Read CHAPTER TWO of Chasing the Sun , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on ReadCentral.com.

THE STORM AND THE FIRST ADVENTURE

A storm raged on the bosom of the North Sea.  The wind whistled as if all the spirits of Ocean were warring with each other furiously.  The waves writhed and tossed on the surface as if in agony.  White foam, greenish-grey water, and leaden-coloured sky were all that met the eyes of the men who stood on the deck of a little schooner that rose and sank and staggered helplessly before the tempest.

Truly, it was a grand sight ­a terrible sight ­to behold that little craft battling with the storm.  It suggested the idea of God’s might and forbearance, ­of man’s daring and helplessness.

The schooner was named the Snowflake.  It seemed, indeed, little heavier than a flake of snow, or a scrap of foam, in the grasp of that angry sea.  On her deck stood five men.  Four were holding on to the weather-shrouds; the fifth stood at the helm.  There was only a narrow rag of the top-sail and the jib shown to the wind, and even this small amount of canvas caused the schooner to lie over so much that it seemed a wonder she did not upset.

Fred Temple was one of the men who held on to the weather-rigging; two of the others were his friends Grant and Sam Sorrel.  The fourth was one of the crew, and the man at the helm was the Captain; for, although Fred understood a good deal of seamanship, he did not choose to take on his own shoulders the responsibility of navigating the yacht.  He employed for that purpose a regular seaman whom he styled Captain, and never interfered with him, except to tell him where he wished to go.

Captain McNab was a big, tough, raw-boned man of the Orkney Islands.  He was born at sea, had lived all his life at sea, and meant (so he said) to die at sea.  He was a grim, hard-featured old fellow, with a face that had been so long battered by storms that it looked more like the figure-head of a South-Sea whaler than the countenance of a living man.  He seldom smiled, and when he did he smiled grimly; never laughed, and never spoke when he could avoid it.  He was wonderfully slow both in speech and in action, but he was a first-rate and fearless seaman, in whom the owner of the schooner had perfect confidence.

As we have fallen into a descriptive vein it may be as well to describe the rest of our friends offhand.  Norman Grant was a sturdy Highlander, about the same size as his friend Temple, but a great contrast to him; for while Temple was fair and ruddy, Grant was dark, with hair, beard, whiskers, and moustache bushy and black as night.  Grant was a Highlander in heart as well as in name, for he wore a Glengarry bonnet and a kilt, and did not seem at all ashamed of exposing to view his brown hairy knees.  He was a hearty fellow, with a rich deep-toned voice, and a pair of eyes so black and glittering that they seemed to pierce right through you and come out at your back when he looked at you!  Temple, on the contrary, was clad in grey tweed from head to foot, wideawake included, and looked, as he was, a thorough Englishman.  Grant was a doctor by profession; by taste a naturalist.  He loved to shoot and stuff birds of every shape and size and hue, and to collect and squeeze flat plants of every form and name.  His rooms at home were filled with strange specimens of birds, beasts, fishes, and plants from every part of Scotland, England, and Ireland ­to the disgust of his old nurse, whose duty it was to dust them, and to the delight of his little brother, whose self-imposed duty it was to pull out their tails and pick out their eyes!

Grant’s trip to Norway promised a rich harvest in a new field, so he went there with romantic anticipations.

Sam Sorrel was like neither of his companions.  He was a little fellow ­ a mere spider of a man, and extremely thin; so thin that it seemed as if his skin had been drawn over the bones in a hurry and the flesh forgotten!  The Captain once said to Bob Bowie in a moment of confidence that Mr Sorrel was a “mere spunk,” whereupon Bob nodded his head, and added that he was no better than “half a fathom of pump water.”

