"What?" asked Regnar, hoarsely.
"That it belonged to her brother. Now, Regnie," said La Salle, kindly, "you know all that I can tell you. Perhaps you may find in the hilt of yonder antique weapon the clew to much more. But we have other duties to perform; and first, how shall we seal up this cave so that no one can possibly suspect our having entered this place. That Peter has the eyes of a lynx, and should he follow us, would not fail to discover all."
"In an hour hence," said Regnar, "no human being can stand where we are now, and you can walk the stanchest hound over the ledge, without his dreaming of what lies beneath. Come up to the top of the berg."
Taking their equipments, they left the grotto, and issued through the narrow entrance. Regnar pointed to a shelving path, like a shallow groove in the face of the cliff.
"Can we climb there?" said he.
"I should think so," answered La Salle; and taking an axe and the end of the rope, he began to ascend the cliff along the shelving pathway. As he ascended, he heard behind him the blows of an axe, and, turning, saw Regnar cut a narrow cleft from the entrance of the cove to the level of the way to the top of the berg. "Are you mad," asked La Salle, "that you scatter your chips about the berg like that, and into the very pathway?"
Regnar gave a finishing stroke to his work, and came lightly up the path.
"I shall finish my work above," said he; and in a moment more they stood upon the summit.
The brink of the pool lay near the edge of the cliff, and without stopping to look around him, Regnar commenced cutting a deep, narrow gutter from the pathway to the huge reservoir. As he struck the blows which shattered the thin wall of ice between the pool and its new outlet, the water poured in a stream a foot deep through the little canal, and down the slanting ledge into the cavern below.
"I understand it now," said La Salle, "and I now know why you lashed the body to its support."
"Yes," answered the boy, coolly, "should any try to break into yonder tomb to-morrow, they would do so at the risk of their lives; but if we have a week of frost, the cove will be full to its outlet of solid ice."
"But, Regnar, let us think of something else. Where are the islands we saw last evening? We ought now to be near the southern shore of the group."
"We have been wedged off to sea by stranded ice, I should judge; for there, about fifteen miles to the northward, lies Amherst Island."
NORTHWARD AGAIN.—THE STEAMER.—TAKING TO THE BOAT.
"Yes, Regnar, we are now on the outer side of the pack, and the wind has shifted to the southward again. Look to the eastward, Regnie. Has not the pack broken up there?"
"Yes, the tide sets to the eastward, and the wind blows the heavy ice northward as soon as it clears the eastern shoals. See that berg going to pieces on Doyle's Reef!"
As he spoke, the berg, a small one, worn by sun and rain into a multitude of fantastic pinnacles, swung off from its easterly drift, and, wafted by the wind, rapidly floated towards the concealed reef, whose sharp and hidden rocks can only be suspected during the prevalence of the heaviest storms. With a moderate rate of speed, not much exceeding two knots an hour, the massive base of the ice-island suddenly rose, as the shelving rocks received the irresistible impact. Then a few glittering pieces dimpled the surface of the unruffled water. It was the signal of impending dissolution. Crash upon crash, like the roar of artillery, echoed and re-echoed among the floes, and rent from base to pinnacle, the majestic frost-castle fell into utter ruin, torturing the sea into foam, while the billows raised by the rocking of the huge fragments swept up the narrow walls, sweeping right across many of the lower floes, and even raising a slight ripple around the base of the great berg itself.
"We must return, Regnie. The clouds are darkening fast, and fog or a thick scud is sweeping up from the southward. Let us have one more look for the steamers, and then we must away to our friends."
"There is a steamer on the outer edge of the pack, I think. You will see her smoke in line with the East Point yonder."
"Yes, Regnie, that is a steamer, sure enough, and she will make her way to the centre of the pack. Let us hasten to the floe and take to the boats. We can perhaps reach her by rowing through the narrow leads before the gale rises."
Hastening down the side of the watercourse they descended the berg, and set off along its base, in the direction of the hut. As they passed they gave a last glance at the sealer's tomb. Down the path they had ascended, dashed an overflowing torrent, which disappeared with a whirl and hollow gurgle into the yawning aperture, while the whole front of the wall which they had ascended, dripped with water and glittered with spray.
"The keenest eye among the hunters of the Mistassini could not uncover that trail; and known to God and us alone is the bloody mystery of the Deadman's Berg."
"Don't talk of that again, Regnie. Let the dead rest. Perhaps it may yet transpire that he was penitent at the last, and you may have good reason to rejoice that you knelt beside his last bed, in a tomb so wondrously beautiful."
"We must hasten faster, Charley, for the fog is coming, and we may find the floes separated. Remember our friends know nothing of all we have seen and heard, and to them I am still Regnar Orloff, half educated, and a simple pilot of the Labrador."
With increased speed the pair pressed forward, crossing with difficulty the gulf, which had opened between the berg and the first heavy floe. Pole in hand, with one end of the rope attached to his belt, and his gun slung at his back, Orloff led the way, while La Salle followed at the other end, carrying an axe in his belt, and another in his hand. Luckily many large fragments lay floating in the first lead, and prevented from slipping by their sharp "crampets," they leaped from cake to cake, and safely reached the second floe.
The mist clung damp to their faces as they attained the end of the second floe, where a lead of water some twenty yards in width, and clear of ice, intervened between them and the next. The quick eye of Regnar caught sight of a small ice-cake floating by the windward side of their floe, and leaping upon it, with pole and hands they shoved it along the steep walls of ice, and with their united force gave it a final impetus in the desired direction. The fragment whirled and bent beneath them, until the water stood above their ankles; but just as they began to fear a complete submersion, Orloff caught a projection of the field with his boat-hook, and the two landed in safety.
