"Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast;
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And while the bubbling and loudly hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
Let us welcome peaceful evening in".
Johnnie Shingles it was who assisted the steward in serving out the tea, and Johnnie looked out for his own share in the pantry when all the rest were done.
Being myself, reader, an "ice man" of some considerable experience, the manner in which the officers and crew of the beleaguered craft Flora M'Vayne whiled away the time during their long winter imprisonment may be said to be painted from the life.
At first it was supposed that the want of light would be a drawback to enjoyment, but the steward was one of those men who can turn their hands to anything, and he proposed making purser's dips from the spare fat.
He had to manufacture the wicks from cotton refuse, but, this accomplished, the rest was simple enough.
Petroleum was burned only in the saloon, and it was stored in a hold right beneath this for greater safety.
They had to be saving in the use thereof, however, and as they could talk as well, if not better, by the flickering light of the fire, the lamp was always turned out when no one cared to read. But around the galley fire those purser's dips were a great comfort to the men when not yarning. For then one man was told off to read while the others sat around to smoke and listen.
And thus passed many a quiet and peaceful evening away.
The men, I am happy to say, did not seem to hanker after grog, and it was finally agreed by all hands that it would be better to keep it for what they were pleased to call the spring fishery, or as a stand-by in case of illness.
They had plenty of tea and coffee, however, and a daily allowance of lime-juice.
Then Saturday nights were kept up in quite the old-fashioned and pleasant way, and the main-brace was invariably spliced.
Song succeeded song on these happy occasions, and many a toast was drunk to the health of the dear ones far away on Britain's shore.
Nor was dancing neglected, the consequence being that fiddle, guitar, and clarionet were in great request. As usual, little Johnnie Shingles and that droll penguin, dressed as a merry old lady, or sometimes as a modest wee maiden of sweet sixteen, convulsed the onlookers with their droll antics as they sailed around in the mazy dance.
But the monkey one evening did not see why he should not also have a waltz with Madam Pen.
"Yah-yah-yah!" he cried, as he approached her most coaxingly.
This was much as to say: "It is our dance, I believe, miss."
He attempted to take hold of Pen's flippers in the meanwhile, and was rewarded with a dig between the eyes that sent him reeling back, and so Jim made no more offers to trip it on the light fantastic toe with Madam Pen, on this evening or any other.
When Pen pecked the monkey he made an ugly scar, but poor kind-hearted Vike licked it every day several times with his soft warm tongue, and so it soon healed up.
Frank was by no means a very ambitious boy; he had not very much of the Scottish dash and go about him, and would at any time have preferred not doing to-day what could be just as easily done to-morrow, but he was clever for all that.
He it was who first attempted fishing in the ice-hole. But the ship had been imprisoned for well-nigh six weeks before he thought of it. The fact is, that by this time many of the men began to ail, and a peculiar kind of lassitude, dulness, and lowness of spirits were the first symptoms they complained of. Spots then appeared on the skin, every muscle ached when they moved. They suffered greatly from cold, and even their countenances grew worn and dusky.
The awful truth soon flashed upon Talbot's mind: these men were attacked by scurvy.
No less than three grew rapidly worse, and died one after the other-in spite of all that could be done for them. It was sad to listen to their last ravings and hear them speaking as if to friends at home; to a wife, a sister, or mayhap a sweetheart. Ah! but this was only when they were very near to the end.
A hammock had soon to be requisitioned after this, and the poor fellows were laid to rest many yards distant from the ship in a cold, icy grave.
Prayers were said over each, and there they will sleep probably for ever and for aye. For those buried thus never know decay till the ice around them may melt millions of years hence.
No medicine on board had any effect, and five in all were buried before the plague was stayed. It had been brought on, without doubt, from the want of fresh provisions, so Frank's idea of fishing adown the ice-hole was really a happy thought. For a whole day, however, like the apostle of old, he fished, but caught nothing. But on the day after he hooked a ray, and then a bonito.
From that very time fishing became a sport in which all the boys took part-and the plague soon left the ship.
Sorrowful indeed was Talbot at the loss of his men, still, grief is but transient on board ship. In a case like the present it would not do for it to be otherwise, for nothing is more depressing.
Moreover, the captain came now to the conclusion that the men had not enough exercise, so he proceeded at once to put into execution a plan that would meet the requirements of the case.
He instituted games on the ice.
