Read CHAPTER THREE - PREPARATIONS. of Steve Young , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on ReadCentral.com.

“I say,” said Steve some hours later, “isn’t it getting late?”

“Yes, very,” said the captain; “go and turn in.”

“But it’s so light, sir!  It was light enough coming up here, but ­what time is it?”

“Eleven ­past.”

“What!  Why, I thought it could only be about eight.”

“I suppose so, boy,” said the captain, who was looking ahead for the opening through which the Hvalross was to thread her way out from the fiord into the ocean; “but where is your geography?”

“At home.”

“Yes, yes; but I don’t mean your book, my lad.  I mean the geography and knowledge in your head.  Don’t you remember that the farther we go north at this time of year the lighter it becomes, till, not many miles farther, it will be all daylight?”

“Yes, I remember now,” cried Steve; “but it’s rather puzzling, all that about the midnight sun.  Doesn’t the sun really set at all?”

“No,” said Captain Marsham, smiling at the lad’s puzzled expression.

“Then what does it do?” said the lad, gazing hard in the direction of the north-west, where there was still a warm glow.

“Keeps up above the horizon.”

“But that’s what puzzles me,” said Steve.

“Well, I hardly know how to explain it to you, my boy, unless you can grasp it if I ask you to suppose you are standing on the North Pole.”

“Yes, I understand that.  Wouldn’t the sun set there?”

“No; but at midsummer day it would be at a certain height above the horizon.”

“Yes; but how would it be at midsummer night?”

“Just at the same height in the sky, going apparently round the heavens.”

“And would it keep on like that, always at the same height night and day?”

“Yes, for one day only.  The next day it would be nearly the same height, then a little lower; and so it would go on becoming a little and a little lower, and, as it were, screwing slowly down till it was close to the horizon; then would come the days when it was only half seen, then not seen at all.”

“And after that?”

“Darkness and winter, Steve, till it had gone as far south as it could go and begun to return.  Do you understand now?”

“I think so,” said Steve, but rather dubiously.  “It’s much too big to get hold of all at once.  But just tell me this, and then I’ll go to bed, sir.  As we shan’t be right at the North Pole, how long will it be before we see the sun in the middle of the night?”

“That depends, my lad.  If this breeze keeps up, we shall hoist sail, save our coal, and pass round the North Cape at midnight, and then we shall have a good three months’ sunshine in which to load our tanks with oil, have plenty of sport, and I hope ­best of all ­find our friends alive and little the worse for passing through an arctic winter in the snow.  Now that’s quite enough for you to think of for one night.  Down below.”

Stephen Young left the deck after giving a longing look round at the lovely sky, and feeling as if he had more to think of than he could well manage.  Ten minutes later he was lying in his comfortable berth, listening to the gliding motion of the water as it lapped against the vessel’s side.  Then he began to wonder why the constant sunshine did not melt all the ice and snow in the arctic circle; and lastly he did not wonder at all, for he was fast asleep, just as the vessel passed through the piled-up masses of rock which guarded the northern entrance to the fiord, and acted as breakwaters to keep the inner straits so lake-like and still.  For directly the Hvalross had passed the last rocks there was a disagreeable heaving, and soon after the vessel had little waves splashing against her bows, and within an hour she was careening over to the full breeze, and making her way north at a rate which promised well for Stephen seeing the midnight sun twelve hours sooner than he had been told.

The swilling and scrubbing of the planks roused Steve the next morning, and, hurriedly dressing, he went on deck to find the sun shining brightly, the blue sea sparkling, and a dim line that might have been cloud away to the right.  The breeze was just such a one as a sailor would like to continue, and the Hvalross, though not fast, being built for strength and resistance to the ice, was making good progress, thanks to the height of her spars and the grand spread of canvas she could bear.  The new men were all very busy with bucket and swab, just as if they had been on board a month; and the last traces of the coal dust, which had worried Captain Marsham in his desire for perfect cleanliness, had been sent down the scuppers.

