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The World of Ice By R. M. Ballantyne Characters: 10373

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Departure of the "Pole Star" for the Frozen Seas-Sage reflections of Mrs. Bright, and sagacious remarks of Buzzby-Anxieties, fears, surmises, and resolutions-Isabel-A search proposed-Departure of the "Dolphin" for the Far North.

Digressions are bad at the best, and we feel some regret that we should have been compelled to begin our book with one; but they are necessary evils sometimes, so we must ask our reader's forgiveness, and beg him, or her, to remember that we are still at the commencement of our story, standing at the end of the pier, and watching the departure of the Pole Star whale-ship, which is now a scarcely distinguishable speck on the horizon.

As it disappeared Buzzby gave a grunt, Fred and Isobel uttered a sigh in unison, and Mrs. Bright resumed the fit of weeping which for some time she had unconsciously suspended.

"I fear we shall never see him again," sobbed Mrs. Bright, as she took Isobel by the hand and sauntered slowly home, accompanied by Fred and Buzzby, the latter of whom seemed to regard himself in the light of a shaggy Newfoundland or mastiff, who had been left to protect the family. "We are always hearing of whale-ships being lost, and, somehow or other, we never hear of the crews being saved, as one reads of when ships are wrecked in the usual way on the seashore."

Isobel squeezed her mother's hand, and looked up in her face with an expression that said plainly, "Don't cry so, mamma; I'm sure he will come back," but she could not find words to express herself, so she glanced towards the mastiff for help.

Buzzby felt that it devolved upon him to afford consolation under the circumstances; but Mrs. Bright's mind was of that peculiar stamp which repels advances in the way of consolation unconsciously, and Buzzby was puzzled. He screwed up first the right eye and then the left, and smote his thigh repeatedly; and assuredly, if contorting his visage could have comforted Mrs. Bright, she would have returned home a happy woman, for he made faces at her violently for full five minutes. But it did her no good, perhaps because she didn't see him, her eyes being suffused with tears.

"Ah! yes," resumed Mrs. Bright, with another burst, "I know they will never come back, and your silence shows that you think so too. And to think of their taking two years' provisions with them in case of accidents!-doesn't that prove that there are going to be accidents? And didn't I hear one of the sailors say that she was a crack ship, A number one? I don't know what he meant by A number one, but if she's a cracked ship I know she will never come back; and although I told my dear brother of it, and advised him not to go, he only laughed at me, which was very unkind, I'm sure."

Here Mrs. Bright's feelings overcame her again.

"Why, aunt," said Fred, scarce able to restrain a laugh, despite the sadness that lay at his heart, "when the sailor said it was a crack ship, he meant that it was a good one, a first-rate one."

"Then why did he not say what he meant? But you are talking nonsense, boy. Do you think that I will believe a man means to say a thing is good when he calls it cracked? and I'm sure nobody would say a cracked tea-pot was as good as a whole one. But tell me, Buzzby, do you think they ever will come back?"

"Why, ma'am, in coorse I do," replied Buzzby, vehemently; "for why, if they don't, they're the first that ever, went out o' this port in my day as didn't. They've a good ship and lots o' grub, and it's like to be a good season; and Captain Ellice has, for the most part, good luck; and they've started with a fair wind, and kep' clear of a Friday, and what more could ye wish? I only wish as I was aboard along with them, that's all."

Buzzby delivered himself of this oration with the left eye shut and screwed up, and the right one open. Having concluded, he shut and screwed up the right eye, and opened the left-he reversed the engine, so to speak, as if he wished to back out from the scene of his triumph and leave the course clear for others to speak. But his words were thrown away on Mrs. Bright, who was emphatically a weak-minded woman, and never exercised her reason at all, except in a spasmodic, galvanic sort of way, when she sought to defend or to advocate some unreasonable conclusion of some sort, at which her own weak mind had arrived somehow. So she shook her head, and sobbed good-bye to Buzzby, as she ascended the sloping avenue that led to her pretty cottage on the green hill that overlooked the harbour and the sea beyond.

As for John Buzzby, having been absent from home full half-an-hour beyond his usual dinner-hour, he felt that, for a man who had lashed his helm amid-ships, he was yawing alarmingly out of his course; so he spread all the canvas he could carry, and steered right before the wind towards the village, where, in a little whitewashed, low-roofed, one-doored, and two little-windowed cottage, his spouse (and dinner) awaited him.

