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   Chapter 14 No.14

The World of Ice By R. M. Ballantyne Characters: 14569

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Departure of the sun-Effects of darkness on dogs-Winter arrangements in the interior of the "Dolphin."

It is sad to part with an old friend, especially if he be one of the oldest and best friends we ever had. When the day of departure arrives, it is of no avail that he tells us kindly he will come back again. That assurance is indeed a comfort after he is gone, and a sweet star of hope that shines brighter and brighter each day until he comes back; but it is poor consolation to us at the time of parting, when we are squeezing his hand for the last time, and trying to crush back the drops that will overflow.

The crew of the Dolphin had, in the course of that winter, to part with one of their best friends; one whom they regarded with the most devoted attachment; one who was not expected to return again till the following spring, and one, therefore, whom some of them might, perhaps, never see again.

Mivins became quite low-spirited about it, and said "as 'ow 'e'd 'ave a 'eavy 'eart for hever and hever, hamen," after he was gone. O'Riley remarked, in reference to his departure, that every man in the ship was about to lose a son! Yes, indeed he did; he perpetrated that atrocious pun, and wasn't a bit ashamed of it. O'Riley had perpetrated many a worse pun than that before; it's to be hoped for the credit of his country he has perpetrated a few better ones since!

Yes, the period at length arrived when the great source of light and heat was about to withdraw his face from these Arctic navigators for a long, long time, and leave them in unvarying night. It was a good while, however, before he went away altogether, and for many weeks after winter set in in all its intensity, he paid them a daily visit which grew gradually shorter and shorter, until that sad evening in which he finally bade them farewell.

About the middle of October the dark months overspread the Bay of Mercy, and the reign of perpetual night began. There was something terribly depressing at first in this uninterrupted gloom, and for some time after the sun ceased to show his disk above the horizon the men of the Dolphin used to come on deck at noon, and look out for the faint streak of light that indicated the presence of the life-giving luminary with all the earnestness and longing of Eastern fire-worshippers.

The dogs, too, became sensibly affected by the continued absence of light, and seemed to draw more sympathetically than ever to their human companions in banishment. A curious and touching instance of this feeling was exhibited when the pack were sent to sleep on Store Island. A warm kennel had been erected for them there, partly in order that the ship might be kept more thoroughly clean, and partly that the dogs might act as a guard over the stores, in case bears or wolves should take a fancy to examine them. But nothing would induce the poor animals to keep away from the ship and remain beyond the sound of human voices. They deserted their comfortable abode with one consent the first time they were sent to it, preferring to spend the night by the side of the ship upon the bare snow. Coaxing them was of no use. O'Riley tried it in vain.

"Ah! then," said he to Dumps with a wheedling air and expression of intense affection that would have taken by storm the heart of any civilized dog, "won't ye come now an' lay in yer own kennel? Sure it's a beautiful wan, an' as warm as the heart of an iceberg. Doo come now, avic, an' I'll show ye the way."

But Dumps's heart was marble; he wouldn't budge. By means of a piece of walrus, however, he was at length induced to go with the Irishman to the kennel, and was followed by the entire pack. Here O'Riley endeavoured to make them comfortable, and prevailed on them to lie down and go to sleep; but whenever he attempted to leave them, they were up and at his heels in a moment.

"Och! but ye're too fond o' me intirely, Doo lie down agin, and I'll sing ye a ditty?"

True to his word, O'Riley sat down by the dog-kennel, and gave vent to a howl which his "owld grandmother," he said, "used to sing to the pig;" and whether it was the effects of this lullaby, or of the cold, it is impossible to say, but O'Riley at length succeeded in slipping away and regaining the ship, unobserved by his canine friends. Half-an-hour later he went on deck to take a mouthful of fresh air before supper, and on looking over the side he saw the whole pack of dogs lying in a circle close to the ship, with Dumps comfortably asleep in the middle, and using Poker's back for a pillow.

"Faix, but ye must be fond of the cowld to lie there all night when ye've got a palace on Store Island."

"Fond of society, rather," observed Captain Guy, who came on deck at the moment; "the poor creatures cannot bear to be left alone. It is a strange quality in dogs which I have often observed before."

