In Polar Seas - Fenton Ash - ebook

In Polar Seas ebook

Fenton Ash

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The works of Fenton Ash are highly prized among bibliophile collectors of classic sci-fi and fantasy. Fenton Ash was a pseudonym of Francis Henry Atkins (1847-1927), who contributed widely to the pre-science fiction pulp magazines, writing at least three Lost-World novels along with much else. „In Polar Seas” is a romance of adventure in the frozen North, targeted mainly at juvenile readers but billed as being „for readers of all ages,” it describes the adventures of a team of British explorers who discover a lost Viking civilization in a hitherto unknown temperate zone near the North Pole. If you haven’t discovered the joys of Fenton Ash’s adventures there is a good place to start. Highly recommended!

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Liczba stron: 290

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER XXX

CHAPTER XXXI

CHAPTER XXXII

CHAPTER XXXIII

CHAPTER I

ON GREENLAND’S ICY SHORE–SUSPICIOUS NEIGHBOURS–A RAID ON THE CAMP

“NOW I wonder who those fellows are down yonder, and what their little game is in pitching their camp so close to ours? By the noise they’re making they seem to be a pretty rowdy lot! We must keep an eye on ‘em. I don’t like either their looks–what I’ve been able to see of them–or their voices. Mike, lad, wake up! Put some more wood on those fires! What are you pulling such a long face about?”

The scene was a desolate strip of snow-covered shore in the far North. The wide stretch of ice in front of it was a part of the great frozen sea; while the frowning crags, and giant, snowy peaks, which formed a forbidding background, were offshoots of “Greenland’s Icy Mountains.”

Upon that dreary shore, which looked more dreary than ever in the cold moonlight–the short Arctic day had closed in a couple of hours before–there was an unusual sight–no less than three separate encampments.

For most of the year this snowy waste, known by the native name of Amanstok, is the undisturbed playground of seals and walruses, of bears and blue foxes, and of myriads of Arctic birds.

Once or twice a year a wandering band of Eskimos choose it as their halting-place on their way to or from the great hunting grounds beyond.

This, again, is what had happened now; for Hugh Arnold, the young fellow who had uttered the words which have just been quoted, belonged to a band of Arctic explorers just out from England; and their ship, the Petrel, lay at anchor some half dozen miles away. This, then, accounts for camp No. 2.

But the people at No. 3 camp were what mathematicians would designate by the letter A, being, at present, an unknown quantity.

The most likely supposition would be that they were a hunting party sent out to forage for fresh food from some whaling ship not in sight. The crews of such vessels are frequently a lot of desperadoes, the maritime scourings of many nations. They are not usually, therefore, much to be desired as close neighbours, especially when, as was evidently the case here, they are out by themselves, and so are beyond the reach of the iron discipline which alone keeps them on their good behaviour while on board ship.

These particular men, to judge by their proceedings, were of this kidney. They had been for some time yelling out ribald songs and choruses; and just lately sounds had been heard suggestive of drunken brawls.

The No. 2 camp–situated mid-way between the others–consisted of half a dozen tents, two or three sledges, and a number of packages, which had been brought over the ice from the ship and hastily dumped down just before nightfall.

Then most of the landing party had gone off to No. 3 camp to foregather with the natives, leaving at first only Hugh in charge. He, however, had been joined, just before, by an Irish sailor, one Mike O’Grady, who, tiring of the native style of entertaining guests, had returned to camp alone. There he had seated himself in silence, smoking stolidly at his pipe, and looking particularly glum and unhappy.

As to Hugh himself, he was a very tall young fellow, far above the ordinary height, and even the thick clothing in which he was enveloped could not conceal the fact that he owned a frame that was massive and muscular beyond the average.

This fact was revealed less by the outline and general shape of his figure, than by the peculiar, easy grace of his movements as he strode to and fro, the light springiness of his step, and his general carriage. He bore himself as does the lion, with that indescribable swing of the limbs which betokens so unerringly a store of conscious strength and latent energy. In fact, he was known amongst his fellow travellers by the sobriquet of “Strong Hugh.”

“I’ve been wonderin’, Misther Hugh,” answered Mike, as he stretched his great figure–for he, too, was a big man–and made a move, towards some piles of wood, “whin we moight be goin’ to get t’ this green land as I’ve heerd so much talk about.”

“Why, you great nincompoop, this is Greenland. I thought you knew that.”

Mike stopped suddenly in the act of picking up his wood, and appeared so startled that he nearly dropped it again.

