André Laurie.

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soon reach fields of ice, was careful to steer obliquely to the right of
the "Albatross" so as to bar the way toward the east if she should
attempt to change her course, finding her path toward the north
obstructed. His foresight was soon rewarded, for in two hours a lofty
barrier of ice casts its profile on the horizon. The American yacht
immediately steered toward the west, leaving the ice two or three miles
on its starboard. The "Alaska" immediately imitated this maneuver, but
so obliquely to the left of the "Albatross" as to cut her off if she
attempted to sail to the south.

The chase became very exciting. Feeling sure of the course which the
"Albatross" would be compelled to take, the "Alaska" tried to push her
more toward the ice. The yacht's course becomes more and more wavering,
every moment they made some change, at one time steering north at
another west. Erik, mounted aloft, watched every movement she made, and
thwarted her attempts to escape by appropriate maneuvers. Suddenly she
stopped short, swung round and faced the "Alaska." A long white line
which was apparent extending westward told the reason of this change.
The "Albatross" found herself so close to the ice-banks that she had no
recourse but to turn and face them.

The young captain of the "Alaska" had scarcely time to descend, before
some missile whistled past his head. The "Albatross" was armed, and
relied upon being able to defend herself.

"I prefer that it should be so, and that he should fire the first shot,"
said Erik, as he gave orders to return it.

His first attack was not more successful than that of Tudor Brown - for
it fell short two or three hundred yards. But the combat was now begun,
and the firing became regular. An American projectile cut the large sail
yards of the "Alaska," and it fell upon the deck killing two men. A
small bomb from the Swedish vessel fell upon the bridge of the
"Albatross," and must have made great havoc. Then other projectiles
skillfully thrown lodged in various parts of the vessel.

They had been constantly approaching each other, when suddenly a distant
rumbling mingled with the roar of artillery, and the crews raising their
heads saw that the sky was very black in the east.

Was a storm with its accompanying fog and blinding snow, coming to
interpose between the "Albatross" and the "Alaska," to permit Tudor
Brown to escape?

This Erik wished to prevent at any price. He resolved to attempt to
board her. Arming his men with sabers, cutlasses, and hatchets, he
crowded on all the steam the vessel could carry and rushed toward the

Tudor Brown tried to prevent this. He retreated toward the banks of ice,
firing a shot from his cannon every five minutes. But his field of
action had now become too limited; between the ice and the "Alaska" he
saw that he was lost unless he made a bold attempt to regain the open
sea. He attempted this after a few feigned maneuvers to deceive his

Erik let him do it. Then at the precise moment when the "Albatross"
tried to pass the "Alaska," she made a gaping hole in the side of the
yacht which stopped her instantly, and rendered her almost unmanageable;
then she fell quickly behind and prepared to renew the assault. But the
weather, which had become more and more menacing, did not give him time
to do this.

The tempest was upon them. A fierce wind from the south-east,
accompanied by blinding clouds of snow, which not only raised the waves
to a prodigious height, but dashed against the two vessels immense
masses of floating ice. It seemed as if they were attacked at all points
at once. Erik realized his situation, and saw that he had not a minute
to lose in escaping, unless he wished to be hemmed in perhaps
permanently. He steered due east, struggling against the wind, the snow,
and the dashing ice.

But he was soon obliged to confess that his efforts were fruitless. The
tempest raged with such violence that neither the engine of the "Alaska"
nor her steel buttress were of much use. Not only did the vessel advance
very slowly, but at times she seemed to be fairly driven backward. The
snow was so thick that it obscured the sky, blinded the crew, and
covered the bridge a foot in depth. The ice driven against the "Alaska"
by the fierce wind increased and barred their progress, so that at
length they were glad to retreat toward the banks, in the hope of
finding some little haven where they could remain until the storm passed

The American yacht had disappeared, and after the blow it had received
from the "Alaska" they almost doubted if it would be able to resist the

Their own situation was so perilous that they could only think of their
own safety, for every moment it grew worse.

