Here to return to
WHALING IN EARNEST
THE bowhead whale spends his summers among the ice-fields that surround the pole. What he does in winter is still a mooted question, but there are many old whalemen who declare that the bowhead hibernates. Many of them, they say, spend the winter about Bering Straits, and as far south in Bering Sea as the Seal Islands. Here it is claimed that they lie on the bottom and sleep till the warmer currents of the spring rouse them, as they do the marmots, badgers, and brown bears on land, and at about the same time. At any rate, the bowhead goes north with the ice in the spring, comes down with it in the fall, — and then vanishes. He is not found in the southern part of Bering Sea, nor in the north Pacific. Hence, say the whalemen, who make a business of following him, if he does not hibernate, what does become of him? Ordinarily, in the summer time, the bowhead comes to the surface and breathes every forty minutes or so. But now and then, for some cause or other, one will sulk, and the natives have watched them lying close in shore in shallow water for five days without seeing a movement or attempt to come to the surface to breathe. Such whales are denominated “sleepy heads,” and when killed are found to have a blubber that is watery instead of full of oil. The blubber of more than one whale is thrown overboard after being cut in, because it is deficient in oil. Whether there is any connection between the sleepy heads and the hibernating may never be known, but if a whale can stay on bottom without air for five days simply because he is sick or sulky, say the whalers, ought he not to be able to sleep all winter in good health? There is no certain answer to the question.
At any rate, the whales appear in the open leads from Point Hope to Point Barrow about the middle of April. These are all young whales who seem to be the early risers. After them come the cows and their calves, and behind these, mostly in the open water, follow the older single whales. Bachelors and old maids these, and perhaps lack of responsibilities makes them lazy. As these are the last up in the spring, so they are the first down in the fall. Sometimes they too go in with the ice, and in that case the whaleships following do not get many. The whales which the Eskimos capture are almost always the young, who go up first, and they capture them quite easily from the ice. The Chukchis about East Cape get from twenty to thirty thousand pounds of bone annually, and the Alaska natives about as much. This is bought in the main by traders or whalemen, who pay in trade goods at the rate of about fifty cents a pound for the bone. As good bone is worth about three dollars a pound in San Francisco, it will be seen that the business is a profitable one for the buyers. Yet the Eskimos are glad to dispose of their surplus for the white man’s goods, and the returns are of great value to them.
There used to be in Bering Sea and the Arctic a small black whale with a white spot near the small, which was easily killed and yielded good blubber, but was weak in whalebone. These whales were all killed off as long ago as 1885. Before them, and now probably extinct, were the old 100-ton gray backs, the monster bowheads of all. These whales were leviathans indeed, yielding sometimes four hundred barrels of oil, and often three to four thousand pounds of whalebone. These were the prize monsters of the early days of the bowhead fishery, and the lucky ship that got through the straits and fastened to one or two of them was well along toward a full trip at a blow. The last record of the capture of one of these whales was as far back as 1876. They were sly, lazy old chaps, exposing often only the edges of the gray spout-hole when blowing, and having thus the appearance of a gull sitting on the water. It is perhaps plausible that these great-grandfathers of whales had survived the glacial epoch, as is claimed for them. At least, they were of as great age compared with the smaller bowheads as are the giant sequoias of California compared with the redwoods of the present day.
After the battle with the highbinders, the community at Icy Cape saw no more outsiders, but as day by day the sun rose higher and stayed longer, they began to await impatiently the coming of the spring and to prepare for it. March was a wild, uproarious month, intensely cold for the most part, and with fierce gales blowing. The boys got a bear or two and the Eskimos brought in a good number of smaller pelts, so that the collection of furs grew steadily and bade fair to be of considerable value. Joe used to figure it up every few days, and when it reached the two-thousand-dollar valuation mark he was quite jubilant.
LOCKED IN THE ARCTIC ICE
“Now,” he said, “if we can only get a good catch of whalebone while the ice is melting and get the ship out safe, what happy fellows we’ll be!”
