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   Chapter 24 No.24

The World of Ice By R. M. Ballantyne Characters: 15200

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Winter ends-The first insect-Preparations for departure-Narrow escape-Cutting out-Once more afloat-Ship on fire-Crew take to the boats.

Winter passed away, with its darkness and its frost, and, happily, with its sorrows; and summer-bright, glowing summer-came at last, to gladden the heart of man and beast in the Polar Regions.

We have purposely omitted to make mention of spring, for there is no such season, properly so called, within the Arctic Circle. Winter usually terminates with a gushing thaw, and summer then begins with a blaze of fervent heat. Not that the heat is really so intense as compared with that of southern climes, but the contrast is so great that it seems as though the Torrid Zones had rushed towards the Pole.

About the beginning of June there were indications of the coming heat. Fresh water began to trickle from the rocks, and streamlets commenced to run down the icebergs. Soon everything became moist, and a marked change took place in the appearance of the ice-belt, owing to the pools that collected on it everywhere and overflowed.

Seals now became more numerous in the neighbourhood, and were frequently killed near the atluks, or holes, so that fresh meat was secured in abundance, and the scurvy received a decided check. Reindeer, rabbits, and ptarmigan, too, began to frequent the bay, so that the larder was constantly full, and the mess-table presented a pleasing variety-rats being no longer the solitary dish of fresh meat at every meal. A few small birds made their appearance from the southward, and these were hailed as harbingers of the coming summer.

One day O'Riley sat on the taffrail, basking in the warm sun, and drinking in health and gladness from its beams. He had been ill, and was now convalescent. Buzzby stood beside him.

"I've bin thinkin'," said Buzzby, "that we don't half know the blessin's that are given to us in this here world till we've had 'em taken away. Look, now, how we're enjoyin' the sun an' the heat, just as if it wos so much gold!"

"Goold!" echoed O'Riley, in a tone of contempt; "faix I niver thought so little o' goold before, let me tell ye. Goold can buy many a thing, it can, but it can't buy sunshine. Hallo! what's this?"

O'Riley accompanied the question with a sudden snatch of his hand.

"Look here, Buzzby! Have a care, now! jist watch the openin' o' my fist."

"Wot is it?" inquired Buzzby, approaching, and looking earnestly at his comrade's clinched hand with some curiosity.

"There he comes! Now, then, not so fast, ye spalpeen!"

As he spoke, a small fly, which had been captured, crept out from between his fingers, and sought to escape. It was the first that had visited these frozen regions for many, many months, and the whole crew were summoned on deck to meet it as if it were an old and valued friend.

"Let it go, poor thing!" cried half-a-dozen of the men, gazing at the little prisoner with a degree of interest that cannot be thoroughly understood by those who have not passed through experiences similar to those of our Arctic voyagers.

"Ay, don't hurt it, poor thing! You're squeezin' it too hard!" cried Amos Parr.

"Squaazing it! no, then, I'm not. Go, avic, an' me blessin' go wid ye."

The big, rough hand opened, and the tiny insect, spreading its gossamer wings, buzzed away into the bright atmosphere, where it was soon lost to view.

"Rig up the ice-saws, Mr. Bolton; set all hands at them, and get out the powder-canisters," cried Captain Guy, coming hastily on deck.

"Ay, ay, sir," responded the mate. "All hands to the ice-saws! Look alive, boys! Ho! Mr. Saunders! Where's Mr. Saunders?"

"Here 'am," answered the worthy second mate in a quiet voice.

"Oh, you're there! Get up some powder, Mr. Saunders, and a few canisters."

There was a heartiness in the tone and action with which these orders were given and obeyed that proved they were possessed of more than ordinary interest; as, indeed, they were, for the time had now come for making preparations for cutting the ship out of winter-quarters, and getting ready to take advantage of any favourable opening in the ice that might occur.

"Do you hope to effect much?" inquired Captain Ellice of Captain Guy, who stood at the gangway watching the men as they leaped over the side and began to cut holes with ice-chisels preparatory to fixing the saws and powder-canisters.

"Not much," replied the captain; "but a little in these latitudes is worth fighting hard for, as you are well aware. Many a time have I seen a ship's crew strain and heave on warps and cables for hours together, and only gain a yard by all their efforts; but many a time, also, have I seen a single yard of headway save a ship from destruction."

