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   Chapter 25 No.25

The World of Ice By R. M. Ballantyne Characters: 9002

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Escape to Upernavik-Letter from home-Meetuck's grandmother-Dumps and Poker again.

For three long weeks the shipwrecked mariners were buffeted by winds and waves in open boats, but at last they were guided in safety through all their dangers and vicissitudes to the colony of Upernavik. Here they found several vessels on the point of setting out for Europe, one of which was bound for England, and in this vessel the crew of the Dolphin resolved to ship.

Nothing of particular interest occurred at this solitary settlement except one thing, but that one thing was a great event, and deserves very special notice. It was nothing less than the receipt of a letter by Fred from his cousin Isobel! Fred and Isobel, having been brought up for several years together, felt towards each other like brother and sister.

Fred received the letter from the pastor of the settlement shortly after landing, while his father and the captain were on board the English brig making arrangements for their passage home. He could scarcely believe his eyes when he beheld the well-known hand; but having at last come to realize the fact that he actually held a real letter in his hand, he darted behind one of the curious, primitive cottages to read it. Here he was met by a squad of inquisitive natives, so with a gesture of impatience he rushed to another spot; but he was observed and followed by half-a-dozen Esquimau boys, and in despair he sought refuge in the small church near which he chanced to be. He had not been there a second, however, when two old women came in, and, approaching him, began to scan him with critical eyes. This was too much, so Fred thrust the letter into his bosom, darted out, and was instantly surrounded by a band of natives, who began to question him in an unknown tongue. Seeing that there was no other resource, Fred turned round and fled towards the mountains at a pace that defied pursuit, and, coming to a halt in the midst of a rocky gorge that might have served as an illustration of what chaos was, he sat down behind a big rock to peruse Isobel's letter.

Having read it, he re-read it; having re-read it, he read it over again. Having read it over again, he meditated a little, exclaiming several times emphatically, "My darling Isobel," and then he read bits of it here and there; having done which, he read the other bits, and so got through it again. As the letter was a pretty long one, it took him a considerable time to do all this. Then it suddenly occurred to him that he had been thus selfishly keeping it all to himself instead of sharing it with his father; so he started up and hastened back to the village, where he found Captain Ellice in earnest confabulation with the pastor of the place. Seizing his parent by the arm, Fred led him into a room in the pastor's house, and, looking round to make sure that it was empty, he sought to bolt the door. But the door was a primitive one and had no bolt, so Fred placed a huge old-fashioned chair against it, and sitting down therein, while his father took a seat opposite, he unfolded the letter, and yet once again read it through.

The letter was about twelve months old, and ran thus:-

GRAYTON, 25th July.

MY DARLING FRED,-It is now two months since you left us, and it seems to me two years. Oh, how I do wish that you were back! When I think of the terrible dangers that you may be exposed to amongst the ice my heart sinks, and I sometimes fear that we shall never see you or your dear father again. But you are in the hands of our Father in heaven, dear Fred, and I never cease to pray that you may be successful and return to us in safety. Dear, good old Mr. Singleton told me yesterday that he had an opportunity of sending to the Danish settlements in Greenland, so I resolved to write, though I very much doubt whether this will ever find you in such a wild far-off land.

Oh, when I think of where you are, all the romantic stories I have ever read of Polar Regions spring up before me, and you seem to be the hero of them all. But I must not waste my paper thus; I know you will be anxious for news. I have very little to give you, however. Good old Mr. Singleton has been very kind to us since you went away. He comes constantly to see us, and comforts dear mamma very much. Your friend, Dr. Singleton, will be glad to hear that he is well and strong. Tell my friend Buzzby that his wife sends her 'compliments!' I laugh while I write the word. Yes, she actually sends her 'complim

ents' to her husband. She is a very stern but a really excellent woman. Mamma and I visit her frequently when we chance to be in the village. Her two boys are the finest little fellows I ever saw. They are both so like each other that we cannot tell which is which when they are apart, and both are so like their father that we can almost fancy we see him when looking at either of them.

"The last day we were there, however, they were in disgrace, for Johnny had pushed Freddy into the washing-tub, and Freddy, in revenge, had poured a jug of treacle over Johnny's head! I am quite sure that Mrs. Buzzby is tired of being a widow-as she calls herself-and will be very glad when her husband comes back. But I must reserve chit-chat to the end of my letter, and first give you a minute account of all your friends."

Here followed six pages of closely-written quarto, which, however interesting they might be to those concerned, cannot be expected to afford much entertainment to our readers, so we will cut Isobel's letter short at this point.

"Cap'n's ready to go aboord, sir," said O'Riley, touching his cap to Captain Ellice while he was yet engaged in discussing the letter with his son.

"Very good."

"An', plaze sir, av ye'll take the throuble to look in at Mrs. Meetuck in passin', it'll do yer heart good, it will."

"Very well, we'll look in," replied the captain as he quitted the house of the worthy pastor.

The personage whom O'Riley chose to style Mrs. Meetuck was Meetuck's grandmother. That old lady was an Esquimau, whose age might be algebraically expressed as an unknown quantity. She lived in a boat turned upside down, with a small window in the bottom of it, and a hole in the side for a door. When Captain Ellice and Fred looked in, the old woman, who was a mere mass of bones and wrinkles, was seated on a heap of moss beside a fire, the only chimney to which was a hole in the bottom of the boat. In front of her sat her grandson Meetuck, and on a cloth spread out at her feet were displayed all the presents with which that good hunter had been loaded by his comrades of the Dolphin. Meetuck's mother had died many years before, and all the affection in his naturally warm heart was transferred to, and centred upon, his old grandmother. Meetuck's chief delight in the gifts he received was in sharing them, as far as possible, with the old woman. We say as far as possible, because some things could not be shared with her, such as a splendid new rifle and a silver-mounted hunting-knife and powder-horn, all of which had been presented to him by Captain Guy over and above his wages, as a reward for his valuable services. But the trinkets of every kind which had been given to him by the men were laid at the feet of the old woman, who looked at everything in blank amazement, yet with a smile on her wrinkled visage that betokened much satisfaction. Meetuck's oily countenance beamed with delight as he sat puffing his pipe in his grandmother's face. This little attention, we may remark, was paid designedly, for the old woman liked it, and the youth knew that.

"They have enough to make them happy for the winter," said Captain Ellice, as he turned to leave the hut.

"Faix they have. There's only two things wantin' to make it complate."

"What are they?" inquired Fred.

"Murphies and a pig, sure. That's all they need."

"Wot's come o' Dumps and Poker?" inquired Buzzby, as they reached the boat.

"Oh, I quite forgot them!" cried Fred. "Stay a minute, I'll run up and find them. They can't be far off."

For some time Fred searched in vain. At last he bethought him of Meetuck's hut as being a likely spot in which to find them. On entering he found the couple as he had left them, the only difference being that the poor old woman seemed to be growing sleepy over her joys.

"Have you seen Dumps or Poker anywhere?" inquired Fred.

Meetuck nodded, and pointed to a corner, where, comfortably rolled up on a mound of dry moss, lay Dumps; Poker, as usual, making use of him as a pillow.

"Thems is go bed," said Meetuck.

"Thems must get up then and come aboard," cried Fred, whistling.

At first the dogs, being sleepy, seemed indisposed to move; but at last they consented, and following Fred to the beach, were soon conveyed aboard the ship.

Next day Captain Guy and his men bade Meetuck and the kind, hospitable people of Upernavik farewell, and spreading their canvas to a fair breeze, set sail for England.

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