The Eskimos too began to prepare for whaling after their own fashion, and the second week in April began their ceremony of propitiation. They blackened their faces with soot and streaked them with red. They dressed in their best clothes, with hoods fringed with wolverine fur, giving their faces thus a halo of bristling hair that made them look quite savage and warlike. Then they took bits of blubber carefully saved from the preceding year and cut into little dice-like cubes. These they bore in pompous procession to the grave of Konwa, and placed them thereon with much ceremony, that his spirit might be propitiated. They marched about his grave as they had at the time of the burial, then passed down to the ice and across it to the first open water. Here they strewed the remaining bits of blubber, that the spirits of the ice might be favorable. Nor would they consent that the boys, or modern weapons, should participate in the taking of the first whale. The others might be captured as they pleased, but the first must be taken with all the ceremonies and in the accustomed manner of their forefathers, else would not prosperity come to their whale hunting.
They mounted walrus-tusk spears, tipped with slate, on long driftwood poles. They sledded their umiaks out to the nearest open water, a half mile or so from shore. Here they placed them ready for launching, and built on the windward side a windbreak of ice and snow behind which they found shelter, for it was still very cold. Painted and plumed, here they waited for a week. One day the welcome cry of “Akovuk! akovuk!” (Whale! whale!) rang from the watchers, and the spout of a whale was seen in the open lead. The black body rolled along carelessly, heedless of danger, till it was nearly opposite them. Then the harpooner took his place in the bow of the umiak with two paddlers behind him. The others launched the boat with a rush, and it slid of its own momentum across the space of water till its bow gently rubbed the whale’s side. Kroo, the harpooner, stood erect. With all his strength he drove the slate-tipped and barbed harpoon into the whale’s side, pushing desperately on the long driftwood pole. Then the paddlers backed rapidly away, while he threw overboard about fifteen fathoms of walrus line fastened to the ivory harpoon, and having along its length three sealskin pokes as floats. The wounded whale sounded, and tried to roll the weapon out on the bottom, but failing in this he rose again and began trying to lash the thing from him by blows of his flukes at the pokes. By this time the other umiak was launched, and another and another string of floats was made fast to him in a similar manner, till, buoyed up so that he could no longer dive, and exhausted with his battle with the light pokes, he lay sullen and was lanced to death by Kroo, with an ivory lance on a driftwood pole. Then there was great rejoicing among the villagers. The whale was hardly dead before they began to cut bits of the outer epidermis, the blackskin, from him and to bolt it raw, it being considered a great delicacy among “the people;” indeed, many white men find its nutty, oily flavor pleasant.
Then they towed the carcass alongside the ice, cut “jug handles” in the heavy floes, and reeved their walrus-hide lines through these. With this primitive purchase they hauled the head up so that one side of the bone could be cut out. Then they rolled the whale and cut out the other side. Each native present received five slabs of bone. The crew of the boat making the strike received ten slabs more each, then the harpooner received the rest. Blubber and meat there was enough, and more than enough, for everybody, dogs and all, and the event closed with great feasting. Thus for the first whale; but the ancient customs having been complied with, and the spirits of the dead and the ice having been duly propitiated, they turned quickly to modern weapons, and the boys had no difficulty in getting them to use the whaler’s harpoon and the bomb gun. Some of them had used these before, and all had seen the whalemen use them and knew their efficiency. As the fishing progressed, the whole village, children and all, turned out, and the boys learned to brave the cold and be as hardy and patient as they. With the good supply of bomb guns and lances and harpoons of all kinds aboard the ship, the little army was well fitted out, and sometimes they were able to kill a whale from the ice with a single shot from a bomb. One whale came up and died under the ice, but they blew the floe up and shattered it with tonite bombs, and got at the carcass in this fashion. When the weather became too severe, they retreated to the ship, and the boys entertained the village there, while the villagers in turn entertained the boys.
