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   Chapter 6 No.6

The World of Ice By R. M. Ballantyne Characters: 21110

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The gale-Anchored to a berg which proves to be a treacherous one-Dangers of the "pack"-Beset in the ice-Mivins shows an inquiring mind-Walruses-Gale freshens-Chains and cables-Holding on for life-An unexpected discovery-A "nip" and its terrible consequences-Yoked to an iceberg.

The narrow escape related in the last chapter was but the prelude to a night of troubles. Fortunately, as we have before mentioned, night did not now add darkness to their difficulties. Soon after passing the bergs, a stiff breeze sprang up off shore, between which and the Dolphin there was a thick belt of loose ice, or sludge, while outside, the pack was in motion, and presented a terrible scene of crashing and grinding masses under the influence of the breeze, which soon freshened to a gale.

"Keep her away two points," said Captain Guy to the man at the wheel; "we'll make fast to yonder berg, Mr. Bolton. If this gale carries us into the pack, we shall be swept far out of our course, if, indeed, we escape being nipped and sent to the bottom."

Being nipped is one of the numberless dangers to which Arctic navigators are exposed. Should a vessel get between two moving fields or floes of ice, there is a chance, especially in stormy weather, of the ice being forced together and squeezing in the sides of the ship; this is called nipping.

"Ah!" remarked Buzzby, as he stood with folded arms by the capstan, "many and many a good ship has been sent to the bottom by that same. I've see'd a brig, with my own two eyes, squeezed together a'most flat by two big floes of ice, and after doin' it they jist separated agin and let her go plump down to the bottom. Before she was nipped, the crew saved themselves by jumpin' on to the ice, and they wos picked up by our ship that wos in company."

"There's no dependin' on the ice, by no means," remarked Amos Parr; "for I've see'd the self-same sort of thing that ye mention happen to a small steamer in Davis' Straits, only instead o' crushin' it flat, the ice lifted it right high and dry out o' the water, and then let it down again, without more ado, as sound as iver."

"Get out the warps and ice-anchors there!" cried the captain.

In a moment the men were in the boats and busy heaving and planting ice-anchors, but it was not until several hours had been spent in this tedious process that they succeeded in making fast to the berg. They had barely accomplished this when the berg gave indications of breaking up, so they cast off again in great haste, and not long afterwards a mass of ice, many tons in weight, fell from the edge of the berg close to where they had been moored.

The captain now beat up for the land in the hope of finding anchoring-ground. At first the ice presented an impenetrable barrier, but at length a lead of open water was found, through which they passed to within a few hundred yards of the shore, which at this spot showed a front of high precipitous cliffs.

"Stand by to let go the anchor!" shouted the captain.

"Ay, ay, sir."

"Down your helm! Let go!"

Down went the anchor to the music of the rattling chain-cable-a sound which had not been heard since the good ship left the shores of Old England.

"If we were only a few yards farther in, sir," remarked the first-mate, "we should be better. I'm afraid of the stream of ice coming round yonder point."

"So am I," replied the captain; "but we can scarcely manage it, I fear, on account of the shore ice. Get out a boat, Mr. Saunders, and try to fix an anchor. We may warp in a few yards."

The anchor was fixed, and the men strained at the capstan with a will, but, notwithstanding their utmost efforts, they could not penetrate the shore ice. Meanwhile the wind increased, and snow began to fall in large flakes. The tide, too, as it receded, brought a stream of ice round the point ahead of them, which bore right down on their bows. At first the concussions were slight, and the bow of the ship turned the floes aside; but heavier masses soon came down, and at last one fixed itself on the cable, and caused the anchor to drag with a harsh, grating sound.

Fred Ellice, who stood beside the second mate near the companion hatch, looked inquiringly at him.

"Ah! that's bad," said Saunders, shaking his head slowly; "I dinna like that sound. If we're carried out into the pack there, dear knows where we'll turn up in the long run."

"Perhaps we'll turn bottom up, sir," suggested the fat cook as he passed at the moment with a tray of meat. Mizzle could not resist a joke-no matter how unsuitable the time or dreadful the consequences.

"Hold your tongue, sir!" exclaimed Saunders indignantly. "Attend to your business, and speak only when you're spoken to."

With some difficulty the mass of ice that had got foul of the cable was disengaged, but in a few moments another and a larger mass fixed upon it, and threatened to carry it away. In this extremity the captain ordered the anchor to be hove up; but this was not easily accomplished, and when at last it was hove up to the bow both flukes were found to have been broken off, and the shank was polished bright with rubbing on the rocks.

