Crusoes of the Frozen North/chapter8
The long mid-day twilights came first, uncertain and gray to begin with, but getting brighter and more lovely as time went on. It was as if Nature were trying her hand in painting the sky to give the great king of day a glorious welcome.
But one day the snow on the mountain peaks changed to a bright red, while above floated just one streak of crimson cloud; higher up, the stars shone in a strange, green light, and all the horizon was of the richest orange colour.
"Oh, surely," cried Pansy, "the sun will rise to-day!"
But the red faded from the mountain-top, the little cloud turned brown, then gray, then black, and it was night once more.
"No, little sister," said Tom kindly; "but the sun will rise to-morrow."
All went to bed early that night, and were up very early in the morning. In fact, breakfast was finished before the stars had begun to pale in the west. Then came twilight itself, and, long though it was, its intense beauty was the best reward for the waiting, watching little Crusoes.
Every heart was beating quickly, and Pansy was standing on brave Tom's shoulder, just to be "nearer the sky", she said.
All were silent.
The sun came at last, and with such a silvery sheen, too, that the children were dazzled.
This was best, for they could not thus see the tears that slowly trickled down each other's faces.
"Look! look! look!" was all Pansy could say.
"Oh, isn't it splendid!" said Tom, as soon as he could speak.
"Uncle is sure to come now," said Aralia firmly.
"I'll go and fish," Flossy seemed to say as she sprang three times her length in the air, and turned head over heels like the clown in a circus.
"Come on, Veevee," cried the mastiff, "come for a run in the sunshine." And off they set.
But the day soon ended, for the sun quickly disappeared. Yet the Crusoes had seen it, and that was joy enough for once.
And now the days began to lengthen out, but at the same time earthquakes and thunder-storms became more and more frequent. The lake felt hot again, and the water tossed about so much at times, that even Flossy was afraid to venture in to catch the fish she could not live without.
There was a most terrible earthquake-storm about two weeks after the first sunrise.
Even Tom himself was frightened this time, for the thunderings and lightnings and explosions were awful, and lasted for three long days. It was pitch dark all the time, and the rain came down in sheets.
To make matters worse, smoke of a strange red colour was seen on the hills. It looked as if it came from rents in the mountain-sides, and there was a smell like burning sulphur in the air.
But this season of terror ended at last; the stars shone out, there was a fine display of northern lights, and, soon after, the sun rose. A stiff breeze sprang up, and all the clouds and vapours were blown away, the last thing seen being a rainbow in the east.
The joy of the Crusoes now knew no bounds. The dogs dashed about, Veevee barked "Wiff!" Briton barked "Wowff!" and Flossy frisked her tail and went off to fish.
The children now set out for a stroll, and saw many curious sights. Close to the lake, in several places, the earth seemed to have been ripped open, and, looking down as they stood hand in hand on the edge, they seemed to be gazing right into the world's dark depths.
Next day Tom took a long walk alone. He went to the top of one of the highest hills, having left his sisters in charge of Frank and Briton, but taking Veevee and his rifle with him.
Pansy watched him go up and up the mountain, until he was lost to sight.
"Oh," she cried, as she clapped her hands, "I know where Tom has gone! He has just gone away to bring Uncle and 'Fessor Pete back again."
Well, anyhow, Tom had a look at the sea. It spread out as far as the eye could reach, and was covered everywhere with great snow-clad bergs of ice, except just close to the island, where it was clear, but black as ink.
It was nothing more than he expected, but somehow he wished it had been otherwise.
He marched down the other side of the hill for quite a mile, keeping a good look-out, however, lest some huge ice-bear should catch him unawares.
By and by he missed his little four-footed friend, and traced him by his footprints into a cave.
He called aloud, but received no answer. The cave seemed to be a vast one, and he had to feel his way in the dark with his rifle, for fear of falling down some hole.
As he could hear nothing, he thought poor Veevee must be dead, and slowly and sadly turned back.
His foot kicked against something hard when he was near to the entrance, and, stooping down, he picked up what seemed to be a piece of white stone, and put it into the pocket of his jacket.
When he got back home at last, poor Pansy cried very much indeed at the loss of her pet. But when, next morning, she found him curled up at her feet, she thought it must have been all a dream.
How the dog got back was never known, but it is possible he had been wandering all night in that cavern, deep down in the earth, and come out at the lake side of the range of hills.
It was quite a month before Tom crossed the hills again. By this time spring had already come back to Fairy Island. The buds were all out on the trees, and the green leaves on a thousand bushes. Wild flowers were everywhere. The birds, too, had returned, and the sea-gulls had taken up their abode on a great patch of level ground just on the other side of the lake. When anyone went near to their nests, which were in thousands, and so close together that it was difficult to thread one's way through them, the noise and screaming they made was deafening.
Now I don't think that Tom and Frank were cruel, but they had to live, and those great green-speckled eggs made a splendid addition to the larder, so that, what with sunshine and better food, the girls soon got back all the colour they had lost during the long, long night of winter.
But where was the Valhalla and her crew all this time? Would they never, never come?
The Crusoes lived in hope.
Now in spring-time the foxes and bears of the north, that have slept or starved for months, become bold and dangerous through hunger. Bears are always to be feared, but more so at this time of the year than any other.
One day the prisoners of Fairy Island had been gayer than usual, but at last, tired and happy, they had lain down to rest. It might have been about midnight when they were awakened by a warning growl from Briton. Then, with Veevee, he sprang up and rushed to the gate barking furiously.
Tom sprang to his feet, and snatched up his rifle. He was not left long in doubt as to who the enemy was. The wild wolf-foxes were in force, and the yelping and howling outside was terrible to listen to.
He fired his rifle several times right into the centre of the pack, killing many and wounding more. This only made matters worse. The fierce and hungry beasts dashed themselves at the gate and tried to tear it in pieces.
Stones were hurled at them, but all in vain. Poor Briton was as anxious to get out as they were to get in, and had to be kept back by force.
"Go, quick, Frank," shouted Tom, "and stir up the fire; heap more peats and wood on, and bring lighted torches as soon as you can. I will guard the gate till you come."
So there Tom stood opposed to the whole awful crowd, with their glaring eyes, red tongues, and white-flashing teeth, with only a slight gateway between him and death. When he thrust his rifle between the willow bars to take a shot, the beasts bit and tore at it, as if they would have dragged it from his grasp.
Aralia was busy helping Frank, and presently both came running up with lighted fir-torches, which Tom at once flung over the gate, together with pieces of burning peat and wood. These did splendid work, and after a time the terrible pack drew off.
There was no more sleep that night, however, and towards morning the attack began again. The foxes had dragged off their dead and wounded and devoured them. In the gray light of morning they rushed to the gate once more, and the battle raged again in all its fury.
Poor little Pansy was trembling and shaking with fear as she looked up and saw that high up on the walls of the fort those savage, wild animals had taken their stand.
It was a terrible morning, and hope seemed at last to fade, for even brave Tom had grown faint and weary, and could fight but little longer.