As they hurried across the last floe, the rain fell, and the wind blew heavily, dashing huge cakes against the windward side with a ceaseless crashing of broken ice. Before they could reach the end of the field, they saw their own turn as if on a pivot, and grind slowly past the leeward point of the one across which they pressed at full speed. Their efforts were in vain, for before they could reach the verge their refuge was twenty feet distant; but Regnar was equal to the emergency.
"Cast loose your rope, Charley," said he; and in five seconds he had coiled and whirled it twenty feet across the intervening chasm, to Peter, who seized and retained it. "Now, La Salle, follow me," he cried; and springing upon a floating fragment, he balanced himself with his pole until he reached a more stable support farther from the berg.
The impetus, however, carried him too far away, and La Salle had to choose between committing himself to a fragment without rope or pole, to be tossed about by the rising sea, or to wait until Regnar should reach the floe, and return for him in the boat. He chose the latter, but soon had the pleasure of seeing Regnar safely landed on the floe, from whence, in almost less time than it takes to tell it, the three launched their boat and paddled up to the place where La Salle awaited their arrival, intently watching the performance of their improvised life-boat.
He noted with pleasure that she drew little water, and that the light paddles drove her through the short, toppling sea with considerable speed, while her weather-boards prevented the shipping of any water. Leaping aboard, they soon crossed the narrow lead, and running under the lee of the ice-hills, drew their boat to the hut.
"If you have anything you want to be sure to keep, stow it in the boat," was La Salle's first order, as he saw the sea begin to dash across the windward end of the floe, while, whining with fear, the young seals were shoved and pushed, by the flippers of their dams, farther and farther up on the higher ice, until, tamed by fear, they surrounded the little hollow containing the hut.
Food, weapons, clothes, and ammunition were all deposited in the boat, as well as her mast, sail, and paddles, while her painter, attached to her sharp-pronged grapnel, lay coiled on her half-deck forward. All that afternoon the wind and sea arose, until, amid the drenching rain, they could hear around them the clamor of the terrified seals, the continual crash of breaking ice, and the sough of the heavy sea, whose spray drove over them in constantly increasing showers.
At last an occasional wave came into the lower part of the little hollow, and all thought that the end was near.
"We must take to the boat," said Regnar.
But La Salle pointed to the ghostly crests of the surrounding seas; and bowing his head upon his breast, Orloff signified to his friend that he acknowledged the hopelessness of that resource. Just then a darker blackness seemed to gather to windward, as a shriller blast whistled by them; and as all awaited the increased fury of the elements which were to end the unequal struggle, the wind seemed to abate, and the waves sullenly retired from the surface of the floe. The rain still swept fiercely upon the drenched wanderers, and on their lee they could still note the crash of ice-islands, amid the sweep of the angry waves.
But above them, huge, unbending, and majestic, towered a lofty pile, shrouded in darkness, through which at times gleamed the weird white outline of some snow-encrusted ledge.
"Are we under the lee of Amherst Island?" asked Regnar, in a voice which all could hear.
La Salle's answer came below his breath, and only Regnar heard, or could comprehend its meaning:—
"The dead are the defence of the living, and we are under the lee of Deadman's Berg."
Safe from the rage of the elements, but cold, wet, and hungry, the adventurers sought the shelter of their hut, which still stood unhurt; but the fir branches of the floor were soaked with water, for a wave or two had risen above the ledge of the door. After much difficulty, with the aid of a candle, the Esquimaux lamp was lighted, and after much sputtering, the six wicks diffused their cheering light and grateful warmth through the hut. Then Peter, with his axe, cut a gutter through the doorway, letting off the standing water, and in the course of an hour the boughs were comparatively dry.
Taking from the boats the dry skins and coverlets, the party lay down to rest, leaving Peter to keep watch lest they should again drift from their haven, and be exposed to the pitiless seas. All took their spell of duty; but the cheerless night passed without further incident, and the day found them still under the shadow of the great berg. As the day advanced, the storm swept the pack northward, and the party, ascending the berg, saw, one by one, the isolated crags of the island chain of the Magdalens loom at times through the driving scud, as they drove northward. Six or eight miles away they saw the masts of a vessel deep in the heart of the floe.
"When the storm is over and the pack opens, we must take our boat and reach that sealer," said La Salle; and taking the range of her position, the four sought their hut, and building a huge fire of all their remaining wood, prepared all the cooked meat which they could carry, filled the seal-membranes with oil, and awaited the lull of the storm and the opening of the pack.
At sunset the storm had broken, the clouds began to disappear, and through their rifts the stars glimmered, and the new moon shone palely beautiful.
"We shall not pass the North Cape much before morning," said La Salle, "and until then the pack will not open. When it does we are ready; so sleep, and I will watch."
His tired comrades flung themselves down, and were almost instantly asleep. As the dawn approached the wind lessened, and as the day broke, he called Regnar, and again ascended the berg.
On the right hand towered the rock-bound coast of the northern islands and the isolated crags of Bryon. And as they looked northward they saw the pack opening again: as it issued from under the lee, a black cloud of smoke rose from the sealer's funnel, but instead of steering east or west, she was evidently heading for the great berg.
"Shall we await them here, or take our boat and try to reach them, Regnar?" asked La Salle.
