Read CHAPTER EIGHT - THE YANKEE SAILOR’S YARN. of Seven Frozen Sailors , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on ReadCentral.com.

I warn’t never meant for no sailor, I warn’t; but I come of a great nation, and when a chap out our way says he’ll du a thing, he does it.  I said I’d go to sea, and I went ­and thar you are.  I said I’d drop hunting, and take to mining, and thar I was; and that’s how it come about.

You see, we was rather rough out our way, where Hez Lane and me went with our bit of tent and pickers, shooting-irons, and sech-like, meaning to make a pile of gold.  We went to Washoe, and didn’t get on; then we went to Saint Laramie, and didn’t get on there.  Last, we went right up into the mountains, picking our way among the stones, for Hez sez, “Look here, old hoss, let’s get whar no one’s been afore.  If we get whar the boys are at work already, they’ve took the cream, and we gets the skim milk.  Let’s you and me get the cream, and let some o’ the others take the skim milk.”

“Good for you,” I says; and we tramped on day after day, till we got right up in the heart o’ the mountains, where no one hadn’t been afore, and it was so still and quiet, as it made you quite deaf.

It was a strange, wild sort of place, like as if one o’ them coons called giants had driven a wedge into a mountain, and split it, making a place for a bit of a stream to run at the bottom, and lay bare the cold we wanted to find.

“This’ll do, Dab,” says Hez, as we put up our bit of a tent on a pleasant green shelf in the steep valley place.  “This’ll do, Dab; thar’s yaller gold spangling them sands, and running in veins through them rocks, and yaller gold in pockets of the rock.”

“Then, let’s call it Yaller Gulch,” I says.

“Done, old hoss!” says Hez; and Yaller Gulch it is.

We set to work next day washing in the bit of a stream, and shook hands on our luck.

“This’ll do,” says Hez.  “We shall make a pile here.  No one won’t dream of hunting this out.”

“Say, stranger!” says a voice, as made us both jump.  “Do it wash well?”

And if there warn’t a long, lean, ugly, yaller-looking chap looking down at us, as he stood holding a mule by the bridle.

Why, afore a week was over, so far from us keeping it snug, I reckon there was fifty people in Yaller Gulch, washing away, and making their piles.  Afore another week as over some one had set up a store, and next day there was a gambling saloon.  Keep it to ourselves!  Why, stranger, I reckon if there was a speck of gold anywheres within five hundred miles, our chaps’d sniff it out like vultures, and be down upon it.

It warn’t no use to grumble, and we kept what we thought to ourselves, working away, and making our ounces the best way we could.  One day I proposed we should go up higher in the mountains; but Hez said he’d be darned if he’d move; and next day, if he’d wanted me to go, I should have told him I’d be darned if I’d move; and all at once, from being red-hot chums, as would have done anything for one another, Hez and me got to be mortal enemies.

Now, look here, stranger.  Did you ever keep chickens?  P’r’aps not; but if you ever do, just you notice this.  You’ve got, say, a dozen young cocks pecking about, and as happy as can be ­smart and lively, an’ innercent as chickens should be.  Now, jist you go and drop a pretty young pullet in among ’em, and see if there won’t be a row.  Why, afore night there’ll be combs bleeding, eyes knocked out, feathers torn and ragged ­a reg’lar pepper-box and bowie set-to, and all acause of that little smooth, brown pullet, that looks on so quiet and gentle as if wondering who made the row.

Now, that’s what was the matter with us; for who should come into the Gulch one day, but an old storekeeping sort of fellow, with as pretty a daughter as ever stepped, and from that moment it was all over between Hez and me.

He’d got a way with him, you see, as I hadn’t; and they always made him welkim at that thar store, when it was only “How do you do?” and “Good-morning,” to me.  I don’t know what love is, strangers; but if Jael Burn had told me to go and cut one of my hands off to please her, I’d ha’ done it.  I’d ha’ gone through fire and water for her, God bless her! and if she’d tied one of her long, yaller hairs round my neck, she might have led me about like a bar, rough as I am.

