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

DECEPTIVE APPEARANCES-PERPETUAL DAY-PERPLEXITIES ABOUT BED-TIME- CONFUSION OF MIND

The scene is changed.  We are on board the Snowflake and out once more among the thousands of islands off the coast far beyond the Arctic Circle now.

This is the region where the sun does not set night or day for several weeks in summer, and where he never rises night or day during several weeks in winter.  But Fred Temple has not gained his point yet.  He is behind time.  Had he arrived at this latitude a week sooner, he would have seen the sun sweep an entire circle in the sky.  But calms have delayed him, and now the sun just dips below the horizon at midnight.  A good stiff, southerly breeze of a few hours would take him far enough north; but he cannot command the winds to blow, although Bob Bowie, the steward, evidently thinks he can make it blow by whistling!  The sea is like a sheet of glass.  Meanwhile, Fred and his friends are enjoying all the delight of daylight which is perpetual.  Every thoughtful reader will at once perceive that where the sun only sets for a few minutes there can be no diminution of the light worth speaking of ­nothing approaching even to twilight.  The night before the arrival of the yacht at this place the sun set a little after midnight, and in twenty minutes afterwards it rose again to pursue its brilliant course through the northern sky.

It is scarcely possible for a Christian to look on such a scene without recalling those striking passages in God’s Word, which, in describing heaven, tell us that “there shall be no night there,” and speaks of a “sea of glass like unto crystal,” before the throne of God.  Well may the heart of man in such a scene exclaim with the Psalmist, “O Lord, how manifold are Thy works!  In wisdom hast Thou made them all:  the earth is full of Thy riches.”

The islands in this particular place were positively uncountable.  They lay scattered over the calm sea in hundreds.  Some were no bigger than a boat ­others were towering jagged mountains of more than four thousand feet high.  Most of them were barren, and over the smaller islets, as well as round the cliffs of the larger ones, myriads of gulls and other sea-birds flew with clamorous cries.  But for this, the scene would have been one of deep solitude as well as intense calmness.  The sea-birds, however, filled the air with life, ay, and with melody, for the plaintive cry of wild-fowl when mellowed by distance is inexpressibly sweet and agreeable.

One thing that puzzled our voyagers very much was the deceptive appearance of land, so that they found it extremely difficult to judge correctly of distance.  On one occasion, when sailing towards one of the large islands, Fred went up to Bob Bowie, who was leaning over the side watching the ripples caused by the Snowflake, and meditating, as he himself said, “on things in gin’ral, and nothin’ in particular.”  It may be remarked in passing that this was not an uncommon state of mind with Bob Bowie.

“Well, Bob,” said Temple, “we’re going along nicely with this breeze.  I expect we shall pass that island before many hours go by.”

“How far d’ye think it’s off, sir?” inquired the steward.

“About three miles,” said Fred.

“Three miles, sir, w’y, it’s not more than one mile ­if it’s that.”

“What say you, Captain?” asked Fred.

“Ye better try,” suggested McNab, with a quiet grin.

“So I will, ho! stand by to heave the log there.  Now, Captain, steer straight as the crow flies for the island.”

The yacht’s course was altered, the log was hove, and, observing the moment of starting, they awaited the result.  Bob thought it was a smallish island with little bushes on it.  The time they took in drawing near to it first led him to doubt the correctness of his own opinion.  But when the bushes began to turn into trees, and the cliffs to tower into the sky above his head, and throw a dark shadow over the vessel, he was obliged to give in.  The distance which he had imagined was not more than one mile turned out to be five.

On another occasion a similar case of the deceptive appearance of distance occurred.  They were sailing up a certain fiord, which most of the people on board supposed was only about a mile broad.  One of the sailors, Bill by name, insisted that it could not be more than three-quarters of a mile; and thereupon an animated discussion, amounting almost to a dispute, began.  But Bill was not to be put down.  “He was an old salt. He wasn’t to be taken in by these molehills, not he!” He had sailed round the world, according to his own account had been shipwrecked half a dozen times, and drowned once or twice, besides being murdered occasionally; so he thought himself a weighty authority, and entitled to great respect!

Well, to settle this point the yacht was sailed straight across the fiord, and the breadth, measured by the log, was found, as in the former case, to be about five miles.

The calms, although frequent in this latitude, did not last long.  Light breezes sprang up now and then, and for several days carried our travellers to the north.  But not fast enough, for the sun still kept ahead of them.  During this period, they saw great variety of wonderful scenery, had several small adventures, and enjoyed themselves extremely.

Fred Temple usually began each calm day by jumping out of bed, rushing upon deck and going over the side, head-foremost into the water.  He was generally followed by Sam Sorrel; but Sam was inclined to be lazy, and did not always follow his friend’s lead.  Grant never followed it.  He was inveterately lazy in the morning, although at all other times he was as active as a mountain goat.

Our Highlander was particularly successful about this time with his gun.  The number of birds that he shot and stuffed was enormous.  Whenever a calm prevailed, he took the light little Norse boat that had been purchased at Bergen, and went off to the nearest island with his gun.  On these occasions he was usually accompanied by Sam, whose love for sketching was quite equal to that of his companion for bird-shooting and stuffing.  Fred, of course went to keep them company, and was wont to carry with him a rod, as well as a gun, for he was passionately fond of fishing.  On these occasions, too, they took Hans Ericsson with them, to assist in rowing, and to pilot them when they felt inclined to leave the yacht out of sight behind.