The Eskimo women were greatly interested in the cooking methods and implements of the boys and learned their use with surprising readiness, though there were many laughable incidents. They gave names of their own to many things, which were appropriate and interesting. Beans they called “komorra,” from their word “komuk,” meaning little grub, the larva of the gadfly. “Sava kora,” chopped larvae, was rice, and they named baking powder “pubublown,” their word for bubbling. Soap the children were inclined to eat, but the older folks soon learned to use it, as well as towels.
Whalemen are apt to be fond of “chile con carne,” as the Mexicans call it, — a red-pepper condiment for meat that is wondrous strong. Atchoo got hold of this one day and wondered long what it was. Finally she gave some to a boy who was waiting about, boy-like, for a chance to taste things. The boy helped himself liberally, and the contortions through which he went on getting the full strength of the pepper were near to causing a stampede among the women and children, who thought him possessed of an evil spirit. When matters had quieted down, Atchoo took the balance of the can of “chile con carne” and dug a hole in the ice, burying it deeply there, and saying over it the words of an Eskimo incantation, which is supposed to keep the buried spirit of evil from ever rising again.
The wife of Kroo was quite an old woman, and she did not take kindly to the innovations in cooking. Finally, however, she was given some rice, and persuaded to boil it for Kroo’s dinner. She retired to the forecastle, and started a fire in the little stove there, that she might not be observed in her work. Not long afterward cries of alarm were heard, and Kroo’s wife rushed frantically from the forecastle, crying that she had the devil in the pot.
She had filled the kettle far too full of rice; and as it swelled and continued to pour out over the rim, she concluded that an evil spirit was in the white man’s food, pushing it out continually.
But the matter of the explosive doughnuts was the most exciting, and indeed came near being serious, not only in its immediate effects, but in the setback which it gave the white man’s food in the opinion of the Eskimos. Joe, who was the cook for the boys, had frequently made doughnuts and fried them in oil for the delectation of the community, the natives having a great fondness for them. Then he taught Atchoo how to mix them up, and she seemed to learn very rapidly. One day, however, she undertook to make them without supervision, and used water from melted ice which had chunks of ice still in it. These chunks she incorporated in the doughnuts, no doubt thinking, Eskimo fashion, that it was just as good that way. The doughnuts fried, but the chunks of ice turned to steam within, and about the time Atchoo was forking the doughnuts out into a pan they began to blow up, scattering oil and the wildest consternation among those waiting for the feast.
The first one popped on the fork as Atchoo was handing it to Harluk, that he first might see how good a cook she was. The largest chunk of it landed square in Harluk’s eye, causing him to dance with astonishment and alarm.
“Hold on!” he cried. “No want to see him; want to eat him.”
Others blew up in the kettle, scattering hot oil, and sending the crowd in a wild plunge for the doorway. Out they scrambled, Harluk well in advance, as he had had the first warning. He plunged head first from the outer end of the entrance and butted Joe, who was about to enter, into a sitting position on the snow.
“Huh!” said Joe, partly because that is what one usually says when suddenly butted in the stomach, but partly in surprise at this exodus from the galley. “What is the matter?” he asked, as soon as he could get breath.
The answer came from Pikalye, who was fat, and who scrambled out on his knees and one hand, holding a hot wad of half-fried doughnut to the back of his neck with the other. Finding himself outside, he ducked until his head was well under one arm and he could lay his burnt neck gently in the snow. From this contortionist’s position he looked up solemnly sidewise at Joe.
“White man’s grub too much shoot,” he said.
The appearance of this fat Eskimo, tied in such an absurd knot to keep the back of his neck cool, was too much for Joe, who went off into howls of laughter, which were answered by cries from within. Hurrying thither, Joe saw the fat on fire on the stove, the feet of Atchoo and her older child protruding from beneath his lower bunk, while in the upper one lay Harry in a worse gale of laughter than he. Joe put out the burning fat, prodded Atchoo and her youngster from beneath his bunk, and by the time he had found out who was burned and how much, and attended to them by binding the wounds with moist cooking soda, he and Harry had sobered down a bit and learned the cause of the disaster.
