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Fast in the Ice: Adventures in the Polar Regions

Fast in the Ice: Adventures in the Polar Regions

Author:R. M. Ballantyne


One day, many years ago, a brig cast off from her moorings, and sailed from a British port for the Polar Seas. That brig never came back. Many a hearty cheer was given, many a kind wish was uttered, many a handkerchief was waved, and m...
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  One day, many years ago, a brig cast off from her moorings, and sailedfrom a British port for the Polar Seas. That brig never came back.

  Many a hearty cheer was given, many a kind wish was uttered, many ahandkerchief was waved, and many a tearful eye gazed that day as thevessel left Old England, and steered her course into the unknown regionsof the far north.

  But no cheer ever greeted her return; no bright eyes ever watched herhomeward-bound sails rising on the far-off horizon.

  Battered by the storms of the Arctic seas, her sails and cordagestiffened by the frosts, and her hull rasped and shattered by the ice ofthose regions, she was forced on a shore where the green grass haslittle chance to grow, where winter reigns nearly all the year round,where man never sends his merchandise, and never drives his plough.There the brig was frozen in; there, for two long years, she lay unableto move, and her starving crew forsook her; there, year after year, shelay, unknown, unvisited by civilised man, and unless the wild Eskimos[see note 1] have torn her to pieces, and made spears of her timbers, orthe ice has swept her out to sea and whirled her to destruction, thereshe lies still--hard and fast in the ice.

  The vessel was lost, but her crew were saved, and most of them returnedto tell their kinsfolk of the wonders and the dangers of the frozenregions, where God has created some of the most beautiful and some ofthe most awful objects that were ever looked on by the eye of man.

  What was told by the fireside, long ago, is now recounted in this book.

  Imagine a tall, strong man, of about five-and-forty, with short, curlyblack hair, just beginning to turn grey; stern black eyes, that look asif they could pierce into your secret thoughts; a firm mouth, with linesof good-will and kindness lurking about it; a deeply-browned skin, and ashort, thick beard and moustache. That is a portrait of the commanderof the brig. His name was Harvey. He stood on the deck, close by thewheel, looking wistfully over the stern. As the vessel bent before thebreeze, and cut swiftly through the water, a female hand was raisedamong the gazers on the pier, and a white scarf waved in the breeze. Inthe forefront of the throng, and lower down, another hand was raised; itwas a little one, but very vigorous; it whirled a cap round a small headof curly black hair, and a shrill "hurrah!" came floating out to sea.

  The captain kissed his hand and waved his hat in reply; then, wheelingsuddenly round, he shouted, in a voice of thunder:

  "Mind your helm, there; let her away a point. Take a pull on theseforetopsail halyards; look alive, lads!"

  "Aye, aye, sir!" replied the men.

  There was no occasion whatever for these orders. The captain knew thatwell enough, but he had his own reasons for giving them. The men knewthat, too, and they understood his reasons when they observed theincreased sternness of his eyes, and the compression of his lips.

  Inclination and duty! What wars go on in the hearts of men--high andlow, rich and poor--between these two. What varied fortune follows man,according as the one or the other carries the day.

  "Please, sir," said a gruff, broad-shouldered, and extremely short man,with little or no forehead, a hard, vacant face, and a pair of enormousred whispers; "please, sir, Sam Baker's took very bad; I think it wouldbe as well if you could give him a little physic, sir; a tumbler ofEpsom, or some-think of that sort."

  "Why, Mr Dicey, there can't be anything very far wrong with Baker,"said the captain, looking down at his second mate; "he seems to me oneof the healthiest men in the ship. What's the matter with him?"

  "Well, I can't say, sir," replied Mr Dicey, "but he looks 'orrible bad,all yellow and green about the gills, and fearful red round the eyes.But what frightens me most is that I heard him groanin' very heavy abouta quarter of an hour ago, and then I saw him suddenly fling himself intohis 'ammock and begin blubberin' like a child. Now, sir, I say, when agrow'd-up man gives way like that, there must be some-think far wrongwith his inside. And it's a serious thing, sir, to take a sick man onsuch a voyage as this."

  "Does he not say what's wrong with him?" asked the captain.

  "No, sir; he don't. He says it's nothin', and he'll be all right ifhe's only let alone. I did hear him once or twice muttering some-thinkabout his wife and child; you know, sir, he's got a young wife, and shehad a baby about two months 'fore we came away, but I can't think that'sgot much to do with it, for _I've_ got a wife myself, sir, and sixchildren, two of 'em bein' babies, and that don't upset _me_, andBaker's a much stronger man."

  "You are right, Mr Dicey, he is a much stronger man than you," repliedthe captain, "and I doubt not that his strength will enable him to getover this without the aid of physic."

  "Very well, sir," said Mr Dicey.

  The second mate was a man whose countenance never showed any signs ofemotion, no matter what he felt. He seldom laughed, or, if he did, hismouth remained almost motionless, and the sounds that came out wereanything but cheerful. He had light grey eyes which always wore anexpression of astonishment; but the expression was accidental; itindicated no feeling. He would have said, "Very well, sir," if thecaptain had refused to give poor Baker food instead of physic.

  "And hark'ee, Mr Dicey," said the captain, "don't let him be disturbedtill he feels inclined to move."

  "Very well, sir," replied the second mate, touching his cap as he turnedaway.

  "So," murmured the captain, as he gazed earnestly at the now distantshore, "I'm not the only one who carries a heavy heart to sea this dayand leaves sorrowing hearts behind him."


  Note 1. This word is here spelled as pronounced. It is usually spelledEsquimaux.