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´╗┐Title: The Cruise of the Snowbird - A Story of Arctic Adventure
Author: Stables, Gordon, 1840-1910
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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The Cruise of the Snowbird
A Story of Arctic Adventure
By Gordon Stables
Published by Hodder and Stoughton, 27 Paternoster Row, London.
This edition dated 1882.

The Cruise of the Snowbird, by Gordon Stables.

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________
THE CRUISE OF THE SNOWBIRD, BY GORDON STABLES.

CHAPTER ONE.

THE YOUNG CHIEF OF ARRANDOON--THE RISING STORM--LOST IN THE SNOW.

It was winter.  Allan McGregor stood, gun in hand, leaning against a
rock half-way down the mountain-side, and, with the exception of himself
and the stately deer-hound that lay at his feet, there was no sign of
any living thing in all the glen; and dreary and desolate in the extreme
was the landscape all around him.  Glentroom in the summer time, when
the braes were all green with the feathery birches, and the hillsides
ablaze with the purple bloom of the heather, must have been both
pleasant and romantic; but the birch-trees were now leafless and bare,
the mountains were clad in snow, and the rock-bound lake, that lay far
beneath, was leaden and grey like the sky itself, except where its waves
were broken into foam by the snow-wind.  That snow-wind blew from the
north, and there was a sound in its voice, as it sighed through the
withered breckans and moaned fitfully among the rocks and crags, that
told of a coming storm.

Allan was the young laird of Arrandoon.  All the glen had at one time
belonged to his ancestors--ay, and all the land that could be seen, and
all the lochs that could be counted from the peaks of Ben Lona.  His
father, but two short years before the commencement of this strange
story of adventure, had died, sword in hand, at the head of his regiment
in distant Afghan, and left him--what?  A few thousand sheep, a few
thousand acres of heather land on which to feed them, the title of
chief, and yonder ancient castle, where dwelt his widowed mother and his
sister.

Although he was a good Highland mile from his home, the castle, visible
in every line and lineament from where he stood, formed quite a feature
in the landscape.  A tall grey building, with many a quaint and curious
window, and many a turret chamber, it was built on the spur of the
mountain, around which swept a brown hill-stream, the third side, or
base of the triangle, being bounded by a moat now dry, and a drawbridge
never raised.  Far down beneath it was the grey loch, to which the noisy
stream was hurrying.

Every old castle has its old story, and Arrandoon was no exception.  It
had been built in troublous times--built when the wild clans of the
McGregors were in their glory.  There the chiefs had dwelt, thence had
they often sallied to tread the war-path or arouse the chase, and in its
ancient halls many a gay revel had been held; but peace with the
Lowlands, strange to say, had wrought the downfall of the chiefs of
Arrandoon.  The country had been thrown open, Englishmen had visited the
glens, and friendships had been formed between those who once were
deadly foes.  In their own Highland homes the McGregors had entertained
strangers in a regal fashion.  Herein was pride--the pride that goes
before a fall.  When the chieftains went south, there, too, they would
lord it, and herein lay more pride--the pride that caused the fall--for,
alas and a lack-a-day! for the want of money land must be sold.  Thus
the stranger crept into the country of the Gael, and gold did for the
proud McGregors, what the sword itself could never achieve--it laid them
low.

That was one chapter of this castle's story; the second is even a sadder
one, for it tells of the days when, bereft of their lands, the proud
chiefs of the McGregors, scorning trade, placed their claymores at the
service of the reigning monarch, and fell in many a foreign land,
fighting in a cause that was not their own, because fighting, they
thought, was honourable, and fighting gave them bread.  And their wives
and their little ones were left at home to mourn.  But no stranger saw
the tears they shed.

It was towards this castle that the eyes of Allan McGregor were turned
when first we see him; it was of the mournful history of his family he
was thinking, as he stood on the hillside on this bleak, cold wintry
evening.

"Bah!" he said to himself, "the very game seem to forsake the glen.
Just look here," he continued, addressing the dog, who looked up,
wagging his tail, "only two hares and a brace or two of birds, with a
wild cat that we shot at hazard, didn't we, Bran?  And I'm sure we've
walked fully twenty miles, haven't we, Bran?"

"Twenty miles fully," Bran seemed to say, speaking with his eyes and his
tail.

"And really, Bran, when my English college friends come to see me--as
they will to-night, you know--I'll hardly have anything to give them to
eat, leaving sport out of the question; will I, Bran?"

Bran looked very serious at this, for he knew every inflection of his
master's voice.

"Ah, Bran, Bran! my dear old dog! it is very hard being a Highland
chieftain with nothing to support one's dignity on.  Dignity, indeed!
Why, Bran, I have positively to put mine in the pot and boil it for
dinner.  Now rouse up, Bran; I want to speak to you, because I must have
somebody to open my heart to."

Bran sat up on his haunches, and young Allan placed his hand on his
head.

"Yes, Bran, my heart seems strangely full of something, and I think, old
dog, that it is hope! hope for better times to come.  You see our castle
home down yonder, Bran?"

The noble hound looked in the direction indicated, and again moved his
tail.

"Well, Bran, for many, many years there hasn't been a single wreath of
smoke seen above any of the chimneys of that bonnie old house, except
those that rise from the southern wing--the smallest wing, Bran,
remember--and all the rest of the castle is going to wreck and ruin.  No
wonder you half close your eyes, Bran; it is a sad serious business, and
fine times the mice and the rats and the owls and the bats have been
having in it, I can tell you!

"But now just listen, old fellow!  All the time that you have been
snoozing among the snow there, with your nose on top of the game-bag, I
have been standing here thinking--thinking--thinking.

"You would like to know what I have been thinking about, wouldn't you?
Well, as you're a good, faithful dog, I'll tell you.  I've been thinking
about the past, and old, old times, when McGregor of Arrandoon was the
proudest chief that ever trod the heather.  That is more than a hundred
years ago, Bran.  The present chief of Arrandoon is a very different
sort of an individual.  To tell you the truth, my friend, your master is
just as poor as peastraw, and there isn't much substance in that.  But,
oh!  Bran, I've been thinking that, what if I myself, by my own
exertions, could go somewhere and do something that would earn me wealth
and fame?  To be sure I would like to be a soldier, but then mother says
I must not leave her for the wars, and my poor father fought and bled
for twenty long years, and there was nothing to send home but his sword.
Heigho!  No, I cannot be a soldier, even if I would.  But something,
Bran, I mean to do; something I mean to be, Bran.  I don't know yet,
though, what that something will be, but my mother shall not die in
poverty; of that I feel quite certain.  Pride caused the fall of the
chiefs of Arrandoon; pride shall raise us once again.  The song says,--

"`Whate'er a man dares be can do.'

"And I mean to _dare_ and I mean to _do_, even if I go off to the
gold-diggings.  But, oh!  Bran, only to think of getting back even a
portion of my lands, that are now turned into shooting-grounds for the
alien and stranger, to see sheep and lowing kine grazing where now only
the heather grows, and the smoke curling upwards once more, from every
chimney of our dear old home!  Isn't it a glorious thought, Bran?"

Bran jumped up at once and shook himself.  Poor dog! he had no knowledge
of a world beyond the glen, and probably the words in his master's
heroic speech that he understood the best, were those about going
somewhere and doing something.

So he shook himself, wagged his tail, looked up to the sky, down at the
castle, then all round him, and finally up into his master's face,
saying plainly enough,--

"By all means, master.  I'm ready if you are.  What is it to be--hares,
rabbits, deer, or wild cat?  I'm ready."

Young Allan laughed aloud, and again patted the rough honest head of the
faithful hound.  And a very nice picture he and the dog would, just at
that moment, have made, had an artist been there to transfer it to
canvas.  McGregor was poor, I grant you, but he owned something better
even than riches: he had youth and health and beauty--the beauty of
manliness, and his were a face and figure that once seen were sure to be
remembered.

"Tall and stately, and strong as the oak, graceful as the bending
willow,"--this is something like the language that Ossian, or any other
ancient Celtic bard, might have used in describing him.  I am sorry that
I am not a Celtic bard, and that I must content myself with prosaically
saying that Allan was handsome, and that the Highland garb which he
wore--perhaps the most romantic of all costumes--well became him.

Reader, did ever you run down a mountain-side?  I can tell you that it
is glorious fun.  You must know your mountain well though, and be sure
no precipices are in your way.  Having made certain of this, off you go,
just as Allan and his hound went now, with wild skips, and hops, and
jumps; it is not running, it is positive kangarooing, and when you do
leave the ground in a leap, you think you will never touch it again.
But no fear must dwell in your heart during this mad race.  Once
commenced, nothing can stop your wild career, till you find yourself at
the foot and on level ground; and even then you have to run a goodly
distance to expend the impulse that carried you downwards, or else you
will tumble.  But when you have stopped at last, and gazed upwards, "Is
it possible," you say to yourself, "that I can have descended from such
a height in so short a space of time?"

I do not know whether Bran or his master was at the foot of the mountain
first, but I do happen to know that they both disappeared in a wreath of
snow as soon as they got there, and that _both_ of them emerged
therefrom laughing.  After that, Allan McGregor sloped his gun and
walked on more sedately, as became the chief of Arrandoon.

And now he approached the old castle, which looked ever so much higher
and more imposing as one stood beneath it.  He fired both barrels of his
gun in the air, and the sound reverberated from hill and crag, rolling
far away over the loch itself in a thousand echoes, as if the fairies
were engaged at platoon-firing.  Bran barked, and his bark was re-echoed
too, not only from the rocks around, but from the interior of the castle
walls.  This last, I must tell you, was an Irish echo; it was no ghostly
recoil of Bran's own voice, but the genuine outcome from canine lungs;
and lo! yonder come the owners of them, pouring over the bridge, a
perfect hairy hurricane, to welcome Bran and his master home.  Two
Highland collies, a lordly Saint Bernard, a whole pack of what looked
like stable brooms, but were in reality Skye terriers, and last, but not
least, Bran's old mother.

When the hubbub and din were somewhat settled, and the greetings over,
Allan proceeded to cross the bridge, and McBain, his foster-father,
advanced with a kindly smile to meet him.

I must introduce McBain to the reader without more ado--that is, I must
give you some idea of his appearance; as to his character, that will
develop itself as the story proceeds.  He was about the middle height,
then, and clad, like Allan, in the Highland dress of McGregor tartan--or
_plaid_, as the English and Lowland Scotch erroneously call it.  Though
far from old, McBain was grey in beard and furrowed in brow; yet there
are but few young men, I ween, who, had they ventured on a tussle with
that broad-shouldered, wiry Highlander, would have cared to repeat the
experiment for a week to come at least.

This was Allan's foster-father.  He had been in the family since he was
a child, and his ancestors, like himself, had been chief retainers to
the lairds of Arrandoon.  He was a right faithful fellow, and a
Scotchman in everything, thinking no people so good or brave or powerful
as his own, nor any other country in the world worth living in; and from
this you will readily infer that he had never mixed very much with the
peoples of the earth.  This is true; and still he had travelled when a
young man, but it was towards the desolate regions of the North Pole.
It was pride had taken him there--a cross word that his father had said
to him, and young McBain had gone to sea.  Only, a few years of the
wild, rough life he had led on the icy ocean around Spitzbergen had
taught him that there was no place like home, so he returned to it and
received his father's pardon, and, later on, his blessing.

"Aha, Allan, boy!" cried McBain; "so you've got back at last.  Indeed--
indeed we thought you were lost, and Bran and all.  What sport, boy--
what sport?"

"There is the bag," said Allan, "and precious little you'll find in it."

"Ah!  But, boy, half a loaf is better than no bread.  When I was in
Spitzbergen--"

"There, there," said Allan, interrupting him, "never mind about
Spitzbergen now; but tell me, have Ralph and Rory come, there's a good
old foster-father."

"Ralph and Rory come!" replied McBain, with an air of surprise.  "Why,
they are English, Allan; and do you think they'd leave the hospitality
and good cheer of an Inverness hotel, to visit Glentroom in such weather
as this?  It _isn't_ likely!"

Allan was silent; he had turned away his head and was gazing skywards,
with something very like a frown on his face.

McBain laid a kindly hand on his shoulder.  "You are piqued, son," he
said; "you are angry.  There is the proud, defiant look of the McGregor
chiefs on your countenance.  Let it pass, Allan; let it pass.  Do not
forget for a moment what the McBains have ever been to your people.
Have they not served them well, and fought and bled for them too?  Were
they not ever the first at the castle walls, when the fiery cross was
sent through the glen?  Do not forget that I have been a true
foster-father to you, my son?  Haven't I taught you all you know? on the
hills, on the lochs, and by the river? and would you get angry with the
old man because he says your guests will hardly dare turn up to-night?"

Allan passed his hand quickly across his brow, as if to brush away a
cloud.

"No, no!" he replied; "I'm not angry.  Only--only you don't know my
English friends; you will alter your opinion of them when you do.  They
are brave and manly fellows, McBain.  Ralph rowed stroke oar in his boat
at Cambridge, and Rory is the best bowler in the three royal counties."

McBain laughed.

"Allan!  Allan!" he said; "think you for a moment they could do what I
have taught you to do?  Could either of them cross Loch Kreenan in a
cobble when the waves are houses high, when their white crests cut the
face like a Highland dirk?  Could they bring the eagle from the clouds
with a single bullet, or the windhover from the sky?  Could they grapple
with and gralloch a wounded red deer?  Nay; and even if they could, if
they were as brave and strong and fierce as the wild cat of the
mountain, it would take all their strength and all their courage to face
the storm that is brewing to-night.  See, Allan, the clouds are already
settling down on the hills, the peak of Melfourvounie is buried in mist,
there is a mournful sough in the rising wind, and ere five hours are
over the boddach will be shrieking among the crags of Drontheim."

[Boddach--A spirit, believed in by many, who takes the shape of an old
man, sometimes seen by night in the woods, but always heard shrieking
among the rocks that he haunts whenever storms are raging.]

"All the more reason," cried Allan, talking rapidly, "that I should go
and meet them.  Tell mother and sister I have gone a little way down the
glen to meet Ralph and Rory, and we'll all be back to dinner.  Bran and
Oscar will go with me.  But stay, don't you hear the bagpipes?  It is
Peter, and very likely my friends are with him."

The sound came nearer and nearer, and presently out from the shadows of
the dark pine-wood strode Peter--all alone.

Both went quickly to meet him, and Peter's story was soon told.

"The Sassenach gentlemans," he said, "had both left Inverness with him
in the morning, and fine young gentlemans they were, and might have been
Highlanders for the matter of that.  But och and och! they _would_ take
the high road for sake of the scenery, bless you, and he had to take the
low; but for all that they ought to have been at the castle hours and
hours ago."

Young Allan and his foster-father said never a word; they did but
tighten their hands, and glance for a moment in each other's eyes, yet
both understood that the simple action implied a promise on either side
to stand together, shoulder to shoulder, whatever might happen.

Presence of mind in emergency is a gift that seems peculiar to the
Scottish Highlander.  Born in a mountain land, and accustomed from his
very infancy to face every danger in hill or glen, in flood or fell or
field, his true character is never better seen than in times of danger.
McBain waited for a few minutes in the castle courtyard until Allan, who
had hurried away, should have time to communicate with his mother and
sister; then he struck a gong, and while yet its thunders were
reverberating among the hills, he was surrounded by every servant in the
place, old Janet, the cook, not excepted; then the orders that fell
calmly and yet quickly from his lips showed at once that he was master
of the situation.

"Janet, old woman," he said, "run away to the house like a good creature
and get ready the dinner; the best that ever you made, do ye hear?
Peter, run, lad, and get a rope, the crooks, and lanterns.  Here, take
the chief's gun.  Yes, certainly, bring the bagpipes, and don't forget
the flask.  Donald Ogg, get the pony put in the trap, with rugs and
plaids galore.  Take the high road to Inverness and follow us soon.
Thank you, Peter.  Now for the dogs.  No, no; not a pack.  Back with
them all to the kennel save Oscar, Bran, and Kooran the collie.  Here we
are, Allan, boy, all ready for a start."

And in less time than it takes me to tell it, the little expedition was
equipped and started.  A few minutes more and they had disappeared in
the pine forest from which Peter had so lately emerged, and the old
Castle of Arrandoon was left to silence and the gloom of
quickly-descending night.

CHAPTER TWO.

SAVED--RORY AND RALPH--MCBAIN HAS AN IDEA.

There is probably no music in the world more spirit-stirring--when heard
amongst the native hills--than that of the Highland bagpipe.  How often
it has led our Scottish troops to victory, and cheered their drooping
hearts in times of trouble, let history tell.  In the London streets the
sound of the pipes may be something vastly different, and then the
pipers get undue blame.

The little party who left the Castle of Arrandoon to go in search of
Ralph and Rory did well to have Peter and his bagpipes included in their
number, for, so long as they were within hearing distance of the castle,
the music would give hope to those left behind; and when beyond that, it
would not only serve to while away the time of the searchers, but even
in the darkness it might perchance be heard by the sought.

The road they had taken led upwards through the pine forest for more
than a mile, and even when it left the wood it still ascended, until it
at last joined the old highway to Inverness.  This was quite high up
among the mountains--so high, indeed, that even the most distant peaks
were visible on the other side of the lake.

"Surely," said McBain, "we shall meet your friends ere long."

"I fear the very worst," said Allan, gloomily, "for, had they not left
the road for some purpose or another, they would have reached the glen
long before this time.  Rory would have his sketch-book, and both of
them are fond of wild scenery."

"Wild scenery indeed!" said McBain; "they needn't leave the road to
search for that."

His words were surely true, for a grander scene than that around them it
would be difficult to imagine.

It was a toilsome road they had to trace though, for the untrodden snow
lay a good foot deep on the path, and, albeit they cast many a longing
look ahead, they had but little time and little heart to look around to
admire the scenery.  And the snow was dry and treacherous.  It lay
lightly on the brae-sides, and on the bending heather stems, apparently
awaiting only the breath of the storm to raise it into clouds of
whirling drift, and drive it into deep and impassable wreaths.

For more than an hour they trudged onwards without catching sight or
hearing sound of life, whether of man, or bird, or beast.  The wind,
too, was beginning to rise, a few flakes of snow had begun to fall, and
night and darkness were already settling down in the hollows and glens,
and only on the hilltops did daylight remain.

At last they came to a shepherd's hut, and McBain knocked loudly at the
door.

"Are you in, Donald?  Are you in?" he cried.

"To be surely I'm in," said a tall, plaided Highlander, opening the
little door; "to be surely I'm in, Mr McBain, and where else is it I'd
be, I wonder, in such a night as it soon will be?"

"Have you been abroad to-day, Donald?" asked Allan.

"Abroad?  Yes, looking after the sheepies, to be surely."

"Have you seen or met any one?"

"Yes, yes; two English bodies, to be surely.  One would be sitting on a
stone, making a picture, and the other would be looking over his
shoulder, as it were.  Och!  Yes, to be surely."

"Would you go with us, Donald?" asked Allan, "and show us the spot where
you saw them."

"Would I go with you?  Is it that you are asking me?" cried Donald; "and
what for do you ask me?  Why didn't you tell us to go?  Didn't my poor
brother go with your father? ay, and die by his side.  Yes, Donald will
go with you to the end of the world if you'll want him.  Wait till I get
my crook; to be surely I'll go."

Donald disappeared as he spoke, but after about a minute he joined our
friends, and they journeyed on together.

"It will be an awful night, to be surely," said Donald, "and troth, it
is more than likely the two English bodies are dead, or drowned, or
frozen by this time.  An' och! it's a blessing they are only English
bodies."

Such a speech as this did not tend to reassure young Allan.  In very
truth it almost quenched the hopes that were beginning to rise in his
heart.

Donald was now their guide, and they were not surprised to observe that
before very long he deserted the main road entirely, for a steep and
craggy path that led downwards towards the distant lake.  Along this
narrow footway Donald bounded along with almost the speed of a red deer.
Nor were Allan and his trusty companions slow to follow, for all felt
how precious were the few minutes of daylight that were left to them.

And now the shepherd stops, removes his cap, and, passing his fingers
through his hair in a puzzled kind of manner, stares around him in some
surprise.

"Yes, yes," he says at last; "this is the place, to be surely, but I
don't see a sign of the English bodies whatsomever."

But if _he_ does not, Allan McGregor, quicker of eye, does.  He springs
lightly forward, and picks something up that lies half-buried among the
snow.

"It is Rory's sketch-book," he says, "Alas! poor Rory."

But what is that mournful wail that now rises up towards them,
apparently from the very bosom of the dark lake itself?

"It's the boddach of Drontheim," falters the shepherd, trembling like an
aspen leaf.  "It's the boddach, to be surely, och! and och!  What will
become of us whatsomever?"

"Silence, Donald, silence?" cries McBain, as the strange sound falls
once more on their listening ears.  "Where is Oscar?  Not here?  Why, it
is he!  Come, men!  Come, Allan, for, dead or alive, your friends are
down yonder."

They follow the footprints of the noble dog, although they are hardly
visible, but Kooran, the collie, takes up the scent and does excellent
service.  So down the steep and craggy hill they rush, often stumbling,
sometimes falling, but still going bravely on, and cheering Oscar with
their voices as they run.  At the foot at last, and on level ground,
they hasten forward, welcomed by the Saint Bernard to a spot where lie
two inanimate human forms, partly hidden by the lightly drifting snow.

Dead?  No, thank Heaven! they are not dead, and what joy for Allan
McGregor, when stalwart Ralph sits up, rubs his eyes, and gazes vacantly
and wildly around him.

"Drink," says McBain, holding a flask to his lips.  The young Englishman
swallows a mouthful almost mechanically, then staggers to his feet Allan
and McBain steady him by the arms till he comes a little more to
himself.

"Ralph, old fellow," says Allan, "don't you know me?"

"Yes, yes," he mutters, hardly yet sensible of his surroundings, "I
remember all now.  Rory--the cliff--I could not raise him--sleep stole
my senses away.  But we are saved, are we not, and by you, good Allan,
and by you strangers?  But see to Rory, see to Rory."

McBain was chafing Rory's hands, and rubbing his half-frozen limbs.

"No," he said, "not saved by us.  You have Providence to thank, and
yonder brave dog.  Had he not found you, the sleep that had overcome you
would have been your last."

It was a long time, and it seemed doubly long to Allan and Ralph, ere
Rory showed the slightest signs of returning life.  At length, however,
the blood began to trickle slowly from a wound he had received in the
forehead in his fall over the cliff, and next moment he sighed deeply,
then opened his eyes.

"God be praised?" said McBain, fervently; "and now, my friends, let us
carry him."

This was very easily done, for Rory was a light weight.  So with Donald
in front, and the dogs capering and barking all around them, the party
commenced the ascent, and half-an-hour afterwards they were safe at the
shepherd's hut.  And none too soon, for night was now over all the land,
and the snow fell thick and fast.

Rory was laid upon the shepherd's dais, and Allan and Donald proposed
moving it close to the fire.  But McBain knew better.

"No, no, no!" he cried, "leave him where he is.  Never take a frozen man
near the fire.  I learned that at Spitzbergen.  He has young blood in
his veins, and will soon come round."

But Rory, for a time, lay quiet enough.  He was very white too, and but
for his regular and uninterrupted breathing, and the tinge of red in his
lips, one might have thought him dead.

"Poor little Rory!" said Allan, smoothing his dark hair from off his
brow.  "How cold his forehead is!"

Very simple words these were, yet there was something in the very tone
in which they were uttered that would have convinced even a stranger,
that Allan McGregor bore for the youth before him quite a brother's
love.

And who was Rory, and who was Ralph?  These questions are very soon
answered.  Roderick Elphinston and Ralph Leigh were, or had been,
students at the University of Cambridge.  They had been "inseparables"
all through the curriculum, and firm friends from the very first day
they had met together.  And yet in appearance, and indeed in character,
they were entirely different.  Ralph was a great broad-shouldered,
pleasant-faced young Saxon Rory was small as to stature, but lithe and
wiry in the extreme; his face was always somewhat pale, but his eyes had
all the glitter and fire of a wild cat in them.  Well, then, if you do
not like the "wild cat," I shall say "poet"--the glitter and fire of a
poet.  And a poet he was, though he seldom wrote verses.  Oh! it is not
always the verses one writes that prove him to be a poet.  Very often it
is just the reverse.  I know a young man who has written more verses
than would stretch from Reading to Hyde Park, and there is just as much
poetry in that young man's soul as there is in the flagstaff on my lawn
yonder.  But Rory's soul was filled with life and imagination, a
gladsome glowing life that could not be restrained, but that burst
upwards like a fountain in the sunlight, giving joy to all around.
Everything in nature was understood and loved by Rory, and everything in
nature seemed to love him in return; the birds and beasts made a
confidant of him, and the very trees and the tenderest flowerets in
garden or field seemed to whisper to him and tell him all their secrets.
And just because he was so full of life he was also full of fun.

When silent and thinking, this young Irishman's face was placid, and
even somewhat melancholy in expression, but it lighted up when he spoke,
and it was wonderfully quick in its changes from grave to gay, or gay to
grave.  It was like a rippling summer sea with cloud-shadows chasing
each other all over it.  Like most of his countrymen, Rory was brave
even to a fault.  Well, then, there you have his description in a few
words, and if you will not let me call him poet, I really do not know
what else to call him.

Ralph Leigh I must dismiss with a word.  But, in a word, he was in my
opinion everything that a young English gentleman should be; he was
straightforward, bold and manly, and though very far from being as
clever as Rory, he loved Rory for possessing the qualities he himself
was deficient in.  Thoroughly guileless was honest Ralph, and indeed, if
the truth must be told, he was not a little proud of his companion, and
he was never better pleased than when, along with Rory in the company of
others, the Irishman was what Ralph called "in fine form."

At such times Ralph would not have interrupted the flow of Rory's wit
for the world, but the quiet and happy glance he would give round the
room occasionally, to see if other people were listening to and fully
appreciating his adopted brother, spoke volumes.

McBain was right.  The young blood in Rory's veins soon reasserted
itself, and after half-an-hour's rest he seemed as well as ever.  His
first action on awaking was to put his hand to his brow, and his first
words were,--

"What is it at all, and where am I?  Have I been in any trouble?"

"Trouble, Rory?" said Allan, pressing his hand.  "Well, you and Ralph
went tumbling over a cliff."

"Only fifty feet of a fall, Rory," said Ralph.

Rory sat bolt upright now, and opened his eyes in astonishment.

"Och! now I remember," he said, "that we had a bit of a fall--But fifty
feet! do you tell me so?  Indeed then it's a wonder there is one single
whole bone between the two of us.  But where is my sketch-book?"

"Here you are," said Allan.

"Oh!" said Rory, opening the book, "this is worse than all; the
prettiest sketch ever I made in my life all spoiled with the snow."

"Now, boys," continued Rory, after a pause, "I grant you this is a very
romantic situation--everything is romantic bar the smoke; but what are
we waiting for? and is this your Castle of Arrandoon, my friend?"

"Not quite," replied Allan, laughing.  "We are waiting for you to
recover, and--"

"Well, sure enough," cried Rory, "I have recovered."

He jumped up as he spoke, kicked out his legs, and stretched out his
arms.

"No; never a broken bone," he said.

Now it had been arranged between Allan and McBain that Rory should ride
in the cart, while they and Ralph should walk.

But Rory was aghast at such a proposal.

"What," he cried; "is it a procession you'd make of me?  Would you put
me on straw in the bottom of a cart, like an old wife coming from a
fair?"

"But," persisted Allan, "you must be weak from the loss of blood."

"Loss of blood," laughed Rory, "don't be chaffing a poor boy.  If you'd
seen the blood I lost at the last election, and all in the cause of
peace and honour, too!  No, indeed; I'll walk."

The storm was at its very worst when they once more emerged from the
pine-wood, but every now and then they could see the light glimmering
from one of the castle turrets, to guide them through the darkness.
They sent the dogs on before to give notice of their approach; then
Peter tuned up, and high above the roaring of the snow rose the scream
of the great Highland bagpipe.

A few hours afterwards, the three friends had all but forgotten their
perilous adventure among the snow, or remembered it only to make merry
over it.  It is needless to say that Allan's mother and sister welcomed
his friends, or that Ralph and Rory were charmed with the reception they
received.

"Well," said Rory, after the ladies had retired for the night, "I fully
understand now what your poet Burns meant when he said--

"`In heaven itself I'll ask nae mair Than just a Highland welcome.'"

And now they gathered round the cosy hearth, on which great logs were
blazing.  McBain was relegated to an armchair in a corner, being the
oldest Rory, who still felt the effects of his fall, reclined on a couch
in front, with Ralph seated on one side and Allan on the other.  Bran,
the deer-hound, thought this too good a chance to be thrown away, so he
got upon the sofa and lay with his great, honest head on Rory's knees,
while Kooran curled himself up on the hearthrug, and Oscar watched the
door.

"Well," said Ralph, "I call this delightful; and the idea of doing the
Highlands in mid-winter is decidedly a new one, and that is saying a
great deal."

"Yes," said Rory, laughing; "and a beautiful taste we've had of it to
begin with.  I fall over a cliff in the snow and Ralph comes tumbling
after, just like Jack and Jill, and then we go to sleep like lambs, and
waken with a taste of spirits in our mouths.  Indeed yes, boys, it is
romantic entirely."

"Everything now-a-days," said Ralph, with half a yawn, "is so hackneyed,
as it were.  You go up the Rhine--that is hackneyed.  You go down the
Mediterranean--that is hackneyed.  You go here, there, and everywhere,
and you find here, there, and everywhere hackneyed.  And if you go into
a drawing-room and begin to speak of where you've been and what you've
done, you soon find that every other fellow has been to the same places,
and done precisely the same things."

"Sure, you're right, Ralph," said Rory; "and I do believe if you were to
go to the moon and come back, some fellow would meet you on your return
and lisp out, `Oh, been to the moon, have you! awfly funny old place the
moon.  Did you call on the Looneys when you were there?  Jolly family
the Looneys.'"

"There is a kind of metaphorical truth in what you say, Rory," Ralph
replied; "but I say, Allan, wouldn't it be nice to go somewhere where no
one--no white man--had ever been before, or do something never before
accomplished?"

"It would indeed," said Allan; "and I for one always looked upon
Livingstone, and Stanley, and Gordon Cumming, and Cameron, and men like
them, as the luckiest fellows in the world."

"Now," said Ralph, "I'm just nineteen.  I've only two years more of what
I call roving life, and if I don't ride across some continent before I'm
twenty-one, or embark at one end of some unknown river and come out into
the sea at the other, I'll never have a chance again."

"Why, how is that?" said McBain.

"Well," replied Ralph, "Sir Walter Leigh, my father, told me straight
that we were as poor as Church mice, and that in order to retrieve our
fortunes, as soon as I came of age I must marry my grandmother."

"Marry your grandmother!" exclaimed McBain, half rising in his chair.

"Well, my cousin, then," said Ralph, smiling; "she is five-and-forty, so
it is all the same.  But she has oceans of money, and my old father,
bless him! is very, very good and kind.  He doesn't limit me in money
now; though, of course, I don't take advantage of all his generosity.
`Go and travel, my boy,' he said, `and enjoy yourself till you come of
age.  Just see all you can and thus have your fling.  I know I can trust
you.'"

"Have your fling?" cried Rory; "troth now that is exactly what my Irish
tenants told me to do.  `The sorra a morsel av rint have we got to give
you,' says they, `so go and have your fling, but 'deed and indeed, if we
see you here again until times are mended, we'll shoot ye as dead as a
Ballyshannon rabbit.'"

"Well, young gentlemen," said McBain, after a pause in the conversation,
during which nothing was heard except the crackling of the blazing logs
and the mournful moaning of the wind without, "you want to do something
quite new.  Well, I've got an idea."

"Oh, do tell us what it is?" cried Ralph and Rory, both in one breath.

"No, no; not to-night," said McBain, laughing; "besides, it wants
working out a bit, so I'm off to bed to dream about it.  Good night."

"Depend upon it," said Allan McGregor, as he parted with his friends at
their chamber door, "that whatever it is, McBain's idea is a good one,
and he'll tell us all about it to-morrow.  You'll see."

CHAPTER THREE.

LIFE AT THE OLD CASTLE--MCBAIN EXPLAINS HIS "IDEA"--ALLAN'S DREAM.

To say that our heroes, Ralph and Rory, were not a little impatient to
know something about the scheme McBain was to propose for the purpose of
giving them pleasure, would be equivalent to saying that they were not
boys, or that they had men's heads upon boys' shoulders.  So I willingly
confess that it was the very first thing they thought about next
morning, immediately after they had drawn up the blinds, to peep out and
see what kind of a day it was going to be.

But this peeping out to ascertain the state of the weather was not so
easily accomplished, as it would have been in the south of England.  For
fairy fingers seemed to have been at work during the night, and the
panes were covered with a frost-work of ferns and leaves, more
beautifully traced, more artistically finished, than the work of any
human designer that ever lived.  The whole seemed floured over with
powdered snow.  It was a pity, so thought Rory, to spoil the pattern on
even one of the panes, but it had to be done, so by breathing on it for
quite half a minute, a round, clear space was obtained; and gazing
through this he could see that it was a glorious morning, that the
clouds had all fled, that the sky was bluer than ever he had seen a sky
before, that the wind was hushed, and the sun shining brightly over
hills of dazzling white.  The stems of the leafless trees looked like
pillars of frosted silver, while their branches were more lovely by far
than the coral that lies beneath the blue waves of the Indian Ocean.

"How different this is," said Rory, "from anything we ever see in
England!  Ah! sure, it was a good idea our coming here in winter."

"I wonder where McBain is this morning?" said Ralph.

"And I know right well," said Rory, "what you're thinking about."

"Perhaps you do," Ralph replied.

"Ay, that I do," said Rory; "but don't be an old wife, Ralph--never
evince undue curiosity, never exhibit impatience.  In other words, don't
be a squaw."

"Oho!" cried Ralph, "now I see where the land lies.  `Don't be a squaw,'
eh?  You've been reading Fenimore Cooper, you old rogue, you!  The
centre of a great forest in the Far West of America--midnight--a council
of war--chiefs squatting around the camp fire--smoking the calumet--
enter Eagle-eye--scats himself in silence--everybody burning to hear
what he has to say, but no one dares ask for the world--ugh! and all
that sort of thing.  Am I right, Rory?"

"Indeed you are," said the other, laughing; "you've bowled me out, I
confess.  But, after all, you know, it will be just as well not to seem
impatient, and so I move that we never speak a word to McBain about what
he said last night until he is pleased to open the conversation."

"Right," said Ralph; "and now let us go down to breakfast."

Both Mrs McGregor and Allan's sister Helen were very different from
what Ralph and Rory had expected to find them.  They had taken their
notions of Highland ladies from the novels of Walter Scott and other
literary worthies.  Before they had come to Glentroom they had pictured
to themselves Mrs McGregor as a kind of Spartan mother--tall, stately,
dark, and proud, with a most exalted idea of her own importance, with an
inexorable hatred of all the Saxon race, and an inordinate love of
spinning.  Her daughter, they had thought, must also be tall, and, if
beautiful, of a kind of majestic and stately beauty, repellent more than
attractive, and one more to be feared than loved.  And they felt sure
that Mrs McGregor would be almost constantly bending over her
spinning-wheel, while Helen, if ever she condescended to bend over
anything, which they had deemed a matter of doubt, would be bending over
a very ancient piece of goods in the shape of a harp.

These were their imaginings prior to their arrival at the castle, but
these ideas were all wrong, and very delighted were the young men to
find them so.  Here in Mrs McGregor was no stiff fastidious lady; she
was a very _woman_ and a very _mother_, loving her children tenderly,
and devoted to their interests, and rejoiced to hold out the hand of
welcome to her children's friends.  On the sunny side of fifty, she was
slightly inclined to _embonpoint_, extremely pleasant both in voice and
manner as well as in face.  Rory first, and Ralph soon afterwards, felt
as much at home in her presence and company as if they had known her all
their lives.

As to Helen Edith, I do not think that any one would have been able to
guess her nationality had they met her in society in town.  She had been
educated principally abroad, and could speak both the Italian and French
languages, not only fluently, but, if I may be allowed the expression,
mellifluently, for she possessed perfection of accent as well as
exceeding sweetness of voice.  She was rather small in stature, with
pretty and shapely hands, and a nice figure.

Was she beautiful? you may ask me.  Well, had you asked her brother he
would have said, "Indeed, I never gave the matter a thought," but Rory
and Ralph would have told you that she _was_ beautiful, and they would
have added the words, "and sisterly."  I do not know whether or not
Helen was a better or a worse musician than most young girls of her
age--she was just turned seventeen.  She sang sweetly, though not
loudly; she never screamed, but sang with expression, as if she felt
what she sang; and she accompanied herself on the harp.  But as for Mrs
McGregor's spinning-wheel, why, our young heroes cast their eyes about
in vain for it.

The portion of the castle now occupied by the McGregors was furnished in
a far more luxurious style than probably accorded with their fallen
fortunes, but everywhere there was evidence of refinement of taste.  The
old hall and the picture gallery delighted Rory most; he could fit a
romance into every rusty coat of mail, and fix a poem to every spear and
helmet.

"What a grand thing," he said to Allan, "it is to have had ancestors!
Never one had I, that I know of--leastways, none of them ever troubled
themselves to sit for their portraits.  More by token, perhaps, they
couldn't afford it."

If Ralph enjoyed himself at the castle--and I might say that he
undoubtedly did--he did not say a very great deal about it.  To give
vocal expression to his pleasure was not much in Ralph's line, but it
was in Rory's, who, by the way, although nearly as old as his companion,
was far more of a boy.

The feelings of the young chief of the McGregors, while showing his
friends over the old castle, the ancient home of his fathers, were those
of sadness, mingled with a very little touch of pride.  Every room had
its story, every chamber its tale--often one of sorrow; and these were
listened to by Ralph and Rory with rapt attention, although every now
and then some curious or quaint remark from the lips of the latter would
set the other two laughing, and often materially damage some relation of
events that bordered closely on the romantic.

"If ever I'm rich enough," said Allan, leading the way into the ancient
banqueting-hall, "I mean to re-roof and re-furnish the whole of the
older portion of the castle."

"But wherever has the roof gone to?" asked Rory, looking upwards at the
sky above them.

"Fire would explain that," replied Allan; "the whole of this wing of the
building was burned by Cumberland in '45--he who was surnamed the Bloody
Duke, you know."

"Were your people `out,' as you call it, in '45?" asked Ralph.

Allan nodded, and bit his lips; the memory of that terrible time was not
a pleasant one to this Highland chief.

The little turret chambers were a source of both interest and curiosity
to Allan's companions.

"Bedrooms and watch-towers, are they?" said Ralph, viewing them
critically.  "Well, you catch a beautiful glimpse of the glen, and the
hills, and woods, and lake from that little narrow window, with its
solitary iron stanchion; but I say, Allan--bedrooms, eh?  Aren't you
joking, old man?  Fancy a great tall lanky fellow like me in a bedroom
this size; why, I'd have to double up like a jack-knife!"

"Oh! look, Ralph, at these dark, mysterious stains on the oaken floor,"
cried Rory--"blood, of course?  Do you know, Allan, my boy, what
particular deed of darkness was committed in this turret chamber?"

"I do, precisely," replied Allan.

"Och! tell us, then--tell us!" said Rory.

"Ay, do," said Ralph.  "I shall lean against the window here and look
out, for the view is delightful, but I'll be listening all the same."

"Well, then," said Allan, "I made this little room my study for a few
months last summer, and I spilt some ink there."

"Now, indeed, indeed," cried romantic Rory, "that is a shame to put us
off like that.  Never mind, Ralph; _we_ know it is a blood-stain, and if
Allan won't tell us the story, then, we'll invent one.  Sure, now," he
continued, "I'd like to sleep here."

"You'd catch your death of cold from the damp," said Allan.

Rory wheeled him right round to the light, and gazed at him funnily from
top to toe, and from toe to top.

"You're a greater curiosity than the fine old castle itself," said Rory;
"and I don't believe there is an ounce of romance in the whole big body
of you.  Now, if the place was mine, there isn't a room--why, what is
that?"

"That's the gong," said Allan, "and it says plainly enough, `Get
r-r-r-r-ready for dinner.'"

"Well, but," persisted Rory, "just before we go down below show us the
corridor where the ghost walks at midnight, and the door through which
it disappears."

"A ghost!" said Allan; "indeed, I never knew there was one."

"Ah! but," Rory continued, "you never knew there _wasn't_.  Well, then,
say _probably_ there is a ghost, because you know, old fellow, in an
ancient family like yours there must be a ghost.  There must be some old
fogey or another who didn't think he was very well done by in this
world, and feels bound to come back and walk about at midnight, and all
that sort of thing.  Pray, Allan, don't break the spell.  You're welcome
to the stains if you please, but 'deed and indeed, I mean to stick to
the ghost."

The first few days of their stay in Glentroom were spent in what Allan
called "doing nothing," for unless he left the castle for the hill, the
river, or the lake, he did not consider he was doing anything.  Within
the castle walls, however, Rory for one was not idle.  There was, in his
opinion, a deal to be seen and a deal to be done: he had to make
acquaintance with every living thing about the place--ponies and dogs,
cattle and pigs, ducks, geese, fowl, and pigeons.

Old Janet averred that she had never seen such a boy in all her born
days--that he turned the castle upside down, and kept all the "beasties"
in an uproar; but at the same time she added that he was the prettiest
boy ever she'd seen, and "Heaven bless his bonnie face," which put her
in mind of her dear dead boy Donald, and she couldn't be angry with him,
for even when he was doing mischief he made her laugh.

The parish in which Glentroom lies is a very wide one indeed, and
contained at the time our tale opens many families of distinction.
Nearly all of these were on visiting terms with the McGregors, and many
a beautifully-fitted sledge used to drive over the drawbridge of
Arrandoon Castle during the winter months--wheels, of course, were out
of the question when the snow lay thick on the ground--so that life in
Allan's family, although it did not partake of the gaiety of the London
season, was by no means a dull one, and both Ralph and Rory thought the
evenings spent in the drawing-room were very enjoyable indeed.  Ralph
was a good conversationalist and a good listener: he delighted in
hearing music, while Rory delighted to play, and, for his years, he was
a violinist of no mean order.  He had never been known to go anywhere--
not even on the shortest of holiday tours--without the long black case
that contained his pet instrument.

Now, as none of "the resident gentry," as they were called, who visited
at the castle have anything at all to do with our story, I shall not
fatigue my readers by introducing them.

And why, it may be asked, should I trouble myself about describing life
at the castle at all?  And where is the _Snowbird_?--for doubtless you
have guessed already that it is a ship of some kind.  The _Snowbird_ ere
very long will sail majestically up that Highland lake before you, and
in her, along with our heroes, you and I, reader, will embark, and
together we will journey afar over the ocean wave, to regions hitherto
but little known to man.  Our adventures there will be many, wild, and
varied, and some of them, too, so far from pleasant, that while exiled
in the frozen seas of the far North, our thoughts will oftentimes turn
fondly homewards, and we will think with a joy borrowed from the past of
the quiet and peaceful days we spent in bonnie Arrandoon.

Ralph and Rory had kept the promise they had made to each other on the
morning succeeding their arrival at Arrandoon; they left McBain to dream
over his "idea" in peace.  They did not behave like squaws, and I think
it was the third or fourth evening before Allan's foster-father said
another word about it.  They were then all around the fire, as they had
been before; the ladies had retired, and the dogs were making themselves
as snug and comfortable as dogs know how to whenever they get a chance.

"Well," said McBain, after there had been a lull in the conversation for
some little time, "we've been all so happy and jolly here for the last
few days, that we haven't had time to think much or to look ahead
either; but now, if you don't mind, young gentlemen, I will tell you
what I should propose in the way of spending a few of the incoming
spring and summer months, in what I should call a very pleasant
fashion."

"Yes," cried Rory, "do tell us, we are burning to hear about it, and if
it be anything new it is sure to be nice."

"Very well," said McBain.  "Allan there tells me he means to stick to
you both for a time--to keep you prisoners in Glentroom.  He will trot
you about for all that; you'll be on parole, and roam about wherever you
like; and you can fish and shoot and sketch just as much as ever you
have a mind to.  Meanwhile, buy a boat; I know where there is one to
sell that will suit us in every way--a grand, big, strong, open boat.
She belongs to Duncan Forbes, of Fort Augustus, and can be bought for an
old song.  We can have her round into the loch here.  I'm a bit of a
sailor, as Allan knows, and I'll show you how to deck her over, set up
rigging and mast, and make her complete, and I'll make bold to say that
before we have done with her she will be as neat and pretty a little
craft as ever hauled the wind."

"I say, boys," said Rory, "I think the idea is a glorious one."

"I must say, I like it immensely," said Ralph.

"And so do I," said Allan, "if--if we can all afford it."

"Oh! but stop a little," said McBain, "you haven't heard all my proposal
yet; the best of it is to come.  Your cruising ground will be all up and
down among the Western Islands, where the wildest and finest scenery in
Europe exists.  You'll get any amount of fishing and shooting too, for
wherever you three smart-looking young yachtsmen land on the coast,
people will vie with each other in offering you Highland hospitality.
And all the while you can make your pleasure pay you."

"How--how--tell us how?"

"Why," continued McBain, "around the rocky and rugged islands where you
will be cruising are the finest lobsters in the world.  You have only to
sink a few cages every night when at anchor; you will draw them up full
in the morning, and place them in a well in your hold.  As soon as you
have enough to make a paying voyage, round you will run to Greenock,
where is always a ready market and good prices."

Here Ralph jumped up and rubbed his hands; and Rory, forgetting his
bruised shoulder and still bandaged head, hopped off the sofa to cry
"Hurrah!" and this made Kooran bark, and of course Bran chimed in for
company's sake, and McBain wagged his beard and laughed with delight at
the pleasure his suggestion seemed to afford the three young men; and,
indeed, for the time being he felt quite as youthful as either of them.

"And I'll be the crew of the craft," said McBain.  "Allan ought to be
captain, and you others naval cadets."

"Yes," said Rory, "that will suit us excellently, and we can take
lessons from you and Allan in seamanship, and by-and-bye be just as
clever sailors as either of you."

"Ay, that you can," said McBain.

Allan laid his hand on Ralph's shoulder, for the latter was gazing
quietly and dreamily firewards.

"What are you thinking about?" said Allan.

Ralph smiled as he made reply.

"I was thinking," he said, "that our adventures as amateur yachtsmen
will not begin and end with cruising among the Western Isles of
Scotland, pleasant and romantic enough though that may be.  Listen to
me, boys.  It has been the one dream of my life to be able to be master
of a beautiful yacht, and to sail away to far countries, and to see the
world in earnest.  Now I know I shall have an opportunity of doing so.
My good, kind old father will baulk me in nothing that is reasonable;
and if, after a few months' cruising in this boat, I can convince him
that I have mastered the rudiments of seamanship, he will, I believe,
let me have a real yacht, capable of voyaging to any part of the world!"

"Ah! that would indeed be glorious, boys," cried Rory, with enthusiasm.

"If we could only arrange it," said Allan, "so as to all go together."

"Of course," said Ralph; "there would not be half the pleasure else.
And we would sail to some country, if possible, where Englishmen had
never been, or never lived before."

"To the countries and islands around the Pole, for example," suggested
McBain.

"Yes," Ralph said; "from all I have read of the Sea of Ice, it seems to
me the most fascinating place in the world."

"Ay," said McBain; "to me it possesses a strange charm; for everything
connected with the countries and seas beyond the Arctic circle is as
different from anything one sees elsewhere as though it belonged to some
other planet."

For hours before retiring to rest they talked about Greenland; and
McBain told them of many a wild adventure in which he himself had been
the principal hero.  And among other things he told them of the mammoth
caves of Alba Isle, where an untold wealth of ivory lay buried.

For hours _after_ they had retired Allan lay awake, thinking only of
that buried treasure.  Then he slept, and dreamt he had returned from
the far north a wealthy man--that Arrandoon was re-furnished and
re-roofed, that he had regained all the proud acres which his fathers
had squandered, and that his dear mother and sister were reinstated in
the rank of life they, were born to adorn, and which was the right of
birth of the chiefs of Glentroom.

Do dreams ever come true?  At times.

CHAPTER FOUR.

THE "FLOWER OF ARRANDOON"--OLD AP'S COTTAGE--TRIAL TRIPS AND USEFUL
LESSONS.

I do not think that, during any period of his former life, Allan
McGregor's foster-father was much happier than he was while engaged,
with the help of his boy friends, in getting the cutter they had bought
ready for her summer cruise among the Western Islands.

They were not quite unassisted in their labours though; no, for had they
not the advantage of possessing skilled labour?  Was not Tom Ap Ewen
their right-hand man; to guide, direct, and counsel them in every
difficulty?  And right useful they found him, too.

Thomas was a Welshman, as his name indicates; he had been a boatbuilder
all his life.  He lived in a little house by the lake-side, and this
house of his bore in every respect a very strong resemblance to a boat
turned upside down.  All its furniture and fittings looked as though at
one time they had been down to the sea in ships, and very likely they
had.  Tom's bed was a canvas cot which might have been white at one
time, but which was terribly smoke-begrimed now; Tom's cooking apparatus
was a stove, and, saving a sea-chest which served the double purpose of
dais and tool-box, all the seats in his cottage were lockers, while the
old lamp that hung from the blackened rafters gave evidence of having
seen better days, having in fact dangled from the cabin deck of some
trusty yacht.

Tom himself was quite in keeping with his little home.  A man of small
stature was Tom.  I will not call him dapper, because you know that
would imply neatness and activity, and there was very little of either
about Tom.  But he had plenty of breadth of beam, and so stiff was he,
apparently, that he looked as if he had been made out of an old
bowsprit, and had acted for years in the capacity of figure-head to an
old seventy-four.  Seen from the front, Tom appeared, on week-days, to
be all apron from his chin to his toes; his hard wiry face was
bestubbled over in half its length with grey hairs, for Tom found the
scissors more handy and far less dangerous than a razor; and, jauntily
cocked a little on one side of his head, he wore a square paper cap over
a reddish-brown wig.  Well, if to this you add a pair of short arms, a
pair of hard horny hands, and place two roguish beads of hazel eyes in
under his bushy eyebrows, you have just as complete a description of
Thomas Ap Ewen as I am capable of giving.

This wee wee man generally went by the name of Old Ap.  Of course there
were ill-natured people who sometimes, behind Tom's back, added an _e_
to the _Ap_; but, honestly speaking, there was not a bit of the ape
about him, except, perhaps, when taking snuff.  Granting that his
partiality for snuff was a fault, it was one that you could reasonably
strive to forgive, in consideration of his many other sterling
qualities.

Well, Tom was master of the yard, so to speak, into which the purchased
cutter was hauled to be fitted, and although McBain did not take _all_
the advice that was tendered to him, it is but fair to say that he
benefited by a good deal of it.

It would have done the heart of any one, save a churl, good to have seen
how willingly those boys worked; axe, or saw, or hammer, plane or
spokeshave, nothing came amiss to them.  Allan was undoubtedly the best
artisan; he had been used to such work before; but generally where
there's a will there's a way, and the very newness of the idea of
labouring like ordinary mechanics lent, as far as Ralph and Rory were
concerned, a charm to the whole business.

"There is nothing hackneyed about this sort of thing, is there?"  Ralph
would say, looking up from planing a deck-spar.

"There is a deal to learn, too," Rory might answer.  "Artisans mustn't
be fools, sure.  But how stiff my saw goes!"

"A bit of grease will put that to rights."  Ralph's face would beam
while giving a bit of information like this, or while initiating Rory
into the mysteries of dovetailing, or explaining to him that when
driving a nail he must hit it quietly on the head, and then it would not
go doubling round his finger.

