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be left almost on dry rocks. This gave him hope of being able speedily
to determine the extent of the damage which the vessel had received,
and, in fact, toward seven o'clock they were able to proceed with this

They found that three points of the rocks had pierced the "Alaska," and
held her firmly on her rocky bed. The direction in which she lay,
slightly inclined to the north, which was contrary to her course, showed
that the commands given by Erik to back the vessel had saved her, and
also rendered the shock, when she struck, less severe. The engine had
been reversed some seconds before she touched, and she had been carried
on the reef by the remainder of her previous speed, and by the force of
the current. Doubtless but for this she would have gone to pieces.
Besides, the waves having continued to break against her all night in
the same direction, had helped to keep her in her place instead of
fixing her more firmly on the rocks, which would have happened if the
wind had changed. So, after all, there was a favorable view to take of
the disaster. The question now was how to get the vessel off before the
wind should change, and reverse these favorable conditions.

Erik resolved not to lose a moment. Immediately after breakfast he set
all his men to work. He hoped that when the tow-boat should arrive,
which he had sent for from L'Orient, it might be possible at high tide
to disengage the "Alaska."

We can therefore imagine that the young captain waited impatiently for
the first trace of smoke upon the horizon.

All turned out as he desired. The water remained calm and peaceful.
Toward noon the boat arrived.

Erik, with his staff, received the mariners with due honors.

"But explain to me," said the captain of the tow-boat, "how you came to
cast your vessel on these rocks after leaving Brest?"

"This chart will explain it," said Erik. "It does not point out any such

The French officer examined the chart with curiosity at first, and then
he looked stupefied.

"In fact the Basse-Froide is not marked down, nor the point of Sein," he
cried. "What unparalleled negligence. Why, even the position of the
light-house is not correctly marked. I am more and more surprised. This
is a chart of the British Admiralty. I should say that some one has
taken pleasure in making it as deceitful and perfidious as possible.
Navigators of olden times frequently played such tricks upon their
rivals. I should never have believed such traditions would be imitated
in England."

"Are you sure that this is an English chart?" asked Mr. Bredejord. "For
myself I suspect that the chart is the work of a rascal, and has been
placed with criminal intentions among the charts of the 'Alaska.'"

"By Tudor Brown!" cried Erik, impetuously. "That evening when we dined
with the authorities at Brest he entered the captain's room upon the
pretense of examining the charts. Oh, the infamous wretch! This then is
the reason that he did not come on board again!"

"It appears to be only too evident that he is the culprit," said Dr.
Schwaryencrona. "But such a dastardly action betrays such an abyss of
iniquity. What motive could he have for committing such a crime?"

"What was his motive in coming to Stockholm, expressly to tell you that
Patrick O'Donoghan was dead?" answered Mr. Bredejord. "For what purpose
did he subscribe twenty thousand kroners for the voyage of the 'Alaska,'
when it was doubtful if she would ever make the journey? Why did he
embark with us to leave us at Brest? I think we must be blind indeed if
we do not see in these facts a chain of evidence as logical as it is
frightful. What interest has Tudor Brown in all this? I do not know. But
this interest must be very strong, very powerful, to induce him to have
recourse to such means to prevent our journey; for I am convinced now
that it was he who caused the accident which detained us at Brest, and
it was he who led us upon these rocks, where he expected we would all
lose our lives."

"It seems difficult, however, to believe that he could have foreseen the
route that Captain Marsilas would choose!" objected Mr. Malarias. "Why
did he not indicate this route by altering the chart? After delaying us
for three days, he felt certain that the captain would take the shortest
way. The latter, believing that the waters were safe around Sein, was
thrown upon the rocks."

"It is true," said Erik; "but the proof that the result of his maneuvers
was uncertain lies in the fact that I insisted, before Captain Marsilas,
that we ought still to keep to the west."

"But who knows whether he has not prepared other charts to lead us
astray, in case this one failed to do so?" said Mr. Bredejord.

"That is easily determined," answered Erik, who went and brought all the
charts and maps that were in the case.

The first one which they opened was that of Corunna, and at a glance the
French officer pointed out two or three grave errors. The second was
that of Cape Vincent. It was the same.