Games in the dark! Is that your remark, reader?
But it was very far indeed from being dark. There was at the present time a moon, though it was at no great height above the horizon. Well, moonlight does not last long anyhow, but the bright beams from the star-studded heavens were far better than the moon at its best, and almost dimmed its splendour.
The sky was wondrously clear, and the stars seemed very large. So close aboard, too, did they appear to be that you might have thought it possible to touch them with a fishing-rod.
There are probably no games so invigorating as those called Scottish, or more properly Highland. They tend to the expansion of the chest and to the bracing and strengthening of every muscle in the body.
So hammer-throwing, weight-putting, leaping, and tossing the caber soon became the rule every forenoon. Then in the afternoon, and before tea, Highland dancing was the rage.
This is dancing in every sense of the word. Quadrilles are only fit for old folks, and waltzing-well, it is nice enough in a brilliantly-lit hall, with soft dreamy music and a brilliant partner, but, after all, it is only just wiping your feet and whirling round.
A broad sheet of wood was spread on the ice near the ship for Highland dancing, quite a large platform in fact.
And Duncan, like Auld Nick in Burns's masterpiece,Tam o' Shanter,
"Screwed his pipes and gart them skirl
Till roof and rafters a' did dirl."
Nae cotillion brent new frae France,
But hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, and reels,
Put life and mettle in their heels."
But these were not the only amusements the crew went in for, on the snow-clad ice, for while Conal and Frank were one day visiting those great bergs, the inventive genius of the latter was once more shown.
They found that a great portion of one side of the biggest berg was quite on the slope, and covered with frozen snow.
"Hurrah!" cried Frank, "I've got another."
"Why, another idea. This iceberg is just suited for tobogganing."
"Now," he added, "we sha'n't say a word to anybody till we try it ourselves first."
They, however, took the carpenter into their confidence, and he made them tiny sledges to sit upon. The slide was on a pretty gradual slope and altogether was about a hundred yards long from the top. Steps were cut at one side to make the getting up easy, and Frank himself was the first to make the descent.
"It is simply glorious!" This was his report.
"Flying," he added, "isn't in it."
And Conal himself confirmed this statement as soon as he himself had gone rushing down.
After this the great toboggan slide was in daily request, and the sound that came from the big berg was like the roaring of stones on a Scottish curling pond.
But high above the rushing noise, came the shouting and laughter of the merry-makers.
Poor Viking could not understand it, and I suppose he came to the conclusion that his human friends had all lost hold of the tiny supply of common-sense, which human beings can boast of.
But what with these games and dances, and then fun on board, the health of the crew continued excellent, though ever around the galley-fire at night (I mean before bed-time or at the tea hour) the men talked of home.
I myself, like most seafarers, – well, call us sailors if that sounds better, – dearly love
"A life on the ocean wave
And a home on the rolling deep,
Where the scattered waters rave
And the winds their revels keep".
Yet wherever in this world I have been there always seemed to be a magnetic needle in my heart, and it always pointed to Home.
"Where'er we roam, whatever lands we see
Our hearts untramelled fondly turn to thee
Such is the patriot's boast; where'er we roam,
Our first, best country, ever is at home."
On the whole, during their long imprisonment, the officers and crew of the good barque Flora M'Vaynekept up their hearts.
At long last the sun came nearer and nearer the northern horizon. For days before he rose there was a twilight of about two hours. Then a galaxy of the loveliest clouds were lit up, but still no sun.
Before noon on the day after, however, Frank and Conal, who seemed now to be inseparable, climbed to the top of the tobogganing berg, and soon after caught a glimpse of the glorious sun.
Neither could speak for a time, and indeed tears were trickling down Frank's face, which he took no trouble to hide. For, as we have seen before, he was a very impressionable lad.
"Oh, the sun! the sun!" That was all he said, but next minute both were waving their hats to those on board and shouting:
"The sun! the sun!"
And such a cheer uprose from that long-imprisoned ship, as never before probably was heard in these southern regions of perpetual snow and ice.
High above all, the boys could hear the barking of noble Vike.
Yes, but a moment after, and high above even that, across the intervening ice came the wild skirl of Duncan's Highland bagpipe.
