R.M. Ballantyne.

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that, a year ago, Captain Ellice had been driven there in his brig by
stress of weather, and after refitting and taking in a supply of
provisions, had set sail for England.

Here the _Dolphin_ laid in a supply of dried fish, and procured several
dogs, besides an Esquimau interpreter and hunter, named Meetuck.

Leaving this little settlement, they stood out once more to sea, and
threaded their way among the ice, with which they were now well
acquainted in all its forms, from the mighty berg, or mountain of ice,
to the wide field. They passed in succession one or two Esquimau
settlements, the last of which, Yotlik, is the most northerly point of
colonization. Beyond this all was _terra incognita_. Here inquiry was
again made through the medium of the Esquimau interpreter who had been
taken on board at Upernavik, and they learned that the brig in question
had been last seen beset in the pack, and driving to the northward.
Whether or not she had ever returned they could not tell.

A consultation was now held, and it was resolved to proceed north, as
far as the ice would permit, towards Smith's Sound, and examine the
coast carefully in that direction.

For several weeks past there had been gradually coming over the aspect
of nature a change, to which we have not yet referred, and which filled
Fred Ellice and his friend, the young surgeon, with surprise and
admiration. This was the long-continued daylight, which now lasted the
whole night round, and increased in intensity every day as they advanced
north. They had, indeed, often heard and read of it before, but their
minds had utterly failed to form a correct conception of the exquisite
calmness and beauty of the _midnight-day_ of the north.

Every one knows that, in consequence of the axis of the earth not being
perpendicular to the plane of its orbit round the sun, the poles are
alternately directed more or less _towards_ that great luminary during
one part of the year, and _away_ from it during another part. So that
far north the days during the one season grow longer and longer until at
last there is _one long day_ of many weeks' duration, in which the sun
does not set at all; and during the other season there is _one long
night_, in which the sun is never seen. It was approaching the height of
the summer season when the _Dolphin_ entered the Arctic Regions, and,
although the sun descended below the horizon for a short time each
night, there was scarcely any diminution of the light at all, and, as
far as one's sensations were concerned, there was but one long
continuous day, which grew brighter and brighter at midnight as they

"How thoroughly splendid this is!" remarked Tom Singleton to Fred one
night, as they sat in their favourite outlook, the main-top, gazing down
on the glassy sea, which was covered with snowy icebergs and floes, and
bathed in the rays of the sun; "and how wonderful to think that the sun
will only set for an hour or so, and then get up as splendid as ever!"

The evening was still as death. Not a sound broke upon the ear save the
gentle cries of a few sea-birds that dipped ever and anon into the sea,
as if to kiss it gently while asleep, and then circled slowly into the
bright sky again. The sails of the ship, too, flapped very gently, and a
spar creaked plaintively, as the vessel rose and fell on the gentle
undulations that seemed to be the breathing of the ocean. But such
sounds did not disturb the universal stillness of the hour; neither did
the gambols of yonder group of seals and walruses that were at play
round some fantastic blocks of ice; nor did the soft murmur of the swell
that broke in surf at the foot of yonder iceberg, whose blue sides were
seamed with a thousand watercourses, and whose jagged pinnacles rose up
like needles of steel into the clear atmosphere.

There were many bergs in sight, of various shapes and sizes, at some
distance from the ship, which caused much anxiety to the captain,
although they were only a source of admiration to our young friends in
the main-top.

"Tom," said Fred, breaking a long silence, "it may seem a strange idea
to you, but, do you know, I cannot help fancying that heaven must be
something like this."

"I'm not sure that that's such a strange idea, Fred, for it has two of
the characteristics of heaven in it - peace and rest."

"True; that didn't strike me. Do you know, I wish that it were always
calm like this, and that we had no wind at all."

Tom smiled. "Your voyage would be a long one if that were to happen. I
daresay the Esquimaux would join with you in the wish, however, for
their kayaks and oomiaks are better adapted for a calm than a stormy

"Tom," said Fred, breaking another long silence, "you're very tiresome
and stupid to-night, why don't you talk to me?"

"Because this delightful dreamy evening inclines me to think and be

"Ah, Tom! that's your chief fault. You are always inclined to think too
much and to talk too little. Now I, on the contrary, am always - "

"Inclined to talk too much and think too little - eh, Fred?"