Old Ap and McBain were both of them very learned--or they appeared to be
so--in the subject of rigging, nor did their opinions in this matter
altogether coincide.  Old Ap's cottage and the yard were quite two
miles--Scotch ones--from the castle, so on the days when they were busy
our heroes would not hear of returning to lunch.

"Isn't good bread and cheese, washed down with goat's milk, sufficient
for us?"  Ralph might say.

And Rory would reply, "Yes, my boy, indeed, it's food fit for a king."

After luncheon was the time for a little well-earned rest.  The young
men would stroll down towards the lake, by whose banks there was always
something to be seen or done for half-an-hour, if it were only skipping
flat stones across its surface; while the two elder ones would enjoy the
_dolce far niente_ and their _odium cum dignitate_ seated on a log.

"Well," said old Ap, one day, "I suppose she is to be cutter-rigged,
though for my own part I'd prefer a yawl."

"There is no accounting for tastes," replied McBain; "and as to me, I
don't care for two masts where one will do.  She won't be over large,
you know, when all is said and done."

"Just look you," continued Ap, "how handy a bit of mizen is."

"It is at times, I grant you," replied McBain.

"To be sure," said Ap, "you may sail faster with the cutter rig, but
then you don't want to race, do you, look see?"

"Not positively to race, Mr Ewen," replied McBain, "but there will be
times when it may be necessary to get into harbour or up a loch with all
speed, and if that isn't racing, why it's the very next thing to it."

"Yes, yes," said old Ap, "but still a yawl is easier worked, and as
you'll be a bit short-handed--"

"What!" cried McBain, in some astonishment; "an eight-ton cutter, and
four of us.  Call you that short-handed?"

"Yes, yes, I do, look see," answered Ap, taking a big pinch of his
favourite dust, "because I'd call it only two; surely you wouldn't count
upon the Englishmen in a sea-way."

McBain laughed.

"Why," he said, "before a month is over I'll have those two Saxon lads
as clever cuttersmen as ever handled tiller or belayed a halyard.  Just
wait until we return up the loch after our summer's cruise, and you can
criticise us as much as ever you please."

Now these amateur yacht-builders, if so we may call them, took the
greatest of pains, not only with the decking and rigging of their
cutter, but with her painting and ornamentation as well.  There were two
or three months before them, because they did not mean to start cruising
before May, so they worked away at her with the plodding steadiness of
five old beavers.  In their little cabin, where it must be confessed
there was not too much head room, there was nevertheless a good deal of
comfort, and all the painting and gilding was done by Rory's five
artistic fingers.  In fact, he painted her outside and in, and he named
her the _Flower of Arrandoon_, and he painted that too on her stern,
with a great many dashes and flourishes, that any one, save himself,
would have deemed quite unnecessary.

It was only natural that they should do their best to make their pigmy
vessel look as neat and as nice as possible; but they had another object
in view in doing so, for as soon as their summer cruise was over they
meant to sell her.  So that what they spent upon her would not really be
money thrown to the winds, but quite the reverse.  Young Ralph knew
dozens of young men just as fond of sailing and adventure as he was, and
he thought it would be strange indeed if he himself, assisted by the
voluble Rory, could not manage to give such a glowing account of their
cruise, and of all the fun and adventures they were sure to have, as
would make the purchase of the _Flower of Arrandoon_ something to be
positively competed for.

When she was at last finished and fitted, and lying at anchor, in the
creek of Glentroom, with the water lap-lapping under her bows, her sails
all nicely clewed, and her slender topmast bobbing and bending to the
trees, as if saluting them, why I can assure you she looked very pretty
indeed.  But there was something more than mere prettiness about her;
she looked useful.  Care had been taken with her ballasting, so she rode
like a duck in the water.  She had, too, sufficient breadth of beam, and
yet possessed depth of keel enough to make her safe in a sea-way, and
McBain knew well--and so, for that matter, did Allan--that these were
solid advantages in the kind of waters that would form their cruising
ground.  In a word, the _Flower of Arrandoon_ was a comfortable
sea-worthy boat, well proportioned and handy, and what more could any
one wish for?

And now the snow had all fled from the hills and the glens, only on the
crevices of mountain tops was it still to be seen--ay, and would be
likely to be seen all the summer through, but softly and balmily blew
the western winds, and the mavis and blackbird returned to make joyous
music from morning's dawn till dewy eve.  Half hidden in bushy dells,
canary-coloured primroses smiled over the green of their leaves, and
ferns and breckans began to unfold their brown fingers in the breeze,
while buds on the silvery-scented birches that grew on the brae-lands,
and verdant crimson-tipped tassels on the larches that courted the
haughs, told that spring had come, and summer itself was not far
distant.

And so one fine morning says McBain, "Now, Allan, if your friends are
ready, we'll go down to the creek, get up our bit of an anchor, and be
off on a trial trip."

Trial trips are often failures, but that of the boys' cutter certainly
was not.  Everything was done under McBain's directions, Allan doing
nearly all the principal work, though assisted by old Ap; but if Ralph
and Rory did not work, they watched.  Nothing escaped them, and if they
did not say much, it was because, like Paddy's parrot, they were
"rattling up the thinking."

The day was beautiful--a blue sky with drifting cloudlets of white
overhead, and a good though not stiff breeze blowing right up the loch;
so they took advantage of this, and scudded on for ten miles to Glen
Mora.  They did not run right up against the old black pier, and smash
their own bowsprit in the attempt to knock it down.  No, the boat was
well steered, and the sails lowered just at the right time, the mainsail
neatly and smartly furled, and covered as neatly, and the jib stowed.
Old Ap was left as watchman, and McBain and his friends went on shore
for a walk and luncheon.

In the evening, after they had enjoyed to the full their "bit of a
cruise on shore," as McBain called it, they returned to their boat, and
almost immediately started back for Glentroom.  The wind still blew up
the loch; it was almost, though not quite, ahead of them.  This our
young yachtsmen did not regret, for, as their sailing-master told them,
it would enable them to find out what the cutter could do, for, tacking
and half-tacking, they had to work to windward.

It was gloaming ere they dropped anchor again in the creek, and McBain's
verdict on the _Flower of Arrandoon_ was a perfectly satisfactory one.

"She'll do, gentlemen," he said, "she'll do; she is handy, and stout,
and willing.  There is no extra sauciness about her, though she is on
excellent terms with herself, and although she doesn't sail _impudently_
close to the wind, still I say she behaves herself gallantly and well."

It wanted nothing more than this to give Allan and his friends an
appetite for the haunch of mountain mutton that awaited them on their
return to the castle.  They were in bounding spirits too; it made every
one else happy just to see them happy, so that everything passed off
that night as merrily as marriage bells.

The loch near the old Castle of Arrandoon is one of the great chain of
lakes that stretch from east to west of Scotland, and are joined
together by a broad and deep canal, which gives passage to many a
stately ship.  This canal, once upon a time, was looked upon as one of
the engineering wonders of the world, leading as it does often up and
over hills so high and wild that in sober England they would be honoured
with the title of mountains.

For a whole week or more, ere the cutter turned her bows to the
southward and west, and started away on her summer cruise, almost every
day was spent on this loch.  It is big enough in all conscience for
manoeuvres of any kind, being in many places betwixt two and three miles
in width, while its length is over twenty.

It might be said, with a good deal of truth, that Allan McGregor had
spent his life in boats upon lakes, for as soon as his little hand was
big enough to grasp a tiller he had held one.  He knew all about boats
and boat-sailing, and was, on the whole, an excellent fresh-water
sailor.  With Ralph and Rory it was somewhat different, good oarsman
though the former at all events was.  However, they were apt pupils,
and, with good health and willingness to work, what is it a boy will not
learn?

In old Ap's cottage were models of several well-rigged vessels of the
smaller class, the principal of them being a sloop, a cutter, and a
yawl.  Ap delighted to give lectures on the peculiar merits and rigging
of these, interspersed with many a "Yes, yes, young shentlemen, and look
you see," spoken with the curious accent which Welshmen alone can give
to such simple words.  These models our heroes used to copy, so that,
theoretically speaking, they knew a great deal about seamanship before
they stepped on board the cutter to take their first cruise.

Practice alone makes perfect in any profession, and although experience
is oftentimes a hard and cruel teacher, there is no doubt she _docet
stultos_, and her lessons are given with a force there is no forgetting.
Of such was the lesson Rory got one morning; he had the tiller in his
hand, and was bowling along full before the wind.  It seemed such easy
work sailing thus, and Rory was giving more of his time than he ought to
have done to conversation with his companions, and even occasionally
stealing a glance on shore to admire the scenery, when all at once,
"Flop! flop! crack! harsh!" cried the sail, and round came the boom.
The wind was not very fresh, so there was little harm done; besides,
McBain was there, and I verily believe that had that old tar gone to
sleep, he would have been dozing in dog fashion with his weather eye
open.  But on this occasion poor Rory was scratching and rubbing a bare
head.

"Crack, harsh!" he said, looking at the offending sail; "troth and
indeed it _is_ harsh you crack, I can tell you."

"Ah!" said McBain, quietly, "sailing a bit off, you see."

"'Deed and indeed," replied Rory, "but you're right, and by the same
token my hat's off too, and troth I thought the poor head of me was in
it."

It will be observed that Rory had a habit of talking slightly Irish at
times, but I must do him the credit of saying that he never did so
except when excited, or simply "for the fun of the thing."

Another useful lesson that both Ralph and Rory took some pains to learn
was to _look out for squalls_.  They learned this on the loch, for there
sometimes, just as you are quietly passing some tree-clad bank or brae,
you all at once open out some beautifully romantic glen.  Yes, both
beautiful and romantic enough, but down that gully sweeps the gusty
wind, with force enough often to tear the sticks off the sturdiest boat,
or lay her flat and helpless on her beam ends.  But the lesson, once
learned, was taken to heart, and did them many a good turn in after
days, when sailing away over the seas of the far North in their saucy
yacht, the _Snowbird_.

The time now drew rapidly near for them to start away to cruise in
earnest.  They had spent what they termed "a jolly time of it" in
Glentroom.  Time had never, never seemed to fly so quickly before.  They
had had many adventures too; but one they had only a day or two before
sailing was the strangest.  As, however, this adventure had so funny a
beginning, though all too near a fatal ending, I must reserve it for
another chapter.

CHAPTER FIVE.

SHOWING HOW ROYALTY VISITED ARRANDOON, AND HOW OUR HEROES RETURNED THE
CALL.

The windows of the double-bedded chamber occupied by Allan McGregor's
guests overlooked both lake and glen.  At one corner of it was a kind of
turret recess; this had been originally used as a dressing-room, but
Allan had gone to some trouble and expense in fitting it up as an own,
own room for Rory.  Ralph called it Rory's "boudoir," Rory himself
called it his "sulky."  The floor of the curious little room was softly
carpeted; the walls were hung with ancient tapestry; the windows neatly
draped.  There was a little bookcase in it, in which, much to his
surprise, the young man found all his favourite poets and authors.  His
fiddle and music were in this turret as well; so it was all very nice
and snug indeed.

Scarcely a day passed that Rory did not spend an hour or two in his
"sulky," generally after luncheon, when not _on_ or _at_ the lake; and
even while reclining on his lounge the view that he could catch a
glimpse of was just as romantic and beautiful as any boy poet could
wish.  There was no door between this and the bedchamber, only a curtain
which could be drawn at pleasure.

Now, as I happen to love the truth for its own simple sake, I must tell
you that neither Rory nor Ralph was very fond of early rising,
practically speaking--theory being another thing.  Allan was often away
at the river hours and hours before breakfast, and the beautiful dishes
of mountain trout that lay on the table, so crisp and still, had been
frisking and gambolling only a short time before in their native
streams.  But Allan's friends--well, it may have been the Highland air,
you know, which is remarkably strong and pure, but anyhow, neither of
them thought of stirring until the first gong pealed its thunders forth.
It was not that they did not get a good example set them by the sun,
for, it being now the month of May, that luminary deemed it his duty to
get up himself, and to arouse most ordinary mortals, shortly after four
o'clock.

The list of ordinary mortals, so far as the castle was concerned,
included old Janet the cook, and most of the other servants and
retainers, and all the dogs, and all the cocks and hens, and ducks and
geese, and turkeys, to say nothing of pigs and pigeons, sheep and
cattle; and as every single mortal among them felt himself bound as soon
as his eyes were open to express his feelings audibly, and in his own
peculiar fashion, you can easily believe that the din and the hubbub
around Arrandoon at early morning were something considerable.  Whether
asleep or awake, Ralph had an easy mind, nothing bothered him.  I
believe he could have slept throughout general quarters at sea, with
cannon thundering overhead, if he had a mind to; but with Rory it was
somewhat different, and the cock-crowing used to fidget him in his
dreams.  If there had been only one cock, and that cock had crowed till
his comb fell off, it would have been merely monotonous, and Rory would
have slumbered on in peace, but there were so many cocks of so many
strains.  The game-cocks crowed boldly and bravely, and their tones
clearly proved them kings of the harem; the bantams shrieked defiance at
every other cock about the place, but no cock about the place took any
heed of them; the cowardly Shanghais kept at a safe distance from the
game-birds, and shouted themselves hoarse; and besides these there was
the half-apologetic, half-formed crow of the cockerels, who got thrashed
a dozen times everyday because they dared to mimic their betters.

These sounds, I say, fidgeted our poetic Rory; but when half a dozen
fantail pigeons would alight outside the window, and strut about and
cry, "Coo, coo, troubled with you, troubled with you," then Rory would
become more sensible, and he would open one eye to have a look at the
clock on the mantelpiece.  Mind you, he wouldn't open both eyes for the
world, lest he should awaken altogether.

"Oh!" he would think to himself, "only five o'clock; gong won't go for
three hours yet.  How jolly!"

Then he would turn round on the other side and go to sleep again.  The
cocks might go on crowing, and the pigeons might preen their feathers
and "coo-coo" as much as they pleased now.  Rory heard no more until
"Ur-ur--R-Rise, Ur-ur--R-Ralph and Rory," roared the gong.

One _particular_ morning Rory had opened his one eye just as usual, had
his look at the clock, had rejoiced that it was still early, and had
turned himself round to go off once more to the land of Nod, when,
suddenly, there arose from beneath such an inexpressible row, such an
indefinable din, as surely never before had been heard around the Castle
of Arrandoon.  The horses stamped and neighed in their stables, the
cattle moaned a double bass, the pigs squeaked a shrill tenor, the fowl
all went mad.

"Whack, whack, whack!" roared the ducks.

"Kank, kank, kank?" cried the geese.

"Hubbub--ub--ub--bub!" yelled the turkeys.

Rory sat bolt upright in bed, with _both_ eyes open, more fully awake
than ever he had felt in his life before.

"Hubbub, indeed!" says Rory; "indeed, then, I never heard such a hubbub
before in all my born days.  Ralph, old man, Ralph.  Sit up, my boy.  I
wonder what the matter can be."

"And so do I," replied Ralph, without, however, offering to stir; "but
surely a fellow can wonder well enough without getting out of bed to
wonder."

"Ooh! you lazy old horse!" cried Rory; "well, then, it's myself that'll
get up."

Suiting the action to the word, Rory sprang out of bed, and next moment
he had thrown open his "sulky" window and popped his head and shoulders
out.  He speedily drew them in again and called to Ralph, and the words
he used were enough to bring even that matter-of-fact hero to his side
with all the speed he cared to expend.

What they saw I'll try to explain to you.

Eagles had been far more numerous this season than they had been for
years.  McBain knew this well, and Allan McGregor knew it to his cost,
for in an eyrie on a distant part of his estate a pair of these kingly
birds had established themselves, and brought forth young, and, judging
from the number of lambs they had carried off, a terribly rapacious
family they were.  Although five miles from the castle, Allan had
several times gone to the place at early morn for the purpose of getting
a ride-shot at these birds; but although he knew the very ledge on which
the nest was laid--there is little building about an eagle's nest--he
had always been unsuccessful, for the favourites of Jove were wary, and
could scent danger from afar.

So day by day the lambs went on diminishing, and the shepherds went on
grumbling, but they grumbled in vain.  Upwards and upwards in circling
flight the eagles would soar, as if to hide themselves in the sun's
effulgence, until they were all but invisible to the keenest eye.  They
would then hover hawk-like over their innocent prey, until chance
favoured them, when there would be a swift, unerring, downward rush, and
often before the very eyes of the astonished keepers the lamb was seized
and borne in triumph to the eyrie.

The glen, or rather gorge, which the eagles had chosen for their home,
is one of the wildest and dreariest I ever traversed; at the bottom of
it lies a brown and weird-looking loch about two miles long, one side of
which is bounded by birch-trees, through which a road runs, and if you
gaze across this loch, what think you do you see beyond?  Why, a black
and beetling wall of rock rising sheerly perpendicular up out of the
water, and towering to a height of over one thousand feet.  Although the
loch is five hundred yards wide, you can hardly get rid of the
impression that this immense wall of rock is bending towards you from
the top, and about to fall and crush your pigmy body to atoms.  No
wonder the loch itself is still and dark and treacherous-looking, and no
wonder the natives care not to traverse the glen by day, or that they
give it a wide berth at night, for the place has an evil name, and they
say that often and often at the hour of midnight the water-kelpie's
fiendish laugh is heard at the foot of the rock, followed by the plash
and sullen plunging sound which a heavy body always emits when sinking
in very deep water.

Remember that I do not myself believe in water-kelpies, nor any other
kelpies whatever, and I have fished for char (the _Salmo umbla_) in the
loch, and traversed the glen in the starlight, yet I never came across
anything much worse-looking than myself--so there!

Now it was in the middle of this rocky precipice, on a ledge of stone,
that the kingly birds had made their nest of sticks and turf, with just
as little regard to the laws of avine architecture as the cushat of the
English copse evinces.  It was an airy abode, yet for all that a
prettier pair of young ones than the two that lay therein, both the
father and mother eagle averred, had never yet been seen or hatched.  It
is needless to say that they were very fond of their progeny, and also
very fond of each other, so that when one lovely morning the she-eagle
said to the he one,--

"What is for breakfast, dear?" it was only natural that the he one
should reply, "Anything you like, my love."

"Well then," said she, "we've been having nothing but mutton, mutton,
mutton for weeks.  I'm sure the children would like a change, and I know
I should."

Then the royal eagle lowered his eyebrows, and scratched his ear with
one great toe, as if very deep in thought, and then his countenance
cleared all at once, a grim smile stole over his face, and he said,--

"I have it.  Babies are scarce, you know, but I'll bring you a turkey."

"Oh!" said her royal highness, "that _will_ be nice, and the feathers
will help to keep the children warm."

So away the eagle soared, and about ten minutes afterwards he alighted
with a rush right in the middle of the poultry yard at Arrandoon Castle.
Hence the hubbub which had aroused both Ralph and Rory.

Now had the bird of Jove not been so greedy, I feel bound to believe he
could have left the yard almost as quickly as he had entered it one
turkey the richer, and his royal helpmeet and children would not have
been disappointed in their breakfast.  But no, "I may just as well be
hanged for a sheep as a lamb," he thought to himself, and so he alighted
on the back of the oldest and biggest turkey cock he could see.  But he
did not find this bird so easy a prey as he could have wished; indeed
the turkey at once made up his mind to have a tussle for it; he did not
mean to accept so hasty an invitation to breakfast--in an eyrie of all
places.  So by hook and by crook he managed to scramble half-way under
the wooden grain-house, eagle and all.  Next moment the eagle bitterly
repented of his rashness, for every bird in the place attacked him, and
Ralph and Rory were roaring success to them from the "sulky" window.  An
old turkey is usually a tough one, and do what he would the eagle could
only disengage one talon from the back of his captive, if captive he
could now be called, and with this and his beak he had to do battle.

Now, that discretion is the better part of valour, even an eagle knows,
so when at last he did manage to disengage his other talon, although
several of his foes lay dead and dying around, the eagle had had quite
enough turkey, and prepared to soar.

But behold! quite an unexpected combatant makes his appearance, and goes
to work at once on the eagle's breast, and this was none other than
Allan's pet Skye, a little dog of determination, for whenever he made up
his mind to lay hold of anything he did it, and stuck to it.  With such
a weight attached to him in such a way, rapid flight was out of the
question; the eagle had only strength enough left to flutter out of the
yard, and fall on the ground on the other side, there to meet--pity me,
reader, for how shall I name it?  Were I not writing facts this brave
but discomfited eagle should have a nobler end--there to meet _old Janet
with a broom-handle_!

"Hold, Janet, hold?" cried our gallant English Ralph from the "sulky"
window; "fair play, Janet, fair play."

Too late!  The king of birds lies dead.

"Ten feet from tip to tip of his wings," said McBain, as he stood over
him about an hour after.  Allan, and Ralph, and Rory were all there.
"Eagle, eagle," Rory was saying,--

  "Thou hast bowed
  From thine empire o'er the cloud;
  Thou that hadst ethereal birth,
  Thou hast stooped too near the earth,
  And the hunter's shaft hath found thee;
  And the toils of Death have bound thee."

"Hunter's shaft, indeed," laughed Ralph; "old Janet's broom-handle; but
come, boys, I know you are both of you game enough for anything, so I
propose we go and try to bag the disconsolate widow of this royal bird.
We can capture the young ones and rear them."

"It would indeed be a pity to leave the widow to mourn," said Rory.

"It's a sad pity my sheep must mourn," said Allan.  When at the
breakfast-table that morning, Allan said, in a seemingly unconcerned
voice,--

"Mother, we mean to have a day among the eagles; they have commenced it,
you know."  His mother knew well he was asking her consent, and she gave
it because she would not see him unhappy.  But nevertheless, she
whispered to him as he left the room,--

"Oh, child! do take care of yourself, and take care of Rory.  I had
strange dreams about you last night."

Our three heroes, accompanied by men carrying the wooden well-windlass
with a plank or two, and plenty of length of rope, made their way over
the mountain to the top of the precipice before described.  McBain with
his trusty rifle went down the glen, among the birch-trees at the other
side of the lake.  He was not only eagle-slayer, but signalman to the
expedition.  Keeping close to the loch, he walked onwards for fully
three-quarters of a mile, then he stopped and fired his rifle in the
air.  He stood now as still as a statue, and so remained for fully
half-an-hour, until his party had fixed the windlass to the brink of the
cliff.  Had this latter been flat at the top the danger would have been
but small, but the ground _sloped towards the brink_, so that a false
step or a slip meant something too awful to contemplate.  Right down
beneath them is the eyrie, quite one hundred feet from the top.
Circling high in air, far, far above them, is the she-eagle.  She is
watching and wondering.  If any one dares descend she will rend them in
pieces.  But see, something leaves the cliff-top, and goes downwards and
downwards nearer and nearer to her nest.  With a scream of rage she
rushes from her hover, passes our friends swift as a thunderbolt, and is
lost to view.  She is expending her anger now, she is having revenge,
and fragments of a torn garment flutter down towards the lake.  McBain
has thrown himself on his face; he is no mean marksman, but he will need
all his skill and steadiness now, and this he knows right well.

Seconds, long, long seconds of suspense--so at least they seem to those
on the cliff.  Then a puff of white smoke and at the very moment that
the crack of the rifle falls on their ears, McBain is on his legs again,
and waving his gun in joy aloft.  The eagle is slain, and downwards with
drooping head and outstretched pinions is falling lakewards.  Then the
lure, rent in ribbons, is drawn back, and Rory, the lightest of the
three, prepares to descend.  He laughs as he puts his limbs through the
bight.

"Troth, I'll have the youngsters up in a brace of shakes," he says, "now
the ould mother of them is slain.  And there isn't a taste of danger in
the whole business.  Lower away."

And they do lower away slowly and steadily.  Rory disappears, and
Allan's heart sinks and seems to descend with his friend.  A thousand
times rather would he have gone down himself, but Rory had opposed this
wish with the greatest determination; _he_ was the lightest weight, and
it was _his_ privilege.

They watch the signalman; he stands with one arm aloft, and they lower
away until that arm falls suddenly by his side.  Then they stop, and the
"pawl" holds the windlass fast.  Rory has reached the eyrie, he grasps
the rock, and scrambles on to the projecting ledge.

"Shut your mouths now, and be quiet with you," he says to the woolly
young eaglets; "there's neither bite nor sup shall go into the crops of
you until you're safe in Arrandoon."

He placed the birds in the basket, tied it to the rope, signalled to
McBain, who signalled to the cliff by raising two arms, and up to the
brink went the precious burden.  A few minutes afterwards and the rope
once more dangled before Rory's eyes.

But why does poor Rory turn so pale, and why does he tremble so, and
crouch backward against the wet rock's side?

The rope dangles before his eyes, it is true, but it dangles _a goodly
foot beyond his reach_.  The top of the cliff projects farther than the
eyrie itself; in his descent the rope had oscillated with his weight,
and he had unknowingly been swung on to the ledge of rock.  But who now
will swing him the empty bight of rope?

Rory recovered himself in a few moments.  "Action, action," he said
aloud, as if the sound of his own voice would help to steel his nerves.
"Action alone can save me, I _must_ leap."

As he spoke he cleared the ledge of rock of the rotting sticks and of
the bones, for these might perchance impede his feet, and signalled to
McBain to lower the rope still farther.  Then he stood erect and firm,
leaning backwards, however, against the precipice, for nearly a minute.
Rory is no coward, but see, he is kneeling down with his face to the
cliff; he is seeking strength from One more powerful than he.

Reader, at five bells in the morning watch on board a man-o'-war, the
midshipmen are roused from their hammocks, and many of them kneel beside
their sea-chests for some minutes before they dress, and not one of
these did I ever know who was not truly brave at heart, or who failed to
do his duty in the hour of danger.

Now Rory is erect again, his elbows and back are squared, his hands half
open, his face is set and determined, and now he--he springs.

Has he caught it?  Yes; but he cannot hold it.  It is slipping through
his grasp, struggle as he may; but now, oh! joy, his foot gets in the
bight, and he is saved!

He is soon to brink, and his comrades receive him with a joyful shout
Rory says but little; but when they reach the head of the glen he runs
forward at the top of his speed to meet McBain.

"McBain," he says, quickly, "not one word of what you saw, to either
Ralph or Allan."

"Give me your hand, dear boy," replied McBain, with a strange moisture
in his eyes; "I appreciate your kindly motive as much as I admire the
brave heart that prompts it."

CHAPTER SIX.

CRUISING ROUND THE HEBRIDES--CAUGHT IN A "PUFF"--MAN OVERBOARD--DINNER
ON THE CLIFF--BRIGHT PROSPECTS.

Three months have passed away since the adventure at the eagle's nest.
So swiftly, too, they have fled that it seems to our heroes but
yesterday that the little cutter spread her white sails to the wind, and
headed down the loch for Fort Augustus.  And all the time they have been
cruising, with varied fortunes, up and down among the Western Isles.
When I say that the time has passed swiftly, it is equivalent to telling
you that the brave crew of the _Flower of Arrandoon_ have enjoyed
themselves, and this again you will readily guess is equivalent to
saying that it had not been all plain sailing with them; had it been so,
the very monotony of such a cruise, and the lack of adventure, would
have rendered it distasteful to them.  In this bright, beautiful world
of ours you may find seas in which, during the months of summer, you can
cruise in the most flimsy of yachts, among islands, too, as lovely as
dreamland, where the wind is never higher than a gentle breeze, nor the
waves than a ripple, and where danger is hardly ever to be encountered;
but such a _dolce far niente_ existence is not for youth; youth should
be no lotus-eater, and so McBain had done well in choosing for his young
pupils the cruising ground on which they now were sailing.  They had had
a taste of all kinds of Highland summer weather--true it had been mostly
fine--but many a stiff breeze they had had to face nevertheless, and
they soon learned to do so cheerily, and to feel just as happy under
their glittering oilskins and sou'-westers, with half a gale tearing
through the rigging, and the spray dashing most uncomfortably in their
teeth and eyes, as they did when, with all sail set, they glided calmly
over the rippling sea, the sun shining brightly overhead, and the purple
mist of distance half hiding the rugged mountains.  McBain knew exactly
what the cutter could do, and to use his own phrase, he just kept her at
it.  In fact he got to love the boat, and he used to talk about her as a
living thing.  And so she really appeared to be, for although she almost
invariably did all that was required of her, there were days when she
seemed to evince a will and determination of her own, and to want to
shake herself free of all control.

"Wo, my beauty?"  McBain would say when she was particularly
disobedient, talking to her as if she were a restless hunter; but he
would smile quaintly as he spoke, for the vessel's little eccentricities
only served to show off his seamanship.  He said he knew how to manage
her, and so he did.  So he used to play with her, as it were, while in a
sea-way or on a wind, and delighted in showing off her good qualities.
Not that he did a great deal of the manual labour himself.  Was he not
master, and were not Ralph, Allan, and Rory not only his crew, but his
pupils as well?  It would have been unfair to them, then, if they had
not been allowed to do all they had a mind to, and that, I assure you,
was nearly everything that was to be done.  But McBain had all the
orders to give when sailing, especially if there was a bit of a blow on.

I am rambling on with my tale now in a kind of a gossiping fashion; but
it is not without a purpose.  I wish you to know as clearly as possible
what manner of man McBain was, because you will see him in several
different strange positions before he finally disappears from off the
boards.

Well, then, when giving his orders, he never talked a bit louder nor
quicker than there was any occasion for.  He knew by experience that a
command given in a sharp, loud key, was very likely to cause nervousness
and slight confusion in obeying it.  Woe is me for your officers on
board big ships--and there are many of them too--who, while giving
orders, strut about the decks, and stamp and yell at their men; they do
but excite them, and cause them to give proof of the proverb, "The more
hurry the less speed."  More than once have I seen a good ship's safety
jeopardised in a squall, and all through this fault in the officer
carrying on duty.  But you see McBain loved the crew--he loved "his
boys," as he was fond of calling them, and he was wishful to impart to
them in a friendly way all the knowledge of boats that he himself
possessed.

If you had called McBain a sailor, he would have replied,--

"No, sir, I'm not a sailor; I'm only a boatman, or a fisherman if you
like it better."

But this was only McBain's modesty.  A sailor by profession he certainly
was not, although he had, as I before told you, spent a portion of his
younger life at sea; but from his infancy he was used to rough it, not
only on the stormy lakes of the inlands, but in open or half-decked
boats all along the western shores of romantic Scotland, and that, too,
in winter as well as in summer; nor was there a loch, nor cape, nor kyle
he did not know every bearing of, from Handa Isle in the north,
southwards as far as the Ross of Mull.  And that is saying a great deal,
for on that wild, indented coast, exposed as it is to the whole force of
the wide Atlantic, stormy seas are met with and sudden squalls, such as
are happily but little known on the shores of Merrie England.

"He _is_ a good seaman, isn't he?"  Rory had said one day to old Ap,
referring, of course, to McBain.

"Is it seamanship you talk of?" old Ap replied.  "Look, you see, sir;
I'd rather be in a herring boat with McBain in half a gale of wind,
although he was managing the sails by himself look, you see, and
steering with his teeth or knees, so to speak, than I'd be in a 200-ton
schooner, with a score of dandified yachtsmen; yes, yes, indeed."

Hearing old Ap talk thus enthusiastically about quiet, non-assuming
McBain, the latter gained an ascendency in Rory's estimation that he
never after lost.

Often, in fact as a rule, McBain smiled when he gave an order to his
boys, but his was not a stereotyped smile.  His smile played not only
around his lips, but it danced around his eyes and lighted up all his
face.  It was not, however, so much the smile of mirth as that of
genuine good-heartedness.

Often, even when in a difficult position, he would allow the young men
to handle the boat according to their own judgment, but at the same time
his grave grey eyes would be cautiously watching their every movement,
and his hand would be ready at a moment's notice to grasp a sheet or
rectify a foul, and so prevent unpleasantness.  I am not sure that
McBain's method of teaching was not somewhat unique in many ways, but it
was at times very effective.

"I'm not sorry that this should have happened, my boys," was one of
McBain's favourite expressions, after any little accident or mishap.
His crew knew well that he meant that a lesson given roughly, and sent
well home, was likely to be remembered.

One day, for example, with Rory as steersman, their course led them
pretty close to the passenger boat _Crocodile_.  Perhaps they needn't
have gone near enough to have most of the wind taken out of their sails,
and their way considerably lessened; perhaps, though, Rory was just a
little proud of his pretty vessel, and of being looked at by the lady
passengers, looked at and probably admired; be this as it may, he forgot
a warning that McBain had often given him, to have an easy sheet for the
sudden rush of wind that would meet them, immediately after passing to
leeward of anything, and so, on this particular day, his pride had a
most disagreeable fall, and he himself, with the rest of his companions,
had a good wetting, for down went the _Flower of Arrandoon_ on her beam
ends as soon as they had cleared the _Crocodile_.  But she was well
ballasted, the sliding hatch was on, and when sheets were eased she
righted again, though it was a considerable time before _Rory_ righted
again.

McBain shook himself a bit, much in the same way that a Newfoundland dog
does.

"I'm not sorry that this should have happened," he said, quietly.

Rory was, though.  Especially when Ralph laughed pointedly at, or
towards him.

Well, but another day Rory had his revenge, and the laughing was all on
the other side.

It happened thus: they were cracking on nicely with every inch of canvas
spread, sailing pretty close to the wind.  The light breeze was on to
the land, from which they were distant about a mile and a half, and
although the sea was very far from being rough, there was a bit of a
swell rolling in.  Now Ralph was tall, and stout, and strong; he was no
feather-weight therefore, but for all that the cutter did not require
him to sit upon her weather gunwale, in order to keep her from
capsizing.  She could have done just as well had he kept on the seat,
and by so doing he would have been consulting his own safety.  Many a
time and oft had McBain pointed this out to him, but he seemed forgetful
on this particular point, and so, on the day in question, he was lazily
occupying the forbidden quarter.  One would have thought that the saucy
wee yacht had done it on purpose; be that as it may--when down in the
trough between two seas she simply gave a kind of a swing--hardly a
lurch--in the wrong direction for Ralph's stability, and over he went,
literally speaking, heels over head, into the sea, a most ungraceful and
unscientific way of taking to the water.

Both Allan and Rory knew well that their friend could swim, and the
latter at all events seemed to treat the affair as a very pretty piece
of entertainment.

"Man overboard?" he shouted.  "Let go the life-buoy, Allan."

Instinctively Allan did as he was told, and sent the big cork ring
flying after Ralph, but seeing the merry twinkle in Rory's eye, and
knowing there was no necessity for it, he repented having done so next
minute.

"Lower away your dinghy," cried McBain to Allan, as he hauled the
headsails to windward and stopped the cutter's way, "it will be a bit of
practice for you."

Allan was pulling away astern two minutes after in the little boat,
dignified by the undignified name of dinghy, for she was very tiny
indeed, but Allan could have sculled a wash-tub.

He soon met Ralph coming ploughing and spluttering along, breasting the
billows, for he was a powerful young swimmer, with the life-buoy in
front of him, which, however, he scorned to make use of.

"Take your little joke on board," he cried laughing.  Allan picked up
the buoy and threw Ralph a rope.

"That's better," said Ralph, and in a few minutes more they were
alongside and on board.

Rory was singing "A life on the ocean wave," and the merry twinkle had
not left his eyes.

When Ralph had changed his dripping clothes for dry ones, and reappeared
looking somewhat blue, Rory had his laugh out, and all hands were fain
to join.

"I caught a crab indeed," said poor Ralph.

"Caught a crab is it?" cried Rory.  "It wasn't a crab but a turtle you
turned.  Och! it was the beautifulest sight ever I saw in the world to
see the long legs of you go up.  You know, Ralph, my brother tar, you
couldn't see it yourself, or it's delighted you'd have been entirely!"
and Rory laughed again till the tears came into his eyes.

"I'm not sorry that this happened," said McBain, "after all."

For her size I do not think there was a more comfortable little yacht
afloat than the _Flower of Arrandoon_.  Small though the box was they
called by courtesy the saloon, it was fitted with every comfort, and
there was not an inch of space from stem to stern that was not well
economised for some useful purpose.  One useful lesson in yacht life our
heroes were not long in learning, and that was to put everything back
again in its proper place as soon as it was done with; in other words,
the circumstances under which they were placed taught them tidiness, so
that there was no lubberliness about their little ship.  And everything
in and about her was the perfection of cleanliness and neatness, for
they were not only the crew, but the cook and the cabin-boy as well.
And so, plain woodwork was as white as snow, paint-work clean, polished
wood looked as bright as the back of a boatman beetle, and brass shone
like burnished gold.  Their meals they managed to serve up to time, and
cooking was performed by means of a spirits-of-wine-canteen.

But it is not the cruise of the _Flower of Arrandoon_ I am writing, else
would I love to tell you of all the adventures our heroes had among
these islands, and how thoroughly they enjoyed themselves.  No wonder
they felt well, and happy, and jolly; no wonder that Allan said to his
companions, one beautiful day early in August, "I do wonder that more
fellows don't go in for this sort of life."

They had just been dining gipsy-fashion on shore when he made the
remark.  They were reclining on the top of a high cliff on the western
coast of Skye.  Far down beneath them was the sea, the blue Minch,
bounded on the distant horizon by the rugged mountains of Harris and
Lewis.  To their right lay the rocks of the Cave of Gold; beyond that,
on a lofty promontory, the ruins of Duntulm Castle; then green hills;
while downwards to the left sloped the land until quite on a level with
the water; and there in a little natural harbour of rock lay the yacht,
looking, as Rory always said, as tidy and neat as nine pins, but
wonderfully diminutive as seen from the spot where Allan McGregor and
his friends were indolently lounging.

The day was exceedingly bright and beautiful, the sun shone with
unclouded splendour, the hills were purple-painted with the heather's
bloom, and the air was laden with the perfume of the wild thyme.

No one answered Allan's remark; perhaps everybody was thinking how
pleasant it all was, nevertheless.

"Boys!" said Ralph, at length.

"Hullo!" cried all hands, but nobody moved a muscle.

"Boys!" said Ralph, in a louder key.

"That means `attention,'" said Allan, sitting up.  All hands followed
his example.

"Och! then," cried Rory, "just look at Ralph's face.  Sure now if we
could believe that the dear boy possesses such a thing as a mind, we'd
think there was something on it."

"Well," said Ralph, smiling, "I sha'n't keep you longer in suspense; the
letter I got to-day from Uig brought me--that is, brought _us_--glorious
news."

"And you've kept it all this time to yourself?" said Rory.  "Och! you're
a rogue."

"I confess," said Ralph, "it was wrong of me, but I thought we could
talk the matter ever so much more comfortably over after dinner,
especially in a place like this.

"I've got the best father in the world," said Ralph, with an emphasis,
and almost an emotion, which he did not usually exhibit.

"No one doubts it," said Allan, somewhat sadly; "I wish I had a father."

"And I," said Rory.

"Well, would you believe it, boys?" continued Ralph, "he now in this
letter offers me what we all so much desire a real yacht, a big,
glorious yacht, that may sail to any--clime and brave the stormiest
seas.  He said that though I had never even hinted my wishes, he
gathered from my letters that my heart was bent upon sailing a yacht,
and that his son should own one worthy of the family name he bore.  Oh!
boys; aren't you happy?  But what ails you?"

He looked from the one to the other as he spoke.

"What ails you?  What ails you both, boys?  Speak."

"Well!" said Rory, "then the truth is this, that the same thought is
running through both our two minds at once.  And there is only one way
out of the trouble.  We won't go with you, there!  We won't go in your
yacht, in _your_ yacht.  Mind you, Ralph, dear boy, I say we won't go in
_your_ yacht."

"That's it," said Allan, repeating Rory's words; "we won't go in _your_
yacht."

"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed Ralph, right heartily.  Then he jumped to his
feet, and smilingly doffing his cap, "I respect your Celtic pride,
gentlemen," he said.  "It shall not be _my_ yacht.  It shall be _our_
yacht, and _we'll go shares in expenses_."

"Spoken like men, every one of you," roared McBain, no longer able to
restrain himself.  "I'm proud of my boys.  Indeed, indeed, old McBain is
proud of his pupils."

And he shook hands with them all round.  This is Highland fashion, you
know, reader.

They spent fully four hours longer on that cliff-top; they had so much
to talk of now, for new prospects were opening out before them, and they
determined to try at least to turn them to good account.

The sun was setting ere they reached their little vessel once again, and
prepared to turn in for the night.

CHAPTER SEVEN.

A SUMMER'S DAY AT SEA--STRANGE SCENERY--THE SQUALL--ADVENTURE AMONG
BOTTLE-NOSED WHALES--THE "SNOWBIRD."

The cutter yacht had been riding at anchor for two whole days and nights
in the beautiful little bay of Talisker.  This bay lies on the
west-by-south side of the wonderful Isle of Wings, which we call Skye,
and forms, in fact, the mouth or entrance to one of the prettiest glens
in all the Highlands.  [It is called in the Gaelic language "the winged
island," owing to its peculiar formation.]  Let me try to describe it to
you then in a few words, but I shall be very clever indeed if I can give
you anything like a just conception of its beauty.  Suppose you have
been standing in from the sea, and have just dropped anchor at the mouth
of the glen, which is not more than half a mile in width, you will find
on your right hand and on your left tall beetling cliffs, the tops of
which are often hidden by the clouds.  You may judge of their height
when I tell you that the eagles have built their nests for ages on the
southern rock.  The bay itself is perfectly crescentic, receiving in its
centre the waters of a fine salmon stream, while its waves break upon
silver sand instead of the usual shingle.  The bottom of the glen is
perfectly flat, and occupied by well-tilled land; its sides descend
precipitously from the table-land above, so much so that the burns or
streamlets that form after every summer shower come roaring down over
them in white foaming cascades.  The upper end of the glen is wooded,
and from above the trees peep out the white chimneys of the mansion
house of Talisker.  This glen or ravine ends in a sugar-loaf mountain of
great height, the little pathway to the top of which winds round and
round, so that looking at it from below it reminds you forcibly of the
pictures of the Tower of Babel, as seen in old-fashioned illustrated
Bibles.

Our heroes had been enjoying themselves, fishing in the stream all day,
dining with the hospitable squire in the evenings, and going off at
nights to sleep on board their little yacht.

"Boys," said McBain, early in the morning of the third day, "rouse out
like good fellows."

Rory and Allan were soon stirring.  Ralph contented himself with simply
turning himself round in his oblong hammock, and feebly inquiring,--

"What's the matter?"

"What's the matter?" said McBain, sitting down near him; "this is the
matter--the morning is far too bright to please me; there is a little
wind from the nor'ard, and it seems increasing, and the glass is
tumbling down, and we can't lie here unless we want to leave the bones
of the _Flower of Arrandoon_ to bleach on the sands."

"Och!" cried Rory, in his richest brogue; "it's very wrong of you to
bother the poor English crayture so much.  Bring him a cup of tea and
leave him alone."

But Ralph was now fully aroused, and three minutes afterwards the three
friends were splashing and dashing in the sea, mounting the rollers,
diving and treading water, laughing and joking, and making more noise
than all the gulls and kittywakes that screamed around them.

McBain had stopped on board to cook the breakfast, and it was all ready
by the time they were dressed--fresh salmon steaks, new-laid eggs, and
fragrant coffee.

"Now then, my lads," cried McBain, "on deck all of you, and stand by to
get the anchor up.  I've sent a message to the squire, saying we must
start, and bidding him good-bye for the present.

"Which way are we going, captain?" asked Rory.

"Up north, my lad," was the reply.  "Portree is our destination, and
though by going south we would have a favouring wind at first, we would
never get past Loch Alsh; besides, if you look at the chart you'll find
that northwards is nearer.  And now, Rory, please, no more talk; you
just untie the mainsail cover and undo the tyers, that's your work,
because you're neat."

"Thank you," said Rory.

"Mainsheet all right?"

"All right, sir."

"Well, heave away and shorten cable.

"So--top the boom, hook on, hoist together.  Up goes the gaff.  Well
done, lads, and handily.  Belay--why, I have hardly to speak.  Well done
again.  Now, if your sheets are shipshape, up with the jib and foresail.

"Trip the anchor, and on board with it.  There we are, Rory; we're going
on the starboard tack a little way; just cant her head.  Now she feels
it.  Belay halyards, and coil the slack.  That's right and not lubberly.
Rory, you'll make the best sailor of the lot of us.  No, never mind the
topsail for a bit.  Presently though.  Now I'll steer for a little.  We
may have a puff when we clear the cliffs.  Meanwhile, hoist your morsel
of ensign, and, Rory, fire that farthing gun of yours."

"The farthing gun made a deal of noise for the price of it, anyhow,"
said Rory.

Hardly had the sound ceased reverberating from among the cliffs, when
two white puffs of smoke rose up from under the nearest tree, and then,
bang! bang! came the sound towards them.  "Good-bye" it seemed to say.
It was Macallum, the keeper, with his double-barrelled gun.

There was not much of a breeze after all, and plenty of sail being
carried, they bowled along beautifully on the starboard tack, sailing
moderately, but not _too_ close to the wind.  Although every now and
then the cutter elevated her bows, and brought them down again with a
peevish thud that sent the spray flying from stem to stern, nobody
minded that a bit; the weather was warm, the water was warm, and besides
they were all encased in oilskins.

Indeed it was one of the most enjoyable cruises they had ever had,
counting from their departure from Glen Talisker to their arrival at
Portree.  McBain knew the coast well.  He did not hug it, neither did he
put far out to sea; he put her about on the other tack shortly, as if he
meant to go up Loch Bacadale.  Presently they were not far off Idrigail
Point, and the cutter was once more laid on the starboard tack, and
sails being trimmed, and everything working well, there was time for
conversation.

"Shall I steer?" said Rory, who was never happier than when he was "the
man at the wheel."

"Not just yet," said McBain; "when we're round Point Aird, very likely
I'll let you do as you please; but, boys, I've got that falling glass on
the brain, and I want to take every advantage, and fight for every
corner."

"Look now, Ralph and Rory, you've never been so close in-shore before.
Allan, don't _you_ speak, you have.  The day is bright and clear; do you
see McLeod's Table?"

"The never a table see I," said Rory.

"Well," continued McBain, "that lofty mountain with the flat top is so
called."

"And a precious big feast McLeod could spread there too," said Allan.

"And a precious big feast he did one time spread," replied McBain, "if
an old Gaelic book of mine is anything to go by."

"Tell us," cried Rory, who was always on tiptoe to hear a tale.

"It would seem, then, that the McLeods and the McDonalds were, in old
times, deadly foes; although at times they appeared to make it up, and
vowed eternal friendship.  The chief McLeod invited the McDonalds once
to a great `foy,' and after eating and drinking on the top of that great
hill, until perhaps they had had more than enough, three hundred armed
Highlanders sprang from an ambush among the rocks and slew the McDonalds
without mercy.  Their flesh was literally given to the eagles, as Walter
Scott expresses it, and their bones, which lay bleaching on the mountain
top, have long since mouldered to dust.

"On another occasion," continued McBain, "the McLeods surprised two
hundred McDonalds at worship, in a cave, and building fires in front of
it, smothered them.  The poor half-burned wretches that leapt out
through the flames speedily fell by the edge of the sword."

"What cruel, treacherous brutes those McLeods must have been," remarked
Ralph.

"Well," said McBain, "war is always cruel, and even in our own day
treachery towards the enemy is far from, uncommon; but, mind you, the
McDonalds were not sinless in this respect either.  A chief of this bold
clan once invited a chief of the McLeods to dinner in his castle of
Duntulm."

"I wouldn't have gone a step of my toe," cried Rory.

"But McLeod did," said McBain, "and he went unarmed."

"Ha! ha!" laughed Allan; "it strikes me they were playing the rogue's
game of `confidence.'"

"Something very like it, but McDonald apparently didn't know how kind to
be to his guest, and pressed him to eat and drink _galore_, as we say.
McDonald even showed McLeod to his bedroom, and, for the first time
perhaps in his lifetime, poor McLeod began to quake when he found
himself within the donjon-keep.

"`There is your bedroom,' said the stern McDonald.  `Yonder is where
your body will lie, and yonder is where your bones will repose when the
rats have done with them.'

"McLeod would have tried to rush out, but strong arms were there to
thrust him back.  No one came near the prisoner for two days, then
through the barred window food was handed him, salt-sodden flesh and a
flask of water.  He ate greedily, then applied the jar to his lips to
quench his thirst.  Horror! the water was seawater."

"And he perished of thirst?" inquired Ralph.

"So the story goes," replied McBain.

"A chief of the McLeods," said McBain, "one of the very, _very_ oldest
of the chiefs, had a large family of grown-up daughters, and they
wouldn't always obey the old man, and one day, instead of attending upon
him--for he was blind--they went to bathe and disport themselves among
the billows, but a sea-nymph came and turned them all into stone."

"And served them right," said Rory.

"And there they stand; those tall black rocks, well in towards the point
yonder, with the white waves dashing among their feet.  They are called
McLeod's maidens until this day."

"Well," said Ralph, with a quiet smile, "there is no mistake about it--
there were giants in those days."

They were nearly at Dunvegan Head by this time, standing, in fact, well
in towards it on the port tack, for the waters are deep even close
in-shore.  When they had left it on the beam they opened out broad Loch
Follart, when McBain, pointing landwards, said,--

"In there is a little bay, called Loch Bay, and by it a rural hamlet or
village, which is claimed as the real capital of Skye.  It is called
Stein."

"But see, see," cried Rory.  "Is that a geyser rising out of the sea
between us and the shore?"

"Why, it is very like a fountain," said Ralph.

"It is very like a whale," said Allan, and McBain laughed.

"It is a whale," he added.  "It is the solitary, or caa'in' whale, and
the rascal is in there after the herrings.  A more independent brute
doesn't swim in the sea.  He ignores a boat.  He looks upon mankind as
poor, miserable, puny creatures, and I don't think he would go very far
out of his way for a line-of-battle ship."

An hour or two afterwards they came in sight of Duntulm Castle,
previously having passed the little church of Kilmuir, with its
bleak-looking stone-built manse.  Near it is a graveyard, which had very
great interest for poetic Rory.

"Poor Flora McDonald!" he almost sighed.  "I always think that Prince
Charlie should have taken her away with him to sunny Italy and married
her.  How beautifully the story of the ill-fated prince would have read
had it ended thus!"

"Rory," said Ralph, "I'll leave you to dream and romance while I go and
see about the luncheon."

"So like an Englishman," said Rory.

"Never mind," replied Ralph; "we can't be all alike.  What if I _do_
prefer roly-poly to romance; don't the English win all their battles on
beefsteak?"

"Yes, it is time for you to dive in," said Rory, laughing; "but there,
hand out my fiddle and I'll forgive you.  If the sea-nymphs will only be
kind now," he continued, "and keep me dry, I'll play and sing you
something appropriate."

He did, in his sweet tenor voice, accompanying himself with his
favourite instrument.  He sang them the old song that begins:

  "Far over the hills and the heather so green,
  And down by the corrie that sings to the sea,
  The bonnie young Flora sat weeping alane,
  The dew on her plaid and the tear in her e'e.
  She looked at a boat with the breezes that swung,
  Away on the wave like a bird of the main,
  And ay as it lessened, she sigh'd and she sung,
  `Fareweel to the lad I shall ne'er see again.'"

"'Deed, indeed," said Rory, in his richest brogue, and with a moisture
in his eye, "it is very pretty, and would be romantic entirely if the
frizzle, _frizzle, frizzle_ of that Saxon's frying-pan wouldn't join in
the chorus."

"Ham and eggs, boys; ham and eggs?" cried Ralph.  "Away with
melancholy."

Not far from Duntulm Castle was a house, of which our friends bore the
kindliest of recollections, for here they had been most hospitably
entertained.