“Morning,” said the first of the new men Steve encountered, giving him a friendly nod.  “Nice breeze.”

Steve stared, for he did not expect to find the new men able to converse in English; but in five minutes he found that they were well acquainted with his tongue, and also that they had visited Aberdeen and Hull several times in whalers.

About that time the captain came on deck, had a short conversation with Mr Lowe, the mate, who then went below to rest, just as Steve was noticing the smoke which rose from the galley fire and thinking about breakfast.  That came in due time, and when they went on deck again the wind had died out and the vessel hardly had steering way.

There being no immediate need of progress recourse was not had to steam, and a question asked by one of the Nordoe men resulted in Captain Marsham giving orders for the tackle to be brought on deck and overhauled before being re-stowed for immediate use when wanted.

Steve, with a boy’s interest in this fishing tackle on a large scale, eagerly watched the unlashing and laying out of the coils of new, soft, strong, tarred line, the walrus harpoons, lances with their long, thin, smooth, white pine poles, the white whale harpoon, and the harpoon gun.  Every one of these implements was full of suggestive thoughts of exciting adventure; so, too, were the ice anchors and picks; and as all were carefully examined in turn the Norway men talked to each other, making plenty of comments as they ran the new line through their fingers and balanced the lances in their hands, till in imagination Steve saw the great ivory-tusked walrus rising out of the sea and the men in the boats ready to strike.

He was not alone in his intense interest, for the shock-headed boy was staring hard too, with his mouth half open and his forehead wrinkled into furrows, till he saw Captain Marsham approach from the wheel, when he hurried forward to commence altering the coil of a rope which needed no touching and whose neatness he disturbed.

“Well, my men,” said the captain, “what do you say to the tackle?”

“Very good, sir,” said one, who seemed to be the eldest of the party.  “Only wants using well.”

“Exactly.  But you will manage that.”

“Yes, sir; we’ll try,” said the man, and the others nodded and smiled.

“What about the wind dropping like this?  Does it mean change?”

“Yes,” said another of the men, giving a sharp look round; “nor’-east before long, I should say.”

The man proved to be a true weather prophet, for in a couple of hours the wind had swung completely round to dead ahead, and after a little thought the vessel’s course was altered and her head laid for the north-west.

“But will not this take us quite out of our way?” said the doctor, as they sat that day at dinner, with a lively sea playfully patting the shining sides of the vessel as she glided rapidly onward.

“Which is our way?” said the captain, smiling.

“North, to find our friends.”

“Exactly; but it does not matter whether we approach the north by the north-east or north-west.  It is all chance as to where they may have wintered; and, as the wind is fair for the way north-west, let’s take it.”

“And if we keep on in this direction, where shall we make?” said the doctor.

“Greenland!” cried Steve; and the captain nodded.  “Right,” he said; “and there is a possibility that they may have reached an island there, which I have often thought I should like to see.”

“Yes?”

“Jan Mayen, a place seldom visited.  If the wind holds fair we’ll make for that, try to explore it as far as the ice will allow us, and then sail north along the edge of the floe for Spitzbergen, without you can suggest a better plan.”

“I?  No!” said the doctor.

“Can you, Lowe?” asked the captain of the mate, who had now joined them after a good morning’s sleep.

“No, sir.  It’s all chance work, this sailing to the north.  We must search where we can.  It’s of no use to say we’ll go here or there; we must go where the ice will let us.”

“Exactly; and take what walrus and seal we can on the way.  Have you ever touched at Jan Mayen?”

“No, and never could get near enough to the island for fog and ice.”

“But you’ve heard a good deal about the place?”

“Yes; I’ve heard that it’s a land of high mountains, and that there’s a volcano at one end.  Let’s see, there’s a kind of seal there, too, that is very abundant; but the place is rarely touched at, being famous for fogs, currents, and ice ­all enemies to navigation.”

