Copyright
André Laurie.

The Waif of the Cynthia online

. (page 15 of 17)
Online LibraryAndré LaurieThe Waif of the Cynthia → online text (page 15 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


other questions to ask.

"You see," he said to the Irishman, as he seated himself on the snow
beside him, "you refused the other day to come on board of my ship and
talk with me, and your refusal has occasioned many disasters. But now
that we have met again, let us profit by this opportunity to talk
seriously and like rational men. You see you are here on a floating
ice-bank, without food, and seriously wounded, incapable by your own
efforts of escaping the most cruel death. My adopted father and myself
have all that you need, food, fire-arms, and brandy. We will share with
you, and take care of you until you are well again. In return for our
care, we only ask you to treat us with a little confidence!"

The Irishman gave Erik an irresolute look in which gratitude seemed to
mingle with fear - a look of fearful indecision.

"That depends on the kind of confidence that you ask for?" he said,
evasively.

"Oh, you know very well," answered Erik, making an effort to smile, and
taking in his hands those of the wounded man. "I told you the other day;
you know what I want to find out and what I have come so far to
discover. Now, Patrick O'Donoghan, make a little effort and disclose to
me this secret which is of so much importance to me, tell me what you
know about the infant tied to the buoy. Give me the faintest indication
of who I am, so that I may find my family. What do you fear? What danger
do you run in satisfying me?"

O'Donoghan did not answer, but seemed to be turning over in his obtuse
brain the arguments that Erik had used.

"But," he said at last, with an effort, "if we succeed in getting away
from here, and we reach some country where there are judges and courts,
you could do me some harm?"

"No, I swear that I would not. I swear it by all that is sacred," said
Erik, hotly. "Whatever may be the injuries you have inflicted upon me or
upon others, I guarantee that you shall not suffer for them in any way.
Besides, there is one fact of which you seem to be ignorant, it is that
there is a limit to such matters. When such events have taken place more
than twenty years ago, human justice has no longer the right to demand
an accounting for them."

"Is that true?" asked Patrick O'Donoghan, distrustfully. "Mr. Jones told
me that the 'Alaska' had been sent by the police, and you yourself spoke
of a tribunal."

"That was about recent events - an accident that happened to us at the
beginning of our journey. You may be sure that Mr. Jones was mocking
you, Patrick. Doubtless he has some interest of his own for wishing you
not to tell."

"You may be sure of that," said the Irishman, earnestly. "But how did
you discover that I was acquainted with this secret?"

"Through Mr. and Mrs. Bowles of the Red Anchor in Brooklyn, who had
often heard you speak of the infant tied to the buoy."

"That is true," said the Irishman. He reflected again. "Then you are
sure that you were not sent by the police?" he said, at length.

"No - what an absurd idea. I came of my own accord on account of my
ardent desire, my thirst, to discover the land of my birth and to find
out who my parents were, that is all."

O'Donoghan smiled, proudly:

"Ah, that is what you want to know," he said. "Well, it is true that I
can tell you. It is true that I know."

"Tell me - tell me!" cried Erik, seeing that he hesitated. "Tell me and I
promise you pardon for all the evil that you have done, and my
everlasting gratitude if I am ever in a position to show it!"

The Irishman gave a covetous look at the leathern bottle.

"It makes my throat dry to talk so much," he said, in a faint tone. "I
will drink a little more if you are willing to give it to me."

"There is no more here, but we can get some at our depot of provisions.
We have two large cases of brandy there," answered Erik, handing the
bottle to Mr. Hersebom.

The latter immediately walked away, followed by Kaas.

"They will not be gone long," said the young man, turning toward his
companion. "Now, my brave fellow, do not make merchandise of your
confidence. Put yourself in my place. Suppose that during all your life
you had been ignorant of the name of your country, and that of your
mother, and that at last you found yourself in the presence of a man who
knew all about it, and who refused the information which was of such
inestimable value to you, and that at the very time when you had saved
him, restored him to consciousness and life. I do not ask you to do
anything impossible. I do not ask you to criminate yourself if you have
anything to reproach yourself with. Give me only an indication, the very
slightest. Put me on the track, so that I can find my family; and that
is all that I shall ask of you."