"I wonder," said Ralph and Rory, almost in the same breath, "if they'll
see us and know us."

"Fire your gun again, anyhow, Rory," said McBain.

The gun was run in, loaded and fired, and they had the satisfaction of
seeing their friends in the garden waving welcome to them with a
Highland plaid.  Then the ensign was dipped, the headsails hauled to
leeward again, and away they went.

But see, it is getting wonderfully dark ahead, and a misty cloud seems
rapidly nearing them, with a long white line right under it.

"Stand by the jib-sheet," cried McBain.  "Ease away; now luff, my lady."

The cutter was laid nearly lee-rail under, but she bore it wonderfully
well.  Then sail was taken in, for, said McBain, "We'll have more of
these gentry."  And so they had, and it was more than an hour ere they
doubled Ru-Hunish Point, and bore away for the Aird.  Once round here
the danger was over, and they were no longer on a lee shore.

I myself never could see the good of a squall, either white or black,
and either of them are dangerous enough in all conscience when they take
you unawares, but it is said there is good in all things.  Be this as it
may, the squalls the cutter had gone through seemed to clear the summer
air in a remarkable manner, for even the glass began to rise, and with
it the spirits of those on board.

It was a fair wind now all the way to Portree, and they made the best of
it, Rory being once more in his favourite seat with tiller in hand.
Past that mysterious mountain called Quiraing, onwards and past the
tartan rock, over the precipitous sides of which a cataract was pouring
into the sea, so that you might have sailed a boat between the water and
the cliff; past the bay of Steinscholl, past the point of Braddan, past
the strange weird rocks of Storr, with Rona Isle and Raasay on the
weather beam, and the wild white hills of Cuchullin in full view in the
far distance, and past Prince Charlie's cave itself, and now they keep
her in more towards the shore, for they are not far from the loch of
Portree.  Just past the cave they sail through a fleet of fishing boats.
The men on board seem greatly excited.  They have hauled in their oars,
and stand by with great stones in their hands--part of the boat's
ballast--as if watching for a coming foe.  But where is this foe?  Why,
look ahead, the whole sea for half a mile is darkened with an immense
shoal of porpoises, driving straight towards the cutter and the boats,
turning neither to right nor left, leaping from the water, splashing and
dashing, and apparently wild with glee.  Small respect have these "sea
pigs," as they are termed in the native language, for the poor
fishermen's nets; if the nets happen to come in their way, through they
go, and there is an end of it.  How the men shout and scream, to be
sure!  The bottle-noses take not the slightest heed of them; they are in
their own element, so on they come and on they go, the wild shouts of
the fishermen are nothing to them, and the stones thrown glide
harmlessly off their greasy backs; but they are gone at last, gone like
a whirlwind, and the boatmen are left lamenting over their bad luck and
their broken nets.

Three hours after this the storm came on in earnest, but the little
yacht lay snug at her moorings, and her owners were sipping their coffee
after a good dinner in peace.

It was quite late that night before they retired.  It mattered little in
one way at what time they turned in, for there was small likelihood that
the storm now raging across the island would abate before twelve hours
at least.  And what do you think they talked about?  Why, the sea, the
sea, and nothing but the sea, and wild adventures here and there in many
lands.  Again and again they plied McBain with questions about that
strange country up in the frozen north, where it was said the mammoth
caves lay.  And McBain told them all he knew, and all he had ever heard
concerning them.  It was determined that northwards they should sail and
nowhere else.

"What shall we call our coming queen?" said Rory.  "What shall we name
the yacht?"

"Oh! wait till we see her first," said Allan.

"Ridiculous!" cried the impetuous Rory.  "No, let us call her the
_Snowbird_."

CHAPTER EIGHT.

ROLLING HOME--A ROUGH PASSAGE--THE WELCOME BACK--THE WAY A SAILOR
SLEEPS.

When the royal eagle, the bird of Jove, paid a visit to the Castle of
Arrandoon, and dropped so daringly into the poultry yard, intent only on
turkey, it will be remembered that his presence created no little
commotion, but I question if the din of even that memorable morning
equalled the hubbub that arose when Allan and his friends returned from
their four months' cruise in the cutter.

A letter from Oban had reached Mrs McGregor three days beforehand, so
that they were quite expected, and even the probable hour of their
arrival in the creek in Glentroom was known.

The voyage from Portree to Oban had been an uneventful one.  The wind
was favourable all the way, but strong enough to make a glorious passage
with a close-reefed mainsail and storm-jib, so they bowled along,
impatient now to get back to bonnie Arrandoon.  But they did not mind
the roughness of the passage; they did not mind the tumbling and the
tossing they got; they despised even the danger of being pooped.  They
made heavy weather just off Ardnamurchan Point McBain stuck to the
tiller, and for a whole hour, or more, perhaps, there was not a word
spoken by any one.  They are fearful cliffs, those around the wild
highlands of Ardnamurchan, black and wet and fearful; the largest ship
that ever floated would be dashed to pieces in a few minutes if it had
the misfortune to run amongst them.  Perhaps our heroes were thinking
how little chance their cockle-shell of a cutter would have, if she got
carried where near them, but they kept their thoughts to themselves, and
meanwhile the yacht was behaving like the beauty she was.  Indeed she
seemed positively to enjoy rolling homewards over these great, green,
foam-crested seas; for she bobbed and she bowed to the waves; she
curtseyed to them and she coquetted with them as if she were indeed a
nymph of the sea and a flirt as well.  Sometimes she would dip her
bowsprit into a wave, as if she meant to go down bows first, but in a
moment she had lifted her head again, and tossed the water saucily off,
ere ever it had time to reach the well; next she would flood the
lee-rail, and make the waves believe they could board her there, then
righting again in an instant, after a nod or two to the seas ahead, as
much as to say, "Please to observe what I shall do now," she would sink
herself right down by the stern, with the foam surging around her like a
boiling cauldron, but never admitted a drop.  There were times though,
when she sank so far down in the trough of the sea that her sails began
to shiver, yet for all that she was uphill again in a second or two, and
scudding onwards as merrily as ever.

The seas were shorter in Loch Sunart, they were choppy in the Sound of
Mull, and seemed to get bigger and rougher every other mile of the
journey; the crew were not sorry, therefore, when the anchor was let go,
and the mainsail clewed, in the Bay of Oban.

"_Why_," said Ralph, after dinner that day, "we haven't had such a
tossing all the cruise.  I declare to you, boys, that every bone of my
body aches from top to toe."  McBain laughed.

"You ought to go out," he said, "for a few nights with the herring
boats."

"Is it rougher," queried Ralph, "than what we have already gone
through?"

"Ten times," replied McBain.

"Then, if you please," said Ralph, "don't send me.  I'd rather be
excused, Captain McBain, I do assure you."

"And so our summer cruise is ended," said Allan, with something very
like a sigh.

"And haven't we enjoyed it too!" said Rory, who was lying on the sofa
locker, book in hand.  "Troth, boys," he added, "I didn't notice, till
this very minute, that my book was upside down.  It is dreaming I was
entirely.  Oh! those, beautiful mountains of the Cuchullin, raising
their diamond tops into the summer air, with the purple haze beneath
them, and the blue sea flecked with white-winged birds!  Scenery like
this I'll never get out of my head, and what is more I never wish to,
and if ever it does attempt to slip away, sure I've only to shut my eyes
and play that sweetest of old reveries, `Tha mi tinn leis a ghoal,' (The
Languor of Love), and it will all, all come back again."

"And we've had the very best of eating and drinking all the time, you
know," Ralph said.

"And it hasn't cost us much," added Allan.

Rory looked first at one and then at the other of his friends,
apparently more in sorrow than in anger; then he resumed his book, this
time with the right side up.

"I've been keeping tally," continued Allan, addressing himself more
particularly to McBain, "of all that our voyage has cost us, and taking
everything into consideration, I find that we couldn't have travelled
half so cheaply on shore, nor could we have lived as cheaply even at
home.  We did not pay much for the cutter and all her fittings, and if
we had cared to do a little more fishing, and sent more boxes of
lobsters down with the southern steamers, I think we would positively
have made a good deal of profit."

"You are thoroughly practical," said Ralph; "I like you for that."

"Well, but," said Allan, half apologetically, "neither of us, you know,
is extra rich, and I think it is some satisfaction to look back to a
time spent most pleasantly and enjoyably, without either extra
expenditure, or--or--what shall I say?"

"Prodigality," suggested Ralph.

"That word will do," said Allan; "but I do declare I'm nearly half
asleep."

"I expect," said McBain, trying to repress a yawn, "that we will all
sleep to-night without rocking."

Two hours afterwards they _were_ all asleep, and the yacht rose and fell
gently on the rippling water, the moon shone over the mountains, making
the houses in the little town all look as if their walls were marble and
their slated roofs were burnished gold.

They would have gone right up Loch Linnhe, instead of calling at Oban,
only Rory wished to do a little extra varnishing and gilding before
their return, so they stopped here for two days.

Yes, there is no mistake about it, there was a commotion in and around
the old castle.  As Allan and his friends came filing up the glen,
headed by Peter, who had gone to meet them with the bagpipes, in true
Highland fashion, I think the dogs were the first to hear the wild
joyous notes of the pibroch.  Every one of them found his way out into
the courtyard; the inner gate of the drawbridge was closed, so Oscar and
Bran stood and barked at it, just as if that would open it; the smaller
dogs yapped at their heels, for whatsoever Bran and Oscar did, the
collie and Skyes followed suit; every feathered biped about the place
joined in the chorus, and then, for just a moment, there was a slight
lull, and Allan's favourite pony was heard laughing loud and shrill to
himself in the stables.

"Och! and och!" cried old Janet, rushing out to open the gate for the
dogs, "it's the happy day for old Yonish (Janet) and it's the happy day
for the whole of us.  Go doggies, go craytures, and meet the dear
master!"

The dogs needed no pressing.  Headed by Bran, with Oscar in the rear--
for these dogs always kept up a certain decorum in presence of the
others--out they rushed, and next moment Allan was in the midst of them.

He would not check them in their glee for all the world, but, with Bran
on one side of him, and Collie on the other, and all the Skyes dancing
round his feet, it must be confessed that for fully five minutes he had
rather a rough time of it.  Oscar, after kissing his master on the ear,
picked off his hat, and trotted away back with it to the castle.

So Allan returned bareheaded, but laughing, to receive the affectionate
greetings of his mother and sister.  But who is that tall, handsome,
elderly gentleman in company with the latter?  You would have required
no answer to that question had you but seen the rich blood mantling in
Ralph's cheeks the moment he saw him, or marked the glad glitter in his
eyes.  He seemed to clear the drawbridge at a couple of bounds.

"Father! father!"

"Ralph, boy!"

"Your runaway son," said Ralph, laughing.

"My sailor boy!" said his father, smiling in his turn.

Those last words made Ralph's heart bound with joy.  He knew his father
well, and he knew when he said "my sailor boy" that he did not mean to
repent his promise anent the yacht.

Allan was talking to his mother and sister, Helen McGregor hanging on
his arm, and looking fondly up in his face.

But poor Irish Rory stood shyly by himself, close by the drawbridge
gate.  At present there was nobody to speak to him; for the time being,
at all events, there was no one to bid him welcome back.

"Och!" he said to himself, with a sigh, "the never a father nor mother
have I.  Sure I never remember feeling before that I was an orphan
entirely."

A big cold nose was thrust into his hand.  Then a great dog rubbed its
shoulder with rough but genuine kindness against his legs.  It was
Bran's mother, and her behaviour affected him so that he was almost
letting fall a tear on her honest head, when he suddenly spied old
Janet, and off went the cloud from his brow in a moment--and off went
he, to pump-shake the old lady by the hand, and vow to her that this was
the happiest day in his life.

And old Janet must needs wipe her eyes with her apron as she called him,
much to his amusement, "mo chree" and "mo ghoal" (love), and "the bonnie
boy that he was," and a hundred other flattering and endearing epithets,
that made Rory laugh and pump-shake her hand again, and feel on the
whole as merry as a cricket.  But when Helen herself came running
towards him, and placed both her hands in his and welcomed him "home,"
then his cup of joy was about full, and he entirely forgot he was an
orphan.  Then she dragged him over to her mother, and the first
greetings over--

"Isn't he sunburnt?" said Helen; "but do, mamma, look at Allan and his
friend."

"Well," said Allan, "what colour are we?"

"Oh, just like flower-pots," said Helen, laughing.

That same afternoon Allan was sitting talking to Rory in his "sulky,"
when in burst Ralph.  He had just returned from a long walk with his
father, and he was looking all over joyous.

"Why, what do you think, boys?" he cried, rubbing his hands, and then
making believe to punch Allan in the ribs; "what do you think, old man?"
he added.

"Something very nice, I'll be bound," said Allan, "or staid steady Ralph
would not be so far off his balance."

"It is pleasant in the extreme," said Ralph, taking a seat in front of
them, "and so very unexpected too.

"Now guess what it is."

"Oh; but we can't, we never could," said his friends.

"Out with it, Ralph," cried Allan, "don't keep us in `tig-tire.'"

"Yes, don't be provoking, Ralph," added Rory.

"Well, then," said Ralph, speaking very slowly, just a word at a time,
"father--has--been--down--to Cowes--and--bought--"

"The yacht!" cried Allan, interrupting him.  "Hurrah!"

"Just one moment, my boys," cried Rory.  "I must blow off steam or I'll
burst."  So saying, he seized his violin and commenced playing one of
the wildest, maddest Irish melodies ever they had listened to.  You
might have called the air a jig, but there was a certain sadness in it,
as there is in even the merriest of Ireland's melodies; tenderness
breathed through every bar of it.  You might have imagined while Rory
played that you saw his countrymen dancing at a wake, and heard even
their wild "Hooch!" but at the same time you could not help fancying you
saw the mourners crooning over the coffin, and heard the broken-hearted
wail of the coronach.

Both Allan and Ralph were pretty well used to all Rory's queer,
passionate, and impulsive ways, and so they always gave him what sailors
call "plenty of rope," and landsmen call "latitude."

When he had finished and quieted down, then did Ralph explain to his
friends all about the purchase of the yacht.

"Not a toy, mind you," he said, "a really first-rate seagoing
schooner-yacht, A1 at Lloyd's, and all that sort of thing.  New only
three years ago, copper fastenings, wire rigging, and everything
complete."

"And what is her size?" said Allan.

"Oh?" said Ralph, "there is plenty of room to swing a cat in her, I can
assure you; she is nearly two hundred tons."

"Two hundred tons! why she'll take some managing, won't she?"

"Father says she will be as easily sailed with the crew we will have,
and with ordinary caution, as our little cutter yacht."

"Of course," said Rory, "we will have trial trips and all that sort of
thing."

"Ay, ay, lad," said Ralph; "but don't you imagine that my father will
trust this fine yacht in such juvenile hands as ours, without an
experienced sailing-master being on board."

"And I wonder who that will be," said Rory, "for you know we wouldn't
take to every stranger."

"Boys," said Allan, "I don't think we will have a stranger over us as
sailing-master.  I can tell you a bit of a secret; or perhaps, Ralph,
you can guess it, if I ask you a question or two.  Well, then, what do
you think McBain has been studying his Rosser so earnestly for these
last many months?"

"I have it," cried Rory, "sure he's going to take out a Board of Trade
certificate as master."

"You're right," said Allan, "and I think he could take one now even, for
he is well up in navigation.  He is well up in logarithms, and a capital
arithmetician, I won't say mathematician, though he knows something of
mathematics as well.  He can take his latitude and longitude, and can
lay the place of a vessel on the chart.  He knows how to use his sextant
well, and can adjust it by the sun; he can take lunars and find his
latitude by a star, and he knows everything about compasses and
chronometers, and mind you that is saying a good deal.  And he can
observe azimuths too, and he knows many things more that I can't tell
you about; he says himself he can work a day's work well, and I for one
wouldn't mind sailing anywhere with him; but he doesn't mean going up
yet for three months.  McBain may be slow, but he is sure."

"And we know," said Rory, "he can pass in seamanship."

"I should think he could," said Allan; "in that respect I'm proud of my
foster-father; he can make sail and take it in, and work a ship in the
stormiest weather; he can secure a mast, or cut one adrift, and he can
rig a jury, and I needn't tell you he knows all about the lead and the
log-line.  Oh yes, he is a thorough seaman, and he is well up in
something else too, which I don't think the Board of Trade ever think of
examining people on.  He is a good weather prognosticator; he knows the
signs of the clouds, and from which direction the wind is likely to
blow, and by looking at the sea he can tell you the wind's force, and
whether the sea is going down or rising, and also the rate the ship is
going at.  Nor is the barometer a mere toy with him, it is a friend in
need, and positively seems to speak to him.  Well, boys, what else would
you have?  He is a sailor every inch, and dearly loves the sea; he tells
me, too, he can sleep like a sailor."

"How should a sailor sleep?" asked Ralph.

"Why, with one eye open, figuratively speaking," replied Allan.  "He
ought to be able to sleep soundly through all natural and legitimate
noises.  He ought to know the position of the ship before he lies down,
how her head is, what sail she carries, how the wind is, and how it is
likely to be, and whether the glass is rising, falling, or steady.  With
this knowledge, commending himself to the kind God who rules and governs
all things, his slumbers will be deeper and sweeter, I do verily
believe, than any that ever a landsman knows.  Rocked in the cradle of
the deep, the creaking of the ship's rudder will not awake him, nor the
labouring of her timbers, nor the dull thud of striking seas, nor the
howling of the wind itself; but let anything go wrong, let a sail carry
away, ay, or a rope itself, or let her ship more water than she ought to
with a good man at the wheel, then your sailor awakes, and very likely
his head will appear above the companion hatch about five seconds
afterwards."

"Allan," said Rory, "you're quite eloquent.  Troth, it strikes me you're
a sailor yourself, every inch of you."

"I should like to be," said Allan, earnestly.

"And so should we all," said Rory; "but, Ralph, dear boy," he added,
"where is this yacht?  Where is the _Snowbird_?"

"She is called the _Sappho_ at present," replied Ralph, "and she is
safely in dock at Dundee."

"Dundee?" exclaimed Rory, in some amazement.

"Yes, Dundee," repeated Ralph; "that is the place to fit out ships for
the far north.  You see, she'll want an extra skin on her to withstand
the ice, and she must be fortified, strongly fortified in the bows,
inside with wood and outside with iron.  Father told me all about it.
Father is very clever."

"And I know he is very, very good," said Rory; "but did you tell him
where we purposed cruising?"

"I did, of course," replied Ralph; "that was the reason he sent the
yacht to be fortified.  In my very last letter I explained all our hopes
and wishes to him."

"And what does he say?"

"Why, that an English gentleman, with youth on his side, ought to be
able to go anywhere and do anything."

"Bravely spoken," cried Allan.

"Bravely indeed," said Ralph; "but father added that in this great
cruise of ours we must not be rash."

"We will look upon that wish of your father's," said Allan, "as a sacred
command, never to be broken."

"That will we," said Rory, enthusiastically.

"And he advised us, when thoroughly fitted and ready for sea, not to go
right up icewards all at once, but to take Shetland on our way."

"That would indeed be nice," said Rory.  "I'll warrant we'll find many
things well worth seeing in both places."

"Yes," said Ralph, "and he says we should then bear up for Baffin's Bay,
and not attempt the far northern ice till we have done some exploring
there, and got acclimatised, and well versed in the knowledge and nature
of the ice.  `Working a ship,' he says, `among ice is very different
from ordinary seamanship.'  But look, there is father down in the
courtyard, playing with the dogs.  Let us all go down and join him."

CHAPTER NINE.

THE "SNOWBIRD" AT ANCHOR--PREPARATIONS FOR DEPARTURE--FAREWELL TO THE
LAND OF THE ROCK AND THE WILD WOOD.

The _Snowbird_ lay at anchor in the lake, not far from the creek where
the cutter used to swing, and just beneath the birch-clad braes of
Arrandoon.  A steady breeze was blowing from the west-sou'-west, a
breeze that made the landsman's heart glad.  It was a balmy wind and a
drying wind--a wind that chased away the winter from the glens, that
breathed encouragement to the green and tender corn peeping shyly up
from the brown earth; a wind that went sighing through the woods, and
whispered to the trees that spring had come; ay, and a breeze that
rejoiced the heart of the sailor; a breeze he liked to stand against,
and feel, and wave his arms in, as he gazed skywards, and longed to be
"up anchor and away."

And the saucy _Snowbird_ never felt a bit more saucy than she did that
morning.  She felt impatient, and she showed it, too, in many little
ways.  She pulled and "titted," as Ap phrased it, at her anchor; she
bent forwards and she bent sternwards; then she would roll, perhaps once
to port and twice to starboard, or _vice versa_, as the thought struck
her; then she would positively stop steady for a few moments, as if
listening for an order.

"What can the captain be thinking about?" she seemed to say.  "Why don't
they hoist the Blue Peter?  Oh! shouldn't I like to spread my wings in
this beautiful wind and be off!"

But we must leave the _Snowbird_ to herself for a little while,
impatient though she be, and pay a visit to the castle, from the higher
windows of which the yacht could be seen, both masts and hull.  Had we
come here about two weeks ago, we would have found a great deal of
bustle and stir going on, especially among the female portion of the
establishment, for Mrs McGregor and her gentle daughter Helen had, with
the help of their maids, undertaken the superintendence not only of the
upholstering and decoration of the cabins and staterooms of the
_Snowbird_, but of all the purely domestic arrangements therein.  This
had cost them months of work, and entailed besides a great many
journeys, not only to Inverness, but to Glasgow itself.  The duties they
had undertaken had been instigated by love, and they were not without
good results to the performers.  They had kept them from thinking.  An
only son and an only brother, Allan had never been very for away from
home as yet, and it is needless to say that he was very dearly loved
indeed.  But now that he was to leave his home and leave his country,
and to journey far over the sea, to lands unknown, where dangers were to
be encountered, the nature of which could hardly be guessed at, or even
dreamt of, it is no wonder that his mother and sister felt sad and
sorrowful as the time drew near for parting.

Ah! these partings, reader!  Surely one of the joys of heaven will be to
think we never again will have to breathe the painful word "Farewell."

And the _Snowbird_ was now ready for sea; all was done to her, inside
and out, that could be done.  Even the crew were on board, and, as soon
as Ralph should return with his father from the south, they would weigh
anchor, and the cruise would be begun in earnest.  If I were to analyse
the feelings uppermost in Mrs McGregor's mind at this time, I should
find sorrow without doubt, but no regrets at granting her boy permission
to roam over sea and land for a year or two.  Why, she reasoned, should
not she suffer bereavement for a little while as well as many other
mothers, when it would be for Allan's advantage and good?  So her
sadness never found vent in tears--at least nobody ever saw them.  She
went about as cheerfully, to all appearance, as before, only--and this
Allan felt and knew--she tried now to have her boy near her as often as
she could.  Helen was less brave.  Helen was but a girl, little more
than a child, and if the truth must be told, she very often cried
herself to sleep of nights.  Her mother used to find the pillow wet in
the morning, and well knew the cause.

But there was one thing they both could do--they could pray.  And what a
comfort that was!  Oh! what a weary, dreary wilderness this world of
ours would be if this power of praying were denied us, if we could not
appeal in times of grief or danger to our kind Friend, who is nigh us
everywhere, whether we are at peace and at home, or amidst the din and
strife of battle, or far away at sea, fighting for life 'mid billows and
tempest.  I myself have travelled much and far, and I have oftentimes
had reason to thank Him who gave me a mother who taught me to pray.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Rat, tat, tat! at the red parlour door, where the McGregor family and
Rory are enjoying quiet conversation.  Rat, tat, tat! and enter Peter,
as Rory more than once lately remarked, not looking like the same Peter
at all, at all; in fact, he was now a blue Peter, for he was rigged out
from top to toe in a suit of bran new pilot, cut shipshape and sailor
fashion, and very gay and sprightly Peter looked.

"Well, Peter," said Allan, "what is it?  You look as if you had seen a
ghost."

"And I'm not so sure I haven't; but pray, sir, come to the window in the
staircase, and look for yourself."

Rory and Allan both followed Peter.

"What call you that?" cried the latter, pointing to a white sail that
came skimming like a sea-bird across the dark bosom of the lake.

"Why, that is the cutter?" said Allan, in amazement.

"Or her ghost," said Peter, with a long face.

"Come on, Rory, to the creek," cried Allan, "and we'll meet her."

And they were just in time to see Ralph and his father land.

"Glad to see you both at last," said Allan; "but tell us what is the
meaning of this?  You went away to sell the _Flower_, and behold you
come back in her."

"My father," Ralph replied, "wouldn't part with her; he has bought her."

"Yes," said the knight smiling; "she is far too good to part with.  When
you sail, I will accompany you a few miles on your voyage.  And, please
God, when you return, I will be the first to welcome you in that same
boy's yacht."

Even my youngest readers know how quickly time flies when one wishes it
to linger, and the few days that intervened betwixt Ralph's return and
the sailing of the _Snowbird_ passed on eagle's wings.  Helen McGregor,
with a tiny bottle of wine that might have been sent from Elfinland for
the occasion, named the beautiful yacht.  Then there was a dinner on
board, at which every one tried to seem gay, but failed for all that.

Next day the wind was fair, and no time was lost in getting the anchor
up and setting sail for Inverness.  The ladies accompanied the
expedition so far in the _Snowbird_, then farewells were said, blessings
murmured, and once again the good yacht's foresails were filled, and she
bore bravely away up the Moray Firth, the little cutter keeping her
company until right off Fort George, when waving them once more a fond
adieu, the _Flower of Arrandoon_ was put about, and very soon the point
of land hid her from their view.

The cruise of the _Snowbird_ had begun in earnest.

The breeze was light, but well aft, so all sail was clapped on her, and
with her head north and by east, she glided slowly onwards as if loth to
leave the land.  We will take this opportunity of having a look over the
goodly yacht, that is destined to be the home of our heroes for many a
day to come.

The _Snowbird_ then was a schooner-yacht of nearly two hundred tons, as
well fitted and found for cruising in the northern seas as ingenuity
could make her.  Rising and falling, rocking and nodding on the waves,
with her white canvas spread out to the breeze, she looked a very pretty
craft indeed.  She had just enough free-board and enough breadth of beam
to make her safe and comfortable in a sea-way.  Her hull was painted
black, her ports only being picked out with vermilion; her masts were
rakish, but not too much so; her jibboom had the graceful bend that
sailors love to see, and every bit of her rigging, fore and aft, running
and standing, was as taut and trim as hands could make it, or eyes wish
to gaze upon.

Her deck was flush both fore and aft, with never a cabin or house
thereon, for the seas they would probably ship, in the wild ocean they
were about to traverse, would be little likely to brook obstruction.
Her decks were as white as snow, her brass-work shone like burnished
gold, her binnacle would have been an ornament even in a drawing-room,
every rope-end was neatly coiled, and not a bar nor a marling-spike was
out of its place.

Light and graceful though the _Snowbird_ appeared, she was nevertheless
well fortified and strong.  Hers was a double skin, one that would be
likely to resist the dread embrace of the ice king, while her bows were
of triple strength, and shod with bars of steel.  Her ballast was water
in unshiftable iron tanks.  Her boats were three in number, but of these
I may speak again, merely saying here that they were unique of the kind.

Let us go between decks and have a look at the living-rooms.  Entering
by the after companion, then, we find ourselves in the passage that
leads to the dining-saloon.  Here are the cabins of Ralph and Rory, and,
as the door of each stands invitingly open, we take a peep in.  They are
large and roomy; the sofas are covered with crimson velvet, the curtains
on the berths are of the same colour, and the pillows and counterpanes
therein are white as the driven snow.  There is a bookshelf in each,
filled with the owner's favourite authors, a little swing table, and a
silver spring-candlestick hung in gymbals, and the nattiest of marble
basin-stands; there is every comfort and luxury in these cabins, and the
bulkheads are adorned with pictures, and, wonderful to say, these cabins
do not even smell of varnish--no, but of sweet spring flowers, and I
need not tell you who placed the vases there.  Passing forward we enter
the saloon (_see plan_).  Here is a comfortable table, luxurious
ottoman, side-board, cushioned lockers, chairs, and stove, and
everywhere around us taste and luxury are displayed.  It was the hand of
an artist that painted those panels, that devised and positioned the
mirrors, and that hung those polished circular swing-tables, radiant as
the rainbow with sparkling coloured glass--there are three of these in
all, and so cunningly are they devised that they look like bouquets of
beautiful flowers pendent from stems of sterling silver.  The hanging
lamps, ay, and even the stoves and coal-vases in this saloon and in the
drawing-room, were works of art, but space warns me that I must enlarge
no more on the fittings of the rooms; in a word, then, comfort and
refinement reigned supreme in the between decks of the _Snowbird_.

The third mate and old Ap, with the second officer of the ship, had a
mess-place to themselves, and very snug it was.  The men messed forward,
and here, in the forecastle, a few hammocks were hung at night, but the
bulk of the crew slept under, where was plenty of room for bunks, and
plenty of warmth, with no lack of ventilation.  The cooking-range, or
galley-fire, was abaft the foremast, adjoining Ap's room and that of the
steward and third mate; and at sea, around this same galley-fire, both
men and second officers would find a snug retreat in many a long, long
winter's night in the stormy regions of the north; for here, when the
ship was snug, they would gather together and spin many a yarn about
their own adventurous lives, and their homes far away in Scotland.

But, so far as our heroes were concerned, the snuggest corner of the
ship was the drawing-room right aft.  Here was the library, and here the
piano, and a stove in the centre of the room, that all could sit around
and make themselves happy and generally jolly.

Captain McBain's room was next in size to the saloons, as befitted his
position.

The crew were twenty hands all told.  Ap was boatswain and carpenter;
our friend Peter was steward.  In addition to his duties as captain or
master of the yacht, McBain had been duly elected supercargo.  He had
seen to the victualling department, and the catering for all hands, both
fore and aft.  Rory got hold of his list one morning, and from the
extracts he read therefrom to his companions, it was evident that
Captain McBain had done his work right well.

"Why," said Rory, "I wouldn't mind a bit living forward among the crew,
for, in addition to preserved meats, and biscuits and butter, and
barley, and bacon and beans, they have pork and potatoes, and pepper,
and pickles, and peas, and raisins for pudding, and suet for dumplings,
and oatmeal and sugar, and coffee and tea.  But oh! boys! aren't _we_
going to live like fighting-cocks!  We have all the good things they've
got forward, and lots of cabin luxuries besides--potted milk and potted
meats, and potted fish of every name, and almonds and arrowroot, and
curries and capers, and all kinds of fruit, and jellies and jams galore.
But what is this?  I can understand the dried herbs and celery seed,
but Birmingham wares!  Old guns and beads!"

It was McBain's turn to laugh, as poor Rory, with a puzzled countenance,
looked beseechingly at him for an explanation.

"Indeed," was his reply, "it is those same old guns and those beads
we'll maybe have to eat when our stock of fresh provisions wears down."

"Oh!  I see," said Rory, a light suddenly breaking in on him.  "You mean
we'll barter them with the natives for food."

"Just so."

"Just so; and here is an item that proves how good an officer you are,
Captain McBain.  You are like a king, indeed, who is mindful of the
welfare and necessities of even his meanest subjects.  The item speaks
for itself: Dog biscuits, ten sacks."

Yes, reader, for independent of the crew all told there were on board
two passengers of the race canine--namely, honest Oscar, the Saint
Bernard, and Spunkie, the wildest and weirdest-looking Skye terrier that
ever barked in the kennels at Arrandoon.  These two dogs lived in the
forecastle, and very useful they ultimately proved, as the sequel will
show.

Two days more and our heroes had gathered on the quarter-deck, to have
the last look they would have for a long time on their native land.

Most of them gazed in silence at the rugged and wild scene to windward.
Their hearts were rather full to speak; but Rory, leaning on the
taffrail--he were nothing unless he were romantic, so he must needs say,
or sigh, or sing, I do not know which it was,--

  "`Farewell to the land of the rock and the wild wood,
  The hill and the forest, and proud swelling wave,
  To the land where bliss smiled on the days of our childhood,--
  Farewell to dear Scotland, the land of the brave.'"

Then the breeze freshened, and the sails flapped as she leaned steadily
over to it.

"Keep her away," cried McBain, waving his hand to the helmsman.

And when they came on deck again, after dinner that evening, great seas
were rolling in from the Pentland Firth, from which came the glorious
wind.  Nor was there any land visible in the west, where the sun was
dipping down into the waves like a great vermilion shield, his beams
making a bright red pathway betwixt them and the horizon.  Long grey
clouds were floating in the sky above, clouds of a dark and bluish grey,
and yet every cloud was bound with a fringe of silver and gold.

Ere darkling some sails were taken in, and a couple of reefs in the
mainsail, but shortened even thus the good yacht seemed to fly over the
waves, bounding along like a thing of life, as if she positively loved
the sea and felt made for it, but in all her glee she behaved herself
well, and hardly shipped a drop of water.

Next morning there was a terrible noise and row on deck, and a dire
rattling of chains, and a shouting of words of command, and when Rory
ran up to see what was the matter he found that the anchor had just been
let go, and that they were lying in Bressay Sound, right abreast of the
strangely picturesque little town of Lerwick.

"As soon," said Captain McBain, "as we've had breakfast we'll go on
shore.  You can make the best of your time, and enjoy yourselves all you
can.  There is lots to see, and ponies to ride that I reckon will tax
all your equestrian powers, but mind you're off by three o'clock.  There
is nothing to keep us here, and we'll weigh again this afternoon."

"But aren't you going to be with us?" asked Rory.

"Nay, boy, nay," replied McBain.  "I go to pick up another passenger;
and one, too, whose presence on board is bound to affect for evil or for
good our voyage to the far north."

"Dear me!" said Rory, "a bit of mystery, is it?  Well, that makes it all
the more romantic; but get ready, boys, get ready.  I, for one, mean to
make a regular forenoon of it.  I want to see the pony I can't ride,
that's all."

CHAPTER TEN.

ONSHORE IN SHETLAND--A FAMILY OF GUIDES--A WILD RIDE AND A PRIMITIVE
LUNCH--WESTWARD HO!--RACING A WHALE.

"What shall we do and where shall we go?"  These were the questions
which naturally presented themselves for solution to our three heroes,
on first stepping out of their boat on Lerwick beach.

"We'll take a turn up the town," suggested Allan, "and see the place."

"And then go and have lunch somewhere," said Ralph.

"To be sure," said Rory.  "An Englishman will never be long without
thinking about eating.  But let us take pot-luck for the lunch.  We'll
just get a quarter of a dozen of Shetland ponies, that'll be one to
every one of the three of us, and ride away over the island.  We'll fall
on our feet, never fear."

"More likely," said Allan, with a laugh, "to fall on our heads and break
our necks; but never mind, I'm ready."

There were many listeners to this conversation.  The town "loafers" of
Lerwick are not a whit more polite than town "loafers" anywhere else,
and seeing three smartly-dressed young yachtsmen, evidently the owners
of the beautiful vessel that lay at anchor in the harbour, they gathered
around them, crowded them in fact, and were profuse in their offers of
their services as guides to either town or country.  But for the present
our friends declined their assistance, and set off on a brisk walk away
up the curious straggling narrow street.  Here were few shops worth a
second look; the houses stand end on to the pavements, not in a straight
row, but simply anyhow, and seem to shoulder the passengers into the
middle of the road in the most unceremonious fashion.  The street itself
was muddy and fishy, and they were not a bit sorry when they found
themselves out in the open country, quite at the other end of it.  By
this time they had shaken themselves clear of the crowd, or almost, for
they still had four satellites.  One of these was quite a giant of a
fellow, with a pipe in his mouth and a tree in his right hand by way of
a walking-stick, and looking altogether so rough and unkempt that he
might have been taken for the presiding genius of this wild island.  In
striking contrast with this fellow there stood near him a pretty and
interesting-looking young girl, with a little peat-creel on her back,
and knitting materials in her hand, which betokened, industry.  She had
yellow hair floating, over her shoulders, and eyes as blue as summer
seas.

"My daughter, gentlemen," said the giant, "and here is my son."

Our heroes could not refrain from laughing when they looked at the
latter.  Such a mite he was, such a Hop-o'-my-thumb, such a mop of a
head, the hair of which defied confinement by the old Tam o' Shanter
stuck on the top of it!  This young urchin was rich in rags but wreathed
in smiles.

This interesting family were engaged forthwith as guides.

They would all three go, not one would be left behind: the father and
son would run, the daughter would ride, and the price of their services
would be half-a-crown each, including the use of the ponies.

Oh! these ponies, I do so wish I could describe them to you.  They were
so small, to begin with, that Ralph and Allan looked quite ridiculous on
their backs, for their feet almost touched the ground.  Rory looked
better on his charger.  The ponies' tails swept the heather, their coats
were like the coats of Skye terriers, and their morsels of heads were
buried in hair, all save the nose.  Cobby as to body were these
diminutive horses, and cunning as to eye--that is, whenever an eye could
be seen it displayed cunning and mischief.

Rory mounted and rode like a Centaur, the young lady guide sat like a
Shetland-queen.  But woe is me for Ralph and Allan,--they were hardly on
when they were off again.  It must be said for them, however, that they
stuck to their bridles if they couldn't stick to the saddles, and again
and again they mounted their fiery steeds with the same ignominious
results.  Two legs seemed enough for those ponies to walk, upon, and it
did not matter for the time being whether they were, hind legs or fore
legs.  They could stand, on their heads too, turn somersaults, and roll
over on their backs, and do all sorts of pretty tricks.

"It's only their fun," cried Rory, "they'll shake down presently."

"Shake down!" said Ralph, rubbing his leg with a wry face.  "_I'm_
pretty well shaken down.  Why, I don't believe there is a whole bone in
my body.--Whoa!  Whoa!  Whoa!"

But when the ponies had gone through their performances to their own
entire satisfaction, and done quite enough to maintain their name and
fame as wild Shetland ponies, they suffered their riders to keep their
seats, but tossed their manes in the air, as if to clear their eyesight
for the run they were now determined to have.

Then off started the cavalcade, rushing like a hairy hurricane along the
mountain road.  Swiftly as they went, however, lo! and behold, at every
turn of the road the giant and his little boy were visible, the former
vaulting along on his pole, the latter running with the speed of a wild
deer.

It was early summer in Shetland; the top of lonely Mount Bressay was
still shrouded in snow, but all the moorlands were green with grass and
heather, and gay with wild hyacinth and crimson-belled bilberry bushes;
the light breeze that blew over the islands and across the blue sea was
balmy and yet bracing--it was a breeze that raised the spirits; yes, and
it did something else, it appealed to the inner man, as Ralph expressed,
and so, when after a ride of over a dozen miles a well-known roadside
hostelry hove in wight, our heroes positively hailed it with a cheer.
What mattered it that the little parlour into which they were shown was
destitute of a carpet and possessed of chairs of deal?  It was clean and
quiet, the tablecloth was spotless as the snows of Ben Rona, the cakes
were crisp, the bread was white, the butter was redolent of the fragrant
herbage that the cows had browsed, and the rich milk was purer and
better far than any wine that could have been placed before them; and
when hot and steaming smoked haddocks were added to the fare, why they
would not have changed places with a king in his banqueting-hall.

All confessed they had never spent a more enjoyable forenoon.  The ride
back was especially delightful.  Before they left their guides to return
on board, little Norna, the giant's lovely daughter, produced from the
mysterious depths of her peat-creel quite a wonderful assortment of
gauzy mits and gauntlets, and tiny little shawls, and queer
old-fashioned head-dresses, all knitted by her own fair fingers.  Of
course they bought some of each as souvenirs of their visit to the
sea-girdled mainland of Shetland, and they paid for them so liberally
too, that the tears stood in the girl's blue eyes as they bade her
good-bye.  Norna had never been so rich in her life before.

Captain McBain was in his cabin poring over a chart when our heroes
returned.

"Bravo! boys," he said, heartily; "you're up to time, and now, as the
breeze is from the south with a point or two of east in it, I think we'd
better make sail without delay.  We'll work her quietly through the
sound.  We'll keep to the south of Yell, but once past Fiedland Point,
good-bye to the British Islands for many a day.  What more can we wish,
boys, than a fair wind and a clear sea, light hearts, and a ship that
can go?"

"What more indeed?" said Rory.

"Are we going to touch at Faroe and Iceland?" asked Ralph.

"That," said McBain, "is, of course, as you wish.  I'm at and _in_ your
service."

"Yes, yes," said Ralph; "but we don't forget you are our adviser as
well, and our sea-father."

"Well," replied McBain, "I've taken the liberty of writing to your real
father to say that we thought it better to leave Faroe out of the chart,
for the voyage out, at all events.  We don't know what may be before us,
boys, nor how precious time may be."

That evening about sunset old Ap's boatswain's pipe was heard high above
the whistling wind; the breeze had freshened, and sail was being taken
in, and the starboard courses were hauled farther aft.  They passed very
close to some of the numerous outlying islands, the last land their eyes
would rest upon for some time.  The tops of these isles were smooth and
green, their sides were beetling cliffs and rocks of brown, with the
waves breaking into foam at the foot, and white-winged gulls wheeling
high around them.  Little sandy alcoves there were too, where dun seals
lay basking in the evening sunshine, some of whom lazily lifted their
heads and gazed after the yacht, wondering probably whether she were not
some gigantic gannet or cormorant.  And the _Snowbird_ sailed on and
left them to wonder.  The sun sank red behind the waves, the stars shone
brightly down from a cloudless sky, and the moon's pale crescent
glimmered faintly in the west, while the wind kept steady to a point,
the yacht rising and falling on the waves with a motion so uniform, that
even Ralph--who, as regards walking, was the worst sailor of the three--
felt sure he had his sea-legs, and could walk as well as any Jack Tar
that ever went afloat.  The night was so fine that no one cared to go
below until it was quite late.

They needed their pea-jackets on all the same.

When morning broke there was not a bit of land to be seen, not even a
distant mountain top for the eye to rest upon.

"Well, boys," said McBain, when they all met together on the
quarter-deck, "how did you enjoy your first night on blue water?  How
did you sleep?"

"I slept like a top," said Rory.

"I believe," said Allan, looking at Ralph, "we slept like three tops."

"Like three tops, yes," assented Ralph.

"Oh!  I'm sure you didn't, Ralph," said Rory; "I wakened about seven
bells in the morning watch, just for a moment, you know, and you were
snoring like a grampus.  And tops don't snore, do they?"

"And how do you know a grampus does?" asked McBain, smiling.

"Troth," said Rory, "it's a figure of speech entirely."

"But isn't Rory getting nautical?" said Ralph; "didn't you observe he
said `seven bells' instead of half-past three, or three-thirty?"

"Three-thirty indeed!" cried Rory, in affected disdain.  "Ha! ha! ha!  I
can't help laughing at all at all; 3:30! just fancy a fellow talking
like an old Bradshaw, while standing on the white deck of a fine yacht
like this, with a jolly breeze blowing and all sail set alow and aloft.

"Poor little Ralph!" continued Rory, patting his friend on the shoulder,
and looking quizzingly up into his face, "and didn't he get any letters
this morning!  Do run down below, Allan, my boy, and see if the postman
has brought the morning paper."

"Hurrah?" shouted Allan, so loudly and so suddenly that every one stared
at him in astonishment.

"Hurrah!" he shouted again, this time flinging his cap in true Highland
fashion half-way up to the maintop.

"Gentlemen," he continued, in mock heroic tones, "the last mail is about
to leave--the ship, bound for the distant Castle of Arrandoon."

And away he rushed below, leaving Ralph and Rory looking so comically
puzzled that McBain burst out laughing.

"Is it leave of his seven senses," said Rory, seriously, "that poor
Allan is after taking?  And can you really laugh at such an accident,
Captain McBain? it's myself that is astonished _at_ you?"

"Ah! but lad," said McBain, "I'm in the secret."

Allan was on deck again in a minute.

He was waving a basket aloft.

"Helen's pigeon, boys!  Helen's pigeon!" he was crying, with the tears
actually in his eyes.  "I'd forgotten Peter had it till now."

Ten minutes afterwards the tiny missive, beginning "At sea" and ending
"All's well," was written, and attached to the strong bird's leg.  It
was examined carefully, and carefully and cautiously fed, then a message
was whispered to it by Rory--a message such as a poet might send; a kiss
was pressed upon its bonnie back, and then it was thrown up, and almost
immediately it began to soar.

"The bravest bird that ever cleaved the air," said Allan, with
enthusiasm.  "I've flown it four hundred miles and over."

In silence they watched it in its circling flight, and to their joy they
saw it, ere lost to view, heading away for the distant mainland of
Scotland.  Then they resumed walking and talking on deck.

That was about the only incident of their first day at sea.  Towards
evening a little stranger came on board, and glad he seemed to be to
reach the deck of the _Snowbird_, for he must have been very tired with
his long flight.

Only a yellowhammer--the most persecuted bird in all the British
Islands--that was what the little stranger was.  McBain had caught him
and brought him below with him to the tea-table, much to the wonderment
of his messmates.

"It is a common thing," said McBain, "for land birds to follow ships, or
rather to be blown out to sea, and take refuge on a vessel."  A cage was
constructed for the bird, and it was hung up in the snuggery, or
after-saloon.

"That'll be the sweet little cherub," said Rory, "that will sit up aloft
and look after the life of poor Jack."

Westwards and northwards went the _Snowbird_, the breeze never failing
nor varying for three whole days.  By this time the seagulls that had
followed the ship since they left the isles, picking up the crumbs that
were cast overboard from the galley, had all gone back home.  They
probably had wives and little fledgling families to look after, and so
could not go any farther, good though the living was.

"When I see the last gull flying far away astern," said McBain, "then I
think myself fairly at sea.  But isn't it glorious weather we are
having, boys?  I like to begin a voyage like this, and not with a gale."

"Why?" said Rory, "we're all sea fast now, we wouldn't mind it much."

"Why?" repeated McBain, "everything shakes itself into shape thus, ay,
and every man of the crew gets shaken into shape, and when it does come
on to blow--and we cannot always expect fine weather--there won't be
half the rolling nor half the confusion there would otherwise be."

"Give me your glass," cried Rory, somewhat excitedly; "I see something."

"What is it?" said Allan, looking in the same direction; "the great
sea-serpent?"

"Indeed, no," replied Rory, "it's a whale, and he is going in the same
direction too."

"It's my whale, you know," continued Rory, when everybody had had a good
peep at him, "because I saw him first."

"Very well," said McBain, "we are not going to dispute the
proprietorship.  We wish you luck with your whale; he won't want to come
on board, I dare say, and he won't cost much to keep out there, at any
rate."

All that day Rory's whale kept up with the ship; they could see his dark
head and back, as he rose and sank on the waves; he was seldom
three-quarters of a mile off, and very often much nearer.

Next day at breakfast, "How is your whale, Rory?" said Ralph.

"Oh!" said Rory, "he is in fine form this morning; I'm not sure he isn't
going to give us the slip; he is right away on the weather bow."

"Give us the slip!" said McBain; "no, that she won't, unless she alters
her course.  Steward, tell Mr Stevenson I want him."

Stevenson was the mate, and a fine stalwart sailor he was, with dark
hair and whiskers and a face as red as a brick.

"Do you think," said McBain, "you can take another knot or two out of
her without carrying anything away?"

"I think we can, sir."

"Very well, Mr Stevenson, shake a few reefs out."

Ap's pipe was now heard on deck, then the trampling of feet, and a few
minutes afterwards there was a saucy lurch to leeward, and, although the
fiddles were across the table, Rory received the contents of a cup of
hot coffee in his lap.

"Now the beauty feels it," said McBain, with a smile of satisfaction.

"So do I," said Rory, jumping up and shaking himself; "and its parboiled
that my poor legs are entirely."

"Let us go on deck," said Allan, "and see the whale."

Before the end of the forenoon watch they had their strange companion
once more on the weather quarter.

"It is evident," said McBain, "we could beat her."

Racing a whale, reader, seems idle work, but sailors, when far away at
sea, do idler things than that.  They were leaning over the bulwarks
after dinner that day gazing it this lonely monster of the deep, and
guessing and speculating about its movements.

"I wonder," said Ralph, "if he knows where he is going?"

"I've no doubt he does," said Allan; "the same kind Hand directs his
movements that makes the wind to blow and the needle to point to the
north."

"But," said Ralph, "isn't there something very solemn about the great
beast, ploughing on and on in silence like that, and all alone too--no
companion near?"

"He has left his wife in Greenland, perhaps," said Rory, "and is going,
like ourselves, to seek his fortune in the far west."

"I wonder if he'll find her when he returns."

"Yes, I wonder that; for she can't remain in the same place all the
time, can she?"

"Now, boys," said Allan, "you see what a wide, wide world of water is
all around us--we must be nearly a thousand miles from land.  How, if a
Great Power did not guide them, could mighty fishes like that find their
way about?"

"Suppose that whale had a wife," said Ralph, "as Rory imagines, and they
were journeying across this great ocean together, and supposing they
lost sight of each other for a few minutes only, does it not seem
probable they might swim about for forty or fifty years yet never meet
again?"

"Oh, how vast the ocean is!" said Rory, almost solemnly.  "I never felt
it so before."

"And yet," said Allan, "there is One who can hold it in the hollow of
His hand?"

"Watch, shorten sail."

McBain had come on deck and given the order.

"The glass is going down," he said to Allan, "and I don't half like the
look of the sea nor the whistle of the wind.  We'll have a dirty night,
depend upon it."

CHAPTER ELEVEN.

THE STORM--A FEARFUL NIGHT--THE PIRATES--A FIGHT AT SEA.

"All hands shorten sail."

The glass had not gone "tumbling down," as sailors term it, which would
have indicated a storm or hurricane in violence equal perhaps to the
typhoons of lower latitudes, but it went down in a slow determined
manner, as if it did not mean to rise again in a hurry, so McBain
resolved to be prepared for a spell of nasty weather.  The wind was now
about south-west by south, but it did not blow steadily; it was gusty,
not to say squally, and heavy seas began to roll in, the tops of which
were cut off by the breeze, and dashed in foam and spray over the
rigging and decks of the _Snowbird_.

It increased in force as the sun went down to something over half a
gale, and now more sail was taken in and the storm-jib set.  McBain was
a cautious sailor, and left no more canvas on her than she could carry
with comparative safety.

The _Snowbird_ began to grow exceedingly lively.  She seemed on good
terms with herself, as the captain expressed it.  All hands, fore and
aft, had found the necessity of rigging out in oilskins and
sou'-westers; the latter were bought at Lerwick, and were just the right
sort for facing heavy weather in these seas.  They were capacious
enough, and had flannel-lined side-pieces, which came down over the ears
and cheeks.

"I think I've made her pretty snug for the night," said McBain, coming
aft to where Allan and Rory stood on the weather side of the
quarter-deck, holding on to the bulwarks to prevent themselves from
falling.  "How do you like it, boys? and where is Ralph?"

"Oh, _we_ like it well enough," said Rory, "but Ralph has gone below,
and is now asleep on the sofa."

"Sleepy is he?" said McBain, smiling; "well, that is just the nearest
approach to sea-sickness.  We won't disturb him, and he'll be all right
and merry again to-morrow."

"What do you think of the weather, captain?" asked Allan.

McBain gave one glance round at sea and sky, and a look aloft as if to
see that everything was still right there, ere he replied,--

"The wind is fair, Allan, that's all I can say, but we'll have enough of
it before morning; the only danger is meeting ice; it is often as far
south as this, at this time of the year."

