The Stone Chest by G. A. Henty
Chapter V.--The Arctic Island.
Once on the island, it was seen that the hill rose on its southernmost point.
The ground was rocky, and covered with deep patches of snow in sheltered places.
"I don't like the look of that," observed the captain. "That is this year's snow. Once the frost sets in we are done."
Finding it hard work to traverse the direct route, they made for the western shore.
Here, though they had to clamber over hillocks and steep rocks, they got along quicker.
Suddenly Bok, who was in front, uttered a shout.
On the others hastening up they saw the cause of his astonishment.
Beached in a little bay, with her topmasts gone and the hulk lying over on the port side, was a brig.
The water only washed her rudder-case, and the captain noticed, to his dismay, a thin coating of ice fringing the shore of the inlet.
Not a sign of life was to be seen.
"We must examine her before we do anything else," exclaimed Bob.
Captain Sumner looked at his watch.
"We can spare an hour," he said, "but not more."
There was a rush down the steep rocks on to the sand.
Arriving alongside, for some time they could find no means of climbing on board, till our hero found a rope hanging from the port-bow, which, on being pulled, seemed strong and firm.
As soon as he, the captain, Bok, and one of the men were on deck, which sloped acutely, Bob called to the ladies to say that he would fetch a chair, or something to serve as one, and hoist them up.
To their surprise the companionway was not blocked with ice and the doorway was shut.
It opened easily, and our hero was the first to descend.
An extraordinary scene presented itself to his eyes directly they got accustomed to the gloom.
Seated at a table, some upright, others with their heads sunk in their folded arms, which rested on the table, were the shrunken bodies of a dozen or more men.
So life-like were they that not until he had summoned up courage to touch one did Bob believe them dead.
Some empty bottles, and a cup or two, stood on the table.
They might have dropped to sleep after a carouse.
If they had it was the sleep of death.
Remembering his promise, Bob looked around for a chair.
Not seeing one unoccupied, he was obliged to lift up one of the bodies and lay it on a locker.
Within another locker was found a length of stout rope, which seemed uninjured, and, accompanied by Bok, he repaired on deck and hastened to the side.
The chair was soon rigged, and Mrs. Cromwell and Viola were hauled on board.
To prepare them for the ghastly sight, our hero told them and Jack what they would see.
Opening a door at the bulkhead, Captain Sumner, closely followed by the two lads and the others, stepped into a narrow passage, which had berths on each side.
Passing through a second door they came into a square room, in which was built a clay and stone fireplace.
The captain stopped short.
A fire smoldered on the hearth.
"Hullo!" cried the captain. "Someone still lives!"
"Yonder lies the body of a man!" exclaimed Viola, who had crept to Bob's side and taken his arm between her hands.
"Don't be afraid," he whispered. "We must be glad that we have arrived in time, if indeed we have."
The captain and Bob advanced to the prostrate man's side.
He was lying on a rug of seals' skins, with another pulled over him, under which was a blanket.
"He lives!" cried the captain, placing his hand over the heart of the unconscious man.
After a minute a faint color mantled his white cheek and he heaved a long sigh.
Presently the eyelids trembled, and a moment later he opened them.
They rested on the captain, who was stooping over him.
A look of surprise came into them, but they almost immediately closed again.
A dose of hot brandy was given.
This time he recovered considerably, and looked round him inquiringly.
"You will do now, my man," cried the captain encouragingly. "Try him with the food," he added.
Mrs. Cromwell brought the roughly minced meat and soddened bread and placed a spoonful in the sufferer's mouth.
He swallowed it eagerly.
After he had taken some half-dozen spoonfuls he turned his head on the pillow and fell asleep.
"He will be all right now," whispered the captain. "But someone must stay with him while we ransack the ship."
A second door led forward, and, leaving the watchers, the rest of the party passed through it.
Forward was found a number of great casks, such as are used to receive the blubber cut from the whale.
"She is a whaler, evidently," exclaimed the captain.
In the forecastle there was nothing except some hammocks and a chest or two.
"We can get warmer clothing than what we possess, anyhow," remarked the captain. "Now, what's the best thing to do?"
"We can carry the man back in a hammock," suggested one. "I doubt it," replied the captain. "What I propose is that some of us stay the night with him, and we will return in the morning, by which time he will be much stronger."
On their return to the square room, Bob and Jack volunteered to remain.
This done, Bok was delegated to bring them some supper.
On arriving Bok first fastened to the rope the package he had brought, which was drawn on board, and then the rope was lowered again.
"Be jabers! but it's cold, it is," he cried. "If I might be so bold, I would jist suggest that we should go down below. How is the dead man?"
"He isn't dead yet," replied Bob, laughing. "But he is sleeping still. I hope you have brought something good for him."
"Good, is it? There's a tin of soup, and another of salmon, besides a piece of seal, that Leeks shot while we were away.
"Then there is a bottle of wine--that's for yerselves and the sick man--and half a bottle of good rum, which I hope I may have my share in.
"Faith, there is enough to make us as merry and comfortable as if we were waking the dead man below there."