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   Chapter 23 No.23

The World of Ice By R. M. Ballantyne Characters: 12307

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Unexpected arrivals-The rescue party-Lost and found-Return to the ship.

The sixth night after the hunting-party had left the ship, Grim and Fred Ellice suddenly made their appearance on board. It was quite dark, and the few of the ship's company who were able to quit their berths were seated round the cabin at their meagre evening meal.

"Hallo, Fred!" exclaimed Captain Ellice, as his son staggered rather than walked in and sank down on a locker. "What's wrong, boy? where are the rest of you?"

Fred could not answer; neither he nor Grim was able to utter a word at first. It was evident that they laboured under extreme exhaustion and hunger. A mouthful of hot soup administered by Tom Singleton rallied them a little, however.

"Our comrades are lost, I fear."

"Lost!" exclaimed Captain Guy. "How so? Speak, my boy; but hold, take another mouthful before you speak. Where did you leave them, say you?"

Fred looked at the captain with a vacant stare. "Out upon the ice to the north; but, I say, what a comical dream I've had!" Here he burst into a loud laugh. Poor Fred's head was evidently affected, so his father and Tom carried him to his berth.

All this time Grim had remained seated on a locker swaying to and fro like a drunken man, and paying no attention to the numerous questions that were put to him by Saunders and his comrades.

"This is bad!" exclaimed Captain Guy, pressing his hand on his forehead.

"A search must be made," suggested Captain Ellice. "It's evident that the party have broken down out on the floes, and Fred and Grim have been sent to let us know."

"I know it," answered Captain Guy. "A search must be made, and that instantly, if it is to be of any use; but in which direction are we to go is the question. These poor fellows cannot tell us. 'Out on the ice to the north' is a wide word.-Fred, Fred, can you not tell us in which direction we ought to go to search for them?"

"Yes, far out on the floes-among hummocks-far out," murmured Fred, half unconsciously.

"We must be satisfied with that. Now, Mr. Saunders, assist me to get the small sledge fitted out. I'll go to look after them myself."

"An' I'll go with 'ee, sir," said the second mate promptly.

"I fear you are hardly able."

"No fear o' me, sir. I'm better than 'ee think."

"I must go too," added Captain Ellice; "it is quite evident that you cannot muster a party without me."

"That's impossible," interrupted the doctor. "Your leg is not strong enough nearly for such a trip; besides, my dear sir, you must stay behind to perform my duties, for the ship can't do without a doctor, and I shall go with Captain Guy, if he will allow me."

"That he won't," cried the captain. "You say truly the ship cannot be left without a doctor. Neither you nor my friend Ellice shall leave the ship with my permission. But don't let us waste time talking.-Come, Summers and Mizzle, you are well enough to join, and, Meetuck, you must be our guide. Look alive and get yourselves ready."

In less than half-an-hour the rescue party were equipped and on their way over the floes. They were six in all-one of the freshest among the crew having volunteered to join those already mentioned.

It was a very dark night, and bitterly cold; but they took nothing with them except the clothes on their backs, a supply of provisions for their lost comrades, their sleeping-bags, and a small leather tent. The captain also took care to carry with them a flask of brandy.

The colossal bergs, which stretched like well-known land-marks over the sea, were their guides at first; but after travelling ten hours without halting, they had passed the greater number of those with which they were familiar, and entered upon an unknown region. Here it became necessary to use the utmost caution. They knew that the lost men must be within twenty miles of them, but they had no means of knowing the exact spot, and any footprints that had been made were now obliterated. In these circumstances Captain Guy had to depend very much on his own sagacity.

Clambering to the top of a hummock, he observed a long stretch of level floe to the northward.

"I think it likely," he remarked to Saunders, who had accompanied him, "that they may have gone in that direction. It seems an attractive road among this chaos of ice-heaps."

"I'm no sure o' that," objected Saunders; "yonder's a pretty clear road away to the west, maybe they took that."

"Perhaps they did, but as Fred said they had gone far out on the ice to the north, I think it likely they've gone in that direction."

"Maybe ye're right, sir, and maybe ye're wrang," answered Saunders, as they returned to the party. As this was the second mate's method of intimating that he felt that he ought to give in (though he didn't give in, and never would give in absolutely), the captain felt more confidence in his own opinion.

"Now, Meetuck, keep your eyes open," he added, as they resumed their rapid march.

After journeying on for a considerable distance, the men were ordered to spread out over the neighbouring ice-fields, in order to multiply the chances of discovering tracks; but there seemed to be some irresistible power of attraction which drew them gradually together again, however earnestly they might try to keep separate. In fact, they were beginning to be affected by the long-continued march and the extremity of the cold.

This last was so great that constant motion was absolutely necessary in order to prevent them from freezing. There was no time allowed for rest-life and death were in the scale. Their only hope lay in a continuous and rapid advance, so as to reach the lost men ere they should freeze or die of starvation.

"Holo! look 'eer!" shouted Meetuck, as he halted and went down on his knees to examine some marks on the snow.

"These are tracks!" cried Captain Guy eagerly. "What think you, Saunders?"