The night began to fall even as he spoke, for great grey clouds had
rolled up and hidden the sinking sun; sky and sea seemed to meet, and
the horizon was everywhere close aboard of them.  The motion of the
_Snowbird_ was an unpleasant jerky one; she pitched sharply into the
hollows and as quickly rose again; she took little water on board, but
what little she did ship, made decks and rigging wet and slippery.
Presently both Allan and Rory were advised to go below for the night,
and feeling the same strange sleepiness stealing over them that had
overcome Ralph, they made a bolt for the companion.  Allan succeeded in
fetching it at once, and when half-way down he stopped to laugh at Rory,
who was rolling porpoise-fashion in the lee scuppers.  But Rory was more
successful in his next attempt.  In the saloon they found Ralph sound
enough and snoring, and Peter, the steward, staggering in through the
doorway with the supper.  The lamp was lighted, and both that and the
swing-tables were apparently trying to jump out of their gymbals, and go
tumbling down upon Ralph's prostrate form.  In fact everything seemed
awry, and the table and chairs were jerking about anyhow, and, as Rory
said, "making as much creaking as fifty pairs of new boots."

"Ah!  Peter, you're a jewel," cried Rory, as the steward placed on the
table, between the fiddle bars, a delicious lobster salad and two cups
of fragrant coffee.  "Yes, Peter," continued Rory, "it's a jewel you are
entirely; there isn't a man that ever I knew, Peter, could beat ye at
making a salad.  And it isn't blarney either that I'm trying to put upon
you."

With supper the sleepy feeling passed away, and Rory said he felt like a
giant refreshed, only not quite so tall.

"Bring my dear old fiddle, Peter," he cried, "like a good soul.  This is
just the night for music."

_He_ played and Allan read for two hours at least, both steadying
themselves as best they could at the weather side of the table; then
they wakened Ralph, and all three turned in for the night and were soon
fast asleep.

It was early summer, and Ralph, so he thought in his dream, was
reclining, book in hand, on a sweet wild-thyme-scented green bank in
Glentroom.  A blue sky was reflected from the broad bosom of the lake,
the green was on the birch, the milk-white flowers on the thorn, and the
feathery larch-trees were tasselled with crimson; bees went droning from
wild flower to wild flower, and the woodlands resounded with the music
of a thousand joyous birds.

Ding-dong, ding-dong!

"It is the first dinner-bell from the Castle of Arrandoon," said Ralph
to himself; "Allan and his sister will be waiting, I must hurry home."

Ding-dong, ding-dong-ding!

Ralph was wide awake now, and sitting up in his little bed.  It was all
dark; it must be midnight, he thought, or long past.

Ding-dong, ding-dong-ding again, followed by a terrible rush of water
and a quivering of the vessel, the like of which he had never known
before.

Ding, ding, ding!  It was the seas breaking over the _Snowbird_ and
ringing her bell.

"What an awakening!" thought poor Ralph, and he shivered as he listened,
partly with cold and partly, it must be confessed, with an undefinable
feeling of alarm.  And no wonder!

It was, indeed, a fearful night!

The gale had burst upon them in all its fury, and, well prepared though
she was aloft to contend with it, it would require all the vessel's
powers of endurance and all the skill of the manly hearts on board of
her, to bring her safely through it.  Every time a sea struck her it
sounded below like a dull, heavy thud; it stopped her way for a moment
or two.  It was then she quivered from stem to stern, like some creature
in agony, and Ralph could hear the water washing about the decks
overhead and pouring down below.  The seas, striking the ship, gave him
the idea of blows from something soft but terribly strong, and,
ridiculous though it may seem, for the life of him Ralph could not help
thinking of the bolster fights of the days of his boyhood.  What other
sounds did he hear?  The constant and incessant creaking of the yacht's
timbers, the rattle of the rudder chains, and, high over all, the roar
of the tempest in the rigging aloft.  In the lull of the gale every now
and then, he could hear the trampling of feet and voices--voices giving
and voices answering words of command.

"Starboard a little!  Steady?"

"Starboard it is, sir.  Steady!"

"Hard down!"

"Hurrsh-sh!"  A terrible sea seemed here to have struck her; the din
below was increased to a fearful extent by the smashing of crockery and
rattling of furniture and fittings.

"Another man to the wheel!  Steady as you go.  Steady."

Then there was a sound like a dreadful explosion, with a kind of grating
noise, followed by a rattling as if a thousand men were volley-firing
overhead; meanwhile the good ship heeled over as if she never would
right again.  It was a sail rent into ribbons!

"I can't stand this!" said Ralph, aloud.  "Up I must get, and see if
Allan and Rory be awake.  They must be."

Getting out of bed he discovered was a very simple proceeding, for he
had no sooner begun the operation than he found himself sprawling on the
deck.  The floor was flooded, and everything was chaos.  Feeling for his
clothes, he could distinguish books by the dozen, a drawer, a
camp-stool, and a broken glass.  At last he managed to find a
dressing-gown, and also his way along to the saloon.  Here a lamp was
burning, and here were Allan and Rory both, and the steward as well.

All three were somewhat pale.  They were simply waiting--but waiting for
what?  They themselves could hardly have told you, but at that time
something told everyone in the saloon the danger was very great indeed.

On deck McBain and his men were fighting the seas; two hands were at the
wheel, and it needed all their strength at times to keep the vessel's
head in the right direction, and save her from broaching-to.  In the
pale glimmer of the sheet lightning every rope and block and stay could
at one moment be seen, and the wet, shining decks, and the men
clustering in twos and threes, lashed to masts or clinging to ropes to
save themselves from destruction.  Next moment the decks would be one
mass of seething foam.  It was by the lightning's flash, however, or the
pale gleam of the breaking waves, and by these alone, that McBain could
guide his vessel safely through this awful tempest.

So speedily had the gale increased to almost a hurricane, that there was
no time to batten down; but with the first glimpse of dawn the wind
seemed to abate, and no time was lost in getting tarpaulins nailed down,
and only the fore companion was left partially unprotected for
communication between decks.

Soon after the captain came below, looking, in his wet and shining
oilskins, like some curious sea-monster, for there was hardly a bit of
his face to be seen.  "What!" he cried, "you boys all up?"

"Indeed," said Rory, who was nearly always the first to speak, "we
thought it was _down_ we soon would all be instead of up?"

The captain laughed, and applied himself with rare zest to the coffee
and sandwiches the steward placed before him.  "Don't give us cups at
breakfast to-morrow, Peter," he said, "but the tin mugs; we're going to
have some days of this weather.  And now, boys, I'm going to have a
caulk for an hour.  You had better follow my example; you will be drier
in bed, and, I believe, warmer too."

Breakfast next day was far from a comfortable meal.  The gale still
continued, though to a far less extent, and the fire in the galley had
been drowned out the night before, and was not yet re-lit.  But every
one was cheerful.

"Better," said McBain, "is a cold sardine and a bit of ship biscuit
where love is, than roast beef and--"

"Roast beef and botheration!" said Rory, helping him out "That's it!
Thank ye," said McBain.  "And now, who is going on deck to have a look
at the sea?"

"Ha! what a scene is here!" said Allan, looking around him, as he clung
to the weather rail.

Well might he quote Walter Scott.  The green seas were higher than the
maintop, their foaming, curling tops threatening to engulf the yacht
every minute.

"I may tell you, my boys," said McBain, grasping a stay and swaying to
and fro like a drunken man, "that if the _Snowbird_ weren't the best
little ship that ever floated, she couldn't have stood the storm of last
night.  And look yonder, that is all the damage."

From near her bows, aft as far as the mizen-mast, the bulwarks were
smashed and torn by the force of the waves.

"We have two men hurt, but not severely, and the pump's at work, but
only to clear her of the drop of water she shipped; and we'll soon mend
the bulwarks."

All that day and all the next night the gale continued to blow, and it
was anything but comfortable or pleasant below; but the morning of the
third day broke brightly enough, albeit the wind had forged round and
was now coming from the west; but McBain did not mind that.

"We made such a roaring spin during the gale," he said, "although
scudding under nearly bare poles, that we can afford to slacken speed a
little now."

The sea was still angry and choppy, but all things considered the
_Snowbird_ made goodly way.

The forenoon was spent in making good repairs and in getting up the
crow's-nest, a barrel of large dimensions, which in all Greenland-going
ships is hoisted and made fast, as high as high can be, namely,
alongside the main truck.  A comfortable place enough is this
crow's-nest when you get there, but you need a sailor's head to reach
it, for at the main-top-gallant crosstrees the rattlins leave you, and
you have a nasty corner to turn, round to a Jacob's-ladder, up which you
must scramble, spider fashion, and enter the nest from under.  You need
a sailor's head to reach it and a sailor's heart to remain there, for if
there is any sea on at all, the swinging and swaying about is enough to
turn any landsman sick and giddy.

Hardly was the crow's-nest in position when the look-out man hailed the
deck below.

"A vessel in sight, sir."

Here was some excitement, anyhow.

"Where away?" bawled the captain.

"On the weather quarter, sir; I can just raise her topmasts; she is
holding the same course as ourselves."

Shortly after, Mr Stevenson, who had gone aloft, came below to report.

"She is no whaler, sir, whatever she is," he said.

"But what else can she be?" said Captain McBain.  "She might have been
blown out of her course, to be sure, but with this wind she could make
up her leeway.  Keep our yacht a bit nearer the wind, Mr Stevenson,
we'll give her a chance of showing her bunting anyhow."

Dinner-hour in the saloon was one o'clock, and it was barely over when
Mr Stevenson entered, and with him a being that made our heroes start
and stare in astonishment.  What or who was he?  They had never seen him
before, and knew not he was on board--a very little, thin, wiry,
weazened old man, all grey hairs, parchment skin, and wrinkles.  Was he
the little old man of the sea?

McBain saw their bewilderment and hastened to explain.

"My worthy friend Magnus Green," he said, "the passenger I took on board
at Lerwick."

"There is precious little green about him," thought Rory.

"The ship is not far off, she is flying a flag of distress, but Magnus
says he knows her, and bids us keep clear of her."

"Well, Magnus, what do you know about her?" asked McBain.

The little old man talked fast, almost wildly,--it was a way he had,--
and gesticulated much.

"What do I know?" he cried; "why, this,--she is a Spaniard, and a thief.
She came into Lerwick two weeks before you, took stores on board,
sailed in the night, and paid nobody.  She is armed to the teeth, and in
my opinion is after you.  Keep away from her, keep away, keep away."

"But how could she be after us?" asked McBain, incredulous.

"How? ha! ha!" laughed Magnus; "you speak like a child.  She herself
sailed from Inverness to Lerwick: she'd heard of you, a gentleman's
yacht, with everything good on board.  She couldn't tackle you near
shore, but out here on the high sea, ha! ha! the case in different."

"There is something in what Magnus says," said McBain.  "Let us go on
deck.  Hoist the flag, Mr Stevenson."

Up went the roll of bunting, one touch to the lanyard, and out on the
breeze floated the red ensign of England.

[The white ensign is flown by the Royal Navy only, the blue by the Naval
Reserve, the red by merchantmen and others.]

The Spaniard was hardly a mile to windward, a long, low, rakish craft,
as black as a Mother Carey's chicken.  She had ports as if for guns; and
though there was no answering signal, she was seen to alter her course
and bear down on the _Snowbird_.

"She's too like a hawk to be honest," said McBain, "and too big for us
to fight.  We'll try how she can sail; keep her away, Stevenson."

The _Snowbird_ began to pay off, but not before a white puff of smoke
was seen rising from the stranger's bows.  Next moment down the wind
came a cannon's roar, and a shot ricocheted past the bows of the yacht.

"Ha! ha! ha!" shrieked little Magnus, "yon's the answering signal--ha!
ha! ha!"

At the same moment down went the flag of distress, and up went the black
flag that pirates like to display when they really mean mischief.
Something else went up at the same time, namely, Captain McBain's
Highland blood.  This is no figure of speech; you could have seen pride
and anger mantling in his cheek and glancing like fire from his eye.

"The black flag, indeed!" he growled; "only cowards hoist it; they think
it startles their would-be prey, like the hiss a cat or a goose emits,
or the images and figures idiot savages carry in their battle-van.  They
will not frighten us.  Stevenson, load the six-pounder Armstrong.  Lucky
we took that little tool with us.  Tell Ap to see to the small arms.
We'll show them the metal we're made of ere we surrender the _Snowbird_.
Stand by tacks and sheets, we'll put her before the wind.  A stern
chase is a long chase; we may give her the slip after nightfall."

There was a cheeriness in McBain's voice as he spoke, that communicated
itself to all hands fore and aft.  There was no bombast about the
captain, mind you, no vulgar jingoism.  He merely meant to hold his own,
even if he had to fight for it.

All sail was set that the _Snowbird_ could carry, both below and aloft,
an example that was speedily followed by the pirate, for pirate she
seemed, from her bunting, to even brag in being, and so the chase began
in earnest.  The stranger fired once or twice only, but the shots
falling short she gave it up, and concentrated all her attention in
endeavouring to get within reach.

For the next hour there was silence on board the _Snowbird_, except for
some brief words of command given in quiet quick tones, and just as
speedily obeyed.  Rory, Ralph, and Allan were clustered astern, watching
the pirate.  This was a kind of danger to which they had never dreamed
they would be exposed; yet still the confidence they had in brave, cool
McBain banished all fear from their hearts.

But the captain's anxiety was extreme, and his eyes roved incessantly
from the _Snowbird_ to the vessel in chase, not without many a glance at
the fast-declining sun.

"Are we quite prepared?" he asked Stevenson.

"All ready, sir," was the reply, with an uneasy glance astern, "but I
think she is coming up, sir, hand over hand and now she is actually
setting stunsails."

"Then God help us, Stevenson, for that chap is bound to win the battle
if he can only win the race."

The stunsails set by the stranger, however, were no sooner set than they
were blown away, booms and all.

"Hullo?" cried the captain, "that is providential.  Now Stevenson, get
the Armstrong aft."

This was soon accomplished.

"Here, Magnus Green," cried McBain, "come on you're the best shot in the
ship.  Many a harpoon gun I've seen you fire.  Pepper away at that
pirate till you're tired.  Cripple her if you can.  It's our only
chance."

The fire was briskly returned from the bows of the pirate, and it was
soon evident that she was getting nearer and nearer to them, for the
shots went over the _Snowbird_, and some even pierced the sails, proof
positive that it was not her intention to sink but to capture the
beautiful yacht.

The captain whistled low to himself.

"This is awkward," he muttered, gloomily.  He was gazing aloft,
wondering if he could do nothing else to keep clear of the pirate until
nightfall, when a shout behind him, followed by a ringing cheer from all
hands, made him turn hastily round.  Old man Magnus was capering around
the quarter-deck wild with glee, rushing hither and thither, only
returning every moment to pat the little Armstrong, as though it were a
living thing.

"He! he! he!" he cried, "I've done it, I've done it."

He had indeed done it.  The stranger's foremast had gone by the board,
mast and sails and rigging lay about her forepart in dire confusion,
burying guns and gunners.

"Glorious old Magnus!" shouted McBain, rubbing his hands with glee.
"Now, Stevenson, ready about."

The yacht came round like a bird, and sailing wonderfully close to the
wind, began rapidly to near the smitten pirate.  Presently it was "ready
about" again on the other tack, and all the while never a shot came from
the foe, but the dastardly flag still floated sullenly aloft.

Ten men were stationed in the weather bow of the _Snowbird_ with rifles,
their orders being to fire wherever they saw a head.

"Now then, Magnus," cried McBain, "fifty guineas are yours if you'll
splinter the enemy's mainmast.  I want to let her have two jury masts to
rig instead of one."  McBain carried the _Snowbird_ cruelly near to the
pirate, dangerously near too, for presently there was an answering fire
of small arms, and two men fell wounded.

Crang! went the Armstrong.  Faithfully and well had Magnus done his
work, and down went the pirate's other mast.

"We'll leave her the mizen," said McBain; "down with the helm."

His voice was almost drowned in that deafening shout of victory.  Even
Oscar the Saint Bernard and the wiry wee Skye felt bound to join it, and
Peter the steward rushed below for his bagpipes.

And when the moon rose that night and shone quietly down on the waters,
the _Snowbird_ was bravely holding on her course, and the discomfited
pirate was far away.

CHAPTER TWELVE.

CONTAINING A STRANGE, STRANGE STORY, TOLD BY THE SNUGGERY FIRE.

"It never rains but it pours," said McBain, entering the saloon rubbing
his hands, and smiling as he seated himself at the breakfast-table.
"Steward, I hope it is beefsteak this morning, with boiled eggs to
follow, for I declare to you honestly I don't think I ever felt half so
hungry in my born days before!  Bravo, steward! bravo, Peter!  Be
thankful, boys, for all His mercies, and fall to?"

"One would think, captain," said Ralph, "that you had got good news this
morning."

"Why, it makes one laugh just to look at you," said Rory.

"Laugh away, lad?" said McBain; "laugh and grow fat, but eat as well,
boys!  And why haven't you been on deck, eh?"

"Overslept ourselves," observed Allan; "Well, no wonder!  You're young,
and the excitement of the past few days has been great: even I have felt
it.  But to-day, my boys, there isn't a pirate in sight; the wind has
gone back to the south-east, and in five more days, if it holds we'll be
on shore shooting the denizens of the scented pine forests of the
farthest north lands of America."

Our heroes were soon on deck, the _Snowbird_ was bounding along before a
beautiful breeze, with all her fair-weather sails set and nicely
trimmed.  Every one on board seemed joyful; the laugh and the joke were
heard from the second officer's cabin, and the men in the forecastle
were trolling a song.

That same evening a very happy group were assembled around a bright fire
in the cosy snuggery.  They were our heroes three, squatted or reclining
on mats before the stove, not sitting on chairs--certainly not, they
knew a trick worth two of that.  The captain occupied a rocking-chair,
as became his dignity; Oscar the Saint Bernard's nose was turned
stovewards; and Rory was making a pillow of him.  Oscar was eyeing the
cheerful blaze, but every other eye was directed upon wee weazen-faced
Magnus Green, the mysterious little stranger that McBain had picked up
in Lerwick, and who had done them such noble service in crippling the
pirate.  He was seated on a camp-stool in the corner.

"Now, Magnus!" cried McBain, "we're all waiting for your yarn."

"Jan Jansen, then," said Magnus, after a moment's pause or two--"Jan
Jansen, gentlemen, was first mate of a merchant brig, as neat and tight
a little craft as ever sailed the seas.  He had been in her, man and
boy, for nearly twenty years--in the same ship and with the same
captain.  This captain was a Dane, but he hailed and he sailed from a
little town in Shetland.  And dearly did this sailor captain love his
profession; he was never really at home except when afloat on the
billowy ocean, when he was as happy as the sea-birds.

"Many a long and prosperous voyage he had made to distant lands, and
never as yet had misfortune--apart from the usual ups and downs of a
sailor's life--befallen him.  He had a wife--ay, and a family.  Before
the latter had increased the skipper's wife had used to sail with her
husband, but latterly she had stayed at home.  And now that she could no
longer share his perils, all she could do--and that wasn't little,
either--was to pray for him, and teach his dear children to do so
likewise.  But she thought that if her house were only close to the sea
it would seem like living nearer to the loved one.  So the captain built
a house on the slope of a hill, and planted pine-trees thereon to
shelter it from the cutting winds, that in winter and spring swept
downwards from the north and north-east.  And the windows of the house
looked away over the broad Atlantic.  In his outward voyages the
captain's ship, after leaving the port of embarkation, passed within two
miles of his cottage door, and his wife and children used to watch the
trim-built brig as she glided away from the land, lessening and
lessening, until she looked but like a bird on the horizon, and finally
disappeared.  On stormy nights, when the wind howled around the cottage,
and the angry waves lashed themselves into foam against the dark cliffs
that bounded the sea-beach, the little lonely family would assemble in
the parlour to pray for poor father, far at sea, to Him who can quiet
the raging of the winds, and say to the troubled ocean, `Peace, be
still!'

"But the Danish captain was not only a fortunate sailor but a very
ambitious man as well, and ever after each successful voyage his wife
would entreat him to remain on shore now for the rest of his life.
Several times indeed the husband had acceded to her wishes, and settled
down on shore.  But only for a time, for woe is me! the heart of a true
sailor is often as restless as the great sea itself.

"The pet of the captain's household was his only daughter, a
bright-faced, lovely girl of sweet seventeen.  With her fair flowing
hair, her laughing blue eyes, her cheerful voice, and her winsome ways,
no wonder Nanette was a favourite.  But why did she so love to roam down
by the rocks where the seagulls screamed, and why, when her father was
abroad, did her eyes so often fill with tears as she gazed across the
sea?  She was her father's darling, it is true; but she was something
else--she was brave Jan Jansen's promised bride.  And his thoughts were
always on shore with Nanette, and hers were on the little barque with
Jan.  When he was at sea the months seemed to her like long gloomy
years, and the few weeks he was at home like bright short hours of
sunshine and joy.

"And they were going to be married after the very next voyage; then Jan
was to have a ship of his own, and take her away with him to the sunny
lands he was so fond of describing to her, and about which she so loved
to hear, as they walked arm in arm on the breezy cliff-tops.

"If previous voyages had seemed long to Nanette, this last appeared an
age in itself.  But one summer's morning when Nanette, awoke and opened
her window to admit the sweet sea air and the song of the lark, oh! joy,
there was the dear old brig with her sea-washed sides, standing close in
towards the land, and she was sure--yes, there was no mistake about it--
those were her father and Jan waving their handkerchiefs to attract her
attention.  How quickly did Nanette dress that morning and hurry out;
and how speedily did she bend on and hoist the red flag on the garden
staff, to tell her anxious father and lover that all was well at home!

"Then away stood the brig on the starboard tack, and next day Nanette
had beside her all that she loved on earth--father, mother, her
brothers, and Jan.

"There seemed to be a cloud on the captain's brow, which his wife was
not slow to notice, and even honest Jan appeared to be possessed of some
gloomy secret, that sat but uneasily on his mind.  Yet each when asked
had only replied,--

"`'Tis nothing, you will hear it all in good time.'

"But that evening, after supper was cleared away, and Jan with the
captain sat beside the fire in the cosy parlour,--

"`Wife,' said the mariner, `I have news for you that is both good and
bad.  Tell them, Jan, I can't.'

"Jan dared not meet the loving eyes of poor Nanette, but gazed dreamily
into the fire as he told them the news that some shipwrecked sailors had
brought to the port of Katrinesand, from which they had last sailed, of
wealth immeasurable to be made on an island far away in the frozen
ocean, and of mines of ivory to be had for the gathering, and of the
captain's resolve to make one last--certainly the last--Jan little knew
how prophetically he spoke--voyage in the brig, and that this voyage was
to be to the Arctic regions; and that neither he nor the captain doubted
that this single voyage would make wealthy men of them both.

"The wife was the first to reply, for poor Nanette was sobbing as if her
heart would break.

"`Oh!' cried the captain's wife, `it is ever, ever thus.  Do not go, I
beseech you, oh! my husband.  Do not rashly brave the terrors of that
dreadful sea of ice.  There has been a cloud on my heart for weeks that
I could not understand till now, and both Nanette and myself have
dreamed dreams that bode no good to us or ours.  Husband, husband, stay
at home!'

"But a determined man will have his way, and the captain's mind was so
bent on the new project that nothing would induce him to give it up.
What his wife must suffer, but Nanette even more, for wherever her
father went Jan was bound to follow, and the danger would be the same to
both!

"On the twenty-first day of April, in seventeen hundred and ninety-six,
there sailed away from Shetland the sturdy brig _Danish Queen_, well
manned, mated, found and commanded, and with it went the hearts of the
gentle Nanette and her mother.

"The day was mild and balmy.  A soft south wind blew over the sea and
filled the sails, and wafted the brig--oh! how fast she seemed to fly--
away and away and away, till she disappeared on the northern horizon,
and the poor bereaved ones, clasped in each other's arms, wept in
silence now, for neither could find a word of comfort for the other;
hope itself had fled from their hearts.

"And the _Danish Queen_ returned again no more to Shetland shores.

"Two years and a half had barely passed since she sailed away, and the
autumn leaves were mingling with the long green grass in the little
churchyard of Dergen, when two new-made graves might have been seen
there, side by side.  One was that of little Nanette, the other the
grave of her heartbroken mother.

"And the time flew by, and the _Danish Queen_ was soon forgotten, and
people had ceased to speak of her, and the friends of her brave sailors
had doffed the garb of mourning for five long years.

"But one day there arrived in Shetland the whaling barque _Clotho_,
direct from the Greenland Ocean, and one passenger, the sole survivor,
by his own account, of the ill-fated _Danish Queen_.  If it were indeed
as he said, there must be some strange mystery about his existence for
so many years on the sea of ice, which even Jan Jansen himself--for it
was he--could not, or rather would not, then explain.  He was found
dressed in bear-skins, a young man, but with snow-white hair and beard,
wandering purposelessly on the ice, and taken on board.  All that he
would tell was that his unfortunate vessel had been dashed to pieces
against the ice just three months after he had left Shetland, and that
he alone of all on board had been saved from a watery grave.

"Jan Jansen never shed a tear when he heard of the death of the two
beings he had loved far better than any one else on earth, but he never
smiled again.  He built himself a small cottage and tilled a little farm
quite close to the graveyard of Dergen, and in sight of the sea.  Years
softened the poor man's grief, and to many an earnest child-listener,
not a few of whom have long ago gone grey and passed away from earth, he
used to tell the tale of his strange adventures in the far-off sea of
ice.

"It was on winter evenings, when the snow was sifting in beneath Jan
Jansen's cottage door, and the roar of the wind mingling with the dash
of the waves on the cliffs beneath, that Jan would draw closer to the
fire, and rake the blazing peat together till the shadows danced and
flickered on the walls: then his little friends felt sure that he was
going to repeat to them his strange, strange story.

"`But I never told you, did I,' old Jan would say, `of the lonely island
of Alba, in the frozen ocean?'

"He had told them scores of times, but the tale never palled upon them.

"`Yes, yes, Father Jan,' they would cry, `but we have quite forgotten a
great deal that you told us.  Do tell us once again of that wonderful
island, and all the strange things you saw there.'

"And Jan would begin, keeping his eyes on the fire, as if the curling
smoke and the blazing peat aided his recollections.

"`It was almost summer when the good brig _Danish Queen_ left Shetland.
A favouring breeze filled our sails, and in less than fourteen days we
made the ice, and the ripple left the water, but still the wind blew
fair.  Onward we ploughed our way in the sturdy brig, now through fields
of floating slush and snow, now through streams of small bergs, but
little larger than sheep or swans.  Farther north still, and the bergs
grew as large as oxen, then as big as elephants, then bigger than
houses, then bigger than churches; and as they rose and fell on the
smooth dark billows they threatened us every moment with destruction.
Then we knew we had at last reached the sea of perpetual ice; 'twas the
season of the year when the sun never sets, but goes on day and night,
round and round in the cold blue sky, where never a cloud is seen.  We
saw strange birds and beasts in the water and on the ice, beasts that
glared at us with a stony fearless stare, and birds that floated so
close we could have captured them by hand.  The beautiful snowbird, with
plumage more white than the lily's petal, with eyes and legs of crimson,
and bill of jet; the wild pilot bird, and a hundred curious gulls, and
little sparrow-like birds that fluttered from berg to berg in the
breeze, as if it were very much against their will they were there at
all; and flocks of curious blackbirds with white mottled breasts, that
laughed in the air as they flew around us, with a sound like the voices
of little children just let loose from school.  We saw the lonely
narwhal, the unicorn of the sea, with his one long ivory horn appearing
and disappearing in the black waters as he pursued his prey.  Seals in
thousands popped their heads above the water to stare at us with their
beautiful eyes; sea cows basked on the snowy bergs; whales played their
gigantic fountains on every side of us; and the great Greenland bear,
king of these regions of ice, stalked majestically around on many a
floe, waiting a chance to pounce on some unwary seal.

"`Northwards still, and now we sailed into an open sea, where no
icebergs were anywhere visible--nothing but water, water, wherever we
looked, except on the northern horizon, where was one small snowy cone,
no bigger it would seem than a sugar-loaf.  Taller and taller and
broader and broader it grew, as we sailed towards it, till it formed
itself into a lofty table-land, and we found ourselves under the
ice-bound cliffs of the Isle of Alba.

"`Imagine if you can a large and mountainous island covered with the
snows of ages, with one gigantic cone, the shaft of an extinct volcano,
towering upwards until lost in the heavens; imagine all around an ocean
of inky blackness, a sky above of cloudless blue, with a sun like a
rayless disc of molten silver; imagine neither sight nor sound of life,
saving the mournful cry of the wheeling sea-bird, or the sullen plunge
of the narwhal and whale; and imagine if you can the feeling of being
all alone in such a place, where foot of mortal man had never been
planted before.

"`But for all this, little recked the brave crew of the _Danish Queen_,
for we found the ivory we had braved every danger to seek.

"`Caves full of it!

"`Mines of it!

"`For days and weeks our boats did nothing but ply between ship and
shore, laden to the gunwale with our pearly treasure.  We had but room
for one more ton.  It was ready packed on shore, and I was left to
watch.  Alas and alas! that same night it came on to blow great guns
from off the ocean.  I could not see our brig for the foam and spray
that dashed over the cliffs.  But, ah me!  I soon heard a mournful and
piercing shriek, rising high over wail of wind and wash of wave, and I
knew then she had gone down and all on board had perished.  Shuddering
with cold and horror, I sheltered myself in the inner recesses of a
cave, careless even of falling a victim to a bear.  I wandered in, and I
wandered on and on, till I could no longer hear the surging of the
storm-lashed waves, and the light behind me was swallowed up in
obscurity.  And now I could distinctly perceive a glimmering light and a
rising mist far away ahead, while at the same time the air around me
waxed sensibly warmer; still a spirit of curiosity seemed to impel me
forward, until I found myself standing in front of a vast waterfall,
which disappeared in the bowels of the earth beneath my feet, while
floating in the vapoury mist above me were beings the most lovely I had
ever imagined, in gauzy garments of pink and green.

"`With their strange eyes bent pityingly on me, those water-spirits
floated nearer and nearer.  Then I felt lifted off my feet and borne
gently but swiftly upwards through the luminous haze, upwards and into
day once more; and what a blissful day!

"`In this lovely land, where I dwelt so long, there was no alloy of
sorrow, and the strange, bright beings that inhabited it were as happy
and joyous as the birds that sang on every bough, or the flowers that
wooed the wind and the sunshine.

"`Five years passed away like one long and happy dream; then one day my
spirit-friends came towards me with downcast looks and tear-bedimmed
eyes.  They came to tell me that, as with joy they had found me, so in
sorrow they must now part with me--that no mortal must stay longer in
their land than my allotted time.  Then they clad me in skins and
conveyed me up the mountain-side, even to the top of the highest cone.
Looking down from this height, I could behold all the sea of ice spread
out like a map before me, with sealers at work on the southern floes.

"`"Yonder are your countrymen," said the beautiful spirits; then sadly
they bade me farewell.

"`It must have been days afterwards when I was picked up by the
_Clotho's_ men, who had gone to look for fresh-water ice.'

"The old man," continued Magnus Green, "used to sigh as he finished his
story, and we--for I, gentlemen, was one of his child-listeners--just
whispering adieu, would steal away homewards through the winter's night,
seeing as we went spirits in every curling snowdrift, and hearing voices
in every blast."

"And what do you now think," asked McBain, after a pause, "of this old
man's strange story?"

"Of the spirit portion of it," said Magnus, "I cannot give an opinion,
but that a sea of open water _does_ lie to the far north, my experience
as sealer and whaler has long since convinced me.  The Isle of Alba is
known to many Norwegian narwhal and walrus-hunters, and I know the
mammoth caves of ivory to be not only probable, but a fact."

"And you think," continued McBain, "you could guide us and pilot us to
these strange regions?"

"Yes, yes?" cried Magnus, producing from his bosom an old and much
stained parchment chart, and tapping it with his skinny hand as he
spoke, "it is all here, even if my memory failed me.  Yes, yes; I can
guide you, if the hearts of your crew do not fail them before the
dangers to be encountered."

"I could answer for the hearts of my crew," said McBain, smiling; "they
are hearts of oak, my Magnus!  You will know that before you are long
with us.  As to the mammoth caves Magnus, if we ever attempt to reach
them, I promise you that you shall be our pilot."

CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

WAS IT AN OLD MAN'S DREAM?--SUNDAY ON MID-OCEAN--LAND HO!--A STRANGE
ADVENTURE--LOST IN THE GREAT FOREST.

Captain McBain and our heroes stayed up for hours that night after old
man Magnus left, talking and musing upon the strange story they had just
been listening to.

"Think you," said Ralph, "there is much in it, or is it merely an old
man's dream?"

"An old man's dream!" said McBain.  "No, I do not; old men do not dream
such dreams as those, but, like Magnus himself, I put little faith in
the spirit part of the story."

"The question then to be answered," said Allan, "is, where did Jan
Jansen stay during the four or five years of his sojourn in the polar
seas?"

"Well," said McBain, "I have thought that over too, and I think it
admits of a feasible enough answer, without having recourse to the
spirit theory.  There is a mystery altogether about the regions of the
Pole that has never been revealed."

"In fact," said Rory, "nobody has ever been there to reveal it."

"That is just it," contained McBain; "our knowledge of the country is
terribly meagre, and merely what we have gleaned from sealers or
whalers--men, by the way, who are generally too busy, looking after the
interests of their owners, to bother their heads about exploration--or
from the tales of travellers who have attempted--merely attempted, mind
you--to penetrate as far north as they could."

"True," said Ralph.

"England," continued McBain, "has not all the credit to herself, brave
though her sailors be, of telling us all we know about the Pole and the
country--lands and seas--around it.  Why, I myself have heard tales from
Norwegian walrus-hunters, the most daring fellows that ever sailed the
seas, that prove to my facile satisfaction that there is an open ocean
near the North Pole, that there are islands in it--the Isle of Alba if
you like--and that these islands are inhabited.  You may tell me it is
too cold for human beings to live there; you may ask me where they came
from.  To your first assertion I would reply that the inhabitants may
depend to a great extent for heat on the volcanic nature of the islands
themselves, just as they depend in winter for light on the glorious
aurora, or the radiant light of stars and moon.  When you ask me where
they came from, I have but to remind you that Spitsbergen and the
islands around it were, before their glacial period, covered with
vegetation of the most luxuriant kind, that mighty trees grew on their
hills and in their dales, and that giants of the lower animal kingdom
roamed through the forests, the wilder beasts preying on the flocks and
herds that came down at mid-day to quench their thirst in the streams
and in the lakes; Man himself must have lived there too, and if he still
exists in the regions of the Pole, he is but the descendant of a former
race.

"With some of these tribes Jan Jansen no doubt lived: they were good to
him, perhaps so good that he got lazy and wouldn't work, and so they
were glad to get rid of him."

"And what about the mammoth caves--do you believe in them too?" said
Allan.

"Ah! ha!" cried Ralph, laughing; "our brother Allan has an eye to the
main chance, you see; he wants to `malt' money."

"I want to see all I can see on this cruise," said Allan, reddening a
little as he spoke, "and I want if possible to make the voyage pay.
Well, bother take you, Ralph, call it `makin' money' if you like."

"The gigantic mammoth," continued McBain, "used inhabit the far northern
regions, where they existed in millions.  Now human nature is the same
all over the world, and, I suppose, always has been.  Man is a
collecting animal; the North American Indians collect scalps--"

"Misers collect money," said Rory, "and little boys stamps."

"In some parts of the world," McBain went on, "the natives make giant
pyramids of the antlers of deer; the King of Dahomey prefers human
skulls, and if there be caves filled with mammoth tusks, as the
traditions of the Norwegians would lead us to believe, they were
doubtless collected by the natives as trophies of the hunt, and stowed
away in caves.  The mammoth you know was the largest kind of elephant--"

"Och!" cried Rory, interrupting McBain; "what an iconoclast you are to
be sure; what a breaker of images?"

"Explain, my boy," said McBain, smiling, for he could spy fun in Rory's
eye.

"You say the mam-_moth_ was an elephant," said Rory.  "Och! sure it was
myself was thinking all the time it was a kind of a bhutterfly."

"Indeed, indeed, Rory," said Ralph, "I think it is time little boys like
you were in bed."

"Well, boys," said McBain, rising, "maybe it is time we all turned in,
and thankful we have to be for a quiet night, for a fair wind, and a
clear sea.  Dream about your `bhutterfly,' Rory, my son, for depend upon
it we'll see him yet."

Next day was Sunday.  How inexpressibly calm and delightful, when
weather is fine and wind is fair, is a Sunday at sea.  It is then indeed
a Sabbath, a day of quiet rest.

On this particular morning, saving a few fleecy cloudlets that lay along
the southern horizon, there was no cloud to be seen in all the blue sky,
and the sun shone warmly down on the snowy canvas and white decks of the
_Snowbird_, as she coquetted over the rippling sea.  The men, dressed in
their neatest suits, were assembled aft on the quarter-deck, near the
binnacle, so that even the man at the wheel could join in the beautiful
Form of Prayer to be used at Sea, read by McBain in rich and manly
tones.  Had you climbed into the maintop of that yacht, that white speck
on the ocean's blue, and gazed around you on every side, you would have
scanned the horizon in vain for a sight of a single living thing.  They
were indeed alone on the wide ocean.  Alone, yet not alone, for One was
with them to whom they were now appealing.  "One terrible in all His
works of wonder, at whose command the winds do blow, and who stilleth
the raging of the tempest."

Prayers over, Ap pipes down, the men move forward to read or to talk,
and by-and-bye it will be the dinner-hour; this is "plum-dough" day,
and, mind you, sailors are just like schoolboys, they _think_ about this
sort of thing.  Oscar, the Saint.  Bernard, has mounted on top of the
skylight--his favourite resting-place in fine weather--and laid himself
down to sleep in dog fashion, with one eye a little open, and one ear on
half-cock to catch the faintest unusual sound.

"Do you know," said Ralph, looking over the bulwarks and down at the
gliding water, "I think I should like to live at sea."

"Ay, ay," said Rory, "if it was always like this, O! thou fair-weather
sailor, but when we're lying-to in a gale of wind, Ralph, that is the
time I like to see you, fast in your armchair, with the long legs of you
against the bulkheads to steady yourself, and trying in vain to swallow
a cup of tea.  Oh! then is the time you look so pleasant."

Ralph looked at this teasing shipmate of his for a moment or two with a
kind of amused smile on his handsome face, then he pulled his ear for
him and walked away aft.

About five days after this Rory came on deck; he had been talking to
Captain McBain in his cabin.  The captain was working out the reckoning,
during which I don't think Rory helped him very much.

"Well, Rory," said Allan, "you've been plaguing the life out of poor
McBain, I know.  But tell us the news--where are we?"

"Indeed," said Rory, with pretended gravity, "we're in a queer place
altogether, and I don't know that ever we'll get out of it."

"Out of what?" cried Ralph; "speak out, man--anything gone wrong?"

"Indeed then," replied Rory, "there has been a collision."

"A collision?"

"Yes, a collision between the latitude and the longitude, and they're
both standing stock still at 60."

"I'll explain," said McBain, who had just joined them.  "The good ship
_Snowbird_, latitude 60 degrees North, longitude 60 degrees West."

"Now do you see, Mr Obtuse?" said Rory.

"I do," said Ralph, "but no thanks to you."

Next morning land was in sight on the lee bow, and by noon they had cast
anchor and clewed sails in a small bay near a creek.

"Not a very hospitable-looking shore, is it?" said McBain; "but never
mind, here are birds in plenty, and no doubt we'll find fur as well as
feather.  So be ready by to-morrow for a big shoot."

"_I'm_ ready now," said Rory, "just for a small `explore,' you know, and
we'll come back by sunset and report."

"And I'll go with him," said Allan.

"Mind you don't get lost," cried McBain; "and we don't expect a big bag,
you know."

Rory carried his rifle, Allan his gun; they were armed for anything, and
felt big enough to tackle a bear for that matter.  They pulled straight
in-shore and up the creek, and to their joy they found at the head of it
a nice stream; not a river by any means, but still navigable enough for
more than a mile for their little craft.  They soon came to a rapid,
almost a waterfall, indeed, and not thinking it expedient to carry their
boat, or to proceed farther on water, they landed, made her fast to the
stump of an old tree, and trudged on in quest of adventure, with their
guns over their shoulders.

"Now," said Rory, pausing to gaze around him, after they had walked on
in silence over a wild and scraggy heath for more than an hour, "if we
had merely come in quest of the beautiful and the picturesque, and if I
had brought my sketch-book with me, it strikes me we would have been
rewarded, but as for shooting, why, we would have done well to have
stopped on the seashore and kept potting away at the gulls."

The scenery about them was indeed lovely, with a loveliness peculiarly
its own.  It was summer in this wild northern land; everywhere the
moorlands and plains were carpeted with the greenest of grass, or
bedecked with mosses and lichens of every hue imaginable, from the
sombrest brown to the brightest scarlet.  Of wild flowers there were but
few, but heaths, still green, there were in abundance, and many curious
wild shrubs they had never seen before; but they knew the juniper-plant
and the sweet-scented wild myrtle.  Why, it was the same that adorned
the braes of Arrandoon!  Then there were fruit-trees of various kinds,
and trees that bore large pink and white flowers.  It seemed odd to our
heroes to see big flowers growing on tree-tops, but this, and indeed
everything else around them, only served to remind them that they were
in a foreign land.  What they missed the most were the wild flowers and
the song of birds.  Birds there were, but they were silent: they would
rush out from a bush, or flutter down from a tree, to gaze curiously at
them, then be off again.  The horizon was bounded by rugged hills,
surrounded by a forest of pine-trees.

"I think," said Rory, "we should climb that sugar-loaf hill.  What a
grand view we would get.  Let us walk towards the wood; we are sure to
find game there."

"Do you know in what direction our ship lies?" said Allan.

"That I don't," said Rory; "but if we follow the stream we are sure to
find the boat."

"But we have left the stream.  Do you think you know in what direction
that lies?"

"Pooh! no!" cried Rory.  "Oh, look, Allan! look at that lovely blue and
crimson bird!  Fire, boy, fire!"

Allan fired and Rory bagged the beauty.

Then on they went, firing now at some strange bird and now at a weasel
or polecat, taking little heed of where they were going, just as
heedless as youth so often is.

There was a ravine between them and the forest, which the purple haze of
distance had hidden from their view, but, as they were bent on reaching
the pines by hook or by crook, they descended.  The grass grew greener
at the bottom of this dale, and here they found a stream of pure water,
with a bottom of golden sand and boulders.  This was a temptation not to
be resisted, so they threw themselves down on the bank after quenching
their thirsty and proceeded, in a languid and dreamy kind of manner, to
watch the movements of the shoals of speckled trout that gambolled in
the stream, chasing each other round the stones, and poking each other
in the ribs with their round slimy noses.

"Don't they look happy?" said Rory, "and wouldn't they eat nicely?"

"Which reminds me," said Allan, "that I've something good in my bag."

"And ain't I hungry just!"  Rory said; and his eyes sparkled as Allan
produced, all neatly begirt with a towel of sparkling whiteness, a dish
containing a pie of such delicious flavour that when it was finished,
and washed down with what Rory, mimicking the rich brogue of his
countrymen, called "a taste of the stramelet," they both thought they
had never dined so well before.

Half-a-dozen wood-pigeons flew hurriedly over them.  Rory seized Allan's
gun and fired, and one dropped dead within a dozen yards of them.  Such
a beauty, so plump and so large.

"That is our game," cried Rory; "let us on to the wood.  We'll get such
bags as will make Ralph chew his tongue with regret that he wasn't with
us."

"Hoo-hoo-hooo-o!" resounded from the spruce thickets as they neared the
woods.

"Here, at them?" cried Allan, excitedly.  "Now for it, my boy!"

"Yes," said Rory; "it's all very well, but I can't pot them so well with
the rifle."

"Then in all brotherly love and fairness we'll exchange guns every
twenty minutes."

As it was arranged so it was carried out.  They crept along under the
trees.

"Hoo-hoo-hooo-o!" cried the great blue-grey birds, rising in the air on
flapping wings.  Bang, bang, bang!  Down they came thick and fast.  The
sportsmen had many little mishaps, and tore their clothes considerably,
but the fun was so "fine" they did not mind that much.

After about three hours of this,--

"I say," says Rory, "isn't it getting duskish!"

"Bless me!" cried Allan, looking at his watch, "I declare it is long
past seven o'clock.  Let us start for the brook at once and find our
boat."

"You mustn't shout," said Rory, "till you're out of the wood."

"We came this way, I know," said Allan.

They went that way, but only seemed to get deeper and deeper into the
forest.  They tried another direction with the same result; another and
another, but all to no purpose.  Then they looked at each other in
consternation.

"We're lost!" cried Allan.  "How could we have been so mad?"

"We can gain nothing, though," said Rory, "by crying about it;" and down
_he_ sat.

"I see nothing for it but to follow your example," said Allan,
dolefully; and down he sat also.

"What a pretty little pair of babes in the wood we make, don't we?"
continued Allan, after a pause.

"What a pity we ate all Peter's pie, though," says Rory; "but we won't
let down our hearts.  The moon will be up ere long, but sleep here
to-night we'll have to.  If we tried now to find our way we'd only be
going round and round, with no more chance of finding our way than a dog
has of catching his tail."

Presently there was a whirring noise, and a great black bird, apparently
as big as a Newfoundland, alighted on an adjoining tree.

"It is an eagle," said Rory.  "Down with him."

"It's a wild turkey," said Allan, coming back with the spoil.

He had hardly laid it down when an immense, great, gaunt, and
hungry-looking wolf seemed to start from the very earth in front of
them.  Rory fired, but missed.

"In case," said Allan, "we have a visit from any more of these gentry,
let us light a fire."

This was soon done, and the blaze from the burning wood caused the gloom
of the forest to close around them like a thick black pall, and, lit up
by the glare of the fire, their faces and figures stood out in bold
relief.  It was like a picture of Rembrandt's.

"In the morning, you know," Allan remarked, "we will find our way out of
the wood by blazing the trees."

"What, would you set fire to the forest?" laughed Rory.

"No, Mr Greenhorn," said Allan, "only chip a bit of bark here and there
off the trees' stems to prevent us from going round in a circle."

"Well," said Rory, "you know how the thing is done, I don't."

The night wore on; it was very quiet in that gloomy pine-wood.  The moon
rose slowly over the horizon, but her beams could hardly penetrate the
thick branches of the spruce firs.  The fire burnt low, only starting
occasionally into a fitful blaze; the two friends from talking fell to
nodding, then their weary heads dropped on their arms, and they slept.

But is this forest quite so deserted as the two friends imagined?  No;
for behold that dark figure gliding swiftly from tree to tree through
the chequered moonlight; and now the branches are pushed aside, and he
stands erect before them.  Tall he is, gaunt and ungainly, dressed from
the crown of the head to his moccasined feet in skins, and armed with
gun, dagger, and revolver.  He stands for a moment in silence, then
quite aloud, and with a strong Yankee nasal twang,--

"Well, I'm skivered!" he says.

Rory rose on his feet first, and had his rifle at the stranger's neck in
the twinkling of an eye.

"Who are you?" he cries.  "Speak quick, or I fire!"

"Seth," was the reply.  "Now put aside that tool, or see if I don't put
a pill through you."

"What seek you here?"

"Well!" said Seth, "I _do_ like cheek when it is properly carried out.
Here you two chaps have been a-prowling round my premises all day, and
a-potting at my pigeons; you've been and shot my pet turkey, and you've
fired at my mastiff, and now you ask me what I want on my own property.
I've heard of cheek before, but this licks all."

"Well, well, well!" cried Allan, laughing, "I declare we thought the
land uninhabited."

"So it is," said the Yankee; "there ain't a soul within three days'
journey o' here, bar old trapper Seth that you see before you."

"And we took your mastiff for a wolf," said Rory, "and your turkey for a
gaberlunzie.  Troth, it's too bad entirely."

[Gaberlunzie, _Scottice_ for an old beggar man.  Rory no doubt meant to
say capercailzie, the wild turkey of the Scottish woods.]

"You see there are no game laws in this land, and no trespass laws
either," said Seth, "else I'd take you prisoners; but if you'll come and
help old Seth to eat his supper, it'll be more of a favour than anything
else, that's all."

"That we will, with pleasure," said Rory and Allan, both in one breath.

Seth's cottage was about as wild and uncouth as himself or his mastiff.
No wonder, by the way, they took the latter for a wolf, but the trapper
made them right welcome.  The venison steaks were delicious, and
although they had to "fist" them, knives and forks being unknown in
Seth's log hut, they enjoyed them none the less.  After supper this
solitary trapper, who felt civilised life far too crowded for him,
entertained them with tales of his adventures till long past midnight;
then he spread them couches of skins, and their slumbers thereon were
certainly sweeter than they would have been in the centre of the cold
forest.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

OSCAR FINDS THE TRUANTS--BREAKFAST FOR SEVEN--SETH SPINS A YARN--THE
WALRUS-HUNTERS--THE INDIANS--BEAUTIFUL SCENERY--A WEEK'S GOOD SPORT.

Rap--rap--rap!  Rat--tat--tat--tat!

"What, ho! within there."  Rat--tat--tat!

Bow--wow--wow.

Old Seth had been up hours ago, and far away in the forest, but sleep
still sealed the eyelids of both Allan and Rory, although it must have
been pretty nearly eight bells, in the morning watch.

Rat--tat--tat!  "Hi! hi! any one within?"

After a considerable deal of the silly sort of dreaming that heavy
sleepers persist in conducting on such occasions, when you are trying
your very best to awake them, Rory first, then Allan heard the sound,
became sensible at once, and sprang from their couches of skins.

"Why," cried Rory, "it is McBain's voice as sure as a gun is a gun."

"That it is," said the gentleman referred to, entering the wigwam,
accompanied by Ralph and Oscar, "and if I had known the door was only
latched, it is in I would have been to shake you.  Pretty pair of
truants you are."

"Indeed," said Ralph, "we had almost given you up for lost, and a weary
night of suspense we have had."

You may be sure Oscar the Saint Bernard was not slow in expressing his
delight at this reunion.  Some large dogs are not demonstrative, but
Oscar was an exception; he was not even content with simply leaping on
Allan's shoulders and half smothering him with caresses.  No, this would
not satisfy a dog of his stamp; he must let off the steam somehow, so he
seized Allan's hat, and next moment he was careering round and round
among the forest trees, in a circle with a radius of about fifty yards,
and at the rate of twenty knots an hour.  Having thus relieved himself
of his extra excitement, he returned to the hut, gave up the hat, and
lay quietly down to look at his master.

"Yes," said McBain, "but there was no good starting a search expedition
last night, you know, so we left the yacht at daybreak and here we are."

"And here we wouldn't be," added Ralph, "but for that honest dog."

While they were talking, Seth returned with dog and gun, bearing on his
shoulders a young doe, its eyes not yet glazed, so recently had it been
shot.

"Well, gentlemen," he said, throwing down his burden at the door, while
Oscar ran out to say "How d'ye do?" to the mastiff, "I'm skivered.  A
kind o' right down skivered."

"Well," said McBain smiling, "I trust it is a pleasant sensation."

"Sensation?" said Seth, "here's where the sensation lies.  I go out to
shoot a doe for breakfast, and when I come back, if I don't find three
more on ye.  Seven of us and only one doe!  But never mind, the old
trapper'll do his level utmost.  But I say, though, seven of us to one
doe.  Well, I _am_ skivered!"

When men of the world meet in foreign lands, especially in wild foreign
forests, they can dispense with a deal of ceremony, and the old trapper
was soon talking away as free-and-easily, and as merrily, with our
travellers as if he had known them all his life.