"Wait a little longer, and then, when the ice opens, push a little more to the eastward, and work down to meet the vessel," said the lad, who proceeded to examine the dagger so strangely returned to his keeping. The blade unscrewed at the cross-piece of the hilt, which was hollow, and contained many papers closely compressed into a single roll. Regnar ran his eye over the contents, and selecting one, returned the rest to their odd receptacle. "This paper, Charley, contains an inventory of the property confided to Perry, to be equally divided between my half-sister and myself." And he proceeded to translate the items of the inventory. "It is hardly worth while to give this paper in full; suffice it to say that besides various pictures, books, arrows, weapons, sets of plate, jewels, and other heirlooms, 'stored in care of Nicholas Orloff, my mother's brother,' there appeared a schedule of moneys and bonds amounting to nearly one hundred thousand dollars. 'These funds have been committed,' the paper went on to say, 'to my faithful friend Albert Perry, whom I commend to your good offices and implicit trust.'"
As he ceased reading, the boy's face was turned to the ice-cliff, where the plashing water flowed in a huge sheet, like a falling veil, over the face of the berg, shutting out from sight the twining pillars and narrow entrance of the sealer's tomb.
"I have rendered him the last 'good office,'" said he. "It only remains to seek yonder vessel, and find out who spoiled the spoiler, and, if possible, recover the valuables and papers taken from Perry's body."
"There is the steamer heading this way," said La Salle, "and the leads are fast opening. Let us descend to the floe, and by the time we have breakfasted, we shall find ample room between the fields to let us pass in safety."
Descending, they found their comrades already at breakfast, and by the time the meal was disposed of, their floe lay surrounded by one of the leads of open water, which showed scarce a vestige of the heavy seas of the late gale. For the last time they packed their few valuables into the boat, and stowing Carlo away under deck, took their allotted places, dipped their paddles into the open water, and with rapid strokes threaded the narrow channels, scaring the timid seals from their path, and noting on every hand scenes of life and beauty, for amid the opening pack the varied life of the Bird islands around them met their view. Screaming gannets wheeled in clouds over their heads, and portly murres started up heavily from the frequent pools, into which they broke with flashing paddles, and laughter, such as they had never before indulged in since their first misadventure.
Guided by the pillar of black smoke, which, winding this way and that, ever drew nearer and nearer, they came at last to an open pool, nearly a quarter of a mile or more in length. On the opposite side, above a small floe, they saw the prow of the advancing vessel. Evidently she had met with a check, for as they gazed they heard the tinkle of the engine bell, and saw her iron-sheathed bow recede behind the fantastic outlines of the pinnacle.
"Will she leave us?" asked Waring, with trembling lips.
"They only back to run down that floe. See now."
The next moment Regnar's prediction was verified. A blacker cloud of smoke, shot with sparks, poured from the funnel; the huge hull rapidly advanced, her raking prow, with its iron armor, piercing the waves like the blade of the sword-fish. There was a crash, a momentary glimpse of falling ice and splitting walls, and the next moment the noble steamer came at half speed across the open water, just as the little boat shot out of the sheltering lead.
In his hands La Salle waved the banner attached to the boat-hook, which had marked the deserted heaps of seal-skins. But it needed not: the pilot rang his bell, and the sealer became motionless in the centre of the pool. As they came alongside, a stout, full-bearded man, in a Guernsey frock, threw them a rope, and hailed the strange little craft:—
"What, do'ee want, friends, and where do'ee hail from?"
"We are sportsmen, carried off, by the ice, in the straits, eleven days ago. We want food, and a passage home, for which we will pay."
"Well, if ivir I heerd of de like of dat! Come aboord, my men. De captain's sick, but dere's plinty to ate here, and ye won't mind close quarters, after your vige on de ice."
"No, indeed, sir!" said La Salle. "Tumble up, my men. Take your guns and your coats with you. Here, Nep; up that ladder, sir. That's right. Can you take our boat aboard?"
"Come right up, sur; dere's no fear of her. I'll have her aboord in tin minutes. Here comes de mate. What's your name, sur? La Salle? Yis, sur! Mister Blake, sur; Mister La Salle, sur."
"Happy to see you, Mr. La Salle. I've learnt enough about you to know that you have been adrift nearly two weeks, and as dinner's ready we must have you into the cabin. I am sorry that but one berth is vacant, and your friends will have to take their chance in the forecastle."
"If you please, I had rather have you extend your courtesy to Mr. George Waring, a son of Mr. Albert Waring, of C., who does a large business with your St. John's fishing firms. He has been the only one of us who has been sick, and—"
"There, Mr. Blake," interposed Waring, "don't listen to him; take him with you. Why, I am as strong as an ox now, and you'll find him far better company than I am."
Passing aft through gangways crowded with brawny, hardy-looking sealers, La Salle followed his conductor to the cabin, where he found six or eight men gathered around a table plentifully supplied with the usual provisions found on board ships in the merchant service. After being introduced to all present, who greeted him with a rude civility, Mr. Blake invited him to "fall to and help himself."
It is needless to say that he required no pressing in this direction. "Hard tack" and "salt horse," with potatoes, soft bread, and chicory coffee sweetened with molasses, seemed food fit for the gods, after the greasy meat-diet of the last eleven days; and his companions considerately refrained from questioning him until his hunger was satisfied. At last he drew back his chair, lit a cigar offered him by one of the officers, and turning to the mate said, laughingly,—
"Fire away, gentlemen—I'm ready."
After narrating the principal events of their voyage so far as he deemed prudent, he concluded as follows:—
"Two or three days ago we fell in with large sealing-floes, and among them one where a sealer had killed several hundred seals. A boat-hook, which you will find in our boat, bore this signal. Am I right in supposing that this is the name of your vessel?" and so saying he drew from his pocket the tiny pennon.
"It is ours, and we have been trying for a week to recover our skins, as well as the body of Captain Randall, whom we lost eight days ago."
Not a muscle of La Salle's face betrayed any emotion save that of interest, as he asked,—
"Lost your captain! And how, pray?"
