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Chasing the Sun

Chasing the Sun

Author:R. M. Ballantyne


Fred Temple was a tall, handsome young fellow of about five-and-twenty. He had a romantic spirit, a quiet gentlemanly manner, a pleasant smile, and a passionate desire for violent exercise. To look at him you would have supposed that he was rather a lazy man, for all his motions were slow and deliberate. He was...
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  Fred Temple was a tall, handsome young fellow of about five-and-twenty.

  He had a romantic spirit, a quiet gentlemanly manner, a pleasant smile,and a passionate desire for violent exercise. To look at him you wouldhave supposed that he was rather a lazy man, for all his motions wereslow and deliberate. He was never in a hurry, and looked as if it wouldtake a great deal to excite him. But those who knew Fred Temple wellused to say that there was a great deal more in him than appeared atfirst sight. Sometimes a sudden flush of the brow, or a gleam of hiseyes, told of hidden fires within.

  Fred, when a small boy, was extremely fond of daring and dangerousexpeditions. He had risked his life hundreds of times on tree-tops andprecipices for birds' nests, and had fought more hand-to-hand battlesthan any of the old Greek or Roman heroes. After he became a man, herisked his life more than once in saving the lives of others, and it wasa notable fact that many of the antagonists of his boyhood became, atlast, his most intimate friends.

  Fred Temple was fair and ruddy. At about the age of nineteen certainparts of his good-looking face became covered with a substanceresembling floss-silk. At twenty-five this substance had changed into apair of light whiskers and a lighter moustache. By means of thatbarbarous custom called shaving he kept his chin smooth.

  Fred's father was a wealthy Liverpool merchant. At the period when ourtale opens Fred himself had become chief manager of the business.People began, about this time, to say that the business could not get onwithout him. There were a great number of hands, both men and women,employed by Temple and Son, and there was not one on the establishment,male or female, who did not say and believe that Mr Frederick was thebest master, not only in Liverpool, but in the whole world. He did notby any means overdose the people with attentions; but he had a heartyoffhand way of addressing them that was very attractive. He was a firmruler. No skulker had a chance of escape from his sharp eye, but, onthe other hand, no hard-working servant was overlooked.

  One day it was rumoured in the works that Mr Frederick was going totake a long holiday. Since his appointment to the chief charge, Fredhad taken few holidays, and had worked so hard that he began to have acareworn aspect, so the people said they were "glad to hear it; no onein the works deserved a long holiday better than he." But the peoplewere not a little puzzled when Bob Bowie, the office porter, told themthat their young master was going away for three months to chase thesun!

  "Chase the sun, Bob! what d'ye mean?" said one. "I don't know wot Imean; I can only tell ye wot I say," answered Bowie bluntly.

  Bob Bowie was an old salt--a retired seaman--who had sailed long assteward of one of the ships belonging to the House of Temple and Son,and, in consequence of gallantry in saving the life of a comrade, hadbeen pensioned off, and placed in an easy post about the office, withgood pay. He was called Old Bob because he looked old, and wasweather-worn, but he was stout and hale, and still fit for activeservice.

  "Come, Bowie," cried another, "how d'ye know he's goin' to chase thesun?"

  "Cause I heerd him say so," replied Bob.

  "Was he in earnest?" inquired a third.

  "In coorse he wos," said Bob.

  "Then it's my opinion," replied the other, "that old Mr Temple'll haveto chase _his_ son, and clap him in a strait-jacket w'en he catcheshim--if he talks such stuff."

  The porter could not understand a joke, and did not like one, so heturned on his heel, and, leaving his friends to laugh at their comrade'sjest, proceeded to the counting-room.

  There were two counting-rooms--a small outer and a large inner one. Inthe outer room sat a tall middle-aged man, lanky and worn in appearanceand with a red nose. Opposite to him, at the same desk, sat a small fatboy with a round red face, and no chin to speak of. The man was writingbusily--the boy was drawing a caricature of the man, also busily.

  Passing these, Bob Bowie entered the inner office, where a dozen clerkswere all busily employed, or pretending to be so. Going straight onwardlike a homeward-bound ship, keeping his eyes right ahead, Bob wasstranded at last in front of a green door, at which he knocked, and wasanswered with a hearty "Come in."