“Well, we will see if we cannot have better luck, and try to get there in fine weather,” said Captain Marsham.  “What do you say, doctor?”

“That it will be a treat to land there.  Besides, we may find our friends.”

The doctor walked forward, and Steve followed, with the idea of landing upon an unexplored coast growing in its fascination; and as the naturalist leaned over the bows to peer down into the clear water, the lad edged up alongside.

“Hullo, Steve! what are you thinking about?” saluted him.

“Volcanoes.”

“Warm subject.  Well, what about them?”

“I was wondering why it was that these burning mountains are always found up in very cold regions among the ice and snow.”

“But are they?”

“Oh yes,” said Steve confidently.  “There’s Hecla in Iceland, and this one Mr Lowe talked about, and Captain Marsham says he saw a tremendous one amongst the ice toward the South Pole.”

“Indeed!” said the doctor sarcastically.  “That makes three.  What about the scores of others dotted about the earth in the hottest countries?  Your theory will not hold water, my lad.  But what’s that man going aloft for?  We can’t be anywhere near land.”

This remark was occasioned by one of the men climbing the shrouds of the main-mast, making his way to the top, and then, as they watched him, climbing higher to the main topgallant crosstrees, where he stopped for some little time making an examination before descending.

“Gone up to see if the ropes are safe,” said Steve at last.  But this soon proved to be a very lame conclusion, for the other three Norsemen and a sour-looking Scotchman, with a little brown mark at the corner of one lip, were busy getting something up out of the hold.

The something resolved itself into a big tub about five feet in height, and narrow, while it was made higher by an iron framework or ring rising another six inches above the open top, and held projecting like a rail by means of stout bars attached to a hoop.

It is a bad plan on shipboard to ask questions of officers when they are busy, and Steve had been to sea long enough to learn this.  On the other hand, it is a good thing, not only at sea, but through life, to investigate as much as possible for yourself, and correct any errors into which you fall as you learn more.  “Bought wit is better than taught wit,” the old moralist wrote; and he was quite right, for the things taught us are too often forgotten, while those which we have bought at the cost of a good deal of puzzling and study fix themselves firmly in the mind.  So, as soon as the tub was left standing on the deck, and he could conveniently do so, Steve walked up and began to examine it, noting principally that about half-way down there was a broad ledge half round the inside.

“To brew something, I suppose,” said Steve to himself.  “They’ll lay the yeast, or whatever it is they use, on that ledge.  Some kind of drink, I suppose, to keep the men warm when we get up into the ice.”

He had another good look round after thrusting his head inside the iron rail, upon which a board was placed to slide, and then noted something else which quite upset his theory.

At that moment the shock-headed boy came up from the hold, with a bundle of what seemed to be stout oaken laths under his arm.

“What have you got there, Watty?”

“Wud ­pieces o’ wud.”

“What for?”

“I dunno.”

“Oh, you are a clever one!” cried Steve, turning away impatiently, for the sour-looking sailor with the brown mark at the corner of his lip came up from below, where he had been to fetch a bunch of tar-twine.

“Here, Andrew,” said Steve eagerly, “what are they going to make in that tub?”

“Make, Meester Young?” said the man, turning to gaze thoughtfully at the cask.  “Observations.”

“Now, no gammon.  Tell me!”

The man wiped his lips with the back of his hand, and spread his face into a dry kind of grin, just as if something hurt him, and he was smiling to show people that he did not mind.

“Observations,” he said again.

Steve gave him an angry look.

“Don’t you make stupid observations.”

Andrew McByle of Ballachulish, a well-tanned Scottish whaler, “went off”:  that is to say, he did not leave the spot on the deck where he stood talking to Steve Young, but he went off like a clock or some other piece of machinery; for he suddenly gave a jerk, and made a peculiar noise inside somewhere about the throat, accompanied by some singular contortions of the face.

Steve pressed close up to him, for he had seen the contortions before.

