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The World of Ice By R. M. Ballantyne Characters: 15379

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The voyage-The "Dolphin" and her crew-Ice ahead-Polar scenes-Masthead observations-The first whale-Great excitement.

And now we have fairly got into blue water-the sailor's delight, the landsman's dread,-

"The sea! the sea! the open sea;

The blue, the fresh, the ever free."

"It's my opinion," remarked Buzzby to Singleton one day, as they stood at the weather gangway watching the foam that spread from the vessel's bow as she breasted the waves of the Atlantic gallantly-it's my opinion that our skipper is made o' the right stuff. He's entered quite into the spirit of the thing, and I heard him say to the first mate yesterday he'd made up his mind to run right up into Baffin's Bay and make inquiries for Captain Ellice first, before goin' to his usual whalin'-ground. Now that's wot I call doin' the right thing; for, ye see, he runs no small risk o' getting beset in the ice, and losing the fishin' altogether by so doin'."

"He's a fine fellow," said Singleton; "I like him better every day, and I feel convinced he will do his utmost to discover the whereabouts of our missing friend; but I fear much that our chances are small, for, although we know the spot which Captain Ellice intended to visit, we cannot tell to what part of the frozen ocean ice and currents may have carried him."

"True," replied Buzzby, giving to his left eye and cheek just that peculiar amount of screw which indicated intense sagacity and penetration; "but I've a notion that, if they are to be found, Captain Guy is the man to find 'em."

"I hope it may turn out as you say. Have you ever been in these seas before, Buzzby?"

"No, sir-never; but I've got a half-brother wot has bin in the Greenland whale-fishery, and I've bin in the South Sea line myself."

"What line was that, Buzzby?" inquired David Summers, a sturdy boy of about fifteen, who acted as assistant steward, and was, in fact, a nautical maid-of-all-work. "Was it a log-line, or a bow-line, or a cod-line, or a bit of the equator, eh?"

The old salt deigned no reply to this passing sally, but continued his converse with Singleton.

"I could give ye many a long yarn about the South Seas," said Buzzby, gazing abstractedly down into the deep. "One time when I was about fifty miles to the sou'-west o' Cape Horn, I-"

"Dinner's ready, sir," said a thin, tall, active man, stepping smartly up to Singleton, and touching his cap.

"We must talk over that some other time, Buzzby. The captain loves punctuality." So saying, the young surgeon sprang down the companion ladder, leaving the old salt to smoke his pipe in solitude.

And here we may pause a few seconds to describe our ship and her crew.

The Dolphin was a tight, new, barque-rigged vessel of about three hundred tons burden, built expressly for the northern whale-fishery, and carried a crew of forty-five men. Ships that have to battle with the ice require to be much more powerfully built than those that sail in unencumbered seas. The Dolphin united strength with capacity and buoyancy. The under part of her hull and sides were strengthened with double timbers, and fortified externally with plates of iron, while, internally, stanchions and crossbeams were so arranged as to cause pressure on any part to be supported by the whole structure; and on her bows, where shocks from the ice might be expected to be most frequent and severe, extra planking, of immense strength and thickness, was secured. In other respects, the vessel was fitted up much in the same manner as ordinary merchantmen. The only other peculiarity about her worthy of notice was the crow's-nest, a sort of barrel-shaped structure fastened to the fore-mast-head, in which, when at the whaling-ground, a man is stationed to look out for whales. The chief men in the ship were Captain Guy, a vigorous, earnest, practical American; Mr. Bolton, the first mate, a stout, burly, off-hand Englishman; and Mr. Saunders, the second mate, a sedate, broad-shouldered, raw-boned Scot, whose opinion of himself was unbounded, whose power of argument was extraordinary, not to say exasperating, and who stood six feet three in his stockings. Mivins, the steward, was, as we have already remarked, a tall, thin, active young man, of a brisk, lively disposition, and was somewhat of a butt among the men, but being in a position of power and trust, he was respected. The young surgeon, Tom Singleton, whom we have yet scarcely introduced to the reader, was a tall, slim, but firmly-knit youth, with a kind, gentle disposition. He was always open, straightforward, and polite. He never indulged in broad humour, though he enjoyed it much, seldom ventured on a witticism, was rather shy in the company of his companions, and spoke little; but for a quiet, pleasant tête-à-tête there was not a man in the ship equal to Tom Singleton. His countenance was Spanish-looking and handsome, his hair black, short, and curling, and his budding moustache was soft and dark as the eyebrow of an Andalusian belle.