But it would have done your heart good to have seen Seth preparing
breakfast.  He built a log fire outside the hut and placed an immense
tripod over it; on this he hung an immense pot, all in gipsy-fashion.
This was what Seth called the "dirty work."  That finished, this curious
old trapper at once set about transforming himself into _chef_, first
and foremost placing a basin and spoon handy for each of his visitors,
not forgetting the dogs, and the former were surprised to see everything
scrupulously clean.  Seth retired for a few minutes with the deer, and
in a surprisingly short time reappeared with a large wooden tray,
containing evidently everything that would be required for the morning's
meal, and old Seth had divested himself of his coat and skin cap, and
now wore an immense leathern apron, with a clean linen cap, while his
sleeves were rolled up above the elbows.

Our heroes lay on the grass talking and laughing and looking lazily on,
but enjoying the sight nevertheless.  It was evidently a curry on a
grand scale that Seth was going to give them, and he soon had about a
dozen sliced onions simmering in fat; when they were enough done the
doe's, flesh was added, and then Seth set about compounding his curry
out of freshly-grated turmeric and many curious herbs.  His pestle and
mortar were rude but efficient.  This was the longest part of the
operation, and he had to pause often to take off the lid and stir up the
flesh, and every time he did this the two dogs, who had sworn eternal
friendship when first they met, must needs walk round to the lee side of
the old trapper, and hold their heads high in the air to sniff the
fragrant steam.

And now Seth added the goat's milk, then the curry, and lastly the
flour; after this he left the mess to simmer while he busied himself in
preparations for dishing up.  Our heroes were intensely hungry, but they
were also intensely happy, and when hunger and happiness both go
together, it is a sure sign that a man is in health.

"Well, I do declare," said Ralph, passing his dish for the third if not
the fourth time, "I don't think I ever enjoyed a breakfast more in my
life."

"Nor I either; and fancy getting freshly-baked bread," said Allan.

"And the drink," said McBain, lifting a foaming mug to his lips, "what a
glad surprise!"

Simple heather ale it was, reader, made from the heath-tops and
sweetened with wild honey.

"And you tell us," said McBain, "that you've been alone in this forest
for twelve long years?"

"Not alone," said Seth, pointing with his foot to the mastiff.  "I had
he, and his father and mother before him."

"And you're your own baker and brewer?"

"Blame me," replied Seth, "if I ain't my own everything, and bar a
couple of journeys a year of a hundred odd miles to sell my furs, and
buy powder and an old newspaper, I never sees a soul save the Yack
Injuns.  A little civilisation goes a long way with Seth."

"I dare say," says Rory, "you built your house yourself?"

"Shouldn't wonder if I did," said Seth.  "And I cleared all the space
you see around; I knocked the forest about a bit, I can tell you,
gentlemen; the spruce pines that grow to the north and east of the
wigwam are left on purpose for shelter, for in winter it does blow a bit
here--ay, and snow a bit as well, and there is sometimes a week and more
that old Seth can't put his nose over the threshold.  And that's just
the time, gentlemen, that I receives visitors, skiver 'em!"

"What, Indians?" asked Rory.

"Oh! no, sirree," said the Yankee trapper; "'tain't likely any Injun
could live in a storm that Seth couldn't stand.  No, b'ars, sir, b'ars."

"Ah! bears! yes, I see, and I suppose you give them a warm reception?"

Seth chuckled to himself as he replied, "Whatever I gives 'em,
gentlemen, I serves it up hot.  Then their skins come in handy for
blankets and such, you see."

"And the Indians--when do they pay you a visit?"

"After the first fall of snow," said Seth--"soon as they can chivey
along in their caribou sledges."

"It must be grand fun," said Allan, "that chiveying along, as you call
it, in a caribou sledge."

"It is," said Seth, "when once you get used to it, and you have a deer
you can trust.  I remember the time when the Yacks knew nothing at all
about training deer for the work.  A party of Norwegians, in a tub of a
walrus brig, got stranded round north here some years ago.  Well, sir,
the Injuns were going to kill every man Jack of them."

"Savage are they, then?" said McBain.  "Not a bit of it!" replied Seth;
"they were going to kill them for fun, that was all!"

"Troth?" says Rory, "they must have a drop of the rale ould Oirish blood
in them, these same Yacks?"

"They ain't Yacks quite, though," says Seth, "though I calls 'em so;
they ain't so indolent as a Yack; they are bigger, too, and a deal more
treacherous."

"Did they kill the poor fellows?" asked McBain.  "Not a bit of it!"
Seth replied.  "Nary a one o' them.  Seth interceded.  Though I say it,"
continued the trapper, "as mebbe shouldn't say it, and wouldn't say it
if there was anybody else to say it for me, Seth had some little
influence with these wily blueskins--it ain't red that they be, mind
you, but blue.  They'll never forget the first taste of my temper they
had.  Plunket's mother were livin' then, and a fine dog she was, and so
was Plunket himself, although not much more'n a year old.  The old lady
was left to keep the house one day, and Plunket and I went to look for
caribou.  When we returns in the evening I could tell at a glance the
Injuns had been on to us.  Everything was upside down; everything was
taken away they could carry, and poor Ino was lying wounded and bleeding
in a corner; the scoundrels had tomahawked her.  You should have seen
the way Plunket set his back up and ran round and round the place.  But
his turn didn't come then for a bit.  We just kept quiet for a few
weeks, and nursed Ino back to life.  We knew they'd return, and they
did.  Lying awake I was one morning, when I hears Plunket give a low
growl.  I knew something was up, so I kept the dogs still and waited to
see what the next move would be.  Half-an-hour and more passed, then a
great brown bare arm stole in through the hole in the door-top; in the
hand was a knife, which was moved across the leathern hinges.
Gentlemen, Plunket had a mouthful of that arm ere ever you'd say `axe'!
`Hold on, Plunket!'  I cried, and the good dog didn't need two biddings,
I can tell you; he stuck to his prisoner like grim Death to a dead
nigger, until, with a bar and a rope, I had made sure the arm couldn't
be withdrawn.  Well, you should have heard the yell that blueskin gave.
But a louder yell than his rang all around the hut next minute, and I
knew then, gentlemen, it was to be war to the knife-hilt.  My windows
are small, but the walls are strong, and I was safe enough for a bit.  I
fired through each shutter as a kind of warning to 'em; then I crept
upstairs to the little garret and prepared to give them pepper!  Fifteen
I could count in all, armed with tomahawks and spears; fifteen, and
Plunket's prisoner.  Sixteen in all, and only three of us!  No use their
trying to get in in an ordinary way, they soon gave up that game, and
drew off and held a council.  I didn't want to begin the game of
killing, gentlemen, or now I could have had three with one bullet.  The
conclusion they came to was to burn this old trapper out.  But you see,
gentlemen, this old trapper didn't mean to be burnt out if he could help
it.  Shame on the wretches! they didn't mind even burning the poor Injun
who was fast to the door.  Well, when they began to make the faggots, I
just let them have it as hot as ever I could.  It was my six-shooting
rifle, and it didn't seem a moment ere three had bit the dust, and a
fourth, wounded, jumped over the ravine yonder.  Well, after this it
'peared to me the fight just began in real earnest.  They tried to scale
the hut, and they tried to scale the trees.  From both positions they
came down faster than they went up.  They threw their hatchets and they
threw their spears, but, worse than all, they fired and threw their
faggots.  In that case, thinks I, it's time I brought out my reserves,
so, giving them one other rattling volley, I got down as quick as feet
would take me.  `Come, good dogs!'  I cried; `now to give them fits!'
Gentlemen, I was about as "mad" [a Yankeeism signifying angry] as ever I
was in my life, and the dogs were madder, and the way I laid around me
with my club when I got out must have been fine to see; but the way that
mastiff went for them blueskins was finer.  The field was all our own in
five minutes; the garrison was unscathed, the enemy had six killed, and
it must have taken the others weeks to mend their dog-holes."

"What about Plunket's prisoner?" asked Rory.

"Plunket's prisoner," said Seth, "came in very handy.  It was spring,
you see, and there were potatoes to plant and maize and onions to sow,
and what not I tied the creature to Plunket for safety.  He had plenty
of rope, and when he saw I didn't mean to kill him he started and worked
away like a New Hollander.  When everything was in the ground--and that
took us three weeks--I started him off with a message to Quimo, his
chief, and I can tell you, gentlemen, no Yack Injun has ever drawn knife
on old Seth since."

"But," said Rory, "weren't you going to tell us about the Norwegian
walrus-hunters?"

"Oh!" said Seth, "it was like this.  I heard of the shipwreck, and I
went right away over with Plunket to see if I could be of any service.
And it was well for those hunters I did.  I found fires alight to
torture them, and irons heating to make them skip and jump.  The
blueskin chief was in high glee; he was expecting rare fun, he told me,
`Well, Quimo,' says I to him, `you always was about the peskiest old
idgit ever I came across.'  `How now,' says he, `great and mighty
hunter?'  `You're an almighty squaw,' says I; `why don't you wear a
"neenak" and carry an "awwee"?  Come now, Quimo, let me be master of
ceremonies, I'll show you better fun than you could make.'  `My white
brother,' said Quimo, `is very wise.'  `And you're an old fool,' says I.
This wasn't flattery, gentlemen, I own, but old Seth knows the Indian
character well."

[Neenak: the short apron of sealskin the women of some tribes of Yack
Indians wear.]

[Awwee: baby or young one, applied to animals as well as human beings.]

"I goes straight to where the Norwegians were lying bound, and cuts
their cords.  `Now,' says I to them, `you've got to dance and sing and
do all you can to please these Injuns; and, mind, you're doing it for
dear life!'  Gentlemen, I laugh to myself sometimes even yet when I
think of the capers them four poor chaps cut.  Old Quimo roared again,
and laughed till the tears rolled down his dirty cheeks; then he vowed
by the sun (the god of the Yack), that the hatchet should be buried for
ever between him and the white man.

"But these Norwegians stopped and settled down among the tribe, and they
have taught them caribou sleighing and hunting the walrus with iron-shod
spears, instead of the old caribou-horn toasting-forks they used to use.
But come, gentlemen, old Seth would keep you talking here all day.  Let
us get up and be doing, for I reckon you came ashore for a bit of a
shoot."

"That we did!" said McBain, "and if you'll be our guide, you shall have
as much tobacco as will last you for a year."

The tears seemed to stand in Seth's eyes with delight at the prospect.
"I guess," he said, "this old trapper knows where the best caribou are
to be had, and so does Plunket too."

With Seth, to make up his mind was to act, and in five minutes he had
rehabilitated himself in his skins, slung on his shot-belt, and
shouldered his rifle.  Rory was now bemoaning his fate in not having
brought _his_ rifle instead of a fowling-piece, but Seth soon got him
over that difficulty.  He strode into the wigwam, and presently
reappeared with a very presentable weapon indeed, and soon after, in
true Indian file, they were threading their way through the forest, the
mastiff first and Oscar second, seeming determined to follow the lead
and do whatever the other dog did.  The road--or rather, I should say,
their way, for path there was none--led upwards and inland, and after a
walk of fully an hour they came out into a broad open plain.  This they
crossed, and then wound round some hills--high enough to have been
called mountains in England--when suddenly, on rounding a spur of one of
these, a scene was opened out before them that my pen is powerless to
describe.  They stood at the mouth of a beautiful glen, or ravine, the
whole bottom of which was a sheet of water that reflected the sky's blue
and the cloudlets that floated like foam flakes above, while the lofty
and rugged cliffs that surrounded the lake were green-fringed with
trees, the silvery birch and the white-flowered mountain ash showing
charmingly out against the more sombre hues of pine and firs; and above
all were the everlasting hills, their jagged peaks white-tipped with
snow, on which the sun shone with silver radiance.  Patches of colour
here and there relieved the green of the trees, for yonder was a bold
bluff, covered with scarlet lichens, and closer to the water were
patches of crimson and white foxglove.  Cascades, too, formed by the
melting snows, could be descried here and there, and the noise they made
as they joined the lake fell upon the ear like the hum that arises from
a distant city.

They stood entranced, and Rory was thinking he would rather be armed
with sketch-book than rifle, when--

"Hist!" cried Seth.

They followed his eye.  On a rock right above them stood boldly out
against the sky a tall stag; you might have counted every branch in his
antlers.

"Don't fire!" cried Seth.

It was too late.  Bang went Rory's rifle, and the echoes reverberated
from rock to rock, fainter and more faint, till they were lost in the
distance.  Down rolled the stag.

"I guess that has spoiled our day's sport," said Seth, quietly.
"Listen."

What is it they hear?  The whole earth seems to tremble, and there is a
sound comes from the woods like that of far-off thunder?

"They're off," said Seth; "that was a general stampede.  In half-an-hour
more we'd have had some fine skirmishing.  They had been down to drink
and were resting afterwards."

Rory had to pay for his experience anyhow in a three hours' manoeuvring
march.  They did outflank the deer at last, but they were somewhat wild,
and the sport was only fair.

It was nightfall ere they reached Seth's wigwam once more, and they were
thoroughly tired, and glad to rest while Seth cooked the supper in a way
that only Seth could.

That night they spent in the wigwam; next day they went on board, and
Seth went with them, their object being to organise a little expedition
against the caribou.  McBain meant to make a week's stay here to
replenish his larder fore and aft, ere they tripped anchor and made sail
for wilder regions to the westward and north.

You may be sure Rory did not forget his sketch-book, nor a light canoe
he had which one man could carry on his back.

They had a week of such glorious sport, both in fishing and shooting,
that when the last evening came round both Ralph and Rory averred that
they would like to stay among these wooded hills for ever.

"I guess," said Seth, "you'd get tired of it."

"_Do_ you ever tire of it?" asked McBain, and he asked the question with
a purpose.

"There are times," said Seth, looking into the log fire around which
they sat, and giving a kind of sigh, "when I think that a little change
would do myself and Plunket a power of good."

"You shall have it," cried McBain, jumping up and catching the old man
by the hand, "you and Plunket too.  Come with us in the _Snowbird_,
we'll make you as comfortable and happy as the day is long."

"If I thought I'd be of any use--" began Seth.

"Of use, man," cried McBain; "you're the handiest fellow ever I met in
my life."

"And that you'd bring me home again."

"If we don't we'll never return more ourselves," said McBain.

"Then, gentlemen," said the trapper, "I'll accept your offer.  There!"

CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

THE OLD TRAPPER BURIES HIS VALUABLES--THE "SNOWBIRD" GOES ON HER
VOYAGE--ICE--A WHALE IN SIGHT--A FALL!  A FALL!--IN AT THE DEATH--THE
"TREFOIL" ON FIRE.

Old Seth the trapper had a deal to do before he could accompany our
heroes on board the _Snowbird_.  "For ye see, gentlemen," he explained
to them, "as soon's they find out that the Old Bear, as they somewhat
irreverently nominate this child, has left his wigwam, I guess the
Yacks'll pretty quickly come skooting around here, to pick up whatever
they're likely to lay their dirty hands on, so I reckon I'll just bury
my valuables."

A very practical individual was Seth, and when once he made up his mind
to do a thing he just did it straight away; so, as soon as they had
eaten their last breakfast at his wigwam, assisted by one or two of the
yachtsmen, the burial of the valuables commenced.  A large hole was dug
not far from the door of the hut, and this was carefully lined with hay,
and on the hay were piled Seth's household goods, in the shape of pots
and pans, and plates and dishes, and every variety of cooking and
kitchen utensil, with the greater portion of the old man's armoury
_plus_ his wardrobe.  Not the best portion of the latter, however; no,
only some of his skin suits, for shortly before these were deposited in
their temporary grave, Seth had retired for a space to the privacy of
his garret.

"I reckon," he said to himself, with a smile, as he began to undress,
"that old Seth'll kinder astonish the weak nerves of these English
sailors."  Don't suppose they'd guess the old trapper was in possession
of anything decent to put on.  He reckoned upon astonishing our
travellers, and he certainly was not far out of his reckoning, for when
he again appeared in their midst, arrayed in a long blue coat with brass
buttons, shoes with silver buckles, silk stockings, and knee-breeches,
white collar up to his eyes, and crowned with a beaver hat of immense
longitude, and with a face as serious and long as your own, reader, when
you look into the bowl of a silver spoon, Rory, whose risibility was
never under the most perfect control, simply rolled on the grass and
screamed.  Allan was the next to go off, and then Ralph exploded, and
finally McBain.  Even Oscar joined the chorus in a round of bow-bows,
and the only two of the whole party that contained themselves were Seth
and his mastiff.

"Guess," said Seth, quietly recommencing the burial of his valuables,
"you're kinder 'stonished to find Seth can be civilised when he likes."

Well, as soon as more hay had been placed in the grave, and the earth
packed down over all.

"P'r'aps," said Seth, "you gentlemen think the funeral's over now."

"It's finished now, isn't it?" asked McBain.

"Nary a bit of it," said the old man; "I know the Yacks too well to
leave the grave like that.  They'd spot it at once, and have 'em up
before you'd say bullet."

The trapper's wisdom was well shown in his next move.  This was to heap
a quantity of brushwood and logs on the top of all, and set fire to
them.

He watched the progress of the fire until it was well alight, and the
biggest logs began to crackle.

That same forenoon the first and second mates of the _Snowbird_ were
leaning over the bulwarks, looking at the shore, when the sound of oars
fell upon their ears, and next minute the yacht's cutter hove in sight
round the point.

"Why," said Stevenson, "who on earth have they got on board?"

"Old John Brown, I should think," said the second mate.

"Well," continued Stevenson, "I do wonder how many queer old customers
the captain will pick up before the end of the cruise.  Ap ain't a
chicken, and Magnus isn't a youth, but this new old one beats all.
Shouldn't wonder if it ain't Methuselah himself.  Anyhow, Mitchell, if
we do happen to want to rig a jury mast one of these days, this
venerable old bit o' timber in the long hat will be just the thing."

When the anchor was up once more, sail set, and the _Snowbird_ again
holding on her voyage, bowling along under a ten-knot breeze, Stevenson
approached to where Seth stood against the capstan.

"I say," says Stevenson.

"Sir to you," says Seth.

"You're a friend o' the captain's, ain't you?"

"That's so," from Seth.

"Well, that makes you a friend of mine," from Stevenson.  "Shake hands."

Seth did shake hands, and Stevenson winced as he pulled his hand away.

"What an iron-fisted old sinner you are!"

"I reckon," said Seth, quietly, "I can hold pretty tight for an old
'un."

"Now," continued Stevenson, "let me give you a piece of advice."

"Spit it out," said Seth.

"Well then, it is this: get rid of these antediluvian togs o' yours.  I
won't say you look a guy, but the suit ain't shipshape, I assure you,
and it makes you look--well, just a little remarkable; and mind you, if
it comes on to blow only just a little bit, that venerable tile o'
yours'll go overboard--sharp, and your wig too, if you wear one."

"Look here, young man," said Seth, "you talk pretty straight, you do;
but as far as the wig is concerned, I wear my own hair as yet; as
regards the togs, as you call 'em, I hain't got nothing else to put on
but skins.  Skins wouldn't suit a civilised ship.  So unless you can fix
me up decent and different, don't talk, that's all."

"That's fair, that's right, Methus--I mean, Mr Seth."

"Bother your misters," said the old trapper; "I'm Seth, simply Seth."

"Well, Seth," said Stevenson, "see here, I can fix you in a brace of
shakes; you ain't much more'n a yard taller than me.  Come below,
Methus--ahem!  Seth.  Mind your hat.  It would be a pity to crush that,
you know."

When Seth appeared on deck again, rigged out in a suit of Stevenson's,
albeit his legs stuck rather far through their covering, and his long
bony wrists were nicely displayed, it must be confessed that he _did_
look a little less remarkable.

Where was Seth to sleep at night?  Was he to be a cabin passenger?  Nay,
Seth himself decided the matter by simply taking the big mastiff in his
arms, and lying down on a skin in front of the galley-fire.

As for the dog himself, he began to improve in condition from the very
day he came on board, and before he was a week at sea he was positively
getting fat.  But the Yankee trapper remained as lanky as ever.  Do not
think, however, that honest Seth was of no service on board; old as he
was, he proved a very useful fellow.  He assisted the cook, the cooper,
and the sailmaker all in turns; and when he was not assisting them he
was squatting on deck, making and mending fishing-tackle, and busking
fishhooks with feathers, to make them represent flies.

The _Snowbird_ had now got so far into the northern and western bays
that, summer although it was, the weather was far from warm, but it
continued fine.  Immense snow-clad pieces of ice were to be seen daily,
sometimes even hourly, and the yacht often sailed so closely to them
that the very blood and marrow of the onlookers felt as if suddenly
frozen into ice itself.

One morning a berg was reached larger than any they had yet seen, and
the vessel had to alter her course considerably in order to avoid it.
To all appearance it was an island in the midst of the dark sea, and
quite an hour elapsed ere it was rounded, and the ship could again be
kept away on the right tack.  Hardly had she been put so, when,--

"A sail!" was the shout from the crow's-nest--"a sail on the weather
bow."

Captain McBain went aloft himself to have a look at her, the yacht in
the meantime being kept close to the wind.  When he came down Rory and
Allan went eagerly to meet him.

"What is she?" said the former.  "Our old friend the pirate?"

"Nay," said McBain, "not this time; it's a whaler, right enough; all her
boats are hanging handy, and she is evidently on the outlook for
blubber.  Peter!" he cried, speaking down the main hatch, "have lunch
ready in a couple of hours.  I think," he continued, addressing our
heroes, "we'll board her.  Would any of you like to go?"

Of course they would, every one of the three of them.

While they were discussing luncheon Stevenson came below.

"We're nearly close abreast of her," he said, "and I've been signalling.
She's an English barque--the _Trefoil_, from Hull."

"Been whaling, I suppose?" said McBain.

"Yes, sir," said Stevenson; "she's been wintered, and is now engaged at
the summer fishing.  She's dodging now; and I've had the foreyard hauled
aback."

"Thank you, Mr Stevenson.  Call away the gig if the men have dined.
Let them dress in their smartest.  We'll be up in a few minutes."

It was a lovely day; a gentle swell was on, broken into myriads of
rippling wavelets by a southern wind, and on it the tall-masted barque
rocked gently to and fro.  The gig was soon lowered and manned, and,
with Rory as coxswain, they left the _Snowbird's_ side.  How pretty she
looked!  This thought must have been in every one's mind as they gazed
on her beautiful lines, and thence at the large but cumbersome vessel
they were rapidly approaching.  Hard weather and hard usage she must
have experienced since leaving England.  The paint was planed and
ploughed off her bows and sides in all directions, and the woodwork
itself deeply furrowed and indented.

"It is evident enough she has been in the nips," said McBain, "pretty
often, too."

A Jacob's-ladder was thrown overboard as they approached, and a rope,
when up they sprang, and next moment stood on the deck of the
Greenlandman, lifting their hats with true sailor courtesy as soon as
they touched her timbers.

Rough and unkempt both the seamen and officers looked beside our smart,
gaily-dressed yachtsmen, but they accorded them a kindly welcome
nevertheless.  They were invited down below, and found themselves in a
little octagon-shaped saloon, with a stove on one side, and doors
opening off every other.  So small was this crib, as one might call it,
that, with the captain and the mate, our friends quite filled it.

The captain was a tall, stout, blustering fellow of about forty years of
age, who welcomed them in, roughly but not unkindly, and showered upon
them about a dozen questions without waiting for an answer to either.
What was the latest from England?  Were we at war?  Was Hool (Hull)
still in the same place?  Had they brought newspapers?  What would they
drink?  Ending up with--

"Steward, bring the bottles--confound you! what are you standing
grinning there at, like a vixen fox?  Sharp's the word, quick's the
motion."

There were many words in this sailor's vocabulary that I do not think it
right to repeat, as they were not fit for ears polite.

"What!" he cried, when McBain assured him they neither of them cared to
drink--"what, a teetotal ship!  Why, how the humpty-dumpty do you manage
to keep the cold out, then?"

"Coffee," was the laconic reply.

"Well, well, well!" said the Greenland captain, filling himself up half
a tumblerful of rum, and drinking it off at one gulp.  "But sit down all
the same, and give us all the news."

That they would, and that they did, and they answered all his questions
with extreme politeness, and were just on the eve of asking him some in
return anent his own adventures, when that cry, so musical and exciting
to the ear of the Greenland whaler, was shouted from the mast-head, and
taken up by those below, and resounded all over the ship from stem to
stern, and back again--"A fall! a fall! a fall!"

The captain sprang to his feet, almost capsizing the bottles in his
excitement.

"Hurrah, men! hurrah!" he roared, as he sprang up the companion, "luck's
going to turn after all.  Hurrah, men! a fall!--yes, a fall in good
earnest!  Away, boats!  Tumble in, lads! tumble in!"

Our friends were left in the _Trefoil's_ saloon, all staring in blank
astonishment save McBain.  "Listen!" said the latter.

They did, and could hear every now and then three blows struck on the
deck, as if by a sledge-hammer, followed immediately by a sentence
bellowed from stentorian lungs, but of which they could only distinguish
the first word and the last.  These were "Away!" and "Ahoy!"

"Whatever is up?" cried Rory at last; "is the ship going down, or has
everybody taken sudden leave of his senses?"

"There's a whale in sight; that's it!"  McBain replied.

"But what is the knocking?" continued Rory.

"Oh, that is to awaken the sleepers," explained McBain; "they have no
boatswain's pipe in these ships, so they knock with their booted feet.
But come, let us go on deck and see the fun."

The captain met them at the top of the companion.

"We're off, you see!" he cried, hurriedly.  "Come on board and dine with
me.  I'm going to spear that fish myself; I haven't a harpooner worth a
dump.  Keep in the rear of my boat if you're going to follow, and you'll
see the fun and be in at the death?"

_In at the death_!  Strangely prophetic were the captain's words; our
heroes remembered them afterwards for many a long day.

"A fall! a fall!  Yonder she rips! yonder she spouts!  A fall! a fall!"

The men were tumbling up the hatches--pouring up.  You could hardly have
believed so many men had been below.  They ran along the decks and
trundled into the hanging boats like so many monkeys; the tackles are
let go, blocks creak, and one by one they disappear beneath the bulwarks
and reach the water, with a flop and a plash that tell of speed and
excitement.  And now they are off.  The men bend well to their oars,
and, encouraged by the shouts of the coxswain and harpooner, they fly
over the water--together first, but soon in a line, for it is a race,
and the first harpooner that strikes the fish will be well rewarded.

But where is the whale?  Why, yonder; two goodly miles to leeward.  You
can only see three parts of it--black dots above the water; the skull,
the back, and the tail tip.

McBain and his boys were left almost alone, for here were hardly men
enough to work the ship, and the silence that had succeeded the noise
and shouting was intense in its gloominess.

"Come, lads!" cried McBain, "we mustn't stop here; let us see the fun;
let us follow the hunt, and be in at the death!"

The _Snowbird's_ gig was speedily alongside, and in a few minutes more
was bounding over the rippling waters to where the other boats were.  It
needed not McBain's "Give way, my lads! give way with a will!" to make
the men do their utmost.  They too were wild with excitement.

But see, the boats are spreading out; they are no longer together; the
whale has dived, and there is no saying where she may come up.  Ten,
fifteen, twenty minutes of suspense creep slowly away; the crew of the
gig have been lying on their oars.  But look! there she is again! her
huge bulk appears in the very midst of the boats.  Let her go either
way, or any way, she is sure of a shot.  She makes a dash for it.  Bang,
bang, bang! from the bows of three of the boats.  She is struck--twice
struck--but she but increases her speed, the line goes spinning over the
bows; there is blood in her wake, and the men bend now to their oars
with the fury of maniacs.  She is badly hurt; she is confused; she stops
for a moment to lash the water madly with her tail, then dives once
more.  But she cannot sulk long, breathe she must.  And the boats still
go tearing on, and the lines are being coiled in again.  The other boats
move on ahead, too; they want to surround "the fish."  One of these is
the captain's boat; they can see his burly form in the bow.  Mindful of
his words, the gig keeps on in her wake.

"Back astern, men!" cries McBain, as the giant whale rises almost under
their very bows.  "Back, back for your lives!"

To say that our heroes were astonished at the size and strength of the
angry monster, would but poorly express the amount of their surprise.
Their hearts seemed to stand still with awe.  They were thunderstruck.
Ah! and here was thunder too, those awful blows!  The sound may be heard
miles and miles away on a still day.  I know, reader, of nothing in
nature that gives one a greater idea of vastness, of strength and power,
than a whale's body raised high in air and curved round in the attitude
of striking; the skin seems tightened over, it glitters like a gigantic
piston-rod, and it seems trebly powerful.  But oh! to be under that
dreadful tail.

When, awestruck and half-drowned with spray, our heroes managed to look
around them, the thunder had ceased, the whale was gone; there were
blood and foam in front of them, beyond that the wreck of the captain's
boat.  She was so smashed up that she hadn't even sunk; her timbers lay
all about, and clinging to them the drowning and maimed wretches that
had not been killed outright.  The gig and two other boats made haste to
assist.  In at the death!  They were indeed in at the death.  The
captain was among the slain.  His body was found floating, strange to
say, at some considerable distance from the wreck.  He seemed in a deep
quiet sleep.  Alas! it was a sleep from which he would awake no more in
this world.

And the whale had gone.  She had made direct for the island of ice and
dived beneath it, and there the lines were cut.

But hark! adown the wind comes the sound of a signal-gun; a minute goes
by, then there is another.  All eyes are turned towards the _Trefoil_,
and now smoke can be distinctly seen rolling slowly up from her decks,
near the bows.

Once again the signal-gun.

The _Trefoil_ is on fire!

CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

OLD SETH BECOMES SURGEON--A TERRIBLE DANGER--RALPH FLOODS THE MAGAZINE--
FIGHTING THE FIRE--WRECK OF THE "TREFOIL"--BURIED AT SEA--"LAND HO!"

The second mate had been left in charge of the _Trefoil_ when the boats
left the vessel to go in pursuit of the whale.  How sadly that pursuit
ended the reader has already been told.  Besides this officer, when the
fire broke out there were only on board the cook, the steward, and three
or four ordinary seamen.  Smoke was first seen issuing from the fore
hold, and, whether for good or for bad, the mate at once ordered the
hatches to be battened down, then he hoisted the boat's recall, and
commenced firing minute-guns as a signal of distress.

It had been a race for wealth with the _Trefoil's_ boats when leaving
her.  As they sped back again to their burning ship it was a race for
life itself, or at all events for all they held dear in life.  Yonder,
with the smoke hanging like a dark and ominous cloud over her
forecastle, and rolling slowly upwards hiding yards and shrouds, was
their home upon the waters, the good ship in which they had sailed from
England more than a year ago.  If anything were to happen to her, how
were they ever to reach their native shores, where wives and children,
fathers, mothers, and sisters, were even now pining for the return of
the absent sailors?

The bold, straightforward character of McBain was never so well seen as
in times of emergency and danger, and then, too, the goodness of the
man's heart shone forth.  Our heroes' boat was among the first, if not
_the_ first, to render assistance, after the terrible wreck of the
captain's whale-boat, as described in the last chapter; and as soon as
it was discovered that the _Trefoil_ was on fire, McBain had an
interview with the mate.

"A burning ship," he said, "is no place, sir, to convey wounded men to,
nor dead either.  Place them in my boat, they will receive every
attention on board our little craft.  Meanwhile, you speed away to your
ship, and presently we will follow you, bringing to your assistance all
the men we can spare from the _Snowbird_."

"God bless you, sir!" said the mate, much affected.  "What a blessing
that your vessel was here!  It shows me that He has not altogether
deserted us, bad though our fortunes have been."

Out of the crew of the lost whale-boat, numbering eight in all,
including the harpooner, the captain himself, and the coxswain, only
three escaped intact, while three were killed outright, and the
remaining two badly hurt, one having both bones of a leg broken, the
other sustaining a grievous wound in the forearm.  In solemn silence,
and with all due respect, the captain and his two brave fellows who had
lost their lives were laid side by side on the quarter-deck, and their
bodies covered over with the Union Jack--the sailors' pall, for surely
it is meet and proper that the flag a man sails or fights under while
alive shall cover his poor body when life has fled, and ere yet it is
committed to the cold, dark, fathomless ocean.

The wounded men were carried below, and placed in comfortable cots
between decks.

"I daresay," said McBain, "my duty for a time will keep me here by these
two poor fellows, though I would like to be hastening away to the
assistance of that unhappy ship."

"Nary a duty, sir," said trapper Seth.

McBain looked up.  Here was this tall, ungainly Yankee, with the lantern
jaws and the iron fists, standing forth in quite a new light, namely,
that of surgeon.  He had stripped off coat and waistcoat and rolled up
his sleeves.  Beside him stood little Magnus, holding in his two hands a
basin of warm water, in which a sponge floated, holding under his arm a
bundle of hastily-manufactured bandages.

"Nary a duty!" repeated Seth.  "I guess you'd better leave the wounded
to the care of the two old 'uns here.  Seth has done up more cuts and
skivers in his time, than there are days in leap year.  As for the
broken leg, we'll soon cooper that, won't we, Magnus?"

"That will we!"  Magnus replied, cheerfully.

Nothing loth to be relieved of a somewhat unpleasant duty, McBain at
once called for volunteers, and was considerably surprised to be almost
immediately surrounded by every man in the ship except the man at the
wheel.

"I didn't pipe all hands," he said, with a quiet smile.

However, he picked out twelve of the sturdiest of his fellows, and with
these in the cutter--he himself holding the tiller--he was soon
alongside the _Trefoil_.

The pumps had been already manned and the hoses rigged, and two lines of
men were ranged along the decks, drawing water in buckets from the
starboard and port sides.  The smoke was spewing up the forehatch, the
decks were wet and slippery, and the men, stripped to the waist with the
exception of their guernseys, were working away with such a will that
the perspiration stood in beads on their arms, and trickled down their
smoke-begrimed faces.

Something like a cheer arose when our heroes and their volunteers sprang
on deck, and at once set about preparations for work.  McBain beckoned
the mate aft, and a consultation was held, at which Rory, Ralph, and
Allan were present.

Very much to his surprise, the captain of the _Snowbird_ speedily
discovered that the mate of the _Trefoil_ had completely lost his head,
as the saying is.

"This is a bad business, sir," McBain began.  "Oh, it is dreadful--it is
fearful!" cried the mate; "it is--it is--whatever shall we do?"

"We'll keep cool to begin with," said McBain; "nothing is to be gained
by hurry or excitement.  Tell me this: How did the fire originate?"

The mate gave him a strange glance.  "It is not for me to guess even,"
he said.  "There is one, perhaps, on board who could tell you."

"Then where did it originate?"

"Ah! that I can tell you," said the mate.  "Among the coals--under the
galley in the hold.  The fire is confined to that place now; but look
you, sir! smashed up among those coals are the bodies of six pigs that
we took out with us.  For warmth on the voyage out they buried
themselves among the coals, and were killed by the roll of the ship.
Their bodies are, we know, cut into piecemeal and intimately mixed with
the coals.  No wonder they burn!"

"But you are simply pouring water into the 'tween decks," said McBain;
"you're not even sure if it be reaching the fire."

"I didn't think of that," said the poor confused mate.  "But," he
continued, "there is worse to tell you!"

"Go on, and quickly!" cried McBain.  "What is the worse?"

The mate's reply was gasped out rather than spoken, and he turned as
pale as death as he uttered the words.

"The magazine is not flooded, and it is close to where the fire is
raging!"

The blood sprang to McBain's cheek, the fire seemed to flash from his
eye, as he brought his fist down with a ringing crash upon the hatchway,
near which he stood.

"What sinful folly!" he cried.  "Call for volunteers at once.  Call for
volunteers, I say, and flood your magazine, man!"

"Stay!" said the mate, now fully aroused, and regaining a little common
sense--"stay!  You little know my men; they are not picked Englishmen
like yours, they are principally stevedores and fishermen.  Did they
know the magazine was not flooded it would be _sauve qui peut_.  They'd
take to the boats and leave the _Trefoil_ to her fate.  I have myself
been down below, and had to be dragged up through the smoke, fainting.
Besides, it needs two hands, and I've no one to trust."

"But the danger is imminent; we may all be blown to pieces without a
moment's warning," said McBain.

"See here, mate!"

It was Ralph who spoke--brave, quiet, English Ralph--and bravely and
quietly did he speak, while his comrades looked on astonished.
Courageous they all knew he was, in a fine old lazy Saxon fashion; but
to see him stand forth in the hour of need, six feet and over of brawny
stalwart heroism, ready and willing to lead a forlorn hope, took his
friends aback.

"See here, mate.  I'll go with you to flood the magazine.  If it's only
the smoke you fear, I know how to steer clear of that.  I was at the
burning of Castle Bryn Mawr, and gained an experience there that will
last me a lifetime.  Come below with me quickly.  Now get me towels and
a basin of water.  Thanks! now watch what I do.  Your handkerchief,
Rory; yours, Allan.  See here now--with this tiny pair of scissors I
first cut two small eyeholes in the towel.  Then I wet it in the water.
Now I tear a handkerchief in two, and wet the parts and fold them into
pads.  Sit down, mate, sit down.  One little pad I place at each side of
the nose, the towel I bind firmly round the head and fasten behind.
Now, mate, you can only breathe through the wet towel, and no smoke can
harm you.  Now, boys, here is the other wet towel and the pads, do the
same by me."

In less time than it has taken me to describe them, these simple
operations were completed, and next minute Ralph was stepping manfully
forward to the forehatch, followed by the mate.

The latter seized the hose with his left hand, and took Ralph's left
hand in his own right.  He could thus guide him, for the mate knew where
the magazine lay, but Ralph could not.  Then they disappeared.

The bucket-men had, at the mate's orders, ceased to work for a time, and
took their turn at the pumps to relieve the others.  They stood quietly
with their backs to the bulwarks and with folded arms.  Something they
knew was being done below--something connected with the safety of the
ship, and they were content.

Minutes, long minutes of terrible suspense to McBain and his two boys,
went slowly, slowly by.  Rory, who was passionately fond of Ralph,
thought the time would never end, and all kinds of horrible fancies kept
creeping into his mind.  But look--they come at last; the heroes come.
They stagger to where their friends are standing, and Rory notices that
Ralph's hands are sadly blackened, and that his finger-nails drip blood.
It had been trying work.  The magazine lid had fouled, and it took them
fully five minutes to wrench it off, and five minutes more to flood the
compartment.  But it is done at last, and safety, for a time at least,
is insured.

And now to fight the fire, to flood the hold, without admitting too much
air to feed the flames.

McBain's proposal was carried unanimously.  It was to scuttle the lower
deck, and fasten into the hole so made, the end of the long copper
ventilator which stood between the fore and the main masts, and was used
for giving access to air into the men's living and sleeping rooms.

Ralph determined to go down again, and could not be restrained from
doing so.  His work, he averred, was but half finished; the mate and he
between them could scuttle the deck with adzes and axes, and fix the
funnel-shaped ventilator, in a quarter of an hour.  They were too
anxious to stop long for refreshment.  Only a draught of water, and
seizing their implements, down they went once more.

So perfect were the simple face-guards they wore, that they might have
stopped below until the work was completed, had it not been necessary to
come on deck to have them removed and re-rinsed in clean water.  Happily
the fire was not raging immediately beneath the spot where they cut the
hole, or the flames might have defied all their efforts to fix the
copper funnel.  It was no easy task to do so as it was, for the smoke
rolled up in blinding volumes, and the heat was intense.  But they
finished the work nevertheless, and finished it well, carefully
surrounding the end of the ventilator with wet swabs.

With pumps and with buckets the water was now poured down the
communication thus effected with the hold, and surely men never worked
harder for dear life itself than did the crew of the _Trefoil_ and the
_Snowbird_ volunteers, to save that burning ship.  The danger was very
urgent, for if the water were not constantly kept pouring down in
volumes the heat must soon melt the end of the ventilator, and the fire
gain access to the 'tween decks.

At first volumes of sparks flew upwards, and it was feared this might
fire the sails.  Hands were told off, therefore, to clew them.  Then
came volumes of dense smoke only, and this for a whole hour without
abatement; but gradually the smoke grew less and the steam more.

Gradually the 'tween decks cleared of smoke; and ere long steam alone,
and but little of that, came up the ventilator.  Then they knew the fire
was mastered, that the danger was past.

McBain parted that evening from the mate, now master of the _Trefoil_,
with the promise that the _Snowbird_ would keep near his barque for a
day or two at least, until the chance of the fire once more breaking out
was no longer to be dreaded.  Although the sun sets every night, even at
midsummer time, in the latitude in which the yacht was now sailing,
there is very little darkness, only just a few hours of what might be
called a deepened twilight, then day again.

The breeze had freshened.  Just before turning in for good, our heroes
noticed they were approaching a stream of somewhat heavy ice.  They were
but little alarmed at this, however; they were used to the sight of ice
by this time, and could sleep through the din of "boring" through fields
of it.

"I'm glad the wind keeps strong, Stevenson," McBain said, previously to
going below.  "Keep her stem-on to the big pieces, and don't bump her
amidships, if possible.  Call me if anything unusual occurs."

It was precisely three bells in the middle watch when the mate entered
Captain McBain's room.

"Well, Stevenson," said McBain, sitting up in bed, for he was a light
sleeper; "we're clear of the ice, I suppose?"

"Yes, sir," said Stevenson.  "We're in open water.  We're dodging, sir.
I've hauled the foreyard aback, to wait for the _Trefoil_."

"She's in sight, then, of course?" asked McBain.

"No, sir, that is the curious part of it.  I can't see a sign of her;
not a vestige, even from the crow's-nest."

"What?" cried McBain.

"It is true, sir," continued the mate.  "We were both working through
the ice-stream just before darkling.  I was too busy to look much about
me till we got outside; then I missed her.  There are two or three large
bergs among the smaller.  She may be hidden by one of these.  If she
isn't I greatly fear, sir, something has happened to her."

The captain was on deck in a few minutes, and found the mate's words
were sadly true.

He tacked up and down for hours, so as to see both sides of every large
berg in the stream, but no _Trefoil_ was there.  She was gone.  Never
more would this goodly barque sail the northern seas.

Towards noon that day one solitary boat was seen to emerge from the
bergs of the ice-stream, and begin advancing towards the _Snowbird_.
One boat--eleven men and the first mate--were all the survivors of the
ill-fated ship.  She had been struck amidships.  A three-cornered piece
of ice had gone half-way through her, then receded, and in three
minutes' time she had filled and gone down, the mate and the watch on
deck having barely time to cut a boat away.

[The same fate befell the _Innuit_, of Peterhead, some fifteen years
ago; she went down in the short darkling of a summer's night, a very few
minutes after being struck.  She had been lying beset, with my own ship
and several others, in an ice-pack, to the south-west of Jan Mayen.  The
hands, however, were saved.--_The Author_.]

That day, after dinner, the mate told the short but sad history of the
_Trefoil's_ cruise.

"The same captain was in her," he said, "for three years, and never yet
succeeded in getting a paying voyage.  His owners weren't pleased, you
may be well sure.  Unscrupulous men they are, every one of them.  They
told him, and they told me and our second mate, before we left England
last, that if we were a clean ship this voyage they would rather _never
see the `Trefoil' again_!  We knew what that meant.  We knew the
_Trefoil_ was heavily insured.  But the captain was a gentleman; he
would have died sooner than harm a timber of the dear old _Trefoil_.
But the second mate--ah! it is wrong, I know, to speak ill of the dead,
but I have reasons, strong reasons, for believing that it was he who
fired the ship.

"We had bad luck last summer; we never struck a fish.  Then we got beset
among such terrible ice as I had never seen before, and there we had to
winter.  There was another ship not far off in the same predicament,
though she lay on an evener keel.

"It was because our poor captain was so unhappy that, during the winter,
he began to acquire sadly intemperate habits.  We could not see him
dying by inches before our faces; we loved the man, and tried to save
him.  We mutinied--ay! it was mutiny, but if ever mutiny was excusable
it was in this case.  We marched aft and seized the keys of the room
where the grog was stored, and, with the exception of a few gallons,
which we kept for the spring fishing, we poured every drop down the
ice-hole.  Two weeks after that the captain sent for me and thanked me
before the men for what I had done.  You know the rest of our story,
gentlemen."

Next morning it had fallen calm again; the sky was of a deeply azure
blue, the sea a sea of glass, with one or two beautiful Arctic birds
floating lazily on its surface.  And thus lazily floated the good yacht
_Snowbird_, rising and falling on the gentle swell.  All hands were aft
at an early hour listening to the solemn words of the Burial Service.
The bodies had been sewn in hammocks and weighted with portions of iron,
and at the words, "Earth to earth, dust to dust," the flag was quietly
withdrawn, the grating on which they lay was tilted, and, one by one,
they were allowed to drop into the depths of that dark mysterious ocean,
where shall repose the bodies of so many of England's bravest sons, till
the sea gives up its dead.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

By noon the glassy surface of the water was touched here and there by
what sailors term "cat's-paws."  Half-an-hour later the sea was all of a
ripple; then the _Snowbird's_ sails filled again, and she bore away to
the west.  And so west and west she went for several weeks, only
altering her course at times to avoid the heavier ice, or when compelled
to do so by a change of wind.  Then for days and days they kept nearly
south and by west, till one morning there was a shout from the mast-head
that thrilled every heart with joy,--

"Land ho!"

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

ON SHORE FOR A RUN--NOONTIDE ON THE SEASHORE--A NATURAL HARBOUR--THE
LAND OF ADVENTURE AND SPORT--AFTER THE ANTELOPE--FACE TO FACE WITH A
GRIZZLY.

Yes, yonder lay the land.  A mere cloud-land as yet, though; a long
streak of darkish blue, higher at some places than at others, and
running all along one half of the southern horizon.  There was much
speculation on board as to what the country they were approaching would
turn out to be, whether or not they would find inhabitants in it, and
what their reception would be, what their adventures, and what their
chance of sport.  Judging from his latitude and longitude McBain put it
down as some portion of the northern shores of British America, and old
Seth "guessed" and "calculated" that if there were any inhabitants they
would be "blueskin Injuns," and they would have to make a welcome for
themselves if they wanted one.

Before many hours were over, however, they had sailed near enough to
scan the coast with their glasses.  The foreshore was low and rocky;
beyond that was a wilderness of wood and forest as far as the eye could
reach, but no signs of smoke, no signs of human life.  Everything seemed
as peaceful and still as though it were a world newly evolved from the
hands of its Creator.

"I'm very much mistaken," said McBain, "if this isn't just the kind of
country you boys wished to find."

"The land of our dreams," said Rory.

"The land," said Ralph, "on which the ubiquitous Englishman has never
yet set foot.  There is nothing hackneyed about this country, I'll
wager."

"Well, then," said Rory, who was always the first to suggest something
new, "if Captain McBain will call away a boat, Allan and I will go on
shore for a walk, and if we do find anything hackneyed we'll come on
board and let you know, Ralph."

McBain laughed.

"I don't mind," he said.  "We came out from England bent on enjoying
ourselves, so off you go, but mind you don't get lost this time.  You
won't find a trapper Seth everywhere to look after you.  I'll give you
four hours, and expect you to bring something fresh and nice for
dinner."

Allan and Rory were delighted to find themselves once more in their own
little boat, and bounding away shore-wards over the blue and rippling
sea.  It was a gladsome and joyous day, and its joy seemed to instil
itself into their hearts, and cause them to feel in unison with all
nature.

When near the shore they pulled in their oars, and allowed the boat to
drift or float as she pleased, for, on rounding a point of land they
came upon a scene of animation that, although I have gazed on many like
it, I never could find words in which to describe.  It was noontide on
that peaceful seashore, and both beasts and birds were enjoying
themselves to the full, each in his own fashion.  Although they must
have wondered what species of animal Rory and Allan were, and where they
had dropped from all of a sudden, of fear they evinced not the slightest
vestige.  Here, in the foreground, a pair of young seals gazed at them
with their marvellous eyes, but seemed hardly to care to move.

"They are curious-looking creatures, I admit," one seal seemed to be
whispering to the other; "but they are just as tame as we are, and I'm
sure they won't harm us."

Malleys and gulls came floating around them, nearer and nearer, tack and
half tack, so close at last that they could have stretched out their
hands and touched them on their beautiful breasts.  Fulmars trotted
about, nodding their heads and looking for the little fishes the tide
had left in the pools.  Looms, love-making on stone tops, stared at them
with a kind of sleepy surprise.  Great auks and penguins, that lined the
shore in rows, flapped their apologies for wings, but never dreamed of
making their escape.  High in air, too, circled their friend and
namesake the snowbird; and not far off the restless allan and the
jet-black boatswain bird; while on the land itself were dozens of
strange fowl that they could not even name.

The very tameness of all these creatures seemed proof, that they had
never before been disturbed in their haunts by the presence of man.

Allan and Rory rowed into a beautifully-wooded bay, and inland along a
quiet, broad-bosomed river.  They landed on many parts of its banks, but
remembering McBain's words, they did not venture too far into the
forest, but nevertheless they found track of deer, and trace, too, of
heavier and wilder game.  They did not make much of a bag, only a few
birds and a hare or two [probably the _Lepus Americanus_, or Jack
Rabbit], but they were quite satisfied with their four hours on shore,
and were off to time, much to McBain's joy and satisfaction.

In the saloon that day, while the _Snowbird_ lay quietly at anchor
in-shore, there was a dinner-party, at which were present not only the
two mates belonging to the yacht, but the mate of the unfortunate
_Trefoil_.

"Farther to the west," McBain observed, "the land gets much more wild
and hilly, and with the glass I can from the crow's-nest see rugged
mountains covered with snow.  To the west, then, I purpose going; but I
have not forgotten,"--this to the mate of the _Trefoil_--"that you, Mr
Hill, and your men, are passengers.  I would fain send you home, but how
can I do so?"

"You can't, that is evident," said Mr Hill, "and both myself and my men
have made up our minds to stop in your ship as long as you'll let us--
all the voyage, indeed, and return with you to England."

"Well, I'm glad of that," McBain said, "it relieves me of all anxiety."

So it was arranged that both Mr Hill and the rest of the shipwrecked
mariners should sign articles, and become part and parcel of the crew of
the _Snowbird_.  It must be remembered that she was a roomy yacht, and
that the addition of twelve or thirteen new hands could hardly crowd
her.

Ralph's father was right when he advised our heroes to seek for
adventures in the far west before journeying onwards to the more
desolate and mysterious regions of the far north.  He was a man of
experience, and as such knew well that the sportsman, unlike the poet,
is not _born_ but _made_.  But the wild land in which the travellers
found themselves a day or two after their little dinner-party in the
saloon, was just the place to brace the nerves and steel the muscles,
for here was game of every kind, and it only wanted a certain amount of
daring to bring it to bag.

The _Snowbird_ was brought to anchor in a land-locked arm of the sea, a
natural harbour large enough for the combined fleets of the whole world
to ride with safety in.  As there would be barely three months before
the onset of the severe Arctic winter, McBain lost no time in preparing
for the rigours they would doubtless have to encounter, before spring
would once more return and release them from their self-chosen
imprisonment.  The vessel was anchored as close to the shore as was
compatible with her safety.  Here she could ride and here she could
swing, until King Frost descended from the distant mountains and locked
her in his icy embrace.

About half a mile from where she lay there fell into the sea a broad and
placid river.  They found this navigable, even to the cutter, for many
miles inland, and the scenes that lay before them, as reach after reach
and bend after bend of it was opened out, was romantic and beautiful in
the extreme.  The stream ran through the centre of a lovely glen or
gorge, "o'erhung," as the poet says, "by wild woods thickening green."
Here was every variety of foliage--trees, and shrubs, and flowers.  At
times it would be a dense forest all around them, but in the very next
reach perhaps, the banks would be green-carpeted with moss and grass,
with rocks rising upwards here and there be-draped with wild vines.  On
the higher lands commenced a forest of pines; far beyond these
weird-looking trees the snow-clad peaks of rugged mountains could be
seen.  In exploring this river they were much struck at the multitude of
tributaries it had, little streamlets that stole down through bosky
ravines, following the course of any of which brought the travellers to
the table-land above.  Here was the forest, and here too were broad
tracks of a kind of prairie land covered with a carpet of buffalo-grass.