“Look here, Andy,” he whispered, “do you want me to kick you?”

“Na, Mr Stevin.”

“Then don’t you laugh at me when I ask you questions.  Every one isn’t so precious clever as you are; and look here, Watty Links, if you dare to grin at me I’ll punch your head.  Now then, Andy, what is it?”

“Dinna ca’ me Andy, my laddie, and she’ll tell ye.  My name’s Andra.”

“Very well then, Andra.  What’s the tub for?”

“The craw’s-nest.”

“Bah!” exclaimed Steve; and he walked forward to where the stout red-faced sailor who had pulled him aboard from the wharf was busy applying grease to the fore-mast.

“What’s that cask for, Hamish?”

“Yon, sir?  For the crows,” said the man, grinning.

“What! do we shoot crows and salt them down in that tub?”

“Oh no, sir.  They shoots themselves up through the bottom.”

Steve stood staring at the man for a moment, and then turned away impatiently.

“How stupid of me,” he said.  “I ought to have known.  Crow’s-nest, of course.”

He walked near to the foot of the main-mast just as the Norwegian sailor who had been up aloft turned the tub down with its bottom forward, went on one knee and pushed the bottom inward, one end rising up and showing that the other side worked upon hinges.

“She’ll want a little iling,” said the man; then, turning the tub upright again, the bottom fell into its place with a snap, and the man turned and took the ball of tarred twine from McByle, and walked to the side.

“Now, boy,” he said to Watty Links, “bring up that stuff.”

He took hold of the shrouds, swung himself on to the bulwarks, and began to mount the ratlines as calmly as if it were a broad staircase, though the vessel was careening over, and rising and falling on the swell.

“Now, my lad, up with you,” said the captain.  “Stop there, and hand him the pieces as he wants them.”

The boy’s face wrinkled up, and he looked down at his bundle of many-lengthed laths, then up at the top-mast, and then at the captain.

“Well, did you hear what I said, sir?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then why don’t you run up?”

“The wind blaws, sir, and I dinna thenk I can haud on.”

“What?  Why, you contemptible, lubberly young rascal, what do you mean?  You come to sea, and afraid to go aloft!”

“Na, I winna say I’m afraid to gang aloft, sir; but my heid’s a’ of a wark when I get up, and I might fa’ and hurt somebody.”

Captain, mate, the doctor, and Steve burst into a roar of laughter at this; and feeling that he must have said something unusually clever the boy looked smiling round, letting his eyes rest at last upon Steve.

“Here, this won’t do!” cried Mr Lowe.  “Now, boy, no nonsense; up with you!”

“Na,” said the boy sturdily, and he shook his shock head.  “My mither said I wasna to rin into danger, and I didna come to sea to fa’ overboard, or come doon upon the deck wi’ a roon.”

“Now, boy, come along!” cried the sailor, who was high up above the top.

“Do you hear, sir!  Up with you, or you’ll get the rope’s end!” cried the mate angrily.

“Don’t send him,” said the captain in an undertone.  “The young cur may fall.”

“I’ll take them!” cried Steve; and stepping forward, he leaped up into the shrouds and held down his hand for the bundle.

The captain gave his head a nod.

“Up with you then, my lad.  Shall I send a man to lash you to the rigging?”

“Yes, sir, when I ask,” cried Steve:  and taking the bundle of pieces of wood under his arm he began to mount steadily.

“Pass the word for the cook,” cried the mate angrily; and as Steve reached the top he paused to rest a moment, and looked down to see that the cook had come out of the galley and presented himself before his officers.

“Here!” cried the mate, “take this boy, cook, and set him to peel potatoes and scour your pots.  He’ll never make a sailor.”

“Na,” whimpered the lad, “I didna come to sea to peel potatoes.  My mither said ­”

Steve did not hear what Watty’s “mither” had said, for the cook made a rush at him, caught him by the scruff of the neck, and ran him into the galley, closely followed by Skene-dhu, the dog, snapping and barking at their heels in a way which hastened Watty’s pace and stopped all resistance.