Ice now came rolling down in great quantities and with irresistible force, and at last the ship was whirled into the much-dreaded pack, where she became firmly embedded, and drifted along with it before the gale into the unknown regions of the North all that night. To add to their distress and danger a thick fog overspread the sea, so that they could not tell whither the ice was carrying them, and to warp out of it was impossible. There was nothing for it therefore but to drive before the gale, and take advantage of the first opening in the ice that should afford them a chance of escape.

Towards evening of the following day the gale abated, and the sun shone out bright and clear; but the pack remained close as ever, drifting steadily towards the north.

"We're far beyond the most northerly sea that has ever yet been reached," remarked Captain Guy to Fred and Singleton, as he leaned on the weather bulwarks, and gazed wistfully over the fields of ice in which they were embedded.

"I beg your pardon for differing, Captain Guy, but I think that Captain Parry was farther north than this when he attempted to reach the Pole," remarked Saunders, with the air of a man who was prepared to defend his position to the last.

"Very possibly, Mr. Saunders; but I think we are at least farther north in this direction than any one has yet been; at least I make it out so by the chart."

"I'm no sure o' that," rejoined the second mate positively; "charts are not always to be depended on, and I've heard that whalers have been up hereabouts before now."

"Perhaps you are right, Mr. Saunders," replied the captain, smiling; "nevertheless, I shall take observations, and name the various headlands, until I find that others have been here before me.-Mivins, hand me the glass; it seems to me there's a water-sky to the northward."

"What is a water-sky, captain?" inquired Fred.

"It is a peculiar, dark appearance of the sky on the horizon, which indicates open water; just the reverse of that bright appearance which you have often seen in the distance, and which we call the ice-blink."

"We'll have open water soon," remarked the second mate authoritatively.

"Mr. Saunders," said Mivins, who, having just finished clearing away and washing up the débris and dishes of one meal, was enjoying in complete idleness the ten minutes of leisure that intervened between that and preparations for the next-"Mr. Saunders, sir, can you hinform me, sir, 'ow it is that the sea don't freeze at 'ome the same as it does hout 'ere?"

The countenance of the second mate brightened, for he prided himself not a little on his vast and varied stores of knowledge, and nothing pleased him so much as to be questioned, particularly on knotty subjects.

"Hem! yes, Mivins, I can tell 'ee that. Ye must know that before fresh water can freeze on the surface the whole volume of it must be cooled down to 40 degrees, and salt water must be cooled down to 45 degrees. Noo, frost requires to be very long continued and very sharp indeed before it can cool the deep sea from the top to the bottom, and until it is so cooled it canna freeze."

"Oh!" remarked Mivins, who only half understood the meaning of the explanation, "'ow very hodd. But can you tell me, Mr. Saunders, 'ow it is that them 'ere hicebergs is made? Them's wot I don't comprehend no'ow."

"Ay," replied Saunders, "there has been many a wiser head than yours, puzzled for a long time about icebergs. But if ye'll use yer eyes you'll see how they are formed. Do you see the high cliffs yonder away to the nor'-east? Weel, there are great masses o' ice that have been formed against them by the melting and freezing of the snows of many years. When these become too heavy to stick to the cliffs, they tumble into the sea and float away as icebergs. But the biggest bergs come from the foot of glaciers. You know what glaciers are, Mivins?"

"No, sir, I don't."

The second mate sighed. "They are immense accumulations of ice, Mivins, that have been formed by the freezings and meltings of the snows of hundreds of years. They cover the mountains of Norway and Switzerland, and many other places in this world, for miles and miles in extent, and sometimes they flow down and fill up whole valleys. I once saw one in Norway that filled up a valley eight miles long, two miles broad, and seven or eight' hundred feet deep; and that was only a wee bit of it, for I was told by men who had travelled over it that it covered the mountains of the interior, and made them a level field of ice, with a surface like rough, hard snow, for more than twenty miles in extent."

"You don't say so, sir!" said Mivins in surprise. "And don't they never melt?"

"No, never. What they lose in summer they more than gain in winter. Moreover, they are always in motion; but they move so slow that you may look at them ever so closely and so long, you'll not be able to observe the motion-just like the hour hand of a watch-but we know it by observing the changes from year to year. There are immense glaciers here in the Arctic Regions, and the lumps which they are constantly shedding off into the sea are the icebergs that one sees and hears so much about."

