Edward Maitland.

By and by : an historical romance of the future (Volume 1) online

. (page 2 of 13)
Online LibraryEdward MaitlandBy and by : an historical romance of the future (Volume 1) → online text (page 2 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


" I begged him to get them out at once, as
if the fog came on again they would be of no
use.

*' The gun was soon ready, and the whole
party came and stood on the ledge to watch
the experiment.

" The first shot was directed against the
face of the berg opposite to us, in order that
we might learn the effect of the concussion on
what we knew to be solid ice, before discharg-



BY AND BY. 23

Ing one into the unknown void below. The
bullet struck and exploded, tearing away
large splinters and hurling them into the air,
whence they fell into the abyss. We then
hred several shots downwards at various
angles, some to a distance of probably two or
three hundred yards (for it was but a pocket-
piece, and scarcely able to carry farther).
They all exploded, as if against a hard sub-
stance, making a noise that amid those icy
silences seemed terrific. We then bethought
us of lighting up the most distant points the
gun would reach, by discharging some small
fire-balls ; and I returned into the cave to
prepare them from a combination of Avenil's
explosives, and some of the reflector's mag-
nesium. They answered their purpose ad-
mirably, but proved still more conclusively
that no open water was accessible to us, and
therefore no room for drifting, except with a
vast mass, and probably therefore no tele-
graph wire accessible, or means of communi-
cating with home, and no prospect of relief

'' The experiments which forced this melan-
choly conclusion upon me being over, it was



24 BY AND BY.

with a heavy heart that I led the way back
into the cave, and seated myself in silence
beside the pendulum.

" Avenil, who was the oldest of the lads,
placed himself beside me, and after a short
silence, remarked —

" ' It is lucky that I am one of the lightest,
as well as in other ways the fittest, of the
party for the job. Don't you think, Bertie,
we had better set to work at once ?'

*' ' It seems the only hope,' I answered ;
' but I cannot bear the thought either of let-
ting one go alone or of leaving any behind,
and in such a place as this.'

" I said this because I thought that he
meant that with but one or two persons in it,
the aeromotive could be worked by hand
power, and that he would venture forth in it
to seek aid.

*' ' No, no, I don't mean that,' he exclaimed,
when I had explained my thought. ' Why,
Bertie, old man, the idea of missing your
Christmas dinner is affecting your brain !
Did you not notice that the wind has set in
strongly from the south, so that there would



BY AND BY. 25

be no chance of working against it by hand ?
I meant that I would be the first to descend
the berg by a rope and explore the lower
part of the floe more closely ; and if I could
find a likely spot, commence boring or blast-
ing a hole to let our grappling hook through.
I suppose w^e have line enough to scale any
possible berg ?'

" I reminded him that the plan would only
answer upon a thin ice-field, whereas we had
two-thirds of our mass below the surface of
the water ; but he said that there might be
thin ice or even crevices close by, and that at
any rate it must have an end or an edge
somewhere, and that whatever the risk it was
necessary for some one to run it, and who
better than he ?

'*' I declared that if any one made the at-
tempt it should be myself, and that I would
set about it to-morrow ; but he exclaimed —

" ' To-morrow ! why, dear Bertie, how for-
getful you have become — you who are famous
for always thinking of everything, and every-
body, except yourself. It is all one long day,
or rather night, here.'



26 BY AND BY.

" * The thought of you all, and of your
parents/ I said, ' will come over me at times,
and is almost more than I can bear. But call
it what you will, day or night, the next twelve
hours will see the turn of the sun. Would
that we might be safe here until his light
travels so far north. But we have not food
for so long a time, or fuel to maintain the heat
for converting the ice into water for drinking,
even if the berg were safe from overturning.
But what are the lads firing again for ?' I
asked, for I thought I heard a fresh dis-
charge.

'' As I spoke, young Wilmer rushed into
the cave, crying out that our shots had been
taken for signals, and were being answered
from a balloon or something that seemed to
be coming towards us.

" Scarcely crediting my senses, I hastened
out, and was just in time to hear another dis-
charge, apparently to the south, and but a
short distance off. Gazing intently in that
direction, we presently discovered a light
attached to what appeared to be a large old-
fashioned balloon coming along with the wind.