The third was that of Gibraltar. Here the errors were apparent to every
eye. A more thorough examination would have been superfluous, as it was
impossible to doubt any longer. If the "Alaska" had not been shipwrecked
on the Island of Sein, this fate would surely have awaited her before
she could have reached Malta.

A careful examination of the charts revealed the means which had been
employed to effect these changes. They were undoubtedly English charts,
but they had been partly effaced by some chemical process, and then
retouched so as to indicate false routes among the true ones. They had
been recolored so skillfully that only a very slight difference in the
tints could be perceived after the most careful scrutiny.

But there was one circumstance which betrayed the criminal intentions
with which they had been placed on board the "Alaska." All the charts
belonging to the vessel bore the seal of the secretary of the Swedish
navy. The forger had foreseen that they would not be examined too
minutely, and had hoped that by following them they would all come to a
watery grave.

These successive discoveries had produced consternation in the breasts
of all who were present.

Erik was the first to break the silence which had succeeded the

"Poor Captain Marsilas!" he said, in a trembling voice, "he has suffered
for us all. But since we have escaped almost by a miracle the fate which
was prepared for us, let us run no more risks. The tide is rising, and
it may be possible to draw the 'Alaska' off the rocks. If you are
willing, gentlemen, we will go and commence operations without delay."

He spoke with simple authority and a modest dignity, with which the
feeling of responsibility had already inspired him.

To see a young man of his age invested with the command of a ship under
such circumstances, and for such a hazardous expedition, was certainly
an unforeseen occurrence. But he felt that he was equal to the
performance of all his duties. He knew that he could rely upon himself
and upon his crew, and these thoughts transfigured him. The youth of
yesterday was a man to-day. The spirit of a hero burned in his eyes. He
rose superior to the calamity which had befallen them. His ability
impressed all who approached him. Even the doctor and Mr. Bredejord
submitted to him like the others.

The operation of preparing for their morning's work proved easier than
they had hoped.

Lifted by the rising waters, the vessel only required a slight force to
take her off the rocks. A few hours of hard work were sufficient to
accomplish this, and the "Alaska" was once more afloat, strained indeed,
and weighed down by the water which made its way into some of her
compartments, and with her engine silent, but manageable.

All the crew, who were assembled on the deck, watched anxiously the
result of these efforts, and a loud hurrah greeted the deliverance of
the "Alaska."

The Frenchmen replied to this joyful cry with similar acclamations. It
was now three o'clock in the afternoon. Above the horizon the beautiful
February sun inundated the calm sparkling sea with floods of sunshine,
which fell also on the rocks of the Basse-Froide, as if to efface all
remembrance of the drama which had been enacted there the previous

That same evening the "Alaska" had been safely towed into the harbor of

The next day the French maritime authorities, with the utmost courtesy,
authorized the necessary repairs to be made without delay. The damage
which the vessel had sustained was not serious, but that of the
machinery was more complicated, although not irremediable. Necessarily
it would take some time to render her seaworthy, but nowhere in the
world, as Erik had foreseen, could this be accomplished so speedily as
at this port, which possessed such immense resources for naval
construction. The house of Gainard, Norris & Co., undertook to make the
repairs in three weeks. It was now the 23d of February; on the 16th of
March they would be able to resume their voyage, and this time with good

That would leave three months and a half for them to reach Behring's
Strait by the end of June. It was not impossible to do this, although
the time was very limited. Erik would not hear of abandoning the
enterprise. He feared only one thing, and that was being compelled to do
so. Therefore he refused to send to Stockholm a report of the shipwreck,
and he would not make a formal complaint against the presumed author of
the attempt to shipwreck them for fear of being delayed by legal
proceedings, yet he had his fears that this might encourage Tudor Brown
to throw some new obstacle in the way of the "Alaska." This is what Dr.
Schwaryencrona and Mr. Bredejord asked each other as they were playing
at whist with Mr. Malarius, in the little sitting-room of the hotel to
which they had gone after arriving at L'Orient.

As for Mr. Bredejord, he had no doubts about the matter.