Mivins seemed deeply impressed with this explanation, and would probably have continued the conversation much longer, had he not been interrupted by the voic

e of his mischievous satellite, Davie Summers, who touched his forelock and said, "Please, Mr. Mivins, shall I lay the table-cloth? or would it be better to slump dinner with tea this afternoon?"

Mivins started. "Ha! caught me napping! Down below, you young dog!"

The boy dived instantly, followed, first by a dish-clout, rolled tightly up and well aimed, and afterwards by his active-limbed superior. Both reached the region of smells, cruets, and crockery at the same moment, and each set energetically to work at their never-ending duties.

Soon after this the ice suddenly loosened, and the crew succeeded, after a few hours' hard labour, in warping the Dolphin once more out of the pack; but scarcely had this been accomplished when another storm, which had been gradually gathering, burst upon them, and compelled them once more to seek the shelter of the land.

Numerous walruses rolled about in the bays here, and they approached much nearer to the vessel than they had yet done, affording those on board a good view of their huge, uncouth visages, as they shook their shaggy fronts and ploughed up the waves with their tusks. These enormous creatures are the elephants of the Arctic Ocean. Their aspect is particularly grim and fierce, and being nearly equal to elephants in bulk they are not less terrible than they appear. In form they somewhat resemble seals, having barrel-shaped bodies, with round, or rather square, blunt heads and shaggy bristling moustaches, and two long ivory tusks which curve downwards instead of upwards, serving the purpose frequently of hooks, by means of which and their fore-flippers they can pull themselves up on the rocks and icebergs. Indeed, they are sometimes found at a considerable height up the sides of steep cliffs, basking in the sun.

Fred was anxious to procure the skull of one of these monstrous animals, but the threatening appearance of the weather rendered any attempt to secure one at that time impossible. A dark sinister scowl overhung the blink under the cloud-bank to the southward, and the dovkies which had enlivened their progress hitherto forsook the channel, as if they distrusted the weather. Captain Guy made every possible preparation to meet the coming storm, by warping down under the shelter of a ledge of rock, to which he made fast with two good hawsers, while everything was made snug on board.

"We are going to catch it, I fear," said Fred, glancing at the black clouds that hurried across the sky to the northward, while he walked the deck with his friend, Tom Singleton.

"I suspect so," replied Tom, "and it does not raise my spirits to see Saunders shaking his huge visage so portentously. Do you know, I have a great belief in that fellow. He seems to know everything and to have gone through every sort of experience, and I notice that most of his prognostications come to pass."

"So they do, Tom," said Fred; "but I wish he would put a better face on things till they do come to pass. His looks are enough to frighten one."

"I think we shall require another line out, Mr. Saunders," remarked the captain, as the gale freshened, and the two hawsers were drawn straight and rigid like bars of iron; "send ashore and make a whale-line fast immediately."

The second mate obeyed with a grunt that seemed to insinuate that he would have had one out long ago. In a few minutes it was fast; and not a moment too soon, for immediately after it blew a perfect hurricane. Heavier and heavier it came, and the ice began to drift more wildly than ever. The captain had just given orders to make fast another line, when the sharp, twanging snap of a cord was heard. The six-inch hawser had parted, and they were swinging by the two others, with the gale roaring like a lion through the spars and rigging. Half a minute more and "twang, twang!" came another report, and the whale-line was gone. Only one rope now held them to the land, and prevented them being swept into the turmoil of ice, and wind, and water, from which the rocky ledge protected them. The hawser was a good one-a new ten-inch rope. It sang like the deep tones of an organ, loud above the rattle of the rigging and the shrouds; but that was its death-song. It gave way with the noise of a cannon, and in the smoke that followed its recoil they were dragged out by the wild ice, and driven hither and thither at its mercy.

With some difficulty the ship was warped into a place of comparative security in the rushing drift, but it was soon thrown loose again, and severely squeezed by the rolling masses. Then an attempt was made to set the sails and beat up for the land; but the rudder was almost unmanageable owing to the ice, and nothing could be made of it, so they were compelled to go right before the wind under close-reefed top-sails, in order to keep some command of the ship. All hands were on deck watching in silence the ice ahead of them, which presented a most formidable aspect.

Away to the north the strait could be seen growing narrower, with heavy ice-tables grinding up and clogging it from cliff to cliff on either side. About seven in the evening they were close upon the piling masses, to enter into which seemed certain destruction.