But it wouldn’t do.  I soon see which way the wind blew.  She was the only woman in camp, and could have the pick, and she picked Hez.

I was ‘bout starin’ mad first time I met them two together ­she a hanging on his arm, and looking up in his face, worshipping him like some of them women can worship a great, big, strong lie; and as soon as they war got by I swore a big oath as Hez should never have her, and I plugged up my six-shooter, give my bowie a whetting, and lay wait for him coming back.

It was a nice time that, as I sot there, seeing in fancy him kissin’ her sweet little face, and she hanging on him.  If I was ’most mad afore, I was ten times worse now; and when I heer’d Hez comin’, I stood thereon a shelf of rock, where the track came along, meaning to put half a dozen plugs in him, and then pitch him over into the Gulch.  But I was that mad, that when he came up cheery and singing, I forgot all about my shooting-iron and bowie, and went at him like a bar, hugging and wrastling him, till we fell together close to the edge of the Gulch, and I had only to give him a shove, and down he’ ha’ gone kelch on the hard rocks ninety foot below.

“Now, Hez,” I says; “how about your darling now?  You’ll cut in afore a better man again, will yer?”

“Yes, if I live!” he says, stout-like, so as I couldn’t help liking the grit he showed.  “That’s right,” he says; “pitch me over, and then go and tell little Jael what you’ve done.  She’ll be fine and proud of yer then, Abinadab Scales!”

He said that as I’d got him hanging over the rocks, and he looked me full in the face, full of grit, though he was helpless as a babby; but I didn’t see his face then, for what I see was the face of Jael, wild and passionate-like, asking me what I’d done with her love, and my heart swelled so that I gave a sob like a woman, as I swung Hez round into safety, and taking his place like, “Shove me over,” I says, “and put me out of my misery.”

Poor old Hez!  I hated him like pyson; but he wasn’t that sort.  ’Stead of sending me over, now he had the chance, he claps his hand on my shoulder, and he says, says he, “Dab, old man,” he says, “give it a name, and let’s go and have a drink on this.  We can’t all find the big nuggets, old hoss; and if I’m in luck, don’t be hard on yer mate.”

Then he held out his fist, but I couldn’t take it, but turning off, I ran hard down among the rocks till I dropped, bruised and bleeding, and didn’t go back to my tent that night.

I got a bit wild arter that.  Hez and Jael were spliced up, and I allus kep away.  When I wanted an ounce or two of gold, I worked, and when I’d got it, I used to drink ­drink, because I wanted to drown all recollection of the past.

Hez used to come to me, but I warned him off.  Last time he come across me, and tried to make friends, “Hez,” I says, “keep away ­I’m desprit like ­and I won’t say I shan’t plug yer!”

Then Jael came, and she began to talk to me about forgiving him; but it only made me more mad nor ever, and so I went and pitched at the lower end of the Gulch, and they lived at t’other.

Times and times I’ve felt as if I’d go and plug Hez on the quiet, but I never did, though I got to hate him more and more, and never half so much as I did nigh two years arter, when I came upon him one day sudden with his wife Jael, looking pootier than ever, with a little white-haired squealer on her arm.  An’ it ryled me above a bit, to see him so smiling and happy, and me turned into a bloodshot, drinking, raving savage, that half the Gulch was feared on, and t’other half daren’t face.

I had been drinking hard ­fiery Bourbon, you bet! ­for about a week, when early one morning, as I lay in my ragged bit of a tent, I woke up, sudden-like, to a roarin’ noise like thunder; and then there came a whirl and a rush, and I was swimmin’ for life, half choked with the water that had carried me off.  Now it was hitting my head, playful like, agen the hardest corners of the rock it could find in the Gulch; then it was hitting me in the back, or pounding me in the front with trunks of trees swept down from the mountains, for something had bust ­a lake, or something high up ­and in about a wink the hull settlement in Yaller Gulch was swep’ away.

“Wall,” I says, getting hold of a branch, and drawing myself out, “some on ’em wanted a good wash, and this ’ll give it ’em;” for you see water had been skeerce lately, and what there was had all been used for cleaning the gold.