At that moment a noise was heard in the inner cabin, as if several men were struggling; all at once the door flew open, and, with difficulty restrained by the utmost efforts of two powerful men, a pale, unshorn face, surmounting a wild and scantily-dressed figure, appeared to the party, none of whom started save La Salle, who almost fancied that the dead man, sealed up in the caverns of the ice, had come back again to his quarters on board the Mercedes. Crying out, "I couldn't save him! I couldn't save him!" the intruder was dragged, struggling and raving, back to his berth.
"Poor George! he takes the death of his brother sadly to heart. He was mate, and the other day they left the floe together, to ascend a large berg at some distance from our whaling-ground. We saw them on the top, after which they disappeared, going to the opposite side by which they had ascended. Shortly after we heard several rifle shots fired in quick succession, and then George came running towards us, shouting that his brother had fallen between the floes, and was drowning.
"We ran to the spot, and found a place between two floes where the ice was much broken up, as if some one had tried to catch something with a boat-hook; and Randall told us that his brother had fallen through and been carried under the ice before he could get to him. We broke the ice all around, but to no purpose; and then our lookouts discovered that we were in danger of getting nipped on the other side of the Magdalens. So we returned to the ship with George, sadly enough."
"Why were the rifle-shots fired? to call for assistance?" asked La Salle.
"Yes. None of our men have the rifle, although many are supplied with the old sealing-gun. We therefore agreed among the officers that three shots, fired in rapid succession, should call assistance in case of danger, or trouble with the men. Our rifles are all breech-loading carbines, and we can fire with great rapidity."
"Do you find them of service among the seals?"
"Yes, especially with the 'old hoods;' and poor Captain Randall, who spent some years in Europe, had his ammunition fitted so that the bullets explode on striking a bone. They tear a terrible hole in a seal, I assure you."
"Indeed! I never saw one of them, although it seems to me that I have read of the invention. Have you any of the bullets here? for I suppose the rifle was lost at the same time."
The sailing-master, or rather pilot, a short, thick-set Newfoundlander, took up the conversation.
"Dere's de rifle now, hangin' over your head. De captain was ailin', an' his brother, who fancied de little piece, carried it. Dere's one of de cartridges in it yet."
So saying, he took down a short carbine of the Spencer pattern, and unlocking the slide, took out a cartridge and handed it to La Salle. It displayed at the end of the ball the copper capsule of a rifle-shell.
"Let us go on deck," said Blake, rising; but as they passed again through the narrow passage, they heard the struggles of the delirious captain, and his oft-repeated cry, "I couldn't save him! I couldn't save him!"
THE FORECASTLE OF THE SEALER.—A SEALER'S STORY.—THE LAST HUNT.—ARRIVAL AT ST. JOHN'S.
In the quarters of the men forward, between the lofty and wedge-like bows, the rest of the party met with a warm reception; and although grease was everywhere a prominent feature of the surroundings, still the sense of comfort, warmth, and security, made it a paradise to men who had passed so many days of discomfort and anxiety.
Huge kids of beef, potatoes, and bread, with hot pannikins of strong black tea, formed their dinner, which most of the men preferred to eat on deck; but the boatswain, or rather captain of the forecastle, with, perhaps, a dozen others, seated themselves at the long hanging shelf which formed the table, and listened intently to the story of their varied wanderings and adventures.
As Regnar concluded, a grizzly-haired sealer from Kitty Vitty seized him by the hand.
A SEALER'S STORY.
"Ye've ben lucky, sur; de Lord be praised for't, for dere's many a better man nor you dat's died wid hunger an' cold on de ice. I mind once myself dat I sailed out o' Conception in March, an' tree weeks after dat we were up off Hamilton Inlet. Dere was a big fleet of us boys, for dat was in de ould times when dere were no steamers, but only brigantines mostly.
"Well, dere was ould Ned Shea in de Li'n, an' Jim Daygle in de Ringdove, an' Bill 'Hearne in de Swiler's Bride, an ourselves in de Truelove, all in company; an' dat night at dusk we made de Greenland ice. Well, de wind was west-nor'-west, an' we put de studdin'-sils onto her, an' away we went flamin' mad through der slob.
"Well, de ice giv us many a heavy thump dat night, but de ould Truelove was well fastened, an' at daylight next mornin', we heard de watch cry, 'Swiles! Swiles! On deck, below dere!' You may be sure we wasn't long in gettin' on deck wid our guns an' gaffs, an', sure enough, dere dey was, ould an' young, atin' de shaydn (sheathing) off her.
"Den we launched de boats an' took to de ice; an' when we landed, de capten said, 'Trow your guns in de boats, an' at dem wid de gaff;' an' such a massacree I never saw since. De first I killed was a 'harp;' an' den I killed a 'hood' wid de first lick; an' den a 'jenny' an' tree 'white coats;' but I took my toe to dem, an' all of 'em in a bit of a hollow not bigger den dis fo'c's'le, an' I sculped dem an' put dere sculps on a pinnacle; an' so it was all day an' de next.
"But on de t'ird day we were hard at it a good way from de vessil, an' I tought I saw some swiles under a hummock, an' I ran up swingin' my club; but dey didn't stir, an' den I saw dat dey wasn't swiles. Dey was Huskies, two of 'em, dead an' frozen stiff. Dere lines an' lances lay beside 'em, an' knives of hoop-iron, wid bone hannles, were in dere boots; but dere was no sign of anythin' to ate, an' dey looked wasted to 'natomies.
"I called de odders, an' de capten come up an' looked at dem a minute sorrowful-like, an' den said, 'Poor fellows! dey've been carried off'n de ice, an' starved till dey froze to death;' an' he tould us to bury dem daycently, an' we closed dem up in a pinnacle.