A rascal like Tudor Brown, if he knew of the failure of his scheme - and
how could any one doubt that he was acquainted with this fact? - would
not hesitate to renew the attempt.

To believe that they would ever succeed in reaching Behring's Strait was
therefore more than self-delusion - it was foolishness. Mr. Bredejord did
not know what steps Tudor Brown would take to prevent this, but he felt
certain that he would find some means of doing so. Dr. Schwaryencrona
was inclined to the same opinion, and even Mr. Malarius could not think
of anything very reassuring to say. The games of whist were therefore
not very lively, and the long strolls that the three friends took were
not very gay.

Their principal occupation was to watch the erection of the mausoleum
which they were building for poor Captain Marsilas, whose funeral
obsequies had been attended by the entire population of L'Orient.

The sight of this funeral monument was not calculated to raise the
spirits of the survivors of the "Alaska."

But when they joined Erik again their hopes revived. His resolution was
unshakable, his activity untiring, he was so bent upon overcoming all
obstacles, so certain of success, that it was impossible for them to
express, or even to preserve, less heroic sentiments.

They had a new proof of the malignity of Tudor Brown, and that he still
was pursuing them.

On the 14th of March, Erik saw that the work upon the machinery was
almost finished. They only had to adjust the pumps, and that was to be
done the next day.

But in the night, between the 14th and 15th, the body of the pump
disappeared from the workshop of the Messrs. Gainard, Norris & Co.

It was impossible to find it.

How had it been taken away - who had done it?

After investigation they were unable to discover.

However, it would take ten days more to replace it, and that would make
it the 25th of March before the "Alaska" could leave L'Orient.

It was a singular fact, but this incident affected Erik's spirits more
than the shipwreck had done. He saw in it a sure sign of a persistent
desire to prevent the voyage of the "Alaska."

But these efforts only redoubled his ardor, and he determined that
nothing should be wanting on his part to bring the expedition to a
successful termination.

These ten days of delay were almost exclusively occupied by him in
considering the question in all its aspects. The more he studied, the
more he became convinced that he could not reach Behring's Straits in
three months, for they had suffered a detention of forty days since they
had left Stockholm, and to persist would only be to court failure and
perhaps some irremediable disaster.

This conclusion did not stop him, but it only led him to think that some
modification of their original plans was indispensable.

He took care, however, to say nothing, rightly judging that secrecy was
the first condition of victory. He contented himself with watching more
closely than ever the work of repairing the vessel.

But his companions thought that they perceived that he was less eager to
set out.

They therefore concluded that he saw that the enterprise was
impracticable, which they had also believed for some time.

But they were mistaken.

On the 25th of March, at midday, the repairs of the "Alaska" were
completed, and she was once more afloat in the harbor of L'Orient.



Night was closing in when Erik summoned his three friends and counselors
to hold a serious consultation.

"I have reflected a great deal," he said to them, "upon the
circumstances which have made our voyage memorable since we left
Stockholm. I have been forced to arrive at one conclusion, which is that
we must expect to meet with obstacles or accidents during our voyage.
Perhaps they may befall us at Gibraltar or at Malta. If we are not
destroyed, it appears to me certain that we shall be delayed. In that
case we can not reach Behring's Straits during the summer, which is the
only season when it is practicable to navigate the polar sea!"

"That is also the conclusion which I formed some time ago," declared Mr.
Bredejord: "but I kept it to myself, as I did not wish to dampen your
hopes, my dear boy. But I am sure that we must give up the idea of
reaching Behring's Strait in three months!"

"That is also my opinion," said the doctor.

Mr. Malarius on his part indicated by a motion of his head that he
agreed with them all.

"Well!" said Erik, "having settled that point, what line of conduct now
remains for us to adopt?"

"There is one right course which it is our duty to take," answered Mr.
Bredejord, "it is to renounce an enterprise which we see clearly is
impracticable and return to Stockholm. You understand this fact, my
child, and I congratulate you upon being able to look the situation
calmly in the face!"