"By my faith, I will do you this favor!" said Patrick, evidently moved.
"You know that I was a cabin-boy on board the 'Cynthia'?"

He stopped short.

Erik hung upon his words. Was he at last going to find out the truth?
Was he going to solve this enigma and discover the name of his family,
the land of his birth? Truly the scene appeared to him almost
chimerical. He fastened his eyes upon the wounded man, ready to drink in
his words with avidity. For nothing in the world would he have
interfered with his recital, neither by interruption nor gesture. He did
not even observe that a shadow had appeared behind him. It was the sight
of this shadow which had stopped the story of Patrick O'Donoghan.

"Mr. Jones!" he said, in the tone of a school-boy detected in some
flagrant mischief.

Erik turned and saw Tudor Brown coming around a neighboring hummock,
where until this moment he had been hidden from their sight.

The exclamation of the Irishman confirmed the suspicion which during the
last hour had presented itself to his mind.

Mr. Jones and Tudor Brown were one and the same person.

He had hardly time to make this reflection before two shots were heard.

Tudor Brown raised his gun and shot Patrick O'Donoghan through the
heart, who fell backward.

Then before he had time to lower his rifle, Tudor Brown received a
bullet in his forehead, and fell forward on his face.

"I did well to come back when I saw suspicious footprints in the snow,"
said Mr. Hersebom, coming forward, his gun still smoking in his hands.




CHAPTER XX.

THE END OF THE VOYAGE.


Erik gave a cry and threw himself on his knees beside Patrick
O'Donoghan, seeking for some sign of life, a ray of hope. But the
Irishman was certainly dead this time, and that without revealing his
secret.

As for Tudor Brown, one convulsion shook his body, his gun fell from his
hands, in which he had tightly held it at the moment of his fall, and he
expired without a word.

"Father, what have you done?" cried Erik, bitterly. "Why have you
deprived me of the last chance that was left to me of discovering the
secret of my birth? Would it not have been better for us to throw
ourselves upon this man and take him prisoner?"

"And do you believe that he would have allowed us to do so?" answered
Mr. Hersebom. "His second shot was intended for you, you may be sure. I
have avenged the murder of this unfortunate man, punished the criminal
who attempted to shipwreck us, and who is guilty perhaps of other
crimes. Whatever may be the result, I do not regret having done so.
Besides of what consequence is the mystery surrounding your birth, my
child, to men in our situation? The secret of your birth before long,
without doubt, will be revealed to us by God."

He had hardly finished speaking, when the firing of a cannon was heard,
and it was re-echoed by the icebergs. It seemed like a reply to the
discouraging words of the old fisherman. It was doubtless a response to
the two gunshots which had been fired on their island of ice.

"The cannon of the 'Alaska!' We are saved!" cried Erik, jumping up and
climbing a hummock to get a better view of the sea that surrounded them.

He saw nothing at first but the icebergs, driven by the wind and
sparkling in the sunshine. But Mr. Hersebom, who had immediately
reloaded his gun, fired into the air, and a second discharge from the
cannon answered him almost immediately.

Then Erik discovered a thin streak of black smoke toward the west,
clearly defined against the blue sky. Gunshots, answered by the cannon,
were repeated at intervals of a few minutes, and soon the "Alaska"
steamed around an iceberg and made all speed toward the north of the
island.

Erik and Mr. Hersebom, weeping for joy, threw themselves into each
other's arms. They waved their handkerchiefs and threw their caps into
the air, seeking by all means to attract the attention of their friends.

At length the "Alaska" stopped, a boat was lowered, and in twenty
minutes it reached their island.

Who can describe the unbounded joy of Dr. Schwaryencrona, Mr. Bredejord,
Mr. Malarius, and Otto when they found them well and safe; for through
the long hours of that sad night they had mourned them as lost.