BY AND BY. 27

" * More victims,' I muttered to myself, for
I knew that a machine of that build could
never control its course in anything stronger
than a liofht wind. Our own machine was
on the spiral fan system, and, with sufficient
motive power, could screw its way right into
any wind. This was of the old gaseous
type ; and though it was not unusual for tra-
vellers to take a short cut over the Pole from
one hemisphere to the other, this was not the
vehicle to do it in.

'' Observing that the stranger was keeping
a direct course for us, I told the boys to get
out the gun again, and a fresh supply of
magnesium, adding that we would let the
strangers see as well as hear us, and that it
Avould be curious indeed if we were to have
company there.

'' ' A Christmas part>' ! a Christmas party
on an iceberg !' they shouted.

" ' And perhaps,' added Avenil, ' they will
be able to take us off.'

" When they were quiet, I said to them —

" ' My boys, that balloon is in distress. She
is either steered by a novice, or by one too



^8 BY AND BY.

weak to keep her steady. I wish the wind
would lull ; she will sweep past us to a cer-
tainty. Cease firing, and keep the reflector
turned on her. We shall be able to speak
her presently.'

'' It was a moment of Intense anxiety as
she neared us. It was clear that she was
desirous of coming to anchor, for her grapples
were all out hanging far below her, so far that
I wondered they did not catch in the water,
and either retard her progress or drag her
down. As it was, she had a strange jerky
motion, which at first I was at a loss to ac-
count for. Studying her carefully through
my glass, I discovered the cause. She was
skimming the Ice ; and the jerks were caused
by the grapples catching the edges of the
hummocks and then slipping off and catching
again. She was on a lower level than our-
selves.

" I had scarcely made this observation
when we all cried —

^' ' Ah r

*' For at that moment she made a sudden
leap upward as if lightened of a considerable



BY AND BY. 29

load, and indeed, I thought I saw a large
package or something drop from her. A few
moments more and she rushed upon our berg,
her lines striking against the walls of our
cavern, and she herself striking against the
side of the peak far above us, exactly as we
had done, only with much greater violence,
and from another direction.

" Without pausing a moment to see what
she would do next, but shouting at the top
of my voice to encourage the inmates — if living
inmate she still had, for I had begun to doubt
it, so strange had been all her ways since the
last sio^nal had been discharQ^ed — I and the
lads seized' hold of the grappling lines and
carried them into the cave, where we made
them fast by wedging them into a great cre-
vice in the ice. Fortunately the arrest of the
balloon against the berg had left them slack,
or they would have been torn away from our
grasp. Hastening out again, we perceived
her clinging to the precipice above us, as if
rubbing herself uneasily against its sloping
front. I then hailed her in several different
languages successively, the last time being in



30 BY AND BY.

Arabic, for the make of the grapples made
me take her for an Oriental of some kind.
This time I was rewarded by hearing a faint
voice speaking in the same tongue, and
querulously complaining of something or
other.

"So we set to work to haul her in to us.
She came more easily than we expected, for
she had lost much of her buoyancy with the
blow of the contact — a contact partly caused,
as on reflection seemed probable, both in her
case and in our own, by the attraction of the
gigantic iceberg."




CHAPTER III.

H ILE gently drawing in the stranger
towards us, I did my best to en-
courage the inmates by addressing
to them kindly phrases in the same
tongue ; and, as I must confess, I felt a little
ruffled at not getting a single word in response.
At length the car, which was elaborately con-
structed of the finest basket work and silk,
was safely lodged within our crater, its huge
floaters, still partially distended with gas,
occupying a great portion of the cavity. For-
tunately the wind had entirely lulled ; but to
prevent it from embarrassing us should it rise
again, by its action on the mass, I directed
the lads to gather up the folds as the gas
escaped, and pack them away in the recesses



32 BY AND BY.

of the cave. I then clambered up into the
car.

*' It was an immense and unwieldy affair,
evidently designed by and for people who
were greater adepts in luxury than in science.
What perplexed me most was the absolute
quietude of all Avithin. Opening a trap-door,
and descending a flight of steps, I found my-
self in a small chamber, where by the light of
a dim lamp, I perceived an old man of most
venerable aspect, with long white hair and
beard, evidently an Oriental, reclining on a
divan, and apparently m.ore dead than alive.

*' Hearing me enter, he said, in a tone of
mingled reproach and entreaty, but without
glancing toward me —

" ' Zoe, why so long absent ? Surely the
car needed not guidance so much as I needed
thee ?'

