Gordon Stables.

Courage, True Hearts: Sailing in Search of Fortune



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The wind was bitterly cold, even in the poor ship's lee, but they managed to light fires and to cook, though it was indeed a wretched time.

Enveloped in rugs, the boys, with Viking, huddled together at night, but for a long time after lying down sleep was impossible. And when slumber did at last seal their eyes, the dreams they dreamt were far indeed from pleasant.

But now came a warm and almost pleasant wind from the north-north-west, and the ice began to open.

Captain Talbot's anxiety was now at its greatest, for there was water on the starboard side of the ship and the berg or floe on which she lay.

Ropes were therefore attached to her masts, and all hands upon the ice bent on to these, pulling slowly with a long pull and a strong pull.

For more than an hour they made no impression on the vessel, and it was evident the cargo had shifted somewhat.

Talbot gave the steward an order to splice the mainbrace.

He countermanded this almost immediately after, however, for it was now evident the vessel was doing her best to get righted.

"Pull now, lads! Pull steadily all! Heave-oh and she comes!"

Every hand is laid on the ropes; every nerve is braced, and the veins start on the men's perspiring foreheads as they keep up the strain.

Viking barks as if to encourage them.

It is all the poor dog can do.

"Heave and she goes! Heave and she rips! Hurrah! lads, hurrah!"

"She is coming, boys! Heave-oh, again! Another pull does it! Easy! Slack off! Hurrah!"

A wild cheer rent the air as the brave and sturdy barque slid downwards off the floe and took the water like a duck or a penguin.

The men and officers paused now to wipe their faces.

Then all hands got on board and manned the pumps.

No, she was safe. Not a drop of extra water had she made, or was making.

What a relief!

The sun was already sinking low on the horizon, and his last beams lit up the great snow plain 'twixt the ship and sky, as if a canal of crimson blood was there.

Talbot was happy now. The recovery of the ship from her serious position was like a good omen, so, as soon as everything was got on board, he thought it high time to splice the main-brace.

And so did the men also.

All hands were as merry that night as the winning team after a football match.

The wind had gone down, but the weather continued fairly mild, and there was not a sound to be heard on the pack.

On board, however, there were plenty of sounds-sounds of mirth and music in the galley. For Frank had gone forward with his fiddle, and a dance was the natural consequence.

Johnnie Shingles, and old mother Pen, were once more in glorious form, and their dancing brought down the house, and elicited rounds and rounds of applause.

Then dancing became general.

But the fatigues of the day had been very great, so that it is no wonder pipes were soon got out, and a wide and cheerful circle formed about the fire.

Songs and yarns were now to be the order of the evening, and although it was not Saturday night it bore a very strong resemblance to it.

Just one song-written and sung by Frank himself, was to-night twice encored. As to its composition I say nothing, except that everything pleases the true-born British sailor that has got the ring of the sea about it.

FRANK'S SONG
 
And now, my boys, sit round the fire,
And pass the glasses round;
Our troubles all we'll soon forget
When we are homeward bound.
 
 
Ah! many a danger we've defied,
We've weathered many a gale,
Nor stormiest seas, nor grinding ice,
Have ever made us quail!
 
 
Though bergs are still about us, boys,
Far north the billows sound,
And we'll welcome every breeze that blows,
When we are homeward bound.
 
 
Why should we mourn for pals we've lost,
Or let the tear-drops fall,
They sleep in peace, their sorrows o'er,
Beneath the snow's soft pall.
 
 
So crowd around the fire, dear lads,
And pass the glasses round;
Our friends are moored on heavenly shores-
And we are homeward bound.
 
CHAPTER XV. – THE ISLES OF DESOLATION

If to be sailing northwards and east with a spanking breeze, and the great sea of southern ice in which, and on which, so many adventures had been had, was being homeward bound-then were our heroes homeward bound.

It is a nice thing to sing about anyhow of an evening around a cheerful fire; but ah! as I've said before there is many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip, and there is nothing certain at sea save the unexpected.

However, bold Captain Talbot had no intentions of returning to England with what he called only half a voyage.

"I'm going to do my level best," he told the boys about a fortnight after they had got clear and away, "to have a bumper ship, that shall recoup us all for our outlay, to say nothing of our sufferings."

"And now we're bearing up for Kerguelen, aren't we?" said Conal.

"That's the place, lad; and I'm a Dutchman if we don't find the elephant-seals there in countless thousands."

"And when we fill up, what then?"