"True," rejoined Captain Ellice; "I have seen a little of it myself. There is no spot on earth, I think, equal to the Polar Regions for bringing out into bold relief two great and apparently antagonistic truth's-namely, man's urgent need of all his powers to accomplish the work of his own deliverance, and man's utter helplessness and entire dependence on the sovereign will of God."

"When shall we sink the canisters, sir?" asked Bolton, coming up and touching his hat.

"In an hour, Mr. Bolton; the tide will be full then, and we shall try what effect a blast will have."

"My opeenion is," remarked Saunders, who passed at the moment with two large bags of gunpowder under his arms, "that it'll have no effect at a'. It'll just loosen the ice roond the ship."

The captain smiled as he said, "That is all the effect I hope for, Mr. Saunders. Should the outward ice give way soon, we shall then be in a better position to avail ourselves of it."

As Saunders predicted, the effect of powder and saws was merely to loosen and rend the ice-tables in which the Dolphin was imbedded; but deliverance was coming sooner than any of those on board expected. That night a storm arose, which, for intensity of violence, equalled, if it did not surpass, the severest gales they had yet experienced. It set the great bergs of the Polar Seas in motion, and these moving mountains of ice slowly and majestically began their voyage to southern climes, crashing through the floes, overturning the hummocks, and ripping up the ice-tables with quiet but irresistible momentum. For two days the war of ice continued to rage, and sometimes the contending forces, in the shape of huge tongues and corners of bergs, were forced into the Bay of Mercy, and threatened swift destruction to the little craft, which was a mere atom that might have been crushed and sunk and scarcely missed in such a wild scene.

At one time a table of ice was forced out of the water and reared up, like a sloping wall of glass, close to the stern of the Dolphin, where all the crew were assembled with ice-poles ready to do their utmost; but their feeble efforts could have availed them nothing had the slowly-moving mass continued its onward progress.

"Lower away the quarter-boat," cried the captain, as the sheet of ice six feet thick came grinding down towards the starboard quarter.

Buzzby, Grim, and several others sprang to obey, but before they could let go the fall-tackles, the mass of ice rose suddenly high above the deck, over which it projected several feet, and caught the boat. In another moment the timbers yielded, the thwarts sprang out or were broken across, and slowly, yet forcibly, as a strong hand might crush an egg-shell, the boat was squeezed flat against the ship's side.

"Shove, lads! if it comes on we're lost," cried the captain, se

izing one of the long poles with which the men were vainly straining every nerve and muscle. They might as well have tried to arrest the progress of a berg. On it came, and crushed in the starboard quarter bulwarks. Providentially at that moment it grounded and remained fast; but the projecting point that overhung them broke off and fell on the deck with a crash that shook the good ship from stem to stern. Several of the men were thrown violently down, but none were seriously hurt in this catastrophe.

When the storm ceased the ice out in the strait was all in motion, and that round the ship had loosened so much that it seemed as if the Dolphin might soon get out into open water, and once more float upon its natural element. Every preparation, therefore, was made. The stores were re-shipped from Store Island; the sails were shaken out, and those of them that had been taken down were bent on to the yards; tackle was overhauled; and, in short, everything was done that was possible under the circumstances. But a week passed away ere they succeeded in finally warping out of the bay into the open sea beyond.

It was a lovely morning when this happy event was accomplished. Before the tide was quite full, and while they were waiting until the command to heave on the warps should be given, Captain Guy assembled the crew for morning prayers in the cabin. Having concluded, he said:-

"My lads, through the great mercy of God we have been all, except one, spared through the trials and anxieties of a long and dreary winter, and are now, I trust, about to make our escape from the ice that has held us fast so long. It becomes me at such a time to tell you that, if I am spared to return home, I shall be able to report that every man in this ship has done his duty. You have never flinched in the hour of danger, and never grumbled in the hour of trial. Only one man-our late brave and warm-hearted comrade, Joseph West-has fallen in the struggle. For the mercies that have never failed us, and for our success in rescuing my gallant friend, Captain Ellice, we ought to feel the deepest gratitude to the Almighty. We have need, however, to pray for a blessing on the labours that are yet before us, for you are well aware that we shall probably have many a struggle with the ice before we are once more afloat on blue water. And now, lads, away with you on deck, and man the capstan, for the tide is about full."