If there was little of Sam, however, that little was good stuff.  It has been said that he was a painter by profession.  Certainly there was not a more enthusiastic artist in the kingdom.  Sam was a strange mixture of earnestness, enthusiasm, and fun.  Although as thin as a walking-stick, and almost as flat as a pancake, he was tough like wire, could walk any distance, could leap farther than anybody, and could swim like a cork.  His features were sharp, prominent and exceedingly handsome.  His eyes were large, dark, and expressive, and were surmounted by delicate eyebrows which moved about continually with every changeful feeling that filled his breast.  When excited his glance was magnificent, and the natural wildness of his whole aspect was increased by the luxuriance of his brown hair, which hung in long elf-locks over his shoulders.  Among his intimates he was known by the name of “Mad Sam Sorrel.”

When we have said that the crew of the schooner consisted of six picked men besides those described and our friend Bob Bowie, we have enumerated all the human beings who stood within the bulwarks of that trim little yacht on that stormy summer’s day.

There was, however, one other being on board that deserves notice.  It was Sam Sorrel’s dog.

Like its master, this dog was a curious creature.  It was little and thin, and without form of any distinct or positive kind.  If we could suppose that this dog had been permitted to make itself, and that it had begun with the Skye-terrier, suddenly changed its mind and attempted to come the poodle, then midway in this effort had got itself very much dishevelled, and become so entangled that it was too late to do anything better than finish off with a wild attempt at a long-eared spaniel, one could understand how such a creature as “Titian” had come into existence.

Sam had meant to pay a tribute of respect to the great painter when he named his dog Titian.  But having done his duty in this matter, he found it convenient to shorten the name into Tit ­sometimes Tittles.  Tittles had no face whatever, as far as could be seen by the naked eye.  His whole misshapen body was covered with long shaggy hair of a light grey colour.  Only the end of his black nose was visible in front and the extreme point of his tail in rear.  But for these two landmarks it would have been utterly impossible to tell which end of the dog was which.

Somehow the end of his tail had been singed or skinned or burned, for it was quite naked, and not much thicker than a pipe-stem.

Tittles was extremely sensitive in regard to this, and could not bear to have his miserable projection touched.

How that storm did rage, to be sure!  The whole sea was lashed into a boiling sheet of foam, and the schooner lay over so much that it was impossible for the men to stand on the deck.  At times it seemed as if she were thrown on her beam-ends; but the good yacht was buoyant as a cork, and she rose again from every fresh blast like an unconquerable warrior.

“It seems to me that the masts will be torn out of her,” said Temple to the Captain, as he grasped the brass rail that surrounded the quarterdeck, and gazed upward with some anxiety.

“No fear o’ her,” said the Captain, turning the quid of tobacco in his cheek; “she’s a tight boat, an’ could stand a heavier sea than this.  I hope it’ll blow a wee thing harder.”

“Harder!” exclaimed Fred.

“You must be fond of wind, Captain,” observed Grant with a laugh.

“Oo ay, I’ve no objection to wund.”

The Captain said this, as he said everything else, more than half through his nose, and very slowly.

“But do you not think that more wind would be apt to carry away our top-masts, or split the sails?” said Temple.

“It’s not unlikely,” was the Captain’s cool reply.

“Then why wish for it?” inquired the other in surprise.

“Because we’re only thirty miles from the coast of Norway, and if the wund holds on as it’s doin’, we’ll not make the land till dark.  But if it blows harder we’ll get under the shelter of the Islands in daylight.”

“Dark!” exclaimed poor Sam Sorrel, who, being a bad sailor, was very sick, and clung to the lee bulwarks with a look of helpless misery; “I thought there was no dark in Nor .”

The unhappy painter stopped abruptly in consequence of a sensation in the pit of his stomach.

“There’s not much darkness in Norway in summer,” answered McNab, “but at the south end of it here there’s a little ­specially when the weather is thick.  Ay, I see it’s comin’.”

The peculiar way in which the Captain said this caused the others to turn their eyes to windward, where it was very evident that something was coming, for the sky was black as ink, and the sea under it was ruffled with cold white foam.

“Stand by the clew-lines and halyards,” roared the Captain.