"But it was lucky we was near loaded, for dat put a chill on our min', an' de tought of dose dead Huskies lost us many a fine swile, for de boys wouldn't scatter over de ice as dey used to.
"It wasn't long after dat de capten tould us dat we were full enough, an' away we sailed to de sou'-east."
"Dat was de time de Li'n was lost—wasn't it?" inquired another islesman.
"Yes; on de way down we had an awful gale, an' de Li'n put into de pack an' got 'nipped,' so dat she went down; but her crew was all saved in de boats. We put off to say, an' for two days an' nights I tought we should never say land. Why, we lay to as long as we dared, an' until our deck was full of water, an' de capten said we mus' do somethin' else, or we should founder.
"I stood in de fore-riggin' an' watched de big says as dey come down upon us; an' I'll tell you one thing you'll do well to remember. Whenever a big wave come dat I knew would sink us, if it broke upon us, I made de sign of de holy cross, an' de wave broke before it reached us."
"I've done de same ting often myself, an' nivir knew it to fail," said the younger man, who, it appeared, was the son of the veteran sealer.
"But how did you get clear finally?" asked Regnar.
"De ould capten dat was drownded de oder day was mate den. He was a wild young chap, but smart an' able. He tould de capten to rig one of de pumps, and pump some of de oily water out of de hold. So de brakes was rigged, but he an' de capten had to man dem at first, for all de rest were afeard, an' I was in de fore-riggin' watchin' de says.
"Well, dey pumped a while, an' de oil an' water went overboard, an' as we went driftin' away to leeward, I saw de slick of de ile spreadin' over de waves. We kept a couple of men at de pumps till night, an' dere wasn't another say broke over us."
* * * * *
"Swiles! Swiles! On deck, dere below!" cried some one on deck; and a general rush up the steep ladder leading to the deck took place.
Following the others, our three friends soon found their companion, La Salle, who had pressed through the crowded gangways to his party.
Again they lay below the Deadman's Berg, and around them were the floes, crowded with living seals, as well as the one over which the ravenous sea-birds fluttered, holding high carnival over the multitude of frozen bodies. The crew, armed with guns and clubs, were lowering their light boats, and the party dragging their own boat to the side, awaited the lowering of a boat to use its falls for their own. Blake approached them, and said, kindly,—
"I wouldn't land; you must be tired, and need rest. Just turn in, all of you, in the cabin, for we shall be ashore all day."
"We would rather hunt with you, for we shall never probably have another chance to see how a Newfoundland sealer kills his game. Only, if you please, let us have some sheath-knives, and four of your clubs."
Merely saying, "We shall be very glad of your help, for we have to leave two of our best men with the captain," Blake spoke to an under-officer, who soon produced four sharp sheath-knives, and as many oaken clubs about six feet long, ringed at the top with iron, and furnished with a sharp hook, or gaff; and lowering their little craft, the four paddled stoutly after the fleet of boats, whose wild crews tore the water into foam with their oars, as each strove to reach the floes, and to "win the first blood."
Sixty men, besides La Salle's party, swept across the pool, almost flung their light boats upon the safe ice, and prevented from slipping by their spiked crampets, charged at full speed upon the frightened seals, who filled the air with their clamorous roars and whining. Crick, crack! fell the heavy clubs on every side, and seldom was the stroke repeated; but sometimes an "ould hood" would elevate his inflated helmet, and the heavy club would fall upon it, producing a hollow sound, that boomed high above the noise of the conflict. Then the officer in charge of that gang would step up, present his carbine, and the brave seal, shot through the brain, would fall back dead, as the report rattled among the ice-peaks.
Having disposed of the adults, a regular butchery took place among the young seals, who were easily despatched by a blow on the nose, or a kick with the heavy heel of a sealer's boot on the spinal vertebrae. Then followed the "sculping," or skinning, which was despatched with marvellous rapidity. At its close the men, covered with blood and oil, gathered to their boats, and leaving the floe crimsoned with gore, and horrible with bloody and skinless carcasses, hastened to another field to continue the work of death.
Such for two days were the scenes presented to the eyes of the companions, who received many commendations for their assistance, but who rejoiced beyond measure when the word was passed through the ship that she was "full," and that they were to sail at once for St. John's.
Once more the black funnel poured forth its cloud of smoke, and casting off the lines which attached her to the surrounding ice, the Mercedes pressed boldly into the pack, and soon our adventurers gazed for the last time on the fading outlines of the Deadman's Berg.
Two days later, as the steamer rounded Cape Race, the captain, worn and weak, but evidently in his right mind, appeared at the table. On being introduced to La Salle, he seemed somewhat agitated, but soon assumed an overbearing and despotic demeanor. To Mr. Blake he was particularly insulting.
"I'll have you know, sir, that I am captain now; ay, and owner, too, sir, for my poor brother left neither chick nor child in the world but me. Damn me, sir! what right have you to invite everybody to my table and cabin? ay, and put a stranger into my brother's very state-room?"
Blake looked confounded, and the other officers sat with bowed heads and lowering brows at this insult to a man they all loved and respected; but La Salle unconcernedly turned to the newly-fledged commander, and said,—
"I regret, captain—really, I forget your name; but let that pass; but when I came on board, I told this gentleman that I would sleep forward with the men. I have not cared to speak about it before, but I can assure you that I have the worst dreams in that state-room that I ever had in my life. I shall try to recompense you for the passage of my companions and myself when we arrive at St. John's;" and rising, he bowed haughtily, and withdrew to the deck.
Ten minutes later he was joined by Blake.