“Whoy–whoy!” he exclaimed, with a look around of comical dismay. “Wheer be the green? It’s meself as can see nothing’ but white. I thought for sure as Greenland must be further on.”

Hugh laughed.

“No, my friend, you’ll meet with no greener land than this. There will be some green here later on–when the season is a bit further advanced–but we sha’n’t get much of that.”

“Begorrah! Divil a Bit, thin, wad I ‘ave come on this precious thrip, sorr, iv I’d bin tould that same before. They said t’ me, ‘Will ye come on a thrip to find the North Pole?’ an’ I said, ‘Which way did ‘e go?’ an’ they said, ‘By way av green land.’ ‘If theer’s a way through a noice green land,’ sez Oi, ‘thin, bedad, Oi’m the bhoy for ye! I always thought it was oice an’ snow ye had to go through out theer.’ Thin the bhoys laughed an’ said, ‘Oh, no: we’re goin’ to a green land roight enough.’ An’ now I sees that it’s decavin’ me they was–the merry divils! Oi’ll be even wid some av thim over this!”

“Never mind, Mike. It’ll be a fresh experience for you. You’ve been pretty well all over the world, I’ve been told–”

“Thrue for you, sorr. I have indade!”

“Except in the Arctic. Now you’ll be able to say you’ve been there, too: and to the very Pole itself, if we get there, as I hope we shall, and then you’ll share in all our honour and glory.”

“Will we iver get back, sorr? That’s the question as concarns me most. Sure, Oi’d go back on the next ship, now, iv there was one goin’, an’ Oi’d be afther lavin’ ye me share av the honour an’ glory, free an’ for nothing’.”

Hugh laughed again, a free, easy, good-humoured laugh, and turned his glance in the direction of the Eskimo camp, from which also came sounds of singing, and a rough kind of music.

“Ah!” he said, in a tone of satisfaction. “Here are some of our chaps coming at last! I wonder why they’ve been staying all this time, and what’s going on there? Humph! It’s only Mr. Ruxton and Bob Cable after all. What are the others waiting there for?”

“It’s a bit of faystin’ an’ merry-makin’ goin’ on theer to-night. The pure haythins don’t ofthen get our sort here, t’ giv’ thim little presents; an’ they’re returnin’ the compliment by givin’ a fayste.”

“Yes, I understand that. You didn’t stay there long, by the way, Mike. You seem to have grown tired of it sooner than these others have.”

“Toired? No, it wasn’t so much toired I was, as sick, sorr. Sure, the haythin’s idea av a fayste is a good fat taller-candle, wi’ a drink av train oil t’ wash it down. It’s meself as couldn’t stand anny more av it!”

“You’ll get used to that sort of thing out here, Mike. Hallo, Val! Here you are at last! What’s kept you so long? Where are the others?”

This query was addressed to the one the speaker had spoken of as Mr. Huston. He had now come within earshot.

“Left ‘em down there with the oil-bibbers,” said the newcomer, crossly.

“You shouldn’t have done that.”

“Couldn’t get ‘em away. They’re in a frolicsome mood–effect of getting ashore and feasting on too much whale blubber, I suppose, after being cooped up so long on board ship. They’re making friends with some of the Eskimo beauties, and having a dance now; and the fun seemed to be getting fast and furious. So Bob and I–Bob’s the only sensible one among the lot–cleared out and left ‘em to it.”

“I say! You should have made ‘em come with you! There’ll be trouble over this in the morning. Grimstock will fume and rave nicely about it if he hears of it–and he’s pretty sure to.”

“Can’t help it–he’ll have to fume. They simply won’t listen to me.”

“We’ll have to go back there together and make ‘em listen.”

“Wouldn’t go if I were you, old chap. They’ve got some drink into ‘em, and are in a nasty humour. Best let ‘em have their fling and come back their own way. Besides–”

“Besides–what?”

“Well,” said Ruxton, in a low lone. “I’ve come back here now partly because I wanted to have a word or two privately with you while Grimstock’s out of the way. We don’t often have a chance for a quiet chat without any fear of being overheard. Certainly, there wasn’t one so long as we were on board ship.”

“If that’s the case, of course it’s another matter,” replied Hugh wonderingly, and evidently impressed by the grave tone in which the other spoke. “Only, I’m afraid trouble will come of it.”