They related all that had befallen them - their fears and despair during
the night, their vain appeals, their useless anger. The "Alaska" had
been found in the morning to be almost entirely clear of the ice, and
they had dislodged what remained with the assistance of their gunpowder.
Mr. Bosewitz had taken command, being the second-officer, and had
immediately started in search of the floating island, taking the
direction in which the wind would carry it. This navigation amidst
floating icebergs was the most perilous which the "Alaska" had as yet
attempted; but thanks to the excellent training to which the young
captain had accustomed his crew, and to the experience which they had
acquired in maneuvering the vessel, they passed safely among these
moving masses of ice without being crushed by them. The "Alaska" had had
the advantage of being able to travel more swiftly than the icebergs,
and she had been able to benefit by this circumstance. Kind Providence
had willed that her search should not prove fruitless. At nine o'clock
in the morning the island had been sighted. They recognized it by its
shape, and then the two shots from the guns made them hopeful of finding
their two shipwrecked friends.

All their other troubles now appeared to them as insignificant. They had
a long and dangerous voyage before them, which they must accomplish
under sail, for their coal was exhausted.

"No," said Erik, "we will not make it under sail. I have another plan.
We will permit the ice island to tow us along, as long as she goes
toward the south or west. That will spare us incessantly fighting with
the icebergs, for our island will chase them ahead of her. Then we can
collect here all the combustibles that we will require in order to
finish the voyage, when we are ready to resume it."

"What are you talking about?" asked the doctor, laughing. "Is there an
oil-well on this island?"

"Not exactly an oil-well," answered Erik, "but what will answer our
purpose nearly as well, multitudes of fat walruses. I wish to try an
experiment, since we have one furnace especially adapted for burning
oil."

They began their labors by performing the last rites of the two dead
men. They tied weights to their feet and lowered them into the sea. Then
the "Alaska" made fast to the ice bank in such a manner as to follow its
movements without sustaining any injury to herself. They were able, with
care, to carry on board again the provisions which they had landed, and
which it was important for them not to lose. That operation
accomplished, they devoted all their energies to the pursuit of the
walrus.

Two or three times a day, parties armed with guns and harpoons and
accompanied by all their Greenland dogs landed on the ice bank, and
surrounded the sleeping monsters at the mouth of their holes. They
killed them by firing a ball into their ears, then they cut them up, and
placed the lard with which they were filled in their sleighs, and the
dogs drew it to the "Alaska." Their hunting was so easy and so
productive, that in eight days they had all the lard that they could
carry. The "Alaska," still towed by the floating island, was now in the
seventy-fourth degree; that is to say, she had passed Nova Zembla.

The ice island was now reduced at least one-half, and cracked by the sun
was full of fissures, more or less extensive, evidently ready to go to
pieces. Erik resolved not to wait until this happened, and ordering
their anchor to be lifted, he sailed away westward.

The lard was immediately utilized in the fire of the "Alaska," and
proved an excellent combustible. The only fault was that it choked up
the chimney, which necessitated a daily cleaning. As for its odor, that
would doubtless have been very disagreeable to southern passengers, but
to a crew composed of Swedes and Norwegians, it was only a secondary
inconvenience.

Thanks to this supply, the "Alaska" was able to keep up steam during the
whole of the remainder of her voyage. She proceeded rapidly, in spite of
contrary winds, and arrived on the 5th of September in sight of Cape
North or Norway. They pursued their route with all possible speed,
turned the Scandinavian Peninsula, repassed Skager-Rack, and reached the
spot from which they had taken their departure.

On the 14th of September they cast anchor before Stockholm, which they
had left on the tenth of the preceding February.

Thus, in seven months and four days, the first circumpolar periplus had
been accomplished by a navigator of only twenty-two years of age.

This geographical feat, which so promptly completed the great expedition
of Nordenskiold, would soon make a prodigious commotion in the world.
But the journals and reviews had not as yet had time to expatiate upon
it. The uninitiated were hardly prepared to understand it, and one
person, at least, reviewed it with suspicion - this was Kajsa. The
supercilious smile with which she listened to the story of their
adventures was indescribable.

"Was it sensible to expose yourself to such dangers?" was her only
comment.

But the first opportunity that presented itself she did not fail to say
to Erik:

"I suppose that now you will do nothing more about this tiresome matter,
since the Irishman is dead."

What a difference there was between these cold criticisms and the
letters full of sympathy and tenderness that Erik soon received from
Noroe.

