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The World of Ice By R. M. Ballantyne Characters: 12498

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The "Arctic Sun"-Rats! rats! rats!--A hunting-party-Out on the floes-Hardships.

Among the many schemes that were planned and carried out for lightening the long hours of confinement to their wooden home in the Arctic Regions, was the newspaper started by Fred Ellice, and named, as we have already mentioned, the Arctic Sun.

It was so named because, as Fred stated in his first leading article, it was intended to throw light on many things at a time when there was no other sun to cheer them. We cannot help regretting that it is not in our power to present a copy of this well-thumbed periodical to our readers; but being of opinion that something is better than nothing, we transcribe the following extract as a specimen of the contributions from the forecastle. It was entitled-

JOHN BUZZBY'S OPPINYUNS O' THINGS IN GIN'RAL.

Mr. Editer,-As you was so good as to ax from me a contribootion to your waluable peeryoddical, I beg heer to stait that this heer article is intended as a gin'ral summery o' the noos wots agoin'. Your reeders will be glad to no that of late the wether's bin gittin' colder, but they'll be better pleased to no that before the middle o' nixt sumer it's likely to git a, long chawk warmer. There's a gin'ral complaint heer that Mivins has bin eatin' the shuger in the pantry, an' that's wots makin' it needfull to put us on short allowance. Davie Summers sais he seed him at it, an' it's a dooty the guvermint owes to the publik to have the matter investigated. It's gin'rally expected, howsever, that the guvermint won't trubble its hed with the matter. There's bin an onusual swarmin' o' rats in the ship of late, an' Davie Summers has had a riglar hunt after them. The lad has becum more than ornar expert with his bow an' arrow, for he niver misses now-exceptin', always, when he dusn't hit-an' for the most part takes them on the pint on the snowt with his blunt-heded arow, which he drives in-the snowt, not the arow. There's a gin'ral wish among the crew to no whether the north pole is a pole or a dot. Mizzle sais it's a dot, and O'Riley swears (no, he don't do that, for we've gin up swearin' in the fog-sail), but he sais that it's a real post, 'bout as thick again as the main-mast, an' nine or ten times as hy. Grim sais it's nother wun thing nor anuther, but a hydeear that is sumhow or other a fact, but yit don't exist at all. Tom Green wants to no if there's any conexshun between it an' the pole that's conected with elections. In fact, we're all at sea, in a riglar muz abut this, an' as Dr. Singleton's a syentiffick man, praps he'll give us a leadin' article in your nixt-so no more at present from- Yours to command,

JOHN BUZZBY.

This contribution was accompanied with an outline illustration of Mivins eating sugar with a ladle in the pantry, and Davie Summers peeping in at the door-both likenesses being excellent.

Some of the articles in the Arctic Sun were grave and some were gay, but all of them were profitable, for Fred took care that they should be charged either with matter of interest or matter provocative of mirth. And, assuredly, no newspaper of similar calibre was ever looked forward to with such expectation, or read and re-read with such avidity. It was one of the expedients that lasted longest in keeping up the spirits of the men.

The rat-hunting referred to in the foregoing "summary" was not a mere fiction of Buzzby's brain. It was a veritable fact. Notwithstanding the extreme cold of this inhospitable climate, the rats in the ship increased to such a degree that at last they became a perfect nuisance. Nothing was safe from their attacks-whether substances were edible or not, they were gnawed through and ruined-and their impudence, which seemed to increase with their numbers, at last exceeded all belief. They swarmed everywhere-under the stove, about the beds, in the lockers, between the sofa cushions, amongst the moss round the walls, and inside the boots and mittens (when empty) of the men. And they became so accustomed to having missiles thrown at them, that they acquired to perfection that art which Buzzby described as "keeping one's weather-eye open."

You couldn't hit one if you tried. If your hand moved towards an object with which you intended to deal swift destruction, the intruder paused, and turned his sharp eyes towards you, as if to say, "What! going to try it again?-come, then, here's a chance for you." But when you threw, at best you could only hit the empty space it had occupied the moment before. Or, if you seized a stick, and rushed at the enemy in wrath, it grinned fiercely, showed its long white teeth, and then vanished with a fling of its tail that could be construed into nothing but an expression of contempt.

At last an expedient was hit upon for destroying these disagreeable inmates. Small bows and arrows were made, the latter having heavy, blunt heads, and with these the men slaughtered hundreds. Whenever any one was inclined for a little sport, he took up his bow and arrows, and retiring to a dark corner of the cabin, watched for a shot. Davie Summers acquired the title of Nimrod in consequence of his success in this peculiar field.

At first the rats proved a capital addition to the dogs' meals, but at length some of the men were glad to eat them, especially when fresh meat failed altogether, and scurvy began its assaults. White or Arctic foxes, too, came about the ship sometimes in great numbers, and proved an acceptable addition to their fresh provisions; but at one period all these sources failed, and the crew were reduced to the utmost extremity, having nothing to eat except salt provisions. Notwithstanding the cheering influence of the sun, the spirits of the men fell as their bodily energies failed. Nearly two-thirds of the ship's company were confined to their berths. The officers retained much of their wonted health and vigour, partly in consequence, no doubt, of their unwearied exertions in behalf of others. They changed places with the men at last, owing to the force of circumstances-ministering to their wants, drawing water, fetching fuel, and cooking their food-carrying out, in short, the divine command, "By love serve one another."