In a country like this it would be patent to any one that there existed
unlimited scope for sport of all kinds, for while the woods and jungles
and plains abounded in game of every sort, from the strange little rock
rabbit to the lordly elk and bison, the rivers they soon found out
teemed with fish.  They were not long, however, in making a discovery of
not quite so pleasing a character.  This was due to Seth's sagacity.

"I guess," he said one evening, "we've got some of my old friends here."

"What! not Indians?" asked Rory, opening wide his eyes.

"I don't allude to them 'xactly," said Seth; "but I does allude to the
grizzlies."

"Oh!  I should like to have an adventure with one of these chaps,
shouldn't you, Ralph?"

"I don't know," replied Ralph, with a quiet smile; "I think I should
rather run from one than fight him, if all stories I've heard about them
be true."

"What is your opinion of their character?" asked McBain of Seth.

"They're the all-firedest fellows to fight, when they do fight," said
Seth, "in creation!  I've had a bit of fun in my time with pumas and
panthers both, down south, but I'd rather fight a dozen o' either than
one grizzly after he turns rusty."

"Do you mean rusty in coat?" asked Rory.

"No, sir," said the Yankee, "I guess I means rusty in temper.  But then
it ain't often that that occurs, for he'll run like a deer if he gets a
chance; but just wound him, then is the time to see him with his birse
on end, I can tell you!  But I don't like 'em.  Down in Texas a
companion o' mine, when out shooting, ran right agin one o' these
gentry; a great she one it was, with two cubs alongside of her.  That
was what made her so touchy, I reckon.  Howsomever, she didn't give my
poor friend Obadiah Johnson much time to prepare.  I never seed such a
sight in my life!  She was on to him, and downed him before you'd say
`bullet.'  One great claw had gone right over his shoulder and ripped
his side clean open.  With the two hind claws of her she just about tore
his legs into piecemeal.  I fired right down her throat.  Then she was
on to me, and my knife was into her.  But she didn't seem to have a
kill.  I don't remember very much more o' that fight--kind o' fainted, I
reckon.  Anyhow, we were all found in a heap, maybe an hour afterwards.
Obadiah was dead, and so were the b'ar, and trapper Seth had only as
much life in his body as saved him from being buried.  'Twere two months
ere I got over that skivering, and I guess I'll bear the marks to my
grave unless I loses both arms and legs afore I goes there."

Little thought Ralph when frankly confessing that he would rather run
from than fight a grizzly, and listening to the story of old Seth's
adventure, that not two days thereafter he himself would be the subject
of an attack by one of these terrible monsters.  But so it turned out,
and well was it for him that assistance was at hand, or one of my heroes
would have dropped out of the tale.

They had enjoyed an unusually fine day's sport, principally among the
antelope, away up among the plains.  I allude, of course, to the North
American antelope, that saucy little fellow, so sprightly and graceful,
yet so curiously impudent withal as to sometimes bring himself
needlessly into trouble.  With the exception of the saddle-back seal of
the Greenland seas, I know of no wild animal that evinces a larger
degree of inquisitiveness.  Perhaps it was this very trait of antelope
character that led to the size of our heroes' bag on the day in
question.  They had found the animals principally in spruce and cedar
thickets, and here one or two fell to their guns, while others escaped
into the open, across which there was nothing in the world except their
inquisitiveness to prevent their having got clear away, but they must
needs stop to have a look at their hunters.

"I reckon they hav'n't been shot at all their little lives before," said
Seth.  "Now you just creep round behind while I keep their 'ttention
occupied."

One way or another, Seth had managed to "keep their 'ttention occupied,"
and so venison had been the result, and plenty of it too.

It was near evening, the men had already shouldered their game and had
begun the homeward march; McBain himself, with Allan and Rory, had also
had enough of hunting for one day, and were preparing to follow.  Ralph
and Seth were invisible, so was their little companion the Skye terrier.
No dog, I daresay, ever enjoyed sport more than did this little morsel
of canine flesh and fury.  Even before the adventure I am going to
relate it had been the custom to take him out with the shooting party
_almost_ constantly, but after the adventure it was _constantly_,
without any almost.

While they were yet wondering where Ralph and his companions were, bang
went a rifle from the wooded gorge beneath them.

"They've got another of some kind," said McBain.

"I expect," said Allan, "it is a black tail, for if it were antelopes
some of them would be already seeking the open, and Seth tells me the
black tails prefer hiding when in danger."

[The black-tailed or "mule" deer is one of the largest and most
gracefully beautiful animals to be found in the hunting-grounds of the
far west.]

A few minutes afterwards there came up out of that gorge a sound that
made our heroes start, and stand to their rifles, while their hearts
almost stood still with the dread of some terrible danger.  It was not
for themselves but for Ralph they feared.  It was a deep, appalling,
coughing roar, or bellow--the bellow of some mighty beast that has
started up in anger.  A minute more, and Ralph, breathless and
bareheaded, with trailing rifle, rushed into the open, closely followed
by an immense grizzly bear.  He was on his hind legs, and in the very
act of striking Ralph down with his terrible paw.

The danger was painfully imminent, and for either of his friends to fire
was out of the question, so close together were bear and man.  But lo!
at that very moment, when it seemed as if no power on earth could save
Ralph, the grizzly emitted a harsh and angry cry, and turned hastily
round to face another assailant.  This was no other than Spunkie, the
Skye terrier, who had seized on Bruin by the heel.  Oh! no mean
assailant did the bear find him either.  But do not imagine, pray, that
this little dog meant to allow himself to be caught by the powerful
brute he had tackled.  No; and as soon as he had bitten Bruin he drew
off far enough away to save his own tiny life.  You see, in his very
insignificance lay his strength.  A dog of Oscar's size would have been
at once grappled and torn in pieces.  Feint after feint did the terrier
make of again rushing at the grizzly, but meanwhile Ralph had made good
his escape, and next minute bullets rained on the grizzly, for Seth's
rang out from the thicket, and McBain's and Rory's and Allan's from the
open, so he sank to rise no more.

Ralph determined to learn a lesson from this little adventure; he made
up his mind that he would never follow a wounded deer into a thick
jungle without, at all events, previously reloading his rifle.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

RORY POET, DREAMER, AND MERCHANT-MINSTREL--WHO SAYS SHORE?--ALL AMONG
THE BUFFALO--"A BIG SHOOT"--PREPARATIONS FOR WINTER.

"Would you believe it, boys," said McBain one morning, "that we have
been here just two months to-morrow?"

They were seated at breakfast, and had you cast your eye over that
table, reader, and seen the dainties and delicious dishes "seated"
thereon, as Rory called it, you would hardly have believed you were in a
far-off foreign land.  Here were cold joints of venison, and pasties of
game, and pies of pigeon, and the most delicious fish that ever smoked
on a board, to say nothing of eggs of wild fowl and sea-birds, the very
colours of which were so charming it seemed a sin to crack the shell.
But how Seth basted those broiled fish, or what those fish were, only
Seth himself knew.  But Seth would be out in a boat in blue water, just
as the first breakfast bugle went--and that was Peter and the pipes
playing a pibroch--and in five minutes more he was back with the fish--
Arctic salmon, our heroes called them, for want of a better name.  The
life was barely out of them ere they were split down the back, and
nailed to a large hard wood board and done before the fire, but Seth
himself served them ready to eat.  It was a magic performance, and when
amber tears from a slice of lemon were shed over it, lo! a dish fit for
a king.

"How speedily time wings its flight!" said Ralph, looking wise; "and it
never flies more quickly than when people are happy."

"Not that there is anything very original in your remark, my grave old
Ralph," said Rory, smiling mischievously.

Ralph pinched Rory's ear, and told him he was always the same--saucy.

"Steward," continued Ralph, "send to Seth for another hot fish; but be
sure to say it's for the captain."

"That's right, Ralph," said Irish Rory; "salmon and sentiment go well
together."

"You're wonderfully bright this morning, Rory," Allan put in.

"And it's myself that's glad I look it then, for I feel bright," quoth
Rory.  "I feel it all over me, and sure if I'd wings I'd fly."

"You didn't want any wings to help you along," remarked McBain, with his
eyes bent on his plate, "last week when that Cinnamon bear went for
you."

"Be easy now," says Rory; "bother the bear!  Sure I feel all of a quiver
when I think of him.  He was Ralph's grizzly's father, I believe.  I
ought to have had my fiddle with me.  You remember what Shakespeare
says:

  "`Music hath charms to soothe the savage _beast_,
  A hungry Scotchman or a butcher's dog.'"

"It wasn't Shakespeare at all," said Ralph.

"Och! no more it was.  I remember now.  It was the fellow who makes the
matches; what's his name?"

"Lucifer?" suggested Allan.

"No," cried Rory; "I have it.  It was Congreve.  But sure I shot the
beast right enough, and it was only his fun chasing me after he was
dead."

Poor Rory could laugh and make light of his adventure now, but it had
been a narrow escape for him.  There is no animal in the world more
fierce than that dweller among rocks, the Cinnamon bear [Ursus ferox],
but there is no heart more brave than an Irishman's, and our
light-hearted boy had followed one up and fired.  Then, though
desperately wounded, the monster gave chase.  He had struck Rory down
without wounding him.  They were both found together, and both seemingly
dead.  Rory soon came round, and the bear's skin was a beauty.

"What are you going to do with that skin, boy Rory?" asked McBain.

"Indeed, then," replied boy Rory, "it's a mat I'll be after making of it
for Bran's mother."

"Ah! you haven't forgotten the poor old hound, then?" said Allan.

"I never forget a dog," said Rory; "but won't the old lady look famous
lying on it before the fire of a winter's evening!"

"We'll have quite a cargo of furs," said Allan.

"_Yes_," McBain said, "and a priceless one too.  They will more than pay
for our trip north."

"What a valuable old fellow that Seth is, to be sure!"  Ralph remarked;
"I really don't know what we would have done without him."

There was a pause, during which neither the captain nor Ralph, nor Allan
was idle, as the music of their knives and forks could testify; but
poetic Rory was leaning his chin upon his hand, and evidently his
thoughts were far away.

"I say, boys," he said, at last, "if I had lived in the days of yore--
some hundreds of years ago, you know--do you know what I should have
liked to have been?"

"No," said Ralph; "something very bright, I'll wager my gun.  More
coffee, steward."

"I'd have been," continued Rory, "a wandering merchant-minstrel."

"A what!" cried Ralph, looking up from his plate.

"He means a packman," said Allan.

"No," said Ralph; "he means a hawker."

"Oh! bother your hawkers and your packmen!" cried Rory; "sure, you send
all the romance out of the soul of me!  You serve me as the colleens
served the piper, who was playing so neat and so pretty, till--

  "A lass cut a hole in the bag
  And the music flew up to the moon,
  With a fa la la lay."

"Well," persisted Allan, "but tell us about your merchant-minstrel.  If
it isn't a pack-merchant selling German concertinas, I don't know what
he can be."

"Well, then, I'll tell you; but, troth," said Rory, "neither of you
deserve it for chaffing a poor boy as you chaff me.  Listen, then.  It
is two hundred years ago and more, and a calm summer gloaming.  In the
great tartan parlour of Arrandoon Castle, whose windows overlook all the
wild wide glen, are seated the wife of the chief McGregor of that golden
age, and her lovely daughter Helen.  The young girl is bending over her
harp, playing one of the sweet sad airs of Scotland, while her mother
sits before a tall frame quietly embroidering tapestry.  And now the
music ceases, and with a gentle sigh the fair musician moves to the
window.  There is the blue sky above, and the green waving birches on
the braes, with distant glimpses of the bonnie loch, and there are sheep
browsing among the purple.  The wail of Peter's pipes comes sounding up
the glen--the Peter of two hundred years ago, you know--but no living
soul is to be seen.  Oh, yes! some one issues even now from the pine
forest, and comes slowly up the winding road towards the castle.
`Mother, mother!' cries the girl, clapping her hands with joy, `here
comes that dear old merchant-minstrel.'  And her mother puts away her
work, and presently the Janet of a bygone age ushers _me_ in, and I
place my bundle of wares on the floor."

"Your pack," said Allan.

"My bundle of wares," continued Rory, "and kneel beside it as I undo it.
How eagerly they watch me, and how Helen's bright eyes sparkle, as I
spread my silks and my furs before her, and my glittering jewels rare!
And how rejoiced I feel as I watch their happy faces; and sure I let
them have everything they want, cheaper than anybody else would in all
the wide world, because of their beautiful eyes.  And then I tell them
all the news of the outer world, and then--yes, then I take my fiddle,
and for an hour and more I hold them enthralled."

"What a romancist you'd make?" said Allan.  "But stay!" cried Rory,
waving his hand, "the two hundred years have rolled away, but I'm still
the wandering merchant-minstrel.  The _Snowbird_ is lying once more,
with sails all furled, in the old place in the loch; we're home again,
boys--home again, and I've had that big, big box that you've seen Ap
making for me brought up to the castle; and your dear mother and sweet
sister, Allan boy, are bending over me as I open it; and don't their
eyes sparkle as I spread before them the _curios_ I've been collecting
for months--my best skins and my stuffed birds, my ferns and my mosses,
my collection of eggs and my ivory and precious stones!"

"So ho!" said Allan, "and that is what that mighty box is for, is it?"

"Yes, indeed," said Rory; "but don't you like my picture?"

"Will you try this potted tongue?" said Ralph; "it's delicious."

"So are you, bedad," quoth Rory, "with your chaff and your chaff."

"Boys," cried McBain, "it _is_ sweet to dream of home sometimes; it is
one of the greatest pleasures of a traveller's life.  But we've many
more wild adventures to come through yet, ere the _Snowbird_ sails up
the loch.  Who says shore?"

Shore!  That was indeed a magic word.  Allan and Rory jumped up at once.
Ralph had some marmalade to finish, but he soon followed them.  He
found Seth fully equipped, and the bear-hound, as they called the Skye
terrier, all alive and full of fun.  The men, too, were ready.  They
were going off for a three days' hunt on the rocky plains, miles and
miles beyond the forest.

It was only one of many such they had enjoyed; and there is, in my
opinion, no life in the world to compare for genuine enjoyment with that
of the wild hunter, especially if he be lucky enough to find pastures
new, as did our heroes.  For the first few days of roughing it in forest
and plain one feels a little strange, and often weary; but the free
fresh air, the constant exercise, and the excitement, soon banish such
feelings as these, and before you are a week out your muscles get hard,
your skin gets brown, and your nerves are cords of steel; if on
horseback, you fear not to ride anywhere; if on foot you will follow the
lion to his lair, or the panther to his cave in the rocky hillside, and
never think once of danger.  It is a glorious life.

On hunting expeditions like that on which we find our friends starting
to-day, they went out with no intention of sticking to any one kind of
game.  They made what they called "harlequin bags;" they were armed,
prepared for anything, everything, fur or feather, fish or snake.  They
had fowling-pieces for the smaller game, express rifles for bigger, and
bone-smashers for the wild buffalo of the plains.  These latter they
shot for their skins.  The sport was at all times exciting, and, as our
heroes were on foot, sometimes even dangerous, as when one day
Stevenson, who had fired at and only wounded a sturdy bull, was chased
by the infuriated animal and narrowly escaped with his life.  Do these
animals think the flashing and cracking of the rifles some kind of a
thunderstorm, I wonder?  I do not know, but certain it is that often, on
a herd being fired into, it will take closer rank and stand in stupid
bewilderment, instead of dashing away at once; and thus hundreds may be
killed in an hour or two.

As an experienced trapper, old Seth had the whole management of these
hunting expeditions.

He often made our heroes wonder at the amount of tact and wisdom he
displayed, as a plainsman and wild hunter.

"I guess we'll have moosie to-night," he said, one evening.  It was the
first day they had fallen among buffalo.

"What kind, Seth?" asked McBain.  They were seated round the camp fire,
having just finished dinner.

"Wolves," said Seth.

"Have you seen their tracks?" inquired McBain.

"Nary a track," answered Seth.  "They don't make much, but they'll come
a hundred miles to feast off dead buffalo.  They'll be at the crangs
[skinned carcasses] afore two hours more is over."

And Seth was right; and night was made musical by their howling and
growling, fighting and snarling.

On this particular day they had very fine sport indeed; bears
principally--not grizzlies--and a few bison.  This latter is usually a
wild and wary animal, with ten times more sense under his horns than
that "bucolic lout" the buffalo; but never having seen man before, they
were, as Seth said, "a kind o' off their guard."  About a dozen wolves
followed them at a respectable distance whenever they got trail of a
bison.  When the hunters advanced the wolves advanced, when the hunters
stopped they stopped, generally in a row, and licked their chops and
yawned, and tried all they possibly could to look quite unconcerned.

"Never mind us," they seemed to say.  "Take your time; you'll find the
bison by-and-bye, and then we'll have a bit, but don't hurry on our
account."

Once or twice Ralph or Allan would take a pot-shot at one of them.  This
Seth declared was a waste of good powder and lead.

"'Cause," he added, "their skins aren't any mortal use for nothin'."

Towards afternoon they approached a woody ravine, in which the stream
they had been following lost itself in a world of green.  In here went
Master Spunkie first, and came quickly back, mad with excitement and
joy.  He wagged his tail so quickly you could hardly see it; then his
tail seemed to wag him, and he quivered all over like a heather besom
bewitched.

"I guess it's b'ars," said Seth, and in went Seth next, and then there
was a most appalling roaring, that seemed to shake the hills.

"Hough-oa-ah-h!"  They might roar as they liked, but Seth's rifle was
telling tales.  Crack, crack, went both barrels, and soon after crack,
crack, again.  This was the signal for our heroes to file in.  It was
dark, and even cold among the pines--dark, ay, and dangerous.  They
found that the whole of the little glen, which was of no very great
extent, formed the residence of a colony of black bears.  They had not
gone far before one sprang from under a spruce-tree full tilt at McBain.
The brute seemed to repent of the action in the very act of springing,
and well for the captain he did.  He swerved aside, and was shot not two
rifle lengths away.  This little incident taught our heroes caution, and
the great danger of rushing into spruce thickets, where a wild beast has
all the odds against the hunter, being used to the dim light under the
cool green boughs.  The Skye was in his glory.  He had become quite a
little adept at leg-biting, and here was a splendid field for the
display of his skill, and he certainly made the best of it, for over
twenty skins were bagged in less than three hours.

The days were getting short, and even cold, so they had to go early to
camp.  The skins of the day would be stretched and cleaned, and well
rubbed with a composition made by Seth's own hands.  Then they would, at
the end of the big shoot, be taken on board and undergo further
treatment before being carefully put away in the hold.

The camp-kettle was an invention of McBain's.  It was, indeed, a _multum
in parvo_, for in it could be stored not only the saucepans and a
frying-pan, but the plates, and knives and forks, and spoons, and even
the saucers and salt.  Seth was cook, and when I have told you that, it
is a waste of ink to say that about dinner-time a wolf or two would
generally drop round.  They would not come too near, but would stand
well down to leeward, sniffing all the fragrance they could, smacking
their lips and licking their chops in the most comical way imaginable.
This was what Rory called "dining on the cheap."  After dinner it was
very pleasant, rolled in Highland plaids, to lounge around the camp fire
for an hour or two before turning in.  What wonderful stories of a
trapper's life Seth used to tell them, and with what rapt attention Rory
used to listen to them.

  "Wherein he spake of most disastrous chances,
  Of moving accidents by flood and field,
  Of hair-breadth 'scapes,
  On rocks and hills whose heads touch heaven."

Perhaps the greatest charm about these yarns of Seth's was their
truthfulness.  They were as far above your ordinary traveller's tales as
the moon in the sky is from the moon in the mill-dam--as substance from
shadow.

When gloaming deepened into night, when the call of the wild drake
resounded far beneath them, and the cry of the white owl fell on the
ear, when the north star looked down on them with its bright, clear,
kindly eye, then, spreading their blankets under the tents, and wrapping
their plaids more closely around them, they committed themselves to
Heaven's protection, and sweetest dreamless slumber.

The few days succeeding a "big shoot" were nearly always spent in
fishing.  Strange to say, the fish in the river, of which there were
abundance, could not be got to look at the flies our heroes had brought
with them from home, so Seth came to the front again.  He busked great
gaudy flies, that the daintiest trout hadn't the heart to resist.

It was autumn now, the leaves in the forest had first turned a dingier
green, then the sunset of life stole over them.  Rory had never seen
such tinting before.  You may be sure our dreamy boy couldn't resist a
temptation like this.  He was painter as well as poet, and so he forgot
to fish, forgot to shoot, forgot everything in his wanderings except the
gorgeous scenery around him.  He sketched and sketched, and stored his
portfolio.

"How delighted _she_ will be!" he often caught himself thinking, if not
saying, when he succeeded with some happier effect than usual.

Autumn waned apace.

They went less often now to the distant shooting-grounds, but they went
to the forest, McBain and all his merry men--at least, all that could be
spared.  They went to fell the trees and bring them home, for the
captain had an idea, and this idea became a plan, and the plan was to
build a house close to the shore near which lay the _Snowbird_--not a
living-house, but a hall in which the men could take exercise, during
the short and stormy days of the long Arctic winter that would very soon
surround them.  So every morning now a party went to the woods, with axe
and adze, to fell and trim the pine-trees.  The portion of the forest
which was chosen stood high over a little green and bosky glen, adown
which a streamlet ran, joining the great river about a mile below.  One
by one the trees were hurled down the steep sides of the glen, and
dragged to the rivulet; they were then floated on to the river, and here
formed into a raft, which could be guided seawards with long poles; the
rest of the journey was easily accomplished by help of the cutter and
gig.  And so the work went cheerily on.

Old Ap was in his element now; _his_ turn seemed to have come for
enjoyment.  He had rehabilitated himself in that wonderful old
head-to-feet apron and his paper cap, and bustled about as lively as a
superannuated cricket from "morning's sun till dine," giving orders here
and orders there, and always humming a song, and never without his
snuff-box.

The days grew shorter and shorter, winds moaned through the woods and
brown leaves fell, and soon they sighed through leafless trees; then the
birds of migration were found to have fled, even the buffaloes and the
bisons went southwards after the sun, and the bears were no longer seen
in the woods.  But the building of the new hall went steadily on, and
soon the roof was up and the flooring laid; and a fine strong structure
it looked, though, as far as shape and architecture went, a stranger
would have been puzzled to know what it was--whether church or market,
mill or smithy.  Never mind, there it was, and inside, at one end, there
was a large fireplace built, big enough to accommodate a bull bison if
he wanted roasting whole.

Ap was proud of his work, I can assure you, and after he had built a few
forms for seats, he waxed still more ambitious, and commenced making
chairs.

I am sorry to say a death occurred on board about this time: it was that
of the yellowhammer, that had flown aboard after they had left Shetland.
It was universally lamented, for though not much of a singer, it did
what it could, and its little humble song could at any time recall to
memory broomy braes and moorlands clad in golden-scented gorse.

The mornings were cold and sharp now, and in the long fore-nights the
big lamp was lit in the snuggery, and a roaring fire in the stove was
quite a treat.

On coming on deck one evening about sunset, this is what they saw on
looking skywards.  All around the horizon, for two spear-lengths high,
was a slate-coloured haze; above this the mist was of a yellow hue,
gradually merging into the blue of the open sky; and the sun was going
down, looking like a great molten gong, his upper two-thirds a deep
blood-red, the lower a lurid purple.  The sea was waveless, yellow and
glassy.  A change was coming.

CHAPTER NINETEEN.

WINTER COMES APACE--NEW VISITORS FROM THE NORTH--A "PERWISION O'
NATUR'"--A MAD BUT MERRY SCENE--THE DOWNFALL OF SNOW-STARS--AN
ADVENTURE, BUT WHERE WILL IT END?

In the far north--up in the high latitudes, as sailors are wont to call
them--winter often comes on with startling rapidity.  Nobody
unaccustomed to these regions would believe that there could be so short
an interval between the beautiful Indian summer, and the stern and
rigorous Arctic winter.  A few bright and almost balmy windless days,
perhaps, herald its approach--days when there is a deep-abiding silence
on mountain, plain, and sea, and silence in the great forests
themselves, where all nature seems to be breathless, expectant, waiting
for something to happen, something to come.  The softer-leaved trees,
the willows and water-ashes, the planes and the mountain mahoganies,
that erst clad the glens in a cloud-land of green, are now stripped and
bare, and the few brown leaves that cling here and there on some of the
branches, tremble in the uncertain air, just as if the trees were things
of life and were nervous, and were whispering to each other and saying,
"Oh! we all know what is coming; would that we could be up and be off
like the beasts and the birds of the forest that have all fled south!
But we cannot, and our branches will be rent, our limbs will be torn and
severed by the stormy breath of swift-advancing winter!"  But those
giants of the woodlands and hilltops, the cedars and tamaracs, the
spruces and pines, stood forth bold and stately as in summer.  No
nervousness about them, their roots were fixed in the rocks themselves,
and their sturdy limbs, still clothed in black and green, could bid
defiance to every blast that could blow.

The beasts had not all gone away, though; there were bears in the woods,
and wolves, and many kinds of smaller game, still left to afford sport
for our wanderers; and there were gulls and guillemots, and innumerable
wild fowl as well: and lo! here were several new visitors from the
regions of the Pole itself; an Arctic fox or two might sometimes be seen
skipping hither and thither, and in the water four or five different
kinds of seals often came up to stare and marvel at the _Snowbird_, A
whale, with her calf, was seen ploughing through the still waters of the
bay, probably going still farther south for the winter months.  A
narwhal came quite a mile out of his lonely way to gaze at the yacht.
He did not like her; he tossed his ivory spear angrily in the air, and
plunged sullenly down into the depths again; and giant walruses would
suddenly pop their terrible tusked and bearded heads, high out of the
water to have a look at the intruder.  But there were many more signs
and wonders that told our heroes, in language that could not be
mistaken, that King Winter would soon sweep down from his icy caves in
the frozen north, and claim all the land and the sea round them as his
own.  Many of the denizens of the forest, for instance, got greyer in
colour, and some even white, while every bird and every beast became
sensibly larger.

"You see, young gentlemen," said Seth, explainingly, to Allan and Rory,
"here is how it be: soon's they sniffs the change in the air they kinder
knows winter is coming, so they just begins to tuck in and tuck in, and
the more they tucks in the fatter they grows; and the fatter they grows,
the longer and softer the fur or the feather grows.  It's a sort of a
perwision o' Natur', ye see, to help them to stand the cold."

"But," said Rory, "this development of fat and fur or feather isn't
confined to wild animals and birds; just look at our dogs!"

The great Saint Bernard was coming trotting along the deck as Rory
spoke, and all eyes were immediately bent upon him.  Oscar seemed
intensely pleased about something, but he really had got fat, and the
coat which he had developed--all in one week, apparently--was simply
marvellous to behold.  And now Seth's wolf, as he was called, came aft,
and Oscar seemed actually to laugh all over, so did everybody else when
they saw him; Plunket was no longer a wolf, all gaunt and lean and grim,
there was not a rib to be seen in him, his skin was soft and sheeny, his
gait no longer an ambling shamble, but a stately "pedal progression."
No wonder Oscar laughed; but when Spunkie joined the group, the Saint
Bernard could not contain himself, and he must needs roll the terrier
into the lee scuppers.  "Just look at him!"  Oscar seemed to cry; "why,
he's all coat together; no eyes, no tail, no nothing!  Who's for a game
at football?  Hurrah!"  At this moment Ralph came on deck, and joined
the group to see what all the fun was about.  He had been down below
having a bit of lunch.  His presence seemed at once to bring the
merriment to a sudden climax, for there was no mistake about it, Ralph
had been getting stouter of late, though it had never struck anybody
before.  But now the moment they glanced at him both his friends went
into fits.  Allan laughed till the tears ran out of his eyes, and he had
to lean against the bulwarks and hold his sides.  Rory was worse; he was
bent double like a jack-knife, and had to raise his right leg and slap
his knee a dozen times before he was anything like composed.  Meanwhile,
poor quiet Ralph's face, as he gazed wonderingly first at one and then
at the other, was a perfect study.

"Have you _both_ gone out of your minds?" he inquired at last.

"No, no?" cried Rory, "we're laughing at you; you've got so fa--fa--fat!
Ha! ha! ha!"

"You're perfectly obese?" laughed Allan.

"He's perfectly podgy, bedad!" cried Rory, turning Ralph round and round
to examine him.

Seth looked on at the fun, chewing the end of a capstan bar, and Oscar
kept on rolling Spunkie in the scuppers, but when McBain joined the
group order was somewhat restored.

"Boys," said McBain, smiling, "I declare to you I see a change in you
all; one needn't laugh at the other.  Oh, don't look at me!  I know I'm
adding inches to my waist, and so is Allan.  And as for you, boy Rory--"

"Yes," said Rory, "as for me?"

"You're rotund already," said McBain.

"No more shape than a sun-fish," added Ralph, revengefully.

Of course, after so daring a remark Ralph had to run for it, and so away
he went, scampering along the deck with Rory in hot pursuit, but he had
to save himself by making a back, over which Rory vaulted, and placed
himself in position a few yards beyond.

"Oh?" cried Allan, "if it's leapfrog, I'm in too."

And off he went, bounding like a deer over Ralph, and over Rory.

"Keep the pot a-boiling!" cried Ralph.

And so, with many a shout and many a joke, round and round the
_Snowbird's_ deck vaulted and ran our merry boy-heroes; but when it came
to shoulders high, then their increase in bulk--the "perwision o'
Natur'," as Seth termed it--told a tale.  Ralph cleared Rory, but
floundered over Allan, then Rory jumped on top of them both, and the
whole three went rolling over on the deck, and Oscar and the wolf and
the little Skye, who had been making bears of them, and legging them,
all got mixed.

They extricated themselves at last, and then settled seriously to work.
Off went their jackets.

"No more high leaps," cried Ralph.

But behold, the fun gets infectious.  McBain has joined the group, then
Stevenson and Mitchell, and the mate of the _Trefoil_, and in less time
than I take to tell it, there was a complete circle round the deck of
the _Snowbird_.  Every man Jack was there; it was pleasure without end;
it was wonderful.  But to see the performance of old Ap!  In his flight
around the charmed circle he leaped all in a piece, as it were, but he
seemed positively to rebound like a cricket-ball; to ricochet like as
shot upon water.  Even Seth, with his long legs, who went about the game
as if it were a matter of life and death, confessed afterwards that
neither kids nor kangaroos were a circumstance to Ap.

And so on they went for half-an-hour and over; and had you gazed on that
mad, merry scene, you would have declared that all hands had taken leave
of their senses.  No, you wouldn't, though, for you would have joined
the fun yourself.

"I reckon," said Seth, after the ship had resumed its wonted calm, "that
although we are going to be soldered up up here all winter, we ain't
going to let down our hearts about it."

Now although the new hall was complete, and Ap had almost finished the
last chair in it, it must not be supposed that the officers and crew of
the _Snowbird_ were idle.  By no means; every day was now precious.
They were as busy laying up stores as the Alpine hare.  Stores of wood
to burn, and stores of fresh provisions in case of emergency.  The deer
they shot, and one or two of the younger and smaller bison, were cut up
with great precision and exactness by the old trapper, and the carcasses
afterwards lashed against the masts in the fore and main tops to be
frozen, and thus to remain fresh throughout the coming winter.

One morning, just after such a sunset as I tried to describe in last
chapter, when Rory and Allan went on deck for their matutinal run before
breakfast, they found, to their astonishment, that the shore and the
trees, ay, and the ship itself, were clad in dazzling white.  Not snow,
though, but hoar-frost; only it was a hoar-frost such as it had never
entered into their minds to imagine the like of.  The sky seemed
overcast with a strange purplish haze that hid the distant hills, and
only revealed the scenery in the immediate neighbourhood.  There wasn't
a breath of wind.  There was silence everywhere shoreward, broken only
now and then by the sullen splash of some giant sea mammal diving into
the dark waters.  And the hoar-frost kept falling, falling, falling.

It was a downfall of snow-stars and their spiculae; but these alighted
on everything--on the sheets and shrouds and every horizontal spar,
making them look five times their usual thickness; and the whole ship
appeared as if enchanted; the men's caps were white, their clothes were
white, and their beards and hair, so that they looked like old, old men.

A great silvery-haired animal crept softly along the deck.  Was it a
polar bear?  No, it was Oscar.  He looked up in their faces with his
plaintive brown eyes, as if beseeching them to tell him what it all
meant.

But when, about an hour afterwards, they came on deck again and looked
about them, they found that the purple mist had all cleared off, and
that the sun was shining in a bright blue sky, towering high into which
were the dazzling hills.  The scene was extraordinary; it was magical,
glorious.  No snow that ever fell could have changed the landscape as
those falling snow-stars had; for every twiglet, stem, and branch was
white and silvery, and radiant as the sun itself, and the pines and
soft-leaved trees were clad in a foliage more beautiful than that of
summer itself.

It was a scene such as few men ever behold, and which but once to see is
to remember for ever and ay.

It faded at last, though, as everything lovely does fade in this world,
and before twelve of the clock the hoar-frost had melted and fallen from
the branches, like showers of radiant diamonds.

Away through the dripping woodlands went Rory, Ralph, and Allan, in
pursuit of game.  Seth was to spend the day in fishing, for ere long the
waters would be frozen over, and but few fish to be had, so all those
that had been taken during the past week had been carefully salted,
dried in smoke, and stored away.

With our three heroes this afternoon went a party of men with a
rudely-constructed sledge, to bring back a load of logs for the general
store.

"Who is the laziest of us three, I wonder?" said Ralph, as soon as they
had got to the high ground, and the men had commenced to wood.

"Oh, I am, I think," said Allan.  "That leapfrog business is too much
for a fat old fellow like me."

"Very well," said Ralph, "for once in a way we'll grant that you are
right, so you just stop and keep the `b'ars' from the working party, and
Rory and I will go down to the creek and see if we can't find a duck or
two."

"All right," said Allan; and down he sat on a fallen tree, and pulling a
book from his pocket he began to read.  So Allan sat there reading, and
some fifty or sixty yards beneath him the men worked, singing and
laughing as they plied the axe and saw.  A whole half-hour was thus
passed.

"This is slow work," he thought at last, placing the book in his pocket.
"I'll creep quietly over to that bit of jungle--I'm sure to get a shot
at something."

If there was anything to shoot in the jungle the wind was all in his
favour.  He was down to leeward.

When he neared the thicket he threw himself on his hands and knees, and
approaching, entered with caution.

There is no sport in the world a Scottish Highlander loves so much as
that of deer-stalking.  Is it any wonder, then, that when he found
himself within fifty yards of a tall an tiered red deer his heart jumped
for joy?

"One hundred and fifty pounds," he said to himself, "if he weighs an
ounce."

He was just about to raise his rifle, when a dead branch snapped under
him, and next moment the quarry had glided silently away.

"Anyhow," thought Allan, "I'll follow him up a little way.  I've done a
bit of this work at home, and he is a wary scamp, indeed, if he escapes
me."

He searched all through the piece of jungle first.  This led him a
goodly mile along the ravine, and into the forest, and he was about to
give up the quest when he caught a glimpse of the animal's white flag
about a hundred yards away, but quickly getting farther off, though
seeming in no great hurry.  Keeping well under cover, Allan went on and
on, determined if possible not to go back without a lordly haunch of
venison on his shoulder.  Before very long he found himself on the brink
of a ravine.  This puzzled him not a little.  It was _a_ ravine, but was
it _the_ ravine at the end of which he was sure to find his comrades?
He did not care whether it was or not; he would cross and risk it, for
yonder, on the opposite "brae," were antlers; not one pair but many
pairs.

So down he went, and, to his joy, found the stream was fordable.

Upwards now, with all the caution imaginable, crept this enthusiastic
sportsman, upwards to where the all-unconscious herd were browsing.  He
was near them now, and was pushing the boughs aside to obtain a view,
when, as ill luck would have it, a twig caught the trigger, the rifle
went off, the deer stampeded, and poor Allan was left to mourn.

"Back homewards now, Allan," a voice seemed to whisper to him.  "Back,
back; it isn't the first time a deer has brought misfortune to the house
of Arrandoon."

Allan was a good mountaineer, and an excellent walker; he felt sure he
could regain his party in an hour at most, but would daylight hold out
as long?  He feared it would not, and he knew it would get dark much
sooner under the pine-trees, so he determined to follow the course of
the stream.  If it flowed at the bottom of the _right_ ravine he was
bound soon to rejoin his party.  "Oh, of course it is the _right_
ravine!"  He found himself making this remark to himself a dozen times
in a minute, as he commenced hurrying along the banks of the rivulet.

But now the shades of night began to fall, great black clouds rolled up
and obscured the sky's blue; there would neither be moon nor stars to
guide him, so he increased his pace to as nearly a run as the rough
nature of the ground would permit.  But presently the trees got thicker
and darker overhead, and he could no longer see the stream, and to
advance farther were but madness.

He pauses now, and the dread of some coming evil falls like a shadow
over his heart.  In vain he shouts.  There is no answer from the hills
above; no answer from the dark woods.  He fires his rifle again, it
reverberates from rock to rock as if a volley had been fired.  But the
echo is the only response.

CHAPTER TWENTY.

ALONE IN THE BEAST-HAUNTED WILDERNESS--THE SEARCH PARTY--AGONY OF
THOUGHT--A MIDNIGHT VISITOR--THE FOREST ON FIRE.

The feeling of consternation on the minds of Ralph and Rory, when they
returned to the working party and found that Allan was missing, may be
better imagined than described.  Mitchell was in command of the
woodcutters, and not only he, but every one of the men, was interrogated
as to what they knew or could tell of the sudden disappearance.  They
had all the self-same story to relate.  They simply missed him, all at
once as it were, from his seat.  They had not noticed which way he had
gone.  They certainly did not hear the crack of his rifle; he had
disappeared as quietly and suddenly as if he had been spirited away, and
they very naturally imagined that he had got tired of waiting, and had
gone along down to the river and creek to meet his friends.

Any search for a trail was altogether a waste of time.  Had Seth himself
been there, hardly could he have picked it up, for the gloom of night
was fast settling down over mountain, and forest, and sea.

One thing, however, they could and did do.  Coming speedily to the
conclusion that Allan had gone more inland, probably after big game of
some kind, they took a middle course, 'twixt east and south, and in a
body marched upon a high bluff of barren ground, that rose up like an
island in the centre of the spruce pines.  Once on the top they could
hear from all directions, if anything were to be heard.  But alas! there
was no answering shout to theirs, and the only reply to their firing was
the faint echo of the rifles among the distant hills.  Then a hopeless
kind of sorrow seemed to settle down on every heart.

Neither Ralph nor Rory dared to express their thoughts in words.  Allan
their beloved companion was gone.  The chances of their ever seeing him
alive again were few, for what might not have happened to him already,
or what might not happen to him during the night, all alone in this
beast-haunted wilderness!

Was there any comfort to be had from the thought that he was simply
lost?  None.  For how could they forget the many stories trapper Seth
had told them of men lost on the prairies, on the plains, or in the
woods and jungles; of how some suddenly lose all hope and heart, throw
themselves on the ground, fall into a stupor, shiver and die; of how
others lose all control over themselves, and rush hither and thither
like wild beasts in confinement, and others who, instead of keeping cool
and waiting for friendly help, become the victims of a restless mania?

It is strange how two people in an emergency like the present may be, at
precisely the same moment of time, thinking of exactly the same thing,
so that almost without the aid of words they may read each other's soul.
I have seen many instances of this, but am not psychologist enough to
be able to account for it; but here now we have Ralph turning suddenly
round to his companion, and looking for a brief moment inquiringly into
his face, and Rory replying, "No, he left his compass in his cabin this
morning, with his watch and chain."

This was an answer to the very question Ralph was about to ask.

"Heaven help him, then!" said Ralph, with one brief glance skywards.
Perhaps, reader, Heaven even then helped the utterer of that little
prayer himself, and granted him presence of mind.

Anyhow, he at once began to give orders.  Ralph had what might be called
a larger and more grasping mind than Rory; the latter was as brave as
brave could be, but Ralph was ever the better man in an emergency.

"Mitchell," said our English hero, "there is no time to be lost.  Take a
few men with you, and go on board at once, and report this sad business
to Captain McBain.  He will know what to do as soon as it is daylight."

"Ay, ay, sir," said Mitchell, and choosing three men he ran quickly down
the side of the hill, and the spruce forest swallowed them up.

"Now, lads," continued Ralph, "go to work and collect wood, there is
plenty about; we'll build a fire on the hill here, and trust the rest to
Providence."

The men were glad to set to work, it revived hope in their hearts.

From the deck of the _Snowbird_, the eminence which Ralph and Rory
occupied could be seen by daylight, so the fire could be seen burning
steadily all the livelong night.  Just after midnight McBain threw
himself wearily on his cot to snatch a few hours' rest.  He was up again
before daybreak, the fire was burning brightly then.

Trapper Seth was on deck even before McBain.  He was quite ready to go
over the side as soon as the order was given, so were the dogs.  The
mastiff would go with his master as a matter of course, who on this
particular occasion had resumed his former useful, if not picturesque,
costume of skins.

Had one of even those few individuals in this world who neither care for
nor admire man's true friend, the dog, been on the _Snowbird's_ deck and
witnessed the quiet, eager anxious looks of great Oscar, as he took his
seat in the boat along with McBain, he could not have begrudged a word
of pity for the poor fellow.

Meanwhile, how fared it with Allan in the solitude of the forest?  Brave
as he was, he could not help experiencing a feeling of awe as night
deepened around him.  He determined, however, to make the most of his
position, and selecting a spot close under a rock, he collected wood and
lit a fire; there was some comfort in that, and its fitful light,
although it seemed to deepen the darkness all around him, made him feel
more cheerful.  He rolled himself in his Highland plaid, and placing his
rifle handy, lay down to watch the blazing logs, without, however, any
very serious intention of going to sleep.  He felt more sorry for his
companions than for himself, for when daylight returned he never doubted
for a moment that he would be able to find his way, but he would have
given a good deal to be able to relieve their anxiety.  It was some
consolation to him in his loneliness to have the companionship of a
book.  But reading by the firelight made him drowsy, and it was not very
long ere the book dropped from his powerless grasp, and he fell fast
asleep.  When he awoke it was broad daylight, the fire had gone out, and
he felt very cold and stiff and tired.  But he was sure now he would
soon regain the creek.

But the mistake he fell into was a very terrible one.  He had forgotten
that he had crossed the stream, or rather that he had not re-crossed it.
When he left the ravine, therefore, and commenced walking in a direct
line north-west as he imagined, he was in reality going quite the
opposite way.  He hurried along, too, at a very rapid rate, sometimes
even running, so that by the time McBain and Seth reached the hill-top,
where Rory and Ralph were, and the search was begun in earnest, there
must have been a distance of at least fifteen miles between himself and
his anxious companions.

It was probably an hour longer before Seth found the trail and Oscar
took it up.  Both dogs started off on the same scent apparently, but
they had not followed it for a mile ere they seemed to disagree, the
mastiff going up to the higher ground, the Saint Bernard keeping far
lower down.  Both animals were right, only the former was on the track
of deer, following the bent he had been trained to; the latter was on
his master's trail.  This put Seth out, however; he naturally had more
faith in the wisdom of his own dog, so Oscar was called away, and it was
not until deer were seen that the mistake was discovered, and steps had
to be retraced in order to seek once again for the right trail, and thus
much valuable time was lost.

When, about five hours after this, Allan found himself once again at the
top of a ravine, adown which a stream meandered, "I declare," he said to
himself, "this is provoking; I've been going round in a circle, and here
I am very near the spot where I started from."

Now this was not the case.  He had been walking almost in a bee-line,
and had struck quite another river.

The probability that this might be the case did cross his mind, but, he
reasoned with himself, this stream must reach the sea, and if I follow
it I am bound to come upon the beach; then, if I am not in sight of the
_Snowbird_, I have only to walk along until I do see her.  But little
did he know then that the course of this river was a very winding one
indeed, and that it fell into the sea after running among a ridge of
high mountains, twenty good leagues to the eastward of the bay in which
lay the yacht.  To make a resolve, however, was with Allan to keep it,
so he recommenced his journey and hurried onwards as before.  He walked
all day, and as the shades of evening began to fall he found himself
very tired and weary, having eaten nothing for over four-and-twenty
hours.  He had the good fortune, however, to find food in the shape of a
jack rabbit.  This, after being cleaned, he rolled in clay and cooked
gipsy-fashion in the fire he had built.  Then, once again rolling
himself in his plaid, he lay down to rest and to think.  It must be
confessed that his position was far from an enviable one, and his
thoughts anything but pleasant.  He began to fear he had made some
strange mistake, for why, if he were indeed going in the right
direction, were there no signs that his friends were seeking for him, as
he knew they must be?  Should he start to-morrow and walk again
up-stream, or should he leave this river that seemed endless and plunge
once again into forest and hill?  Or should he remain stationary?  This
last was precisely what one in his situation ought to have done, but
already the spirit of unrest had taken possession of his mind, and he
longed for the night and the darkness to wear away, that he might resume
his toilsome march, albeit the probability dawned upon his mind that he
might wander in this wilderness until he died.  Would this be the end of
all his ambitions?  Would he never again sail up his own lovely lake in
the Scottish Highlands, and receive the tender greetings of his mother
and sister?  He asked himself such questions over and over again till
they almost maddened him, and he was obliged at last to start up and
pace rapidly up and down in front of the fire.  He walked thus for
hours, until ready to drop, then he heaped more logs on the burning
pile, and again sat down.  The sounds that issued from the forest were
far from reassuring.  There was a whisper of wind through the branches
of the pine-trees, there was the mournful cry of some night bird, or the
scream of some frightened bird trying in vain to escape the clutches of
the owl, and there was the barking yelp of the great grey wolf.

Again and again poor Allan threw himself down in front of the fire, and
attempted to compose himself to sleep, but all in vain.  He tried to
read, but there was no connection between the author's words and his own
thoughts, so he threw the book aside at last, and pressed his palm to
his burning brow.  His head ached and his eyes felt like balls of fire.
Was he going mad?  The very thought that he might be caused him such
agony, that the sweat stood in on beads his forehead.  He found his way
to the river side and bathed his face and head in the cool water; this
soothed him; then his troubled mind found solace in prayer, and laying
himself down once more, just like a tired child, he began to repeat to
himself psalm after psalm, and hymn after hymn, that he had learned at
school.  And so gradually his eyes began to droop, and troubled dreams
took the place of waking thoughts.

And the night wore on, and on, and on.

But it still wanted many hours of morning.

So light were Allan's slumbers that the snapping of a twig or branch,
some distance away in the thicket, caused him to spring up at last and
seize his rifle.  He listened, but there was no unusual sound to alarm
him.  The forest he knew was filled with wolves, but he also knew from
experience that the courage of the brutes is of no very high standing,
and unless they came in numbers they would hardly dare to attack him.

He heaped branches of wood and logs on the fire nevertheless.  While so
engaged there fell upon his startled ear the sounds of hurried breathing
close behind him, and next moment, even before he had time to raise his
rifle to defend himself, an animal bigger and more powerful than a
buffalo-wolf had sprung upon and rolled him to the ground.

And this animal, reader, was none other than his own great honest Oscar.
When McBain and his party, still on Allan's trail, had encamped for the
night, this good dog had stolen away and left them.  Night and darkness
were nothing to him, nor did he fear bears or wolves, or anything else
that makes a forest dangerous to traverse after sundown.  He was
instigated by the love he bore for his master, and guided by scent
alone.

But what a change his presence made on Allan's mind!

He felt no longer gloomy and hopeless, and as he hugged the giant Saint
Bernard, he could not help dropping tears upon his broad brow.  Only
they were tears of joy, and tears that relieved his pent-up feelings and
cooled his burning brain.

If the dog could only have spoken, a most animated conversation would
have ensued forthwith.

But as soon as Oscar had relieved his feelings by a series of wild
gambols and quixotic performances that are simply indescribable, Allan
plied him with a hundred questions, and talked to him just as if the
poor animal knew every word he uttered.

"And how did you find me, dear old boy?  What a blessing you are, to be
sure!  But do you know I took you for a great wolf, and it is a wonder I
didn't shoot you?  Oh! think what a thing it would have been if I had
killed my dear kind Oscar.  It won't bear thinking about.  And where did
you leave our friends?  They are coming to seek for me, I know; but you,
you impatient boy! you must give them the slip and come paddling along
through the dark dreary forest to look for your beloved master.  Heigho!
but I am so glad you're here.  I am so happy, and I am so hungry too.
And, by the way, that reminds me I roasted a rabbit last night, Oscar,
and could hardly touch it.  But we'll have it now.  What have you got in
the little barrel at your collar?  Coffee, I declare!  Well, well,
well!"

Talking thus, Allan shared his supper with his friend, and then laid
himself down by his side, using the dog as his pillow, just as he had
often done when resting at home, among the blooming heather on the braes
of Arrandoon.  That was the sweetest and most refreshing hour's slumber
ever he remembered having enjoyed.

He awoke at last like the proverbial giant refreshed, and found his
pillow sitting up alongside of him, and gazing down at him with loving
hazel eyes.

"Hullo, Oscar!" he said: "day is breaking yonder in the east; it is
almost time we were moving."

The dog shook himself as much as to say,--

"I'm ready at a moment's notice to guide you safely home."

There was a broad belt of red light in the distant horizon and towards
this Oscar attempted to lead his master, with many a bound and many a
bark.

But Allan wouldn't budge.

"Not in that direction, Oscar, old boy," he said; "our road lies towards
the _setting_, not the rising sun."

"Bow, wow!" barked Oscar, as if reasoning with him, "_bow, wow, wow,
wow_!"

There was something in the dog's demeanour that set Allan a-thinking.
Could the animal really be right and he wrong?  He examined the belt of
red light more carefully now.  Was that the east?  Was that indeed the
crimson clad vanguard that heralds the coming day?  Nay, it could not
be, the red was a more lurid red, the light was a fitful light, and as
he gazed he could distinctly make out a confused rolling of great clouds
over it.  Then all at once the truth flashed across his mind.

_The forest was on fire_!

How this happened the reader may at once be told: sparks from McBain's
camp fire had towards morning ignited the withered needles that had
fallen from the pine-trees, the brushwood had caught, and next the
underwood of the spruce-trees, and at the very moment that Allan was
gazing skywards his friends were rushing headlong through the woods,
pursued by the devouring element.

Would they ever meet Allan again?

CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

NARROW ESCAPE--A TERRIBLE SCENE--ALLAN AND OSCAR--A GLOOMY EVENING--
REUNION--SETH'S ADVENTURE--A WELCOME BACK.

For a minute or more escape from the terrible fire seemed to our heroes
an utter impossibility.  The smoke that curled and swirled around them
was blinding, the roar of the flames was deafening.  No wonder they
hesitated what to do or which way to flee.  Their camp fire had been lit
not far from the river's brink, but the stream at this part ran deep,
and dark, and sullen; to plunge into it was only to court death in a
different form.  But all at once the wind seemed to increase to almost a
gale; it blew in their faces cold and fierce, the smoke lifted off, and
suddenly their senses and presence of mind were restored; and while
behind them the flames mounted higher and higher, and seemed to rage
more fiercely every moment, they dashed off and away against that wind.
It was terribly strong now; they felt as if they were breasting the
waves against the tide, but it was their only chance.  Farther down the
stream they would doubtless find a ford, and once across the river they
were safe.