"O, that question I was considering last night in bed, and I've concluded we had better leave our cargo at the Cape. We can sell well there at present, for oil is much needed. Then we shall clean ship thoroughly, and sail northwards by the Indian Ocean, picking up a cargo at the Cape, at Zanzibar, and wherever else we can find it. We can't go wrong."

"And back home through the Suez Canal. Is that your idea, sir?" said the mate.

"You've hit it completely, Morgan."

"You must remember," he continued after a pause, during which he had been watching the smoke that curled from his lips towards the roof of the saloon, "that I look upon this only as an experimental voyage, and as such it hasn't proved altogether a failure. We shall clear our feet and pay our way, boys; and our adventures will be the theme of many a lecture when at last we reach the old country.

"And not that only, for our success will enable us to float a good company for sealing and steam-whaling in the Antarctic seas. You see, boys, I've been north and south. I've been what you well may term from pole to pole. Well, my opinion is, that although the Arctic lies handier to our own doors than the Antarctic, still it is almost played out. They have been going it among the baby seals a trifle too fast, and have given them no close season, so though I don't say they've killed them nearly all off, still they have scared them pretty considerably, and the modern Arctic seal isn't the innocent confiding creature he was in the days of my boyhood. No, he has got far more wary, and so packs of them are more difficult to find than formerly.

"And as for Right whales, well, they are far wiser than we have any idea of. Their kingdom is a boundless one. It is the ocean wild and wide, and if they cannot have peace to gather in schools, and enjoy their little parties in the north, why, they are free to come to the Antarctic. And that is just what they have done.

"Well, lads, we shall do something in it, be assured. But we've got to have steam. Strong screw steamers with all appliances to repair damages of every kind; and steam ice-hammers as well. You've thrown in your lot with me, boys, and my name isn't Talbot if I don't help you to make a good thing of it."

"The Antarctic is very far away from England," said Frank thoughtfully.

"There you're right, lad. You are thinking of the expense?"

"Yes."

"Ah! but our company will not bring their ships home to Britain. No, they will cruise from the Antarctic to the very nearest markets-in Australia, for instance. And so it will pay. For should we lose a ship or two, well, the insurance companies must pay that, and they are well able to.

"So that is my scheme, boys, and, on the whole, I don't think it is a bad one. There are so few ways of making fortunes nowadays that when one gets the ball at his foot, he is a fool if he does not hit it as hard as he knows how to."

The voyage to the Kerguelen islands was a very propitious one, and every one on board the sturdyFlora M'Vayne was as happy as the day was long. Vike seemed to have got a new lease of life, and wallowed in the sunshine.

"It is such a change, you know," he told Conal, "and I believe we'll soon be back once more in bonnie Scotland, and won't I tear around the hills just!"

The monkey was less melancholy now, and the cough which troubled him so much while in the ice, appeared to have quite gone.

And old Pen seemed to be almost beside himself with delight. He used to go tearing along the decks, flapping his wings and shrieking as if possessed, and even in his calmer moods he would sometimes leap up suddenly and practise waltzing all alone.

There was a delightful breeze nearly all the time. If not astern it was a beam wind, and so the Florawent ripping through the dark-blue seas, every wave of which sparkled in the sunshine.

Many whales were seen, but as Talbot depended most on getting among the elephants now, boats were never lowered to go whaling.

Frank spent much of his time in the crow's-nest.

He was not afraid to swing through the sky at that giddy height, although the first time he clambered up he believed that the crew would have to lower him down with block-and-tackle, he was so thoroughly frightened.

"On deck there!" rang the young fellow's voice one forenoon from the nest.

"Ay, ay, lad," from the skipper.

"Land in sight!"

"Where away?"

"On the starboard bow."

"And what does it look like?"

"I can only raise some mountain cones. They seem volcanic, and their sides are covered with snow."

"Bravo! Come down and I'll get up myself."

Frank was soon on deck.

"Well done, Frank," said Talbot laughing. "I promised a pair of canvas trousers to the man who should first sight land, and you shall have them."

"Yes, thank you, and I shall wear them too."

Away went the skipper up to the crow's-nest, and before long came an order to alter the course a point or two.

Close to the Islands of Desolation, as Kerguelen is called, it was fully a week before the Flora M'Vaynewas able to reach and enter one of the friths or creeks. For on the very day on which land was sighted a fearful hurricane swept down on the ship, and so suddenly, too, that before sails could be taken in many were rent into ribbons, that cracked and rattled with a sound like the independent firing of troops in action. There was no standing against wind of this awful violence, and it was necessary to run for it under what is termed "bare poles", that is, the smallest amount of sail that can be carried with steering power.

