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   Chapter 7 No.7

The World of Ice By R. M. Ballantyne Characters: 19640

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


New characters introduced-An old game under novel circumstances-Remarkable appearances in the sky-O'Riley meets with a mishap.

Dumps was a remarkably grave and sly character, and Poker was a wag-an incorrigible wag-in every sense of the term. Moreover, although they had an occasional fight, Dumps and Poker were excellent friends, and great favourites with the crew.

We have not yet introduced these individuals to our reader, but as they will act a conspicuous part in the history of the Dolphin's adventurous career in the Arctic Regions, we think it right now to present them.

While at Upernavik, Captain Guy had purchased a team of six good, tough Esquimau dogs, being desirous of taking them to England, and there presenting them to several of his friends who were anxious to possess specimens of those animals. Two of these dogs stood out conspicuous from their fellows, not only in regard to personal appearance, but also in reference to peculiarities of character. One was pure white, with a lively expression of countenance, a large shaggy body, two erect, sharp-pointed ears, and a short projection that once had been a tail. Owing to some cause unknown, however, his tail had been cut or bitten off, and nothing save the stump remained. But this stump did as much duty as if it had been fifty tails in one. It was never at rest for a moment, and its owner evidently believed that wagging it was the true and only way to touch the heart of man; therefore the dog wagged it, so to speak, doggedly. In consequence of this animal's thieving propensities, which led him to be constantly poking into every hole and corner of the ship in search of something to steal, he was named Poker. Poker had three jet-black spots in his white visage-one was the point of his nose, the other two were his eyes.

Poker's bosom friend, Dumps, was so named because he had the sulkiest expression of countenance that ever fell to the lot of a dog. Hopelessly incurable melancholy seemed to have taken possession of his mind, for he never by any chance smiled-and dogs do smile, you know, just as evidently as human beings do, although not exactly with their mouths. Dumps never romped either, being old, but he sat and allowed his friend Poker to romp round him with a sort of sulky satisfaction, as if he experienced the greatest enjoyment his nature was capable of in witnessing the antics of his youthful companion-for Poker was young. The prevailing colour of Dumps's shaggy hide was a dirty brown, with black spots, two of which had fixed themselves rather awkwardly round his eyes, like a pair of spectacles. Dumps, also, was a thief, and, indeed, so were all his brethren. Dumps and Poker were both of them larger and stronger, and in every way better, than their comrades; and they afterwards were the sturdy, steady, unflinching leaders of the team during many a toilsome journey over the frozen sea.

One magnificent afternoon, a few days after the escape of the Dolphin just related, Dumps and Poker lay side by side in the lee-scuppers, calmly sleeping off the effects of a surfeit produced by the eating of a large piece of pork, for which the cook had searched in vain for three-quarters of an hour, and of which he at last found the bare bone sticking in the hole of the larboard pump.

"Bad luck to them dogs," exclaimed David Mizzle, stroking his chin as he surveyed the bone. "If I could only find out, now, which of ye it was, I'd have ye slaughtered right off, and cooked for the mess, I would."

"It was Dumps as did it, I'll bet you a month's pay," said Peter Grim, as he sat on the end of the windlass refilling his pipe, which he had just smoked out.

"Not a bit of it," remarked Amos Parr, who was squatted on the deck busily engaged in constructing a rope mat, while several of the men sat round him engaged in mending sails, or stitching canvas slippers, etc.-"not a bit of it, Grim; Dumps is too honest by half to do sich a thing. 'Twas Poker as did it, I can see by the roll of his eye below the skin. The blackguard's only shammin' sleep."

On hearing his name mentioned, Poker gently opened his right eye, but did not move. Dumps, on the contrary, lay as if he heard not the base aspersion on his character.

"What'll ye bet it was Dumps as did it?" cried Davie Summers, who passed at the moment with a dish of some sort of edible towards the galley or cooking-house on deck.

"I'll bet you over the 'ead, I will, if you don't mind your business," said Mivins.

"You'd better not," retorted Davie with a grin. "It's as much as your situation's worth to lay a finger on me."

"That's it, youngster, give it 'im," cried several of the men, while the boy confronted his superior, taking good care, however, to keep the fore-mast between them.

