery of his uncle and the men who had been his companions. All had gone wrong, and he felt that they would have to accept their failure, and try to get back to the nearest Norwegian port, a terribly dangerous journey in an open boat.
And now, more than ever, he felt the want of some companionship, and, with a feeling of regret, he thought of the one nearest to him in years.
"They're all men," he said to himself, "and I'm only a boy. They don't think about me. Wish I hadn't kicked poor old Watty."
As he thought this he walked to the door of the galley and looked in, to find that the cook was rating the boy of whom he had been thinking.
"What!" he was saying; "want to go and be ready to take to the boats? You stay where you are till you're wanted. They won't leave us behind. Such a fuss about getting up a bit of steam; why, I'd have made that water boil an hour ago if I'd had it to do. They don't know how to manage it!"
This was a dismal beginning of a howl from Watty.
"Here, stop that, you miserable Highland calf! You've got breeches on, so I suppose you're a boy! Do you suppose an English lad would make that row? I'll be bound to say Mr Steve Young's somewhere aft, with his hands in his pockets as usual, looking on as cool as a cucumber."
"Na, he's a cooard!" cried Watty viciously,—"a lang, ugly cooard! Makking a show o' gooing up aloft, and all the time had to be held on."
"You'd better not let him hear you say that, my lad, or he'll thrash you."
"Yah! not he!" whined the boy. "He's a cooard, that's what he is; and he's on deck waiting to be ane of the fust to go off in the boots, and I'm kep' doon here."
"Stop that row!" cried the cook viciously.
"I canna, I canna! Awm thenking aboot my mither!"
"Bo! you great goose! And nice and proud your mither' must be of such a booby."
"But I dinna want to be drooned!" sobbed Watty.
"Then what are you drooning yourself for in hot water? It don't improve you a bit, only shows white streaks on your dirty face. Look here, if you don't stop that noise, I'll tell the captain when we take to the boats that you're not worth saving, and then he'll leave you behind."
"Tell him to leave him behind!" whined Watty. "He's no good."
"Listeners never hear any good of themselves," said Steve to himself as he walked aft, and then made for the way down to the engine-room. "But do I always have my hands in my pockets?"
In spite of the cold, darkness, danger, and dread the boy could not help smiling at himself and the force of habit; for at that moment there was a heavy shock caused by a loose mass of ice striking the vessel just on her sharp stem, and startled into the belief that something terrible was about to happen, Steve answered the question he had just asked himself about his hands by snatching them from his pockets to lay hold of the vessel's side. Then as he looked over and saw the piece of ice—a large fragment that must have been many tons in weight—grinding along by the vessel's side, he could not help laughing, while directly after a thrill of delight shot through him and the men sent up a cheer. For a communication had passed between the captain and the engine-room as a loud hissing noise was heard; and then, as an order was shouted to the man at the wheel, the Hvalross quivered in every timber with a peculiar vibration.
The steam was up at last; the fans of the propeller were spinning round and churning up the icy water, and the Hvalross backed away from the dangerous position.
"There, Andra!" cried Steve, as he approached the man who had just hauled up one of the wooden fenders ground down into a mass of ragged fibres, "what do you say to the steam now?"
"Joost naething, laddie. I'd hae done it better wi' hairf a capfu' o' wint."
"But there was no wind!" cried Steve.
"Nae, there was nae wint. But it's a blessing we're awa frae the ice, for it would hae maist broke my hairt to hae left my pipes ahint."
THE LONELY ISLE.
With the steam up the captain's task became easier; but it was dangerous work in that dense fog, and some hours of nervous navigation followed amongst the ice-floes, which gathered round them of all sizes, from masses which went spinning away at a touch from the iron prow of the Hvalross to huge fields acres in extent, broken away from the icy barrier to the northward, to be carried by the current south into the warm waters, where they would gradually melt away. So heavy were some of the shocks received, in spite of all watchfulness, care, and orders to go astern, that Captain Marsham was at one time for following the example of the drifting floes and going south. But there was the knowledge that somewhere, not far from where they were creeping along, the almost unknown island of Jan Mayen must lie; and it seemed a pity to leave it now, when the first time the sun appeared they would be able to learn their position for certain; so he held on.