There is nothing more frightful than those arctic tempests, in which all
the primitive forces of nature seem to be awakened in order to give the
navigator a specimen of the cataclysms of the glacial period. The
darkness was profound although it was only five o'clock in the
afternoon. The engine had stopped, and they were unable to light their
electric light. To the raging of the storm was added the roars of
thunder and the tumult made by the floating blocks of ice dashing
against each other. The ice-banks were continually breaking with a noise
like the roar of a cannon.

The "Alaska" was soon surrounded by ice. The little harbor in which she
had taken refuge was soon completely filled with it, and it commenced to
press upon and dash against her sides until she began to crack, and they
feared every moment that she would go to pieces.

Erik resolved not to succumb to the storm without a combat with it, and
he set the crew to work arranging heavy beams around the vessel so as to
weaken the pressure as much as possible, and distribute it over a wider
surface. But, although this protected the vessel, it led to an
unforeseen result which threatened to be fatal.

The vessel, instead of being suddenly crushed, was lifted out of the
water by every movement of the ice, and then fell back again on it with
the force of a trip-hammer. At any moment after one of these frightful
falls they might be broken up, crushed, buried. To ward off this danger
there was only one resource, and this was to re-enforce their barrier by
heaping up the drift ice and snow around the vessel to protect her as
well as they could.

Everybody set to work with ardor. It was a touching spectacle to see
this little handful of men taxing their pygmy muscles to resist the
forces of nature - trying with anchors, chains, and planks to fill up the
fissures made in the ice and to cover them with snow, so that there
might be a uniformity of motion among the mass. After four or five hours
of almost superhuman exertions, and when their strength was exhausted,
they were in no less danger, for the storm had increased.

Erik held a consultation with his officers, and it was decided that they
should make a depot on the ice-field for their food and ammunition in
case the "Alaska" should be unable to resist the powerful shocks to
which she was being subjected. At the first moment of danger every man
had received provisions enough for eight days, with precise instructions
in case of disaster, besides being ordered to keep his gun in his belt
even while he was working. The operation of transporting twenty tons of
provisions was not easy of accomplishment, but at last it was done and
the food was placed about two hundred yards from the ship under a
covering of tarred canvas, which was soon covered by the snow with a
thick white mantle.

This precaution, having been taken, everybody felt more comfortable as
to the result of a shipwreck, and the crew assembled to recruit their
strength with a supper supplemented with tea and rum.

Suddenly, in the midst of supper, a more violent shock than any that had
as yet agitated the vessel, split the bed of ice and snow around the
"Alaska." She was lifted up in the stern with a terrible noise, and then
it appeared as if she were plunging head-foremost into an abyss. There
was a panic, and every one rushed on deck. Some of the men thought that
the moment had come to take refuge on the ice, and without waiting for
the signal of the officers they commenced clambering over the bulwarks.

Four or five of these unfortunate ones managed to leap on a snow-bank.
Two others were caught between the masses of floating ice and the beams
of the starboard, as the "Alaska" righted herself.

Their cries of pain and the noise of their crushed bones were lost in
the storm. There was a lull, and the vessel remained motionless. The
lesson which the sailors had been taught was a tragical one. Erik made
use of it to enforce on the crew the necessity of each man's retaining
his presence of mind, and of waiting for positive orders on all

"You must understand," he said to his men, "that to leave the ship is a
supreme measure, to which we must have recourse only at the last
extremity. All our efforts ought to be directed toward saving the
'Alaska.' Deprived of her, our situation will be a very precarious one
on the ice. It is only in case of our vessel becoming uninhabitable that
we must desert it. In any case such a movement should be made in an
orderly manner to avoid disasters. I therefore expect that you will
return quietly to your supper, and leave to your superior officers the
task of determining what is best to do!"

The firmness with which he spoke had the effect of reassuring the most
timid, and they all descended again. Erik then called Mr. Hersebom and
asked him to untie his good dog Kaas, and follow him without making any

"We will go on the field of ice," he said, "and seek for the fugitives
and make them return to their duty, which will be better for them than
wandering about."

The poor devils were huddled together on the ice, ashamed of their
escapade, and at the first summons were only too glad to take the path
toward the "Alaska."