"Bah! don't try to be funny, man; you haven't it in you. Did you ever
see such a miserable set of creatures as the old Esquimau women are at

"Why, what put _them_, into your head?" inquired Tom laughing.

"Yonder iceberg! Look at it! There's the nose and chin exactly of the
extraordinary hag you gave your silk pocket-handkerchief to at parting.
Now, I never saw such a miserable old woman as that before, did you?"

Tom Singleton's whole demeanour changed, and his dark eyes brightened as
the strongly-marked brows frowned over them, while he replied, "Yes,
Fred, I have seen old women more miserable than that. I have seen women
so old that their tottering limbs could scarcely support them, going
about in the bitterest November winds, with clothing too scant to cover
their wrinkled bodies, and so ragged and filthy that you would have
shrunk from touching it - I have seen such groping about among heaps of
filth that the very dogs looked at and turned away from as if in

Fred was inclined to laugh at his friend's sudden change of manner; but
there was something in the young surgeon's character - perhaps its deep
earnestness - that rendered it impossible, at least for his friends, to
be jocular when he was disposed to be serious. Fred became grave as he

"Where have you seen such poor wretches, Tom?" he asked, with a look of

"In the cities, the civilized cities of our own Christian land. If you
have ever walked about the streets of some of these cities before the
rest of the world was astir, at gray dawn, you must have seen them
shivering along and scratching among the refuse cast out by the tenants
of the neighbouring houses. O Fred, Fred! in my professional career,
short though it has been, I have seen much of these poor old women, and
many others whom the world never sees on the streets at all,
experiencing a slow, lingering death by starvation, and fatigue, and
cold. It is the foulest blot on our country that there is no sufficient
provision for the _aged poor_."

"I have seen those old women too," replied Fred, "but I never thought
very seriously about them before."

"That's it - that's just it; people don't _think_, otherwise this
dreadful state of things would not continue. Just listen _now_, for a
moment, to what I have to say. But don't imagine that I'm standing up
for the poor in general. I don't feel - perhaps I'm wrong," continued Tom
thoughtfully - "perhaps I'm wrong - I hope not - but it's a fact, I don't
feel much for the young and the sturdy poor, and I make it a rule
_never_ to give a farthing to _young_ beggars, not even to little
children, for I know full well that they are sent out to beg by idle,
good-for-nothing parents. I stand up only for the _aged_ poor, because,
be they good or wicked, they _cannot_ help themselves. If a man fell
down in the street, struck with some dire disease that shrunk his
muscles, unstrung his nerves, made his heart tremble, and his skin
shrivel up, would you look upon him and then pass him by _without

"No," cried Fred in an emphatic tone, "I would not! I would stop and
help him."

"Then, let me ask you," resumed Tom earnestly, "is there any difference
between the weakness of muscle and the faintness of heart which is
produced by disease, and that which is produced by old age, except that
the latter is incurable? Have not these women feelings like other women?
Think you that there are not amongst them those who have 'known better
times'? They think of sons and daughters dead and gone, perhaps, just as
other old women in better circumstances do. But they must not indulge
such depressing thoughts; they must reserve all the energy, the stamina
they have, to drag round the city - barefoot, it may be, and in the
cold - to beg for food, and scratch up what they can find among the
cinder heaps. They groan over past comforts and past times, perhaps, and
think of the days when their limbs were strong and their cheeks were
smooth; for they were not always 'hags.' And remember that _once_ they
had friends who loved them and cared for them, although they are old,
unknown, and desolate now."

Tom paused and pressed his hand upon his flushed forehead.

"You may think it strange," he continued, "that I speak to you in this
way about poor old women, but I _feel_ deeply for their forlorn
condition. The young can help themselves, more or less, and they have
strength to stand their sorrows, with _hope_, blessed hope, to keep
them up; but _poor_ old men and old women cannot help themselves, and
cannot stand their sorrows, and, as far as this life is concerned, they
have _no hope,_ except to die soon and easy, and, if possible, in summer
time, when the wind is not so very cold and bitter."

"But how can this be put right, Tom?" asked Fred in a tone of deep
commiseration. "Our being sorry for it and anxious about it (and you've
made me sorry, I assure you) can do very little good, you know."