"I've lost count," said Steve at last. "Is it to-day or to-morrow? The clock says it's eleven; but is it eleven to-night or eleven to-morrow morning?"
"Eleven to-night, sir, if you like to call it so," said Johannes. "We're up so far north now that the sun never sets for months."
"Never rises, you mean. Where is he?"
"You'll see soon, when the fog lifts."
"But will it break up?"
"Of course, sir. Wait a bit, and it will be all hot sunshine, and always day."
"Go aloft now, my lad," said Captain Marsham; "the fog seems to be thinner higher up. You may be able to get an observation."
Johannes started for the main shrouds, and Steve saw the captain's beard, all covered with moisture from the mist, twitch as if he were laughing.
"At me," thought the lad; and the captain evidently divined his idea, for he said quietly:
"Wait a bit, Steve, till you get a little more confidence. You would be certain to feel nervous if you went aloft now."
"I wish he'd forget all about that," muttered the lad.
A minute later there was the loud snap of the cask bottom falling into its place, and the captain hailed the Norseman.
"Just a wee bit, sir," came from up in the clouds.
"Make out anything?"
"Can't see the length of the ship, sir; but I can hear breakers quite plain."
"Silence!" cried the captain, and, to use the familiar expression, a pin might have been heard to drop on the deck.
"I can hear nothing," said the captain softly. "Can you, my boy?"
Steve listened for some time.
"No, sir, not a sound."
"We can hear nothing below. Try once more."
Again there was silence for a few moments, and then, sounding muffled and strange from the invisible man in the thick cloud, which made even the main-yard look indistinct, came:
"Breakers, sir, quite plain, away on the starboard bow."
"On ice or rock?"
"So faint, sir, I can't tell yet."
A couple of hours later the low, murmurous roar could be heard from the deck by listening attentively; but it was impossible to say whether it was caused by breakers on a rocky coast, which might be that of Jan Mayen, or by the sea beating on the vast icy barrier lying to the north, near which the officers felt that they must be. So the engine was slowed till the rate of progress was deemed to be sufficient to keep the vessel from drifting south, and then they waited for the first breathings of the wind which would break up the dense mist that shut them in, chilly, wet, and horribly depressing; and night and day seemed to Steve always the same, just as if they had sailed into a latitude where everything was Welsh flannel in a state of solution.
This lasted for many hours, during which time Johannes ascended to the crow's-nest again and again, and then one of his companions took his turn.
He had hardly reached his lofty perch, when it seemed to Steve on the deck that the noise of the breakers suddenly grew louder, and he was about to say so when there was a shout from aloft.
"Fog's lifting, sir."
And then, as if it were a magical change, the mist overhead grew opalescent, then lighter still, as there was a warm breath of air sweeping over the dingy, murky sea. At that moment the dull, distant murmur of water beating against an obstacle grew louder, as the fog rolled away from the ship off to the north, and five minutes later the crew burst into a loud cheer; for, flashing from the waters and dazzling their eyes, the sun burst through the now iridescent mist, and so quickly that it was hard to realise the truth that astern, and to southward, the sea was sparkling like some wondrous stretch of sapphire blue, while the yards, stays, and ropes of the ship, which were hung with great mist-drops, glittered like diamonds in the glorious light.
The change was indeed wonderful, and, feeling as if he must climb up somewhere and shout, and then that he should like to run to the door of the galley and shake hands with Watty Links, Steve drew in long, deep breaths of soft, warm air. But he neither shouted nor shook hands with the cook's boy, for he stood with Captain Marsham and the doctor, waiting for the explanation of the heavy, increasing roar which came from somewhere behind the vast curtain of mist which lay drifting to the north-west, a couple of hundred yards on the starboard bow, and rising up to the skies, now one glorious span of silver and gold.
They had not long to wait, for the fog was gliding away fast before the soft, summer wind.