Duncan was playing the March of the Cameron Men as he walked boldly up and down in the waist of the ship, while Frank and Conal on the ice-block could not help chiming in with just one verse of that brave old song, which has thrilled so many a heart on bank or brae or battlefield:
"Ah! proudly they march, though each Cameron knows
He may tread on the heather no more,
Yet boldly he follows his chief to the field
Where his laurels were gathered before".
"Yes, Frank, but we shall tread the heather again, sha'n't we, friend?"
"I hope so, and I mean to have a good try anyhow," was Frank's hearty reply.
Their dangers, however, were not all over yet. Not by a deal. In a still ice-pack like that in which they had lain so long, there is not very much to be feared except the danger of a nip or jam. But when the ice begins to open and the wind begins to blow, ah! then toil and trouble commence in earnest.
From observations, Captain Talbot now discovered that the immense field of ice on which they had been lying, had been gradually forcing its way on the current almost directly north, and that even Mount Sabine and the Admiralty Mountains were now a long way astern to the west.
And soon now the wind began to blow and howl; almost half a gale from the south-east by east. The noise, as it roared through the rigging and bare poles, was almost deafening, but this did not prevent these brave mariners from hearing every now and then the loud explosions on the ice-pack that heralded the breaking up of the whole, and that had been but a day or two ago a vast plain strong enough to have reviewed all the artillery in the world upon, would soon be but a chaos of rolling, dashing ice. The storm continued for more than a week, and all that time-every hour, in fact-the Flora M'Vayne had been in peril and danger.
Gallant ship! How well she stood the squeezing, the cannonading, the battering! A vessel less strong in every timber, or one built of teak instead of Scottish oak would have collapsed and gone down in a few minutes, carrying the crew with her, or leaving them almost naked, hungry, and helpless on the pack, to die a death ten times more cruel than drowning.
She got perilously near to the shore at last, however. It must have been somewhere close to Yule or Robertson Bay, for Cape Adare had been left a long way astern.
They were close enough to see that certain destruction awaited them if unable to change their position. The pancake and bay ice was piled along the rugged shore, hills high, one piece above another, by the terrible force of wind and current.
When soundings were taken, and it was found that there was but little depth of water to spare, and that even this was gradually lessening, then both Morgan and the skipper became alarmed.
"We must set sail," said the latter, "and try to bring her up a few points, or, depend upon it, our risky voyage will come to a sudden end."
All hands were called.
"All hands on deck! Tumble up, my lads! Tumble up!"
The men needed no second bidding. They did tumble up, every man Jack of them, as merrily as if marriage-bells had called them.
"All hands unship rudder!"
That was the next order. For there was great danger of this being dashed to pieces by the cruel ice.
The rudder was about the only vulnerable portion of the ship indeed.
Two whole hours were spent at this work, for the men, unlike those who sail to Arctic regions, had never been drilled to such work.
The short day had almost worn to a close before the job was finished.
But sail was now got on her, and by means of long poles, twenty men overboard on the ice managed not only to clear the way for her by shoving the pieces to one side, but also to steer the vessel, by keeping her head in the right direction.
Frank was sent to the foretop-gallant masthead to see if he could, by aid of the telescope, descry water to the nor'ards.
The sun was almost setting in the north-west, and there was plenty of light, but no water was visible, only the great white ocean of snow-clad ice, all in motion.
The scene was indeed a strange and impressive one, and after shouting down that there was no open water anywhere in sight, Frank stayed in the cross-trees for quite a long time, hardly ever feeling the cold, so interested was he in all he saw around him.
One thing, however, was evident, namely, that the huge iceberg on which they had spent so many merry hours tobogganing was fast aground down to leeward of them.
The ship passed it slowly.
"Good-bye, old chap," Frank could not help saying. "Sorry we can't take you to England with us, but can't see our way. By, by! See you later on, perhaps."
Then slowly he came below to the deck.
He was happy that it was just tea-time. The ship was now considered out of present danger, but watch after watch must remain on the ice to pole and guide, perhaps for days to come.
"I want," the skipper said, "to make a good offing, for I don't half like the look of the land in there, and should prefer to show it a pair of clean heels, and, please God, we shall before long."
The tea was very comforting, and in spite of the noise above of high winds and flapping sails, the saloon was very jolly and cosy indeed, and Frank was in no hurry to go on deck again.
"Hullo! what is that?" said Talbot, "someone tumbled down the companion?"
