Fast in the Ice, Adventures in the Polar Regions, by R.M. Ballantyne.
This little book describes a visit up to the Arctic regions, that was
supposed to have taken place long before the book was written, in other
words in the early part of the nineteenth century. The purpose of the
journey was to get near to the North Pole, which was considered to be
surrounded by a large area of ice-free water. The vessel
in which they
sailed became beset by ice, and could not be moved. They met with
Esquimaux, and saw how they survived, how they killed walrus, how they
caught birds, and how they lived in their ice-houses, or igloos. They
also had several encounters with polar bears, and musk-ox.
Eventually they have been in the ice for a couple of years, and some of
the men are suffering
from scurvy. Europeans get scurvy from lack of
fruit and vegetables, but this condition doesn't seem to affect
Esquimaux, whose meat and fat diet does not cause them to have heart
The crew eventuallyabandon
the vessel, which has been crushed suddenly
by a stream
of ice-floes, and are obliged to walk out of
where they had spent so much time. Luckily, when at their last gasp,
they find an Esquimaux village, where they learn that there is a Danish
settlement not too far away, and that from it they can take ship for
Europe, and eventually
make their way back to Britain.
FAST IN THE ICE, ADVENTURES IN THE POLAR REGIONS, BY 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 many a tearful eye gazed that day as the
vessel left Old England, and steered her course into the unknown regions
of the far north.
But no cheer ever greeted her return; no bright eyes ever watched her
homeward-bound sails rising on the far-off
Battered by the storms of the Arctic seas, her sails and cordage
stiffened by the frosts, and her hull rasped and shattered by the ice of
those regions, she was forced on a shore where the green grass has
little 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 unable
to move, and her starving crew forsook
her; there, year after year, she
lay, unknown, unvisited by civilised man, and unless the wild Eskimos
[see note 1] have torn her to pieces, and made spears of her timbers, or
the ice has swept her out to sea and whirled her to destruction, there
she lies still--hard and fast in the ice.
was lost, but her crew were saved, and most of them returned
to tell their kinsfolk of the wonders and the dangers of the frozen
regions, where God has created some of the most beautiful and some of
the 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, curly
black hair, just beginning
to turn grey; stern black eyes, that look as
if they could pierce
into your secret thoughts; a firm mouth, with lines
of good-will and kindness lurking about it; a deeply-browned skin, and a
short, thick beard and moustache. That is a portrait
of the commander
of the brig. His name was Harvey. He stood on the deck, close by the
wheel, looking wistfully
over the stern. As the vessel
bent before the
breeze, and cut swiftly
through the water, a female
hand was raised
among the gazers on the pier, and a white scarf waved in the breeze. In
the forefront of the throng, and lower down, another hand was raised; it
was a little one, but very vigorous; it whirled a cap round a small head
of curly black hair, and a shrill
"hurrah!" came floating out to sea.
The captain kissed his hand and waved his hat in reply; then, wheeling
suddenly round, he shouted, in a voice of thunder:
"Mind your helm, there; let her away a point. Take a pull on these
foretopsail halyards; look alive, lads!"
"Aye, aye, sir!" replied the men.
There was no occasion whatever
for these orders. The captain knew that
well enough, but he had his own reasons for giving them. The men knew
that, too, and they understood his reasons when they observed the
increased sternness of his eyes, and the compression of his lips.
Inclination and duty! What wars go on in the hearts of men--high and
low, 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
with little or no forehead, a hard, vacant
face, and a pair of enormous
red whispers; "please, sir, Sam Baker's took very bad; I think it would
be as well if you could give him a little physic, sir; a tumbler
Epsom, 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 one
of 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 about
a quarter of an hour ago, and then I saw him suddenly fling himself into
his 'ammock and begin blubberin' like a child. Now, sir, I say, when a
grow'd-up man gives way like that, there must be some-think far wrong
with his inside. And it's a serious thing, sir, to take a sick man on
such a voyage
"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 if
he's only let alone. I did hear him once or twice muttering some-think
about his wife and child; you know, sir, he's got a young wife, and she
had a baby about two months 'fore we came away, but I can't think that's
got much to do with it, for _I've_ got a wife myself, sir, and six
children, two of 'em bein' babies, and that don't upset _me_, and
Baker's a much stronger man."
