Crusoes of the Frozen North/chapter5
The tempest howled for many hours more. Then at last it grew almost calm, and the sun shone out on the pure white snow.
"I know what to do now," said Tom. "Let us find our way to the beach. The boat may be there, you know."
But long before they reached the shore they beheld a wondrous sight, for as far as the eye could reach there was no water to be seen, only huge icebergs covered with dazzling snow, all gently moving up and down with the swelling waves beneath. The noise made by these great bergs as they ground their sides together was deafening.
But there were no signs of the boat, and no ship was to be seen. The Valhalla had either been crushed to atoms or been driven out to sea. Tom clung to the last hope, and even told his sisters that she was sure to return for them soon. He would not get downhearted.
"This is a queer business, Frank," he said with a light laugh, which had no sound of fun in it however; "but we must do the best we can till they come back. Eh, Frank?"
"Yes, of course."
But Pansy was clinging to Aralia, quietly crying.
"Well, Frank, we must live in the cave for a little, and so we had better get everything in, and be as jolly as we can."
When they had got everything up to the cave, which took a long time, everybody had a good breakfast. There was really enough food to last a week, and it was lucky there were several boxes of sardines, for Floss would take nothing else.
"It's going to be a big, big picnic," said Frank, and the girls began to laugh. "We're going to have lots of fun."
Frank and Tom could climb like monkeys, and in about an hour's time they had put all the food high up in a hole in the rock out of the reach of bears or foxes.
By twelve o'clock, when the sun was as high as it could get, the snow had disappeared, and once more there was a soft, warm breeze blowing, and beauty everywhere.
Two days flew by and nothing happened, only at night they could hear foxes barking in the distance. They never attack people singly, as bears do, but they are dangerous in packs, as Tom one day found out to his cost.
The food was getting low, and Tom thought it was time to do something. They had found strange fruits like strawberries growing, and also some sort of roots that tasted like nuts; but unless they could get some fish poor Flossy would die.
So Tom started off all alone on a voyage of discovery. Frank stayed in the cave with the girls, and they promised to be very good.
The morning was very calm, and so still that Tom could hear Pansy calling to him "not to be long" when he was quite a mile up the mountain-side. Why he took this course he could never tell, but, when he crossed the top, marvellous indeed was the view that lay before his eyes.
Uncle Staysail used to tell him that the natives of the north say there is an open sea somewhere near the Pole, with many islands in it, and trees, and flowers, and birds.
And now, behold! such a sea lay right down in the round valley yonder at his feet. It was not really a sea, but a lovely round lake, and right in the middle was a large green island.
Tom rubbed his eyes and gazed and gazed, and then rubbed his eyes and gazed again.
"Was it all a dream?" he wondered.
No, there was no dream about it. It took Tom some hours to explore this lake. He walked round it and found that at the far side a ridge of rocks, very narrow, led right out to the island. He crossed this natural bridge and found himself in a perfect paradise. Flowers and fruit everywhere, and beautiful wild birds the like of which he had never seen before. There were rabbits, too, and very tame they were, for they followed him about, and seemed to wonder what he was and where on earth he came from.
Tom knocked one on the head, though he was not cruel, and with this slung over his shoulder, and his pockets full of nuts, he started to walk back.
But I suppose that walking round in a circle had confused him. Anyhow he walked miles out of his way, and lost himself. He sat down on a big stone at last, and wondered what he should do. He was tired and hungry, so he ate a handful of nuts. And then he began to nod.
"I'll just have five minutes of a nap," he said, "and then get on again."
So down he lay. But his five minutes lasted for an hour, and still the lad lay fast asleep.
A large gray fox stole up and smelt the rabbit.
"That'll just suit me," said he to himself. "I'll go and call my brothers and sisters, and we'll kill this two-legged creature and steal his rabbit."