To make a long story short, three years passed away, but the Pole Star did not return, and no news of her could be got from the various whale-ships that visited the port of Grayton. Towards the end o

f the second year Buzzby began to shake his head despondingly; and as the third drew to a close, the expression of gloom never left his honest, weather-beaten face. Mrs. Bright, too, whose anxiety at first was only half genuine, now became seriously alarmed, and the fate of the missing brig began to be the talk of the neighbourhood. Meanwhile, Fred Ellice and Isobel grew and improved in mind and body; but anxiety as to his father's fate rendered the former quite unable to pursue his studies, and he determined at last to procure a passage in a whale-ship, and go out in search of the brig.

It happened that the principal merchant and shipowner in the town, Mr. Singleton by name, was an intimate friend and old school-fellow of Captain Ellice, so Fred went boldly to him and proposed that a vessel should be fitted out immediately, and sent off to search for his father's brig. Mr. Singleton smiled at the request, and pointed out the utter impossibility of his agreeing to it; but he revived Fred's sinking hopes by saying that he was about to send out a whaler to the Northern Seas at any rate, and that he would give orders to the captain to devote a portion of his time to the search, and, moreover, agreed to let Fred go as a passenger in company with his own son Tom.

Now, Tom Singleton had been Fred's bosom friend and companion during his first year at school; but during the last two years he had been sent to the Edinburgh University to prosecute his medical studies, and the two friends had only met at rare intervals. It was with unbounded delight, therefore, that he found his old companion, now a youth of twenty, was to go out as surgeon of the ship, and he could scarce contain himself as he ran down to Buzzby's cottage to tell him the good news, and ask him to join.

Of course Buzzby was ready to go, and, what was of far greater importance in the matter, his wife threw no obstacle in the way. On the contrary, she undid the lashings of the helm with her own hand, and told her wondering partner, with a good-humoured but firm smile, to steer where he chose, and she would content herself with the society of the two young Buzzbys (both miniature fac-similes of their father) till he came back.

Once again a whale-ship prepared to sail from the port of Grayton, and once again Mrs. Bright and Isobel stood on the pier to see her depart. Isobel was about thirteen now, and as pretty a girl, according to Buzzby, as you could meet with in any part of Britain. Her eyes were blue and her hair nut-brown, and her charms of face and figure were enhanced immeasurably by an air of modesty and earnestness that went straight home to your heart, and caused you to adore her at once. Buzzby doated on her as if she were his only child, and felt a secret pride in being in some indefinable way her protector. Buzzby philosophized about her, too, after a strange fashion. "You see," he would say to Fred, "it's not that her figurehead is cut altogether after a parfect pattern-by no means, for I've seen pictur's and statues that wos better-but she carries her head a little down, d'ye see, Master Fred? and there's where it is; that's the way I gauges the worth o' young women, jist accordin' as they carry their chins up or down. If their brows come well for'ard, and they seems to be lookin' at the ground they walk on, I knows their brains is firm stuff, and in good workin' order; but when I sees them carryin' their noses high out o' the water, as if they wos afeard o' catchin' sight o' their own feet, and their chins elewated, so that a little boy standin' in front o' them couldn't see their faces nohow, I make pretty sure that t'other end is filled with a sort o' mush that's fit only to think o' dress and dancing."

On the present occasion Isobel's eyes were red and swollen, and by no means improved by weeping. Mrs. Bright, too, although three years had done little to alter her character, seemed to be less demonstrative and much more sincere than usual in her grief at parting from Fred.

In a few minutes all was ready. Young Singleton and Buzzby having hastily but earnestly bade Mrs. Bright and her daughter farewell, leaped on board. Fred lingered for a moment.

"Once more, dear aunt," said he, "farewell. With God's blessing we shall come back soon.-Write to me, darling Isobel, won't you? to Upernavik, on the coast of Greenland. If none of our ships are bound in that direction, write by way of Denmark. Old Mr. Singleton will tell you how to address your letter; and see that it be a long one."

"Now then, youngster, jump aboard," shouted the captain; "look sharp!"

"Ay, ay," returned Fred, and in another moment he was on the quarter-deck, by the side of his friend Tom.

The ship, loosed from her moorings, spread her canvas, and plunged forward on her adventurous voyage.

But this time she does not grow smaller as she advances before the freshening breeze, for you and I, reader, have embarked in her, and the land now fades in the distance, until it sinks from view on the distant horizon, while nothing meets our gaze but the vault of the bright blue sky above, and the plane of the dark blue sea below.

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