"You are right, Mr Dicey, he is a much stronger man than you," replied
the captain, "and I doubt not that his strength will enable
him to get
over this without the aid of physic."
"Very well, sir," said Mr Dicey.
The second mate was a man whose countenance
never showed any signs of
emotion, no matter what he felt. He seldom laughed, or, if he did, his
mouth remained almost motionless, and the sounds that came out were
anything but cheerful. He had light grey eyes which always wore an
expression of astonishment; but the expression was accidental; it
indicated no feeling. He would have said, "Very well, sir," if the
captain had refused to give poor Baker food instead of physic.
"And hark'ee, Mr Dicey," said the captain, "don't let him be disturbed
till he feels inclined to move."
"Very well, sir," replied the second mate, touching
his cap as he turned
"So," murmured the captain, as he gazed earnestly
at the now distant
shore, "I'm not the only one who carries a heavy heart to sea this day
and leaves sorrowing hearts behind him."
Note 1. This word is here spelled as pronounced. It is usually spelled
AT SEA--THE FIRST STORM.
It is now hundreds of years since the North polar regions began to
attract general attention. Men have long felt very inquisitive
that part of the earth, and many good ships, many noble lives have been
lost in trying
to force a passage through the ice that encumbers the
Arctic seas, summer and winter. Britain has done more than other
nations in the cause of discovery within the Arctic circle. The last
and greatest of her Arctic heroes perished there--the famous Sir John
Were I writing
a history of those regions I would have much to say of
other countries as well as of our own. But such is not my object in
this book. I mean simply to follow in the wake of one of Britain's
adventurous discoverers, and thus give the reader an idea of the
fortunes of those gallant
men who risk life and limb for the sake of
obtaining knowledge of distant lands.
There have always been restless
spirits in this country. There have
ever been men who, when boys, were full of mischief, and who could
"settle to nothing" when they grew up. Lucky for us, lucky for the
world, that such is the case! Many of our "restless spirits," as we
call them, have turned out to be our heroes, our discoverers, our
greatest men. No doubt many of them have become our drones, our
sharpers, our blacklegs. But that is just saying
that some men are
good, while others are bad--no blame is due to what is called the
restlessness of spirit. Our restless
men, if good, find rest in action;
in bold energetic
toil; if bad, they find rest, alas! in untimely
Captain Harvey was one of our restless
spirits. He had a deeply learned
friend who said to him one day that he felt sure "_there was a sea of
open water round the North Pole_!" Hundreds of ships had tried to reach
that pole without success, because they always found a barrier
ice raised against them. This friend said that if a ship could only cut
or force its way through the ice to a certain latitude
north, open water
would be found. Captain Harvey was much interested in this. He could
not rest until he had proved it. He had plenty of money, so had his
friend. They resolved
to buy a vessel
and send it to the seas lying
within the Arctic circle. Other rich friends helped them; a brig was
bought, it was named the _Hope_, and, as we have seen in the last
chapter, it finally set sail under command of Captain Harvey.
Many days and nights passed, and the _Hope_ kept her course steadily
toward the coast of North America. Greenland was the first land they
hoped to see. Baffin's Bay was the strait
through which they hoped to
reach the open polar sea.
The _Hope_ left England as a whaler, with all the boats, lances,
harpoons, lines, and other apparatus
used in the whale fishery. It was
intended that she should do a little business in that way if Captain
Harvey thought it advisable, but the discovery of new lands and seas was
their chief end and aim.
At first the weather was fine, the wind fair, and the voyage
But one night there came a deep calm. Not a breath
of air moved over
the sea, which was as clear and polished as a looking-glass. The
captain walked the deck with the surgeon
of the ship, a nephew
own, named Gregory.