"Yap-yap-yap!" barked the fox, and soon he had a whole pack round him. But just as they were getting near to Tom, he awoke and sat up. Bang went his rifle at once, as he saw his danger. One fox fell dead, but the others came on with a rush, and there was soon a lively fight. Tom laid about him with the butt end of his rifle, and, being a strong young fellow, dead and dying foxes were soon lying all round him.
The rest of the pack drew back a little way, only to come on again, yelping and yelling more than ever. Poor Tom's wrists were dripping with blood, for he had been bitten in many places. He thought it was all over now, yet he meant to fight to the last.
But help was at hand, for the next moment Briton bounded into the centre of the spiteful pack, and the savage beasts fled in every direction.
What a happy meeting that was! The mastiff led Tom back over the hills, and in an hour's time he was safe and sound at the cave.
Pansy wept with delight, and Aralia bound up Tom's wrists. He made very light of the bites, however.
There were many pieces of old black wood in the cave, so Frank collected them and lit a fire; and when it was quite clear, the rabbit was roasted, and everybody made a splendid dinner.
Then Tom told them all he had seen; and, after a night's rest, they all started off the next morning for the lake and the island, taking the skins and rugs with them. They reached the long ridge of rocks and crossed over. Then, indeed, were the girls surprised and delighted. What a lot they would have to tell Father and Mother when they got home again!
Tom sighed. He feared in his own mind that they would never, never see their home any more.
When Flossie saw the lake she made a spring towards it and dived below the surface. They could see her darting about beneath, and soon up she came, looking as pleased as Punch, with a fine, great fish in her mouth. She laid it gently at Pansy's feet, and dived in again.
"I'll be happy here," she seemed to say, as she brought another fish, "and we need never be hungry any more."
After Tom had well explored the island, he told Frank they must build a fort. He had found the very spot for it, too, on a little hill. This was about a hundred feet high, and the top was hollow, like a cup, with only one opening into it. In fact, the top of the hill was part of the crater of an extinct volcano, and was shaped like the letter G, the doorway being only a gap in the rocks, through which no bear could squeeze.
Inside, the walls were twenty feet high all round, all bare rock; but the floor was covered with grass, and moss, and wild flowers.
Aralia and Pansy were wild with delight, and Pansy said she would now be able to sleep without ugly dreams.
Veevee would be her bed-fellow, and Floss would curl up with Sissie, and big Briton could sleep at the entrance.
So it was all arranged.
But as there could be no telling how long they might have to remain here, and as rain would be sure to fall, even if snow did not, Tom and Frank began to build a hut inside Fort Fairyland, as they called their strange abode.
Now each boy had—like all Greenland sailors—not only a large, many-bladed knife, with a saw in it, but a huge broad dagger in a leathern belt round his waist. So they did not want for tools.
They found the best wood for what they wanted growing close by the lake, in the shape of straight and strong willows. There were plenty of leaves, and grasses, and heath also.
It would be rather a long job, but they set to work with a will, and in three days' time they had dragged everything they wanted up to Fort Fairyland. The building of the hut was fine fun. At first it was only meant to be a kind of shelter on poles, but, as they had so much time upon their hands, they agreed to build real walls, and leave space for a door and a window. In little more than a week they had the framework all up, and the roof all made. It was thatched first with broad leaves, and then with grass. And, mind you a short ladder had to be made first to permit them to do the thatching. When this was finished, all the sides were filled in with willow branches, except door and window. Never a hole was left in it, for Aralia and Pansy collected heaps and heaps of dried moss, and the boys worked this in to fill up the gaps.
And when all was finished, and wicker seats made, it did look a cosy little hut indeed.
But all the cooking was done out-of-doors. There were no sauce-pans to clean, nor knives nor forks. The plates were broad leaves, and for knives and forks the castaways used pointed sticks.
It really wasn't bad fun at all being Crusoes in such a place as this.
But—dear me! there is always a "but" about everything—how was it all to end?
And where was the Valhalla?
Except for these two questions, which would keep on running through Tom's and Frank's minds, they could have been quite contented—well, for a time at all events.