"Stand by to let go the anchor!" cried the captain, in the desperate hope of being able to wind the ship.

"What's that ahead of us?" exclaimed the first mate suddenly.

"Ship on the starboard bow, right in-shore!" roared the look-out.

The attention of the crew was for a moment called from their own critical situation towards the strange vessel which now came into view, having been previously concealed from them by a large grounded berg.

"Can you make her out, Mr. Bolton?"

"Yes, sir; I think she's a large brig, but she seems much chafed, and there's no name left on the stern, if ever there was one."

As he spoke, the driving snow and fog cleared up partially, and the brig was seen not three hundred yards from them, drifting slowly into the loose ice. There was evidently no one on board; and although one or two of the sails were loose, they hung in shreds from the yards. Scarcely had this been noted when the Dolphin struck against a large mass of ice, and quivered under the violence of the shock.

"Let go!" shouted the captain.

Down went the heaviest anchor they had, and for two minutes the chain flew out at the hawse-hole.

"Hold on!"

The chain was checked, but the strain was awful. A mass of ice, hundreds of tons weight, was tearing down towards the bow. There was no hope of resisting it. Time was not even afforded to attach a buoy or log to the cable, so it was let slip, and thus the Dolphin's best bower was lost for ever.

But there was no time to think of or regret this, for the ship was now driving down with the gale, scraping against a lee of ice which was seldom less than thirty feet thick. Almost at the same moment the strange vessel was whirled close to them, not more than fifty yards distant, between two driving masses of thick ice.

"What if it should be my father's brig?" whispered Fred Ellice, as he grasped Singleton's arm and turned to him a face of ashy paleness.

"No fear of that, lad," said Buzzby, who stood near the larboard gangway and had overheard the remark. "I'd know your father's brig among a thousand-"

As he spoke, the two masses of ice closed, and the brig was nipped between them. For a few seconds she seemed to tremble like a living creature, and every timber creaked. Then she was turned slowly on one side, until the crew of the Dolphin could see down into her hold, where the beams were giving way and cracking up as matches might be crushed in the grasp of a strong hand. Then the larboard bow was observed to yield as if it were made of soft clay, the starboard bow was pressed out, and the ice was forced into the forecastle. Scarcely three minutes had passed since the nip commenced; in one minute more the brig went down, and the ice was rolling wildly, as if in triumph, over the spot where she had disappeared.

The fate of this vessel, which might so soon be their own, threw a momentary gloom over the crew of the Dolphin, but their position left them no time for thought. One upturned mass rose above the gunwale, smashed in the bulwarks, and deposited half a ton of ice on deck. Scarcely had this danger passed when a new enemy appeared in sight ahead. Directly in their way, just beyond the line of floe-ice against which they were alternately thumping and grinding, lay a group of bergs. There was no possibility of avoiding them, and the only question was, whether they were to be dashed to pieces on their hard blue sides, or, perchance, in some providential nook to find a refuge from the storm.

"There's an open lead between them and the floe-ice," exclaimed Bolton in a hopeful tone of voice, seizing an ice-pole and leaping on the gunwale.

"Look alive, men, with your poles," cried the captain, "and shove with a will!"

The "Ay, ay, sir," of the men was uttered with a heartiness that showed how powerfully this gleam of hope acted on their spirits; but a new damp was cast over them when, on gaining the open passage, they discovered that the bergs were not at rest, but were bearing down on the floe-ice with slow but awful momentum, and threatening to crush the ship between the two. Just then a low berg came driving up from the southward, dashing the spray over its sides, and with its forehead ploughing up the smaller ice as if in scorn. A happy thought flashed across the captain's mind.

"Down the quarter boat," he cried.

In an instant it struck the water, and four men were on the thwarts.

"Cast an ice-anchor on that berg."

Peter Grim obeyed the order, and, with a swing that Hercules would have envied, planted it securely. In another moment the ship was following in the wake of this novel tug! It was a moment of great danger, for the bergs encroached on their narrow canal as they advanced, obliging them to brace the yards to clear the impending ice-walls, and they shaved the large berg so closely that the port quarter-boat would have been crushed if it had not been taken from the davits. Five minutes of such travelling brought them abreast of a grounded berg, to which they resolved to make fast. The order was given to cast off the rope. Away went their white tug on his race to the far north, and the ship swung round in safety under the lee of the berg, where the crew acknowledged with gratitude their merciful deliverance from imminent danger.

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