One day they were out on an excursion of this kind, and had rowed towards the mainland, and up a fiord.  Fred and Sam were reclining in the stern of the boat; the former smoking a meerschaum pipe, the latter making a drawing of a range of hills which were so rugged that the tops appeared like the teeth of a saw.  Grant and Hans were rowing.

“Do you know what o’clock it was when we left the yacht?” inquired Fred.

“What o’clock?” echoed Sam; “no; well, let me see.  We went to bed last night at five o’clock this morning.”

“You mean that we turned in for our night’s rest at five this morning, I suppose,” said Temple.

“My dear Fred,” retorted Sam, “never mind what I mean; only attend to what I say.  Don’t be too particular.  It’s a bad habit being too particular.  I once had a friend who was too particular in his attentions to a young lady, and the result was that he was obliged to marry her.”

“Then, Sam,” returned Temple, “I should say that the habit of being too particular is a good one, if it leads to such a good thing as marriage.  But to return to the point, what time of day or night do you think it is now?”

“Have not the least idea,” said Sam; “I think it’s some time or other in the evening, but this perpetual daylight confuses me.  You know that when you and Grant were away last week after the gulls, I went to bed on Thursday forenoon at ten o’clock by mistake, thinking it was ten at night.  How I ever came to do it I can’t tell, but I suppose that I had sat so long stuffing that great eagle for Grant that my brains had got obfuscated.  It was cloudy, too (not unlike what it is just now), so that I could not see the sun.  Whatever was the cause, there is no doubt of the fact that I lost a day somehow, and my ideas have got such a twist that I fear they will never recover it.”

“A most unfortunate state of things, truly,” said Fred, laughing.  “Perhaps you’ll recover when we return to low latitudes.  If not, there are plenty lunatic asylums.  But we must not spend more than a few hours longer on this excursion, for I’ve a notion that we are somewhere about Saturday just now, and you know it’s against our rules to run the risk of shooting or fishing into Sunday.”

“Very true,” replied Sam, as he continued his sketch.  “I say, Grant, do you happen to have your watch with you?”

“Not I,” cried Grant from the bow of the boat.  “Since day and night took to being the same I let it run down.  I have no regard for time now.”

“D’ye know what day it is?”

“No.”

“Humph, it’s lucky that we can depend upon the Captain for keeping us right in regard to Sunday.  Well, let’s go ashore and try the mouth of yonder stream.  I’ll warrant me there are sea-trout there, perhaps salmon, and the ground hereabouts seems a likely place for grouse and ptarmigan.  Pull hard, Hans, thou son of Eric, and shove the boat into yonder creek.”

Hans Ericsson bent his strong back, and a bright smile crossed his sunburnt face as the head of the boat flew round.

“Hallo, Hans! steady, my lad!” cried Grant, giving his oar a pull that sent the head of the boat spinning round in the opposite direction.  Then the sturdy Norseman and the stalwart Scot gave a pull together with all their might, and sent the boat like an arrow into the creek, where, in a few seconds, her keel grated on the shore.

For several hours after that the three friends were busy with their favourite pursuits.  Grant soon bagged several brace of grouse.  Fred caught a basket of splendid sea-trout, some of which were over three pounds’ weight, and a small salmon of about ten pounds; while Sam Sorrel sat down on a rock and painted an elaborate picture of the scenery.  Of course their different occupations separated them from each other, but Hans kept close to Fred’s elbow ­for he had not only conceived a strong friendship for the young Englishman, but he was immensely delighted with fly-fishing, which he had never before witnessed.  The astonishment of Hans was great when he beheld heavy trout landed by means of a slender rod and an almost invisible line.  But when Fred hooked the salmon the excitement of the Norseman knew no bounds.  After nearly half an hour’s playing of the fish, Fred drew it close to the bank, and told Hans to strike the gaff-hook into it, and lift it out of the water.  Hans in his excitement missed his aim, and the terrified fish darted away.  But Fred was prepared for this, and let out line.  Soon he brought his fish once more to the side, exhausted and rolling over.  Hans made a second attempt and was successful in landing the silvery salmon on the bank.

When they returned to the schooner after that excursion, Captain McNab was leaning over the side with a grim smile on his wooden countenance.  Bob Bowie was beside him with a beaming smile on his jolly red face.

“Good-day, Captain,” cried Fred, as the boat drew near.  “Well, Bowie, we’re desperately hungry, I hope you’ve got supper ready for us.”

“I’ve got breakfast, sir,” replied the steward.

“Eh? ah! well, call it what you like, only let us have it soon.” (They clambered up the side.) “Why, Captain, what day is it, and what time of day?”

“It’s Friday mornin’, sir, and eight o’clock.”

Fred opened his eyes in astonishment.

“Why, then, comrades, it seems that we have been shooting, sketching, and fishing all night by daylight, and the sun has set and risen again without our being aware of the fact!  So much for perpetual day and a cloudy sky.  Come, Bob Bowie, look alive with break ­, ah! supper, I mean, for whatever it may be to you, it is supper to us.  Meanwhile, I’ll have a bathe to refresh me.”

So our hardy adventurers bathed that morning, over the side, then they supped, after which they turned in and slept all day, and rose again at six o’clock in the evening to breakfast!