"The captain has apologized to us, and begs that you will come to his room, as he is too weak to leave the cabin."
La Salle attended the good-hearted sailor to the inner cabin, where a mattress lay upon the table, and many appliances, among them a couple of broad bandages of stout canvas, bore witness to the severity of the captain's late illness. The sick man attempted to rise from his chair as he entered, but was evidently very weak, and La Salle interposed,—
"Don't rise, captain, I beg of you. I see you are very weak, and perhaps I was too ready to take offence. We should not always notice—"
"The disagreeable acts of a sick and almost heart-broken man," interposed Randall, with a smooth, deceitful softness of tone, that instantly reawakened La Salle's antipathies. "I beg you, however," he continued, "to excuse me, and to make yourself at home in your old quarters. I should like to talk with you about your strange cruise, but at St. John's we may have a better opportunity over a bottle of wine."
"I shall be glad to meet you with my friends as soon as I can see Smith & Co., and get some notes changed, so that I can buy suitable clothes for myself and friends;" and bowing, La Salle withdrew.
That night La Salle looked well to the fastenings of his door, lashing the knob of the lock to a corner of his berth, where a knot had dropped out of the deal. Several times he felt the thin partition tremble, and heard the noise of some one tampering with the lock; but at last morning came, and three hours later the steamer lay at anchor off the city of St. John's.
The party had funds enough to secure a change of apparel and respectable quarters, until they should hear from Waring's father, to whom he had telegraphed their safe arrival, and want of money. A telegram to the wife of the new captain of the Mercedes, conveyed to Baltimore the news of the death of her brother-in-law.
Of course the party received much attention, and for a few days they were the lions of the city, although tales of adventure on the ice are of too frequent occurrence in St. John's, to awaken any lasting interest; for scarcely a winter elapses without the arrival of one or more crews who have seen their vessel disappear beneath the resistless pressure of colliding icebergs.
THE CAPTAIN'S VISIT.—HOMEWARD BOUND.—BROTHER AND SISTER.
At last the expected draft arrived, and the party were to leave for Halifax the next day in the Cunard steamer. La Salle had invited Captain Randall to spend the evening in a private parlor of the hotel, and at eight o'clock he was ushered in, and found no other guest save his first mate, Mr. Blake, who was still first officer of the Mercedes.
The table was well spread with delicacies, and although some constraint existed, the wine did its work, and soon Blake and Randall were laughing and joking, as if no cause for ill-feeling existed between them. At Randall's request La Salle gave a summary of their adventures, concluding the recital as follows:—
"Thus passed the long days of our anxious drift, until your vessel steamed back to her old sealing-ground, and we left forever behind us our ice-built hut and the Deadman's Berg."
The effect was magical. The smiles faded from the faces of the guests. Randall's lips were drawn and thin, his eyes fixed and glittering, and one hand stole stealthily to his hip. Regnar, too, was pale, but not with fear, and his hand grasped the hilt of the antique dagger.
"Let me help you to some of this, captain," said La Salle; and rising, he uncovered a small dish before him, and taking from thence a pair of Derringers, presented them at the head of his astounded guest. "Up with your hands, murderer," he said, sternly, "or you die on the instant!" At the same time Blake and Regnar seized him by the arms.
"What is the meaning of all this?" asked Waring, trembling and appalled.
"Dis no good, La Salle. No Injin hurt man in his wigwam, or strike when he give 'em food," shouted Peter, angry at what he considered a breach of hospitality; but both were unheeded.
"Why am I treated thus?" faltered the prisoner, whose trembling knees could scarcely support him.
"Captain Randall, I have here a man with whom you have an account to settle. He has been known among us as Regnar Orloff. His real name is Regnar Orloff Hubel. Where is the money and other valuables which your brother, Albert Randall, stole from two orphans, and was murdered for by you, that you in turn might become the thief?"
"Mr. Blake here knows the story, for we have told him how we found the corpse of his commander, with the skull pierced with one of your murderous shells. We buried him in the berg; if you doubt it, behold the tokens."
Regnar raised his hand: on one finger glittered the golden setting of the native talisman; on the table he laid the sheathed dagger.
"Are you satisfied, George Randall?" said he.
The wretch glared around as if he would have destroyed all who surrounded him; then he seemed to realize the futility of his rage, and catching his breath with a fierce sob, he asked, hoarsely,—
"What will you have me do?"
Regnar stepped forward, and answered for himself.
"Give up the secret money-belt which you took from the person of your victim, with its contents untouched, and secure to me compensation for the sums taken by your brother. Your life I do not want, but if you hesitate I will have both."
"What security have I for your silence?" asked Randall, more boldly; for even his craven fears were unable to repress his naturally cold and grasping disposition.
"Only our oaths, and the remembrance that my half-sister has slept beneath your roof, and has borne your name, although it shall no longer be a reproach to her."
"It is hers no longer. She married last week, after losing her first beau somewhere at sea: but never mind; I must take your offer and your word, I suppose. Let go of my arms. You may take my pistols from my hip, if you are afraid of me." With these words he proceeded to unfasten his vest, and from beneath it drew a water-proof bag of thin rubber, which was tightly fastened with twine, and enclosed in a money-belt of chamois-skins. "It is all there but ten thousand dollars, and that he had a right to take," said he.
"What do you mean?" asked Regnar, with a softened look and glistening eyes.
"Open and read for yourself," said Randall, moodily.
Unfastening the belt, Hubel untied the inner bag, and poured the contents upon the table. A roll of bank bills fell upon it. There were within twenty bills of the denomination of one thousand pounds each, on the Bank of England, and a folded paper, which, on being opened, proved to be a copy of the last will and testament of Paul Hubel. By its provisions a sum amounting to about ten thousand dollars was given "to my old and tried friend, Albert Perry."
