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   Chapter 6 VOICES FROM THE POLAR SEAS

The Great War Syndicate By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 12562

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:03


Although Sammy Block and his companions were not only far up among the mysteries of the region of everlasting ice, and were sunk out of sight, so that their vessel had become one of these mysteries, it was still perfectly possible for them to communicate, by means of the telegraphic wire which was continually unrolling astern, with people all over the world. But this communication was a matter which required great judgment and caution, and it had been a subject of very careful consideration by Roland Clewe.

When he had returned to Cape Tariff, after parting with the Dipsey, he had received several messages from Sammy, which assured him that the submarine voyage was proceeding satisfactorily. But when he went on board the Go Lightly and started homeward, he would be able to hear nothing more from the submarine voyagers until he reached St. John's, Newfoundland-the first place at which his vessel would touch. Of course constant communication with Sardis would be kept up, but this communication might be the source of great danger to the plans of Roland Clewe. Whatever messages of importance came from the depths of the arctic regions he wished to come only to him or to Mrs. Raleigh. He had contrived a telegraphic cipher, known only to Mrs. Raleigh, Sammy, and two officers of the Dipsey, and, to insure secrecy, Sammy had been strictly enjoined to send no information in any other way than in this cipher.

For years there had been men, both in America and in Europe, who had been watching with jealous scrutiny the inventions and researches of Roland Clewe, and he well understood that if they should discover his processes and plans before they were brought to successful completion he must expect to be robbed of many of the results of his labors. The first news that came to him on his recent return to America had been the tale told by Sammy Block, of the man in the air who had been endeavoring to peer down into his lens-house, and he had heard of other attempts of this kind. Therefore it was that the telegraphic instrument on the Dipsey had been given into the sole charge of Samuel Block, who had become a very capable operator, and who could be relied upon to send no news over his wire which could give serviceable information to the operators along the line from Cape Tariff to Sardis, New Jersey.

But Clewe did not in the least desire that Margaret Raleigh should be kept waiting until he came back from the arctic regions for news from the expedition, which she as well as himself had sent out into the unknown North. Consequently Samuel Block had been told that he might communicate with Mrs. Raleigh as soon and as often as he pleased, remembering always to be careful never to send any word which might reveal anything to the detriment of his employers. When a message should be received on board the Dipsey that Mr. Clewe was ready to communicate with her, frequent reports were expected from the Master Electrician, but it would be Sammy who would unlock the cover which had been placed over the instrument.

Before he retired to his bunk on the first night on board the Dipsey, Sammy thought it proper to send a message to Mrs. Raleigh. He had not telegraphed before because he knew that Mr. Clewe would communicate fully before he left Cape Tariff.

Margaret Raleigh had gone to bed late, and had been lying for an hour or two unable to sleep, so busy was her mind with the wonderful things which were happening in the far-away polar regions-strange and awful things-in which she had such a direct and lively interest. She had heard, from Roland Clewe, of the successful beginning of the Dipsey's voyage, and before she had gone to her chamber she had received a last message from him on leaving Cape Tariff; and now, as she lay there in her bed, her whole soul was occupied with thoughts of that little party of people-some of them so well known to her-all of them sent out upon this perilous and frightful expedition by her consent and assistance, and now left alone to work their way through the dread and silent waters that underlie the awful ice regions of the pole. She felt that so long as she had a mind she could not help thinking of them, and so long as she thought of them she could not sleep.

Suddenly there was a ring at the door, which made her start and spring from her bed, and shortly a telegraphic message was brought to her by a maid. It was from the depths of the Arctic Ocean, and read as follows:

"Getting on very well. No motion. Not cold. Slight rheumatism in Sarah's shoulder. Wants to know which side of plasters you gave her goes next skin,

"SAMUEL BLOCK."

An hour afterwards there flashed farther northward than ever current from a battery had gone before an earnest, cordial, almost affectionate message from Margaret Raleigh to Sarah Block, and it concluded with the information that it was the rough side of the plasters which should go next to the skin. After that Mrs. Raleigh went to bed with a peaceful mind and slept soundly.

Frequent communications, always of a friendly or domestic nature, passed between the polar sea and Sardis during the next few days. Mrs. Raleigh would have telegraphed a good deal more than she did had it not been for the great expense from Sardis to Cape Tariff, and Sarah Block was held in restraint, not by pecuniary considerations, but by Sammy's sense of the fitness of things. He nearly always edited her messages, even when he consented to send them. One communication he positively refused to transmit. She came to him in a great flurry.

"Sammy," said she, "I have just found out something, and I can't rest until I have told Mrs. Raleigh. I won't mention it here, because it might frighten some people into fits and spasms. Sammy, do you know there are thirteen people on board this boat?"

"Sarah Block!" ejaculated her husband, "what in the name of common-sense are you talkin' about? What earthly difference can it make whether there are thirteen people on this vessel or twelve? And if it did make any difference, what are you goin' to do about it? Do you expect anybody to get out?"

