The Stone Chest by G. A. Henty
Chapter II.--Off For Zaruth.
"To Siberia--Cedar Island!"
"Yes, mother. From what I can make out, father is there, a prisoner of some people called the Svlachkys, and all on account of a wonderful stone chest, said to be filled with gold and silver."
"It cannot be true, Bob."
"I think it is. This dead sailor's name was Ruel Gross----"
"Ruel Gross!" Mrs. Cromwell started. "I heard of him before. Your father said he possessed a wonderful secret."
"He did--about the stone chest. The whole truth is, so far as I can understand, he got father to go up there in search of it. After it was found they got into some trouble with the natives, and Ruel Gross abandoned father to his fate. Here is a handmade map of the locality."
"Pray Heaven your father still lives," murmured Mrs. Cromwell. "But you say you are going up there. How?"
"I don't know. But I'll find a way, even if I have to go up on a whaler."
Mrs. Cromwell shook her head.
On the following morning the dead body of the sailor was turned over to the village authorities.
Between them mother and son decided for the present to say nothing to the simple fisher-folks concerning Ruel Gross' revelation.
"They'll sneer at us--that's all," said Bob.
But Bob confided in his chum, Jack Larmore, an orphan boy of his own age. Jack was tremendously interested.
"Say, Bob, I'll go along, if you say the word," he said. "I'm sick of Sea Cove and the mean folks living around here."
That noon, when Bob returned home he found Captain Sumner present, talking to his mother.
The captain had come to offer Bob a position on his yacht.
"I would like to go--if you're going up the coast," said Bob. "I want to get to Alaska, and then to Cedar Island, off Siberia."
The rich yacht owner was much astonished. He proceeded to draw Bob out, and an hour later had the youth's story in full. With Mrs. Cromwell he looked over the papers and map.
Then he lit a cigar and began to pace up and down the parlor of the cottage.
"I've half a mind to cruise up there," he said. "To me, one place is as good as another. I love to roam the wide world over, and have already been to the South Seas and to the coast of Africa. What if I should take you up there, my boy?"
"Will you?" shouted Bob, in quick delight. "Do it, and you shall have the contents of that stone chest--if we can get it."
"No, I'll only want my share of it," laughed Captain Sumner.
On the next day they talked the matter over once more. The captain was a widower with one child, a girl of fifteen. The girl, whose name was Viola, said she would like to go up the coast to new lands. But she would like Mrs. Cromwell, or some other lady, to go along.
Persuaded by Bob, Mrs. Cromwell said she would undertake the trip, and before they knew it, all arrangements were made.
The Dart, as the yacht was named, was sent to San Francisco for stores, and three days later Bob and Mrs. Cromwell and Jack Larmore left Sea Cove, and left it forever!
It is not the purpose of this tale to tell of all that happened ere the Dart put to sea on that memorable voyage up the coast to Alaska.
For awhile all went well on board. But one day there was trouble among the crew. The trouble grew worse and three of the fellows had to be put into irons.
They were let go later on, but ever after they showed their ugliness only too plainly.
Bob and Jack were not idle while on board. Both did their full share of work and both proved themselves good sailors.
A strong friendship sprang up between Mrs. Cromwell and Viola Sumner, and the two became almost inseparable.
Bob found Captain Sumner a fine man to get along with, stern at times, but always fair and square. He had, as he said, been a great rover, and often told interesting stories of his adventures.
As days went by and they got further north it became colder. Then a storm was encountered which took them many miles out of their course.
So suddenly did it fall upon them that the sails were blown to ribbons.
Viola Sumner, who was on deck, got drenched and nearly drowned. She was saved by Bob only at peril of his life, and carried down into the cabin nearly senseless.
And now we find the Dart storm-beaten, but still water-tight, blown far out to sea.
Bob, who had just come on deck, cast his eye first aloft, like the true sailor he was becoming, and then around him.
Not more than half a mile distant towered an immense iceberg, its topmost pinnacles glowing in the bright morning sun.
Other bergs floated to the southward, while to both east and west could be seen long floes of rugged ice.
The yacht was trying to beat to the northward by making short tacks through the ice-floes, but, as Bob could see, she made but little way.
"Have we done any good since I went below?" he asked Bok, a sailor who was steering.
"No, faith, yer honor. The current sets so fast to the south that sorra a bit more north do we make in an hour than I could throw a cat by her tail. It's wearisome work, yer honor, and, be jabers! it's bitterly cold."
Bob buttoned his pilot coat closer around him and shivered.
"You are right, Bok."
Our hero looked around and perceived Jack Larmore's head above the companion.
"Come down to breakfast, before it's cold," cried Jack.
Our hero made a bolt down the ladder after his friend.
"What is your opinion, Bob, about the men?" asked Captain Sumner, as Bob took his place at the table. "I mean the rascals I had to iron up last week."
"Well, sir," replied our hero, "they seem to go about their duty all right, but after our experience, we must never trust them."
"It's that scoundrel, Nockey, that I mistrust. The others are more fools than knaves. He will never forgive that flogging I gave him."
"It served him all right," broke in Bob. "When we gave them the choice of taking a couple of dozen or going ashore, not one hesitated."
"Well, even now, we have only eight hands and ourselves."
"What do you mean to do, papa?" broke in Viola. "Surely not go further among these dreadful icebergs? I have read that ships are often crushed by them."
"I should be only too glad to be out of these regions, dear; but, with the wind and current against us, I don't know what to do."
As soon as breakfast was finished the captain went on deck. His eye rested on the floe to the westward.
"Where are your eyes, you Irish lubber?" he shouted to the steersman. "Don't you see yon ice closing in on us? You ought to have let me know of this."
"Blest if I can see much change," muttered Bok.
"But I can. The channel is narrowed by half. We shall never get clear of it before we are nipped. 'Bout ship, boys, and be smart!"
"All hands!" bellowed the mate.
In a couple of minutes the small crew were on deck, hauling in the ropes and halyards.
The topsail-yards swung round, the helm was put hard down.
The sails shivered in the wind as the yacht came about.
"Put both the main- and fore-sails on her, Leeks. We must be out of this trap as soon as possible," cried the captain.
It took some time to get full sail on the Dart.
Once done, however, she flew onward, with the wind on her quarter, at a tremendous speed.
"Sixteen knots an hour! Bravo!" cried the captain. "Can't she move, Bob?"
"That she can, sir. But I can't help dreading this still going through the ice. There are few ships, except whalers, that have penetrated as far as we, I should think."
"Right, sir. But desperate circumstances require desperate means. None of us want to spend a winter here, and, though we happen to be fortunate as to the time of year, another month or six weeks will see this sea covered with ice."