"Have ye, capting? Sure I thought it was all owin' to the bad manners o' that baste Dumps, which is for iver leadin' the other dogs into mischief."

"Supper's ready, sir," said Mivins, coming up the hatchway, and touching his cap.

"Look here, Mivins," said O'Riley, as the captain went below, "can you point out the mornin' star to me, lad?"

"The morning star?" said Mivins slowly, as he thrust his hands into the breast of his jumper, and gazed upwards into the dark sky, where the starry host blazed in Arctic majesty. "No, hof course, I can't. Why, don't you know that there hain't no morning star when it's night all round?"

"Faix ye're right. I niver thought o' that."

Mivins was evidently a little puffed up with a feeling of satisfaction at the clever way in which he had got out of the difficulty, without displaying his ignorance of astronomy, and was even venturing, in the pride of his heart, to make some speculative and startling assertions in regard to the "'eavenly bodies" generally, when Buzzby put his head up the hatchway.

"Hallo! messmates, wot's ado now? Here's the supper awaitin', and the tea bilin' like blazes!"

Mivins instantly dived down below, as the sailors express it; and we may remark, in passing, that the expression, in this particular case, was not inappropriate, for Mivins, as we have elsewhere said, was remarkably agile and supple, and gave beholders a sort of impression that he went head-foremost at everything. O'Riley followed at a more reasonable rate, and in a few minutes the crew of the Dolphin were seated at supper in the cabin, eating with as much zest, and laughing and chatting as blithely, as if they were floating calmly on their ocean home in temperate climes. Sailors are proverbially light-hearted, and in their moments of comfort and social enjoyment they easily forget their troubles. The depression of spirits that followed the first disappearance of the sun soon wore off, and they went about their various avocations cheerfully by the light of the aurora borealis and the stars.

The cabin, in which they now all lived together, had undergone considerable alterations. After the return of Fred Ellice and the hunting-party, whom we left on the ice-belt in the last chapter, the bulk-head, or partition, which separated the cabin from the hold had been taken down, and the whole was thrown into one large apartment, in order

to secure a freer circulation of air and warmth. All round the walls inside of this apartment moss was piled to the depth of twelve inches to exclude the cold, and this object was further gained by the spreading of a layer of moss on the deck above. The cabin hatchway was closed, and the only entrance was at the farther end, through the hold, by means of a small doorway in the bulk-head, to which was attached a sort of porch, with a curtain of deer-skins hung in front of it. In the centre of the floor stood an iron cooking-stove, which served at once the purpose of preparing food and warming the cabin, which was lighted by several small oil lamps. These were kept burning perpetually, for there was no distinction between day and night in mid-winter, either in the cabin or out of doors.

In this snug-looking place the officers and men of the ship messed, and dwelt, and slept together; but, notwithstanding the apparent snugness, it was with the greatest difficulty they could keep themselves in a sufficient degree of warmth to maintain health and comfort. Whenever the fire was allowed to get low, the beams overhead became coated with hoar-frost; and even when the temperature was raised to the utmost possible pitch, it was cold enough, at the extreme ends of the apartment, to freeze a jug of water solid.

A large table occupied the upper end of the cabin between the stove and the stern, and round this the officers and crew were seated when O'Riley entered and took his place among them. Each individual had his appointed place at the mess-table, and with unvarying regularity these places were filled at the appointed hours.

"The dogs seem to be disobedient," remarked Amos Parr, as his comrade sat down; "they'd be the better of a taste o' Meetuck's cat, I think."

"It's truth ye're sayin'," replied O'Riley, commencing a violent assault on a walrus-steak; "they don't obey orders at all, at all. An' Dumps, the blaggard, is as cross-grained as me grandmother's owld pig-"

A general laugh here interrupted the speaker, for O'Riley could seldom institute a disparaging comparison without making emphatic allusion to the pig that once shared with him the hospitalities of his grandmother's cabin.

"Why, everything you speak of seems to be like that wonderful pig, messmate," said Peter Grim.