Vanda told him in what a state of anxiety she and her mother had passed
these long months, how the travelers had been ever present in their
thoughts, and how happy they were when they heard of their safe return.
If the expedition had not accomplished all that Erik hoped, they begged
him not to worry himself too much about it. He must know that if he
never succeeded in finding his own family he had one in the poor
Norwegian village, where he would be tenderly cared for like one of
themselves. Would he not soon come and see them, could he not stay with
them one little month. It was the sincere desire of his adopted mother
and of his little sister Vanda, etc., etc.

The envelope also contained three pretty flowers, gathered on the
borders of the fiord, and their perfume seemed to bring back vividly to
Erik his gay and careless childhood. Ah, how sweet these loving words
were to his poor disappointed heart, and they enabled him to fulfill
more easily the concluding duties appertaining to the expedition. He
hoped soon to be able to go and tell them all he felt. The voyage of the
"Alaska" had equaled in grandeur that of the "Vega." The name of Erik
was everywhere associated with the glorious name of Nordenskiold. The
journals had a great deal to say about the new periplus. The ships of
all nations anchored at Stockholm united in doing honor to this national
victor. The learned societies came in a body to congratulate the
commander and crew of the "Alaska." The public authorities proposed a
national recompense for them.

All these praises were painful to Erik. His conscience told him that the
principal motive of this expedition on his part had been purely a
personal one, and he felt scrupulous about accepting honors which
appeared to him greatly exaggerated. He therefore availed himself of the
first opportunity to state frankly that he had gone to the polar seas to
discover if possible the secret of his birth, and of the shipwreck of
the "Cynthia," that he had been unsuccessful in doing so.

The occasion was offered by a reporter of one of the principal
newspapers of Stockholm, who presented himself on board of the "Alaska"
and solicited the favor of a private interview with the young captain.
The object of this intelligent gazeteer, let us state briefly, was to
extract from his victim the outlines of a biography which would cover
one hundred lines. He could not have fallen on a subject more willing to
submit to vivisection. Erik had been eager to tell the truth, and to
proclaim to the world that he did not deserve to be regarded as a second
Christopher Columbus. He therefore related unreservedly his story,
explaining how he had been picked up at sea by a poor fisherman of
Noroe, educated by Mr. Malarius, taken to Stockholm by Dr.
Schwaryencrona; how they had found out that Patrick O'Donoghan probably
held the key to the mystery that surrounded him. They discovered that he
was on board of the "Vega;" they had gone in search of him. He related
the accident which had induced them to change their route. Erik told all
this to convince the world that he was no hero. He told it because he
felt ashamed of being so overwhelmed with praises for a performance that
only seemed to him natural and right.

During this time the pen of the delighted reporter, Mr. Squirrelius,
flew over the paper with stenographic rapidity. The dates, the names,
the least details were noted with avidity. Mr. Squirrelius told himself
with a beating heart that he had obtained matter not only for one
hundred lines, but that he could make five or six hundred out of it. And
what a story it would be - more interesting than a novel!

The next day Erik's revelations filled the columns of the most largely
circulated newspaper in Stockholm, and indeed in all Sweden. As is
usually the case, Erik's sincerity, instead of diminishing his
popularity, only increased it, on account of his modesty, and the
romantic interest attached to his history. The press and the public
seized upon it with avidity. These biographical details were soon
translated into all languages, and made the tour of Europe. In this way
they reached Paris, and penetrated in the form of a French newspaper
into a modest drawing-room on Varennes Street.

There were two persons in this room. One was a lady dressed in black,
with white hair, although she still appeared to be young, but her whole
appearance betrayed profound sorrow. Seated under a lighted lamp she
worked mechanically at some embroidery, which at times fell from her
thin fingers, while her eyes, fixed on vacancy, seemed to be thinking of
some overwhelming calamity.

On the other side of the table sat a fine-looking old gentleman, who
took the newspaper abstractedly which his servant brought in.

It was Mr. Durrien, the honorary consul-general of the geographical
society, the same person who had been at Brest when the "Alaska" reached
that place.

This was doubtless the reason why Erik's name attracted his notice, but
while reading the article carefully which contained the biography or the
young Swedish navigator, he was startled. Then he read it again
carefully, and little by little an intense pallor spread over his face,
which was always pale. His hands trembled nervously, and his uneasiness
became so evident that his companion noticed it.