I sot on a bit o’ rock, wringing that water out of my hair ­leastwise, no:  it was someone else like who sot there, chap’s I knowed, you see; and there was the water rushing down thirty or forty foot deep, with everything swept before it ­mules, and tents, and shanties, and stores, and dead bodies by the dozen.

“Unlucky for them,” I says; and just then I hears a wild sorter shriek, and looking down, I see a chap half-swimming, half-swept along by the torrent, trying hard to get at a tree that stood t’other side.

“Why, it’s you, is it, Hez?” I says to myself, as I looked at his wild eyes and strained face, on which the sun shone full.  “You’re a gone coon, Hez, lad; so you may just as well fold yer arms, say amen, and go down like a man.  How I could pot you now, lad, if I’d got a shooting-iron; put you out o’ yer misery like.  You’ll drown, lad.”

He made a dash, and tried for a branch hanging down, but missed it, and got swept against the rocks, where he shoved his arm between two big bits; but the water gave him a wrench, the bone went crack, and as I sat still there, I see him swept down lower and lower, till he clutched at a bush with his left hand, and hung on like grim death to a dead nigger.

“Sarve yer right,” I says coolly.  “Why shouldn’t you die like the rest?  If I’d had any go in me I should have plugged yer long ago.”

“Halloa!” I cried then, giving a start.  “It ain’t ­’tis ­tarnation! it can’t be!”

But it was.

There on t’other side, not fifty yards lower down, on a bit of a shelf of earth, that kept crumbling away as the water washed it, was Jael, kneeling down with her young ’un; and, as I looked, something seemed to give my heart a jigg, just as if some coon had pulled a string.

“Well, he’s ’bout gone,” I says; “and they can’t hold out ’bout three minutes; then they’ll all drown together, and she can take old Hez his last babby to miss ­cuss ’em!  I’m safe enough.  What’s it got to do with me?  I shan’t move.”

I took out my wet cake of ’bacca, and whittled off a bit, shoved it in my cheek, shut my knife with a click, and sot thar watchin’ of ’em ­ father, and mother, and bairn.

“You’ve been too happy, you have,” I says out loud; not as they could hear it, for the noise of the waters.  “Now you’ll be sorry for other people.  Drown, darn yer! stock, and lock, and barrel; I’m safe.”

Just then, as I sot and chawed, telling myself as a chap would be mad to try and save his friends out of such a flood, let alone his enemies, darn me! if Jael didn’t put that there little squealer’s hands together, and hold them up as if she was making it say its prayers ­a born fool! ­ when that thar string seemed to be pulled, inside me like, agin my heart; and ­I couldn’t help it ­I jumped up.

“Say, Dab,” I says to myself, “don’t you be a fool.  You hate that lot like pyson, you do.  Don’t you go and drown yerself.”

I was ’bout mad, you know, and couldn’t do as I liked, for, if I didn’t begin to rip off my things, wet and hanging to me.  Cuss me! how they did stick! ­but I cleared half on ’em off, and then, like a mad fool, I made a run and a jump, and was fighting hard with the water to get across to Hez’s wife and child.

It was a bit of a fight.  Down I went, and up I went, and the water twisted me like a leaf:  but I got out of the roar and thunder, on to the bit of a shelf where Jael knelt; when, if the silly thing didn’t begin to hold up to me her child; and her lips, poor darling, said dumbly, “Save it! save it!”

In the midst of that rush and roar as I saw that poor gal, white, horrified, and with her yaller hair clinging round her, all my old love for her comes back, and I swore a big oath as I’d save her for myself, or die.

I tore her dress into ribbons, for there warn’t a moment to lose, and I bound that bairn somehow on to my shoulders, she watching me the while; and then, with my heart beating madly, I caught her in my arms, she clinging tightly to me in her fear, and I stood up, thinking how I could get back, and making ready to leap.

The flood didn’t wait for that, though.  In a moment there was a quiver of the bank, and it went from beneath my feet, leaving me wrastling with the waters once more.