"They look like it"

"Follow them up, Meetuck. Go in advance, my lad, and let the rest of you scatter again."

In a few minutes there was a cry heard, and as the party hastened towards the spot whence it came, they found

Davie Summers pointing eagerly to a little snow-hut in the midst of a group of bergs.

With hasty steps they advanced towards it, and the captain, with a terrible misgiving at heart, crept in.

"Ah! then, is it yerself, darlint?" were the first words that greeted him.

A loud cheer from those without told that they heard and recognized the words. Immediately two of them crept in, and striking a light, kindled a lamp, which revealed the care-worn forms of their lost comrades stretched on the ground in their sleeping-bags. They were almost exhausted for want of food, but otherwise they were uninjured.

The first congratulations over, the rescue party immediately proceeded to make arrangements for passing the night. They were themselves little better than those whom they had come to save, having performed an uninterrupted march of eighteen hours without food or drink.

It was touching to see the tears of joy and gratitude that filled the eyes of the poor fellows, who had given themselves up for lost, as they watched the movements of their comrades while they prepared food for them; and the broken, fitful conversation was mingled strangely with alternate touches of fun and deep feeling, indicating the conflicting emotions that struggled in their breasts.

"I knowed ye would come, captain; bless you, sir," said Amos Parr, in an unsteady voice.

"Come! Av coorse ye knowed it," cried O'Riley energetically. "Och, but don't be long wid the mate, darlints, me stummik's shut up intirely."

"There won't be room for us all here, I'm afraid," remarked Bolton.

This was true. The hut was constructed to hold six, and it was impossible that ten could sleep in it, although they managed to squeeze in.

"Never mind that," cried the captain. "Here, take a drop of soup; gently, not too much at a time."

"Ah, then, it's cruel of ye, it is, to give me sich a small taste."

It was necessary, however, to give men in their condition a "small taste" at first, so O'Riley had to rest content. Meanwhile, the rescue party supped heartily, and after a little more food had been administered to the half-starved men, preparations were made for spending the night. The tent was pitched, and the sleeping-bags spread out on the snow. Then Captain Guy offered up fervent thanks to God for his protection thus far, and prayed shortly but earnestly for deliverance from their dangerous situation; after which they all lay down and slept soundly till morning-or at least as soundly as could be expected with a temperature at 55° below zero.

Next morning they prepared to set out on their return to the ship. But this was no easy task. The exhausted men had to be wrapped up carefully in their blankets, which were sewed closely round their limbs, then packed in their sleeping-bags and covered completely up, only a small hole being left opposite their mouths to breathe through, and after that they were lashed side by side on the small sledge. The larger sledge, with the muskets, ammunition, and spare blankets, had to be abandoned. Then the rescue party put their shoulders to the tracking-belts, and away they went briskly over the floes.

But the drag was a fearfully heavy one for men who, besides having walked so long and so far on the previous day, were, most of them, much weakened by illness, and very unfit for such laborious work. The floes, too, were so rugged that they had frequently to lift the heavy sledge and its living load over deep rents and chasms which, in circumstances less desperate, they would have scarcely ventured to do. Work as they would, however, they could not make more than a mile an hour, and night overtook them ere they reached the level floes. But it was of the utmost importance that they should continue to advance, so they pushed forward until a breeze sprang up that pierced them through and through.

Fortunately there was a bright moon in the sky, which enabled them to pick their way among the hummocks. Suddenly, without warning, the whole party felt an alarming failure of their energies. Captain Guy, who was aware of the imminent danger of giving way to this feeling, cheered the men to greater exertion by word and voice, but failed to rouse them. They seemed like men walking in their sleep.

"Come, Saunders, cheer up, man!" cried the captain, shaking the mate by the arm; but Saunders stood still, swaying to and fro like a drunken man. Mizzle begged to be allowed to sleep, if it were only for two minutes, and poor Davie Summers deliberately threw himself down on the snow, from which, had he been left, he would never more have risen.

The case was now desperate. In vain the captain shook and buffeted the men. They protested that they did not feel cold-"they were quite warm, and only wanted a little sleep." He saw that it was useless to contend with them, so there was nothing left for it but to pitch the tent.

This was done as quickly as possible, though with much difficulty, and the men were unlashed from the sledge and placed within the tent. The others then crowded in, and falling down beside each other were asleep in an instant. The excessive crowding of the little tent was an advantage at this time, as it tended to increase their animal heat. Captain Guy allowed them to sleep only two hours, and then roused them in order to continue the journey; but short though the period of rest was, it proved sufficient to enable the men to pursue their journey with some degree of spirit. Still it was evident that their energies had been overtaxed; for when they neared the ship next day, Tom Singleton, who had been on the look-out, and advanced to meet them, found that they were almost in a state of stupor, and talked incoherently-sometimes giving utterance to sentiments of the most absurd nature with expressions of the utmost gravity.

Meanwhile, good news was brought them from the ship. Two bears and a walrus had been purchased from the Esquimaux, a party of whom-sleek, fat, oily, good-humoured, and hairy-were encamped on the lee side of the Dolphin, and were busily engaged in their principal and favourite occupation-eating!

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