"Of course I don't," replied Sarah; "although there are some of them that would not have come in if I had had my say about it; but as Mrs. Raleigh i

s one of the owners, and such a good friend to you and me, Sammy, it is our duty to let her know what dreadful bad luck we are carryin' with us."

"Don't you suppose she knows how many people are aboard?" said Sammy.

"Of course she knows; but she don't consider what it means, or we wouldn't all have been here. It is her right to know, Sammy. Perhaps she might order us to go back to Cape Tariff and put somebody ashore."

In his heart Samuel Block believed that if this course were adopted he was pretty sure who would be put on shore, if a vote were taken by officers and crew; but he was too wise to say anything upon this point, and contented himself with positively refusing to send southward any news of the evil omen.

The next day Mrs. Block felt that she must speak upon the subject or perish, and she asked Mr. Gibbs what he thought of there being thirteen people on board.

"Madam," said he, "these signs lose all their powers above the seventieth parallel of latitude. In fact, none of them have ever been known to come true above sixty-eight degrees and forty minutes, and we are a good deal higher than that, you know."

Sarah made no answer, but she told her husband afterwards that she thought that Mr. Gibbs had his mind so full of electricity that it had no room for old-fashioned common-sense. It did not do to sneer at signs and portents. Among the earliest things she remembered was a story which had been told her of her grandmother's brother, who was the thirteenth passenger in an omnibus when he was a young man, and who died that very night, having slipped off the back step, where he was obliged to stand, and fractured his skull.

At last there came a day when a message in cipher from Roland Clewe delivered itself on board the Dipsey, and from that moment a hitherto unknown sense of security seemed to pervade the minds of officers and crew. To be sure, there was no good reason for this, for if disaster should overtake them, or even threaten them, there was no submarine boat ready to send to their rescue; and if there had been, it would be long, long before such aid could reach them; but still, they were comforted, encouraged, and cheered. Now, if anything happened, they could send news of it to the man in whom they all trusted, and through him to their homes, and whatever their far-away friends had to say to them could be said without reserve.

There was nothing yet of definite scientific importance to report, but the messages of the Master Electrician were frequent and long, regardless of expense, and, so far as her husband would permit her, Sarah Block informed Mrs. Raleigh of the discouragements and dangers which awaited this expedition. It must be said, however, that Mrs. Block never proposed to send back one word which should indicate that she was in favor of the abandonment of the expedition, or of her retirement from it should opportunity allow. She had set out for the north pole because Sammy was going there, and the longer she went "polin'" with him, the stronger became her curiosity to see the pole and to know what it looked like.

The Dipsey was not expected to be, under any circumstances, a swift vessel, and now, retarded by her outside attachments, she moved but slowly under the waters. The telegraphic wire which she laid as she proceeded was the thinnest and lightest submarine cable ever manufactured, but the mass of it was of great weight, and as it found its way to the bottom it much retarded the progress of the vessel, which moved more slowly than was absolutely necessary, for fear of breaking this connection with the living world.

Onward, but a few knots an hour, the Dipsey moved like a fish in the midst of the sea. The projectors of the enterprise had a firm belief that there was a channel from Baffin's Bay into an open polar sea, which would be navigable if its entrance were not blocked up by ice, and on this belief were based all their hopes of success. So the explorers pressed steadily onward, always with an anxious lookout above them for fear of striking the overhanging ice, always with an anxious lookout below for fear of dangers which might loom up from the bottom, always with an anxious lookout starboard for fear of running against the foundations of Greenland, always with an anxious lookout to port for fear of striking the groundwork of the unknown land to the west, and always keeping a lookout in every direction for whatever revelation these unknown waters might choose to make to them.

Captain Jim Hubbell had no sympathy with the methods of navigation practised on board the Dipsey. So long as he could not go out on deck and take his noon observations, he did not believe it would be possible for him to know exactly where his vessel was; but he accepted the situation, and objected to none of the methods of the scientific navigators.

"It's a mighty simple way of sailin'," he said to Sammy. "As long as there's water to sail in, you have just got to git on a line of longitude-it doesn't matter what line, so long as there's water ahead of you-and keep there; and so long as you steer due north, always takin' care not to switch off to the magnetic pole, of course you will keep there; and as all lines of longitude come to the same point at last, and as that's the point you are sailin' for, of course, if you can keep on that line of longitude as long as it lasts, it follows that you are bound to git there. If you come to any place on this line of longitude where there's not enough water to sail her, you have got to stop her; and then, if you can't see any way of goin' ahead on another line of longitude, you can put her about and go out of this on the same line of longitude that you came up into it on, and so you may expect to find a way clear. It's mighty simple sailin'-regular spellin' book navigation-but it isn't the right thing."

"It seems that way, Cap'n Jim," said Sammy, "and I expect there's a long stretch of underwater business ahead of us yet, but still we can't tell. How do we know that we will not get up some mornin' soon and look out of the upper skylight and see nothin' but water over us and daylight beyond that?"

"When we do that, Sammy," said Captain Jim, "then I'll truly believe I'm on a v'yage!"

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