“Trouble will come of it–it’s sure to–either way, so it may just as well come one way as another,” was the answer, delivered with an indifferent air. “Come for a short stroll with me. Hallo! What’s that row?”

“Those fellows yonder suddenly appeared from nowhere, just after you had gone, swarmed along here, and plumped themselves down where you aee them. They seem a rough lot. They started on a carouse, and now comes the usual sequel–quarrelling–with fighting, I expect, to follow. Just listen to ‘em now! But who are they? White men, do you think?”

“White men? Mm! Pretty low-class whites. I guess, if there are any: and us for the others, they’re likely to be of all colours–brown, black, red, and yellow–and there would be blue and green, if such people existed. Some whaler’s crew, I reckon, with a skipper who’s drunk one half his time, and a raging, bullying maniac the other half. The farther we can keep away from ‘em the better.”

“Just my view, and I’m glad you’ve come back, because there’s no knowing what a drunken lot like that might take it into their heads to do. They might take a fancy to divide up some of our stores, and, if so, there an only two of us here to deal with the crowd. By the way, what was it you wanted to say?”

Ruxton did not reply at once, but putting a hand on the other’s arm led him away a hundred yards or so. No. 2 camp had been pitched upon an elevation forming a sort of terrace, which extended for some distance. Ruxton walked nearly to the end of it, and then stood looking thoughtfully down at the sealskin tents of the Eskimos, which could now be seen more plainly on the shore below.

He was a fine-looking man this Val Ruxton, not quite so tall as his companion, but sturdily and heavily-built, with keen eyes, and a firm, determined face. He was evidently the older of the two by a few years. He was the darker, too, and his face was more tanned, the face of one who had travelled far and often, and seen much of the world.

“Look here,” he said, at last, with sudden decision, as though he had been pondering what to say. “I don’t think much of this Grimstock crowd we’ve come out with. I never did think much of ‘em, but something’s happened which has sent my opinion down lower still. You and I are strangers to one another, except that we’ve cottoned together a bit on the voyage out, and, frankly, I like you, and feel a sort of interest in you. See?”

Hugh laughed quizzically.

“Shure, an’ it’s a noice, iligant gintleman ye are, Misther Ruxton,” he said, imitating Mike’s familiar brogue. “Shure, it’s meself–”

“No, no; I’m not joking,” Ruxton interrupted, with a seriousness that had an instant effect on his companion. “I’m going to ask you a straight question. What made you join this show?”

“I might ask you the same question.”

“You might–and you may–and I would answer at once. I do answer at once. It was a question of money with me–money, pure and simple. I was just about stony when Grimstock came across me. He wanted another man; we had a talk; he soon learned that I had been out here before and knew the ropes, could speak the native lingo, and so on. So he made me an offer; I closed with it, and here I am. And I’m beginning to wish I wasn’t.”

“Why? What’s upset you?”

“Never mind that for the moment. You haven’t replied to my question, though I’ve answered yours.”

“Well,” said Hugh slowly. “I can only give you a somewhat similar reason.”

“No! I don’t think it was a matter of money with you,” Ruxton declared, with quiet insistence. “I heard that you sought Grimstock out and brought letters of introduction.”

“How do you know that?”

“Never mind that just now. It is true, isn’t it?”

“Why, yes; that’s right enough. The fact is, I’ve long had a wish to come out here. It’s been a–well, a sort of passion with me, ever since I was a kid. I made up my mind I would get out here some day by hook or by crook, and I prepared myself for it in every way I could think of–by travelling in Norway, and Lapland, and Ireland, and so on. But I hadn’t money enough to fit out a regular expedition of my own to come so far north, so I had to join in with someone else. I heard that Grimstock was preparing one, and I offered myself. As you say, I brought letters of introduction to him, though how you knew of that, of what it has to do with–”

“It has a good deal to do with what I wish to speak about, as you will see directly. You are known to us as Hugh Arnold–”

“Well? Don’t you like the name?” Hugh asked, chaffingly.

“My dear fellow, I don’t care a brass dollar what your name may be. As I’ve told you, I like what I’ve seen of you since we first met, and I should like you just as much under any other name–John Smith, or Clifford Vere de Vere, or Obadiah Macandlestick. I just wish to give you a hint that if Hugh Arnold is not your true name, and you are hugging to yourself the idea that you have concealed the fact from Grimstock, I fancy you will find one day that he knows more than you think for.”

Here, the listener started, and seemed about to utter a protest, but the speaker waved his hand and went on rapidly.