The men, who were now all assembled on deck, sprang to obey.  As they did so a squall came hissing down on the weather-quarter, and burst upon the vessel with such fury that for a moment she reeled under the shock like a drunken man, while the spray deluged her decks, and the wind shrieked through the rigging.

But this was too violent to last.  It soon passed over and the gale blew more steadily, driving the Snowflake over the North Sea like a seamew.

That evening the mountains of Norway rose to view.  About the time that this occurred the sky began to clear towards the north-west and soon after a white line of foam was seen on the horizon right ahead.  This was the ocean beating on the great army of islands, or skerries, that line the west coast of Norway from north to south.

“Hurrah for old Norway!” shouted Fred Temple with delight, when he first observed the foam that leaped upon these bare rocky islets.

“It seems to me that we shall be wrecked,” said Grant gravely.  “I do not see an opening in these tremendous breakers, and if we can’t get through them, even a landsman could tell that we shall be dashed to pieces.”

“Why not put about the ship and sail away from them?” suggested Sorrel, looking round with a face so yellow and miserable that even the Captain was almost forced to smile.

“Because that is simply impossible,” said Fred Temple.

Poor Sam groaned and looked down at his dog, which sat trembling on the deck between his feet, gazing up in its master’s face sadly ­at least so it is to be supposed; but the face of Tittles, as well as the expression thereof, was invisible owing to hair.

Is there an opening, Captain?” inquired Fred in a low, serious tone.

“Oo ay, no fear o’ that,” replied the Captain.

There was, indeed, no fear of that, for as the schooner approached the islands, numerous openings were observed.  It also became evident that the gentlemen had mistaken the distance from the broken water, for they were much longer of reaching the outer skerries than they had expected, and the foam, which at first appeared like a white line, soon grew into immense masses, which thundered on these weather-worn rocks with a deep, loud, continuous roar, and burst upwards in great spouts like white steam many yards into the air.

“Captain, are the islands as numerous everywhere along the coast as they are here?” said Fred.

“‘Deed ay, an’ more,” answered the Captain, “some places ye’ll sail for fifty or sixty miles after getting among the skerries before reachin’ the main.”

They were now within a hundred yards of the islands, towards a narrow channel, between two of which the Captain steered.  Every one was silent, for there was something awful in the aspect of the great dark waves of the raging sea, as they rolled heavily forward and fell with crash after crash in terrific fury on the rocks, dashing themselves to pieces and churning the water into foam, so that the whole sea resembled milk.

To those who were unaccustomed to the coast, it seemed as if the schooner were leaping forward to certain destruction; but they knew that a sure hand was at the helm, and thought not of the danger but the sublimity of the scene.

“Stand by the weather-braces,” cried McNab.

The schooner leaped as he spoke into the turmoil of roaring spray.  In ten seconds she was through the passage, and there was a sudden and almost total cessation of heaving motion.  The line of islands formed a perfect breakwater, and not a wave was formed, even by the roaring gale, bigger than those we find on such occasions in an ordinary harbour.  As isle after isle was passed the sea became more and more smooth, and, although the surface was torn up and covered with foam, no great rollers heaved the vessel about.  The tight little craft still bent over to the blast, but she cut through perfectly flat water now.

A delightful feeling of having come to the end of a rough voyage filled the hearts of all on board.  Sam Sorrel raised his head, and began to look less yellow and more cheerful.  Tittles began to wag the stump of his miserable tail, and, in short, every one began to look and to feel happy.

Thus did the Snowflake approach the coast of Norway.

Now, it is by no means an uncommon occurrence in this world that a calm should follow close on the heels of a storm.  Soon after the Snowflake had entered the islands the storm began to abate, as if it felt that there was no chance of overwhelming the little yacht now.  That night, and the greater part of the following day, a dead calm prevailed, and the schooner lay among the islands with her sails flapping idly from the yards.