'' He had scarcely finished his utterance
when a sharp little cry broke from an adjoin-
ing chamber, which caused the old man to
start and turn towards me. Whether the
astonished look of his glistening eyes was
caused most by the appearance of a stranger,



BY AND BY. 33

or by the cry he had just heard, I could not
tell, but he was evidently disturbed at both.

*' ' Can I help you ?' I enquired, for I found
him easily intelligible. We aerialists, you
must know, are obliged to be conversant with
the tongues of all civilised people.

" * Zoe ought to have announced you,' he
said, with a gesture of courtesy. ' I presume
that you have come on board us from some
balloon that we have met. I fear I am too
ill to converse with you. Zoe will speak for
me. Methought I heard an infant's voice.
You are a foreigner. Do foreigners carry
young children on such voyages ?'

" ' I think you are In some error,' I re-
turned, ' as to the precise position of your
balloon. It Is because I saw you were In
some difficulty that I have come on board.
Could I find her you named, or any other of
the passengers, I would not intrude upon
you.'

" ' Not find Zoe !' he exclaimed. ' She was
here just now, and only left me to look after
the machinery and lights. That Is always
her part in our air-trips. Since we left

VOL. I. 3



34 BY AND BY.

Damascus she has not been so long absent
from me.'

" His utter ignorance of what had hap-
pened to his balloon led me to surmise that
his companion had met with some accident —
probably fallen out immediately after dis-
charpfinof the sio^nals which had attracted our
attention.

*'At that moment the cry was renewed.
Unhooking the lamp from its chain, I went
into the adjoining compartment, where I found
an infant in a hastily-improvised cot.

" At the sight of the light, the cry ceased,
and I took the child, cot and all, and set them
down beside the old man.

" * I suppose this is her child of whom you
were speaking,' I said. ' It is, indeed, young
to—'

"'Man!' he cried, almost raising him.self
from his couch. ' Her child ! what mean
you ?'

'' I refrained from speaking, and he gazed
on it awhile with a wondering and troubled
mien, muttering to himself words which I
could not catch. Presently he said again, —



BY AXD BY. 35

'"' ' Where can Zoe be ?'

''It was clear that there was no alternative
but to tell him all, so far as I knew it, respect-
ing his situation. When I had concluded, and
made him comprehend that his companion
must have been precipitated to the earth and
lost, and that the sole inmates of the balloon
were himself and a new-born infant, and that
he had come down on an ice-field in the Arctic
seas, and also that though we would do all
in our power to aid him, we almost despaired
of our own extrication, and, indeed, had hailed
his approach as that of a possible deliverer to
ourselves, — he said, in a tone of devout re-
signation, —

'' * I understand it all now. It was willed.
Save her child, if it be possible. You will
find that here which will repay you. For
me, I die.'

*' And covering his face, he murmured, —

" ' How she must have suffered through
my blindness. Suffered in silence and alone.
Would that her mother had lived. Zoe,
my two Zdes, I come. Receive and for-
o^ive !'



56 BY AND BY. '

" Thinkino- it best to leave him awhile to
his grief, I quitted the car and returned to
my party, who were in no little curiosity about
our visitant. They had completed their work
of expelling the gas, and were folding up the
bulky fabric as I had directed them. I now
stopped this, and said we would spread it
partly overhead as a ceiling, and partly under
foot as a carpet, in order to shelter the new-
comers who were unable to help them-
selves.

" ' Why, who and what are they ?" they in-
quired, all speaking at once.

'' * In the first place,' I told them, ' there is
an old man, a very venerable old man, with
snowy hair and dark piercing eyes, who has
lately left Damascus, and says he is going to
die. In the second place, there was a young
woman, his daughter, who took care of him,
but has now disappeared.'

" ' Quite lately ?' asked Avenil.

*' ' So lately that he did not know of it,
and was expecting to see her when I en-
tered.'

" ' Depend upon It, It was her falling out



BY AND BY. 3/

that made the balloon rise so suddenly, while
we were watching it,' he said.

'' I agreed that this seemed probable, and
added, ' In the third place, there is a baby ;
which, seeing that the old man knew nothing
about it until I discovered it, must have been
introduced by the young woman very shortly
before her disappearance.'

" ' The poor little thing won't survive her
lone in these regions,' said one.

" ' And who else is there ? and why don't
they show themselves ?' asked another.

