Read CHAPTER ONE - THE REASON WHY. of Steve Young , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on ReadCentral.com.

“What do I think?”

“Yes, out with it.  Don’t be afraid.”

“Oh, I’m not afraid; but I don’t want to quarrel with any man, nor to upset the lad.”

“Speak out then.  You will not quarrel with me, and I’m not afraid of your upsetting the lad.  I like him to know the whole truth; don’t I, Steve?”

“Yes, sir, of course,” cried the boy addressed, a well-built, sturdy lad of sixteen, fair, strong, and good-looking, and with the additional advantage, which made him better-looking still, that he did not know it.

For though Stephen Young, son of a well-known Lincolnshire doctor who lost his life in fighting hard to save those of others, stood in front of a looking-glass every morning to comb his hair, he never stopped long, and for the short space he did stay his face was convulsed and wrinkled, eyes red, and mouth twisted all on one side, consequent upon his being in pain as he jigged and tore with the comb trying to smooth the unsmoothable; for Steve’s hair had a habit of curling closely all over his head; and before he had been combing a minute he used to dash the teethed instrument away, give his crisp locks a rub, and say, “Bother!”

And now he, Captain Marsham, and Dr Handscombe stood on the granite wharf at Nordoe, high up among the Norwegian fiords, talking to Captain Hendal, a sturdy, elderly, ruddy-bronze giant, who acted as a sort of amateur consul and referee for shipping folk who came and went from the little hot-and-cold port, and who was now frowning heavily at the trio whom he faced.

“Want me to speak out, do you, Captain Marsham, eh?”

“Of course.  I came and asked you for your help and advice.  I know you to be a man of great experience, and I say once more, what do you think?”

“Well, sir, I think you ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

“Why?” said Captain Marsham, smiling; and as his features relaxed, he looked in size, ruddy-bronze complexion, and hard, weather-tanned appearance wonderfully like the Norwegian consul.

“Because you are going to take a boy like that up into the high latitudes, where from minute to minute you never know whether the end mayn’t come.”

“The end come?” said the captain.

“Yes, and you ought to know how:  stove in, crushed, sunk, lost in the snow, frozen, starved, sir.  It’s one big risk, I tell you.  It’s all very well for the walrus-hunters and whale-fishers, who go for their living; but you’re a gentleman, with money to fit out that steamer as you have done it.  There’s no need for you to go; and if you’ll take my advice, you’ll give it up.”

Captain Marsham shook his head.

“You’ve been to sea a good deal?” said Hendal.

“Nearly all my life.  Almost everywhere,” said the captain, while Steve Young listened intently to all that was said.

“But you don’t know our polar ocean, sir.”

“No; but I’ve had a pretty fair experience among the southern ice, trying to penetrate the pack there,” said Captain Marsham.

“Oh! oh!  Ah, then that would help you a bit.  Ice is ice, sir, all the world over.”

“Of course.”

“But there, you give it up, sir:  that’s my advice.  Take a trip a little way if you like, and do your bit of shooting; you can do that without any risks.  Then come back.  Why, only last year ­let me see, it was the beginning of June, like this is ­a well-formed, strongly built schooner touched here ­the Ice Blink they called her ­from Hull, Captain Young ­”

“Yes,” said Captain Marsham quietly; “and they sailed north, and have not been heard of since.”

“Eh?  How did you know?” cried the consul.  “Oh, of course, from the papers.”

“Yes, and from other sources too, Captain Hendal.  Mr Young is ­”

“Was,” muttered the Norwegian.

Is, sir,” said Captain Marsham sternly, “a very old friend of mine, and this lad’s uncle.  We are going to try and find out where they are frozen up.”

A complete change came over the Norwegian, who took a step forward and clapped his hands heavily upon Captain Marsham’s shoulders.  Then turning smartly, he caught Steve by the hand, shook it heartily, and ended by resting his left arm on the boy’s shoulder as he gazed down at him with his keen blue eyes looking moist.

“God bless you, my lad!” he cried in a deep voice, “and your expedition too.  Right, Captain Marsham, and I beg your pardon.  I thought you were going on a risky fowling trip, and it made me angry to think of your taking a lad like that up into yon solitudes.  But it will not be dark to you when the sun goes down; there’s always a bright light in the hearts of those who go to help others in distress.  Now, then, what can I do to help you?  For I say God-speed to your trip with all my heart.”

“Thank you, thank you.  Well, you can help me in several ways.  As an old ice-goer you can give me many hints.  Above all, as a brother-sailor you know the value of a good crew.  I have some trusty men, but I want four more ­young, strong, hearty, Norway lads, who have been well among the walrus, and who can tackle a whale or a bear.”

“Then you mean work?”

“Certainly.  I will not believe my friend is lost, though I am going up yonder; so I make this a pleasure and hunting trip.”

“So as to pay expenses?” said the Norwegian.

“Yes.  This special steamer and her fittings mean some thousands of pounds, and I think I may as well reduce the cost all I can.”

“Of course; and you have called your steamer the Hvalross.”

“Yes; I have used your Norse term for the sea-horse.”

“The name will make our lads eager to go.”

“Then you can get me four to go with us?”

“You shall have the four finest men who have not already started, sir.”

“Come, that sounds better,” said the little, keen-looking man who had not yet spoken.  “May I shake hands with you, Captain Hendal?”

“Yes, sir; I like shaking hands with Englishmen,” said the big Norwegian, holding out his great palm, the back of which was strangely suggestive of a polar bear’s paw; and he laughed as he looked down at the little white hand laid in it, and then gave it a grip which changed its colour.  “But you’re not a sailor.”

“I?  No, a medical man.”

“Name?”

“Handscombe,” said the doctor, smiling.

“Got stuff in you, though,” said the Norwegian grimly, “or you’d have hallooed when I gave your hand that nip.  But why are you going?  They won’t want a doctor?”

“Oh, I don’t know; I may be useful.  I am a bit scientific though, and want to see what we can discover.”

“Good,” said the Norwegian; “deal to learn up there, sir.  Ice, currents, the cold, the storms ­and you’ll find something beside snow; but you will not find the North Pole.”

“No,” said Dr Handscombe, smiling; “we don’t expect that, do we, Steve?”

The lad smiled.

“Why not, sir?  We might, you know.”

“Yes, my lad, you might,” said the Norwegian seriously.  “It is more likely to be found by accident than by those who go on purpose.  Well, Captain Marsham, I’ll see about your men at once.  Shall I find you on board by-and-by?”

“Yes; I’ll stay there till you come.”

They parted, the Norwegian to stride away for the little town, while Captain Marsham with his two companions made at once for the sturdy-looking vessel with its low grey funnel lying in the land-locked harbour, about fifty yards from the sunny shore.