Gordon Stables.

Courage, True Hearts: Sailing in Search of Fortune



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Frank's march across the great snow plains was a forced one, but an hour's rest and a good meal was indispensable before the ascent could be attempted.

Perhaps no mountain was ever climbed more speedily by men in any country. They had the trail of the captain and his party to guide them, but nevertheless the work was arduous in the extreme.

Should they be in time?

Or was Conal dead?

These were the questions that they asked each other over and over again.

They hoped against hope, however, as brave men ever do.

CHAPTER XI. – THUS HAND IN HAND THE BROTHERS SLEEP

They arrived at the plateau in the afternoon, and cautiously, yet quickly was the plank placed over.

Frank did not wait to attach the rope to his waist, so eager was he. The yawning green gulf beneath him might have tried the nerve of Blondin. He paused not to think, however, but went over almost with the speed of a bird upon the wing, and more slowly the others followed.

They brought with them the end of the coils of rope, and these were speedily hauled across.

For a few moments Frank and Duncan stood silently clasping each other's hands; and the Cockney lad could tell by the look of anguish in his Highland cousin's face that the worst had occurred.

"Too late! too late!" Duncan managed to say at last, and he turned quickly away to hide the blinding tears.

"Poor Conal," explained the captain, "is lying down yonder-that black object is he enveloped in rugs, but he has made no sign for hours, and doubtless is frozen hard enough ere now."

"Come," cried Frank, "be of good cheer, my dear Duncan, till we are certain. Perhaps he does but sleep."

"Yes, he sleeps," said Duncan mournfully, "and death is the only door which leads from the sleep that cold and frost bring in their train."

"Come, men," cried Frank, now taking command, for he was full of life and energy, "uncoil the rope most carefully. I am light, Captain Talbot, so I myself will make the descent. I shall at once send poor Conal to bank, or as soon as I can get him bent on. Haul up when I shout."

When all the rope was got loose and made into one great coil, the end was thrown over into the crevice to make sure it would reach.

It did reach, with many fathoms to spare; so it was quickly hauled up and recoiled again.

A bight was now made at one end, and into this brave Frank quickly, and with sailor-like precision, hitched himself.

"Lower away now, men. Gently does it. Draw most carefully up as soon as I shout. When poor Conal is drawn to bank, lower again for me."

Next minute Frank had disappeared over the brink of the abyss, and was quickly and safely landed beneath.

He approached the bundle of rugs with a heart that never before felt so brimful of anguish and doubt.

And now he carefully draws aside the coverings. A pale face, white and hard, half-open eyes, and a pained look about the lowered brows and drawn lips.

Is there hope?

Frank will not permit himself even to ask the question.

But speedily he forms a strong hammock with one of the rugs.

Not a sailor's knot ever made that this boy is not well acquainted with. And now, after making sure that all is secure, he signals, and five minutes after this the body is got to bank without a single hitch.

Then while two men, with Captain Talbot and Duncan, commence operations on the stiff and apparently frozen body, the others lower away again, and presently after Frank's young and earnest face is seen above the snow-rift.

He is helped up, and proceeds at once to lend assistance.

Conal had been a favourite with all the men, and now they work in relays, the one relay relieving the other every five minutes, chafing and rubbing hands, arms, legs, and chest with spirits.

Duncan can do nothing.

He seems stupefied with grief.

After nearly half an hour of hard rubbing and kneading, to the skipper's intense joy the flesh of the arms begins to get softer. Presently a blue knot appears on one, and he knows there is a slight flicker of life reviving in the apparently lifeless body.

The lamp may flicker with a dying glare, and Talbot knows this well, so he refrains from communicating his hopes to disconsolate Duncan.

But he endeavours now to restore respiration, by slowly and repeatedly pressing the arms against the chest, and alternately raising them above the head.

The rubbing goes on.

Soon the eyelids quiver!

There seems to be a struggle, for the poor boy's face turns red-nay, almost blue. Then there is a deep convulsive sigh.

Just such a sigh as this might be his last on earth, or it might be the first sign of returning life.

Talbot puts his hand on Conal's cold wrist. The pulse flickers so he scarce can feel it; but it is there.

Operations are redoubled. Sigh after sigh is emitted, and soon-

"Heaven be praised!" cries Captain Talbot, for of his own accord Conal opens his eyes.

He even murmurs something, and shuts them once more, as if in utter weariness he fain would go to sleep.

But that sleep might end in death. No, he must be revived.

The circulation increases.

The life so dear to all is saved, for now Conal can swallow a little brandy.