It would be unpardonable, in this catalogue, to omit the cook, David Mizzle. He was round, and fat, and oily, as one of his own "duff" puddings. To look at him you could not help suspecting that he purloined and ate at least half of the salt pork he cooked, and his sly, dimpling laugh, in which every feature participated, from the point of his broad chin to the top of his bald head, rather tended to favour this supposition. Mizzle was prematurely bald-being quite a young man-and when questioned on the subject, he usually attributed it to the fact of his having been so long employed about the cooking coppers, that the excessive heat to which he was exposed had stewed all the hair off his head! The crew was made up of stout, active men in the prime of life, nearly all of whom had been more or less accustomed to the whale-fishing, and some of the harpooners were giants in muscular development and breadth of shoulder, if not in height.

Chief among these harpooners was Amos Parr, a short, thick-set, powerful man of about thirty-five, who had been at sea since he was a little boy, and had served in the fisheries of both the Northern and Southern Seas. No one knew what country had the honour of producing him-indeed, he was ignorant of that point himself; for, although he had vivid recollections of his childhood having been spent among green hills, and trees, and streamlets, he was sent to sea with a strange captain before he was old enough to care about the name of his native land. Afterwards he ran away from his ship, and so lost all chance of ever discovering who he was; but, as he sometimes remarked, he didn't much care who he was, so long as he was himself; so it didn't matter. From a slight peculiarity in his accent, and other qualities, it was surmised that he must be an Irishman-a supposition which he rather encouraged, being partial to the sons, and particularly partial to the daughters, of the Emerald Isle, one of which last he had married just six months before setting out on this whaling expedition.

Such were the Dolphin and her crew, and merrily they bowled along over the broad Atlantic with favouring winds, and without meeting with anything worthy of note until they neared the coast of Greenland.

One fine morning, just as the party in the cabin had finished breakfast, and were dallying with the last few morsels of the repast, as men who have more leisure than they desire are wont to do, there was a sudden shock felt, and a slight tremor passed through the ship as if something had struck her.

"Ha!" exclaimed Captain Guy, finishing his cup of chocolate, "there goes the first bump."

"Ice ahead, sir," said the fi

rst mate, looking down the skylight.

"Is there much?" asked the captain, rising and taking down a small telescope from the hook on which it usually hung.

"Not much, sir-only a stream; but there is an ice-blink right ahead all along the horizon."

"How's her head, Mr. Bolton?"

"Nor'-west and by north, sir."

Before this brief conversation came to a close, Fred Ellice and Tom Singleton sprang up the companion ladder, and stood on the deck gazing ahead with feelings of the deepest interest. Both youths were well read in the history of Polar Seas and Regions; they were well acquainted, by name at least, with floes, and bergs, and hummocks of ice, but neither of them had seen such in reality. These objects were associated in their young minds with all that was romantic and wild, hyperborean and polar, brilliant and sparkling, and light and white-emphatically white. To behold ice actually floating on the salt sea was an incident of note in their existence; and certainly the impressions of their first day in the ice remained sharp, vivid, and prominent, long after scenes of a much more striking nature had faded from the tablets of their memories.

At first the prospect that met their ardent gaze was not calculated to excite excessive admiration. There were only a few masses of low ice floating about in various directions. The wind was steady, but light, and seemed as if it would speedily fall altogether. Gradually the blink on the horizon (as the light haze always distinguishable above ice, or snow-covered land, is called) resolved itself into a long white line of ice, which seemed to grow larger as the ship neared it, and in about two hours more they were fairly in the midst of the pack, which was fortunately loose enough to admit of the vessel being navigated through the channels of open water. Soon after, the sun broke out in cloudless splendour, and the wind fell entirely, leaving the ocean in a dead calm.

"Let's go to the fore-top, Tom," said Fred, seizing his friend by the arm and hastening to the shrouds.

In a few seconds they were seated alone on the little platform at the top of the fore-mast, just where it is connected with the fore-top-mast, and from this elevated position they gazed in silent delight upon the fairy-like scene.