It was indeed a race for life, and for fully half-an-hour it was
doubtful if they would win it.  The withered heath and grass, and the
stunted shrubs which grew next to the banks of the stream, caught fire
even against the wind, and this communicated with the forest, so that
the flames seemed to chase them, and to keep alongside of them, at one
and the same time.  But at last they reach a spot where the river widens
out, and they know by the ripple on it that it cannot be deep, so in
they plunge and begin to ford, and they have not gone ten yards ere the
fire has taken possession of the bank they left.  There can be no going
back now, but the current is strong, and deeper in some places than
their waists, yet they stem it manfully, holding their rifles high, and
supporting each other whenever a slip is made.  They reach the opposite
bank at last, and Seth is the first to clamber out and to help the
others up.  They climb to the top of the ravine, ere ever they pause to
gaze behind them.

The scene they looked upon was awful in its sublimity.

The flames were doing their work with fearful speed.  The fire had
rolled backwards and appeared embracing all the wooded country.  The
spruce thickets seemed to suffer the worst; from them the flames rose
the highest, shooting hundreds of feet into the air in great gleaming
tongues of fire, that fed upon and licked up the very clouds of smoke
themselves.  The air, for miles to leeward, was filled with sparks as
dense as snowflakes.  But strangest sight of all was to see the tall
alpine pines.  Other trees tottered and crashed and fell as the fierce
heat attacked them; not so they, they seemed to defy the flames, and as
the fire rolled back seeking for more pliant material on which to vent
its fury, and the wind blew round their stems, their bark caught fire
and they stood forth against the blackness like trees of molten gold.

There were here and there in the forest bold rocky bluffs, rising
hundreds of feet above the trees.  These were lighted up as the fire
swept past them, as with the brightness of the noontide sun, and on
their summits our heroes could distinctly perceive flocks of tall
antlered deer, and near them frightened cowering wolves and even bears;
all alike had taken refuge on these heights from the fury of the flames
that held sway beneath them.

For a short time only the scene held the little party spellbound.  Ralph
was the first to speak.

"Alas! poor Oscar!" he said in a mournful tone, "he must have perished
in the flames."

It was only natural they should come to this conclusion, but at that
moment Oscar and Allan too were safe enough, and journeying onwards in
hopes of finding them.

Allan could now understand perfectly and clearly every phase of the
situation.  His friends if alive were some miles, many miles in all
probability, up-stream, the dog had escaped from their camp fire, the
fire hid originated at their camp, and to escape destruction they must
have crossed the stream.  Allan had never seen a forest on fire before,
but he had seen the heather, and he knew something about the dangerous
rapidity with which flames can spread along in the open.  As soon,
therefore, as there was a glimmering of daylight, he stripped at the
river's brink, tied his clothes into a bundle with his plaid, and swam
to the other side, the dog following as if he understood the move
entirely and quite approved of it.

It was well he had done so, for another hour's journey along that
winding river's banks brought him face to face with the raging fire.
But wind as it might, Allan determined not to lose sight of it again; he
made all speed nevertheless.  He knew his friends must wait now until
the charred and blackened ground cooled down before they re-crossed the
river and recommenced the search.

Yet, reader, we who know that Allan is safe cannot fully sympathise with
his friends in the gloom and anxiety that settled down on their hearts.
When the excitement caused by the fire and their narrow escape from
destruction wore off, it left behind it an utter hopelessness and
despair, which it is difficult to describe.  When they had lain down to
sleep on the previous evening, they were full of confidence that they
would soon come up with Allan.  Seth had pronounced the trail a fresh
one, and assured them he would find the lost boy before another sunset.
Rory was full of fun, even pronouncing Allan a "rogue of a runaway," and
saying that "sure the search for him was only a wild-goose chase after
all said and done, and Allan the goose."

But now where was that confidence?  Where was hope?  Dead.  Dead, just
as they had not a single doubt Allan and his poor dog were at that
moment.  And oh! to think that it was their own carelessness that had
caused that dreadful fire, which they felt sure must have cost Allan his
precious life.  They would, however, so they determined, resume the
search; but what an aimless one it would be now, with track and trail
gone for ever!

Seth lit a fire; he even cooked food, but no one cared to speak, much
less to eat! and so the day wore gloomily away.  The wind, which had
gone down at noon, began to rise again and moan mournfully among the
swaying branches, and a few drops of rain fell.  There would be neither
moon nor stars to-night.  The sky was overcast with grey and leaden
cumulus drifting before the restless wind, and night was coming on a
good hour before its time.

They crept closer together.  They gathered more closely to the log fire.

"Boys," said McBain, and he spoke with some difficulty, as if his heart
were very full indeed--"boys, the shieling [Highland cot] where I lived
when a child on the braes of Arrandoon was a very humble one indeed; my
father was a poor man, but a brave and pious one; not that I mean to
boast of that, but there wasn't a morning passed without a prayer being
said, and a song being sung in praise of Him we children were all taught
to fear, and reverence, and trust.  He taught us to say those beloved
words, `Thy will be done.'  Oh! boys, it is easy to breathe that prayer
when everything is going well with us, but in gloom and trouble like the
present, it is true courage and true worship if we can speak the words
not with lips but with hearts."

After a pause,--

"I think," McBain continued, "if anything has happened to poor Allan, it
will be our duty to get back as speedily as may be to Scotland, and
forego our voyage farther north."

Now, at that very moment Allan and his dog were within sight of the camp
fire; he was holding Oscar by the collar, and meditating what would be
the best and least startling way to make known his presence.

Should he fire his rifle in the air?  That would be better than suddenly
appearing like a ghost among them.

But Oscar settled the difficulty in a way of his own.  He bounded away
from his master's grasp with a joyful bark, and next moment was
careering like a mad thing round and round the group at the fire.

This way of breaking the intelligence of Allan's safety was very abrupt,
but it was very satisfactory.

When the surprised greetings with which Allan was hailed had in some
measure subsided--when he had explained the part that Oscar had played,
and told them that but for the great fire he never would have believed
that he had been going eastwards instead of west--then McBain said, in
his old quiet manner,--

"You see, boys, there is a Providence in all things, and, on the whole,
I'm not sorry that this should have happened."

But twenty years at the very least seemed to have fallen off the load of
the trapper's age.

Seth knew what men were, and so he heaped more wood on the fire, and set
about at once getting supper ready.

Sapper would never have suggested itself to anybody if Allan had not
returned.

The journey "home," as the good yacht was always called, was commenced
the very next morning, and accomplished in eight-and-forty hours.

A red deer fell to Allan's gun by the way.

"I do believe," said Allan, "it is the self-same rascal that led me such
a dance."

"We'll have a haunch off him, then," said McBain, "to roast when we go
back, and so celebrate your return."

"The chief's return," said Ralph, laughing.

"The prodigal son's bedad," said Rory; "but I'm going to have that
stag's head.  Isn't he a lordly fellow, with his kingly antlers!  I'll
stuff it, an oh! sure, if we ever do get back to Arrandoon, it's myself
will hang it in the hall in commemoration of the great wild-goose
chase."

By means of their compasses and trapper Seth's skill they were able to
march in almost a bee-line upon what they termed their own ravine.  But
not during any portion of the journey was Seth idle.  He was scanning
every yard of the ground around him, studying every feature of the
landscape, and making so many strange marks upon the trees, that at last
Rory asked him,--

"Whatever are you about, friend Seth?  Is it a button off your coat
you've lost, or what is the meaning of your strange earnestness?"

Seth smiled grimly.

"I guess," he replied, "we may have to make tracks across this bit of
country once or twice after the snow is on the ground.  Shouldn't like
to be lost, should you?"

Rory shrugged his shoulders.

When they were having their mid-day meal Rory returned to the charge.

"Were ever you lost in the snow?" he said to Seth.

"More'n once," replied Seth.

"Tell us."

"Once in partikler," said Seth, "three of us were movin' around in a
wild bit o' country.  It were skootin' after the b'ars we were, with our
snow-shoes on, for the snow were plaguey deep.  I was a bit younger
then, and I calculate that accounted for a deal of my headlong
stupidity.  Anyhow, we lost our way, and when we got our bearings again,
night was beginning to fall, and as we didn't fancy passing it away from
the log fire, we just made about all the haste we knew how to.  I knew
every tree, even with snow on 'em, but I hadn't taken correct note of
the rocks and gullies and such.  And presently, blame me, gentlemen, if
I didn't miss my footing and go tumbling down to the bottom of a pit,
twenty feet deep if it were an inch.  I didn't go quite alone, though.
No, I just drops my gun and clutches Jager by the hand, and down we goes
together in the most affectionate manner ever you could wish to see.

"Nat Weekley was a-comin' sliding up some ways in the rear.  He was
lookin' at his toes like, and didn't see us disappear, but he told us
afterwards he kind o' missed us all of a suddint, you see, and guessed
we'd gone somewheres down into the bowels o' the earth.  He was an
amoosin kind of a 'possum, was old Nat.  Presently he discovered our
hole, and laying himself cautiously down on the lower side of it, so's
he shouldn't fall, he peers over the brink.  He couldn't see us for a
bit, with the blinding snow-powder we'd raised.  But Nat wasn't going to
be done.

"`Anybody down there?' says Nat, quite unconcernedly.

"`To be sure there is,' says we; `didn't you see us go in?'

"`No,' said Nat; `what did you go in for?'

"`Don't know,' said I, sulkily.

"`How are you going to get out?' says Nat.

"`Nary a bit o' me knows,' I says; `we came down so plaguey fast we
didn't take time to consider.'

"`Went to look for summut, I reckon?'

"`Oh!' cries Jager, `cease your banter, Nat.'

"`A pretty pair o' babes in the wood you'll make, won't you!  Do you
know it'll soon be dark?'

"`Poor consolation that,' I says.

"`Pitch dark,' roars Nat, `and nary a morsel o' fire you'll be able to
light.  And I reckon too it's in a b'ar's hole you are, and presently
the b'ar will be coming home, and then there'll be the piper to pay.
There'll be five minutes of a rough house down there, I can tell ye.'

"We felt kind o' riled now, and didn't reply, and so Nat went on:

"`I kind o' sees ye now,' he says.  `I can just dimly descry ye, you
looks about as frisky as a pair o' bull buffaloes.  Ha! ha! ha!  You'll
be precious cold before long, though,' Nat continues.  `Now don't say
Nat's a bad old sort.  He's going to throw ye down his flask; maybe ye
can't catch it, so behold, Nat puts it in the pocket of his big skin
coat, and pitches it down into your hole.  Don't think it's the b'ar,
cause he won't come home till it's just a trifle darker, and then--ha!
ha! ha!--I thinks I sees the dust he'll raise.  Good-bye, my sylvan
beauties.  Good night, babies.  Take care of your little selves; don't
catch cold whatever ye do.'

"But all this was only Nat's fun, ye see.  He carried a right good heart
within him, I can tell you, and he wasn't above five hours gone when
back he comes with two more of our friends carrying a big lantern, a
long rope, and an axe, and in about ten minutes more Jager and I were
both on the brink; but I can tell ye, gentlemen, it was about the
coldest five hours ever trapper Seth spent in his little existence."

The anxiety on board the yacht for the past few days had been very deep
indeed, but as our heroes drew once more near to their home, and
Stevenson made sure they were all there, dogs and all.

"Hurrah, boys!" he cried to his men; "man the rigging!"

Ay, and they did too, and it would have done your heart good to have
heard that ringing cheer, and it wasn't one cheer either, but three
times three, and one more to keep them whole.

McBain and his little party made noble response, you may be well sure;
and meanwhile Peter, with his bagpipes, had mounted into the foretop and
played them Highland welcome as they once more jumped on board of the
saucy _Snowbird_.

What a delightful evening they spent afterwards in the snuggery!  They
were often in the habit of inviting one of the mates aft, or even weird
little Magnus, with his budget of wonderful tales, but to-night they
must needs have it all to themselves, and it was quite one bell in the
middle watch ere they thought of retiring, and even after that they must
all go on deck to have a look around.

Not a breath of wind, not a cloud in the sky, and stars as big as
saucers.

"Jack Frost has come while we've been talking," said McBain.  "Look
here, boys."

He threw a bit of wood overboard as he spoke; it rang as it alighted on
the surface of the Ice.

CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

FROST AND NO SKATES!--RORY DISCONSOLATE--MCBAIN TO THE RESCUE--A ROARING
DAY AND A MERRY NIGHT--A MYSTERIOUS POOL.

King Frost _had_ come--and come, too, with a will, for when Rory went on
deck next morning the ice was all around the yacht, hard and smooth and
black.

"It is frozen in we are," said Rory--"frozen in entirely, and never a
vestige of a skate in the ship.  Just look, Allan, that ice is bearing
already!  What could have possessed us to leave Scotland without
skates?"

"It is provoking," remarked Allan, looking at the ice with a rueful
countenance.

"Well, we can't go back home for them, that is certain sure.  D'ye
think, now, that old Ap could manufacture us a few pairs?"

"He is very handy," Allan said; "but I question if he could manufacture
skates."

"However," said Rory, "the ice is bearing; we can slide if we can't
skate.  So I, for one, am going over the side presently."

"Not to-day, Rory boy," said a quiet voice behind him, while at the same
time a hand was laid gently on his shoulder--"not to-day, Rory, it
wouldn't be safe," said McBain.  "I know you would risk it, but I love
you too well to allow it."

"And sure, isn't your word law, then?" replied Rory.

McBain smiled, and no more was said on the subject; but for all that
Rory had the ice on his mind all day, and that accounted for his having
been seen in close confab with old Ap for a whole hour, during which
pieces of wood and bits of iron were critically looked at, and many
strange tools examined and designs drawn on paper by Rory's deft
artistic fingers.  But the result of all this may be summed up in the
little word _nil_.  Ap had taken much snuff during this consultation,
but, "No, no; look, you see," he said, at last, "if it were a box now,
or a barrel, or a boat, I could manage it; but skates, look you, is more
science than art."

So Rory had rather a long face when he came aft again, which was
something most unusual for Rory.  But his was the nature that is easily
cast down, and just as easily elevated again.  His spirits were about
zero before dinner; they rose somewhat during that meal, and fell once
more when the cloth was removed.

"Do you think," asked Ralph of McBain, "that the frost will hold?"

"Oh," cried Rory, "don't talk of the frost! sure it is the provokingest
thing that ever was, that the three of us should have forgotten our
skates.  I'm going to get my fiddle."

"Wait a moment," said McBain.

"Steward," he continued, "serve out warm clothing to-morrow for these
young gentlemen, and remind them to put on their pea-jackets; we are
going to have such a frost as you never even dreamt of in Scotland.
Don't forget to put them on, boys; and Peter, `dubbing' for the boots
mind, no more paste blacking."

"Ay, ay, sir!" said Peter.

"And don't forget the paper blankets."

"That I won't, sir!" from Peter.

Now while McBain was speaking Rory's face was a study; the clouds were
fast disappearing from his brow, his eye was getting brighter every
moment.  At last, up he jumped, all glee and excitement.

"Hurrah!" he cried, seizing the captain by the hand.  "It is true, isn't
it?  Oh! you know what I'd be saying.  The skates, you know!  Never
expect me to believe that the man who thought beforehand about warm
clothes for his boys, and dubbing and paper blankets, was unmindful of
their pleasures as well."

"Peter, bring the box," said McBain, quietly laughing.

Peter brought the box, and a large one it was too.

Three dozen pairs of the best skates that ever glided over the glassy
surface of pond or lake.

Rory looked at them for a moment, then admiringly at McBain.

"I was going to get my fiddle," says Rory, "and it would be a pity to
spoil a good intention; but troth, boys, it isn't a lament I'll be
playing now, at all, at all."

Nor was it.  Rory's fiddle spoke--it laughed, it screamed; it told of
all the joyousness of the boy's heart, and it put everybody in the same
humour that he himself and his fiddle were in.

Next morning broke bright and clear; Rory and Allan were both up even
before the stars had faded, and by the time they had enjoyed the luxury
of the morning tub--for that they meant to keep up all the year round,
being quite convinced of the good of it--and dressed themselves,
laughing and joking all the time, Peter had the breakfast laid and
ready.

The ice was hard and solid as steel, and glittered like crystal in the
rays of the morning sun, and you may be sure our heroes made the best of
it, and not they alone, but one half at least of the yacht's officers
and crew.  The whole day was given up to the enchanting amusement of
skating, and to frolic and fun.  Wonderful to say, old Ap proved himself
quite an adept in the art, and the figures this little figure-head of a
man cut, and the antics he performed, astonished every one.

But Seth, alas! was but a poor show; he never had had skates on his feet
before, so his attempts to keep upright were ridiculous in the extreme.
But Seth did not mind that a bit, and his pluck was of a very exalted
order, for, much as his anatomy must have been damaged by the
innumerable falls he got, he was no sooner down than he was up again.
Allan and Ralph took pity on him at last, and taking each a hand of the
old man, glided away down the ice with him crowing with delight.

"But, sure, then," cried Rory, "and it's myself will have a partner
too."

And so he linked up with old Ap, old Ap in paper cap and immensity of
apron, Rory in pilot coat and Tam o' Shanter.  What a comical couple
they looked!  Yes, I grant you they looked comical, but what of that?
Their skating far eclipsed anything in the field, and there really was
no such thing as tiring either Ap or Rory.

And hadn't they appetites for dinner that day!  Allan's haunch of
venison smoked on the board; and Stevenson, Mitchell, and the mate of
the _Trefoil_ had been invited to partake, as there was plenty for
everybody, and some to send forward afterwards.

"Now," said McBain, after the cloth had been removed, and cups of
fragrant coffee had been duly discussed, "what say you, gentlemen, if we
leave the _Snowbird_ to herself for an hour or two, pipe all hands over
the side, and go on shore and open the new hall?"

"A grand idea!" cried Ralph and Allan in a breath.  "Capital!" said
Rory.

And in less than an hour, reader, everything was prepared: a great fire
of logs and coals was cracking and blazing on the ample hearth of the
hall, a fire that warmed the place from end to end, a fire at which an
ox might have been roasted.  The piano had been transported on shore; at
this instrument Ralph presided, and near him stood Rory, fiddle in hand.
McBain was duly elected chairman, and the impromptu concert had
commenced.  The officers occupied the front seats, the men sat
respectfully on forms in the rear.  Had you been there you would have
observed, too, that the crew had paid some little attention to their
toilet before coming on shore; they had doffed their work-a-day
clothing, and donned their best.  Even Ap had laid aside his immensity
of apron, and came out in navy blue, and Seth was once again encased in
that brass-buttoned coat of his, and looked, as Rory said, "all smiles,
from top to toe."

McBain felt himself in duty bound to make a kind of formal speech before
the music began.  He could be pithy and to the point if he couldn't be
eloquent.

"Officers and men," he said, "of the British yacht, _Snowbird_,--We are
met here to-night to try,--despite the fact, which nobody minds, that we
are far from our native land,--if we can't spend a pleasant evening.  We
have been together now for many months, together in sunshine and storm,
together in our dangers, together in our pleasures, and I don't think
there has ever been an unpleasant word spoken fore or aft, nor has a
grumbler ever lifted up his voice.  But we have a long dreary winter
before us, and perils perhaps to pass through which we little wot of.
But as we've stood together hitherto, so will we to the end, let it be
sweet or let it be bitter.  And it is our duty to help keep up each
other's hearts.  I purpose having many such meetings here as the
present, and let us just make up our minds to amuse and be amused.
Everybody can do something if he tries; he who cannot sing can tell a
story, and if there be any one single mother's son amongst us who is too
diffident to do anything, why just let him keep a merry face on his
figure-head, and, there, we'll forgive him!  That's all."

McBain sat down amidst a chorus of cheers, and the music began.  Ralph
played a battle piece.  That suited his touch to a "t," Rory told him,
and led an encore as soon as it was finished.  Then Rory himself had to
come to the front with his fiddle, and he played a selection of Irish
airs, arranged by himself.  Then there was a duet between Allan and
Ralph; then McBain himself strode on the stage with a stirring old
Highland song, that brought his hearers back to stirring old Highland
times in the feudal days of old, when men flew fiercely to sword and
claymore, as the fiery cross was borne swiftly through the glen, and
wrong had to be righted in the brave old fashion.  Stevenson followed
suit with a sea song; he had a deep bass voice, and his rendering of
"Tom Bowling" was most effective.

It was Rory's turn once more.  He brought out a real Irish shillalah
from somewhere, stuck his hat, with an old clay pipe in it, on one side
of his head, and gave the company a song so comical, with a brogue so
rich, that he quite brought down the house.  It was not one encore, but
two he got; in fact, he became the hero of the evening.  Both Mitchell
and the mate of the _Trefoil_ found something to sing, and Ap and Magnus
something to say if they couldn't sing.  Magnus's story was as weird and
wild as he looked himself while telling it; Ap's was a simple relation
of a daring deed done at sea during the herring-fishery season.  After
this Seth spun one of his trapper yarns, and the music began again.  A
sailor's hornpipe this time--a rattling nerve-jogging tune that set the
men all on a fidget.  They beat time with their fingers, they tapped a
tattoo with their toes; and when they couldn't stand it a moment longer,
why they simply started up in a bold and manly British fashion, cleared
the floor, and gave vent to their feelings through their legs and their
feet.

The dancing became fast and furious after that, and when Ralph and Rory
were tired of playing they came to the floor, and Peter took their place
with his bagpipes.  But the longest time has an end, and at last Ap's
shrill pipe summoned all hands on board.

There was little need of sleeping-draughts for any one on board the
_Snowbird_ that night.

The frost held, our heroes could tell that before they left their beds,
so intensely cold was it.  Glad were they now of the addition of the
paper blankets served out by Peter; eider-down quilts could hardly have
made them feel more comfortable.

The frost held, they could tell that when they went to their tubs.
Peter had placed the water in each bath only an hour before, but the ice
was already so hard that instead of getting in at once Rory squatted
down to look at it, and he did not like the looks of it either.  The
sponge was as hard as a sledge-hammer, so he took that to break the ice
with.  Then he tried one foot in, and quickly drew it out again and
shook it.  The water felt like molten lead.

"I wonder now," he said to himself, "if brother Ralph will venture on a
cold plunge on such a morning as this."

And, wondering thus, he rolled his shoulders up in his door-curtain,
and, poking his head into the passage, hailed Ralph.

"Hullo, there!" he cried; "Ralph!  Porpy!"

"Hullo!" cried Ralph; "I'll Porpy you if I come into your den!"

"Well, but tell me this, old man," said Rory; "I want to know if you're
going to do a flounder this morning?"

"To be sure!" said Ralph.  "Listen!"

Rory listened, and could hear him plashing.

McBain passed along at the moment, and, hearing the conversation, he
took part in it to this extent,--

"Boys that don't have their baths don't have their breakfasts."

"In that case," said Rory, "I'm in too!"  And next moment he was
plashing away like a live dolphin.  But hardly was he dressed than there
came all over him such a glorious warm glow, that he would have gone
through the same ordeal again had there been any occasion.  At the same
time he felt so exhilarated in spirits that nothing would serve him but
he must burst into song.

The frost held, they could tell that when they met in the saloon and
glanced at the windows; the tracery thereon was so beautiful, that even
at the risk of letting his breakfast get cold, Rory must needs run for
his sketch-book and make two pictures at least.  Meanwhile, Ralph had
settled down to serious eating.  You see, there was very little poetry
about honest Ralph, he was more solid than imaginative.

After breakfast our trio took to the ice again.  They soon had evidence
that some one had been there before them, for about a mile along the
shore, and a little way out to sea, they saw that several poles had been
planted, and on each pole fluttered a red flag.  They looked inquiringly
at McBain.

"You wonder what the meaning of that is?" said McBain; "and I myself
cannot altogether explain it."

"But you had the flags placed there?"

"True," said McBain; "and they are placed around a pool of open water."

"Open water!" exclaimed Rory, "and the sea frozen everywhere all
around!"

"Ah, yes!" replied McBain; "that is the mystery.  But we are in the land
of mysteries.  This pool of open water may be situated over a warm
spring, or it may be there is some kind of a whirlpool there which
prevents the formation of the ice, only there it is, sure enough, and
howsoever hard the frost should become, or howsoever long it may last, I
think that that pool will never, never close and freeze.

"The ice," he continued, "was thin at the edge, but I have had it broken
off, and will try to keep it so, and thus you will be enabled to go
quite close to the water's edge; and if my experience is anything to go
by, you'll see many a startling apparition there before the winter is
past and gone."

"You astonish _me_," said Rory.

"And _me_," said Allan.

"But what," persisted Rory, "will the apparitions be like?"

"Nothing that can harm us, I think," said McBain.  "But as the ice
extends farther seaward, sea-monsters will come to the pool to breathe
and to disport themselves in the sunshine."

"Perhaps the sea-serpent, for instance?" said Rory.

"Perhaps," said McBain.

"Och! sure then," cried Rory, losing all his seriousness at once, "we'll
have a shot at the old boy, that's all?"

CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

THE GREAT BLACK FROST--FUNNY JACK FROST--THE COLD HALF-HOUR--A TERRIBLE
APPARITION UNDER THE ICE--BLOWING SOAP-BUBBLES--STRANGE EFFECT--SNOW AND
SNOW-SHOES.

For week after week the great black frost continued, seeming only to wax
more and more intense as the time went on.  With the exception of the
mysterious pool, mentioned in last chapter, and the small hole kept open
alongside the yacht, there was no water to be met with anywhere.  The
sea, as far as the eye could reach, was a smooth unbroken sheet of
glass, two feet in thickness if a single inch.  If there was any ripple
or swell in the now far-off blue water, it did not affect the ice for
miles around the _Snowbird_ in the slightest.  There was never a crack
and never a flaw in it.  It was hard, solid, and black, adamantine one
might almost say in its extreme hardness.  The chips broken off from the
edge of the ice-hole looked like pieces of greenish rock crystal.  The
ice-hole itself required to be broken every time a bucket was dipped in
it.

Meanwhile the days grew shorter and shorter, but there was never a
breath of wind, and never a cloud in the sky.  And the sun looked cold
and rayless, yet at night the stars shone out with extraordinary
brilliancy.

Breakfast was now a meal to be partaken of by lamplight, and so too was
dinner, but they both passed off none the less pleasantly for that.

"It seems to me," said Allan one morning, "that one of these days the
sun won't trouble to get up at all."

"We are just in the latitude," remarked McBain, "where even at midsummer
there is a little night, and at mid-winter a little day."

"But we will never be positively in the dark, I should think, while the
stars are so brilliant?"  Allan asked.

"We'll have the glorious aurora borealis by-and-bye," said McBain, "to
say nothing of long spells of moonlight; but we are, as I said before,
in the very centre of a land of wonders, and there will doubtless be
nights when the storm spirit will be abroad in all his might and
majesty, clothed in clouds and darkness, a darkness more intense and
terrible than any we have ever experienced in our own country."

"It is a good thing," said Rory, "that you thought of taking such an
array of beautiful lamps."

Yes, Rory was right, it was a beautiful array.  As Ralph re narked, "the
_Snowbird_ was strong in lamps."

They hung in the passage, they hung in the snuggery, and four of them
lit up the saloon, with a brightness almost equal to that of day itself.

And those lamps gave heat as well as light, but large fires were kept
constantly roaring in the stoves.  The stove that stood in the snuggery
was a very large one, and to make the place all the more comfortable the
deck was almost buried in skins--trophies of the prowess of our heroes
in the hunting-field.  And yet with all this it must be confessed that
at times the cold was felt to be very severe; indeed, the thermometer
kept steadily down many degrees below zero.  There was one way of
defying it during the day, however, and that way lay in action.

"Keep moving is my motto," said Rory one day on the ice.

"Indeed, Rory boy," said McBain, "you act well up to it; if I were asked
to define you now, do you know the words I would use?"

"No," said Rory.

"Perpetual motion personified," said McBain.

"Thank you," Rory said, lifting his cap.

There was an excellent way of keeping out the cold after dinner, and
that was to make a circle round the snuggery stove, reclining on the
skins with cups of warm fragrant coffee, and engaging in pleasant
conversation.  There was another way of keeping out the cold in the long
evenings, and that was to retire to the new hall and give a dance.  This
was the favourite plan with the crew at all events, and McBain, well
knowing the value of healthful happy exercise, was always delighted when
Rory professed himself ready and willing to discourse sweet music to the
men tripping it on the light fantastic toe.

But the time of all others when our heroes really did feel the effects
of the excessively low temperature, was the cold half-hour immediately
after turning into bed.  Of course the curtains would be carefully and
closely drawn, ay, and heads carefully covered with bedclothes, but for
all that, shiver they must for the cold half-hour.  But gradually the
feeling wore away, warmth stole over them, then noses could be protruded
over the quilts, and by-and-by sleep sealed up their senses.

When they awoke in the morning, lo and behold they were lying in caves
of snow!  Top and bottom of the bed, back and roof, were covered with
snow to the depth of half an inch; and so were the curtains, and so were
the quilts.  Where in the name of mystery had the snow come from?  The
explanation is easy enough.  The snow was nothing more nor less than
their frozen breath.

I do not think a single day passed that Rory did not, during this black
frost, make a sketch from a frozen pane of glass.  The frost effects on
the frozen glass were simply magical, and it was very curious to notice
that some of the panes had been but lightly touched with the frost; they
were unfinished sketches, so to speak, while others represented whole
landscapes, mountain and forest and sky as well.

"Look at this pane," said Rory, one morning.  "Now I wonder what Jack
Frost meant to have filled that picture in with?"

"Jack seems to have been having a frolic," said Allan.  "Why, there is
only one long white thread down the centre of the pane, and this is all
hung over with battle-axes and crosses.  Jack's a funny fellow."

"Jack _is_," said Rory.

"Poor Seth!" he continued; "d'ye know the trick he played him
yesterday?"

"No," said Allan.

"Oh! then," said Rory, "what should John Frost, woe worth him! do but go
and freeze the poor man's nose, and sure enough to-day it is as big as
the teapot; there is no looking at him without laughing."

"Poor fellow!"  Allan remarked.

Frost-biting was far from a rare accident now, and when on the ice it
was found necessary for both men and officers to keep a sharp look-out
on each other's faces; a white spot represented a sudden frost-bite,
unfelt by the person most interested, and only visible to his companion.
But it had at once to be rubbed with ice to gradually restore the
circulation, else the part, after the lapse of some hours, would
mortify.

Here is a strange thing.  For the first day or two of frost, while the
ice was still comparatively thin, by lying flat down and gazing beneath,
they were in a short time able to perceive fishes and other denizens of
the deep close underneath them.  Even sharks, and creatures with shapes
still more dreadful, at times appeared.  There was a strange fascination
in this to Rory, these dark, turning, twisting shapes close under him,
that stared at him with their terrible eyes, or mouthed at the ice as if
they would fain swallow him, appearing and disappearing in the dark
water; it was fascinating, yet fearful.

When coming from the shore on the evening of the second day, "Let us
skate for a mile or two in the starlight," said Rory.

"Agreed!" said Allan, and off they went.

They skated quite a mile from the shore.

"Now," said Rory, "let us have a peep through the ice."

"We can't see anything in the dark," replied Allan.

But Rory was of a different opinion, and no sooner had he lain down
than, "Oh, Allan, Allan! look, look!" he cried.

Allan saw it too--a terrible shape, seemingly made of fire, wriggling up
from the dark depths and approaching the spot where they lay, until they
could see it easily.  A gigantic snake apparently, as big as the stem of
the tallest oak, all quivering and phosphorescent, with crimson eyes and
a mouth of awful teeth!  The boys felt fear now if they never felt it
before.  They were spellbound, too; they could not remove their gaze
from the apparition, and a kind of nightmare dread took possession of
their hearts.

But the thing disappeared at last; it vanished as it had come, leaving
only the blackness of darkness.  The spell was broken, and they skated
back again towards the yacht in silence, but wondering greatly at what
they had seen.

The country around them, with its hills and its forests, looked dismal
enough now at times.  There was no cloud scenery, and consequently no
lovely sunrises or sunsets, but just in the gloaming hour, soon after
the sun had gone down, the lower part of the sky all round, between the
immediate horizon and the upper vault of blue, used to assume a strange
sea-green hue, in which the bright stars sparkled and shone like
diamonds of the purest water.

"Hallo!" said Rory, one day, "I've got an idea."

The day was one of intensest frost--probably the coldest they had ever
yet experienced.

"Yes, an idea," he continued--"and that is more than ever you had, you
know, Ralph."

"Well, then, tell us," said Ralph; "but I should think it will get
frozen hard if you attempt to put it into words."

"But I won't," said Rory; "I mean to put it into action."

Rory dived down below, and his two companions remained on deck,
wondering what he was going to be up to.

But presently Rory returned, bearing long clay pipes and a basin of
soapsuds.  "The idea is a very ridiculous one," he said, "but a funny
one.  Fancy, old sailors like ourselves, and mighty hunters, blowing
soap-bubbles like so many babies!  But here, boys, take your pipes and
heave round."

Next moment both Ralph and Allan entered into the business with spirit,
and everybody looked on astonished, for, strange to say, the beautiful
soap-bubbles were no sooner blown than they were frozen, and instead of
floating away and fading shortly, they remained in existence.  The boys
blew them by the score and by the hundred, until the deck of the yacht
and the top of the companion, and even the bulwarks, were laden with
them.

"Now then," cried Rory, in ecstasy; "what d'ye think of that, captain?
Troth! there is a beautiful cargo for you."

"It's a very fragile one," said McBain.

"Ah! but," said Rory, "it is poetic in the extreme, and entirely new,
and I'm sure nobody ever saw such a sight before."

"Nobody but yourself," said McBain, "could have conceived so very
strange an idea."

"Truly," said Rory, "Jack Frost is a funny fellow."

"Jack Frost and you are a pair then, Rory; but I've got news for you."

"What is it?"

"The glass is going down, and I think we'll soon have a change."  McBain
was right.  That same day, shortly before sundown, a strange mist or fog
gathered in the sky all around them, but not close aboard of them; the
country was nowhere obscured, only the sky itself; and through this mist
the great sun glared ruddy and angry-like.

"It is the snow-mist," said McBain.

But still there was no wind; all nature was hushed, as if she held her
breath and waited expectant.

The powdery snow began to fall as soon as the sun went down, and ere
nightfall it lay inches deep on the decks, and on all the sea of ice
beside them.  It soon changed in its character--from being powdery it
now came down in huge flakes; and when the morning broke, so deep was
the fall, that there was little to be seen of the yacht save her tall
and tapering masts.  She was now, indeed, a _Snowbird_!

The fall had seemingly stopped, however, but the clouds with which the
sky was now overcast were dark and threatening.

It was now "all hands on deck to clear the ship of snow," and in less
than an hour the yacht looked quite herself again, only all around her
was the white waste of snow.  There would be no more skating for a time,
at least.  A look of disappointment crept over Rory's face, and he
sighed as he saw Peter restoring the now useless skates to their box and
putting them away.  He had to fly to his fiddle for relief.  That, at
all events, was a never-failing source of comfort to this
strangely-tempered Irish boy.

The men were very busy now for a few days.  A road had to be dug through
the deep snow to the shore, and a clearance made all around the new
hall, as well as around the ice-hole.  Had Rory had his will, he would
have set the men to work on the ice itself, to clear roads all over it,
so that he might still enjoy his favourite pastime, skating.

The snow was soft and powdery, and when he got over the side and
attempted to walk on it, he almost disappeared entirely, but there was a
remedy for even this evil.

From his store-room McBain produced half-a-dozen pairs of snow-shoes,
and old Ap and his assistant were invited aft to study their
construction, with the intention of imitating them, and making many more
pairs, for all hands must be furnished with these curious "garments," as
Rory called them.

Our heroes felt very awkward in them at first, especially Ralph, but
Seth came to the rescue and volunteered a few lessons.

"I guess," he said to Rory, "you imagines you've got a pair of
dancing-pumps on, and you wants to do a hornpipe.  It ain't a mortal bit
of use trying that.  You mustn't lift your feet so high; you must just
skoot along as I do, so, and--so."

"Why, I wish I could skoot along like you," said Rory, picking himself
up the best way he could, for in trying to imitate the old trapper he
had gone over and almost disappeared, shoes and all.  "Troth, Seth, my
bright young boy, these pedal appliances don't suit me at all.  Och! my
poor ankles.  I do believe the whole lot of the two of them is fairly
out of joint.  But one can't learn anything useful without trying, so
here goes again.  Come along, Porpy.  Cheerily does it.  Hullo!  Where
_is_ Porpy?"

There was at that present moment nothing of Porpy, as Rory often
facetiously called his companion Ralph, to be seen except a pair of legs
with snow-shoes at the end of them, and these were waggling most
expressively.

But Ralph soon got up and alongside again, and then Rory did not call
him Porpy any longer, because he did not like to have his ears pulled.

"I say, Ralph," he said, slyly, "you've no idea what a pair of elegant
legs you have."

"Indeed!" said Ralph.

"Yes," continued his tormentor, "and eloquent as well as elegant.  They
are a speaking pair.  Had you only seen yourself two minutes ago, when
there was nothing of you visible at all, at all, but just them same pair
of beautiful limbs, you'd--"

But Rory never finished his sentence.  He had stuck the toe of one of
his snow-shoes into the snow, and away he went next.

Well, you see this learning to "skoot along," as Seth called it, was not
devoid of interest and fun, but in a few days they could skoot as well
as Seth himself, and even carry their guns under their arms in the most
approved fashion.

It was well for them that they had learned to hold their guns while
walking with snow-shoes, for one day the trio had an adventure with some
illustrious strangers, that taxed all their skill both in walking and
shooting.  I will introduce them to you in the next chapter.

CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.

THE DOGS AND THE SNOW--THE SLEDGE-DOG--TRAINING CARIBOU--A DINNER-PARTY
INTERRUPTED--THE RACE FOR LIFE.

"What's `agley'?" asked Rory of Allan, on the morning after the great
snowfall.

"What is _what_?"  Allan replied, looking at his friend in some
surprise.

"What's `agley'?" repeated Rory.  "Sure, now, can't you speak your own
language?"

"Oh yes," said Allan; "but I don't know that anything in particular is
agley this morning.  Is there anything agley with you?"

"Be easy with a poor boy," said Rory.  "Troth, it is the meaning of the
word I'd be after getting hold of."

"Ah! now I see," said Allan.  "Well, `agley' means `deviation from a
straight line;' `out of the plumb,' in other words."

"I thought as much," Rory remarked in a thoughtful manner, "and it is
your own darling poet that says,--

  "`The best-laid schemes of mice and men
  Gang aft agley,
  And leave us nought but grief and pain
  For promised joy.'"

Rory finished the quotation with a bit of a sigh, that caused McBain to
say,--

"What _is_ the matter with you, boy Rory?  Have you received a
disappointment of any kind?"

"Indeed, and I have then," replied boy Rory, "and I suppose I must
confess, for haven't Ap and myself been busy at it for the last three
weeks, making an ice-ship, and hadn't we got her all complete, keel and
hull and sails and all? and troth, she would have gone gliding over the
surface of the ice like a thing of life.  It was only the wind we were
waiting for, and then we would have given you such a surprise, but
instead of the wind the snow comes.  Isn't it a pity?"

"Oho!" cried Ralph, "and so that accounts for Rory's mysterious
disappearances; that accounts for Ap and he being closeted together for
an hour or two every day for weeks back.  Sly Rory!"

"Yes," said Rory; "sly if you like, but it would have been such fine
fun, you know; and there isn't one of the three of you that wouldn't
have followed my example and gone in for ice-yachts too.  And from all I
can learn it is the rarest sport in existence.  Seth knows all about it,
and he says skating isn't a circumstance to it.  Fancy gliding along
over the ice, on the wings of the wind, boys, at the rate of twenty
knots an hour!"

"It would have been nice, I must confess," said Ralph.  "Something else
will turn up, though," McBain said.  "What?" cried Rory, all excitement;
"are you going to invent a new pleasure for us, captain?"

"Your ice-yacht," replied McBain, "would have been a glorious idea if
the snow hadn't fallen, and in calm days I had meant to have got up
games of curling on the ice; and that, you know, is the most charming
game in the world."

"Without exception," said Allan, enthusiastically.  "But the snow, the
snow!" sighed Rory.  "The beautiful snow has fallen and spoiled
everything."

"Not quite so bad as that," said McBain, with an amused smile.  "In a
day or two the snow will harden; we can then go long journeys and resume
our hunting expeditions."  Walking on snow-shoes soon became not only
easy to our heroes, but positively pleasurable, so that they were able
to enjoy their rambles over the snow-clad country very much indeed.

As for the dogs, they seemed to feel that they could not possibly get
enough of the snow.  The exuberance of great Oscar's joy when he went
out with his mister for a walk, the first thing every morning, was
highly comical to witness.  Out for a _walk_, did I say?  Nay, dear
reader, that word but poorly expresses the nature of Oscar's pedal
progression.  It was not a walk, but a glorious compound of dance,
scamper, race, run; gallop, and gambol.  Had you been ever so old it
would have made you feel young again to behold him.  He knew while Allan
was dressing that he meant to go out, and begin at once to exhibit signs
of impatience.  He would yawn and stretch himself and wriggle and shake;
then he would open his mouth and endeavour to round a sentence in real
verbal English, and, failing in this, fall back upon dog language pure
and simple.  Or he would stand as steady as a pointer, looking up at
Allan with his beautiful head turned on on? side, and his mouth a little
open, just sufficiently so to show the tip of his bright pink tongue,
and his brown eyes would speak to his master.  "Couldn't you," the dog
would seem to ask--"couldn't you get on your coat a little--oh, _ever_
so little!--faster?  What can you want with a muffler?  I don't wear a
muffler.  And now you are looking for your fur cap, and there it is
right before your very eyes!"

"And," the dog would add, "I dare say we are out at last," and he would
hardly give his mister time to open the companion door for him.

But once over the side, "Hurrah!" he would seen to cry, then away he
would bound, and away, and away, and away, straight ahead as crow could
fly, through the snow and through the snow, which rose around him in
feathery clouds, till he appeared but a little dark speck in the
distance.  This race straight ahead was meant to get rid of his
super-extra steam.  Having expended this, back he would come with a rush
and a run, make pretence to jump his master down, but dive past him at
the very last moment.  Then he would gambol in front of his master in
such a daft and comical fashion that made Allan laugh aloud; and, seeing
his master laughing, Oscar would laugh too, showing such a double
regiment of white, flashing, pearly teeth, that, with the quickness of
the dog's motions, they seemed to begin at his lips and go right away
down both sides of him as far as the tail.

Hurroosh! hurroosh!  Each exclamation, reader, is meant to represent a
kind of a double-somersault, which I verily believe Oscar invented
himself.  He performed it by leaping off the ground, bending sideways,
and going right round like a top, without touching the snow, with a
spring like that of a five-year-old salmon getting over a weir.

Hurroosh! hurroosh!

Then Allan would make a grab at his tail.

"Oh, that's your game!"  Oscar would say; "then down _you_ go!"

And down Allan would roll, half-buried in the powdery snow, and not be
able to get up again for laughing; then away Oscar would rush, wildly
round and round in a complete circle, having a radius of some fifty
yards, with Allan McGregor on his broad back for a centre.

After half-an-hour of such furious fun, is it any wonder that Allan and
Oscar returned to breakfast with appetites like hunters?

The Skye terrier enjoyed the snow quite as much in his own little way as
Oscar did, and, indeed, he used to live in under it a goodly part of his
time every day.  He in a manner buried himself alive.  Plunket, the
mastiff, on the other hand, was always in the habit of taking his
pleasures in a quiet and dignified manner.

"Now, gentlemen," said old Seth one day, "I guess I can a kind o' prove
to you that my dog Plunket is useful, if he ain't ornamental."

And so the trapper set himself to manufacture a light sledge, and when
he had done so, and harnessed the great dog thereto, and seated himself
among the skins, it seemed about the most natural thing in the world for
that dog to draw the sledge, and Seth had never seemed so much at home
before as he did sitting behind him.

Oscar took very great interest in the yoking of the sledge-dog, as
Plunket soon came to be called, so much so that the happy thought
occurred to Rory to try him in harness too, and this was accordingly
done.  He was made tracer to Plunket, and although he managed sometimes
to capsize the sledge in the snow, he soon became less rash, and settled
quietly down to the work.

A larger and very lightly-constructed sledge was then made, and in this
both Allan and Rory could travel over the snow with great ease, dragged
along by the two faithful dogs.

"What a glorious thing it would be," said Allan one day, "if we could
tame and harness a real caribou!"

"We can if we try, I think," said McBain.  "Love and kindness will tame
almost any animal."

"First catch your hare," said Ralph.

But through Seth's skill a week had not passed before they were in
possession of not only one, but a pair of deer.  A rude kind of a stable
was built for them on shore, and the taming commenced, and with such
good results that in little over three weeks they were both broken to
harness.  Sledging now became quite a pastime, and great fun they found
it.

Although, owing to the rugged nature of the ground, it was impracticable
to venture far inland with the deer-sledge, they were able to take quite
long journeys along the seashore, and here many strange birds and beasts
fell to their guns, and they met with many adventures.

It is doubtful whether there is any animal in the world, that, for
strength and ferocity combined can be compared, to the polar bear, the
king of the sea of ice.  I do not say that he is the bravest animal ever
I have met, but he is nevertheless daring enough in all conscience.
Daring and cunning too.  A bear will attack one man, and even come out
of his way a long distance to do so, but I have never known an instance
of a single bear attacking a party of even two, unless he were chased,
and had to stand at bay.

Hitherto our heroes had not met, nor ever seen, this gigantic monster.
But the time came.

Allan and Rory were one morning very early astir, for in the company of
trapper Seth they were to make a long journey in pursuit of game, the
game in question being a smaller kind of seal, to be found in abundance
some distance along the coast to the east.  So sledges were got out and
harnessed, a long time before the stars paled before the light of the
short Arctic winter day.  The deer had been well fed, and were
consequently in fine form; they tossed their tall antlers in the air,
and seemed to spurn the very ground on which they trod.

It was a glorious morning for a sledge-drive; the snow was hard, and
just sufficiently packed to make an easy path.  They skirted a great
forest that at times grew almost close to the edge of the sea, and long
before the sun gleamed up from the north-east, to sink again in the
north-west in little over an hour, they had put twenty goodly miles
between them and the _Snowbird_.

They were now at the scene of action--their shooting-ground--and, much
to their joy, they found the creatures they had come so far to seek.
The seals had come up out of the water to bask in the sun, and therefore
lay close, so that in little over an hour they had possessed themselves
of as many skins as they could conveniently carry, and were on the eve
of returning to the wood, where they had tied up their deer and left
their sledges.

"I wonder," said Rory, "what is at the other side of that far-off point
of land yonder, and what we would see if we rounded it."

"What a fellow you are for wondering, Rory!" said Allan.  "Suppose now,
instead of wondering, we go and have a look?"

"Agreed," said Rory; and off they set, Seth preferring to stay behind
and get the skins packed.

It was a long road and a rough one; the snow was deeper than they could
have believed, but they had donned their snow-shoes, and so they reached
the point at last, just as the setting sun was tipping the far-off hills
with gold.

The scene beyond the point was indeed a strange one; as far as the eye
could reach it was a sea of ice, but ice entirely different from the
smooth unbroken snow-clad plain that lay around the _Snowbird_.  For
here the ice, exposed to the whole force of the heaving billows, had
been broken up into a chaos of pieces of every conceivable size and
shape.  Nor was this ice quite untenanted.  On the contrary, Allan and
Rory had arrived in time to be witnesses of a very busy scene indeed,
and one that they would be unlikely ever to forget.  Half-a-dozen
enormous bears were feasting on the body of an immense whale, not fifty
yards from where Rory and Allan now stood.

"Down, Rory!" cried Allan, throwing himself on his face; "here is a
chance for a bag, the like of which we never even dreamt of."

It was evident that the bears had not become aware of their presence,
either by sight, or scent, or sound; they kept on with their ghastly
feast.

Not quietly, though, but with much snarling and growling.

"Just hear them," whispered Rory.  "Wouldn't you think they'd be content
with a whole whale?  But, big and all as they are, it will be many a day
before they finish their dinner."

"They never will finish it," said Allan, "unless I have lost the art of
holding my rifle straight.  Are you ready, Rory?  Well, you take the
nearest Mr Bruin; aim straight for the skull.  I mean to give that
centre gourmand a pill to aid his digestion."

They both fired at once, and with this result--the centre bear sprang
into the air, then fell dead on the snow; the near bear was only
wounded, he sprang on one of his fellows, and a most desperate combat
ensued.  Another volley from behind the rock put a different complexion
on the matter, and one more bear dropped never to rise.

"Hand me a cartridge," said Rory, "I've just fired my last."

"In that case," cried Allan, in some alarm, "let us be off, for I have
only two more cartridges; and look you, we have irritated these
monsters, they are making directly for us."

This was true.  A polar bear is at no time an animal of a very sweet
temper, but only just interrupt him at his dinner, and he will have
revenge if he possibly can.

"Shall we fire again?" said Rory.

"No, Rory, no.  Come on quick, boy, there isn't a moment to lose."

Even as he spoke the foremost bear had gained the shore, and as soon as
he spied our heroes he uttered a growl of rage that seemed to awaken
every echo in the rocks, and with head down he came ferociously and
quickly on to the attack.

It was to be a race for life, that was evident from the first.  On level
ground I think the advantage would have been all on the side of the men,
but here on the snow, and encumbered with their snow-shoes, the odds
were all on the side of the pursuers.  Before they had run a hundred
yards this was evident.  The bears were gaining, and there was fully a
mile to be covered.

"Come on quicker if you can," said Allan, who was the better runner.

"Couldn't we stop and drop the foremost?" said Rory.

"No, no; that would be madness.  The others would have all the more time
to come up."

Presently Allan had recourse to a ruse which he had read of, but never
thought he would have to put in practice in order to save his life.  He
took off his jacket and threw it upon the snow.  The bears stopped to
sniff at it, and the temptation was now strong to fire, but he resisted
it.  They had only two cartridges between them and death, so to speak,
and they did well to reserve them.

When old Seth had quietly stowed away the skins, he sat down to rest
himself on the edge of one of the sledges, and so, dreaming and musing,
a whole half-hour passed away.  Then he began to get uneasy at the
non-appearance of the boys.

"And it's getting late, too," he said, as he shouldered his rifle.
"Seth will even go and seek them.  Why," he added, after he had gone
some distance, "if yonder isn't both on 'em coming runnin'.  And what is
that behind them?  Why, may I be skivered if it ain't b'ars!  Hurrah!
Seth to the rescue!"

And, so saying, the old trapper increased his walk to a run, and the
distance between him and the boys was rapidly lessened.

And dire need too, for both Allan and Rory were well-nigh exhausted, and
the foremost bear was barely forty yards behind them.

But Allan's time had come for decisive action.  He threw himself on his
face, the better to make sure of his aim, and almost immediately after
the foremost bear came tumbling down.  And now Seth came up, and another
Bruin speedily followed his companion into the land of darkness.  The
others escaped into the forest.

It had been a very narrow escape, but McBain told Allan that very
evening that he was not sorry for it, as the adventure would surely
teach him caution.

CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.

THE DEAD LEVIATHAN--THE MATE OF THE "TREFOIL" MAKES A PROPOSAL--A RICH
HARVEST--CHRISTMAS CHEER--SOMETHING LIKE A DINNER.

The mate of the _Trefoil_ was a quiet and sober-minded man, as old
travellers in the Arctic regions are sometimes wont to be, but when
Allan McGregor told him the story of the bears and the dead whale
stranded in the frozen bay, he evinced a considerable deal of genuine
excitement.  He sought out the captain.