"What do you mean, you young rascal?" cried Mivins with a frown.

"Mean!" said Davie, "why, I mean that if you touch me I'll resign office; and if I do that, you'll have to go out, for every one knows you can't get on without me."

"I say, Mivins," cried Tom Green, the carpenter's mate, "if you were asked to say, 'Hold on hard to this handspike here, my hearties,' how would ye go about it?"

"He'd 'it you a pretty 'ard crack hover the 'ead with it, 'e would," remarked one of the men, throwing a ball of yarn at Davie, who stood listening to the conversation with a broad grin.

In stepping back to avoid the blow, the lad trod on Dumps's paw, and instantly there came from the throat of that excellent dog a roar of anguish that caused Poker to leap, as the cook expressed it, nearly out of his own skin. Dogs are by nature extremely sympathetic and remarkably inquisitive; and no sooner was Dumps's yell heard than it was vigorously responded to by every dog in the ship, as the whole pack rushed each from his respective sleeping-place and looked round in amazement.

"Hallo! what's wrong there for'ard?" inquired Saunders, who had been pacing the quarter-deck with slow giant strides, arguing mentally with himself in default of a better adversary.

"Only trod on Dumps's paw, sir," said Mivins, as he hurried aft; "the men are sky-larking."

"Sky-larking, are you?" said Saunders, going forward. "Weel, lads, you've had a lot o' hard work of late, ye may go' and take a run on the ice."

Instantly the men, like boys set free from school, sprang up, tumbled over the side, and were scampering over the ice like madmen.

"Pitch over the ball-the football!" they cried. In a second the ball was tossed over the ship's side, and a vigorous game was begun.

For two days past the Dolphin had been sailing with difficulty through large fields of ice, sometimes driving against narrow necks and tongues that interrupted her passage from one lead or canal to another; at other times boring with difficulty through compact masses of sludge; or occasionally, when unable to advance farther, making fast to a large berg or a field. They were compelled to proceed north, however, in consequence of the pack having become fixed towards, the south, and thus rendering retreat impossible in that direction until the ice should be again set in motion. Captain Guy, however, saw, by the steady advance of the larger bergs, that the current of the ocean in that place flowed southward, and trusted that in a short time the ice which had been forced into the strait by the late gales would be released, and open up a passage. Meanwhile he pushed along the coast, examining every bay and inlet in the hope of discovering some trace of the Pole Star or her crew.

On the day about which we are writing, the ship was beset by large fields, the snow-white surfaces of which extended north and south to the horizon, while on the east the cliffs rose in dark, frowning precipices from the midst of the glaciers that encumber them all the year round.

It was a lovely Arctic day. The sun shone with unclouded splendour, and the bright air, which trembled with that liquidity of appearance that one occasionally sees in very hot weather under peculiar circumstances, was vocal with the wild music of thousands of gulls, and auks, and other sea-birds, which clustered on the neighbouring cliffs and flew overhead in clouds. All round the pure surfaces of the ice-fields were broken by the shadows which the hummocks and bergs cast over them, and by the pools of clear water which shone like crystals in their hollows, while the beautiful beryl blue of the larger bergs gave a delicate colouring to the dazzling scene. Words cannot describe the intense glitter that characterized everything. Every point seemed a diamond, every edge sent forth a gleam of light, and many of the masses reflected the rich prismatic colours of the rainbow. It seemed as if the sun himself had been multiplied in order to add to the excessive brilliancy, for he was surrounded by parhelia, or sun-dogs, as the men called them. This peculiarity in the sun's appearance was very striking. The great orb of day was about ten degrees above the horizon, and a horizontal line of white passed completely through it, extending to a considerable distance on either hand, while around it were two distinct halos, or circles of light. On the inner halo were situated the mock-suns, which were four in number-one above and one below the sun, and one on each side of him.

Not a breath of wind stirred the little flag that drooped from the mizzen-peak, and the clamorous, ceaseless-cries of sea-birds, added to the merry shouts and laughter of the men as they followed the restless football, rendered the whole a scene of life, as it was emphatically one of beauty.