  The porter went in and found Fred Temple seated at a table which wascovered with books and papers.

  "Oh! I sent for you, Bowie, to say that I want you to go with me toNorway to-morrow morning."

  "To Norway, sir!" said Bowie in surprise.

  "Ay, surely you're not growing timid in your old age, Bob! It is but ashort voyage of two or three days. My little schooner is a goodsea-boat, and a first-rate sailor."

  "Why, as for bein' _timid_," said the porter, rubbing the end of hisnose, which was copper-coloured and knotty, "I don't think I ever knowedthat there feelin', but it does take a feller aback to be told all of asuddent, after he's reg'larly laid up in port, to get ready to tripanchor in twelve hours and bear away over the North Sea--not that Icares a brass fardin' for that fish-pond, blow high, blow low, but it'sraither suddent, d'ye see, and my rig ain't just seaworthy."

  Bowie glanced uneasily at his garments, which were a cross between thoseof a railway-guard and a policeman.

  "Never mind the rig, Bob," cried Fred, laughing. "Do you get ready tostart, with all the underclothing you have, by six to-morrow morning.We shall go to Hull by rail, and I will see to it that your top-sailsare made all right."

  "Wery good, sir."

  "You've not forgotten how to make lobscouse or plum-duff, I dare say?"

  Bob's eyes brightened as he replied stoutly, "By no manner o' means."

  "Then be off, and, remember, sharp six."

  "Ay, ay, sir," cried the old seaman in a nautical tone that he had notused for many years, and the very sound of which stirred his heart withold memories. He was about to retire, but paused at the threshold ofthe green door.

  "Beg parding, sir, but if I might make so bold as to ax--"

  "Go on, Bob," said Fred encouragingly.

  "I heerd ye say to our cashier, sir, that you wos goin' for to _chasethe sun_. Wot sort of a chase may that be, sir?"

  "Ha! Bowie, that's a curious chase, but not a wild goose one, as I hopeto show you in a month or two. You know, of course, that in the regionsof the earth north of the Arctic Circle the sun shines by night as wellas by day for several weeks in summer?"

  "In coorse I do," answered Bob; "every seaman knows that or ought for toknow it; and that it's dark all day as well as all night in winter forsome weeks, just to make up for it, so to speak."

  "Well, Bob, I am very desirous to see this wonderful sight with my owneyes, but I fear I am almost too late of setting out. The season is sofar advanced that the sun is setting farther and farther north everynight, and if the winds baffle us I won't be able to catch him sittingup all night; but if the winds serve, and we have plenty of them we mayyet be in time to see him draw an unbroken circle in the sky. You seeit will be a regular chase, for the sun travels north at a rapid pace.D'you understand?"

  Bob Bowie grinned, nodded his head significantly, retired, and shut thedoor.

  Fred Temple, left alone, seized a quill and scribbled off two notes,--one to a friend in Scotland, the other to a friend in Wales. The noteto Scotland ran as follows:--

  "MY DEAR GRANT,--I have made up my mind to go to Norway for threemonths. Principal object to chase the sun. Secondary objects, healthand amusement. Will you go? You will find my schooner comfortable, mysociety charming

if you make yourself agreeable

, and no end ofsalmon-fishing and scenery. Reply by return of post. I go to Hullto-morrow, and will be there a week. This will give you ample time toget ready.

  "Ever thine, FRED TEMPLE."

  The note to Wales was addressed to Sam Sorrel, and was written insomewhat similar terms, but Sam being a painter by profession, thebeauty of the scenery was enlarged on and held out as an inducement.

  Both of Fred's friends had been prepared some time before for thisproposal, and both of them at once agreed to assist him in "chasing thesun!"

  That night Frederick Temple dreamed that the sun smiled on him in apeculiarly sweet manner; he dreamed, still further, that it beckoned himto follow it to the far north, whereupon Fred was suddenly transformedinto a gigantic locomotive engine; the sun all at once became a greendragon with pink eyes and a blue tail; and he set off in chase of itinto the Arctic regions with a noise like a long roar of the loudestthunder!