Duncan's head has fallen on his knee and open palms as he crouches shivering on the snow, and the tears that have welled through his fingers lie in frozen drops on his clothing.

Gently, so gently, steals Talbot up behind him. Gently, so gently, he lays one hand on his shoulder.

"Duncan, can you bear the news?"

"Yes, yes, for the bitterness of death is past."

"But it is not death, dear lad, but-life."

"Life! I cannot believe it! Have you saved him?

"Then," he added, "my Father, who art in heaven, receive Thou the praise!

"And you, friend Talbot," he continued, pressing his captain's hand, "the thanks."

Conal was got safely back over the crevasse, and in his extempore hammock borne tenderly down the mountain-side until the plain below was reached.

But by this time he is able to raise his eyes and speak to his now joyful brother.

He even tries to smile.

"A narrow squeak, wasn't it?" he says.

His brother scarce can answer, so nervous does he feel after the terrible shock to the system.

The men, however, are thoroughly exhausted, and so under the shelter of a rock a camp is formed once more, and supper cooked.

Coffee and condensed milk seem greatly to restore the invalid, and once more he feels drowsy.

Soon the sun sets, and it being considered not unsafe now to permit Conal to sleep, the best couch possible is made for him, and a tin flask of hot water being laid near to his heart, his skin becomes warm, and he is soon afterwards sleeping and breathing as gently and freely as a child of tender years.

There is a little darkness to-night; but a moon is shining some short distance up in the sky and casting long dark shadows from the boulders across that dazzling field of snow.

Diamond stars are in the sky.

Yes, and there seems to be a diamond in every snowflake.

Duncan will not sleep, however, till he has seen his brother's face once more and heard him breathe. "For what," he asks himself, "if his recovery be but a dream from which I shall presently awake?"

His own rugs are laid close to his brother's, and he gently removes a corner of the latter, and lets the moon-rays fall on Conal's face.

The boy opens his eyes.

"Is it you, Duncan?"

"It is me, my brother."

"Then hold my hand and I shall sleep."

Duncan did as he was told.

"Duncan!"

"Yes, Conal."

"I feel as if I were a child again once more, but oh! how foolishly, how stupidly nervous."

"We are both so. Yet, blessed be Heaven, you will recover, Conal, and I shall also."

"When I was really a child, Duncan, my mother, our mother, used to croon over my cradle verses from that sweet old hymn of Isaac Watts. Do you remember it?"

"Ay, Conal, lad, and the music too."

"It is so sweet and plaintive. Sing it, Duncan. That is, just a verse or two; for sleep, it seems to me, is already beginning to steal down on the moonbeams to seal my aching eyes."

Duncan had a beautiful voice; but he could modulate it, so that no one could hear it many yards away. This does he now.

Singing to Conal as mother used to sing it. Singing to Conal and to Conal only.

 
"Hush, my dear, lie still and slumber!
Holy angels guard thy bed!
Heavenly blessings without number
Gently falling on thy head."
 

Sleep does steal down on the moonbeams ere long, and seals the eyes of both.

Thus hand in hand the brothers sleep.

CHAPTER XII. – WINTER LIFE IN AN ANTARCTIC PACK

Changes in temperature take place soon and sudden in those far-off Antarctic regions, and on the very night succeeding the return of our heroes from the dangers of that daring but terrible ascent of Mount Terror, it came on to blow high and hard from the south.

It was a snow-laden wind too, with the lowest temperature that had yet been logged.

So dense was the snow-mist that it was impossible to see the jibboom when standing close by the bowsprit. The drift blew suffocatingly along the upper deck of the Flora, and it was covered with an ice-glaze that, owing to the motion of the vessel, made walking a business of the greatest difficulty.

The vessel was driven northwards till she found herself close to an immense ice-floe, and to this they determined to make fast.

Anchors were at once got out, therefore, and landed and secured.

The motion was somewhat less after that.

What was most to be dreaded was a squeeze, for if any of those huge crystalline bergs were to rush them alongside, poor indeed would be their hopes of being saved. Indeed the vessel, strong as she was, would be crushed, as one may crush an egg-shell.

All hands were now called to endeavour, if possible, to make her more secure.

By and by the wind lulled somewhat, and the atmosphere cleared.

It would only be temporary, however, and well Captain Talbot knew it.

But they had now a chance of noting their position, and a dangerous one it was. The open water was getting narrower and narrower, so it was determined to seek for the safest ice. This was some pancake that lay to the north of them, so, just sufficient sail was got up to enable the ship to reach it.

This she did with safety so far, but the storm came on again with all its force, and with such fury, that it was found impossible to dock her.