All at once the blue water stretching from them to the foot of the mist began to look white, a minute later it could be seen to be in wild commotion, and in another minute to north and south there lay, not more than a mile away, a wave-beaten beach, upon which the blue waves beat and fell back in dazzling silver and diamond spray with a tremendous roar.
But there was plenty yet to see; for, as the mist reached the shore, it seemed to grow more dense, and began to roll in great clouds up some vast slope, and then higher and higher, revealing a long, narrow beach; then a line of chaotic rocks, which had fallen from above; then higher and higher, cliff upon cliff, weather-beaten to a hundred hues; and up above these again, towering mountains; lastly, as if to give the culminating beauty to the scene, the clouds rolled away from one tremendous peak, attended by a score of minor heights, crowned with dazzling ice and snow, vivid and beautiful in the glorious summer sun.
"That's worth some trouble to come and see!" said Captain Marsham.
"Worth trouble?" cried Steve, whose heart was swelling with delight and the words he wanted to say. "Oh!"
That ejaculation contained all. It was very short, but it meant everything; and it was some time before he woke up to the knowledge of what he was gazing at and what was being done.
It was with quite a start that he turned on being touched upon the shoulder, and found Dr Handscombe at his side.
"Well, Steve boy," said the doctor, "what do you think of Jan Mayen?"
"Is this Jan Mayen—the island?"
"Beautiful! lovely! What a place to live in!"
"Delightful!" said the doctor drily. "Not a tree hardly a green thing, eternal ice and snow!"
"Oh, but it's dazzling, lovely!"
"Yes, when the mist's off it," said the doctor.
"And it is not quite off that mountain."
"Yes, quite off. That smoke you are looking at is from a volcano."
"And shall we land and explore it?"
"I hope so."
"That depends on the captain. I hope to spend a few good days there."
"And do you think they are here?"
"Impossible to say yet," said the doctor. "If our friends have taken refuge here, it will be on this southern shore, where they could get most sunshine; but I can see no signal flying, no sign of a wreck. But there, I daresay Captain Marsham will run close in for us to explore."
By this time the mist had been driven back so far that they saw, opening before them, white and glistening in the sunshine like a band of silver stretching beyond the floe, the ice of the polar ocean. It was miles away to north, to east, and west, and apparently only a few feet above the sea, that, strain their eyes as they would, there was always the floe offering itself as a barrier to stay further progress in that direction.
To their left, and extending toward the north, there was the island; but apparently, too, it did not go very far in the latter direction, but trended round, as if that were the termination of the island. Southward they could not make out its extent.
"Well, Handscombe, what do you say to landing and examining the wreck?"
It was the captain who spoke, and the doctor and Steve both echoed his last word.
"Yes; didn't you see it. There, high up yonder, this side of the sharp point which runs out to the east. I daresay that was the cause of the wreck. Here, take the glass."
He handed his telescope to the doctor, who made a long inspection, and then passed it to Steve, who took it with hands trembling from eagerness to view what was in all probability the remains of his uncle's vessel, whose return had been so anxiously awaited all through the past winter, but in the spring given up as being ice-bound somewhere in the north.
Yes, there was the hull of a good-sized ship fast on the rocks, and with decks ripped up by the waves, so that, as the vessel lay over on its port side, Steve could peer with the glass right into the hold between the deck beams. There was the stump of the bowsprit pointing upward toward the stony cliffs, but the masts were completely gone, and an ugly gap in the port side suggested that it would not be long before the timbers quite disappeared.
Steve handed the glass back with a sigh, and his face contracted.
"No, no; don't look like that," said the captain gently; "we don't know that this is the Ice Blink."
"You are saying that to comfort me," replied the boy sadly. "It must be."
"You said it was possible that they might have made for Jan Mayen and been frozen up there."
"Well, there is the vessel," said Steve piteously.
"How do you know?"
The boy looked at him almost angrily, and pointed to the wreck, as if there was the answer to the question.