It was a good while before the Eskimos were willing to come into the galley again, and Joe profited by it by having them set up housekeeping in the forecastle while aboard ship. They did no more white man’s cooking for some time, and doughnuts were especially avoided, but they were so fond of them that Harluk finally induced Atchoo to try her luck again. That day Harry beckoned Joe to look in on the forecastle. There was Atchoo frying doughnuts, indeed, but she put them into the fat, turned them, and took them out on the tip end of Harluk’s favorite seal spear, which was at least six feet long.
With the exception of using modern harpoons and killing their whales directly, when possible, with the bomb gun, the boys and their assistants followed Eskimo methods with great success. The whales are particularly unsuspicious when in the ice, and the killing of them was usually attended with little excitement or danger. They did not attempt to do anything with the blubber, as the distance they would have to haul it from the open leads to the ship was too great. The bone of these smaller whales was not so good either as that of those which come later in the open water, but it was nevertheless of much value, and footed up a thousand pounds or so to each catch. Thus the value of the stores aboard ship increased quite rapidly, and by the first of June half a dozen whales had added twelve or fifteen thousand dollars’ worth of bone to the credit of the adventurers. They had paid the Eskimos a satisfactory amount of trade goods for their share, as well as the meat and blubber, and the little community was quite literally rolling in Eskimo wealth. Joe was afraid that prosperity would give them ideas above work, as it does some other more civilized people, but it did not seem to. They did not work for the returns alone, but out of loyalty and admiration for their white friends.
The sun now skimmed the northern horizon without setting, and daylight was once more continuous. Gulls, terns, and ducks in clouds came along the edge of the ice, working northward, and the weather was warm and springlike. To the first gull seen the Eskimos sang a greeting. Just as young people the world over apostrophize the first star they see at night, and wish on it in the more or less firm belief that their wish will be granted, so the Eskimos sang a greeting to this first gull:
“Now yakaro, now yakaro,
Too loo kotaro.”
“Gull, gull, bring me good luck.”
On warm days the snow melted with great rapidity under this continuous sunshine, and the brown tundra soon began to show between the drifts. Yet the ice held firm, except that narrow leads opened here and there, and there was no hope that the ship would be able to get off for more than a month, in fact nearly two, and it would be that time also before any ships could come in from below.
In this ice whaling the entire Eskimo community had participated, yet such is the familiarity of the Eskimo with the world of ice that no serious accident had happened to any one of them. It was not that conditions were not often dangerous as well as uncomfortable, but that the native instinct seemed always to find a way out of difficulty. Pikalye’s two daughters, fine, strong young girls, were out on the ice one day many miles from land, with a team of four dogs and a sled, bringing in blubber from a whale that had been killed out there. A sudden violent snowstorm came up, and they were in great danger of being driven out into the pack and frozen to death. They lost the direction and were obliged to abandon the sled, but each girl fastened two of the dogs by their traces to her own girdle and let them go as they pleased. The result was, that the homing instinct of the dogs brought them safe to land, after many hours in the blizzard. They made the traces fast to their girdles that the dogs might not break away and escape in case they fell on the rough ice and were obliged to let go their grip on the lashings.
The natives gave Harry the nickname of “the whale walker,” because one day he was on an ice cake near the open lead with a bomb gun, watching out for a whale that had been seen heading up the lead. The whale came up just beside him, and before he could fire, rolled against the cake and capsized it. Harry sprang for the only available dry spot, the whale’s back near his tail, and running hastily from that dangerous weapon up along the black length, sprang from his head to another cake of ice, reaching it before the lazy leviathan had made up his mind that anything out of the common was happening. Then he turned and discharged the gun into the whale’s neck, breaking it at one shot. This whale was a particularly large one, with a tremendous spread of flukes, and Pickalye was so impressed with this that he ran toward the other villagers shouting,
“Come and see! Come and see! Our brother who walks on whales has killed the one with the biggest feet in the ocean.”