But Kerguelen is the region of hurricanes, and few ships that visit these wild shores escape with impunity.

The coast of the chief islands was found to be iron-bound, high, barren, and rocky, but when they entered and sailed along one of the creeks, scenery of quite a different kind was met with.

It would be difficult indeed to exaggerate the strange, wild, but solitary beauty of this scenery. Solitary, that is, as regards sight or sign of human being.

But bird life was in evidence everywhere; in fact, Kerguelen might be called the home of the sea-birds. They have seen but little of man, however, and know nothing of his evil or demoniacal ways. They look upon him only as a curious kind of biped, of the penguin species, but without feathers.

Well, when Duncan or Frank went on shore for a walk with the skipper, the gulls, the petrels, the penguins, the albatrosses, and cormorants flew around them in thousands, and the din they made was almost deafening.

Nor were our heroes free altogether from their attentions, which sometimes were rather of an objectionable character, especially when students of nature in the shape of huge yellow-cheeked penguins waddled up to the place where they were sitting, and began examining their jackets with the greatest curiosity. Pecking holes in them, too, and pulling at them.

When rudely thrust off they would retire but a little way, and stand watching the boys with great interest.

"Well, I never!" they seemed to say, looking at them from one side of their heads.

"Well, I'm gee-whizzled!" gazing at them with the other.

"Penguins, aren't you? But the ugliest lot ever we saw. We really wonder your mothers allow you go about like that!"

To-day Captain Talbot and his boys went exploring, but a man was with them to carry the game they killed, and these consisted chiefly of ducks and rabbits. The former showed no fear, but the latter scurried away at once.

They journeyed far inland, and made many interesting discoveries, which proved that these islands are not so utterly useless as they are supposed to be. Indeed, they could be worked profitably both for coals and oil.

And Talbot made a general survey of the regions traversed and took ample notes.

"This would make an excellent centre for our great Antarctic whaling and sealing expedition," he said. "And you and I, boys, might build ourselves a house just under the shelter of these green lichen-clad rocks yonder."

"Oh, it would be awfully nice!" cried Frank.

"And couldn't we have a garden?"

"Yes, and plant and grow crops."

"And trees?"

"Yes, again, and if we are spared to come back here we shall bring with us a few hundreds of young pine-trees-Scotch, and spruce-and plenty of seed."

"How delightful! I should like so much to be a Crusoe. But listen! Surely that was a dog barking high up the hill yonder."

And so it was, for next moment down came Vike with a rabbit in his mouth.

"Why, Vike," cried Duncan, "we left you on board."

"Very likely," said Vike, speaking with his tail and eyes as he lay there panting from his exertions, with about two yards-more or less-of pink tongue hanging out over his alabaster teeth. "Very likely, but five hundred yards of a swim isn't much to a dog like me. And what is more. Wowff, wowff! you had no business to bolt away without me. Wowff! Don't do it again!"

"Well, now," said Talbot to his mate next day at breakfast, "what do you say to stay here till we lay in a real good cargo, for outside the elephants are in thousands, and the poor things have young beside them too."

"The idea is excellent, sir," said Morgan, "and I have another."

"Out with it, mate. We can't have too many ideas in this world, if we mean to be successful. These ideas of ours don't all hold water; but then we can go over them at our leisure and pick out the best."

"That's it, sir. Well, why not get all the skins we can procure, and then make off the oil. Coals are plentiful on shore, and we have cauldrons, you know."

"Bravo! Morgan. That is just what we shall do."

So after breakfast boats were called away, and returned in the evening laden to the gunwales.

So the vessel was shifted nearer to the open sea, and thus the whalers could go and return twice or even thrice in one day with their hauls.

It was no easy work, you may well believe, when I tell you that the skin and blubber of one of these huge sea-elephants sometimes weighed eight hundred-weight.

Poor, great, innocent brutes, it did seem a shame to kill their young before their eyes! The sight of the blood made mothers and fathers frantic, and they rushed on shore as if bent on revenge, but only to fall victims to the rifles of the gunners.

It was a bloody and terrible scene, and I have no desire to describe it. Indeed, were I to tell the reader one quarter of the cruelties I have seen enacted by sealers, I should so harrow his feelings that his dreams would not be pleasant for one night afterwards.

Not merely for a fortnight, but for more than three weeks did the Flora lie at Kerguelen, but in a sheltered cove, so that the hurricanes, that on four or five different occasions swept down from the mountains with terrific violence, had but little effect on her. By this time they had boiled down all their oil, salted all their skins and tanked them, and were in reality a bumper ship.