** I told them that there was no one else ;
and that of these two the old man had made
up his mind to die, and committed the infant
to my charge, for his mind was as broken
with grief as his body with age.

'' ' And the balloon is of no use to carr}' us
away from this place,' said one, in a tone of
disappointment.

" I said probably not, but that at any rate we
might find some supplies which we could turn
to account. And then selecting young Wil-
mer — your father, Lawrence — as the gentlest
and most tender of the lads, I re-entered the



38 BY AND BY.

chamber. The old man was still alive, but
moaning feebly ; and the child was so fast
asleep, that I thought its mother must have
given it a cordial before leaving It, a surmise
that was afterwards confirmed by my finding
a vial beneath the head of the couch.

*' I knew little of medicine, and nothing of
the management of children, but having a
vague idea that the principal agencies In sus-
taining their vitality are air, food, sleep, and
warmth, I directed young Wilmer to open
some cases which were in the chamber, and
see if they contained any nutriment likely to
be suitable for the child, while I endeavoured
to rouse the old man to action of some kind.
The chamber, which had evidently been con-
structed with a view to a warmer climate than
that of the Arctic regions, was rapidly losing
the heat I had found oppressive on my first
visit, a heat supplied by the machinery of the
balloon, and therefore no longer sustained
now that the machinery was at rest. Its at-
mosphere, however, was far from pure and
wholesome. So I begged the old man to let
me remove him and the child to our own



BY AND BY. 39

more roomy abode. But all my efforts were
unheeded. He refused to move or to be con-
soled, and by turns murmured the names of
Zoe and Solomon, and something about a
talisman, whose aid he seemed to be invoking
for the child.

*' In the meantime, young Wilmer had been
to work to good purpose. He had found a
case containing a preparation of milk, solidi-
fied into small bars. After tasting these, I
determined to administer them to the infant.
Not to make this part of my story too long,
I will state at once that the old man died a few
hours after his descent, having uttered nothing
that could give us a clue to his name ; and,
indeed, only once speaking coherently, on
which occasion he asked the month and day
of the year, and said something which I took
for an adjuration addressed to the sun.

" The child became our first care, and we
seemed tacitly to regard it as a point of
honour to save ourselves in order to save it,
and rear it to manhood. I say manhood, for
it proved to be a boy. This important dis-
covery was made on the occasion of the ques-



40 BY AND BY.

tion being started as to what we should call
it. We were sitting, soon after its arrival,
around our camp illuminator and warmer,
which was no other than our electro-magnesian
reflector already mentioned, and which was
so constructed as to be readily convertible
into a small and luminous stove ; young Wil-
mer, in his function of nurse, held the infant
on his knees, and it was gazing, with eyes
wide open, at the light. It never cried, which
was a great comfort to us male creatures, for
we should have been terribly puzzled what to
do if it had ; and it had taken very kindly to
the food we had given it. Well, we were
sitting thus when some one suggested that we
ought to call it Zoe.

" ' Zoe, indeed !' exclaimed nurse Wilmer,
indignantly ; ' why, it's a boy !'

'* The observation showed how judicious
had been my choice of him for nurse. The
possibility of such a thing had not occurred
to anyone else. We could not resist having
a good laugh over our dulness, and, to our
surprise, the child, as if because it then heard
human voices for the first time, actually joined



BY AND BY. 41

in the laugh by making a sort of crowing
noise.

'' * Is there a name on the balloon, that will
do ?' asked one of the lads. But the balloon
bore no name. Another suggested some-
thing implying ice or air; and it was even
proposed to call it Ariel, and give it one of
my names for surname. Ariel Bertie, we
thought, sounded well, and I was strongly
inclined to adopt this suggestion ; the more
as I had fully made up my mind to adopt the
child as my own, should I ever succeed in
escaping from that place, and reaching home
with it in safety. The similarity of the name,
I considered, would make it appear to
strangers as if it were really a blood relation.
The child itself, too, seemed by its crowing
to approve, at least of having some distinc-
tive name.

'' However, young Wilmer, looking up from
it, said that he had read in an old story-book,
of a wild Indian, who, being on a desolate
island, was rescued from death by a white
man, and in gratitude devoted himself to the
white man's service, and was called after the



42 BY AND BY.

day of the week on which he had been saved,
— Friday.

