'Midst Arctic Perils_ A Thrilling Story of Adventure in the Polar Regions
'MIDST ARCTIC PERILS
PERCY F. WESTERMAN
_Frontispiece._ See page 14.]
'MIDST ARCTIC A THRILLING STORY OF ADVENTURE IN THE
PERCY F. WESTERMANAuthor of "The Young Cavalier," "The Nameless Island," &c.
C. Arthur Pearson Ltd.
|II.||A Struggle for Life|
|IV.||On Board the "Polarity"|
|V.||Trapped in an Iceberg|
|VI.||An Unpleasant Surprise|
|VII.||The Motor Sleigh is Taken Out|
|VIII.||Neck or Nothing|
|IX.||An Adventurous Journey|
|X.||The Sleep of Death|
|XI.||Crossing the Ice Barrier|
|XII.||Two Days Out|
|XIII.||The Dash for Observation Camp|
|XIV.||Good Work in the Blizzard|
|XV.||Just in Time|
|XVII.||Guy in Command|
|XVIII.||The End of the Mammoth|
|XIX.||The Lost "Bird of Freedom"|
'MIDST ARCTIC PERILS
"I MANAGED it all right, Guy," announced Leslie Ward excitedly. "OldRunswick's a brick. Says he'll take us both for a week's cruise. TheLaughing Lassie sails at high water this evening."
Leslie Ward, the fifteen-year-old son of a distinguished electricalengineer, and his chum, Guy Anderson, were spending a holiday at thesmall fishing village of Pilgrimswick, situated on a remote part ofthe Yorkshire coast.
The friendship between the two boys was of only few weeks' duration,but it was a friendship that was fated to be a life-long one,cemented by peril and adventure.
Both lads were of almost the same age. Leslie Ward was tall,broad-shouldered, and well set-up. He looked older than his actualyears. He was apt to be a trifle impulsive, and, possessing anabundance of energy, was always ready to tackle any difficulty thatpresented itself. His knowledge of mechanics and physics wasextensive, and even his father—a cool, calculating man, who nevererred upon the side of exaggeration—was forced to admit that Leslieshowed great promise of becoming a first-rate consulting engineer.
Guy Anderson was of a different build and disposition. A good threeinches shorter than his chum, and slight of build, he lacked thephysical strength that Leslie possessed. Nevertheless, he waswell-knit and wiry, and capable of withstanding the strain offatigue. Their parents' permission to undertake a trip in theLaughing Lassie had been obtained even before the matter had beenbroached to the gruff yet kind-hearted skipper of the ketch, and now,the latter business having been satisfactorily concluded, it onlyremained for the two lads to provide themselves with suitableclothing and a generous contribution in the way of eatables to theship's stores.
By the time Leslie and Guy arrived at the tidal harbour, theLaughing Lassie was already afloat.
"Evenin', young gents," was Skipper Runswick's curt greeting. Then,eyeing the big hamper that accompanied his guests, he added, withtypical Yorkshire candour: "An' what might you be? Dost tha' thinktha'lt not be fed properly?"
"Oh, no, Captain Runswick," Leslie hastened to explain. "It's ourcontribution to be shared by all hands."
"Let's hope that you'll be ready to do your share o' things,"rejoined the skipper grimly, as he regarded his two amateurs in theirspotless white duck overalls with certain amount of disdain. "Stowthe gear over agin' yon hatchway. Andrew'll pass it below in aminute. Now clap on yon rope and heave till you crack your ribs."
The voyage to the fishing grounds had begun in earnest.
Skipper Runswick had sailed the Laughing Lassie for nearly fortyyears. She was by no means a new boat when he first set foot upon herdeck; but, like many another veteran of the North Sea, the ketch wassoundly and powerfully built. She was a Weatherly craft, with a fairturn of speed. It wasn't safe for anyone to say a word against her inthe skipper's presence.
The "old man" was one of an old school. He knew the fishing groundsas well as a Londoner knows the Strand—perhaps better. The use ofthe sextant was beyond him, yet solely by the aid of compass andlead-line would he find his way across the vast, trackless expanse ofthe North Sea to his favourite "grounds," where a cast of the trawlnever failed to produce a goodly haul. Putting his trust inProvidence, bad weather failed to daunt him.
Their work done for the time being, Leslie and Guy went aft, and,sitting on a coil of rope close to the taffrail, watched the rapidlyreceding cliffs of the rugged Yorkshire coast, thrown into strongrelief by the setting sun.
The watch on deck, consisting of Old Mick and George the cook,commonly referred to as Long Garge—had trimmed and fixed the red andgreen navigation lamps. The wind had fallen light, and the LaughingLassie rolled laboriously in the long, sullen swell.