The capstan was manned, and the hawsers were hove taut. Inch by inch the tide rose, and the Dolphin floated. Then a lusty cheer was given, and Amos Parr struck up one of those hearty songs intermingled with "Ho!" and "Yo heave ho!" that seem to be the life and marrow of all nautical exertion. At last the good ship forged ahead, and, boring through the loose ice, passed slowly out of the Bay of Mercy.

"Do you know I feel quite sad at quitting this dreary spot?" said Fred to his father, as they stood gazing backward over the taffrail. "I could not have believed that I should have become so much attached to it."

"We become attached to any spot, Fred, in which incidents have occurred to call forth frequently our deeper feelings. These rocks and stones are intimately associated with many events that have caused you joy and sorrow, hope and fear, pain and happiness. Men cherish the memory of such feelings, and love the spots of earth with which they are associated."

"Ah, father, yonder stands one stone, at least, that calls forth feelings of sorrow."

Fred pointed as he spoke to Store Island, which was just passing out of view. On this lonely spot the men had raised a large stone over the grave of Joseph West. O'Riley, whose enthusiastic temperament had caused him to mourn over his comrade more, perhaps, than any other man in the ship, had carved the name and date of his death in rude characters on the stone. It was a conspicuous object on the low island, and every eye in the Dolphin was fixed on it as they passed. Soon the point of rock that had sheltered them so long from many a westerly gale intervened and shut it out from view for ever.

When man's prospects are at the worst, it often happens that some unexpected success breaks on his path like a bright sunbeam. Alas! it often happens, also, that when his hopes are high and his prospects brightest, a dark cloud overspreads him like a funeral pall. We might learn a lesson from this-the lesson of dependence on that Saviour who careth for us, and of trust in that blessed assurance that "all things work together for good to them that love God."

A week of uninterrupted fair wind and weather had carried the Dolphin far to the south of their dreary wintering ground, and all was going well, when the worst of all disasters befell the ship-she caught fire! How it happened no one could tell. The smoke was first seen rising suddenly from the hold. Instantly the alarm was spread.

"Firemen, to your posts!" shouted the captain. "Man the water-buckets! Steady, men; no hurry. Keep order."

"Ay, ay, sir," was the short, prompt response, and the most perfect order was kept. Every command was obeyed instantly with a degree of vigour that is seldom exhibited save in cases of life and death.

Buzzby was at the starboard and Peter Grim at the larboard gangway, while the men stood in two rows, extending from each to the main hatch, up which ever thickening clouds of dark smoke were rolling. Bucket after bucket of water was passed along and dashed into the hold, and everything that could be done was done, but without effect. The fire increased. Suddenly a long tongue of flame issued from the smoking cavern, and lapped round the mast and rigging with greedy eagerness.

"There's no hope," said Captain Ellice in a low voice, laying his hand gently on Captain Guy's shoulder.

The captain did not reply, but gazed with an expression of the deepest regret, for one moment, at the work of destruction.

Next instant he sprang to the falls of the larboard quarter-boat.

"Now, lads," he cried energetically, "get out the boats. Bring up provisions, Mr. Bolton, and a couple of spare sails.-Mr. Saunders, see to the ammunition and muskets. Quick, men. The cabin will soon be too hot to hold you."

Setting the example, the captain sprang below, followed by Fred and Tom Singleton, who secured the charts, a compass, chronometer, and quadrant; also the log-book and the various journals and records of the voyage. Captain Ellice also did active service, and being cool and self-possessed he recollected and secured several articles which were afterwards of the greatest use, and which, but for him, would in such a trying moment have probably been forgotten.

Meanwhile, the two largest boats in the ship were lowered. Provisions, masts, sails, and oars, etc., were thrown in. The few remaining dogs, among whom were Dumps and Poker, were also embarked; and the crew hastily leaping in pushed off. They were not a moment too soon. The fire had reached the place where the gunpowder was kept, and although there was not a great quantity of it, there was enough when it exploded to burst open the deck. The wind, having free ingress, fanned the fire into a furious blaze, and in a few moments the Dolphin was wrapped in flames from stem to stern. It was a little after sunset when the fire was discovered. In two hours later the good ship was burned to the water's edge. Then the waves swept in, and while they extinguished the fire they sank the blackened hull, leaving the two crowded boats floating in darkness on the bosom of the ice-laden sea.

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