Erik and Mr. Hersebom having seen them safely on board, walked as far as
their depot of provisions, thinking that another sailor might have taken
refuge there. They went all around it but saw no one.

"I have been asking myself the last few moments," said Erik, "if it
would not be better to prevent another panic by landing part of the

"It might be better perhaps," answered the fisherman. "But would not the
men who remained on board feel jealous and become demoralized by this

"That is true," said Erik. "It would be wiser to occupy them up to the
last moment in struggling against the tempest, and it is in fact the
only chance we have of saving the ship. But since we are on the ice we
may as well take advantage of it, and explore it a little. I confess all
these crackings and detonations inspire me with some doubt as to its

Erik and his adopted father had not gone more than three hundred feet
from their depot of provisions before they were stopped short by a
gigantic crevasse which lay open at their feet. To cross it would have
required long poles, with which they had neglected to supply themselves.
They were therefore compelled to walk beside it obliquely toward the
west, in order to see how far it reached.

They found that this crevasse extended for a long distance, so long that
after they had walked for half an hour they could not see the end of it.
Feeling more secure about the extent of this field of ice upon which
they had established their depot of provisions, they turned to retreat
their steps.

After they had walked over about half of the distance a new vibration
occurred, followed by detonations and tumultuous heavings of ice. They
were not greatly disturbed by this, but increased their speed, being
anxious to discover whether this shock had had done the "Alaska" any

The depot was soon reached, then the little haven that sheltered the

Erik and Mr. Hersebom rubbed their eyes, and asked each other whether
they were dreaming, for the "Alaska" was no longer there.

Their first thought was that she had been swallowed up by the waters. It
was only too natural that they should think this after such an evening
as they had just passed.

But immediately they were struck by the fact that no _débris_ was
visible, and that the little harbor had assumed a new aspect since their
departure. The drift ice which the tempest had piled up around the
"Alaska" had been broken up, and much of it had drifted away. At the
same time Mr. Hersebom mentioned a fact which had not struck him while
they were hurrying along, and this was that the wind had changed and was
now blowing from the west.

Was it not possible that the storm had carried away the floating ice in
which the "Alaska" had become embedded. Yes, evidently it was possible;
but it remained for them to discover whether this supposition was true.
Without delaying a moment, Erik proceeded to reconnoiter, followed by
Mr. Hersebom.

They walked for a long time. Everywhere the drift was floating freely,
the waves came and went, but the whole aspect of things around them
looked strange and different.

At length Erik stopped. Now he understood what had befallen them. He
took Mr. Hersebom's hand and pressed it with both his own.

"Father," said he, in a grave voice, "you are one of those to whom I can
only speak the truth. Well, the fact is that this ice-field has split;
it has broken away from that which surrounded the 'Alaska,' and we are
on an island of ice hundreds of yards long, and carried along by the
waters, and at the mercy of the storm."



About two o'clock in the morning Erik and Mr. Hersebom, exhausted with
fatigue, laid down side by side between two casks, under the canvas that
protected their provisions. Kaas, also, was close to them and kept them
warm with his thick fur. They were not long in falling asleep. When they
awoke the sun was already high in the heavens, the sky was blue and the
sea calm. The immense bank of ice upon which they were floating appeared
to be motionless, its movement was so gentle and regular. But along the
two edges of it which were nearest to them enormous icebergs were being
carried along with frightful rapidity. These gigantic crystals reflected
like a prism the solar rays, and they were the most marvelous that Erik
had ever beheld.

Mr. Hersebom also, although but little inclined in general, and
especially in his present situation, to admire the splendor of Nature in
the arctic regions, could not help being impressed with them.

"How beautiful this would look were we on a good ship!" he said,

"Bah!" answered Erik, with his usual good humor. "On board a ship one
must be thinking only how to avoid the icebergs so as not to be crushed
to pieces, whilst on this island of ice we have none of these miseries
to worry us."