“Don’t say anything! Don’t tell me! I don’t want to know! I’m not the sort of chap to want to pry into any man’s private affairs. I only give you the hint for what it may be worth, and, of course, it may be worth nothing at all. Well, then, there is another thing. To-day, talking to old man Amaki, one of the Eskimos, down at their camp yonder, he asked me if any tidings had ever been heard of a certain traveller, an Arctic explorer, whose name is pretty well-known in the scientific world. He went north a good many years ago, and neither he nor any of those with him was ever heard of again. Well, old Amaki knew him, it seems–and so indeed did all his tribe–or those of them who are old enough to remember him, and they spoke of him with feelings of evident affection and devotion. I declare that tears were in the old beggar’s eyes. Hallo! What’s up now?”

Hugh had started again at the latter part of Ruxton’s speech, and looked hard at him, but now he had turned, and was gazing back at the camp they had just quitted. It was but a hundred yards or so away, but the tents on one side hid the men they had left in charge from view.

“There’s something going on there,” said Hugh, quickly. “I expect it’s some of those scalliwags come up to make a row. I half expected this! Why aren’t our chaps here to guard the stores, instead of fooling down yonder?”

While speaking, he had been walking sharply back to camp, and Ruxton walked beside him.

Turning round by the end tent they came suddenly upon a strange scene.

Half a dozen men from No. 3 camp had come up to the terrace on which the No. 2 camp stood, and two of them were engaged in a hand-to-hand struggle with the two sailors who had been left in charge, thus keeping them at bay, whilst their four companions were coolly walking off with some of the packages.

One glance was enough for the two who had returned, and who saw the goods of which they were in charge being thus impudently carried off. Taking in the situation, they made a rush for the thieves. A blow for each in turn was sufficient to knock them over. Loaded as they were, taken by surprise, half-drunk into the bargain, they were not in a position favourable for preserving an upright position.

So down they went, and there they lay for a space, wondering where the earthquake had come from, by what time those who had brought them low were busy carrying back the stolen property. After a minute or two, however, the snow into which the raiders had fallen, exercised a reviving effect upon their beclouded brains. They began to aee and understand a little more clearly. Then they rose up, wrathful and revengeful, and swearing in various languages, they went for the two who had so roughly toppled them over, and caused their mouths and nostrils to be filled with disagreeably icy snow.

Meantime, Hugh and Ruxton, having put down their rescued goods, had gone to the assistance of the sailors, who were still struggling manfully with two burly assailants.

Just then it was that the other four marauders, having recovered themselves came on at a run, and for the next two or three minutes, the space in front of the tents was peopled with a tussling crowd, a mix-up of whirling arms and legs and panting bodies.

Blows were freely given and received, and a good many kicks, too: there were gasps and growls, snarls and guttural roars that sounded more like a wild-beast fight than a trial of strength between human beings.

It did not last very long. Neither Hugh nor Ruxton was in a mood to stand any nonsense, and one by one all the intruders were expelled. This time they had the misfortune to be hurled off the terrace into a snowdrift just below, which, as it turned out, was so deep that they disappeared completely from sight.

Then the victors were able to enjoy a hard-earned breathing time. But it was not likely, they knew, to last long. The noise of the conflict had been heard at No. 3 camp, and from it a reinforcement quickly started forth to the aid of their discomfited comrades.

CHAPTER II

THE RAID RENEWED–HOW IT WAS MET–THREE TO ONE–A STARTLING COLLAPSE

“END of first round! ‘Vantage to us!” said Hugh, with a short laugh.

“Yes,” Ruxton assented. “But that was a pretty soft job. The real tug is yet to come. We shall have double the number on to us next time!”

“And our men are down yonder philandering with those native beauties!” exclaimed Hugh bitterly. “We’ll have to talk to those gentlemen in the morning.”

“Grimstock will talk to ‘em, you may be sure, and to us as well. That’s the worst of it. We’re likely to get all the hard knocks to-night and more than our share of hard words afterwards, or I’m no prophet.”

“Oh, well, hard words don’t break bones,” returned Hugh cheerfully. “And as to hard knocks–why, I felt just in the humour for a jolly good rough-and-tumble to-night. So let ‘em all come! It’ll help to circulate the blood and keep, you warm.”

“H’m, I’ve no objection! But now, while we’ve got a minute or two, we’d better move those packages to a place where they’ll be more out of the way; and safer, too, than lying out here.”

“Right you are. Where shall we put ‘em?

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