"I don't know, Fred," replied Tom, sinking into his usual quiet tone.
"If every city and town in Great Britain would start a society, whose
first resolution should be that they would not leave one poor _old_ man
or woman unprovided for, _that_ would do it. Or if the Government would
take it in hand _honestly_, that would do it."

"Call all hands, Mr. Bolton," cried the captain in a sharp voice. "Get
out the ice-poles, and lower away the boats."

"Hallo! what's wrong?" said Fred, starting up.

"Getting too near the bergs, I suspect," remarked Tom. "I say, Fred,
before we go on deck, will you promise to do what I ask you?"

"Well - yes, I will."

"Will you promise, then, all through your life, especially if you ever
come to be rich or influential, to think _of_ and _for_ old men and
women who are poor?"

"I will," answered Fred; "but I don't know that I'll ever be rich, or
influential, or able to help them much."

"Of course you don't. But when a thought about them strikes you, will
you always _think it out_, and, if possible, _act it out_, as God shall
enable you?"

"Yes, Tom, I promise to do that as well as I can."

"That's right; thank you, my boy," said the young surgeon, as they
descended the shrouds and leaped on deck.

Here they found the captain walking up and down rapidly, with an anxious
expression of face. After taking a turn or two he stopped short, and
gazed out astern.

"Set the stun'-sails, Mr. Bolton. The breeze will be up in a little, I
think. Let the men pull with a will."

The order was given, and soon the ship was under a cloud of canvas,
advancing slowly as the boats towed her between two large icebergs,
which had been gradually drawing near to each other the whole afternoon.

"Is there any danger, Buzzby?" inquired Fred, as the sturdy sailor stood
looking at the larger berg, with an ice-pole in his hands.

"Danger? ay, that there is, lad, more nor's agreeable, d'ye see. Here we
are without a breath o' wind to get us on, right between two bergs as
could crack us like a walnut. We can't get to starboard of 'em for the
current, nor to larboard of 'em for the pack, as ye see, so we must go
between them, neck or nothing."

The danger was indeed imminent. The two bergs were within a hundred
yards of each other, and the smaller of the two, being more easily moved
by the current probably, was setting down on the larger at a rate that
bade fair to decide the fate of the _Dolphin_ in a few minutes. The men
rowed lustily, but their utmost exertions could move the ship but
slowly. Aid was coming, however, direct from the hand of Him who is a
refuge in the time of danger. A breeze was creeping over the calm sea
right astern, and it was to meet this that the studding-sails had been
set a-low and aloft, so that the wide-spreading canvas, projecting far
to the right and left, had, to an inexperienced eye, the appearance of
being out of all proportion to the little hull by which it was

With breathless anxiety those on board stood watching the two bergs and
the approaching breeze.

At last it came. A few cat's-paws ruffled the surface of the sea,
distending the sails for a moment, then leaving them flat and loose as
before. This, however, was sufficient; another such puff, and the ship
was almost out of danger; but before it came the projecting summit of
the smaller berg was overhanging the deck. At this critical moment the
wind began to blow steadily, and soon the _Dolphin_ was in the open
water beyond. Five minutes after she had passed, the moving mountains
struck with a noise louder than thunder; the summits and large portions
of the sides fell with a succession of crashes like the roaring of
artillery, just above the spot where the ship had lain not a quarter of
an hour before; and the vessel, for some time after, rocked violently to
and fro in the surges that the plunge of the falling masses had raised.


_The gale - Anchored to a berg which proves to be a treacherous
one - Dangers of the "pack" - Beset in the ice - Mivins shows an inquiring
mind - Walruses - Gale freshens - Chains and cables - Holding on for
life - An unexpected discovery - A "nip" and its terrible
consequences - Yoked to an iceberg_.

The narrow escape related in the last chapter was but the prelude to a
night of troubles. Fortunately, as we have before mentioned, _night_ did
not now add darkness to their difficulties. Soon after passing the
bergs, a stiff breeze sprang up off shore, between which and the
_Dolphin_ there was a thick belt of loose ice, or sludge, while outside,
the pack was in motion, and presented a terrible scene of crashing and
grinding masses under the influence of the breeze, which soon freshened
to a gale.

"Keep her away two points," said Captain Guy to the man at the wheel;
"we'll make fast to yonder berg, Mr. Bolton. If this gale carries us
into the pack, we shall be swept far out of our course, if, indeed, we
escape being nipped and sent to the bottom."