" ' And as this is the last day of the winter
solstice, and we may regard him as a little ray
from heaven to lighten our gloom, let one of
his names be Christmas !'

" So with vehement rapidity exclaimed
young Avenil ; and, as if in approbation of
the proposal, the infant chirped and crowed
with redoubled energy.

*' ' Listen ! it is singing a carol,' cried nurse
Wilmer. ' A Christmas Carol— hear its carol-
ling ?'

'' * Then call it one,' said Avenil.

** ' One what ?' I asked.

*' * Christmas Carol. It's a charming
name.'

" ' And we will call it Crissy, for short,'
said the boy-nurse, bending down and kissing
the child, and then handing it round for each
one of us to kiss as we repeated the name,
Christmas Carol.

'' We all agreed it was a charming name,
and wonderfully appropriate, from whatever
point of view we regarded it. For it had



BY AND BY, 43.

come at the very birth of the year, when the
days first begin to wax after the winter sol-
stice, and in the moment of our deepest
despair ; and we spoke of the old man just
dead, its grandfather, as the old year, and of
its mother Zoe, as the life that went out in
giving it life. And as we looked on the
infant that had so wondrously descended
among us, and repeated the name whereby
it was to be known among men, we forgot
the peril we were still in, and warmed to-
wards the most ancient of sciences. Astrono-
my, and the poetry of its kindred Mythology,
and were, I verily believe, at that moment,
about the happiest party on earth."




CHAPTER IV.

DEEP, broad crevice ran across
one corner of the floor of our
cavern. In this we deposited the
body of the old man, filling it up
above him with broken bits of ice, which
when driven in with blows became welded
together, forming a sarcophagus of clear
crystal, warranted not only not to consume the
body, but to preserve it from decay, until the
berg itself should finally bow its head and
sink and melt in the sea,

" The next task was to investigate the nature
and contents of the balloon. Young Avenil
set himself to make an examination of the
machinery. The other lads rifled the stores,
and I sought for some document by which we



BY AND BY. 45

might learn something of the history of the
late occupants.

" It was Httle substantial help that I ex-
pected to get from any discoveries we might
make. It was unlikely that the stock of pro-
visions would go far towards keeping us alive
for the five or six weeks still remaining of
utter darkness, during which it would be
hopeless to attempt to leave the berg.
Fitted, as the machine probably was, to be
a mere pleasure-conveyance of a wealthy and
luxurious Damascene family, it was not likely
to contain more than was sufficient for a short
trip. But what we found led us to a different
conclusion. Not only was it overladen with
provisions and luxuries sufficient to sustain in
comfort a number of persons for several
weeks, but it contained jewels and money to
a great value. So that, altogether, we were
led to conclude that the old man and his
daughter were, probably in consequence of
some unpleasantness connected with the lat-
ter's situation, in the act of emigrating with
all their property in search of a new home,
when by reason of illness, or storms, they



46 BY AND BY.

were driven out of their course, and carried
T^y the currents, of the atmosphere to the
Arctic Seas.

" The discoveries I had made Intensified
the Interest I already felt In the child. It
was evidently the heir to people of consider-
ation, and wealth that would enable It to take
up any position In the world for which It
might by character and abilities be fitted.

" So occupied was I with these reflections,
that I had not given my mind to what was
really of far more importance to us just then,
than anything else in the world ; namely, the
possibility of turning the balloon to account
in contriving our escape. There was clearly
no other way, for the berg had evidently re-
united with the masses of Ice around It, as
was shown by its perfect immobility ; and a
journey over the ice-field would be attended
by hardships that must be fatal to at least one
member of the party. Since the stars had be-
come visible, there had been no difiiculty In
ascertaining our latitude. It was a degree or
two above that of Spitzbergen : that Is, the
polar distance of our berg was about eight



BY AND BY. a^j

decrees. About our lono^itude we were ne-
cessarlly still in the dark ; and our only hope
of finding it lay in our hooking the telegraph.
This, however, was practically of no conse-
quence, as the very size of our berg showed
that we must be too far from any coast for us
to attempt to reach it over the ice. By know-
ing the latitude we were enabled to determine
the period remaining of total darkness. And
this, as I have mentioned, had still five or six
weeks to run.

'' I was talking over these matters with the


2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryEdward MaitlandBy and by : an historical romance of the future (Volume 1) → online text (page 2 of 13)