"I would fain see the fish, captain."

[Greenland sailors always call a whale a "fish," although, as must be
well-known, it is a gigantic mammal.]

"Well, my dear sir," said McBain, "that is a desire that can very easily
be gratified.  We can start for the bay to-morrow early."

"I shall be so pleased," said the mate.

This expedition consisted of three guns--McBain himself, Allan, and the
mate of the _Trefoil_.

There were still one or two bears prowling around the spot where the
dead leviathan lay, but they seemed to scent danger from afar, and made
off as soon as the expedition hove in sight.  Probably they remembered
the events of yesterday, and cared not to renew so unequal a combat.

The mate was evidently a man of business, for no sooner had they got on
to the ice alongside the whale, than he proceeded to open a small parcel
he carried, and to extract therefrom a pair of spiked sandals.

"I'm going on board of her," he said to McBain, with a quiet smile.

Next moment, pole in hand, he was walking about on top of the dead
leviathan, probing here and probing there with as much coolness as
though he had been a fanner taking stock in a patch of potatoes.

He smiled as he jumped on shore again.

"That is what doctors would call a post-mortem examination," said
McBain, smiling too.  "Now, sir, can you tell us the cause of death?"

"Oh! bother the cause of death," said the mate, laughing, as he stooped
down to undo his sandals.  "Do you think I came all this way to
ascertain the cause of death in a dead fish?  But if you really want to
know, I'll tell you.  You see from the state of the ice there has been a
heavy swell on here, and the ice has been knocked about anyhow; that
shows there has been a gale away out at sea.  Well then, the fish,"--
here the mate poked his stick at the whale's ribs in a manner that, had
the monster been alive, must have tickled him immensely--"this fish,
look _you_, came nearer land to avoid the broken water, and ran ashore
in the dark; he hadn't got any steam, you know, to help him to back
astern, and he couldn't hoist sail, so he had to be content to lie on
his little stomach until--"

"Until death relieved him of his sufferings," put in McBain.

The conversation concerning the whale was renewed after dinner that
evening, the mate and Mr Stevenson having been, as was usual when
anything extra was on the _tapis_, invited to partake of that meal.

Since they left the bay the mate had been unusually silent; he had been
thinking, and now his thoughts took the form of speech.  He spoke
slowly, and with many a pause, as one speaks who well weighs his words,
toying with his coffee as he did so, and often changing the position of
the cup.  Indeed, it was the cup he seemed to be addressing when he did
speak.

"Gentlemen," he said, "as man and boy, as harpooner, second officer, or
mate, I have been back and fore to Greenland for little less than twenty
years.  I've been shipwrecked a time or two, you may easily guess, and
I've come through many a strange danger in the wild, mysterious regions
around the Pole.  But it is not of these things I would now speak, it is
about the last sad affair--my poor dear ship _Trefoil_, whose charred
ribs lie deep in the Arctic Ocean.  Oh, gentlemen! oh, men! that was a
sad blow to me.  Had we been a full ship we would have been home ere
now, and I would have been wedded to one of the sweetest girls in all
England.  Now she is mourning for me as for one dead.  But blessed be
our great Protector that sent the _Snowbird_ to our assistance in our
dire extremity!  Where, now, would we--the survivors of the _Trefoil_--
have been else?  Our fate would have been more terrible, than the fate
of those that went down in that doomed ship.

"I can assure you, my dear friends," he continued, "I have felt very
grateful, and have longed for some way of showing that gratitude.  I can
never prove it sufficiently.  But I have a suggestion to make."

"Well, we are willing to hear it," said McBain; "but really, sir, you
owe us no gratitude, we only did our duty."

"That `fish,'" said the mate--"what do you reckon its value to be?"

"I know," said McBain, smiling, "that if we could tow it along to London
it would fetch a long price; but if we could tow an iceberg there about
ten millions of people would come to see it?"

"How romantic that would be?" said Rory; "and fancy the Union Jack
floating proudly from the top of it!"

"Charge them a shilling a head," said Allan, "and land 500,000 pounds!"

"And spoil the romance!" said our boy-bard.

"Oh, bother the romance!" said Ralph, "think of the cash!"

"Well, but," said McBain, laughing, "we can no more tow the whale than
we can the iceberg."

"That fish," said the mate, "myself and my men can flensh, cut up, and
refine.  The produce will be worth three thousand pounds in the English
market; and beside, it will be work for the men for the winter months."

"But you and your men must accept a share," said McBain.

"If," replied the mate of the _Trefoil_, "you but hint at such a thing
again, that fish may lie there till doomsday.  No, captain, it is but a
poor way of showing our gratitude."

Once convinced of the feasibility of the mate's proposal, McBain lost no
time in setting about carrying the plan into execution.  It would be a
sin, he argued, to leave so much wealth to waste, when they had ample
room for carrying it.  Even romantic Rory came to the same conclusion at
last.

"Had it been base blubber now," he said, "you'd have had to excuse me,
Captain McBain, from sailing in the same ship with it I'd have asked you
to have built me a cot in these beautiful wilds, and here I'd have
stopped, sketching and shooting, until you returned with a clean ship to
take me back to bonnie Scotland.  But refined oil, sweet and pure,--
indeed I agree with you, it would be a sin entirely to leave it to the
bears."

A busy time now ensued for the officers and men of the _Snowbird_; they
had to be up early and to work late.  Nor was the work free from
hardship.  Had the bay where lay the monster leviathan--which the mate
of the _Trefoil_ averred was one of the largest "fishes" he had ever
seen--lain anywhere near them, the task would have been mere play to
what it was.  First and foremost, sledges had to be built--large, light,
but useful sledges.  The building of these occupied many days, but they
were finished at last, and then the working party started on its long
journey to Bear Point, as our heroes had named the place--Bear Point and
Good Luck Bay.

As during the flenshing and the landing of the cakes of blubber, the men
would have to remain all night near their work, every precaution was
taken to protect them from cold in the camping-ground.  Rory, Allan, and
Ralph must needs make three of the party, with Seth to guide them in the
woods, where they meant to spend the short day shooting.

By good fortune, the weather all the time remained settled and
beautiful, and the four guns managed easily enough to keep the camp well
supplied with game of various kinds.  The cold at night time, however,
was intense, and the roaring fires kept up in the hastily-constructed
huts, could scarcely keep the men warm.  This was the only time during
the whole cruise of the _Snowbird_ that McBain deemed it necessary to
serve out to his men a rum ration.  The time at which it was partaken
may seem to some of my readers an odd one, but it was, nevertheless,
rational, and it was suggested by the men in camp themselves.  It was
served at night, just at that hour when Arctic cold becomes almost
insupportable.  They did not require it by day, they could have hot
coffee whenever they cared to partake of it, but at half-past two in the
morning all hands seemed to awake suddenly.  This was the coldest time,
and the fires, too, had died low, and the men's spirits, like the
thermometer, were below zero.  But when more logs were heaped upon the
fires, and the coffee urn heated, and the ration mixed with a smoking
bowl of it and handed round, then the life-blood seemed to return to
their hearts, and re-wrapping themselves in their skins, they dropped
off to sleep, and by seven o'clock were once more astir.

Several days were spent in the work of landing the treasure-trove, then
the tedious and toilsome labour of conveying it to the _Snowbird_
commenced.  There was in all nearly thirty tons of it to be dragged in
the sledges over a rough and difficult country, yet at last this was
safely accomplished, and the mate of the _Trefoil_ had the satisfaction
of seeing it stored in one immense bin, where it could await the process
of boiling down and refining, previously to being conveyed into the
tanks of the yacht.

"I feel happier now," said Mr Hill, as he quietly contemplated the
result of their labours.  "It is a goodly pile, thirty tons there if
there is an ounce; it will take us two good months' hard work to refine
it."

"Meanwhile," said McBain, "we must not forget one thing."

"What is that?" said Mr Hill.

"Why," replied the captain, "that to-morrow is Christmas.  You must rest
from your labours for a few days at least, there is plenty of time
before us.  It will be well on to the middle of May ere the ice lifts
sufficiently to permit us to bear up for the east once more."

"Well," said the mate, "the truth is, I had forgotten the season was so
far advanced."

"You have been thinking about nothing but your `fish,'" said McBain,
laughing.

"I have been full of that fish," replied the mate; "full of it, and that
is a curious way to speak.  Why, that fish is a fortune in itself.  And
I do think, captain, it is a sad thing to go home in a half-empty ship."

"Ah!"  McBain added, "thanks to you, and thanks to our own good guns, we
won't do that."

"Talking about fortunes," said Allan, who had just come on deck, "we
ought to have a small fortune in skins alone."

"In fur and feather," said Rory.

"There is more of that to come," quoth McBain.  "As soon as the days
begin to lengthen out we will have some glorious hunting expeditions,
and the animals our good Seth will lead us against, are never in better
condition than they are during the early spring months."

Christmas Day came.  McBain resolved it should be spent as much as
possible in the same way as if they were at home.  There was service in
the morning on shore in the hall.  Was there one soul in that rough log
hut, who did not feel gratitude to Him who had brought them through so
many dangers?  I do not think there was.

After service preparations for dinner were commenced.  It was to be a
banquet.  There was to be no sitting below the salt at this meal; all
should be welcome, all should be equal.  I am afraid my powers of
description would utterly fail me if I attempted to give the reader an
idea of the decorations of the new hall.  Almost every lamp in the
_Snowbird_ was pressed into the service.  The hall was a galaxy of light
then, it was a galaxy of evergreens too, and everywhere on the walls
were hung trophies of the chase, and the part of the room in which the
table stood was bedded with skins.  But how Peter, the steward, managed
to get the tablecloth up to such a pitch of snowy whiteness, or how he
succeeded in getting the crystal to sparkle and the silver to shine in
the marvellous manner they did, is more than I can tell you.  And if you
asked me to describe the viands, or the glorious juiciness of the giant
joints, or the supreme immensity of the lofty pudding, I should simply
beg to be excused.  Why that pudding took two men to carry it in and to
place it on the table, and when it was there it quite hid the smiling
face of Captain McBain, whose duty it was to confront it.  If you had
been sitting at the other end of the table you couldn't have seen him.
Ah! but McBain was quite equal to the occasion, and I can assure you
that the hearty way he attacked that pudding soon brought him into view
again.

Well, everybody seemed, and I'm sure _felt_, as happy as happy could be.
Old man Magnus looked twenty years younger, old Ap's face was wreathed
in smiles, and Seth looked as bright as the silver.  I can't say more.
Rory was in fine form, his merry sallies kept the table in roars, his
droll sayings were side-splitting; and Ralph and Allan kept him at it,
you may be sure.  Yes, that was something like a dinner.  And after the
more serious part of the business was over, mirth and music became the
order of the evening; songs were sung and stories told, songs that
brought them back once more in heart and mind to old Scotland, where
they knew that at that very time round many a fireside dear friends were
thinking of them and wondering how they fared.

CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.

HOCKEY WITH SNOW-SHOES ON--THE ICE BREAKS UP--CHANGE OF QUARTERS--GOING
ON A BIG SHOOT--THE GREAT SNOW LAKE--INDIANS--THE FIGHT IN THE FOREST.

Winter wore away.  Did our people in the _Snowbird_ think it long and
dreary?  They certainly did not.  To begin with, every one on board was
as healthy as a summer's day is long.  It was mindful and provident of
McBain to have laid in a good supply of medicines, and these were about
the only stores in the ship that had never been as yet applied to.

The captain was a good and a wise disciplinarian, however.  He well knew
the value of exercise in keeping illness far away, so he kept his men at
work.  On dry days they would be sent in parties to the forest, to cut
down and drag home wood to keep up roaring fires in the ship and in the
hall as well.  When snow was falling, which was less often than might be
imagined, he had them under cover in the hall, where there was room
enough for games of many kinds, and these were varied by regular
exercise with clubs in lieu of dumb-bells.  In open weather games were
not forgotten out of doors, you may be quite sure.  Rory proposed lawn
tennis.

"We could easily get it up, you know," he said.

"Nothing would be more simple," was McBain's reply, "but it is far too
slow with the thermometer at zero.  There isn't chase enough in it."

"I have it," cried Allan, joyously.

"What?" asked Rory, eagerly.

"Why, _hockey_, to be sure; what we in Scotland call shinty, or shinny."

"It is shinny enough at times," added McBain, laughing; "but how would
you set about it?  You'd need a large ball, a small one would get lost
in the snow."

"Yes," said Allan, "a large cork ball as big as a football, covered with
laced twine.  Ap can make the balls, I know."

"And we can go off to the woods and cut our hockey sticks," said Rory;
"it will be capital fun."

There was no mistake about it, it was capital fun, Hockey is at all
times a glorious game, but hockey on the snow with snow-shoes on!  Why
it beggars description.  No wonder all hands entered into it with a
will.  The amusement and excitement were intense, the fun and the frolic
immense, the tumbling and the scrimmaging and scrambling were something
to see, and having seen, to go to sleep and dream about and awake
laughing, and long to go to sleep and dream about it all over again.
The game ended at the goal in a mad _melee_, a medley of laughter and
shouting, a mixture of legs in the air, arms in the air, snow-shoes and
hockey clubs in the air, and heads and bodies anywhere.  No wonder the
short winter's day wore to a close before they knew where they were.  No
wonder that at the end of the games Allan McGregor, the inventor, was
dubbed the hero of the day, that he was cheered until the welkin rang,
that he was mounted shoulder high, and borne triumphantly back to the
_Snowbird_, Rory marching on in front with brandished hockey club,
leading a chorus which he had composed _on_ the spot and _for_ the
occasion.

But it must not be supposed that their life was all play; no, for
independent of long hours spent in the forest in quest of game, Rory,
Ralph, and Allan set themselves with a will to clean, dress, and arrange
the many hundreds of beautiful and valuable skins they had possessed
themselves of.  This was a labour of love.  These skins were part of the
cargo with which they hoped to reach their native land once more in
safety.  Some of the smallest and prettiest of them Rory took extra
pains with, and when he had got them as soft and pliable as silk, he
perfumed them and stowed them in the big box Ap had made for him, and
where his sketch-book--well-filled by this time--lay, and a host of
curious nameless pebbles and crystals, polished horns, strange moths,
butterflies and beetles, beautifully-stuffed birds and rare eggs.  It
was a splendid collection, and Rory's eyes used to sparkle as he gazed
upon them, and thought of the time when in the old castle he would show
all these things to Helen McGregor and her mother.

"Just look at him," Ralph would say at times like these; "he hasn't got
the pack-merchant idea out of his head yet."

Winter wore away.  It was nearly three months since they had all sat
down together to their Christmas dinner in the hall.  The mate of the
_Trefoil_, and the men more immediately under his command, hadn't been
idle all this time.  They had been busy refining the oil, and a grand
lot they made of it, and it was now carefully stowed away in the
_Snowbird's_ tanks.  The mate had not been disappointed in the size of
his fish, it had turned out even better than he expected, and would
greatly add to the wealth of the cargo of the lucky yacht.  The water
had to be pumped from the tanks to make room for it, but that was no
loss, for fresh-water ice was procurable in any quantity.  It lay on the
decks of the _Snowbird_ abaft the foremast in gigantic pieces, and a
very pretty sight it looked when the sun shone on it.

Fresh food and game of various kinds were now to be had in abundance.
Ay, and fish as well.  Old Seth still continued to act as fisherman.  He
caught them in that mysterious pool, which all the winter long had never
shown a single sign of freezing.

When all was quiet of a night, probably in the moonlight or under the
light from the splendid aurora, our heroes used to take a walk sometimes
towards the strange pool.  They took their guns with them, but only to
protect themselves from prowling bears.  Awful-looking heads used to
appear over the surface of the pool.  In daylight these creatures never
showed--only when all was still at night.  What they were they could not
tell; nor can I.  Probably they were merely gigantic specimens of
bearded seals or sea-lions come up to breathe, and looked larger and
more dreadful in the uncertain light of moon or aurora.

Many though our heroes' adventures were, and thoroughly though they
enjoyed themselves, when the days began to get longer, when the snow
began to melt, and whistling winds blew softer through the forest trees,
and everything told them spring was on ahead, the thoughts that ere long
the _Snowbird_ would burst her icy bounds, that they would be once more
free, once more at sea, were very far from unpleasant to them.

On days now when there was but little frost in the air, and a breeze of
wind with sunlight, the _Snowbird's_ sails would be unstowed, bent, and
partially unfurled, to air them.  Even this made the saucy yacht look
quite coquettish again.  "Ho! ho!" she seemed to say to herself, "so
there _is_ a possibility, is there, that some of these days I may once
more sport my beauty in waters blue?  Oh! then, blow, breezes, blow, and
melt the ice and snow, for indeed I'm heartily tired of it."

It would almost seem that the country around where the _Snowbird_ lay
was chosen as a winter residence _par excellence_ for the great Polar
bear.  Perhaps the winter in the faraway and desolate regions around the
Pole is too rigorous for even his constitution; be this as it may, here
they were by the score, and all in all, well-nigh a hundred fleeces were
bagged in little over two months.

These snow-bears got more chary at last, however, and when the March
winds blew they entirely disappeared.

One day the beginning of the end of the ice came; a wind blew strong
from the east, and by noon all the bay behind the yacht was one heaving
mass of snow-clad pieces.  It was well for the _Snowbird_ she was sturdy
and strong; the grinding bergs, small though they were, tried her
stability to the utmost, but the wind went down and the swell ceased;
yet fearing a repetition of the rough treatment, McBain determined to
seek a less exposed position farther to the west.  The ice was now
loose, so as soon as there was enough wind to fill her sails progress
was commenced.  It was slow hard work, but by dint of great exertion and
no little skill, a _portus salutis_ was found at last fifty miles
farther west, and here the captain determined to rest until the spring
was more advanced, and there was a likelihood of getting safely out to
sea:

The region in which they now found themselves was even more romantic and
wild than that which they had left.  There was still room for more skins
in the _Snowbird_, so a big shoot was organised--quite a big shoot in
fact, for it would probably be the last they would enjoy in this strange
country.

The season was now sufficiently mild to render camping out to such
weather-beaten wanderers as the people of the _Snowbird_ practicable,
not to say enjoyable.  So everything being got in readiness, the start
was made for up country, McBain himself taking charge of the expedition,
which mustered twenty men in all, ten or more of whom carried rifles,
but every one of whom was well armed.  The principal tent was taken, and
the largest camping-kettle, a wonderful _multum-in-parvo_, that Seth
described as "a kind of invention that went by spirits-o'-wine, and was
warranted to cook for fifty hands, and wash up the crockery arterwards."

Rory did not forget his sketch-book, nor his wonderful boat, which one
man could carry--not in his waistcoat pocket, as Rory banteringly
averred, but on his back, and three men could row in.

They followed a gorge or canon, which led them gradually upwards and
inland.  I call it "gorge," because I cannot call it glen or valley.
The bottom of it was in width pretty uniformly about the eighth part of
a mile, almost level, though covered with boulders and scanty scrub,
which rendered walking difficult.  At each side rose, towering skywards,
black, wet, beetling cliffs, so perpendicular that not even a shrub, nor
grass itself, could find roothold on them, but on the top tall weird
pine-trees fringed the cliffs all along, and as they ascended, this
Titanic cutting so wound in and out, that on looking either back or away
ahead, nothing could be seen but the bare pine-fringed wall of rocks.

Seth laughed.

"You never seed such a place before, I reckon," he said, "but I have;
many's the one.  You ain't likely to lose your way in a place like this,
anyhow."

It was almost nightfall ere the cliffs began to get lower and lower at
each side of them, and soon after they cleared the gorge, and came out
upon a broad buffalo-grass prairie, which must have been over a thousand
feet above the level of the sea.

And not far from the head of the gorge, near a clump of spruce firs, the
tent was pitched and the camp fire built, and Seth set about preparing a
wonderfully savoury stew.  Seth's dinners always had the effect of
putting the partakers thereof on the best of terms with themselves.
After dinner you did not want to do much more that evening, but, well
wrapped in your furs, recline around the log fire, listen to stories and
sing songs, till sleep began to take your senses away, and then you did
not know a whit more until next morning, when you sprang from your couch
as fresh as a mountain trout.

If they had meant this expedition for a big shoot they were not
disappointed.  The country all around was everything a sportsman could
wish.  There was hill and dale, woodland, jungle, and plain, and there
was beauty in the landscape, too, and, far away over the green and
distant forest rose the grand old hills, raising their snowy heads
skywards, crag over crag and peak over peak, as far as eye could reach.

A week flew by, a fortnight passed, and the pile of skins got bigger and
bigger.  They only now shot the more valuable furs, but skin of bear,
nor deer, nor lordly elk, was to be despised, while the smaller game
were killed for food.

Another week and it would be time to be returning, for spring comes all
at once in the latitudes they were now in.  There was still a portion of
the country unexplored.  Rory, from a hill-top, had caught sight of a
distant lake, and was fired with the ambition to launch his fairy boat
on its waters.  On the very morning that Seth, Rory, and Allan set out
to seek for this lake, with two of the brawniest hands of the crew to
bear the boat, McBain came a little way with them.

"Take care of the boys, Seth," he said, with a strange, melancholy smile
playing over his face.  "I had a queer dream last night.  Be back
to-morrow, mind, before nightfall."  The little party had their
compasses, and therefore struck a bee-line through the forest in the
direction in which they fancied the lake lay.  On and on they went for
miles upon miles, and at last reached the banks of a broad river, and
here they encamped for lunch.  Feeling refreshed, and hearing the roar
of a cataract, apparently some way down the stream, they took their road
along the banks to view it.  They had not gone very far when they stood,
thunderstruck, by the brink of a tremendous subterranean cavern.  Thence
came the roar of the cataract.  The whole river disappeared suddenly
into the bowels of the earth [a phenomenon not unknown to travellers in
the wilds of America].

Marvelling much, they started off up-stream now, to seek for the lake.

After an hour's walking, the forest all at once receded a good mile from
the river, and the banks were no longer green, but banks of boulders
mixed with silver sand and patches of snow.  Here and there a bridge of
solid snow spanned the river to great banks and hills of snow on the
other side.  As they climbed higher and higher, the river by their right
met them with nearly all the speed of a cataract.  But they can see the
top of the hill at last, and yonder is the half-yellow, half-transparent
stream leaping downwards as if over a weir.

And now they are up and the mystery is solved; the river is bursting
over the lip of a great lake, which stretches out before them for many
miles--forest on one side, hills beyond, and on the right a gigantic
ridge of snow.  They call the lake the Great Snow Lake.

They took their way to the left along its banks, going on through the
woods that grew on its brink, until they came at last to an open glade,
green and moss-covered.  Here they encamped for rest, and soon after
embarked on the strange lake, leaving the men to look after the
preparation of dinner against the time of their return.

Rory was charmed with his boat; he sat in the bows sketching.  Allan
rowed, and Seth was busy fishing--no, _trying_ to fish; but he soon gave
up the attempt in despair, and almost at the same time Rory closed his
sketch-book.  Silence, and a strange indefinable gloom, seemed to settle
down on the three.  But there is silence everywhere around.  Not a
ripple is on the leaden lake, not a breath sighs through the forest.
But, hark! a sullen plash in the water just round the point, and soon
another and another.

"There is some water-monster bathing round yonder," said Rory; "and
indeed I believe it's the land of enchantment we're in altogether."

They rounded the point, and found themselves in a bay surrounded by high
banks of sand and gravel, portions of the sides of which, loosened by
the thaw, were every now and then falling with a melancholy boom into
the deep black water beneath.  Sad, and more silent than ever, with a
gloom on their hearts which they could not account for, they rowed away
back to the spot where they had left their men.

There was no smoke to welcome them, and when they pushed aside the
branches and rushed into the open, their hearts seemed to stand still
with dread at the sight that met their eyes.  Only the embers of a
smouldering fire, and near it and beside it the two poor fellows they
had left happy and well--dead and _scalped_!

------------------------------------------------------------------------

They say that some of the Highlanders of Scotland possess the strange
gift, second sight.  I know not, but McBain began to feel uneasy the
very moment his party had gone, and as the day wore on he became more
so.

"Ralph, boy," he said at last, "let us break up camp at once and follow
the boys."

"I'm ready now!" cried Ralph, alarmed at his captain's manner.

A meal was hastily served out, and in ten minutes more the start was
commenced.

The men marched in silence, partaking in a measure of the gloom of their
leader.  There was no thought of shooting the game that crossed their
pathway.  But the trail was easy.  They reached the Great Snow Lake, and
bore round to the right, and soon entered the dark forest.  Here in the
gloom the trail was more difficult to follow, and they soon lost it.
While they were waiting and doubting, the stillness of the forest was
broken by a yell, that not only startled the listeners, but chilled them
to the very marrow.  Again and again it was repeated, mingled with
shouting and the sharp ring of rifles.  It was a dread sound; it was
as--

  "Though men fought upon the earth,
  And fiends in upper air."

"On, men, on!" cried McBain; "our boys are yonder; they are being foully
massacred!"

As he spoke he dashed forward in the direction whence the sound
proceeded, followed by his brave fellows, and in a few minutes more had
cleared the forest and gained the glade where the unequal strife was
proceeding.  And none too soon.  Here were brave young Allan and stately
Seth, their backs against a tree, defending themselves, with rifles
clubbed, against a cloud of skin-clad savages armed with bows and
arrows, but brandishing only spear and tomahawk.

High o'er the din of the strife rang our people's British cheer.  One
well-aimed volley, then McBain charged the very centre of the crowd, and
blows fell and men fell like wintry rain.

So quick and unexpected had been the onslaught that the savages were
beaten back in less time almost than it takes me to describe it--beaten
back into the forest and pursued as far as their own encampment.  Here
they made a stand, and the battle raged for a whole hour; but when did
ever savages hold their own very long against the white man?

Let us draw a curtain on the scene that followed--the rout and the
pursuit, and the return to the glade where the fight commenced.
Stillness once more prevailed as our people re-entered it.

McBain glanced hastily and anxiously around.  Where was Rory?  Alas! he
had not far to look.  Yonder he lay, where the fight had raged the
fiercest, on his back, quiet and still, with purple upturned face.

It was a painful scene, and down from the sky looked the round rising
moon, while daylight slowly faded into gloaming.

As the giant oak is bent before the gale, so bowed was McBain in his
grief.  He knelt him down beside poor Rory and covered his face with his
hands.  "My boy! my poor boy!" was all he could say.

Seth had taken but one glance at Rory's dark swollen face and another at
the rising moon.  "I guess," he muttered, "there has been pizened arrows
flying around."

Then he disappeared in the forest.

CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.

THE SEARCH FOR AN ANTIDOTE--CAN RORY BE DEAD?--SETH TO THE RESCUE--SETH
AS DOCTOR AND NURSE.

"I reckon," said Seth to himself, "that there'll be just about light
enough to find 'em.  Good thing now that the moon is full, for they do
say that gathered under the full moon their virtue is increased
fourfold, and what is more, old Seth believes it.  Hullo! it strikes me
Rory is in luck.  Here they grow as large as life, and twice as
natural."

They were a deal bigger than Seth at all events.  Tall and graceful
stems with an immensity of leaf, probably a plant belonging to the
_Solanaceae_ family.

"I won't spare you," continued this curious Yankee trapper.

Nor did he.  He quite filled his arms with both stems and leaves, and
hastened back to the glade where lay poor Rory, to all appearance dead,
and surrounded by his sorrowing friends.

"Clear the course," cried Seth, "for once in a way, gentlemen; Seth will
save the boy if there be a save in him.  Carry him along to the lake.
Gently with him."

There was little need of the latter precaution.  McBain, hoping against
hope, took him up in his arms as tenderly as if he had been a child, and
apparently with as much ease, and carried him after Seth to the Great
Snow Lake.  Here he was laid softly down, and the trapper proceeded in
the most masterly manner to bathe and rinse Rory's terrible wounds.  The
white milky juice from the fleshy stem of the curious plant was then
dropped into them, and they were carefully covered over with bruised
leaves.

"There is little else we can do now," said Seth, "but set us down to
watch."

"And pray," murmured McBain.  Then he said aloud, "I do not doubt your
skill, friend Seth, but here I fear there is more to contend with than
mortal power can hope to cope with.  The poor boy is dead."

For well-nigh an hour they sat beside him; gloaming had deepened into
night, and a fire had been lighted which brought forth Rembrandtine
shadows from the woods, and cast its beams far over the broad lake,
until they were swallowed up in the darkness.  An hour, and yet no signs
of returning life--a whole hour, and they still seemed to look on poor
Rory as on the face of the dead.

But see! can they be mistaken?  Did not his lips move?  They did, and
now they move again.  A sigh is breathed, and presently one faint word
is ejaculated.

The word was "Water."

"He'll live," cried Seth; "he'll live!  This is the proudest day for the
old trapper in the whole course of his born existence."

And the cry of Rory for water was indeed the first sign of returning
life.  A few drops of the juice of that wonderful plant were squeezed
into the wounded boy's mouth, and, ten minutes after, the colour had
returned to his face, and he was sleeping as sweetly and soundly as ever
he had slept in his life.

McBain squeezed the hand of the honest trapper.  In silence he pressed
the trapper's hand.  Perhaps he could not have spoken at that moment had
he wished to do so, for there was a moisture in his eyes that he had no
need to be ashamed of.

While Rory sleeps calmly by the rude log fire, there is other and sadly
mournful work to be attended to, for three of the _Snowbird's_ brave
crew lie stark and stiff.  So the dead had to be laid out, and the
graves dug, where, as soon as sunrise, they would lie side by side with
those who had so lately been their foes.

Two more men were wounded, but none so severely as Rory.

There was little sleep for any one in the camp that night, for they were
constantly in dread of a renewed attack by the savages.  Even the luxury
of a fire was a danger, and yet upon this depended Rory's very
existence; but patrols were kept constantly moving through the forest
near to prevent surprises.

"Yet I don't think," said Seth, "that them bothering blueskins will come
around again.  We've given them such a taste of our steel and our
shooting-irons that it ain't likely they'll have an appetite for more
for some days to come."

"Shall you hunt them up in the morning," asked Allan, "and have
revenge?"

"No," said McBain; "no, Allan.  The principle is a bad one.  People
should fight in defence of their homesteads, fight for life and honour,
but never to simply show their superiority or for mere revenge."

Very simple was the service conducted by McBain by the graves of the
fallen men.  Very simple, and yet, methinks, none the less impressive.
A psalm from the metrical version of Israel's sweetest singer, and a
prayer--that was all; then the graves were covered in and left, and
there they lie by the side of that Great Snow Lake, with never a stone
to mark the spot.  Oh! but those three poor fellows will live for many a
day and many a year in the memory of their messmates.

The march back to the _Snowbird_ was a mournful one.  The skins they had
collected did not seem to have the same value now.  McBain would not
leave them behind, however.  Duty must not be neglected, even in the
midst of grief.

And Rory?  Would he live?  Would the blood ever bound again through his
veins as of yore?  Would he ever again be the bright-smiling,
sunny-faced lad he had been?  For weeks this was doubted.  He lay on his
bed, so pallid and worn that every one save Seth thought he was wearing
away to the land o' the leal.  Seth would not give him up, though, and
many a herb and balsam he gathered for him in the forest, and many a
strange fish, cooked by Seth himself, was brought to tempt his appetite.

Seth came on board one day rejoicing.

"I have it now," he cried; "the old trapper has done it at last.  Now,
boy Rory, as everybody calls you, you have nothing earthly to do in this
wide world but get well.  And you'll eat what I brings, and nice you'll
find them, too."  And Seth proceeded to open a handkerchief and display
to the astonished gaze of our heroes a lovely collection of large
truffles.

"Why, truffles, I do declare!" exclaimed McBain.  "I never imagined,
friend Seth, that the geographical disposition of the truffle extended
to these wild regions."

"The trapper don't speak a word o' Greek," said Seth, looking at McBain
amusedly; "but them's the truffles, right enough, and they are bound to
send the last remnant o' that vile blueskin's pisen out o' boy Rory's
blood."

It was a magical stew that Seth concocted that day with those truffles.
It even made Rory smile.  Something of the old good-humour and happiness
began to settle down on the hearts of the people of the _Snowbird_ from
that very hour, and when, a day or two after, Rory joined his mess mates
at dinner, reclining on a sofa, all doubts for his safety were
completely dispelled.  Dr Seth, as he insisted upon calling the
trapper, was invited to join the party, and not only he, but the three
mates, and a pleasant evening, if not a merry one, was passed.

CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.

ONE LAST DAY ON SHORE--BEARING UP FOR THE EAST AND NORTH--FAREWELL, OLD
SETH; FAREWELL, PLUNKET.

When at last Rory was so far recovered that he could go on deck with
safety, he gazed around him with delight.  And well he might, for a more
wildly beautiful scene it has been the lot of very few travellers to
feast their eyes upon.

"Why," he cried, with the old glad smile in his eyes, "summer has come
again while I have been ill.  Oh! such beauty! such grandeur!  All the
trees in leaf and the flowers in bloom, and not a bit of ice to be seen
in the bay.  Shouldn't I like to go on shore once more before we start,
to cull a flower, or make a sketch."

"Well, Rory," said McBain, smiling at his enthusiasm, "that is a wish we
can easily gratify if you really think you are strong enough."

"Strong!" said Rory, "why, I'm strong enough to fell an ox.  You've no
idea how strong I feel; nor how happy at being strong again."

"Happy and thankful at the same time, I trust," said McBain.

"Ay," put in Allan, "and you've no idea, Rory, how delighted we all are
to have you on deck again, and really with us, you know."

Rory smiled with pleasure.  He felt the genuineness of the words spoken.

They spent that day on shore quietly, and very pleasurably.  They sought
for no wild adventures, they sought but to saunter about and enjoy the
beauties of the landscape; it would be the last ever they would spend in
that lovely land, and they meant to leave it in peace.  They would
neither draw a bead upon a bird, nor fire at a bear, nor lure a fish
from the river.

It was not without a certain feeling of sadness they embarked at last,
when the day was far spent; and the same feeling stole over them when,
next day, they got the anchor up and slowly sailed away a-down the bay
with the jibboom pointing east and by north.  By mid-day they were
opposite the spot where they had anchored all the winter.  The new hall
which Ap had been so proud of constructing still stood there in all its
pristine beauty and pride.

"It does seem a pity," said Ap, "to leave it to the Indians."

"Ah! but," said McBain, who had overheard him, "it would be a greater
pity to land and burn it, wouldn't it, Ap?"

"Yes, look, you see," was Ap's reply, his eyes still fondly resting on
the building, "I wouldn't think of that for a moment.  Better the
Indians than that Yes, yes."

When the sun set that day the land was far away on the lee quarter; by
morning it had entirely disappeared, and all the adventures they had
enjoyed on shore seemed to our heroes like one long wild romantic dream.
Ere the second day had come to a close every one on board had quite
settled down again to the old yachting roving life, at once so jolly and
so free.  Watches were kept as before, the dinner-hour was changed to an
earlier one, as it usually is at sea and a regular lookout was kept at
the bows, as well as a man at the mast-head in the crow's-nest.

There was need for this, too, for the ice they soon found themselves
among was both heavy and dangerous.  On this account the _Snowbird's_
head was changed a few points nearer to the west, and very soon
afterwards the sea became more open and clear.

A goodly ten-knot breeze blew steadily for days from the east, and
carried them well over to the land that bounds the opposite shores of
the Hudson Bay, and the course had once more to be changed for a
northerly one, to seek for the straits, and the icebergs again towered
around, mountains high, great gomerils of snow, that at times took the
wind quite out of their sails.  This passage through the straits was at
once exciting and dangerous, and for three whole days and nights McBain
never slept, and very seldom did he sit more than a few minutes at
table.

But open water came at last, and they would probably see no more of the
ice until they rounded Cape Farewell, and neared the shores of Iceland.
But something had to be done long before then.  It must not be forgotten
that on the far northern coast of Labrador, in a wild and mountainous
lonely land, was the home of honest but eccentric old trapper Seth.
McBain had promised to take him back, and a sailor's promise is, or
ought to be at all events, a sacred thing.  McBain's was.

"But, for all that," said McBain, addressing Seth, "we shall be
unfeignedly sorry to part with you; we would far rather you came home
with us, and took up your abode at Arrandoon.  We'd find you something
to do, something to shoot at times, though nothing to compare with the
glorious sport we've enjoyed in your society."

"And, thanking you a thousand times," replied Seth, "but I guess and
calculate that at his time of life, civilisation would kind o' go
against the grain of old Seth."

"And yet," persisted McBain, "it does seem sad for you to go away back
again to that lone wilderness into voluntary exile.  What will you do
when you fall ill?  We all must die, you know."

"Bless you, sir," said Seth, "we old trappers don't mind dying a bit.
We're just like the deer of the forest.  We seldom sicken for more than
about an hour.  We simply falls quietly asleep and wakes no more under
the moon."

So no more was said to Seth in order to dissuade him from his intention
of going home, as he called it.  But when Seth's cape was sighted at
last, it was quite evident that our heroes had no intention of
permitting him to go away empty-handed.  They could not pay him for his
services in coin.  That would have been of little avail for a man in his
position.

But a boat-load of stores of every kind was sent on shore with him, and
Seth found himself richer by far than ever he had expected to be in his
life.

"Hurrah!" cried Seth, when he had reached his clearing and found his cot
still standing, "hurrah! the blueskins have been here, I can see their
trails all about.  What a blessing I buried my waliables.  They hain't
been near the place."

The crew of the _Snowbird_ helped the old man to dig up "his waliables,"
and he pronounced them all intact and untouched.  They also did all they
could to reinstate him in comfort in his cottage.

Then, with three ringing cheers, and many a hearty good-bye and
hand-shake, away they went to their yacht, and left poor Seth and
Plunket to their loneliness.

CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.

THE CONSULTATION--BEARING UP FOR HOME--THE WANDERERS' RETURN.

On the twentieth day of July, eighteen hundred and ever so much, but
just one month from the day they had landed the Yankee trapper in the
wild country in which he was monarch of all he surveyed, the brave yacht
_Snowbird_, after many never-to-be-forgotten dangers and trials, had
reached the latitude of 81 degrees north, and was far to the east of
Spitzbergen.  It is a month since we have seen her, and how she is
lying-to in front of a tremendous bar of ice, through which she has
tried, but tried in vain, to force a passage.  All that men could do has
been done to penetrate farther towards the mysterious regions around the
Pole, and now a group of anxious men are assembled deep in consultation
in the saloon.  The centre figures of this group are McBain and weird
old Magnus.  The former is standing, with arms folded and lowered brow,
gazing calmly down on the table, where is spread out an old and tattered
chart,--an old and tattered chart, tapped fiercely by the thin skinny
fingers of Magnus, as leaning over the table he gazes up almost wildly
at the deep, thoughtful countenance of his commander.

Allan and Ralph are leaning over the backs of chairs, and Rory is
leaning on the shoulder of Ralph, but every eye is fixed upon the
captain.

Stevenson and the mate of the _Trefoil_ form a portion of the group;
they are seated a little way from the others, but are none the less
earnest in looks and appearance.

"Behold what we have already borne!"  Magnus was saying excitedly, in
fierce, fast words.  "See what we have already come through in our good
yacht; storms have howled around us; tempests have raged; the sea has
been churned into foam, blown into whitest smoke, like the surf of the
wild Atlantic when the storm spirit shrieks among the crags of Unst, but
has she not come bravely through it all?  Mighty bergs have tried to
clutch her, but she has eluded their slippery grasp, and now, though her
planks are scraped by their sides, till, fore and aft, she is as white
as the _Snowbird_ you call her, is she not as strong and as dauntless as
ever?  What is there to come through, that we have not already come
through?  What is it the yacht has to dare, that she has not already
dared?  You sent for old Magnus to ask his advice; he gives it.  Here in
that spot lies the Isle of Alba in a sea of open water.  And wealth
untold lies there!  Eastward--I say eastward still--and eastward, for
only by going eastward as heretofore, can you get north.  Magnus has
spoken."

"I will weigh all you have said, my good friend Magnus," was McBain's
reply.  He spoke quietly and distinctly, with head a little on one side;
"but, before coming to a conclusion of any kind, I should like to hear
the opinions of our shipmates.  The mate of the unfortunate _Trefoil_
there has had longer experience of these regions than any of us, bar
yourself, bold Magnus.  What says he?  Does he think there is a sea of
open water around the Pole?"

"It is my humble belief there is," said the mate; "and, leaving aside
all selfish reasons, I am with you, heart and soul, if you attempt to
reach it this season."

"Spoken like a man," said McBain; "but do you think that, with ice
before us, like what you see, there is a possibility of reaching it in a
sailing-ship?"

"You ask me a straightforward question," said the mate, "and in the same
fashion I answer you.  I do not believe there is the slightest chance of
our doing so.  Brave hearts can do a great deal in this world, but,
unaided by science, they cannot do everything.  Hannibal, when he
crossed the Alps, did _not_ melt the rocks with vinegar.  Science alone
can aid us in reaching the Pole.  Sledges we need, balloons are needed,
and last, but not least, a ship with _steam_."

"I entirely concur with you," said McBain.  "What say you, boys?"

"I think the mate of the _Trefoil_ is right," said Ralph and Allan.

"'Tis not in mortals to command success," said Rory; "but I think we've
done rather more--we've deserved it."

"Well said," cried Allan.

"Yes, well said," added McBain; "and, after all, who shall say that we
may not return to these seas again.  None of us are very old, and
wonders never cease.  Why, I do declare that bold Magnus here looks
fully ten years younger with the good the cruise has done him?"

"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed the weird old man, gathering up that chart that
seemed so sacred a thing in his eyes; "and if ever you do, and old man
Magnus is still alive, and has one leg left to hop upon, if it's only a
wooden one, he'll trust to sail with you for the land he loves so well."

"The land we all love so well," said McBain; "the seas to which no one
ever yet sailed without wishing to revisit them."

There was a faint double knock at the saloon door as the captain ceased
speaking, and Mitchell entered.

"Well, Mr Mitchell, come in, but not so doubtingly; we have done
talking, and have come to the unanimous conclusion that the time has
arrived for us to bear up."

"Hurrah! to that," said Mitchell, striking his left palm with his right
fist in a very solid manner indeed.

"And now, sir," continued Mitchell, "I come to tell you that quite a
wall of mist is rolling down upon us from the nor'-east.  It is as close
and black as factory smoke, and it is now close aboard of us."

"Any wind?"

"Not much, sir, but what little there is is coming down along with the
mist."

"Then fill the foreyard, Mr Mitchell.  Set every stitch she'll bear,
studding-sails if you like, so long as it isn't too dark and close, and
the bergs are anything like visible.  I'll be on deck myself presently."

"Well, Rory," said Captain McBain, entering the snuggery that same
night, rubbing his hands and beaming with smiles, "so we have borne up
at last; how do you like the idea of returning to your native land after
all your long journeyings and wild adventures?"

"Indeed, I like it immensely," replied Rory, "barring the difference
that it isn't my native land I'll be going to after all, but the land o'
the mountain and the flood.  Oh! won't I be happy to meet Allan's dear
mother and sister again!  And even Janet, the dear old soul!"

"Well," said McBain, taking up Rory's fiddle and thoughtfully bringing
some very discordant notes out of it, "I sincerely hope they will be all
alive to meet us: if the meeting be all right I don't fear for the
greeting."  Then brightening up and putting down the instrument, he
continued, "I've been leaning over the bows for the last hour, and
thinking, and I've come to the conclusion that we haven't done so badly
by our cruise after all."

"We haven't filled up with ivory from the mammoth caves though," said
Ralph, with a sigh.

"Why that plaintive sigh, poor soul?" asked Rory.

"Ah! because, you know," replied Ralph, pinching Rory's ear, "we haven't
made wealth untold, and I'll have to marry my grandmother after all."

"Oh!" cried McBain, "your somewhat antiquated cousin; I had forgotten
all about her."

"I hadn't," said Ralph.

"Never mind," said Rory, "something may turn up, and even if the worst
comes to the worst, I'll be at the wedding, and play the Dead March in
Saul."

"Ah!" said Ralph, "it is just as well for you that you moved out of my
reach, you saucy boy?"

"There are two thousand pounds to a share," continued McBain, "if we
sell our furs and oils only indifferently well."

"And sure," said Rory, "even that is better than a stone behind the ear.
And look at all the fun we have had, and all the adventures; troth,
we'll have stories to tell all our lives, if we never go to sea any
more, and live till we're as old as the big hill o' Howth."

"But I think, you know, boys," McBain went on, "we have gained a deal
more than the simple pecuniary value of what lies in our tanks and
lockers.  Increased health and strength, for instance."

"Ah?" added Allan, "strength of mind as well as body, for, positively,
before I left Glentroom, I did little else but mope--now, I think I
won't do anything of the kind again.  With the little capital I have
obtained, I will begin and cultivate my glen--it is worth more than
rabbits' food."

"Yes," said McBain, "there is gold in the glen."

"Speaking figuratively, yes."

"It only needs perseverance to make it yield it.  What a grand thing
that perseverance is!  I think, boys, we've learned a little of its
virtue, even in this cruise of ours, though we haven't done everything
we had hoped.  But perseverance builds names and fortunes--it builds
cities too."

"It builds continents," said Rory, looking very wise--for him; "just
look what a midge of a creature the coral zoophyte is, but look at the
work it is doing every day, the worlds it is throwing up almost, for
future millions to inhabit."

Thus continued our heroes talking till long past midnight; and even
after they had retired, one at least did not fall all at once asleep.
That one was Allan.  He began to believe that his dreams of restoring
his dear old roof-tree, Arrandoon Castle, would yet be realised.  That a
time would soon come when his mother and sister would sit in halls as
noble as any his forefathers had occupied, and mingle among a peasantry
as happy and content as they were in the good old years of long, long
ago.  Perseverance would do it; and, happy thought, he would adopt a new
badge, and it would neither be a flower, nor a fern, nor a feather, but
simply a piece of coral.  Then presently he found himself deep down in
the green translucent waters of the Indian Ocean, in a cave, in a coral
isle, conversing with a mermaid as freely as if it were the most natural
thing in all the world; then he awoke, and behold it was broad daylight.

At least it was just as broad daylight as it was likely to be, while the
good yacht was still enveloped in the bosom of that dense mist.

The _Snowbird_ evidently did not think herself the best used yacht in
the world.  They would not give her sail enough to let her fly along as
she wanted to, and, more than that, she was constantly being checked by
the pieces of ice that struck and hammered at her on both bow and
quarter.  Sometimes she seemed to lose her temper and stop almost dead
still, as much as to say, "I do think such treatment most ungrateful
after all I've gone through, and, if it continues, I declare I won't go
another step of my toe towards home."

Ah! but when a week passed away, and when all at once the yacht sailed
out from this dark and pitiless mist, and found herself in a blue
rippling sea, with a blue and cloudless sky overhead, and never a bit of
ice to be seen, then she _did_ regain her temper.

"Well," she said, "this _is_ nice, this is perfectly jolly; now for a
trifle more sail, and won't I go rolling home!"

Sunlight seemed to bring joy to every heart.  Our heroes walked the deck
arrayed in their best, walked erect with springy steps and smiling
faces.  They had laid aside their winter and donned their summer
clothing, and summer was in their hearts as well.

But the _Snowbird_, the once beautiful _Snowbird_, now all scraped with
ice and bare, should she have holiday attire likewise?  She was not
forgotten, I do assure you.  For days and days men were slung in ropes
overboard, on all sides of her, scraping, and painting, and polishing;
men were hung like herrings aloft, scraping and varnishing there; and
soon the decks were scrubbed to a snowy whiteness, and every bit of
brass about her shone like burnished gold.  She seemed a spick-and-span
new _Snowbird_, and, what is more, she seemed to feel it too, and give
herself all the additional airs and graces she could think of.

At long last the seagulls came sailing to meet her, and a day or two
thereafter,--

"Land, ho!" was the glad cry from the outlook aloft.  Only a long blue
mist on the distant horizon, developing itself soon however, into a
black line capped with green.  Presently the dark line grew bigger, and
then it became fringed beneath with a line of snowy white.

Shetland once again; and when it opened out more, and began to fall off
to the bow, the primitive cottages could be descried, and the diminutive
cattle and the sheep that browsed on its braes.

Even great Oscar, the Saint Bernard, must needs put his paws on the
bulwarks, and gaze with a longing sniff towards the land, then jumping
on deck go bounding along, barking for very joy; and as the little Skye
looked so miserable because he could only have a sniff through the lee
scuppers, Rory lifted him on to the capstan, and pointed out the land to
him.

Then rough sea-dogs of men pulled off from a little village to greet
them, dressed in jackets like the coats of bears.  Rough though they
looked, the foreyard was hauled aback all the same.

"No," they said, "they didn't think the country was at war."  That was
all they could say; but they gave the captain a week-old newspaper and
fish for all hands, in return for a few cakes of tobacco.

Then away they pulled, and the _Snowbird_ sailed on.  Lerwick was
reached in good time, and here they cast anchor for five hours; here
weird old Magnus bade them all an affectionate adieu, and here our
heroes landed to telegraph to their friends.

How anxiously the replies were waited for, and with what trembling hands
and beating hearts they opened them when they did arrive, only those can
know who have been years absent from their native shores, without
hearing from those they hold dear.

The gist of the despatches was as follows:--Number 1 to Allan from
Arrandoon.  "All alive and well."  Number 2 to Ralph.  "Father alive and
well, will meet you at Oban.  Your cousin, alas! no more.  Fortune falls
to you."

"Hurrah!" cried Ralph, "my cousin is dead!"

McBain could not restrain a smile.

"What a strange equivocal way of expressing your grief!" he said.

"Och!" said Rory, "excuse the poor boy; he won't have to marry his
grandmother nevermore."

Rory's own telegram was the least satisfactory.  It was from his agents.
It was all about rents, and they didn't advise him to return to Ireland
"just yet."

"I'm right glad of that," said Allan; "you shall stop with me till `just
yet' blows over."

There was nothing to keep them much longer at Shetland.  Yet the moors
were all purple with heather.  Allan suggested gathering a garland to
hang at the _Snowbird's_ main truck, where the crow's-nest had been
through all the Arctic winter.

"So romantic a proposal," said Rory, "deserves seconding, though 'deed
and in troth, when you spoke, Allan, of gathering heather, I fancied it
would be a broom you'd be after making.  There _is_ a spice of poetry in
you after all."

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Two days after this, on a lovely balmy August afternoon, with just wind
enough to fill the sails, the _Snowbird_, looking as white in canvas as
her namesake, looking as clean and as taut and as trim as though she had
never left the Scottish shores, rounded the point of Ardnamurchan, and
stood in towards Loch Sunart.  Hardly had they opened out the broad blue
lake when McBain exclaimed, with joyous excitement in his every tone,--

"Boys, come here, quick!"

The boys came bounding.

"Look yonder, what is that?"  As she spoke he pointed towards a tidy
little cutter yacht that came rushing towards them over the water as if
she couldn't come quickly enough.

"The _Flower of Arrandoon_!" every one said in a breath.  And so it was.
Too impatient to remain any longer at Oban, our heroes' friends had set
sail to meet them.  In fifteen minutes more they were all together on
board the _Snowbird_.

I would much rather leave it to the reader's imagination than tell of
the joyous greetings that followed, of the pleasant passage up the canal
and through the lake, till once more anchored in sight of the dear old
castle, surrounded with its hills of glorious purple heather; of the
return to Arrandoon, and the wildness of the dogs, and the ecstasies of
poor old Janet, for as the chain rattles over the bows and the anchor
drops in the waters of the lake--_the Cruise of the "Snowbird" ends_.

It remains only for me, the author, to briefly breathe that little word,
which never yet was spoken without some degree of tender sorrow, and say
Adieu.





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