"Ain't it glorious?" panted Davie Summers vehemently as he stopped exhausted in a headlong race beside one of his comrades, while the ball was kicked hopelessly beyond his reach by a

comparatively fresh member of the party.

"Ah! then, it bates the owld country intirely, it does," replied O'Riley, wiping the perspiration from his forehead.

It is needless to say that O'Riley was an Irishman. We have not mentioned him until now, because up to this time he had not done anything to distinguish himself beyond his messmates; but on this particular day O'Riley's star was in the ascendant, and fortune seemed to have singled him out as an object of her special attention. He was a short man, and a broad man, and a particularly rugged man-so to speak. He was all angles and corners. His hair stuck about his head in violently rigid and entangled tufts, rendering it a matter of wonder how anything in the shape of a hat could stick on. His brow was a countless mass of ever-varying wrinkles, which gave to his sly visage an aspect of humorous anxiety that was highly diverting-and all the more diverting when you came to know that the man had not a spark of anxiety in his composition, though he often said he had. His dress, like that of most Jack tars, was naturally rugged, and he contrived to make it more so than usual.

"An' it's hot, too, it is," he continued, applying his kerchief again to his pate "If it warn't for the ice we stand on, we'd be melted down, I do belave, like bits o' whale blubber."

"Wot a jolly game football is, ain't it?" said Davie seating himself on a hummock, and still panting hard.

"Ay, boy, that's jist what it is. The only objiction I have agin it is, that it makes ye a'most kick the left leg clane off yer body."

"Why don't you kick with your right leg, then, stupid, like other people?" inquired Summers.

"Why don't I, is it? Troth, then, I don't know for sartin. Me father lost his left leg at the great battle o' the Nile, and I've sometimes thought that had somethin' to do wid it. But then me mother was lame o' the right leg intirely, and wint about wid a crutch, so I can't make out how it was, d'ye see?"

"Look out, Pat," exclaimed Summers, starting up, "here comes the ball."

As he spoke, the football came skimming over the ice towards the spot on which they stood, with about thirty of the men running at full speed and shouting like maniacs after it.

"That's your sort, my hearties! another like that and it's home! Pitch into it, Mivins. You're the boy for me! Now then, Grim, trip him up! Hallo! Buzzby, you bluff-bowed Dutchman, luff! luff! or I'll stave in your ribs! Mind your eye, Mizzle! there's Green, he'll be into your larboard quarter in no time. Hurrah! Mivins, up in the air with it. Kick, boy, kick like a spanker-boom in a hurricane!"

Such were a few of the expressions that showered like hail round the men as they rushed hither and thither after the ball. And here we may remark that the crew of the Dolphin played football in a somewhat different style from the way in which that noble game is played by boys in England. Sides, indeed, were chosen, and boundaries were marked out, but very little, if any, attention was paid to such secondary matters! To kick the ball, and keep on kicking it in front of his companions, was the ambition of each man; and so long as he could get a kick at it that caused it to fly from the ground like a cannon-shot, little regard was had by any one to the direction in which it was propelled. But, of course, in this effort to get a kick, the men soon became scattered over the field, and ever and anon the ball would fall between two men, who rushed at it simultaneously from opposite directions. The inevitable result was a collision, by which both men were suddenly and violently arrested in their career. But generally the shock resulted in one of the men being sent staggering backwards, and the other getting the kick. When the two were pretty equally matched, both were usually, as they expressed it, "brought up all standing," in which case a short scuffle ensued, as each endeavoured to trip up the heels of his adversary. To prevent undue violence in such struggles, a rule was laid down that hands were not to be used on any account. They might use their feet, legs, shoulders, and elbows, but not their hands.

In such rough play the men were more equally matched than might have been expected, for the want of weight among the smaller men was often more than counterbalanced by their activity, and frequently a sturdy little fellow launched himself so vigorously against a heavy tar as to send him rolling head over heels on the ice. This was not always the case, however, and few ventured to come into collision with Peter Grim, whose activity was on a par with his immense size. Buzzby contented himself with galloping on the outskirts of the fight, and putting in a kick when fortune sent the ball in his way. In this species of warfare he was supported by the fat cook, whose oily carcass could neither stand the shocks nor keep up with the pace of his messmates. Mizzle was a particularly energetic man in his way, however, and frequently kicked with such goodwill that he missed the ball altogether, and the tremendous swing of his leg lifted him from the ice and laid him sprawling on his back.