"That is not satisfactory proof. I have been looking hard, but the stern is battered away, and there is no name. It may be any one of the hundreds of boats that sailed north during the past ten years, or a derelict brought up by the current and washed ashore."
But Steve shook his head.
"Ah! you are determined to take the worst view of it, my lad," said the captain kindly. "Even if it is the wreck of the Ice Blink, Steve, my boy, they must have had plenty of stores and timber, and we may find them with a snug cabin built up, and all well and hearty."
"You think so?" cried Steve eagerly.
"I do not say I think so, my boy. I say it is possible, if—mind if— that is the wreck of the Ice Blink."
"Of course," said the doctor encouragingly, as he used his glass. "They may be up one of those gullies in some sheltered spot inland."
"No," said the captain decisively; "I doubt very much whether there are any sheltered spots inland. To me it seems as if the whole of the interior is one icy desert. Look at that gully, Handscombe, there to the right. A regular alpine glacier running nearly down to the shore."
"Yes; but still there may be sheltered valleys."
"Of course; but it strikes me that if we find our friends it will be somewhere along the narrow stretch of shore. But we'll see."
"What are you going to do, sir—land?" cried Steve eagerly.
"Yes, when we can find a landing-place. No boat could get ashore here. We'll go gently along to the north, and keep a good look-out both for them and a sheltered cove."
And, giving the necessary orders, the Hvalross began to glide slowly in toward the wreck, with a man in the chains heaving the lead, and always finding deep water till they were quite close in to where the surf beat heavily with its deafening roar upon the rocks.
A boat was in readiness for landing an exploring party, with guns and spears in case of game being met with, or, as the doctor pleasantly put it, a polar bear should come down prepared to make game of them.
Even when close in there was nothing visible about the wreck which indicated its name or the port to which it belonged, and, the course being altered, they steamed along at a safe distance from the rocks, carefully scanning the shore and the cliffs right up to where the ice and snow lay thickly. But there was no sign of human habitation, no signal, no living creature but the sea-birds, which flew about the face of the cliffs in flocks, looking in places as thick as the flakes in a snow-squall, shrieking, whistling, and circling round to gaze down at the strange visitors to their solitude.
Seen from the vessel, a more lovely spot could not be imagined; its beauty was dazzling; and Steve's spirits rose as he felt that if the captain and crew of the Ice Blink had escaped safely from the wreck, they had found a glorious island in which to make their sojourn.
He said something of the kind to Captain Marsham, but there was a saddened look and a shake of the head.
"Heavenly-looking, Steve, my boy," he said, "with the blue sea and sky, the silvered rocks, and the lovely greys, reds, and browns of the cliffs; but don't you see why it is so beautiful? Once this glorious sunshine is blotted out by a cloud, and you have before you a terrible spot—desolate, sterile, storm-swept. Fancy what it must be when the arctic night, with its months of darkness, sets in!"
Steve was silent, and his heart sank for the time, as he saw the truth of the captain's words; but there was hope still waiting to assert itself: he had his glass in his hand, with which he swept the shore as they steamed on mile after mile, till all at once he uttered a shout.
"What is it?" said the captain, for the boy was pointing to where there was a perfect wilderness of rocks stretching down from the cliffs to the sea.
"Some one! Look! There he goes! He is trying to get down to the sea to hail us."
Steve had seen the moving figure with the naked eye, and his hands trembled so with excitement that he could not adjust his glass.
"A bear—a monster," said the captain, who was gazing through his.
"A bear in an island?" said the doctor in a tone of doubt; and Steve, whose hopes had been cast down by this announcement, felt his spirits rise again.
"An island? Yes," said the captain; "but an island hemmed in on two or three sides by the ice. Look, we are close to the pack which touches it on the north. We can get no farther this way, and I daresay that the channel between the island and Greenland is one solid floe. Yes, that's a fine bear; and look, there is its mate."
Steve shaded his eyes and gazed shoreward, to see the second bear slowly rise up on its hind legs, looking in the distance wonderfully like some human being, watching the vessel gliding slowly along over the clear water.