Half laughing, half pitying the boy, but with a blending of contempt, Steve resumed his climb, till, looking up, he found the Norwegian sailor just above him.

“So you’ve come, eh, my lad?” he said in perfect English.

“Yes, I’ve come.”

“Don’t you feel scared?”

“No, not yet.  I say, what’s your name?”

“Johannes, sir.  Well, are you going to help me?”

“Yes, if you show me what to do.”

“Hand me the rails, my lad, one by one, shortest first, while I lash them across from side to side.”

“But what for?”

“What for, my lad?  So that we can get into the crow’s-nest when she’s hauled right up and made fast yonder.”

“But why won’t the ratlines do?”

“Because they wouldn’t be handy, my lad.  There, you’ll soon see.  Get the shortest one ready,” he continued, as he opened his big Norwegian knife by pressing on a spring at the side, and holding it upside down, when the long keen blade which lay in the handle dropped out to its full length, and the removal of the thumb from the spring fixed it in its place.

Then the man climbed a little higher up the shrouds, so that he could reach to where they came to an end on the main topgallant mast, about one-fourth of its length below the truck and halyards, thrust one leg through between the ratlines, so as to twist it round and get a good hold, leaving his hands free; and Steve at once followed his example, and then loosened the shortest lath-like piece of wood.  This done, and the piece held ready, he had time to look about him, while the sailor untwisted some of his stout tarred twine and cut it into short lengths ready for use.

Steve’s first look was, naturally enough, down at the deck, which now seemed to be at a terrible depth below him, looking quite a hundred feet, though it was not more than seventy, and the first thought which struck him was:  “Suppose I fell!” A thrill ran through him, and in imagination he saw himself lying, broken and bleeding, on the white deck.  But the next instant he said to himself:  “No; I shouldn’t reach the deck, I should go overboard into the sea.  How deep down should I go?” and then he clung there staring below him, till he was roused from the peculiar kind of fascination by the sailor’s voice.

“Now, master,” he said; and Steve gave a kind of gasp as he turned to the speaker.  “Shortest piece.”

Steve handed it, and the Norseman tried its length, which proved to be just sufficient to reach across from the starboard shrouds, to which he clung, to those on the port side.

“Just right,” he said, and resting each end of the stout lath-like piece on the ratlines, he proceeded to bind the starboard end fast to the outer shroud.

This was quickly done by a few deft turns of the strong twine, and then the sailor descended a little.

“Next size!” he cried, and another piece was passed up, this being a trifle longer.

It proved to fit exactly, showing how accurately the bundle of pieces had been prepared for the object in view.

“Next!” cried the man, and the piece was handed, placed in position on the opposite ratlines, and secured in turn.

“See what these are for?” said the Norseman, smiling.

“Yes; you are making a ladder, so as to get from side to side,” replied Steve; “but you can’t make it very far down, it would take tremendously long pieces when we get lower.”

“Only want ten or a dozen, my lad.  You see what they’re for now, don’t you?”

“N-no.”

“To step on to from the ratlines, and go up into the crow’s-nest.”

“What, that tub?”

“Yes; we haul her up and lash her just above us, close to the truck there, above the top piece of wood.”

“I see now!” cried Steve; and, full of interest in the task, he handed the pieces till the last had been secured, when the Norseman ascended to the highest, took tight hold of the mast, and crossed over on to the port-side shrouds, where he began to make fast the other ends of the pieces of wood.

“How are you getting on up there, Steve?” cried the captain from the deck.

“All right, sir.  Done one side.”

“Good!  Feel giddy?”

“Oh no, sir.”

“Shall I send the boy to relieve you?”

Steve replied in the negative, and the captain went aft again.

“Ever been up here before, sir?” said the man, as he rapidly went on with his task.