A little after midnight all on board were asleep, save the man at the helm and Captain McNab, who seemed to be capable of existing without sleep for any length of time when occasion required.  The schooner now lay in a latitude so far north that the light of the sun never quite left the sky in clear weather.  A sweet soft twilight rested on the rocky islands and on the sea, and no sound disturbed the stillness except the creaking of the yards or the cries of seamews.

Yes, by the way, there was another sound.  It proceeded from the cabin where our three friends lay sleeping on the sofas.  The sound was that of snoring, and it issued from the wide-open mouth of Sam Sorrel, who lay sprawling on his back, with Tittles coiled up at his feet.

It is probable that Sam would have snored on for hours, but for a piece of carelessness on his part.  Just before going to rest he had placed a tin can of water close to his head in such a way that it was balanced on the edge of a shelf.  A slight roll of the schooner, caused by the entrance of a wave through an opening in the islands, toppled this can over and emptied its contents on the sleeper’s face.

He leaped up with a roar, of course.  Tittles jumped up with a yelp, while Grant and Temple turned round with a growl at having been awakened, and went off to sleep again.

But sleep was driven away from the eyes of Sam Sorrel.  He made one or two efforts to woo it back in vain, so in despair he jumped up, put his sketch-book in his pocket, seized a double-barrelled fowling-piece, and went on deck, followed by Tittles.  The little boat was floating under the quarter, and a great mountainous island lay close off the starboard bow.  Getting into the boat, Sam rowed to the island, and was soon clambering up the heights with the activity of a squirrel.

Sam paused now and then to gaze with admiration on the magnificent scene that lay spread out far below him; the innumerable islands, the calm water bathed in the soft light of early morning, and the schooner floating just under his feet like a little speck or a sea-gull on the calm sea.  Pulling out his book and pencil, he sat down on a rock and began to draw.

Suddenly the artist was startled by the sound of a heavy pair of wings overhead.  Thousands of seagulls flew above him, filling the air with their wild cries, but Sam did not think it possible that they could cause the sound which he had, heard.  While he was still in doubt an enormous eagle sailed majestically past him.  It evidently had not seen him, and he sat quite still, scarce daring to draw his breath.  In a moment the gigantic bird sailed round the edge of a precipitous cliff, and was gone.

Sam at once rose and hurried forward with his gun.  He was much excited, for eagles are very difficult to approach ­they are so shy and wary.  Few men who go to Norway ever get the chance of a shot at the king of birds.

Judge, then, of the state of Sam Sorrel’s mind when, on turning a corner of rock, he suddenly beheld the eagle standing on the edge of a great precipice about a hundred yards in advance of him.

But his hopes were much cast down when he observed that between him and the eagle there was a space of open ground, so that he could not creep farther forward without being seen.  How was he to advance?  What was he to do?  Such a chance might not occur again during the whole voyage.  No time was to be lost, so he resolved to make a rush forward and get as near as possible before the bird should take to flight.

No sooner thought than done.  He rushed down the mountain-side like a madman.  The eagle sprang up in alarm just as he reached the side of a rounded rock.  Halting suddenly, he took aim, and fired both barrels.  The eagle gave a toss of its head and a twirl of its tail, and, sailing slowly away round a neighbouring cliff, disappeared from view.

A deep groan burst from the poor artist as he exclaimed, “Oh dear, I’ve missed it!”

But Sam was wrong.  He had not missed it.  On climbing to the other side of the cliff he found the eagle stretched on the ground in a dying state.  Its noble-looking eye scowled for a moment on him as he came up, then the head drooped forward and the bird died.  It measured six feet four inches from tip to tip of its expanded wings, and was as magnificent a specimen of the golden eagle as one could wish to see.

With a triumphant step Sam carried it down to the yacht, where he found his comrades still sound asleep; so he quietly fastened the eagle up over Grant’s bed, with the wings expanded and the hooked beak close to the sleeper’s nose!

The day that followed this event continued calm, but towards evening a light breeze sprang up, and before midnight the Snowflake cast anchor in the harbour of Bergen.