"Father, are you suffering?" she asked with solicitude.

"I believe it is too warm here - I will go to the library and get some
fresh air. It is nothing; it will pass off," answered Mr. Durrien,
rising and walking into the adjoining room.

As if by accident, he carried the paper with him.

If his daughter could have read his thoughts, she would have known that
amidst the tumults of hopes and fears that so agitated him was also a
determination not to let her eyes rest upon that paper.

A moment later she thought of following him into the library, but she
imagined that he wished to be alone, and discreetly yielded to his
desire. Besides she was soon reassured by hearing him moving about and
opening and closing the window.

At the end of an hour, she decided to look in, and see what Mr. Durrien
was doing. She found that he was seated before his desk writing a
letter. But she did not see that us he wrote his eyes filled with tears.




CHAPTER XXI.

A LETTER FROM PARIS.


Since his return to Stockholm, Erik had received every day from all
parts of Europe a voluminous correspondence. Some learned society wished
for information on some point, or wrote to congratulate him; foreign
governments wished to bestow upon him some honor or recompense;
ship-owners, or traders, solicited some favor which would serve their
interests.

Therefore he was not surprised when he received one morning two letters
bearing the Paris postmark.

The first that he opened was an invitation from the Geographical Society
of France, asking him and his companions to come and receive a handsome
medal, which had been voted in a solemn conclave "to the navigators of
the first circumpolar periplus of the arctic seas."

The second envelope made Erik start, he looked at it. On the box which
closed it was a medallion upon which the letters "E.D." were engraved,
surrounded by the motto "Semper idem."

These initials and devices were also stamped in the corner of the letter
enclosed in the envelope, which was that from Mr. Durrien.

The letter read as follows:

"My dear child, - Let me call you this in any case. I have just read
in a French newspaper a biography translated from the Swedish
language, which has overcome me more than I can tell you. It was
your account of yourself. You state that you were picked up at sea
about twenty-two years ago by a Norwegian fisherman in the
neighborhood of Bergen; that you were tied to a buoy, bearing the
name of 'Cynthia;' that the especial motive of your arctic voyage
was to find a survivor of the vessel of that name - ship wrecked in
October, 1858; and then you state that you have returned from the
voyage without having been able to gain any information about the
matter.

"If all this is true (oh, what would I not give if it is true!), I
ask you not to lose a moment in running to the telegraph office and
letting me know it. In that case, my child, you can understand my
impatience, my anxiety, and my joy. In that case you are my
grandson, for whom I have mourned so many years, whom I believed
lost to me forever, as did also my daughter, my poor daughter, who,
broken-hearted at the tragedy of the 'Cynthia,' still mourns every
day for her only child - the joy and consolation at first of her
widowhood, but afterward the cause of her despair.

"But we shall see you again alive, covered with glory. Such
happiness is too great, too wonderful. I dare not believe it until
a word from you authorizes me to do so. But now it seems so
probable, the details and dates agree so perfectly, your
countenance and manners recall so vividly those of my unfortunate
son-in-law. Upon the only occasion when chance led me into your
society, I felt myself mysteriously drawn toward you by a deep and
sudden sympathy. It seems impossible that there should be no reason
for this.

"One word, telegraph me one word. I do not know how to exist until
I hear from you. Will it be the response that I wait for so
impatiently? Can you bring such happiness to my poor daughter and
myself as will cause us to forget our past years of tears and
mourning?

"E. DURRIEN, Honorary Consul-general,

"104 Rue de Varennes, Paris."

To this letter was added one of explanation, that Erik devoured eagerly.
It was also in Mr. Durrien's handwriting, and read as follows:

"I was the French consul at New Orleans when my only daughter,
Catherine, married a young Frenchman, Mr. George Durrien, a distant
connection, and, like ourselves, of Breton origin. Mr. George
Durrien was a mining engineer. He had come to the United States to
explore the recently discovered mines of petroleum and intended to
remain several years. I received him into my family - he being the
son of a dear friend - and when he asked for my daughter's hand, I


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17

Online LibraryAndré LaurieThe Waif of the Cynthia → online text (page 15 of 17)