“No, never.”

“Oh!” ejaculated the Norseman, and he looked across at his companion inquiringly, but with his busy fingers working away till the last piece had been securely bound at the port side and a short wooden ladder extended from side to side.

“Now, what’s next?” asked Steve.

“Get up the crow’s-nest.  It’ll want two of us for that.”

“Well, I’ll help,” said Steve.

“Ay, sir, and I’d like your help; but it’ll want one of my mates, with his strong arms, to hold her securely while she’s made fast.”

He hailed the deck, and a man came up with a small rope, which Johannes took, climbed up a little higher and passed the end through a little block high up just below the truck, drew upon it, and sent the end of the line down rapidly to the deck.

“Then this crow’s-nest is for a look-out place?” said Steve.

“That’s it, sir.  Makes a nice snug cover for a man to stand in when we’re among the walrus or seals, or seeking a way through the ice.”

“And this ladder is for a man to creep up and get in through the bottom?”

“Right again, sir; you don’t want no telling.  He creeps up the ladder, in through the bottom, shuts the door down, and there he is, able to look out eight or nine miles any way.”

Steve looked down, and could see that the men on deck were making the great cask fast to the end of the line.  Then, turning to the man again: 

“You said something about looking out for ice.”

“Ay, sir, I did.”

“How long will it be before we come in sight of any?”

The sailors both looked at him and smiled.

“’Bout as long as it takes to cast your eyes to the nor’ard, sir.”

“What do you mean?”

“Look yonder,” said the first Norseman, jerking his thumb over his shoulder.  “You can see ice, can’t you?”

Steve looked in the direction indicated, and shook his head.

“Nonsense, sir!” said the other.  “There’s ice ­one, two, three good-sized bits floating this way.”

“I can’t see them,” said Steve sadly.  “Your eyes are better than mine.”

“Maybe, sir.  We’ve been at sea longer than you.  Try again.”

The boy looked, holding on by passing his arm round one of the shrouds, while the mast gave from the pressure of the wind, and produced a peculiar effect, as of swinging, now that his attention was not directed to the work going on.

“Feel all right?” said the first Norseman.

“Yes.”

“Not giddy, sir?”

“No, I think not.  I’m all right, but I can’t see any ice.”

“Try again.  There, straight away where the sea shines in the sunlight.”

“N-no,” said Steve; “I can see the waves breaking and sparkling miles away.”

“No, sir; you couldn’t see the waves breaking and sparkling miles away on a day like this.  What you see is ice.”

“What, an iceberg?  I thought that would be like an island.”

“No, sir; a bit or two of floe ice going to the south’ard.”

“Yes, I see now; but how big are these pieces?”

“Ten or a dozen feet out of the water, and perhaps a hundred feet long.”

“But what do you mean by floe ice?”

“The ice of the sea frozen.”

“Well, of course!” cried Steve; “so are icebergs.”

“Are they, sir?” said the man, smiling.  “Have you ever seen one?”

“No; but I’ve often read of them.”

“Wait till you see one, then, sir, and you won’t say they’re part of the frozen sea; they’re bits of the great ice rivers that run down into the sea, and then break off.  Icebergs are fresh water when they’re melted ­ land ice.  Me and my mate have heard them split off with a noise like thunder, and then they float away.”

“Ahoy, there aloft!  Up she comes.”

The little wheel in the block overhead began to chirrup and squeak as the men hauled upon the line, and the tub with its iron ring and rail began to ascend rapidly higher and higher, till it reached where the three clung, and was then guided to where it was to be secured, with its bottom resting on the place where the tops of the shrouds passed round the mast.

“Hold on!” was shouted.  “Make fast!” and the cask became stationary.  Then the second of the two sailors stood on the newly-made ladder, and held the cask while the first passed a rope round it and secured it to the slight mast; after which there was a little lashing above to steady it, and the crow’s-nest hung there high above the deck, ready for use.