As this was evidently the view of an optimist, Mr. Hersebom answered
with a sad smile. But Erik was determined to take a cheerful view of

"Is it not an extraordinary piece of good luck that we have this depot
of provisions?" he said. "Our case would, indeed, be a desperate one if
we were deprived of everything; but, with twenty casks of biscuits,
preserved meats, and, above all, our guns and cartridges, what have we
to fear? At the most, we will only have to remain some weeks without
seeing any land that we can reach. You see, dear father, that we have
happened upon this adventure in the same manner as the crew of the

"Of the 'Hansa'?" asked Mr. Hersebom, with curiosity.

"Yes, a vessel that set out in 1869 for the arctic seas. Part of her
crew were left, as we are, on a floating field of ice, while they were
occupied in transporting some provisions and coal. The brave men
accommodated themselves as well as they could to this new life, and
after floating for six mouths and a half over a distance of several
thousand leagues, ended by landing in the arctic regions of North

"May we be as fortunate!" said Mr. Hersebom, with a sigh. "But it would
be well I think for us to eat something."

"That is also my opinion!" said Erik. "A biscuit and a slice of beef
would be very acceptable."

Mr. Hersebom opened two casks to take out what they required for their
breakfast, and as soon as his arrangements were completed they did ample
justice to the provisions.

"Was the raft of the crew of the 'Hansa' as large as ours?" asked the
old fisherman, after ten minutes conscientiously devoted to repairing
his strength.

"I think not - ours is considerably larger. The 'Hansa's' became
gradually much smaller, so that the unfortunate shipwrecked men were at
last compelled to abandon it, for the waves began to dash over them.
Fortunately they had a large boat which enabled them, when their island
was no longer habitable, to reach another. They did this several times
before they at last reached the main-land."

"Ah, I see!" said Mr. Hersebom, "they had a boat - but we have not.
Unless we embark in an empty hogshead I do not see how we can ever leave
this island of ice."

"We shall see about it when the time comes!" answered Erik. "At the
present moment I think the best thing that we can do is to make a
thorough exploration of our domain."

He arose, as did Mr. Hersebom, and they commenced climbing a hill of ice
and snow - a hummock is the technical name - in order to obtain a general
idea of their island.

They found it from one end to the other lying and floating insensibly
upon the polar ocean. But it was very difficult to form a correct
estimate either of its size or shape; for a great number of hummocks
intercepted their view on all sides. They resolved, however, to walk to
the extremity of it. As far as they could judge from the position of the
sun, that end of the island which extended toward the west had been
detached from the mass of which it had formerly been a part, and was now
turning to the north. They therefore supposed that their ice raft was
being carried toward the south by the influence of the tide and breeze,
and the fact that they no longer saw any trace of the long barriers of
ice, which are very extensive in the 78, fully corroborated this

Their island was entirely covered with snow, and upon this snow they saw
distinctly here and there at a distance some black spots, which Mr.
Hersebom immediately recognized as "ongionks," that is to say, a species
of walrus of great size. These walruses doubtless inhabited the caverns
and crevasses in the ice, and believing themselves perfectly secure from
any attack, were basking in the sunshine.

It took Erik and Mr. Hersebom more than an hour to walk to the extreme
end of their island. They had followed closely the eastern side, because
that permitted them to explore at the same time both their raft and the
sea. Suddenly Kaas, who ran ahead of them, put to flight some of the
walruses which they had seen in the distance. They ran toward the border
of the field of ice in order to throw themselves into the water. Nothing
would have been more easy than to have killed a number of them. But what
would have been the use of their doing so, since they could not make a
fire to roast their delicate flesh? Erik was occupied about other
matters. He carefully examined the ice-field, and found that it was far
from being homogeneous. Numerous crevasses and fissures, which seemed to
extend in many cases for a long distance, made him fear that a slight
shock might divide it into several fragments. It was true that these
fragments might in all probability be of considerable size; but the
possibility of such an accident made them realize the necessity of
keeping as close as possible to their depot of provisions, unless they
wished to be deprived of them. Erik resolved to examine carefully their
whole domain, and to make his abode on the most massive portion; the one
that seemed capable of offering the greatest resistance. He also
determined to transport to this spot their depot of provisions.