After the ice whaling was practically over the village held a feast, a sort of thanksgiving, at which each man who had struck a whale gave to everybody else as many dinner parties as he had killed whales. Each of these was followed by games, in which the chief was blanket tossing. A large walrus hide was suspended horizontally three feet high by ropes, which ran to springy but stout poles of driftwood, thirty feet away. These gave additional spring to the walrus-hide blanket, around which stood a dozen adults lifting on the edges. All the people came in their best clothes, and the prominent whale catchers had a smear of black on the left cheek as large as one’s finger. This was a special mark of distinction. The ancient wife of Kroo, the head man, was the first to be honored, and she climbed into the centre of the blanket with surprising agility. Beginning, she gave a leap in the air, then as she came down, the spring of the walrus-hide ropes on the driftwood poles, supplemented by two dozen lusty arms, sent her high in the air again. Up and down she went, kicking and waving her arms amid cries of exultation and pleasure, and ceased only with utter exhaustion. Half a dozen girls rushed for her place, but all gave way to the most agile, who first reached the centre of the hide. Thus the sport went on, each following in turn, until all who wished had been tossed.
Pickalye, fat and simple-minded, was one of the experts at this game. He would take a sealskin poke and use it like a skipping-rope in the air, and the great sport of the contest came in the sidewise yanks which the crowd gave the hide as he leaped, in an attempt to upset him. This was often successful, and when he carne down on some one’s head, wrong side up, as he generally did before the game was over, there was great laughter.
They danced by the light of the midnight sun to the music of tom-toms, the musicians being sheltered from the cold wind by an umiak turned on its side. They had wrestling matches, in which the winner had to hold the ring until beaten or exhausted, all remaining as long as they had breath or strength. The feast finally ended in a grand football game on the sea ice, at the close of which the best-dressed player on each side was ducked in a water-hole.
The delicacies at these feasts were whales’ flukes and blackskin. The blackskin, the outer epidermis of the whale, is best liked when frozen, and then has a flavor something like that of muskmelon. The melting of the snows had made the winter igloos uninhabitable, and they were now living in their summer topeks, — cotton tents bought of the whalemen and traders. There was much open water in the sea, and southerly winds were beginning to crowd the main polar pack ice back toward the north. The ice within the arm of the headland where the ship lay was beginning to show many signs of weakening, and the boys began to look forward anxiously to the time when they should get up steam on the engines and try to push southward. They decided it was not wise to do this until the way was fully clear, and meanwhile they kept good lookout for a final whale. They were quite proud of their work during the winter and spring, as well they might be: six heads of bone were worth at the lowest estimate twelve thousand dollars; there were furs, principally white bearskins, to the value of two thousand dollars, reckoning very conservatively; and a few dollars’ worth of walrus ivory completed the list. They had used a small proportion of the stores and a reasonable amount of the trade goods left behind. They felt that it was a pretty good showing for two boys. Moreover, Harry had a monograph on the habits of the bowhead whale, gleaned from his own experience and the knowledge of the Eskimos, which he felt ought to add value to his report to Mr. Adams. How far away that other world which he had left only a year before seemed! His father and mother — and Maisie; had they given him up for lost? A great longing for home and friends and civilization came over Harry with these thoughts, — that homesick longing which is like death itself, and which sometimes kills when he whom it attacks cannot find relief in action, cannot take some step, however slight, in the wished-for direction. He went to Joe with tears in his eyes.
“For God’s sake, Joe,” he cried, “let us get out of this. I want my home and my father and mother so that I can’t think nor sit still. Can’t we start up the engines and push out of this rotten ice? Once in the leads we could work south.”