To work in so choking and suffocating a cloud of ice-dust would have taken the heart out of anyone, save a true-blue British sailor. Moreover, as mittened cats cannot easily catch mice, so was it difficult for the men to work with heavy gloves on, and the order was, not on any account to take them off.

One poor fellow who, in a moment of thoughtlessness, pulled off his mittens, had both hands so badly-frost-bitten that he was incapable of duty for many many months.

They were now, however, in a comparatively safe position, for bay or pancake ice is a protection for a ship, if she has the misfortune to be frozen up in a pack like this.

In fate, or rather in Providence, they must put their trust; but whenever the weather cleared for a spell many an anxious eye was turned towards two mountainous blocks of green ice that lay only about a hundred yards to the south of the ship's position. They must have been about ninety feet out of the water and eight times as much beneath. Should the wind act with sufficient force on their green glittering sides it would go hard with the Flora M'Vayne.

This storm lasted not a day only, but over a week, and during all this time the limit of their vision was bounded but by a few yards.

Well for all was it that the Flora was strong, for on three separate occasions the good ship was nipped. This was undoubtedly owing to the pressure of the big bergs on the pancake ice.

But the pancake alongside was piled up by this pressure against the Flora's sides, like a pack of cards. The noise at such times was indescribable. It was a medley of roaring, shrieking, and caterwauling, with now and then a loud report, and now and then a dull and startling thud.

Moreover, the ice had got under the vessel's bows, and had heaved her up so high forward, that walking as far as the fo'c's'le was like climbing a slippery hill.

Viking, I verily believe, went now and then as far as the bowsprit, just that he might have the pleasure of sliding down again. But the great penguin and the monkey, who seemed to have sworn eternal friendship, preferred remaining below. Moreover, they seemed to think that a seat in front of the saloon fire was far more comfortable than the galley; and there they were, a most comical couple indeed, for as old Pen stood there on his tail, warming first one foot and then another at the stove, the kind-hearted ape sat close beside him with one arm placed lovingly around the great bird's shoulder.

One morning Conal and Frank went on deck as usual.

The sunrise clouds were still radiantly beautiful in orange, mauve, and crimson, but the wind was gone, and the storm fled to the back of the north pole or elsewhere.

They could see around them, therefore.

"Why, Frank," cried Conal, scratching his head in astonishment, "where on earth have they shifted Mount Terror to?"

Sure enough, the great volcanic mountain on which the young fellow had so nearly lost his life was a very long way astern indeed, and seemed endeavouring to hide its diminished head in a cloud of gray-blue mist.

"The explanation is simple enough, I think," replied Frank. "They-whoever 'they' may mean-haven't shifted the mountain, but we've been driven far to the nor'ard with the force of the gale."

"Oh!" said Conal, laughing, "I know better than that. We've never moved, Frank. There is the same ice about us still, and our big neighbours, the icebergs, are yonder also."

"Well," answered Frank, "we've been like the Irishman on the steamboat, we've been standing stock-still, yet all the while we've been moving."

"That's it," said Captain Talbot, who happened to come up at this moment. "That's it, Conal; Frank's right, and all this vast plain of snow-clad ice has been in motion northwards, and it has taken us with it."

"Wonders will never cease!" said Conal.

"Not in this world, nor the next either. But breakfast will soon be ready-earlier this morning, because we're going to work."

"Oh, by the way, sir, are you going on a balloon voyage now?"

"Alas!" said Talbot, almost sadly, "that, I fear, will have to be abandoned for the present cruise. My intentions were excellent, but

 
"'The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft a-gley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief and pain,
For promised joy'.
 

Another day and another voyage will be needed for the balloon adventures.

"Well," he added, more cheerily, "our cruise has not been in vain, you know. I have taken many meteorological observations. We have scaled the heights of mighty Mount Terror, and we have proved that Right whales do abound in these seas; so that we have really re-opened a long-lost industry."

"We sailed in search of fortune," said Frank; "we have got some, haven't we, sir?"

"If we manage to get clear of this somewhat dangerous pack and to reach Kerguelen Island, I think we'll lay in enough sea-elephant skins and blubber to make up a rich and splendid cargo.

"But," he added, looking towards the monster icebergs, "I do wish these fellows were farther off."

"I suppose we couldn't blow them up, could we?" said innocent Conal.

Talbot laughed.

"My dear boy," he answered, "if we could blow these blocks up, we might try our skill on the rock of Gibraltar next."

Although the autumn was already far advanced and dreary winter on ahead, still Talbot did not despair of getting clear before it came on.

This forenoon all hands were set at work to clear the ice from under the bows.