It was with this resolve that Mr. Hersebom and Erik continued their
exploration of the western coast, after resting a few minutes at the
northerly point. They were now following that portion of the ice-field
where they had attacked the American yacht.

Kaas ran on before them, seeming to enjoy the freshness of the air, and
being in his true element on this carpet of snow, which doubtless
reminded him of the plains of Greenland.

Suddenly Erik saw him sniff the air and then dart forward like an arrow,
and stop barking beside some dark object, which was partially hidden by
a mass of ice.

"Another walrus, I suppose!" he said, hurrying forward.

It was not a walrus which lay extended on the snow, and which had so
excited Kaas. It was a man, insensible, and covered with blood, whose
clothing of skins was assuredly not the dress worn by any seamen of the
"Alaska." It reminded Erik of the clothing worn by the man who had
passed the winter on the "Vega." He raised the head of the man; it was
covered with thick red hair, and it was remarkable that his nose was
crushed in like that of a negro.

Erik asked himself whether he was the sport of some illusion.

He opened the man's waistcoat, and bared his chest. It was perhaps as
much to ascertain whether his heart still beat as to seek for his name.

He found his name tattooed in blue, on a rudely designed escutcheon.
"Patrick O'Donoghan, 'Cynthia,'" and his heart still beat. The man was
not dead. He had a large wound in his head, another in his shoulder, and
on his chest a contusion, which greatly interfered with his respiration.

"He must be carried to our place of shelter, and restored to life," said
Erik, to Mr. Hersebom.

And then he added in a low tone as if he was afraid of being overheard.

"It is he, father, whom we have been seeking for such a long time
without being able to find him - Patrick O'Donoghan - and see he is almost
unable to breathe."

The thought that the secret of his life was known to this bloody object
upon which death already appeared to have set his seal, kindled a gloomy
flame in Erik's eyes. His adopted father divined his thoughts, and could
not help shrugging his shoulders - he seemed to say:

"Of what use would it be to discover it now. The knowledge of all the
secrets in the world would be useless to us."

He, however, took the body by the limbs, while Erik lifted him under the
arms, and loaded with this burden they resumed their walk.

The motion made the wounded man open his eyes. Soon the pain caused by
his wounds was so great that he began to moan and utter confused cries,
among which they distinguished the English word "drink!"

They were still some distance from their depot of provisions. Erik,
however, stopped and propped the unfortunate man against a hummock, and
then put his leathern bottle to his lips.

It was nearly empty, but the mouthful of strong liquor that Patrick
O'Donoghan swallowed seemed to restore him to life. He looked around
him, heaved a deep sigh and then said:

"Where is Mr. Jones?"

"We found you alone on the ice," answered Erik. "Had you been there

"I do not know!" answered the wounded man, with difficulty. "Give me
something more to drink." He swallowed a second mouthful and then he
recovered sufficiently to be able to speak.

"When the tempest overtook us the yacht sunk," he explained. "Some of
the crew had time to throw themselves into the boats, the rest perished.
At the first moment of peril Mr. Jones made a sign for me to go with him
into a life-boat, which was suspended in the stern of the yacht and that
every one else disdained on account of its small dimensions, but which
proved to be safe, as it was impossible to sink it. It is the only one
which reached the ice island - all the others were upset before they
reached it. We were terribly wounded by the drift ice which the waves
threw into our boat, but at length we were able to draw ourselves beyond
their reach and wait for the dawn of day. This morning Mr. Jones left me
to go and see if he could kill a walrus, or some sea-bird, in order that
we might have something to eat. I have not seen him since!"

"Is Mr. Jones one of the officers of the 'Albatross'?" asked Erik.

"He is the owner and captain of her!" answered O'Donoghan, in a tone
which seemed to express surprise at the question.

"Then Mr. Tudor Brown is not the captain of the 'Albatross'?"

"I don't know," said the wounded man, hesitatingly, seeming to ask
himself whether he had been too confidential in speaking as freely as he
had done.

Erik did not think it wise to insist on this point. He had too many

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Online LibraryAndré LaurieThe Waif of the Cynthia → online text (page 14 of 17)