Old Mick was standing at the tiller, with legs stretched wide apart,and his hands in his pockets. His work for the time being consistedin doing nothing, for the ketch barely carried steerage way. LongGarge was for'ard scratching the foremast and whistling blithely inthe hope, common to the old-time seamen, that the joint action wouldresult in a breeze.
"Better now than when we've got the holds full of fish," declared theskipper, commenting upon the lack of wind.
Leslie and Guy slept badly that night. The bunks felt uncomfortable,weird noises overhead and strange groanings as the old vesselstrained in the long, oily swell, the somewhat close atmosphere'tween decks, all combined to disturb the slumbers of the two chums.Glad were they when, at the first blush of dawn, they were able toleave their strange beds and go on deck.
It was a glorious morning. The sun had just risen above a low-lyingbank of haze. The surface of the North Sea was ruffled by a gentlebreeze. All around the sea and sky met in an unbroken horizon. Notanother sail was to be seen.
The only member of the crew already on deck was Peter, the ship'sboy, who was steering with the skill of a born sailorman, keeping thestiff little ketch "full and bye" without shiver in herwell-stretched canvas.
"Good-morning, Peter," said Guy. "It looks as if it's going to be ajolly fine day."
"Not for trawling," replied Peter sagely. "Might do for pleasurefolk, but the wind'll die down when the sun gets up, and more'nlikely there'll be a fog."
"Where do we wash?" inquired Leslie innocently. Peter grinned.
"There's a canvas bucket up for'ard," he informed his questioner."Just you strip, and get t' other gent to swill you down. That's whatwe do."
As Peter had prophesied, the wind did fall to a dead calm. Leslie andGuy had a swim over the side, getting on board again by means of atarry rope.
For the rest of the day the Laughing Lassie drifted idly, untilabout an hour before sunset, when a smart breeze helped her on herway.
Skipper Runswick declared that the nets would be shot directly theketch arrived at her favourite fishing ground. It would mean anight's work, he admitted, but no doubt the young gents would sleepthroughout the noise on deck.
"We'd rather remain up, if you don't mind," said Leslie, rememberingthe hard bunk in the little cabin. Besides, it was the novelty ofseeing the trawls, laden with glittering fish, being hauled on board,that was one of the objects of his trip.
"All right," replied Runswick, good-humouredly. "No doubt we can makeyou properly useful." Acting upon the skipper's advice, the two ladsturned in for a few hours on the understanding that they would becalled directly the nets were ready to be shot.
Contrary to their expectations, they slept like logs until one in themorning, when Peter, knocking loudly at the cabin door, announcedthat all was in readiness.
Putting on thick sweaters, Leslie and Guy went on deck. It was pitchdark, except for the feeble glimmer of two lanterns hung verticallyfrom the forestay. Not a star was visible. There was hardly any wind,while the sea was calm and strangely phosphorescent.
Slowly Long Garge and Peter, assisted by the two "supernumeraries,"paid out yard after yard of carefully coiled nets, for the speed atwhich the Laughing Lassie was moving was so slight that any attemptto shoot the nets hurriedly would result in a disastrous tangle.
"All out, Cap'n!" announced Long Garge, as the last of the corkfloats disappeared overboard. "But, blow me, if there ain't thickweather a-comin' on."
In a very short space of time the deck of the Laughing Lassie washidden in a pall of vapour. It was impossible to see the regulationlights from the after-part of the ketch.
"'Tis thick," agreed Skipper Runswick. "Peter, you nip below and getout the fog-horn. It'll keep you busy. Thank goodness we're out ofthe regular steamer tracks," he added under his breath.
Although the night had hitherto been warm and humid, a coldclamminess accompanied the fog. In spite of their thick sweaters, thelads shivered.
"Nothin' doin' for a bit," said the skipper, almost colliding withhis guests, as he made his way for'ard. "Go below to the cabin.Unless the fog lifts pretty soon, we'll not get the nets in aforedawn. If you're still of a mind to see the job being done, I'll giveyou the word."
"Thanks awfully," said Leslie, his teeth chattering as he spoke. "Wewould like to be called if you do haul in the nets."
Although neither had cared to admit it, both boys were glad toretreat to the snug shelter of the cabin. The lamp lit, they made noattempt to turn in, but talked and read, to the accompaniment of theminute blasts upon the foghorn, which Peter used with vigour.
"It must be nearly daylight," said Guy at length. "It's now nearlythree o'clock, and the sun rises at half-past four. I'm not in theleast bit tired, are you?"
Before Leslie could reply, there