Being _nipped_ is one of the numberless dangers to which Arctic
navigators are exposed. Should a vessel get between two moving fields or
floes of ice, there is a chance, especially in stormy weather, of the
ice being forced together and squeezing in the sides of the ship; this
is called nipping.

"Ah!" remarked Buzzby, as he stood with folded arms by the capstan,
"many and many a good ship has been sent to the bottom by that same.
I've see'd a brig, with my own two eyes, squeezed together a'most flat
by two big floes of ice, and after doin' it they jist separated agin and
let her go plump down to the bottom. Before she was nipped, the crew
saved themselves by jumpin' on to the ice, and they wos picked up by our
ship that wos in company."

"There's no dependin' on the ice, by no means," remarked Amos Parr; "for
I've see'd the self-same sort of thing that ye mention happen to a small
steamer in Davis' Straits, only instead o' crushin' it flat, the ice
lifted it right high and dry out o' the water, and then let it down
again, without more ado, as sound as iver."

"Get out the warps and ice-anchors there!" cried the captain.

In a moment the men were in the boats and busy heaving and planting
ice-anchors, but it was not until several hours had been spent in this
tedious process that they succeeded in making fast to the berg. They had
barely accomplished this when the berg gave indications of breaking up,
so they cast off again in great haste, and not long afterwards a mass of
ice, many tons in weight, fell from the edge of the berg close to where
they had been moored.

The captain now beat up for the land in the hope of finding
anchoring-ground. At first the ice presented an impenetrable barrier,
but at length a lead of open water was found, through which they passed
to within a few hundred yards of the shore, which at this spot showed a
front of high precipitous cliffs.

"Stand by to let go the anchor!" shouted the captain.

"Ay, ay, sir."

"Down your helm! Let go!"

Down went the anchor to the music of the rattling chain-cable - a sound
which had not been heard since the good ship left the shores of Old

"If we were only a few yards farther in, sir," remarked the first-mate,
"we should be better. I'm afraid of the stream of ice coming round
yonder point."

"So am I," replied the captain; "but we can scarcely manage it, I fear,
on account of the shore ice. Get out a boat, Mr. Saunders, and try to
fix an anchor. We may warp in a few yards."

The anchor was fixed, and the men strained at the capstan with a will,
but, notwithstanding their utmost efforts, they could not penetrate the
shore ice. Meanwhile the wind increased, and snow began to fall in large
flakes. The tide, too, as it receded, brought a stream of ice round the
point ahead of them, which bore right down on their bows. At first the
concussions were slight, and the bow of the ship turned the floes aside;
but heavier masses soon came down, and at last one fixed itself on the
cable, and caused the anchor to drag with a harsh, grating sound.

Fred Ellice, who stood beside the second mate near the companion hatch,
looked inquiringly at him.

"Ah! that's bad," said Saunders, shaking his head slowly; "I dinna like
that sound. If we're carried out into the pack there, dear knows where
we'll turn up in the long run."

"Perhaps we'll turn bottom up, sir," suggested the fat cook as he passed
at the moment with a tray of meat. Mizzle could not resist a joke - no
matter how unsuitable the time or dreadful the consequences.

"Hold your tongue, sir!" exclaimed Saunders indignantly. "Attend to your
business, and speak only when you're spoken to."

With some difficulty the mass of ice that had got foul of the cable was
disengaged, but in a few moments another and a larger mass fixed upon
it, and threatened to carry it away. In this extremity the captain
ordered the anchor to be hove up; but this was not easily accomplished,
and when at last it was hove up to the bow both flukes were found to
have been broken off, and the shank was polished bright with rubbing on
the rocks.

Ice now came rolling down in great quantities and with irresistible
force, and at last the ship was whirled into the much-dreaded pack,
where she became firmly embedded, and drifted along with it before the
gale into the unknown regions of the North all that night. To add to
their distress and danger a thick fog overspread the sea, so that they
could not tell whither the ice was carrying them, and to warp out of it
was impossible. There was nothing for it therefore but to drive before
the gale, and take advantage of the first opening in the ice that should
afford them a chance of escape.

Towards evening of the following day the gale abated, and the sun shone
out bright and clear; but the pack remained close as ever, drifting
steadily towards the north.