Those who have never stood at the mast-head of a ship at sea in a dead calm cannot comprehend the feeling of intense solitude that fills the mind in such a position. There is nothing analogous to it on land. To stand on the summit of a tower and look down on the busy multitude below is not the same, for there the sounds are quite different in tone, and signs of life are visible all over the distant country, while cries from afar reach the ear, as well as those from below. But from the mast-head you hear only the few subdued sounds under your feet-all beyond is silence; you behold only the small, oval-shaped platform that is your world-beyond lies the calm desolate ocean. On deck you cannot realize this feeling, for there sails and yards tower above you, and masts, and boats, and cordage intercept your view; but from above you take in the intense minuteness of your home at a single glance-you stand aside, as it were, and in some measure comprehend the insignificance of the thing to which you have committed your life.

The scene witnessed by our friends at the masthead of the Dolphin on this occasion was surpassingly beautiful. Far as the eye could stretch the sea was covered with islands and fields of ice of every conceivable shape. Some rose in little peaks and pinnacles, some floated in the form of arches and domes, some were broken and rugged like the ruins of old border strongholds, while others were flat and level like fields of white marble; and so calm was it, that the ocean in which they floated seemed like a groundwork of polished steel, in which the sun shone with dazzling brilliancy. The tops of the icy islets were pure white, and the sides of the higher ones of a delicate blue colour, which gave to the scene a transparent lightness that rendered it pre-eminently fairy-like.

"It far surpasses anything I ever conceived," ejaculated Singleton after a long silence. "No wonder that authors speak of scenes being indescribable. Does it not seem like a dream, Fred?"

"Tom," replied Fred earnestly, "I've been trying to fancy myself in another world, and I have almost succeeded. When I look long and intently at the ice, I get almost to believe that these are streets, and palaces, and cathedrals. I never felt so strong a desire to have wings that I might fly from one island to another, and go floating in and out and round about those blue caves and sparkling pinnacles."

"It's a curious fancy, Fred, but not unnatural."

"Tom," said Fred after another long silence, "has not the thought occurred to you that God made it all?"

"Some such thought did cross my mind, Fred, for a moment, but it soon passed away. Is it not very strange that the idea of the Creator is so seldom and so slightly connected with his works in our minds?"

Again there was a long silence. Both youths had a desire to continue the conversation, and yet each felt an unaccountable reluctance to renew it. Neither of them distinctly understood that the natural heart is enmity against God, and that, until he is converted by the Holy Spirit, man neither loves to think of his Maker nor to speak of him.

While they sat thus musing, a breeze dimmed the surface of the sea, and the Dolphin, which had hitherto lain motionless in one of the numerous canals, began slowly to advance between the islands of ice. The breeze freshened, and rendered it impossible to avoid an occasional collision with the floating masses; but the good ship was well armed for the fight, and, although she quivered under the blows, and once or twice recoiled, she pushed her way through the pack gallantly. In the course of an hour or two they were once more in comparatively clear water.

Suddenly there came a cry from the crow's-nest-"There she blows!"

Instantly every man in the ship sprang to his feet as if he had received an electric shock.

"Where away?" shouted the captain.

"On the lee-bow, sir," replied the look-out.

From a state of comparative quiet and repose the ship was now thrown into a condition of the utmost animation, and, apparently, unmeaning, confusion. The sight of a whale acted on the spirits of the men like wild-fire.

"There she blows!" sang out the man at the masthead again.

"Are we keeping right for her?" asked the captain.

"Keep her away a bit; steady!" replied the lookout.

"Steady it is!" answered the man at the wheel.

"Call all hands and get the boats out, Mr. Bolton," said the captain.

"All hands ahoy!" shouted the mate in a tempestuous voice, while the men rushed to their respective stations.

"Boat-steerers, get your boats ready."

"Ay, ay, sir."

"There go flukes," cried the look-out, as the whale dived and tossed its flukes-that is, its tail-in the air, not more than a mile on the lee-bow; "she's heading right for the ship."

"Down with the helm!" roared the captain. "Mr. Bolton, brace up the mizzen-top-sail! Hoist and swing the boats! Lower away!"

In another moment three boats struck the water, and their respective crews tumbled tumultuously into them. Fred and Singleton sprang into the stern-sheets of the captain's boat just as it pushed off, and, in less than five minutes, the three boats were bounding over the sea in the direction of the whale like race-horses. Every man did his best, and the tough oars bent like hoops as each boat's crew strove to outstrip the others.

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