"Al, put that ten thousand into this vessel last year, and I persuaded him to put thirty thousand of your money in, too. We made money last spring, and I kept trying to get him to buy all of her. He took a dislike to your sister, and said he would hold on to the money until he found you. Last summer he secured a passage on a vessel bound to the Labrador, and only that he got sick, I believe he would have seen you then.
"This last winter we had several quarrels about the money, but I never meant to injure him until the day it happened. We were having splendid luck, when he proposed that we should climb the berg, as he feared being caught between the pack and the islands. We had to ascend on the opposite side, and when we got to the top, we saw the storm brewing to windward, and started to return.
"As we came along the ice-foot, I said, 'You're making money this trip fast. Isn't that better than giving up everything to that sullen girl and a half-breed boy?' Then he seemed sad, and said, 'George, you've made a rascal of me; but, thank God, I've made up my mind to be true to my old comrade at last.'
"'What do you mean?' said I.
"'I mean,' said he, turning to me, 'that I've sold out the shares I bought with that thirty thousand, and I've got their money safe here in this belt.'
"'But you don't mean to be such a fool as to give it up—do you?' said I; for I was angry to think that, instead of the four shares I had counted on all along, we should have but one in the division of the profits.
"And then I taunted him with a fatal quarrel long ago, and he—well, he taunted me with a crime that I thought no one knew. Says he,—
"'I'm not afraid of you. If the rope is ready for my neck, you could scarcely live out the time, between the sentence and the gallows, if the people of San Francisco once listened to your trial.'
"So one word brought on another, and at last he shook his gaff at me, and made one step; and my blood was on fire, and I fired the carbine. He never spoke.
"I don't believe I ever should have enjoyed the money, although at times I felt as if I could hug myself when I counted it over; and I laid out to go back to Baltimore, and go into business there. What am I to do with the share in the vessel, and his money in the bank?" he asked, suddenly.
Regnar rose, with his eyes red with weeping; but a sad smile wreathed his lips, as he asked,—
"He was your only brother, and unmarried—was he not?"
Randall answered, hoarsely,—
"It is true, God help me! it is true."
"To all that is his, then, you are sole heir. I lay no claim to interest or forfeit, and I wish that thrice the sum would restore him to life, since even at the last he was not wholly unworthy of my father's confidence and his children's love. Come," said he, turning to those present, and taking from his breast a Bible, "repeat after me the oath of silence and secrecy:—
"'We, who alone know of the circumstances attending the decease of Captain Albert Randall, and the suspicions attaching to the part acted therein by his brother George Randall, do solemnly swear that, except under the seal of confession, or as compelled by the power of the law, we will never divulge our knowledge or suspicions until after the decease of the brother of the dead.'"
The oath was taken with due solemnity, and Randall rose to depart. Blake, filled with anger and desire of vengeance, had preceded him. La Salle coldly did as common politeness required, but Regnar saw that sickness and mental torture had overcome the strong man, whose knees trembled beneath him, as, with the curse of Cain upon him, he turned to depart, without friends, far from home, and weary of life.
"It is not right, La Salle," said the boy. "I was unjust to him although it is better for all that no eyes but our own saw him laid in the Deadman's Berg. Let us give this man human sympathy; he is weak and sick; let us see that he does not despair of the mercy and love of God."
La Salle could not but acknowledge the righteousness of this appeal, and, followed by Regnar, hastened into the hall.
"Captain," said he, "forgive us if we have failed to treat you with Christian forbearance, and believe that our hearts will retain your memory, with sympathy for your heavy burden of remorse, if not with the esteem that might have existed between us. The night is dark and cold; let us help you to find a conveyance."
"I thank you," said he, feebly; "you are very kind—far kinder than I deserve. No man can measure the remorse that burns within me, and yet the world would say that you have let me off too easily."
La Salle rang the bell sharply, and a waiter hastened up from the lower landing.
"Did you ring, sir?"
"Yes. Call a cab at once. Regnar, get my coat and yours. Mr. Randall, we must see you safely home. Where do you board?"
"At the Albion; but you need not take that trouble. Ah, sir, I know your fears; but my head is clear, and you need not be afraid that I shall do anything rash. I shall not despair of the pardon of God, since I have found some merciful pity in man."
The carriage was announced; the tall form was again erect, and the voice, though husky with emotion, came strangely sweet and clear, as he turned to go.
"I would that we might be friends, but I know it cannot be. My blessing men would shrink from, if they knew what you do; but may God bless you for your kindness to me." And standing motionless in the dusky passage, they heard the footsteps die away in the empty corridors, and the rattle of the wheels of the vehicle which bore him away forever.
The next day they took the steamer for Halifax, and arriving there, the party separated, Peter and Waring going to St. Jean, and La Salle to the home of his father in Baltimore, where Regnar also was bound, in search of his half-sister. The parting was not pleasant, for the mutual trials and dangers of the few days spent amid the ice had done more to cement a strong and lasting friendship between the four, than years of ordinary companionship would have done.
"Look out, Peter, when you get on board the Princess, for Lund has secured such a story to tell, that he may pitch you two overboard to keep you from spoiling it by your return."
"All light," answered Peter; "Capten Lund good man; see spirit, too, sure enough. He see two men; he look 'gain, no men dere. He see you an' me on hice. Snow fall t'ick, an' he see us no more. What hurt we come back? Much better we come back for all han's; you come back soon, I s'pose, too."
"Yes, Peter," answered La Salle, kindly, "we shall come back soon, and I hope next fall to be spending the moonlight nights with you on Shepherd's Creek, and the duck-haunted reed-ponds of Battery Marsh. Good by;" and going on board, the two friends went rather disconsolately to their state-room.