"We're far beyond the most northerly sea that has ever yet been
reached," remarked Captain Guy to Fred and Singleton, as he leaned on
the weather bulwarks, and gazed wistfully over the fields of ice in
which they were embedded.

"I beg your pardon for differing, Captain Guy, but I think that Captain
Parry was farther north than this when he attempted to reach the Pole,"
remarked Saunders, with the air of a man who was prepared to defend his
position to the last.

"Very possibly, Mr. Saunders; but I think we are at least farther north
in _this_ direction than any one has yet been; at least I make it out so
by the chart."

"I'm no sure o' that," rejoined the second mate positively; "charts are
not always to be depended on, and I've heard that whalers have been up
hereabouts before now."

"Perhaps you are right, Mr. Saunders," replied the captain, smiling;
"nevertheless, I shall take observations, and name the various
headlands, until I find that others have been here before me. - Mivins,
hand me the glass; it seems to me there's a water-sky to the northward."

"What is a water-sky, captain?" inquired Fred.

"It is a peculiar, dark appearance of the sky on the horizon, which
indicates open water; just the reverse of that bright appearance which
you have often seen in the distance, and which we call the ice-blink."

"We'll have open water soon," remarked the second mate authoritatively.

"Mr. Saunders," said Mivins, who, having just finished clearing away and
washing up the _débris_ and dishes of one meal, was enjoying in complete
idleness the ten minutes of leisure that intervened between that and
preparations for the next - "Mr. Saunders, sir, can you _h_inform me,
sir, 'ow it is that the sea don't freeze at 'ome the same as it does
_h_out 'ere?"

The countenance of the second mate brightened, for he prided himself not
a little on his vast and varied stores of knowledge, and nothing pleased
him so much as to be questioned, particularly on knotty subjects.

"Hem! yes, Mivins, I can tell 'ee that. Ye must know that before fresh
water can freeze on the surface the whole volume of it must be cooled
down to 40 degrees, and _salt_ water must be cooled down to 45 degrees.
Noo, frost requires to be very long continued and very sharp indeed
before it can cool the deep sea from the top to the bottom, and until it
is so cooled it canna freeze."

"Oh!" remarked Mivins, who only half understood the meaning of the
explanation, "'ow very _h_odd. But can you tell me, Mr. Saunders, 'ow it
is that them 'ere _h_icebergs is made? Them's wot I don't comprehend

"Ay," replied Saunders, "there has been many a wiser head than yours,
puzzled for a long time about icebergs. But if ye'll use yer eyes you'll
see how they are formed. Do you see the high cliffs yonder away to the
nor'-east? Weel, there are great masses o' ice that have been formed
against them by the melting and freezing of the snows of many years.
When these become too heavy to stick to the cliffs, they tumble into the
sea and float away as icebergs. But the biggest bergs come from the foot
of glaciers. You know what glaciers are, Mivins?"

"No, sir, I don't."

The second mate sighed. "They are immense accumulations of ice, Mivins,
that have been formed by the freezings and meltings of the snows of
hundreds of years. They cover the mountains of Norway and Switzerland,
and many other places in this world, for miles and miles in extent, and
sometimes they flow down and fill up whole valleys. I once saw one in
Norway that filled up a valley eight miles long, two miles broad, and
seven or eight' hundred feet deep; and that was only a wee bit of it,
for I was told by men who had travelled over it that it covered the
mountains of the interior, and made them a level field of ice, with a
surface like rough, hard snow, for more than twenty miles in extent."

"You don't say so, sir!" said Mivins in surprise. "And don't they
_never_ melt?"

"No, never. What they lose in summer they more than gain in winter.
Moreover, they are always in motion; but they move so slow that you may
look at them ever so closely and so long, you'll not be able to observe
the motion - just like the hour hand of a watch - but we know it by
observing the changes from year to year. There are immense glaciers here
in the Arctic Regions, and the lumps which they are constantly shedding
off into the sea are the icebergs that one sees and hears so much

Mivins seemed deeply impressed with this explanation, and would probably
have continued the conversation much longer, had he not been interrupted
by the voice of his mischievous satellite, Davie Summers, who touched
his forelock and said, "Please, Mr. Mivins, shall I lay the table-cloth?

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Online LibraryR.M. BallantyneThe World of Ice → online text (page 4 of 18)