“There you are, sir,” said Johannes.  “As you’ve been helping you ought to have first try.  Up with you.”

“Think it’s safe?” said Steve, hesitating; and a curious sensation of shrinking came over him.

“Shouldn’t ask you to try her if she warn’t fast, sir,” replied the man bluntly; and without further ado the lad loosened his grasp of the shrouds, and stepped on to the wooden ladder, looking up at the bottom of the cask.

“Now, sir, just one word of warning,” said the second Norseman.  “That ladder’s to step on from the shrouds, not to go down on deck.”

“Of course not,” replied Steve; “I know that.”

“Yes, sir, and so do all of those who come up; but same time, a poor fellow don’t think, and when he lowers himself out of the tub, he goes on stepping down without going off on to the shrouds, and I’ve known men fall and be killed.”

“I say, don’t talk about falling,” said Steve, with a shiver; “it makes one feel creepy.”

“Only good advice, sir,” said Johannes.  “Now, then, up you go.”

The lad mounted three of the steps, and his head touched the bottom of the tub.

“It isn’t opened!” he cried.

“Never mind, sir; go on, push up.”

Steve obeyed, thrust hard with his head, and the bottom gave way, turning upon its hinges till it was vertical, and he passed up inside the tub, stepped on to the narrow ledge at the side, and the bottom dropped down into its place, forming a firm flooring, with a ring at the edge ready for lifting it up.

The next moment Steve was standing upright, peering round in all directions, finding that he was in a wonderfully commanding position for sweeping the sea, and now, with his eyes already a little educated, making out the ice to the north plainly enough.

There was the seat ready for resting upon; the iron rail all round for a rest for a telescope, and attached to this rail the broad piece of board which could be run round in any direction to act as a screen from the wind when it blew hard and was perhaps cold enough to give frost-bite to the unfortunate watcher up aloft.

A hail from the deck put an end to Steve’s sea sweeping, just as he fancied he made out something dark to the south, which might have been a boat or some large fish.  So, stooping down in his narrow cell, he raised the bottom, and began to lower himself down, till his feet, which sought for a resting-place, touched the second rail of the ladder they had made, and he thoroughly grasped now how necessary their work had been.

“Steady, sir!” cried Johannes, as he stepped lower.  “Keep the door resting upon your head, so that it don’t come down with a bang; it might hurt you.”

“All right,” said the lad, obeying the instructions to the letter, while the two men who stood on the shrouds to starboard and port watched him carefully.  “That’s it, isn’t it?” he continued, as he stepped lower, and the trap-door bottom closed with a gentle tap.

“Make anything out?” cried Captain Marsham from the deck.

“Yes, sir!” cried Steve eagerly.  “Three pieces of ice to the north, and there’s something dark right away south that looks like a boat bottom upwards.”

“Eh?  Look again.  What do you make it to be, my lad?”

This to one of the Norwegian sailors, who placed a hand over his eyes, and took a long look to the south.

“Well, what do you make of it?”

“Small whale, I should say, sir.  But if it be,” he said, after a short pause, “she’s lying asleep in the sunshine.”

“My glass,” said the captain; and it was quickly fetched from the cabin, adjusted, and he took a long look in the direction pointed out.

“Yes; a small whale or a great grampus basking.  Well done, look-out in the crow’s-nest!  Better come down now, my lad.”

These words sent the blood coursing to the lad’s cheeks, and he began to descend quickly, thinking now that after all it was a risky position for any one high up there above the deck, and that the sooner he was safely down the better he would like it.  Then he took two more steps, and was in the act of taking another when the foot he lowered touched nothing, and he started so violently that the other foot glided from the smooth bar of wood, and he dropped with a jerk to the full extent of his arms, giving his hands such a sharp snatch that he felt them giving way just as he was hanging suspended over seventy feet above the deck.  Then they gave way, for, lately as it had been uttered, he had forgotten the Norseman’s carefully given warning.