"Yes," said Conal laughing, "but it is only Old Pen. He finds that the most expeditious way of getting below now. He just throws himself on his back, head down, and toboggans down the steps."
And a second or two after, Pen appeared in the doorway, and looked wonderingly at the group assembled round the fire.
"You all look very snug here," he seemed to say. "Is there room for poor Old Pen among you?"
"Come along, Pen," said Conal, "we can always make room for you. Sit there on your tail beside Vike, and warm your soles."
"Yah-yah-yah!" cried the monkey, offering Pen a cockroach in quite a friendly way. But delicious as this might be, the bird preferred a bit of tinned salmon.
"Pen," said Duncan, "knows on what side his bread is buttered."
The bird eyed him knowingly, as, leaning on his tail, he held one broad foot up to the blaze.
"Pen", he seemed to say, "prefers his bread buttered on both sides."
It was comparatively late to-night before anyone thought of retiring. Moreover, it was Frank's "all night in", but I do not think he slept a great deal. There was noise enough on deck, aloft, and around the bows on the ice to have awakened Rip Van Winkle himself, but slumber he did at last, though only to revisit in dreams his native land, and the wild and lonesome grandeur of romantic Scotland.
Nay, but I ought not to say lonesome, for how could he feel lonesome with his sweetheart Flora walking by his side, or darting off every now and then to chase a butterfly, or cull some rare and beautiful flower.
Ah! he could not help thinking, even in his dreams, if life were ever ever like this. Late in the middle watch he was awakened in a very unceremonious way indeed. In fact he was well-nigh pitched clean and clear out of his bunk. He wondered what was up, for there was a more sea-like motion about the ship. But, sailor-like, he just turned upon his back and went off to sleep again.
The explanation was simple. The ship had struck a very wide lane of open water. Open to a great extent that is, for many a dangerous and nasty piece of green ice battered the sides of the vessel as, glad to be free, she went dashing through the open water under all sail that could be safely carried. Boats, also under sail, were ahead of her to keep her in the right course.
But at daybreak the captain himself went aloft, and noticing that the open water was visible at least a dozen miles ahead, and that the lane grew wider towards the north, he had the main-yard hauled aback. The boats were then hoisted, and all the crew bore a hand in shipping the rudder once more.
The breeze still held, and a splendid day's record was made nor was there at night any reason to fear danger.
The pieces of ice, however, lay about in all directions, and sometimes three or four appeared ahead, suddenly too. As these could not always be avoided, the plan was to select the largest and steer straight stem-on to that. It is better to do so than to be struck on the broadside by a heavy piece.
But as she sailed through streams of smaller pieces the noise of the cannonading, as heard down below, was sometimes quite deafening.
It would have been very nice for all on board had this lane of water conducted the ship right out into the open northern ocean.
It did not, however, for by and by the wind fell, and slowly, but surely, the sides of the great natural canal came closer and closer together, and finally the good ship Flora M'Vayne was again completely beset, with no signs of water even from the mast-head.
Only all around was the white and dazzling pack. For a whole fortnight, or over, the frost continued, and never a cloud was seen.
One day, however, the active and busy little Frank Trelawney discovered, from the crow's-nest-a barrel high up on the main truck-a cloud no bigger than a man's hand, away down on the southern horizon.
It slowly increased, and before many hours was a huge and rolling mass of cumulus.
Other clouds also were rolling up, and it was evident they were bringing the wind with them.
About the same time the temperature rose, but the glass fell considerably, so that the skipper and Morgan shook their heads ominously.
"We're going to have a big blow, sir," said the latter.
"That is so, mate, and we are not in a very enviable situation."
The mate held up his finger.
There was a succession of loud reports almost alongside, and the screeching and caterwauling sounds that followed, showed that the ship was being nipped.
"We're in for it, mate; but she has a nicely-rounded bottom, and will rise twenty feet rather than be staved in.
"But," he added, "we can't afford to lose our rudder, so we'll have that unshipped once more."
This was done, and probably only in time, for the pressure increased every hour.
It was evident now the ship would rise if the ice did not go clean through her.
She did rise, and that too with a vengeance, for by next morning she was lying almost on her beam-ends on the adjoining floe.
The yard-arms had been hauled fore-and-aft, else they would have touched the snow.
To live on board now was impossible for days and days to come.
But boats and provisions were landed, and every preparation made to journey northward over the great ice-pack, should the ship go down after again righting herself.