I don’t know how I did it, only that, after a fight and being half smothered, I found myself crawling up the side of the Gulch, ever so low down, and dragging Jael into a safe place with her bairn.

She fell down afore me, hugged my legs, and kissed my feet; and then she started up and began staring up and down, ending by seeing, just above us, old Hez clinging there still, with his sound arm rammed into the bush, and his body swept out by the fierce stream.

The next moment she had seized me by the arm, and was pynting at him, and she gave a wild kind of shriek.

“He’s a gone coon, my gal,” I says, though she couldn’t hear me; and I was gloating over her beautiful white face and soft, clear neck, as I thought that now she was mine ­all mine.  I’d saved her out of the flood, and there was no Hez to stand in our way.

“Save him! ­save him!” she shrieked in my ear.

What, Hez?  Save Hez, to come between us once more?  Save her husband ­ the man I hated, and would gladly see die?  Oh, I couldn’t do it; and my looks showed it, she reading me like a book the while.  No, he might drown ­he was drowned ­must be.  No:  just then he moved.  But, nonsense!  I wasn’t going to risk my life for his, and cut my own throat like, as to the futur’.

She went down on her knees to me though, pointing again at where Hez still floated; and the old feeling of love for her was stronger on me than ever.

“You’re asking me to die for you, Jael!” I shouted in her ear.

“Save him ­save Hez!” she shrieked.

“Yes, save him!” I groaned to myself.  “Bring him back to the happiness that might be mine.  But she loves him ­she loves him; and I must.”

I give one look at her ­as I thought my last ­and I couldn’t help it.  If she had asked me dumbly, as she did, to do something ten times as wild, I should have done it; and, with a run, I got well up above Hez afore I jumped in once more, to have the same fight with the waters till I was swept down to the bush where he was.

I’d got my knife in my teeth to cut the bush away, and let him free; but as I was swept against it my weight tore it away, and Hez and I went down the stream together; him so done up that he lay helpless on the water.

Something seemed to tell me to finish him off.  A minute under water would have done it; but Jael’s face was before me, and at last I got to the other side, with her climbing along beside us; and if it hadn’t been for the hand she stretched down to me, I should never have crawled out with old Hez ­I was that done.

As I dropped down panting on the rock, Jael came to my side, leaned over me, and kissed me, and I turned away, for the next moment she was trying hard, and bringing her husband to, and I was beginning to feel once more that I had been a fool.

I ain’t much more to tell, only that the flood went down ’most as quick as it had come up, and Hez got all right again with his broken arm, and did well.  They wanted muchly to be friends; but I kep’ away.  I felt as I’d been a fool to save him, and I was kinder shamed like of it; so I took off to ’Frisco, where, after chumming about, I took to going voyages to Panama and back, and the sea seemed to suit me like, and there I stuck to it; and one day a ship comes into ’frisco, where I was hanging ashore after a long drinking bout, and I heer’d as they wanted a man or two to fill up, because a couple had deserted to the diggings.

“Whar for?” I says to the officer.

“Discovering ­up North,” he says.

“That’ll do,” I says.  “I’m yer man; only I don’t think as you’ll get gold if you finds it, ’cause the water’ll all freeze when you wants to wash it.”

“We want to find the North Pole, my lad,” he says.

“And what’ll yer do with it when yer find it?” I says.

“The president wants it down in New York, to put in the big gardens, for the Great Bear to climb, if we can catch him, too.”

Wal, seeing as it promised plenty of amusement, I stuck to my bond, and went with them.  And a fine time we had of shooting, and sledging, and exploring.  We found the North Pole, after being away from the ship a month.  One chap swore it was only the mast of a friz-up ship, sticking out of the ice; but skipper said it was the North Pole, and I cut a bit off with the saw.  That’s a bit as I’m whittling.

We couldn’t get it out then, so we turned back to reach the ship, and get tackle to rig out and draw it; and while we was going back I turned so snoozy that, ’gainst orders, I lay down on the ice and went off bang to sleep.  Ain’t seen anything of ’em, I ’spose?