"Look out ahead!" shouted Green, the carpenter's mate; "there's a sail bearing down on your larboard bow."

Mivins, who had the ball before him at the moment, saw his own satellite, Davie, coming down towards him with vicious intentions. He quietly pushed the ball before him for a few yards, then kicked it far over the boy's head, and followed it up like an antelope. Mivins depended for success on his almost superhuman activity. His tall, slight frame could not stand the shocks of his comrades, but no one could equal or come near to him in speed, and he was quite an adept at dodging a charge, and allowing his opponent to rush far past the ball by the force of his own momentum. Such a charge did Peter Grim make at him at this moment.

"Starboard hard!" yelled Davie Summers, as he observed his master's danger.

"Starboard it is!" replied Mivins, and leaping aside to avoid the shock, he allowed Grim to pass. Grim knew his man, however, and had held himself in hand, so that in a moment he pulled up and was following close on his heels.

"It's an ill wind that blows no good," cried one of the crew, towards whose foot the ball rolled, as he quietly kicked it into the centre of the mass of men. Grim and Mivins turned back, and for a time looked on at the general mêlée that ensued. It seemed as though the ball must inevitably be crushed among them as they struggled and kicked hither and thither for five minutes, in their vain efforts to get a kick; and during those few exciting moments many tremendous kicks, aimed at the ball, took effect upon shins, and many shouts of glee terminated in yells of anguish.

"It can't last much longer!" screamed the cook, his face streaming with perspiration and beaming with glee, as he danced round the outside of the circle. "There it goes!"

As he spoke, the ball flew out of the circle like a shell from a mortar. Unfortunately it went directly over Mizzle's head. Before he could wink he went down before them, and the rushing mass of men passed over him like a mountain torrent over a blade of grass.

Meanwhile Mivins ran ahead of the others, and gave the ball a kick that nearly burst it, and down it came exactly between O'Riley and Grim, who chanced to be far ahead of the others. Grim dashed at it. "Och! ye big villain," muttered the Irishman to himself, as he put down his head and rushed against the carpenter like a battering-ram.

Big though he was, Grim staggered back from the impetuous shock, and O'Riley following up his advantage, kicked the ball in a side direction, away from every one except Buzzby, who happened to have been steering rather wildly over the field of ice. Buzzby, on being brought thus unexpectedly within reach of the ball, braced up his energies for a kick; but seeing O'Riley coming down towards him like a runaway locomotive, he pulled up, saying quietly to himself, "Ye may take it all yer own way, lad; I'm too old a bird to go for to make my carcass a buffer for a madcap like you to run agin."

Jack Mivins, however, was troubled by no such qualms. He happened to be about the same distance from the ball as O'Riley, and ran like a deer to reach it first. A pool of water lay in his path, however, and the necessity of going round it enabled the Irishman to gain on him a little, so that it became evident that both would come up at the same moment, and a collision be inevitable.

"Hold yer wind, Paddy," shouted the men, who paused for a moment to watch the result of the race. "Mind your timbers, Mivins! Back your top-sails, O'Riley; mind how he yaws!"

Then there was a momentary silence of breathless expectation. The two men seemed about to meet with a shock that would annihilate both, when Mivins bounded to one side like an indiarubber ball. O'Riley shot past him like a rocket, and the next instant went head foremost into the pool of water.

This unexpected termination to the affair converted the intended huzzah of the men into a yell of mingled laughter and consternation as they hastened in a body to the spot; but before they reached it, O'Riley's head and shoulders reappeared, and when they came up he was standing on the margin of the pool blowing like a walrus.

"Oh! then, but it is cowld!" he exclaimed, wringing the water from his garments. "Och! where's the ball? give me a kick or I'll freeze! so I will."

As he spoke the drenched Irishman seized the ball from Mivins's hands and gave it a kick that sent it high into the air. He was too wet and heavy to follow it up, however, so he ambled off towards the ship as vigorously as his clothes would allow him, followed by the whole crew.

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