"You pay me a compliment which I can not accept," said Erik smiling,
"for I do not merit it. No - I have no thoughts of abandoning the
expedition, for I am far from regarding it as impracticable. I only
think that it is best for us all to baffle the machinations of that
scoundrel who is lying in wait for us, and the first thing to do is to
change our route."

"Such a change would only complicate our difficulties," replied the
doctor, "since we have adopted the shortest one. If it would be
difficult to reach Behring's Straits by the Mediterranean and the Suez
Canal, it would be impossible by the Cape of Good Hope, or Cape Horn,
for either of these routes would necessarily take five or six months."

"There is another way which would shorten our voyage, instead of
lengthening it, and where we would be sure not to meet Tudor Brown,"
said Erik.

"Another way?" answered Dr. Schwaryencrona; "upon my word I do not know
of any unless you are thinking of the way of Panama. But it is not yet
practicable for vessels, and it will not be yet for several years."

"I am not thinking of Panama, nor of Cape Horn, nor of the Cape of Good
Hope," answered the young captain of the "Alaska." "The route I propose
is the only one by which we can reach Behring's Strait in three months:
it is to go by way of the Arctic Ocean, the north-west passage."

Then seeing that his friends were stupefied by this unexpected
announcement, Erik proceeded to develop his plans.

"The north-west passage now is no longer what it was formerly, frightful
to navigators - it is intermittent, since it is only open for eight or
ten weeks every year, but it is now well known, marked out upon
excellent charts, and frequented by hundreds of whaling-vessels. It is
rarely taken by any vessel going from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean,
I must admit. Most of them who enter it from either side only traverse
it partially. It might even happen, if circumstances were not favorable,
that we might find the passage closed, or that it might not be open at
the precise time when we desired to enter it. It is a risk that one must
take. But I think there are many reasons to make us hopeful of success
if we take this route, whilst as far as I can see there is none, if we
take any of the others. This being the state of affairs, I think it is
our duty - a duty which we owe to those who have fitted out the
expedition - to take the shortest way of reaching Behring's Strait. An
ordinary vessel equipped for navigating tropical waters might hesitate
before deciding upon such a course, but with a vessel like the 'Alaska'
fitted out especially for polar navigation, we need not hesitate. For my
part I declare that I will not return to Stockholm before having
attempted to find Nordenskiold."

Erik's reasoning was so sound that nobody tried to contradict it.

What objections could the doctor, Mr. Bredejord, and Mr. Malarius raise?

They saw the difficulties which beset the new plan. But it was possible
that these difficulties might not prove insurmountable, whilst, if they
pursued any other course, they must abandon all hopes of success.
Besides, they did not hesitate to agree with Erik that it would be more
glorious, in any case, to make the attempt, than to return to Stockholm
and acknowledge themselves conquered.

"I see but one serious objection, for my part," said Dr. Schwaryencrona,
after he had remained for a few moments lost in reflection. "It is the
difficulty of procuring coal in the arctic regions. For without coal,
adieu to the possibility of making the north-west passage, and of
profiting by the time, often very short, during which it is

"I have foreseen this difficulty, which is in fact the only one,"
answered Erik, "and I do not think it is insurmountable. In place of
going to Malta or Gibraltar, where we might doubtless expect new
machinations on the part of Tudor Brown, I propose that we go to London;
from there I can send, by transatlantic cable, a dispatch to a house in
Montreal, to send without delay a boat loaded with coal to wait for us
in Baffin's Bay, and to a house in San Francisco to send to Behring's
Strait. We have the necessary funds at our disposal, and, besides, we
will not require as much as we would have done if we had gone by the way
of Asia, for our new route is a much shorter one. It is useless for us
to reach Baffin's Bay before the end of May, and we can not hope to
reach Behring's Strait before the end of June. Our correspondents in
Montreal and San Francisco will therefore have plenty of time to execute
our orders, which will be covered by funds deposited with bankers in
London. This accomplished, we shall only have to find out whether the
north-west passage is practicable, and that evidently depends upon
ourselves. But, if we find the passage closed, at least we shall have
the consolation of knowing that we have neglected nothing that could
have insured our success."