Hard work indeed, but it was finished eventually with the aid of good gunpowder. Small cases of this were placed under the packs of pancake by means of a long pole, and fired with waterproof fuses. The smashed-up pieces were thrust in under the main pack, and so in time the Flora M'Vayne found herself on an even keel.

The officers and crew could breathe more freely now, and sat down to dinner with that hearty appetite which hard work, if interesting, never fails to call up.

A whole month passed away.

There was no change, and seldom even a breath of wind, but the nights were now very long indeed, and soon, very soon, it would be all night.

Another month went slowly by.

It was now far on in May, and June in these latitudes means the dead depth of winter.

"There isn't the ghost of a chance, Morgan," said Talbot one morning while breakfasting by lamp-light; "there isn't the slightest chance of our getting clear away from here, till spring winds break up the ice and carry us north and away."

Morgan did not answer directly.

He was thinking.

"How about provisions, sir?" he asked at last.

"Well, we ought to have enough of every sort to last for a year, and by that time, please Heaven, we shall be safe in Cape Town harbour.

"But," he added, "I was going to talk to you on this very subject."

"Well, sir."

"Well, mate, I think it would be as well to take an inventory. Have a thorough overhaul, you know, and see what condition everything is in."

The motion was carried.

But it took them three days-if we can call them days-to complete the survey and restore everything, in a ship-shape condition, to its place again.

The stores were all not only abundant but excellent, with the exception of some casks of greens that they put much store on. They would now have to depend upon a daily supply of lime-juice to prevent hands getting down with the scourge of these seas, namely, scurvy.

On the very night the survey was ended came another half-gale of wind from the south. There were the same terrible noises all around them, and as far as they could make out, the sea of ice was a perfect chaos.

No one could shout loud enough for his nearest companion to hear him, and the crew lived in constant terror of the ship being crushed.

When at long last the storm ceased, they discovered by the starlight, and very much to their delight, that the terrible neighbours, those monster bergs, had shifted their site during the gale.

They had, in fact, driven past the vessel's bows-what a mercy they came not near! – and were now fully seventy yards down to leeward.

The wind had fallen quite, and all had become still again.

"We have reason to be thankful to God for our marvellous escape," said Talbot.

"But may not the bergs drift back, or be blown down upon us?" said Frank, who was of a very inquiring turn of mind.

"Wherever they drift, Frank, we too shall drift, but the send of the current or sea beneath us is, I believe, northward now; and if the wind blows in winter as it must in spring, it will bear us towards the north-west. So one danger is removed or minimized."

"Hurrah!" cried Frank, who was nothing if not impulsive, "hurrah!"

"No chance, I suppose, sir," he said, "of getting any letters from home?"

"Not for a day or two, Frank," said Talbot, smiling.

"Well, but it is a good thing we have books to read, isn't it, Conal?"

"And pens and ink?"

"Yes, pens and ink, and my fiddle."

"And my bagpipes," said Duncan emphatically.

"Oh, Duncan, we hadn't forgotten that or these."

"When I get them over my shoulder," said Duncan, "and put my drones in order, I don't think there will be much chance of your forgetting them."

Now wild winter had come in earnest,

 
"To rule the varied year".
 

It did not seem, however, that there was going to be a great deal of variety about it.

The wind was gone entirely for the time being, and the strange stars and Southern Cross shone down on the snowy and radiant plain, with a brilliancy that is quite unknown in more northern climes.

Great care was taken to keep the correct time, and to take observations three times a day.

A big ice-hole was made a few yards to the port side of the ship, and although the frost was now very severe indeed, they made a point of keeping this clear. This hole was about six feet in width, and, later on, it sufficed not only to draw water from for various purposes, but to afford some sport, as we shall presently see.

It had another and more scientific use. For the temperature of the water could here be taken, not only on the surface but many measured fathoms below it, and it told also the trend of the currents and their strength as well.

The self-same hours for breakfast, dinner, and supper were adhered to, but the men now had an additional allowance of tea served out to them, which, on the whole, they preferred to grog.

Grog, they knew from experience, did not keep up the animal heat, though it seemed to for a brief spell. Then shivering succeeded.

As the spectioneer told Duncan, in a climate like this one doesn't quite appreciate buckets of cold water running down his back.

Tea time was a happy hour in the saloon. The duties of the day were practically over, and light though these may have been, each had its correct time, and nothing was neglected.

But now the talk was chiefly about home; all thoughts of making fortunes were banished as not in keeping with the calmness of the hour.

Cowper's cosy lines come to my memory as I write, and they are in some measure applicable to the tea-time hour and situation-



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