"Ye're wrong there intirely," retorted O'Riley. "I niver seed nothing like it in all me thravels except yerself, and that only in regard to its muzzle, which was black and all kivered over with bristles, it wos. I'll throuble you for another steak, messmate; that walrus is great livin'.-We owe ye thanks for killin' it, Mister Ellice."

"You're fishing for compliments, but I'm afraid I have none to give you. Your first harpoon, you know, was a little wide of the mark, if I recollect right, wasn't it?"

"Yis, it wos-about as wide as the first bullet. I mis-remember exactly who fired it-wos it you, Meetuck?"

Meetuck, being deeply engaged with a junk of fat meat at that moment, expressed all he had to say in a convulsive gasp without interrupting his supper.

"Try a bit of the bear," said Fred to Tom Singleton; "it's better than the walrus to my taste."

"I'd rather not," answered Tom, with a dubious shake of the head.

"It's a most unconscionable thing to eat a beast o' that sort," remarked Saunders gravely.

"Especially one who has been in the habit of living on raisins and sticking-plaster," said Bolton with a grin.

"I have been thinking about that," said Captain Guy, who had been for some time listening in silence to the conversation, "and I cannot help thinking that Esquimaux must have found a wreck somewhere in this neighbourhood and carried away her stores, which Bruin had managed to steal from them."

"May they not have got some of the stores of the brig we saw nipped some months ago?" suggested Singleton.

"Possibly they may."

"I dinna think that's likely," said Saunders, shaking his head. "Yon brig had been deserted long ago, and her stores must have been consumed, if they were taken out of her at all, before we thought o' comin' here."

For some time the party in the cabin ate in silence.

"We must wait patiently," resumed the captain, as if he were tired of following up a fruitless train of thought. "What of your theatricals, Fred? we must get them set a-going as soon as possible."

The captain spoke animatedly, for he felt that, with the prospect of a long dark winter before them, it was of the greatest importance that the spirits of the men should be kept up.

"I find it difficult to beat up recruits," answered Fred, laughing; "Peter Grim has flatly refused to act, and O'Riley says he could no more learn a part off by heart than-"

"His grandmother's pig could," interrupted David Mizzle, who, having concluded supper, now felt himself free to indulge in conversation.

"Och! ye spalpeen," whispered the Irishman.

"I have written out the half of a play which I hope to produce in a few days on the boards of our Arctic theatre with a talented company, but I must have one or two more men-one to act the part of a lady. Will you take that part, Buzzby?"

"Wot! me?" cried the individual referred to with a stare of amazement.

"Oh yes! do, Buzzby," cried several of the men with great delight. "You're just cut out for it."

"Blue eyes," said one.

"Fair hair," cried another.

"And plump," said a third.

"Wid cheeks like the hide of a walrus," cried O'Riley; "but, sure, it won't show wid a veil on."

"Come, now, you won't refuse."

But Buzzby did refuse; not, however, so determinedly but that he was induced at last to allow his name to be entered in Fred's note-book as a supernumerary.

"Hark!" cried the captain; "surely the dogs must have smelt a bear."

There was instantly a dead silence in the cabin, and a long, loud wail from the dogs was heard outside.

"It's not like their usual cry when game is near," said the second mate.

"Hand me my rifle, Mivins," said the captain, springing up and pulling forward the hood of his jumper, as he hurried on deck followed by the crew.

It was a bright, still, frosty night, and the air felt intensely sharp, as if needles were pricking the skin, while the men's breath issued from their lips in white clouds and settled in hoar-frost on the edges of their hoods. The dogs were seen galloping about the ice-hummocks as if in agitation, darting off to a considerable distance at times, and returning with low whines to the ship.

"It is very strange," remarked the captain. "Jump down on the ice, boys, and search for footprints. Extend as far as Store Island, and see that all is right there."

In a few seconds the men scattered themselves right and left, and were lost in the gloom, while the vessel was left in charge of Mivins and four men. A strict search was made in all directions, but no traces of animals could be found; the stores on the island were found undisturbed; and gradually the dogs ceased their agitated gyrations, and seemed inclined to resume their slumbers on the ice.

Seeing this, and supposing that they were merely restless, Captain Guy recalled his men, and not long after every man in the cabin of the Dolphin was buried in profound slumber.

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