Beyond a doubt homesickness is infectious. He had no sooner spoken than Joe began to show symptoms of the malady.
“Home?” he said. “Of course we’re going home. We’ll clear away this snow and ice from the deck and get ready for a start as soon as we can. A little more thaw would let us out.”
They called the Eskimos to their aid, and began to work with feverish haste. The ice igloo, which had been their protection for so long, but which was now no longer needed, was chopped apart and thrown overboard. They took soundings alongside, and found the ship still aground, but thought perhaps that under a full head of steam they could work her off. They sounded the wells and found she did not leak. They went over the machinery carefully and made sure that it was all ready for use, so far as they could tell from their studies of the previous winter. The thought of really moving toward home filled them with a wild exhilaration, and they hardly ate or slept for three days.
In the midst of all this fever of preparation Pickalye, fat and foolish, came aboard and told them that they must wait. There was a great storm coming; his bear bite had told him so. They must not try to move before it had passed, else they would meet trouble. A bear had bitten him badly in the leg three years before. Since then, whenever there was a big storm coming, the spirit of the bear came and bit his leg again. It was biting it now. Therefore this was a warning, and he would like something from a bottle to rub his leg with.
Joe furnished the liniment, and the work went on. Nevertheless, two hours afterward the wind blew up suddenly from the south, and increased in violence rapidly, bringing snow with it. The Eskimos went ashore, nor could they be prevailed upon to remain aboard ship. Their belief in the power of prophecy of Pickalye’s bear-bitten leg was strong, and they were familiar with these swift, terrible spring storms. At midnight, though the sun was well above the horizon, the clouds were so thick that it became quite dark. The boys felt the shoreward ice pressing against the side of the ship. The vessel quivered and tugged at her anchor chain. The ice was going out. They looked over the side and, to their astonishment, found that it seemed to be dropping on the ship’s side. That is, she stood up higher out of the ice than she had before. Joe pointed this out to Harry; and when they were back in the galley, where they could hear each other, he told what he thought the reason for it.
“The gale,” he said, “is pushing the ice northward so fast that it is making low tide on the shore. I think the Bowhead is sliding along the bottom, dragging her anchor, pushed by the ice.”
They could distinctly feel the shouldering crush of the ice and the scraping as the vessel slid along. With much labor and difficulty they put the other anchor overboard and let go a good length of chain cable. Nevertheless, they drifted outward for some hours, slowly but surely. Then there came a lull in the gale. It became light again, and the wind went down rapidly. The sun struggled through the clouds that still flew overhead, and showed them that, to their astonishment, they had drifted and dragged the two anchors out well by the headland. To the northward they could see in occasional flashes of sunlight the surf leaping high on the main Arctic pack, driven back on itself, miles out. They were dangerously near the headland, but the wind was offshore, and a heavy floe lay between them and it, apparently grounded firmly at the shore end. The ship swung free in water deep enough to float her, and the open lead showed as far to the southward as the eye could see. Joe shouted with exultation, and Harry fairly danced for joy.
“Hurrah!” he shouted. “We can steam south as soon as we can get the fires up. Set a signal for the Eskimos to come out and help us. Then let’s get below and fire up.”
The signal was set, and ten minutes later both boys were busy below putting a fire under the boiler and getting everything in readiness for departure. It was unaccustomed work, and though they had often planned it together, there were many things over which they hesitated and were a little in doubt. Thus the time passed rapidly, and though a black smoke now poured from the Bowhead’s funnel, there was little steam on. Two hours the boys were below before they realized it, and Joe finally said with some uneasiness,
“Wonder why those fellows don’t come aboard?”
“Don’t know,” said Harry. “You watch that steam gauge and I’ll go on deck and see if they are coming. Is that their boat alongside?”