“Well, no,” said the doctor, winking at us, as the Yankee whittled away, “I haven’t.  You expect to see them again?”

“’Spect?  Of course I do.  They’ll come back to pull up the North Pole, and pick me up on the way.  If they don’t I’ll show you where it lies.”

“Lies; yes, where it lies,” said the doctor.  “Well, whereabouts does it lie?”

“Heigh-ho ­yaw ­aw ­aw ­hum?” went the Yankee, with the most awful yawn I ever heard; and then, as we looked, he seemed to go all at once into water ­body, clothes, bones, and all ­till there was nothing left before us but the knife and the bit of wood he had been whittling; and we shrank back, feeling all of a shiver, composed of equal parts of cold and fear.

I thought the doctor would have had a fit, he was so disappointed, and he stamped about the ice until he grew quite blue in the face.

“The last chance!” he cried ­“the last chance!”

He did not know how true a prophet he was; for the next day, when we set to and searched for another specimen of suspended animation, not one could we find.  We could not even hit upon one of the old elephants:  nothing but ice ­ice ­ice everywhere; and, now that the stimulus of making strange discoveries was over, the men began to grumble.

“I don’t like the state of affairs, doctor,” I said.  “I fear there’s mutiny on the way.”

“Why?” he said.

“The men are growing so discontented with their provisions; but hush, here they are.”

The doctor’s nephew was standing by me as the crew came up, looking fierce and angry.

“What’s the matter, my lads?” I said, when they all came close to me, and thrust their tongues in their cheeks.

“Look here, skipper,” said Binny Scudds, who seemed to be leader, “we’ve had enough of this here!”

“My good man,” ­began the doctor.

“Now that’ll do, old skyantific!” cried Binny.  “We’ve had enough of you.  Who’s been doin’ nothin’ but waste good, wholesome sperrits, by stuffing black beadles, and dirty little fishes, and hinsecks in ’em, till there ain’t a drop fit to drink?”

“But, Scudds ­” I began.

“That’ll do!” he shouted fiercely; and he threatened me with an ice pick.  “We’ve had enough of it, I tell yer!”

“Look here, my man,” said the doctor; and his nephew got behind him.

“Yes, and look here,” said Scudds.  “You want to diskiver the North Pole, don’t yer?”

“Well, you are very impertinent, my man,” said the doctor; “but, yes.  I do.”

“Then you shall diskiver it along o’ the skipper, and young stowaway there.”

“And what will you do?” said the doctor.

“Oh,” said Scudds, “me, and Borstick, and my mates is agoin’ back.  We’ve had enough of it, I tell yer.”

“But how are we to go on without you?” said the doctor.

“I’ll show yer,” said Scudds.  “Now mates!”

To my intense horror, and in spite of my struggles, they seized us all three; and then, with a lot of laughing and cheering, they brought up some pieces of rope, and three good-sized blocks of ice.

“What are you going to do, scoundels?” I shrieked.

“Well,” said Scudds, grinning, “my mates and me’s of opinion that the North Pole is down in the hole, and we’re agoin’ to send you three there to see.”

“But it’s murder!” I cried.

“It’s in the service of science,” said the doctor, blandly.  “We shall make great discoveries.  You won’t mind, Alfred?” he said, to his nephew.

“I should have been delighted, uncle, if I had only procured my skates,” said the young fellow.

“These here’s better than skates,” said Scudds, grinning; and, to my extreme horror, they bound the young man to a block of ice, carried it to the edge of the crater, gave it a slight push, and away it went down, and down, rapidly gliding till it entered the dark mist toward the bottom.

“He’ll discover it first,” said the doctor, calmly.

“But no one will know,” I said, bitterly.

“We may get up again first,” he said, radiantly, as the men tied him on in his turn.

“Good luck to you, if you do,” said Scudds, grinning, as he tied the last knot binding the stout old fellow to the second block of ice.

Au revoir, Captain!” said the doctor, smiling; and then they pushed him on to the inclined way, and he glided off, waving his hand as he went, till he was nearly half-way down, and then the crew seized me.