Regnar still seemed ill at ease, as if he wanted to inquire about something; and at last he said, abruptly,—
"Charley, what shall I say to my sister?"
"Say to her, Regnie? Why, that you are delighted to see her, of course. You may add that you come to make her wealthy; that is not likely to hurt your reception," said La Salle, philosophically.
"Yes, of course I know that; but—but about you, Charley. You know what Randall said about—about her—"
"About her being married, do you mean? Why, my dear boy, say nothing. I am resigned, and, I may say, almost glad that it is so. Neither was it altogether an unexpected announcement, for I felt long ago that my first impressions upon her susceptible heart had faded with lapse of time and a low state of the exchequer. No, no, boy! be kind and loving to her, for she has not your firmness of soul or depth of affection. I carry you to her as my marriage gift. Is it agreed?"
"It is, Charley; and you will not let the caprice of a girl separate me from my friend—will you, La Salle?"
"Regnie," answered the other, not without a touch of tenderness in his tone, "the bonds which connect us are not the ties of passion, or the calm preferences of the selfish world. We met amid a gathering of savage and half-civilized men, and our acquaintance has ripened into friendship amid many dangers and strange experiences. A doubtful and dangerous quest still lies before you. I hope that you will not undertake it without me to accompany you."
"You, of all men, are the one I should choose, and we will set out this very summer to carry out my father's wishes;" and during the rest of their journey little was talked of but their future expedition into the interior of Newfoundland.
At Baltimore La Salle and his friend went to the home of the former, and were received as men from the dead. Of course the papers were full of sketches of their strange adventure, and wood-cuts of icebergs and seals covered the paper-stands for a week; and then a horrible murder, and a delicious bit of scandal in high life, closed the brief notoriety of the friends.
Two visits were paid during the first week of their return. Both called on the day of their arrival at Mrs. Randall's, and La Salle sent up his card. After waiting a while, that lady, who was not without misgivings as to what might be said about her matchmaking proclivities, sailed into the room very richly dressed, and rather red in the face.
"I am happy to see you, Mr. La Salle, and to know that you were not really lost, after all. Do you make a long stay in the city?"
"Don't waste unnecessary effort to appear cool and freezingly polite, Mrs. Randall," said La Salle, calmly. "I am here on a matter of business. I want Pauline's present address, as it is highly important that I should see her at once."
"Dear Pauline resides at No.—Crescent Avenue, and is now, as you are, of course, aware, the wife of Mr. Reginald Ashley, who is, as you know, closely connected with some of our first families."
"Yes, I know he is first cousin to Green, the rich broker, who sometimes invites him to dinners and parties, and makes it twice as hard for poor Ashley to make his small salary at the custom-house pay his way."
"Well, I dare say Pauline has done as well, and even better than she might have done, had not the poor girl had some one to advise her, who knew the world and—"
"Threw away an heiress worth fifty thousand dollars on a clerk with eighteen hundred dollars a year," interrupted La Salle, with a smile. "I beg leave, Mrs. Randall, to introduce to you Regnar Hubel, her half-brother, who comes to return to her her moiety of the fortune left by her father. I did not come here," continued he, more gravely, "to bandy bitter words, for you will ere long hear news from Newfoundland, which, I hope, will teach you that hidden sin is never safe from discovery, and that all injustice meets with its meed of punishment. Adieu, madam."
Later in the day they called at the hotel, where the young couple were passing the honeymoon. Slipping a douceur into the hands of the waiter, he introduced them into the suite without the usual presentation of visiting cards. As the young bride swept into the boudoir in her reception dress, La Salle stepped forward; for he knew that she had already heard of his arrival.
"Charley—Mr. La Salle! Why—that is, how do you do? I was glad to hear—"
La Salle interrupted the fair speaker, for the awkwardness and pain of the interview were but too apparent.
"I did not come, Mrs. Ashley, to give you pain, or annoy you by my presence. I come to fulfill a prophecy."
"To fulfill a prophecy? You speak in riddles, and I have never delighted much in anything of that kind since I was a child."
"I may say, then, that I come to offer my congratulations, and to bring you my bridal gift."
"A gift? and from you? Surely you do not mean to offer, and I cannot accept it."
Regnar arose, and addressing the agitated girl, ended the painful interview.
"You were the daughter of Paul Hubel, of Schleswig—were you not?"
"Yes, sir. I was adopted by the brother of Mr. Randall, who was the friend of my father."
"Then, I assure you that my friend speaks truth. He has fulfilled a prediction, and gives you a fortune, and the brother who shares it with you."
The next few moments were spent in mutual explanations, and the young girl, deprived of a mother's love in early life, sent away to learn life's duties of strangers, and yearning during all her brief existence for the affection she had never known, received the brother she had never seen with an outburst of welcome which revealed what she might have been, had her life been spent under happier auspices.
At last La Salle interrupted their mutual joy.
"I have finished my task, and the prophecy of Krasippe is accomplished."
"Yes," said Regnar, "last summer I met with an old Esquimaux who served our father well for many years, and who now claims some power of insight into the future. He heard the story of my futile efforts to find you, but uttered this prophecy which we to-day accomplish. He said, 'You will meet in a desert of ice the man who will lead you to your heart's dearest wish. He will lose, and you will gain.'"
"And yet, Regnie, although the coincidence of events may bring me within the purview of the Esquimaux oracle, I have a misgiving that we have, perhaps, overlooked the claims of one whom we met but once in a desert of ice, and who still voyages, in silence unbroken, ADRIFT IN THE ICE-FIELDS."