"It is evident!" said Mr. Malarius, "that your arguments are

"Gently, gently," said Mr. Bredejord. "Do not let us go too fast. I have
another objection. Do you think, my dear Erik, that the 'Alaska' can
pass unnoticed through these waters? No, it is not possible. The
newspapers would mention our arrival. The telegraph companies would make
it known. Tudor Brown would know it. He would know that we had changed
our plans. What would prevent him from altering his? Do you think, for
example, that it would be very difficult to prevent our boat with coals
from reaching us? - and without it we could do nothing!"

"That is true," answered Erik, "and it proves that we must think of
everything. We must not go to London. We must put into Lisbon as if we
were _en route_ to Gibraltar and Suez. Then one of us must go
_incognito_ to Madrid, and without explaining why, or for whom it is
intended, must open telegraphic communications with Montreal and San
Francisco, to order the supply of coal. The crews of these boats must
not know for whom the coal is destined, but remain at designated points
at the disposition of a captain who will carry an order to them
previously agreed upon!"

"A perfect arrangement. It will be almost impossible for Tudor Brown to
track us."

"You mean to track me, for I hope that you do not think of accompanying
me to these arctic regions," said Erik.

"Indeed that is my intention!" answered the doctor. "It shall not be
said that that rascal, Tudor Brown, made me turn back!"

"Nor me either," cried Mr. Bredejord and Mr. Malarius together.

The young captain tried to combat this resolution, and explained to his
friends the dangers and monotony of the voyage which they proposed to
take with him. But he could not alter their decision. The perils which
they had already encountered, made them feel it a duty to keep together;
for the only way of rendering such a voyage acceptable to them all was
not to separate. Every precaution had been taken to protect the persons
on board the "Alaska" from suffering unduly from cold; and neither
Swedes nor Norwegians fear frost.

Erik was obliged to yield to their wishes, only stipulating that their
change of route should not be made known to the crew of the vessel.

The first part of their voyage was quickly accomplished.

On the 2d of April the "Alaska" reached Lisbon. Before the newspapers
had given notice of their arrival, Mr. Bredejord had gone to Madrid, and
by means of a banking-house opened communications with two large firms,
one in Montreal and one in San Francisco.

He had arranged to have two boat-loads of coal sent to two designated
points, and had given the sign by which Erik was to make himself known.

This sign was the words found upon him when he was discovered floating,
tied to the buoy of the "Cynthia," "Semper idem."

Finally these arrangements having all been happily concluded, on the 9th
of April Mr. Bredejord returned to Lisbon, and the "Alaska" resumed her

On the twenty-fifth of the same month, having crossed the Atlantic and
reached Montreal, where they took in coal, and Erik was assured that his
orders had been punctually fulfilled, they left the waters of the St.
Lawrence and Straits of Belle Isle, which separate Labrador from
Newfoundland. On the 10th of May they reached the coast of Greenland and
found the vessel with their coal, it having arrived before them.

Erik knew very well that at this early date it would be useless to
attempt to force his way through the Arctic Ocean, which was still
firmly frozen over the largest part of his route. But he counted upon
obtaining on these shores, which were much frequented by
whaling-vessels, precise information as to the best charts, and he was
not mistaken. He was also able to buy, although at a high price, a dozen
dogs, who with Kaas could draw their sledges if necessary.

Among the Danish stations on the coast of Greenland, he found Godhaven,
which is only a poor village, and is used as a depot by dealers in oil
and the furs of the country. At this time of the year the cold is not
more severe than at Stockholm or Noroe. But Erik and his friends beheld
with surprise the great difference between the two countries, both
situated at the same distance from the pole. Godhaven is in precisely
the same latitude as Bergen. But whilst the southern port of Norway is
in April covered with green forests and fruit trees, and even cultivated
vines trained upon trellises above green meadows, Greenland is still in
May covered with ice and snow, without a tree to enliven the monotony.
The shape of the Norwegian coast, deeply indented by forests and
sheltered by chains of islands, which contribute almost as much as the
warmth of the Gulf Stream to raise the temperature of the country.
Greenland, on the contrary, has a low regular coast and receives the

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Online LibraryAndré LaurieThe Waif of the Cynthia → online text (page 11 of 17)