“Not without a struggle!” I said; and seizing an iron bar used for breaking ice, I laid about me, knocking one fellow after another down, and sending them gliding over the sides of the awful gulf, till only Scudds remained behind.

“Not yet, skipper!” he cried, avoiding my blow, and springing at my throat ­“not yet;” and the next minute we were engaged in a desperate struggle, each trying with all his might to get the other to the edge of that awful slope, and hurl him down.

Twice he had me on the brink and his savage look seemed to chill my blood; but with an effort I wrenched myself away, and prolonged the struggle, getting the better of him, till, filled with the same savage thoughts as he, I got him right to the edge.

“Not yet, skipper ­not yet!” he exclaimed; and then, allowing himself to fall, he drew me, as it were, over his head, and the next moment I was hanging upon the icy slope, holding on only by one of his hands, and vainly trying to get a footing, for my feet kept gliding away.

“You villain, you shall die with me!” I cried, clinging tenaciously to his hand to drag him down, too, but he looked down laughingly at me.

“I shall go back and say I found the North Pole all by myself!” he cried, with a hideous grin; and then, apparently without an effort, he shook me off, and I began to glide down, down, down, into the horrible black mist below me!

As I glided over the ice, which was wonderfully smooth, my rate of progress grew each moment more rapid, till it was like lightning in its speed.  I fancied I heard Scudds’ mocking laugh; but it was far distant, and now I was nearing the mist each moment, and instead of cold I could feel a strange burning sensation in my head.

“What of those gone before?” I asked myself, as I slid on at lightning speed.  “Have they been dashed to pieces, or have they plunged into some horrible abyss?  Yes, that must be it,” I thought, for now I was through the mist, and speeding on to what looked like the hole of the great funnel, down which I was hurried.

The sensation was not unpleasant, but for the heat, and, moved now by curiosity, I struggled into a sitting position; then, feet first, I skimmed on, and on, and on, till right before me there seemed to be an edge, over which I slid into intense darkness; ever going on down, down, down, with the noise of wind rushing by me as I fell, till my head spun round; then there was a strange sensation of giddy drowsiness; and, lastly, all was blank.

“Yes, he’ll do now,” said a familiar voice.  “He’s getting on.  Head beautifully cool.”

“Eh?” I said, staring at the speaker.

“Well, skipper, that was a narrow touch for you, I thought once you were gone.”

“So did I,” was my reply; “but how did you and Bostock get out?”

“Wandering a little still,” said the doctor, in a whisper to Bostock.  “Get out?” he said aloud.  “Oh, easily enough.”

“But, but,” I said, faintly, holding my hand to my head ­“that horrible crater!”

“Lie still, my dear captain,” he said, “and don’t worry.  You’ll be stronger in a day or two.”

“But tell me!” I said, appealingly.

“Well, there’s little to tell,” he said, smiling.  “Only that you pitched head first twenty feet down the slope of that iceberg three weeks ago, and you’ve been in a raging fever ever since.”

“Then the overturning of the iceberg ­the dive of the steamer ­the seven frozen sailors ­the crater?”

“My dear fellow,” he said, gently, “you’ve been delirious, and your head evidently is not quite right yet.  There, drink that.”

I took what he gave me, and sank into a deep sleep, from which I awoke much refreshed, and by degrees I learned that I had slipped while we were on the beautiful iceberg, and had a very narrow escape of my life; that, far from walking back to the steamer, and sitting on the deck to hear a scraping noise, I had been carried carefully on board by Bostock and Scudds.  Imagination did the rest.

I need not continue our adventures in our real voyage, for they were very uneventful.  The doctor got some nice specimens and thoroughly enjoyed his trip; but we were stopped on all sides by the ice, and at last had to return, loaded with oil and preserved natural history matters, after what the doctor called the pleasantest trip he had ever had.

But, all the same, it would have been very interesting if the Seven Frozen Sailors had really been thawed out to give us forth their yarns ­ of course always excepting the rush down into the misty crater.  However, here are their stories, told by seven pens, and may they make pleasant many a fireside.