During the wors

t period of their distress a party was formed to go out upon the floes in search of walruses.

"If we don't get speedy relief," remarked Captain Guy to Tom Singleton in reference to this party, "some of us will die. I feel certain of that. Poor Buzzby seems on his last legs, and Mivins is reduced to a shadow."

The doctor was silent, for the captain's remark was too true.

"You must get up your party at once, and set off after breakfast, Mr. Bolton," he added, turning to the first mate. "Who can accompany you?"

"There's Peter Grim, sir; he's tough yet, and not much affected by scurvy. And Mr. Saunders, I think, may-"

"No," interrupted the doctor, "Saunders must not go. He does not look very ill, and I hope is not, but I don't like some of his symptoms."

"Well, doctor, we can do without him. There's Tom Green and O'Riley. Nothing seems able to bring down O'Riley. Then there's-"

"There's Fred Ellice," cried Fred himself, joining the group; "I'll go with you if you'll take me."

"Most happy to have you, sir. Our healthy hands are very short, but we can muster sufficient, I think."

The captain suggested Amos Parr and two or three more men, and then dismissed his first mate to get ready for an immediate start.

"I don't half like your going, Fred," said his father. "You've not been well lately, and hunting on the floes, I know from experience, is hard work."

"Don't fear for me, father; I've quite recovered from my recent attack, which was but slight after all, and I know full well that those who are well must work as long as they can stand."

"Ho, lads! look alive there! are you ready?" shouted the first mate down the hatchway.

"Ay, ay, sir," replied Grim, and in a few minutes the party were assembled on the ice beside the small sledge with their shoulder-belts on, for most of the dogs were either dead or dying of that strange complaint to which allusion has been made in a previous chapter.

They set out silently, but ere they had got a dozen yards from the ship Captain Guy felt the impropriety of permitting them thus to depart.

"Up, lads, and give them three cheers!" he cried, mounting the ship's side and setting the example.

A hearty, generous spirit, when vigorously displayed, always finds a ready response from human hearts. The few sailors who were on deck at the time, and one or two of the sick men who chanced to put their heads up the hatchway, rushed to the side, waved their mittens-in default of caps-and gave vent to three hearty British cheers. The effect on the drooping spirits of the hunting-party was electrical. They pricked up like chargers that had felt the spur, wheeled round, and returned the cheer with interest. It was an apparently trifling incident, but it served to lighten the way and make it seem less dreary for many a long mile.

"I'm tired of it intirely," cried O'Riley, sitting down on a hummock, on the evening of the second day after setting out on the hunt; "here we is, two days out, an' not a sign o' life nowhere."

"Come, don't give in," said Bolton cheerfully; "we're sure to fall in with a walrus to-day."

"I think so," cried Fred; "we have come so far out upon the floes that there must be open water near."

"Come on, then," cried Peter Grim; "don't waste time talking."

Thus urged O'Riley rose, and throwing his sledge-strap over his shoulder, plodded on wearily with the rest.

Their provisions were getting low now, and it was felt that if they did not soon fall in with walruses or bears they must return as quickly as possible to the ship in order to avoid starving. It was therefore a matter of no small satisfaction that, on turning the edge of an iceberg, they discovered a large bear walking leisurely towards them. To drop their sledge-lines and seize their muskets was the work of a moment. But, unfortunately, long travelling had filled the pans with snow, and it required some time to pick the touch-holes clear. In this extremity Peter Grim seized a hatchet and ran towards the bear, while O'Riley charged it with a spear. Grim delivered a tremendous blow at its head with his weapon; but his intention was better than his aim, for he missed the bear and smashed the corner of a hummock of ice. O'Riley was more successful. He thrust the spear into the animal's shoulder; but the shoulder-blade turned the head of the weapon, and caused it to run along at least three feet just under the skin. The wound, although not fatal, was so painful that Bruin uttered a loud roar of disapproval, wheeled round, and ran away!--an act of cowardice so unusual on the part of a Polar bear that the whole party were taken by surprise. Several shots were fired after him, but he soon disappeared among the ice-hummocks, having fairly made off with O'Riley's spear.

The disappointment caused by this was great, but they had little time to think of it, for soon after a stiff breeze of wind sprang up, which freshened into a gale, compelling them to seek the shelter of a cluster of icebergs, in the midst of which they built a snow-hut. Before night a terrific storm was raging, with the thermometer 40° below zero. The sky became black as ink, drift whirled round them in horrid turmoil, and the wild blast came direct from the north, over the frozen sea, shrieking and howling in its strength and fury.

All that night and the next day it continued. Then it ceased, and for the first time that winter a thaw set in, so that ere morning their sleeping-bags and socks were thoroughly wetted. This was of short duration, however. In a few hours the frost set in again as intense as ever, converting all their wet garments and bedding into hard cakes of ice. To add to their misfortunes their provisions ran out, and they were obliged to abandon the hut and push forward towards the ship with the utmost speed. Night came on them while they were slowly toiling through the deep drifts that the late gale had raised, and to their horror they found they had wandered out of their way, and were still but a short distance from their snow-hut. In despair they returned to pass the night in it, and spreading their frozen sleeping-bags on the snow, they lay down, silent and supperless, to rest till morning.

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