Tom Gregory was a youth of about nineteen, who had not passed through
the whole course of a doctor's education, but who was a clever fellow,
and better able to cut and carve and physic poor sufferinghumanity
many an older man who wrote M.D. after his name. He was a fine,
handsome, strapping fellow, with a determined manner and a kind heart.
He was able to pull an oar with the best man aboard, and could even
steer the brig in fine weather, if need be. He was hearty
and a great favourite with the men. He, too, was a restless
had grown tired of college life, and had made up his mind to take a
year's run into the Polar regions, by way of improving his knowledge of
the "outlandish" parts of the world.
"I don't like the look of the sky to-day, Tom," said the captain,
glancing at the horizon
and then at the sails.
"Indeed!" said Tom, in surprise. "It seems to me the most beautiful
afternoon we have had since the voyage
began. But I suppose you seamen
in signs which we landsmen do not understand."
"Perhaps we are," replied the captain; "but it does not require much
knowledge of the weather to say that such a dead calm as this, and such
unusual heat, is not likely to end in a gentle breeze."
"You don't object to a stiff breeze, uncle?" said the youth.
"No, Tom; but I don't like a storm, because it does us no good, and may
do us harm."
"Storms do you no good, uncle!" cried Tom; "how can you say so? Why,
what is it that makes our sailors such trumps? The British tar would
not be able to face danger as he does if there were no storms."
"True, Tom, but the British tar would not require to face danger at all
if there were no storms. What says the barometer, Mr Mansell?" said
the captain, looking down the skylight into the cabin, where the first
mate--a middle-sized man of thirty-five, or thereabouts--was seated at
the table writing
up the ship's log-book.
"The glass has gone down an inch, sir, and is still falling," answered
"Reef the topsail, Mr Dicey," cried the captain, on hearing
"Why such haste?" inquired Gregory.
"Because such a sudden fall in the barometer is a sure sign of
approaching bad weather," answered the captain.
The first man on the shrouds and out upon the main-topsail yard was Sam
Baker, whose active movements and hearty
manner showed that he had quite
recovered his health without the use of physic. He was quickly followed
by some of his shipmates, all of whom were picked men--able in body and
ready for anything.
In a few minutes sail was reduced. Soon after that clouds began to rise
on the horizon
and spread over the sky. Before half an hour had passed
came--came far stronger than had been expected--and the order
to take in sail had to be repeated. Baker was first again. He was
closely followed by Joe Davis and Jim Croft, both of them sturdy
fellows--good specimens of the British seaman. Davy Butts, who came
next, was not so good a specimen. He was nearly six feet high, very
thin and loosely
put together, like a piece of bad furniture. But his
bones were big, and he was stronger than he looked. He would not have
formed one of such a crew had he not been a good man. The rest of the
crew, of whom there were eighteen, not including the officers, were of
all shapes, sizes, and complexions.
The sails had scarcely been taken in when the storm burst on the brig in
all its fury. The waves rose like mountains and followed after her, as
if they were eager to swallow
her up. The sky grew dark overhead
night closed in, the wind shrieked through the rigging, and the rag of
canvas that they ventured to hoist seemed about to burst away from the
yard. It was an awful night. Such a night as causes even reckless
to feel how helpless
they are--how dependent
on the arm of God. The
increased until near midnight, when it blew a perfect
"It's a dirty night," observed the captain, to the second mate, as the
latter came on deck to relieve
"It is, sir," replied Mr Dicey, as coolly
as if he were about to sit
down to a good dinner on shore. Mr Dicey was a remarkably
matter-of-fact man. He looked upon a storm as he looked upon a fit of
the toothache--a thing that had to be endured, and was not worth making
a fuss about.
"It won't last long," said the captain.
"No, sir; it won't," answered Mr Dicey.
As Mr Dicey did not seem inclined to say more, the captain went below
and flung himself on a locker, having given orders that he should be
called if any change for the worse took place in the weather. Soon
afterward a tremendous
sea rose high over the stern, and part of it fell
on the deck with a terrible crash, washing Mr Dicey into the
lee-scuppers, and almost sweeping
him overboard. On regaining his feet,
and his position beside the wheel, the second mate shook himself and