I must not forget one little incident that took place about a week after their arrival.

One day that extremely wise and wondrous bird, Old Pen, went hopping down the starboard gangway and leapt into the sea.

Vike, who had been observing him, sprang right off the bulwark and tried most energetically to head him off.

The bird and dog met face to face, and it really seemed as if a conversation somewhat as follows took place.

Old Pen: "Hullo, what's your game?"

Viking: "I'm going to rush you back to your ship."

O. P.: "Your grandmother! I won't be rushed. I can swim better than you, and dive like a fish-hawk. So don't let us quarrel. In spring, you know, a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love. I've got an appointment on shore here. Ta, ta! Be as good's ye can."

Vike: "But I say, Old Pen-"

Old Pen had dived and was out of sight, and so Vike swam sadly back to the ship once more.

Just a few hours, however, before the anchor was got up, and while the crew were busy shaking out the sails before departing for the far west, something between a squawk and a squeal was heard alongside, and, sure enough, there was Old Pen come back again.

He was assisted on board, and shook himself as unconcernedly as if nothing unusual had happened.

But Viking's delight knew no bounds, nor did that of little Johnnie Shingles. The former went tearing round and round the deck, like a hairy hurricane.

"If I don't allay my feelings thus," cried Vike, "I shall go clean off my chump."

Now it happened that Frank was on deck with his fiddle, ready to play to the men as they got up the anchor.

But, seeing how matters stood, he instantly struck up a lively schottische.

"Squawk-s-squaw-awk!" cried Old Pen, waving his flippers.

"Hurray!" cried Johnnie, and next moment he and his strange partner were whirling round and round on the quarter-deck, in one of the maddest, merriest dances that surely ever yet was seen.

And I don't believe there was a soul on board who was not rejoiced that Old Pen had returned once again.

That evening they were far away on the quiet and lonesome sea, and, standing by the fire in the saloon warming his flat feet, one by one, as usual, was Old Pen, while near him, sound asleep, lay Vike.

"Awfully good of the bird to come off in time, wasn't it, boys?" said the skipper, relighting his pipe. "If he hadn't come back I should have believed I was about to be deserted by all my good fortune.

"We are glad to see you, Pen, and hope you'll never leave us again. But what put it into your silly noddle to go away at all, Pen?"

Pen made two hops of the space between him and the captain. Then leaning his head on his knee he looked up drolly with one eye-which being half-closed gave him the appearance of winking.

"I did think of getting spliced, you know," he seemed to say, "and more than one lovely Lady Pen asked me to fly with her to a foreign shore. Nary a fly," says I, "not if Pen knows it. Marriage is a precarious kind of experiment, so after flirting around for a bit I remembered my old friends and just floated off again."

Fine weather all the way to the Cape, with stunsails set 'low and aloft most of the time.

Ah, reader, there isn't much to beat the life a sailor leads after all!

In foul weather? Yes, foul or fine, and it isn't always blowing big guns at sea.

And Jack has no undergrowth of care to curl round the very roots of his life, and try to swamp him.

If he does his duty-and what real sailor doesn't? – he may be as happy and jolly as the Prince of Wales, only a vast deal more so.

Besides, what Jack afloat is there, who has not some loved one to think of when far away at sea; someone that he knows right well is thinking, ay, and praying, for him. So even in storm and in danger Jack may sing:

 
"Blow high, blow low, let tempests tear
The main-mast by the board;
My heart with thoughts of thee, my dear,
And love well stored,
Shall brave all danger, scorn all fear.
The roaring winds, the raging sea,
In hopes on shore,
To be once more,
Safe moor'd with thee."
 

The crow's-nest had been taken down, but stride-legs on the foretop-gallant cross-trees sat Frank one sunny forenoon. Gently to and fro swings the ship, the top-masts forming the arc of a great circle. But Frank minds not the motion.

He is an ancient mariner now.

Or he thinks he is.

"On deck there!"

It is a shout which is half hysterical with joy.

"Land on the lee-bow. The Cape, sir! The Cape!"

Then a cheer rises up from far below that makes the very sails shiver.

Vike starts up and barks, and taking this for an invitation to dance, Old Pen with a squawk and a squeal springs up, and next minute Johnnie Shingles and he are wheeling round in fine style on the quarter-deck.

"Land! Land! Land!" And, for a time at least, the dangers of the deep are past.



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