Something bumped and grated along the Bowhead’s side. Harry started for the deck. Then something struck the ship again, this time hard enough to jar it from stem to stern. Joe followed Harry up the ladder. As they reached the deck the most astonishing change met their eyes. The treacherous Arctic gale had veered to the north and was blowing again with unexampled fury. Where had been open water for miles the Arctic pack was now crowding down upon them. The first scouts of ice were already bumping their sides, and the roar of the wind through the rigging seemed like hoarse shouts of derision at the thought that a ship might escape its fury. They had swung up alongside the shore pack, which stood firm, and already the seaward ice was crushing against them. Working in the depths of the fire-room, they had sensed nothing of this change, and now the realization of it came upon them with stunning force.
Joe was the first to rouse from his stupefaction. “Go forward,” he said, “into the chain locker. Knock the shackling pins out of both those cables and let them run overboard. Then come down into the engine-room with me.”
Harry did as he was bidden in a sort of dream, the plunge from bright hope to chill fear was so great. In the engine-room he found Joe, sweating.
“We can’t do it,” he cried. “If the Eskimos had only come to us, we would have been all right; but two of us cannot fire, and run the engine, and steer ship, all at the same time, even if we could get out of the grip of the ice. I’m afraid we’re done for.”
Even as he spoke the ship staggered. The ice had crashed against her with such force that both boys were thrown from their feet. Joe stopped the engines, which had been turning slowly.
“I’m afraid we’re done for,” he repeated, and took his way to the deck, followed by Harry. The scene that met them there was one never to be forgotten. No man may stand in the forefront of the onrush of the Arctic pack and forget it. Cakes of ice leaped like wolves on its forward edge. Behind them crushed the solid phalanx of the sea, white, resistless, terrible. The wolf cakes sprang at the ship, and bit at it. They leaped upon the solid shore floe, and climbed one another’s shoulders there, and always just behind them came the forward impulse of that great white sea of ice. The touch of this main pack crumpled the shore floe. It crushed the Bowhead’s staunch sides as if they had been eggshells. The decks burst from beneath with the pressure, the tall masts toppled and fell, and the wreck, crushing and grinding into the shore ice, became but a formless part of the ridge that the pack pushed up in front of it as it moved majestically shoreward. Mightily, foot by foot, it moved. Ice cakes burst with the roar of artillery, snapped like rifles, and the rumble of floe on floe was like the onrushing hoof-beats of a million cavalry. The cohorts of the ever-victorious Frost King were in full charge. Higher and higher piled this ridge of onslaught, nearer and nearer the shore it pushed, and the once staunch ship was rolled and pounded to chaff under the hoof-beats of its. white horses.
Out of the white turmoil of death and terror it is hard to tell how the two boys escaped. Certainly neither of them knew. There was a confused recollection of planks bursting beneath their feet, of spars that, falling, mercifully spared them, of leaping and scrambling from toppling cakes to unsteady, crumbling ridges, of the howling of winds in their ears, and the sting of brine on their faces. Then they were being pulled and hauled and hustled across the heaving shore floe by Kroo and Harluk and others, who had rushed to their rescue and endangered their own lives to help their friends. Panting, exhausted, both in body and nerves, they lay in the little tents and listened to the howl of the gale.
They were safe; but the ship and its contents, their furs, their whalebone, and all their dear and valuable possessions, were being rolled and hammered in the mass of broken ice that the great Arctic pack was still crushing and piling shoreward.
Yet they did not give way to grief or repining. Nothing could show the manly spirit and self-reliance which their lonely life had bred in them more than this. They were calm, even serene, thankful for their lives, and confident that, having been spared those, they would yet be able to win their way back to civilization with honor, if not with fortune.
It cured their homesickness, too. Nothing is so good for this as a batch of real and present trouble and physical discomfort. Physical weariness, a moderate amount of hunger, and something with which to battle, along with a feeling that you can overcome it, will make any real man satisfied with his lot. I know this sounds like a paradox; but just try it, as Harry and Joe did.