"You will land and have a try for the bears?" said the doctor; and at another time Steve would have felt all eagerness to be of the party; but he was disappointed, and his eyes were wandering over the shore, which suddenly ended and gave place to ice.
"Where shall we land?" said the captain quietly. "No boat can get ashore amongst these breakers, and we can go no farther north. It will be deep water right up to the floe, so we will go close to it in case there is a passage between it and the land. But I doubt it; and our friends yonder will save their skins unless we can land south and come up to them along the shore."
"Then you think they have come over the ice?"
"Of course; just as reindeer do from other regions hundreds of miles away."
They steamed on, passing the bears, which, after watching them for a time as if feeling their security, went on searching among the rock pools and crevices for food. A quarter of an hour later the engine was slowed; five minutes later it was stopped, and the Hvalross lay in the crystal water at the foot of a perpendicular ice cliff ten or fifteen feet high, wonderfully regular at the top, and extending straight to the land on one side, where it met the high rocky cliffs. On their right it stretched away, as far as the telescopes could help them to see, an impassable icy barrier, shutting off all ships from further progress to the north.
"You see," said the captain, "we cannot land here, and we can go no farther till the ice breaks up or opens out in channels."
"Don't you think a boat could land just there, sir, where the sea is calmer?" said Steve, who felt a strange attraction to the shore.
Captain Marsham did not answer, but stood looking in the direction pointed out by Steve, where for a few moments the shore did look quiet; the next minute a heavy swell glided slowly in, rose, curled over, and deluged the shore with white water.
"Do you want me to answer your question, Steve?" he said at last. "That breaker was at least ten feet high. Do you think a boat could live there?"
"No," said Steve sorrowfully. "But you will try to the south, sir?"
"Of course, my lad," was the reply; and the engine was reversed, the Hvalross backing away from the glittering ice cliff, in which the waves were working gigantic honeycombs of the most delicate sapphire blue, in and out of which the waters raced and made strange sucking and splashing sounds, peculiarly suggestive of savage sea monsters gliding in and out and playing amidst the icy caverns. Then, with her head to the south, she glided swiftly back, retracing the ground already passed over, leaving the bears still busy amongst the rocks, too much engrossed to give them even a passing look; and soon after they were once more abreast of the wreck, and gliding south, but with the engine slowed once more and the man in the chains busy with the lead.
There was no fear of being overtaken by the darkness of night, for the sun shone brilliantly, as if to make up for the long dreary time that it was hidden from the face of the earth; and its genial warmth had so great an effect upon the spirits of the men that they were all alert and eager for action, watching the shore intently for traces of the crew of the wrecked vessel, and for a break in the tremendous waves where a boat could get to shore in safety. Even the dog partook of the general feeling of exhilaration, rushing frantically about the deck, charging at the sailors open-mouthed, with his frill set up round his neck, and when apparently about to seize them thrusting his muzzle down close to the deck and rolling over and over.
They glided on as near to the line of breakers as it was safe, the steam giving Captain Marsham such complete control over the movements of the vessel that Steve pointed out the fact triumphantly to Andrew McByle.
"Ay," he said, "she's ferry goot in her way, the hot watter, but gie me sails. Where wad she pe if ta fire went oot?"
"And where wad she pe if ta wind went doon?" cried Steve, out of patience with the man's obstinacy.
"Tat's ferry pad language, Meester Steve Young, sir. Ton't you try to imitate ta gran' Gaelic tongue, pecause she can never to it. She'd have to pe porn north o' Glasgie to speak ta gran' Gaelic tongue proper."
"Then you shouldn't be so obstinate," said Steve, somewhat abashed.
"Call that dog down, my lad," cried the captain, "or he'll be overboard!"
For Skene had leaped up on the bowsprit, made his way from there on to the bulwarks, and was running along the top wherever it was clear of rope or shroud, barking with all his might at the astonished birds which came wheeling round the ship, swooping so low at times that they nearly brushed the dog with their long grey wings, making him snap at them vainly.